Policy Debate Vocabulary

Full Policy Debate Textbook



  • Ad hominem: An argument that attacks a person’s character rather than addressing the issue at hand
  • Add-on: An additional affirmative advantage that teams may read in the 2AC. Add-ons are usually very short – two cards. The first card is usually a giant impact card, and the second card is a card that explains how the affirmative avoids the impact.
  • Advantage: The benefit the affirmative claims from solving their harm through their plan.
  • Advocate: To support something with an argument.
  • Affirmative: The side in the debate that affirms the resolution.
  • Agent counterplans: A counterplan that uses a different agent than the affirmative does.
  • Agent-Specification: A theory argument that says the affirmative must specify which branch of the federal government is responsible for implementing the plan.
  • Alternate causality: An argument suggesting another cause of the harm the affirmative seeks to solve.
  • Alternative: In critiques/kritiks, the negative’s proposed different way of addressing the issue raised by the affirmative.
  • Answer: A response to an argument.
  • Anti-topical: A plan that is the exact opposite of what the resolution requires.
  • Apriori: A claim that one team’s argument is more important than all other claims made by the other side.
  • Argument: A claim backed up by a warrant or reasons.
  • Assertion: A statement made without supporting evidence.
  • Assumptions: Arguments taken for granted when constructing an argument, which are not explicit.
  • Attitudinal inherency: Inherency arguing that a particular attitude prevents the adoption of the plan.
  • Attitudinal inherency: One of the three types of inherency, identifying the attitude that opposes the adoption of the plan in the status quo.


  • Ballot: The form the judge fills out at the end of the debate, indicating the winner, speaker points, and rankings.
  • Backflowing: After giving a speech, providing a copy of the flow sheet to your partner to fill in the arguments.
  • Best definition: The definition debaters argue the judge should accept in a topicality debate.
  • Break: Advancing to elimination rounds after winning enough preliminary debates.
  • Bright-line: Clear division between conflicting interpretations, often in topicality debates.
  • Block: A list of arguments constructed to support an overall claim.
  • Brief: Another term for a block.
  • Brink: The point at which a small change will cause a significant impact, often used in disadvantages.
  • Burden of proof: The obligation of the affirmative to prove the resolution true.
  • Burden of rejoinder: The obligation of the negative to respond to the affirmative’s arguments.


  • Case: The content of the First Affirmative Constructive (1AC), including inherency, harms, significance, and solvency.
  • Case attacks: Arguments that directly refute claims made in the 1AC.
  • Case list: A list of arguments that various teams and schools make during debates.
  • Case turn: A solvency turn or an impact turn against the 1AC.
  • Canned: A speech prepared entirely before the start of the debate.
  • Card: A quote read in a debate.
  • Cite/Citation: The source from which evidence is derived.
  • Claim: An assertion made by a team.
  • Competition: The negative must prove that their counterplan is better than the affirmative plan.
  • Conditionality: Arguments that are advanced under certain conditions and may be dropped if proven undesirable.
  • Constructive: One of the four initial speeches in a debate, each 8 minutes long.
  • Contention: Major arguments presented in the 1AC, such as harms, inherency, and solvency.
  • Context: Whether the quote presented in the debate reflects the proper context of the article.
  • Context Challenge: An argument that the debaters are not using the quote in its appropriate context.
  • Counterinterpretation: In topicality debates, the affirmative’s interpretation of terms in the resolution.
  • Counterplan: An alternative plan proposed by the negative.
  • Counter-standard: An opposing topicality standard.
  • Counterwarrant: An argument providing a counter-example to the resolution.
  • Cross-examination: Questioning period between speeches.


  • Decision-rule: An apriori argument that one team contends is the most important in the debate.
  • Defensive arguments: Arguments that refute the basic claim made by the other side by saying they are not true.
  • Delay Counterplan: A counterplan that supports doing the affirmative plan after some delay.
  • Debate theory: Arguments over what argumentative practices should be acceptable.
  • Disadvantage: Proves that the affirmative plan is undesirable.
  • Dirty word critique: A critique of a specific word that one team says is bad.
  • Disclose: Telling the other team your main arguments before the debate.
  • Discursive: Arguments about the choice of words a team may use in a debate.
  • Dispositionality: A form of conditionality where the negative reserves the right to stop advocating an argument.
  • Double solvency: Claiming that doing both the plan and the counterplan will provide twice as much solvency.
  • Double turn: Making both a link turn and an impact turn, which is contradictory.
  • Drop: An argument not responded to by your opponent in their next speech.


  • Elimination rounds: Rounds after preliminary debates where top teams are seeded and compete until one remains.
  • Embedded refutation: Incorporating a reference to the other side’s argument when answering.
  • Empirical evidence: Evidence supported by a study or historical example.
  • Empirics: Evidence based on observed and experimented data.
  • Existential inherency: Inherency indicating that the plan is not being done in the status quo.
  • Evidence: Quotes introduced to support arguments.
  • Extend: To continue arguing a point made in a previous speech.
  • Extensions: Briefs that provide additional support for arguments already made.
  • Extra-topicality: Elements in an affirmative plan that go beyond the resolution.


  • Fiat: The assumption that the plan is adopted for the purpose of testing its merits.
  • Field context: A topicality standard that defines how a term is likely to be used in a particular field.
  • Flip: A turn.
  • Flip for sides: Deciding sides by a coin toss when teams have not previously met in the tournament.
  • Floating PIC: A kritik alternative that endorses all of what the affirmative does but not some minor element.
  • Flow: The method of taking notes in a debate, recording arguments and responses horizontally.
  • Framework: The explanation of how the judge should evaluate the debate.
  • Frontline: A set of arguments designed to answer a general argument.
  • Functional competition: Counterplan competition establishing that the counterplan must do a different thing than the affirmative plan.


  • Games theory: A meta-theory of debate that says the best competitive game should be accepted.
  • Generic: A general argument that applies to many affirmatives.
  • Generic disadvantage: A disadvantage that applies to many affirmatives.
  • Ground: The range of arguments available to both sides in the debate.


  • Harms: The part of the affirmative case that tries to solve for identified problems.
  • High-low: Dropping a debater’s highest and lowest speaker points when deciding awards.
  • Humanitarian impact: Arguments that focus on human welfare and rights.
  • Hypothesis testing: Debate theory focusing on the overall truth of the resolution.


  • Impact: The final end problem that results from an argument.
  • Impact calculus: The method of comparing the impacts of different arguments.
  • Impact defense: Consists of impact take-outs.
  • Impact non-unique: An argument that says the impact is already happening.
  • Impact take-out: An argument that says the impact is false.
  • Impact turn: An argument that says the impact is good.
  • Interpretation: In topicality debates, the meaning of the resolution or terms offered by the affirmative and negative.
  • Inherency: The affirmative must prove their plan is not being implemented in the status quo.
  • Internal link: The connection between one link to another link or impact.
  • Internal link turn: An argument that the opposite of the internal link is true.
  • Intrinsic/non-intrinsic: Arguments that the disadvantage is non-intrinsic to the affirmative plan.
  • Intrinsicness permutation: A permutation that includes action beyond the affirmative plan and all or part of the counterplan.


  • Judge: The person who decides the winner and loser of each debate.
  • Judge philosophy: A written statement by a judge that establishes preferences on various debate practices and theoretical issues.
  • Judge paradigm: The paradigm that the judge uses to evaluate the debate.


  • Kick: Dropping a kritik or disadvantage argument.
  • Kritik: A philosophical criticism of what is being advocated.


  • Language Kritik: A kritik arguing that the other team’s language choice is bad.
  • Legislative intent: A claim made by the affirmative that they get to clarify and explain what their plan means.
  • Limits: In topicality debates, arguments about the scope of interpretations.
  • Linearity: The notion that disadvantages can be argued as incremental harms.
  • Line-by-Line: Going point-by-point through the flow of the other side’s arguments.
  • Link: The part of the argument that ties the disadvantage to what the affirmative is arguing.
  • Link defense: An argument that establishes why the link is false.
  • Link expander: Arguments identifying why a more general link applies well to a particular affirmative plan.
  • Link non-unique: An argument attacking the uniqueness of the link.
  • Link take-out: An argument that the link is false.
  • Link turn: An argument that the opposite of the link is true.


  • Magnitude: The size or extent of an impact or harm, often used in impact calculus.
  • Minor repair: A small change suggested to the status quo in lieu of the affirmative plan.
  • Moving target: A theoretical complaint that the other team’s argument keeps shifting, making it too difficult to answer.
  • Multi actor fiat: Fiating the actions of more than one actor.
  • Multiple perms: A series of permutations advanced by the affirmative.
  • Mutually exclusive: The plan and the counterplan cannot both be done at the same time.
  • Mutual Preference Judging (MPJ): A system where both teams can rank and prefer judges from a pool to increase fairness.


  • Negative: The team that argues against the resolution.
  • Negative block: The two negative speeches that occur back to back – the 2NC & the 1NR.
  • Negation theory: An argument that says any negative argument that responds to an affirmative position is legitimate because it negates it.
  • Net-beneficial: A standard of counterplan competition that says it is better to do the counterplan alone than a combination of the plan and the counterplan.
  • New arguments: Arguments made in a debate that are presented after the opportunity to respond.
  • Non-topical: If the affirmative plan does not fit within the bounds of the resolution.
  • Non-unique: An argument that says a problem will occur regardless of the plan or counterplan.
  • Normal means: The way that the affirmative plan would likely be implemented if passed.


  • Observation: Major arguments in the 1AC, such as harms, inherency, and solvency.
  • Off-case: Arguments that do not directly refute the affirmative case, like topicality, kritiks, counterplans, and disadvantages.
  • Offensive arguments: Arguments that turn the other side’s argument, such as link turns or impact turns.
  • On-case: Arguments that directly refute the affirmative’s inherency, harms, or solvency.
  • Overviews: General explanations of major arguments before answering the line-by-line arguments.
  • Object fiat: An attempt by the negative to fiat out of the object of the plan.
  • Opportunity cost: A concept supporting modern counterplan theory, stating that counterplans are the opportunity cost of voting for the affirmative plan.
  • Overlimiting: An affirmative topicality argument that the negative’s definition is too limited.
  • OSpec: The argument that the affirmative cannot specify its agent, only permitted to defend action by the federal government.


  • Pairing: The sheet that identifies your team, the team you are debating, the room, and the judge(s).
  • Paradigm: A judge’s way of seeing the debate, such as stock issues or policy-making.
  • Partner: In policy debate, it’s two people vs. two people.
  • Performance. In the context of policy debate, “performance” related to kritiks (often abbreviated as “Ks”) refers to a non-traditional argumentation style where debaters use various forms of performative acts to challenge the assumptions, language, and underlying ideologies of the debate topic itself. This approach diverges from the conventional policy debate structure, focusing instead on critiquing the fundamental premises and implications of the resolution, the debate framework, or societal norms. Performance in this context can include a wide range of activities such as storytelling, poetry, music, personal narratives, and other artistic expressions.
  • Permutation (perm): A combination of the plan and all or part of the counterplan or kritik alternative.
  • Persuasive: An argument that is convincing to the audience.
  • Plan: The affirmative’s basic statement of how things should be changed.
  • Plan flaw: An error in the affirmative’s plan writing.
  • Plan meet need (PMN): A solvency argument that says the affirmative plan will not solve the identified harms.
  • Plan spike: Something added to the plan to prevent a disadvantage.
  • Plank: One of the plan mandates.
  • Plan-Plan: An out-of-fashion debate theory where the negative and affirmative both advance plans, and the one with the greatest advantages wins.
  • Plan Inclusive Counterplan (PIC): A counterplan that does part of the affirmative plan but not all of it.
  • Policy-making: A paradigm where the affirmative plan should be voted for if it is on balance beneficial.
  • Positions: Major off-case arguments advanced by the negative.
  • Power-match: Matching teams with the same records to debate each other after a set number of preliminary debates.
  • Power-pairing: See power-match.
  • Power-protect: Protecting the best teams within those matches so that the best teams debate the teams with the worst speaker points with the same record.
  • Pre-fiat: Arguments that the judge should consider prior to assessing the net desirability of voting for the affirmative plan.
  • Pre-round prep: All the time available before the start of any given debate to prepare.
  • Preliminary rounds: Most debate tournaments have both preliminary rounds and elimination rounds. In the preliminary rounds, each two-person team is assigned a number of affirmative and negative debates (say three of each). After the preliminary debates are complete, debaters in the top four to thirty-two teams (depending on the size of the tournament) are selected to participate in elimination rounds.
  • Press: An argument made against a piece of evidence.
  • Prima facia: Refers to burdens that a team must meet.
  • Probability: How likely something is, used in risk analysis.
  • Procedural: A debate theory argument that contends that some specific argument advanced by the other side should not be allowed.
  • Pull-down: Pulling down a team with a better record to debate a team with a lesser record.
  • Pull-up: Pulling up a team with a lesser record to debate a team with a stronger record.
  • Process counterplan: A counterplan that changes the adoption and/or implementation process of the affirmative plan.


  • Qualitative evidence: Evidence based on subjective measures, such as expert opinions or case studies.
  • Quantitative evidence: Evidence based on numerical data and statistics.


  • Ranks: The rating of debaters from 1-4 by the judge in each debate.
  • Reasonability: Issues arising in topicality debates where affirmatives argue their interpretation is reasonable.
  • Reason to prefer: In a topicality debate, a reason advanced by one side for why the judge should prefer their definition/interpretation.
  • Record: The total number of wins and losses a team has at any point in a tournament.
  • Regional overview: An overview of a particular argument.
  • Rebuttal: There are four constructive speeches in the debate and there are four rebuttals. Each debater delivers a constructive and a rebuttal. In modern debate, it is useful to think of each speech after the first as a rebuttal. You are constantly in the process of answering – rebutting – arguments.
  • Resolution: The chosen subject for debates.
  • Risk analysis: Assessing risks of the costs and benefits of a given proposal.
  • Road map: The identification of the order you will address the major positions in the debate.
  • Round: A single debate that occurs during the course of a tournament.
  • Round overview: A global overview of the entire debate, often advanced by one of the final two rebutallists.
  • Run: Making an argument in a debate.


  • Scenario: A chain of events resulting in a given impact.
  • Severance: The affirmative’s attempt to jettison part of their plan.
  • Shell: The basic outline of the off-case argument presented in the first negative constructive.
  • Sign posting: Referring to where you are on the flow and what you are answering so the judge can follow.
  • Solvency: Explains how the affirmative plan will fix the identified harm.
  • Solvency advocate: Someone who supports the adoption of the plan or the counterplan.
  • Solvency turn: A negative argument that says the affirmative plan will increase the harm it attempts to solve.
  • Speaker award: Awards given to the top speakers based on their total speaker points.
  • Speaker points: Points assigned to each debater by the judge in every debate.
  • Spreading: The technique of speaking rapidly to present more arguments in the allotted time.
  • Squad: Everyone from your school’s debate program.
  • Standards: In a topicality debate, the criteria for deciding which interpretation of the resolution the judge should accept.
  • Status of the counterplan: Refers to whether the negative will go for the counterplan in the 2NR or the conditions under which they can kick it.
  • Status quo/squo: The present system.
  • Stock issues: Affirmatives must prove inherency, harms, significance, solvency, and topicality to win.
  • Structural inherency: A type of inherency indicating a structural barrier to adopting the affirmative plan.
  • Switch side debate: Debating both sides of the resolution by alternating between affirmative and negative.
  • Signpost: Making references to where you are on the flow and what you are answering.
  • Solvency turn: A negative argument that says the affirmative plan will increase the harm it attempts to solve.
  • Spread: Talking as quickly as possible in a debate.
  • Status of the counterplan: Refers to whether the negative will go for the counterplan in the 2NR or the conditions under which they can kick it.
  • Structural inherency: A type of inherency indicating a structural barrier to adopting the affirmative plan.


  • Tab room: Where the pairings for the tournament are produced and results calculated.
  • Tabula Rasa: Judges are “blank slates” and should judge based on the arguments made by the debaters.
  • Tag: The brief summary statement that precedes a piece of evidence.
  • Take-out: A strictly defensive argument that refutes the claim made by the other side.
  • Team: In this text, a debate team refers to two individuals – you and your partner.
  • Textual competition: A form of counterplan competition based on the written text of the plan and counterplan.
  • Theory: See “debate theory.”
  • Thumper. A thumper is an alternative causality argument.
  • Threshold: Similar to a brink, arguing that the affirmative plan will push over the threshold to a negative impact.
  • Time allocation: Managing the allotted time for each speech effectively.
  • Top heavy: Spending more time on overviews and early arguments, poorly answering those at the bottom of the flow.
  • Topic: The chosen subject for debates, summarized in one word or the resolution.
  • Topical: Meeting each word of the resolution.
  • Topical counterplan: A counterplan that is topical, increasing public health assistance to Africa in a different way than the affirmative.
  • Topic-specific education: Education gained from debating the specific topic.
  • Tournament: The place where debates occur, with preliminary and elimination rounds.
  • Turn: Arguing the opposite of the other side’s argument.


  • Uniqueness: The argument that the status quo is stable or changing in a way relevant to the plan or counterplan.
  • Underview: Essentially an overview given at the end of the speech rather than the beginning.
  • Underlimits: A topicality theory argument that contends a given interpretation is too broad.
  • Uniqueness counterplan: A counterplan establishing the uniqueness for a negative argument.
  • Update: A new, more recent piece of evidence replacing an older piece on the same argument.
  • Utilitarianism: An ethical theory focused on maximizing overall happiness or utility.


  • Violation: Part of the topicality argument stating the affirmative plan is inconsistent with a word in the resolution.
  • Voting issue: An issue the judge should vote on before anything else.


  • Warrant: A reason given in support of a claim.
  • Weighing: Comparing the significance and impact of different arguments to determine which is more important.


  • Zero-sum: A situation where one side’s gain is exactly balanced by the other side’s loss.