Comparing L-D to Public Forum

In preparing a presentation on the differences and similarities between PF and LD for those who have competed in PF and are considering LD, I came up with the following.




1 on 1 vs. 2 on 2. This is the simple distinction. LD is the only (I believe) debate event where one person debates one person.


Speaking time. A PF debate lasts approximately the same time as an LD debate (and both are usually fiighted), but an PF debate has 6 minutes of speaking time for each debater and an LD debate has 13 minutes of speaking time for each debater. This is a considerable difference in the amount of speaking time, especially over the course of a tournament.




Evidence. In PF, debaters often paraphrase evidence and/or read single sentences or sentence fragments for evidence. Oftentimes, they massively exaggerate (to say it nicely) what the evidence they are referencing/paraphrasing says. In LD, paraphrasing is not accepted. There is also a greater premium on evidence in LD, since debaters must directly quote the card. In LD, the evidence really needs to say what the debaters claim is says, especially since judges may examine it after the debate. LD debate is way more research intensive.




Parametrizing the resolution.   Paramtrezation stems from the idea that the resolution serves as a parameter for discussion and that the Aff/Pro can choose a specific example to argue for. This is the way Policy debate has worked since the beginning of time – debater chose specific cases to defend, rather than the resolution as a whole. For example, on the education topic, which asks whether or not the federal government should increase funding and/or regulation of education, teams will choose specific plans, such as greater funding for school vouchers.   Arguments against increasing funding that are not specific to school vouchers are not relevant. In many, perhaps now most, areas of the country, this practice has become common in LD, with students reading specific plans. Although PF debaters may cite specific examples (for example, THAAD on the September/October 2017 missile defense resolution), they would not be able to only defend THAAD and argue that disadvantages to other anti-missile systems are irrelevant.   This obviously means substantially greater specific case-specific preparation, but it also means that negative debaters in LD need to rely on more generic arguments (disadvantages, kritiks, counterplans) and the specifics of many more cases. And, of course, they need to be prepared for theory debates about the legitimacy of parametricizing the resolution in the first place.


Breadth of arguments. PF argumentation generally focuses on the core issues presented by the resolution. Like Policy debate, modern LD debate includes generic disadvantages, counterplans, kritiks, and theory.  Although commonly related arguments repeat from topic to topic, the breadth of arguments that students need to prepare to debate in LD is substantially larger. For more on disadvantages, counterplans, and kritiks, you can see our Policy textbook (it’s free!).


Framework. Although framework arguments have become more popular in PF, at least on the national circuit, those arguments are generally pretty shallow – often just assertions by debaters as to which type of arguments should count more. LD debate, however, probably had the first framework arguments, with more developed Values and Criteria for determining whether or not particular arguments are consistent with the Value.  Debaters need to be well prepared to debate these frameworks with evidence.


Debate theory. Debate about what debate practices are acceptable within a debate is pretty rare  in PF but very common in LD, especially on the national circuit, where some contestants even make a “living” going for theory arguments. LD contestants who wish to win, at least in varsity, need to be well versed in debate theory. Some of the LD theory arguments are a bit ludicrous.


Topicality. With lay judging, and even a general consensus of past participants, PF contestants are limited in their advocacy to the more common sense/real world/common person understandings of the topic. LD debaters will push the limits of interpretations of particularly words, making debates about whether or not cases are topical much more common in LD.


Breadth of acceptable argument. Although broader argumentation is encouraged in LD, LD arguments function more within the Left perspective, as the judge pool is largely composed of pretty young individuals and more liberal educators. Arguments that appeal to the more conservative side of the political spectrum are more common and acceptable in PF.


Argument development within debates. Since speeches are twice as long, debaters in LD have an opportunity to develop (expand, improve) arguments over the course of the debate, whereas there is no time to do this in PF. In PF, there are the first two speeches, then the speeches immediately collapse down to two minutes. Argument development in PF is nearly impossible.


Argument development across tournaments. Since all the LD topics are two months long instead of for one month (PF topics are two months in the fall and one month in the spring), LD debaters have greater opportunity for multiple tournaments on the same topic. This means that after a tournament they can go back home and work to not only improve their own arguments but also answer their opponents’ arguments. In PF, many debaters only get one tournament on a topic, and at most usually only get two tournaments on a topic. This substantially limits argument development over the course of time.


Philosophical focus. One of the original distinction between LD and Policy was that LD topics were more philosophical. PF topics are almost always policy-orientated. Although some LD topics are also now policy resolutions, the history of LD means that philosophical argumentation is still a focus of many of the debates, and more traditional judges expect the focus to be philosophical. This is combined with the importation of kritiks (which are philosophical) from Policy debate, plus the emphasis on socially conscious debating.


More socially conscious debating. There are many debates in LD about how LD should be constituted, with a particular emphasis on class, gender, and race and how certain practices tend to include or exclude members of particular groups.




Type of judge. Although PF is now being judged by more and more experienced people, it is common to find lay judges at PF tournaments, even in varsity. In LD, at least on many circuits, there is an expectation that the judge has a more significant background in debate, especially LD or Policy debate (LD has imported many of Policy debate’s norms and practices).


Judge preferences. Although many tournaments now provide a judge preference system for LD, PF judging is random at most tournaments, with contestants limited to a couple of strikes. Of course, “random” means different things to different people – some PF tournaments simply allow the judges to be randomly placed and others place the judges based on the preferences of those running the tabroom. When judges are hand placed by tab, the person running the tab will have a big impact on the type of PF style that is rewarded at a particular tournament.


Judge age. LD judges, especially on the national circuit, tend to be quite young. PF judges tend to be older – teachers, parents, professionals, volunteer community members.


Predictability. Between judge preferences and a more constrained judge pool in terms of age, ideology, and expectations, decisions are more predictable. 




Speed. Talking fast in PF is very rare, but it is common in LD.


More informal. Though LD debate is still much more formal than most policy debate, it can be more casual than PF debate, where dressing to impress a lay audience counts for a lot. There is also less of an emphasis on presentation/speaking skills in LD, as the arguments count for a lot more.




“Professional coaching.” Due to the evolution of argument, the primacy placed on directly quoted evidence, the need to understand and follow more limited community norms, the central role of the preference sheet, and the sheer volume of arguments students need to prepare, the relevance of many generic arguments from past topics, regular professional coaching and/or assistance is needed in L-D.  Many parents and teachers can help students prepare for PF topics by doing some general reading on the topic areas, whereas most are not going to have the time to do all of the reading required to support students in L-D.  Individuals who wish to coach L-LD must be highly engaged in the contents of the arguments that are being debated.


Community Trends


Argument openness. The LD debate community is very open about what arguments are presented in debates and there is a community norm in most LD circuits that students should be posting arguments presented in debates on the caselist. There are even theory arguments that center around the claim that students should lose for not posting their arguments on this list after they present them in a debate. In contrast, in PF debate, even the debaters (let alone many of the parents and coaches), get upset when other teams and coaches scout, share argument flows, and generally discuss what teams say in debates. Some coaches started a PF caselist wiki this fall but it upset many debaters and coaches.


Growth. PF debate is continuing to experience rapid growth, with most PF divisions being larger than most LD divisions. Although I haven’t seen the specific numbers, most people say LD is stagnating (or maybe shrinking), whereas PF is growing.  That said, PF divisions at tournaments do still have hundreds of students competing in them .


International. Many students from other countries are engaging in PF debate and are now debating at US tournaments. LD debate, due to its speed, intense preparation, and frequent focus on debate theory (like Policy) isn’t really accessible to these students, so you are more likely to see international students in PF than in LD.



It’s debate. Both events are focused on making arguments and presenting them in a persuasive manner to the judge. Debaters who are good at developing strong arguments and communicating them persuasively to a judge or set of judges usually win in both events.


Structure of the tournament. Each debate lasts the approximately the same amount of time and is paired in a similar way.


Flowing. Although lay judges do not flow as well, debaters in both events are taught to flow arguments over the course of the debate and keep track of what arguments are being made and answered.  LD judges will require greater attention to detail in the flowing, but debaters in both events learn how to flow.


Similar skills. Both events help students develop skills in research, thinking, argument construction, logical reasoning, attacking arguments, note taking, listening, and packaging ideas (and probably many others). Although LD debate is one on one and does not require learning to work with a partner like PF does, the intensity of the preparation means that LD debaters need to work together with their peers and with their coaches to succeed.