The Basic Structure of Policy Debate

The Basic Structure of the Debate

There are three popular types of high school debate – policy debate, Lincoln-Douglas, and Public Forum.  This book is focused on policy debate.

Policy debate is a “team” activity.  Team means that you debate with a partner.  It’s two on two – two people defend the affirmative and two people defend the negative.  Each two person team from a given school or school district makes-up a larger squad that you are a part of.

Each person in the debate gets one constructive speech, one rebuttal speech, is asked questions for three minutes by the opposing side after his or her constructive speech, and has one three minute opportunity to ask questions of the other side.  A debate lasts approximately an hour and a half and is broken down in the following way:

First Affirmative Constructive (1AC)
8 minutes

Cross Examination of the 1AC (by the 2NC)
3 minutes

First Negative Constructive (1NC)

Cross examination of the 1NC (by the 1AC)
3 minutes

Second Affirmative Constructive (2AC)
8 minutes

Cross Examination of the 2AC (by the 1NC)

Second Negative Constructive (2NC)
8 minutes

Cross Examination of the 2NC (by the 2AC)
3 minutes

First Negative Rebuttal (1NR)
5 minutes

First Affirmative Rebuttal (1AR)
5 minutes

Second Negative Rebuttal (2NR)
5 minutes

Second Affirmative Rebuttal (2AR)
5 minutes

Each time also receives a “bank” of preparation time that partners divide amongst themselves in any way that they wish to prepare for speeches during the course of the debate.  The amount of preparation times varies by tournament, but is usually either 5, 8, or 10 minutes.

The responsibilities of each side and speaker are generally discussed in the next section and in more detail in following chapters.

The Affirmative

The job of the affirmative in the debate is to support the resolution, and more specifically (and importantly) a particular plan, that falls within the resolution.  This year’s (2007-8) policy debate resolution is “Resolved: The United States federal government should substantially increase its public health assistance to Sub-Saharan Africa.”

Affirmatives will not support the resolution in general, but will find an instance of the resolution and argue it is a good idea. They will argue, for example, argue that we should increase public health assistance to reduce the spread of HIV/AIDS in Sub-Saharan Africa.

The affirmative’s proposal – their plan — will advocate change away from the status quo – the present world that we live in.  They will say that currently there is currently not enough funding for HIV/AIDS assistance to African and that it needs to be increased (through the plan) the number of people serving.

The affirmative’s arguments are bounded by what the resolution means.  Under this year’s resolution, for example, proposing to increase the number of persons serviing in the military would be “out of bounds.”  If an affirmative’s arguments are “out of bounds” they are “not-topical.”  Affirmatives are required to advance topical plans.

The first affirmative speech in the debate (1AC) is a pre-prepared, “canned” speech.  In this speech the affirmative identifies an important problem that needs to be solved, argues that the problem will not currently be solved, suggests a solution for solving the problem, and argues that the solution will be able to overcome the problem.

The affirmative’s identification of an important problem supports its need to prove significance and harms.  Arguments that claim that the government is not currently addressing the problem or supporting the solution prove inherency.  Support for the idea that the affirmative’s proposal will fix the problem proves solvency.

Significance, harms,  inherency, and solvency are all stock issues —  essential things that the affirmative must prove in its first speech. Topicality is also a stock issue, but does not have to be addressed in the first speech.  The affirmative will have to prove it is topical if challenged, however.

The specific proposal the affirmative makes is called the plan.  The plan is a basic description (anywhere from one sentence to a paragraph) that outlines the affirmative’s proposal for change.

Affirmative teams must prove each of the stock issues in the 1AC with supporting quotes – evidence.  They should be prepared to answer general questions about their 1AC during the cross-examination.

The job of the 2AC is to respond to all of the arguments presented in the 1NC.  Although it is formally called a “constructive” speech, it is best to think of the 2AC as a rebuttal because that is the way that it functions in modern debate – the 2AC rebuts the 1NC arguments.  Ways of answering many different types of negative arguments, and general suggestions for giving a strong 2AC, are discussed throughout the rest of the book.   2ACs also need to be prepared to answer basic questions about their speech and then to ask questions of the 2NC.

After the 2AC, the negative presents back-to-back speeches (the 2NC and 1NR).  This is thirteen minutes of speech time that is called the negative block (sometimes simply referred to as the “block”).

The affirmative speech that follows (the 1AR) is only five minutes long.  Although the speech is only five minutes long, affirmatives are still required to answer all of the negative’s arguments in the 2AC and 1AR.  To do this in only five minutes, the affirmative must be selective and choose to defend their best arguments against negative positions.  There is little time for eloquence in the 1AR – debaters must focus on direct refutation of specific arguments.

The 2AR is the final speech in the debate. In this speech, teams must argue why the judge should vote for their side in light of negative arguments. In addition to refuting the specific arguments the 2NR chooses to make, 2ARs must explain why the overall benefits of the proposal outweigh the problems associated with it.

The Negative


The point of this chapter was to give you a basic idea what a debate looks like and what the job of each side and debater is.  Specific advice for how to debate particular types of arguments, and more on the responsibilities of each speaker, follow.