What we're all about

Welcome home! We're glad you made it!

Many of you have experience with public speaking: giving formal or informal presentations in classes, teaching in schools, or maybe even participating in a speaking competition. Debate will let you use and develop those skills, but it will also help you to develop other skills--close reading, interpretation, critical reasoning, argumentation, rhetorical invention--and all in front of a live audience!

"This house believes" that debate will be an exciting and enriching addition to your university experience. So sign on, jump in, "reach higher," and Speak Up!

Monday, February 2, 2009

Words to debate by

Let us begin with a few words on the culture and basic structure of debate.

We will be following a simplified version of the British parliamentary rules (see the next post): as we learn the basics, we will be able to try the more complex rules and longer debate sessions.

Resources: a reminder

Many of the sites referenced under "Useful Resources" have posted similar guides. You will see that each society takes a slightly different approach, but all have much to offer us in the way of knowledge and experience. I recommend qatar debate as a very good place to start as you explore the culture and tradition of debate on your own.

Reading, Thinking, Interpreting, Arguing

As you review our "Rules," you should keep in mind that debate is highly structured--like an essay. It isn't a matter of simply speaking: you should remain informed about contemporary issues, and examine them from several angles. This means you should both read or view and interpret information available in print and online sources. These need not include academic essays or books. In fact, debate typically requires that you apply general sources of information: newspapers, like Gulf News, and other regional and international news sources are helpful, as are almanacs, encyclopedias, and serious magazines.

But it will be essential that you interpret this information as well: draw inferences from reported facts; link events, examples, and facts to issues; consider what this information might mean, and how it might be used to support two opposite theses. This way, your contribution to your team will be substantial, both in preparing for and executing the debate.

Debate: a starting point

There are two kinds of debate: a "show" debate, which is held in front of an audience, and in which the audience may participate; and a "competition" debate, wherein the debating teams, moderator, and timekeeper are the only active participants.

We will have opportunity to try out both models, but to begin with, we will prefer the competition model. 

There are two teams, consisting of 2 or 3 speakers each. One team is called the Proposition or Government--those who are instructed to "propose" a specific motion--an assertion, thesis, or policy--supporting it with information drawn and interpreted from their general reading. The other team is called the Opposition, and they are required to oppose, to "rebut" or "disprove" the case of the proposition using similar skills of interpretation, and support a contrary thesis.

This is generally structured as follows.

Proposition speech 1
Opposition speech 1
Proposition speech 2
Opposition speech 2
. . . . . .
Opposition summation
Proposition summation

The number of speeches varies, so please consult our "Rules" carefully and regularly. We may make changes as we improve our skill. We also want as many debaters to take part as is reasonable, and much will depend on how many of you wish to participate. Speeches may vary in number and length according to our needs.


But of course, the speakers in a debate must be supported by an enthusiastic and engaged team. We will be calling them squads, and if enough people from your major are participating, these squads will be organized by major. Each squad will have a faculty advisor, and you will meet at least twice before each scheduled debate. During these meetings, you will be coached in a variety of principles or techniques, you will discuss the motion and related issues, and you will practice generating arguments pro (for) and con (against) the proposition. The week before the debate, the squad will review their practice runs, discuss changes or enhancements to their argument, and select 2 representatives to serve on the team for the upcoming debate. (If the numbers of student squads are more limited than we expect, this may be increased to 3.) 

The text of the motion--that is, the claim that is to be defended or opposed--will be identified after a discussion at the general meeting the week after every debate. 


Judgment of the outcomes of the debates will determined by judges, comprised alternately of students, faculty, and other guests. The judges will receive the same list of criteria for awarding points as the squads. Please see our "Rules" for that criteria. In general, debate is scored much like boxing or football: points are awarded for, well, points made against your opponent.


We will be viewing footage of many debates over the coming months, and many are available for viewing through resource websites, but this one will give you a good sense for the general procedure and structure of a formal, competitive debate. It is from the 2007 World Schools Debating Championship (WSDC), and features high school students from Pakistan and Korea debating the proposition "This House would force organizations to place more women in senior positions." 

Keep in mind these students are debating in a second language--English--and are younger than you. They are proof that debate can be a very helpful tool in your social, academic, and intellectual growth.

Have a look!

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