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5 September 2008

APDA Guide to Parliamentary Debates

While cleaning up my harddisk I found this fole from 2002.  I have posted it here and hope no one is annoyed over copyright.  APDA is the main debating body in the United States.


American parliamentary debate is a formal contest of reason, wit and rhetorical skill which simulates debate in a theoretical House of Parliament. Two teams, the Government and the Opposition, of two debaters each, consider a resolution proposed to the House. A different resolution is proposed each round. The debate is moderated by a Speaker of the House, who will also serve as judge for the round. In parliamentary debate, emphasis is placed on quick thinking, logical argumentation and analysis, an command of rhetoric over extensive research or collection of evidence. Accordingly, no recorded evidence or other outside written material may be consulted during the round.

This Guide is designed to serve as a basic introduction to the format of American parliamentary debate and a brief primer on some of the techniques and methods which make an effective debater. Many of the suggestions outlined here are not written in stone; they merely represent general guidelines and some conventional wisdom, which should be adapted to meet the unique style of each individual debater. Rules will vary subtly with each debating society; check with the host of the particular tournament for any important variations.



Prime Minister Constructive (PMC) 7 minutes

Announce resolution and provide link.

Give clear and precise case statement.

Support case with several independent arguments.

Leader of the Opposition Constructive (LOC) 8 minutes

Provide opposition philosophy

Announce opposition strategy/countercase

Introduce independent analysis

Rebut PMC arguments

Member of the Government Constructive (MG) 8 minutes

Provide overviews

Attack Opposition independent analysis

Rebuild/review Government case

Introduce new arguments

Member of the Opposition Constructive (MO) 8 minutes

Review Opposition philosophy

Introduce new points and analysis

Cover main issues

Counter Member of Government

Set Government burdens

Leader of Opposition Rebuttal (LOR) 4 minutes

Address main issues NO NEW ARGUMENTS

Crystallize with new examples ALLOWED

Provide dichotomies


Prime Minister Rebuttal (PMR) 5 minutes

Summarize Round NO NEW ARGUMENTS

Address crucial issues ALLOWED

Crystallize with new examples (except in response to new

Provide dichotomies arguments made in MO)



It is the duty of the Prime Minister in his or her constructive speech to define the terms of the resolution and present a case for debate. The PM constructive sets the tone and grounds for debate. An organized, well-presented PMC gives the Government a structure on which to build its case. If nothing else, the PMC must present a link to the resolution, clearly state the case the government is presenting, and support the case with at least three different points of analysis.

The Resolution

The resolution may be anything: a philosophical or policy statement, a quote from the Bible, a part of a song lyric, a line of poetry, you name it. Some resolutions will present a specific case for debate ("The U.S. should intervene militarily in Bosnia"). Some may suggest a general theme, such as improving education ("A little knowledge is a dangerous thing") or freedom of speech ("I may disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it"). Different tournaments will have different criteria regarding the scope of interpretation the Government team may give to the resolution. Three basic policies are generally seen. Often, a tournament will present two resolutions each round: one straight or tight link, and one loose link. It is up to the Government which one they choose to use.

Straight Resolution

A straight resolution policy requires debating the resolution literally. While general or ambiguous terms of the resolution may be defined by the PM, both the general principle and specific circumstances presented in the original resolution must be adhered to. For example, if faced with the resolution "That this House would use force to make peace," the government could choose to argue the resolution on its face as a general principle of broad applicability (perhaps choosing to define force as military force, to clarify the scope of the debate), or may choose to argue the resolution by way of a specific, representative example through which the political and philosophical principle inherent in the resolution is upheld (for example, proposing military intervention in Rwanda). Far-fetched or non-literal definitions are not allowed; for instance, in the above example, the Government could not have defined "use of force" as the "war on poverty," and proposed that government spending on the inner cities should be increased.

Sometimes a straight resolution will be presented with the side undetermined: "The United States government should/should not legalize suicide." In such a case, it is the choice of the Government which side they wish to propose; this choice need not be revealed until the beginning of the Prime Minister's first speech.

Tight Link

Under a tight link policy, the Government is not required to debate the resolution directly, but may present a "case" which closely mirrors the theme and conflict suggested by the resolution. Some leeway is allowed, but the general theme of the resolution, if not the specific denotation, must be adhered to. For example:

"The resolution is, 'You can be invincible, if you enter into no contest in which it is not in your power to conquer.' This is a lesson that Saddam Hussein learned the hard way. However, there is also a lesson for the United States in this statement. During Operation Desert Storm, it was clearly in the power of the United States to completely defeat Iraq -- the ground war had only lasted three days, and U.S. forces had almost total control over southern Iraq. We on the Government side believe that, as the resolution suggests, the U.S. should have taken advantage of this invincibility and entered a contest in which its victory was practically assured. Therefore, our case today is that the United States should have continued Operation Desert Storm until U.S. forces had taken Baghdad."


"The resolution before the House is, 'Loose lips sink ships.' The Government feels that this resolution warns of against the dangers of irresponsible speech, and suggests the duty of those in power to prevent the harms inherent in this kind of speech. The Government would like to consider one particular type of irresponsible speech in today's debate: hate speech. We feel that derogatory speech directed at certain groups creates the danger of 'sinking the ship' of civil discourse by promoting conflict, polarization, and potential backlash. Thus, the case we present is that universities should adopt regulations banning offensive speech directed at minority groups."

Under a tight-link policy, the resolution is not debated literally. Rather, it is used as a springboard for a Government proposal (which can be a policy plan or a philosophical principle) which embodies the resolution's thesis -- and, of course, which is not counter-resolutional. Once the link between the resolution and the case is clearly made and accepted, the original resolution recedes into the background and the case is the subject of the debate for the remainder of the round.

Loose Link/No-Link

Under a loose link or no-link policy, the Government generally has the freedom to propose any sort of case they want. While it is a bonus if the case presented reflects the theme of the resolution, it is generally not immensely important. Topicality is not an issue, except perhaps if the case presented is blatantly counter-resolutional. While a witty or original link may get a chuckle from the judge, it will not be a voting issue. If you're operating under this sort of paradigm, don't agonize over the link. The resolution should be used primarily as a vehicle between the introduction and the case; once the case is introduced, the resolution (and the link ) are no longer issues in the round.

In essence, with a loose link policy, the ball is in the Government's court. This is the Government's chance to propose debate on almost any topic they can think of. Two obvious but important criteria apply: the case should be interesting, and it should be fair. Different types of cases and specific prohibitions will be discussed later.

Preparing the Case

The resolution will generally be announced 15 minutes before the start of the round. Thus, the Government team has 10 to 15 minutes before the beginning of the round to map out a case, link that case to the resolution, find strong arguments based on logic, reason and values, and develop these arguments into a comprehensive speech that will persuade the judge to give them the round. Some suggestions:

1. Always run a case that both partners can convincingly support. If the PM doesn't even remotely believe in what the Government is saying, then the Speaker probably won't believe it either. Another item to consider is whether the team feels they can "pull off" a case. Humorous cases that feel a bit risky or the economics case that the MG is still trying to fathom should probably wait for another round.

2. Agonize over the case statement. This part of the speech determines the scope of the debate, and exact wording does count. Be quite specific in defining any questionable or vital terms, lest they come back later to haunt you.

3. Outline the key Government arguments, but keep it simple. They need not be written out word-for-word; this will only tempt the PM to read them straight off the page. By jotting down an outline of arguments with short notes, the PM has more freedom to give a good speech.

4. Plan the closing during prep time. It doesn't hurt to have a good opening thought out beforehand, too.

Types of Cases

Several basic types of cases are often encountered in parliamentary debate. Of course, this list is not exhaustive; some cases lie outside the bounds of these three general areas. In particular, many cases will embody elements of several of these areas; a case on the legalization of euthanasia, for example, will bring forth both policy and philosophical arguments.

The Policy Case

The policy case identifies a particular problem in the world, puts forward a policy plan designed to solve that problem, and urges that this plan be adopted by the U.S. Congress, the Supreme Court, the United Nations, or some other actor (this need not be a governmental body). It is also important that the policy case show some sort of impact; that is, that it effectuate some change in the status quo. Stay away from cases advocating a minor chance in some obscure and little used law, for example; such cases often demonstrate close to zero impact.

* Possession and use of marijuana should be decriminalized.

* The United Nations should grant Japan a permanent seat on the Security Council.

* The corporate income tax should be abolished.

* The Republican Party should remove the anti-abortion plank from its national platform.

The Philosophy /Values Case

With the Government proposing and defending a particular philosophical stance, the philosophy case focuses on abstract principles rather than concrete policies. The philosophy case revolves around a discussion of whether the Government can demonstrate that their interpretation of the moral and philosophical state of things is correct. While real-world evidence can be used to bolster a philosophical assertion, the primary focus is on the clash of philosophical values.

* Liberty should be valued more than equality.

* Capital punishment is inherently unjust.

* A benevolent dictatorship is the best form of government.

* It is moral to actively take one innocent life to save ten others.

The Time-Space Case The time-space case places the Speaker in the position of a person, group of people, entity, etc. other than his or her true identity as Speaker. The Government team may also place the speaker in a time frame other than the present. The Speaker is to judge the case as if he were actually the person (or persons) indicated by the Government team -- thinking within the assigned time frame. Some typical time-space cases include:

* You are God. Make life fair.

* You are Bill Clinton. Do not run for re-election in 1996.

* You are Harry Truman in 1945. Don't drop the atomic bomb on Hiroshima.

* You are Luke Skywalker. Give in to the Dark Side of the Force.

Once the time frame under which the debate is supposed to occur has been established, the "breaking of time-space" is not allowed, given that the established time frame and setup are fair grounds for debate. This means that participants in the debate may not describe events which take place after the set time frame, may not discuss knowledge that was not available to the specified person during that time frame, and may not attribute points of view that would not have been natural to the person whom the Speaker is supposed to embody for the purposes of the round. For example, in a debate set in the 1930s with the Speaker placed in the position of British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain ("Appease Hitler"), the Opposition could not mention the subsequent events of World War II or target atrocities of Hitler that were committed after the signing of the treaty in question.

Time-space cases can be a lot of fun; they can also be very tricky. Sometimes, a poorly thought out time-space case will turn into a debate over the individual in question's psychology or motivation, rather than of the real issues at stake in the round. A failure of time-space comes when the Government argument comes to rest upon suppositions such as "You are person X, and consequently will act in such a manner by your nature." This is a time-space tautology (see below) which the Opposition can break time-space to point out. Another problem arises when the judge is time-spaced into the person of a highly irrational individual. "You are Charles Manson, do X" is not a good case for debate, because Charles Manson -- a megalomaniacal, delusional psychopath -- would not be likely to consider the rational, logical arguments for X that will be offered during the debate. Often, when considering whether to run a time-space case, it may be a better tactic simply to state the case as a hypothetical, rather than a time-space; don't say "You are Congress, do X" when you can simply say "Congress should do X."

Case Prohibitions


A case is too narrow if there are no convincing arguments against it, or if it simply supports an uncontroversial status quo. Such a case is called a truism, and is prohibited. A case can be a truism even if there are some random possible arguments to be made against the proposition. It is considered a truism, for example, that orphans should not be beaten for no particular reason, although there is the possible argument that some orphans may deserve corporal punishment. The line separating a fair case from a truism is necessarily blurry, but should be apparent in most instances -- it's more than fair to ask an Opposition to oppose affirmative action programs, but not to condone active and unjustified racial discrimination against minorities. Because the Government has the burden of presenting a debatable case, they will be heavily penalized for running a truism, and the Opposition has the prerogative to redefine the case (more on this below).


A tautology is a case which is true by definition. Suppose the Government runs "Coke is it." The PM then goes on to define "it" as "a sweet-flavored soft drink." This type of argument is a tautotology, sometimes referred to as "circular logic." Another example: the Government runs that "Politician X should not accept bribery." The Government then defines Politician X as a morally upstanding citizen who would rather die than betray her ethical standards. In this case, the Opposition may be able to say "If she doesn't accept the bribe, then she'll lose the election," but as the case has been defined by the Government, this politician's morals have been set up to be her overarching concern. The Government has thus defined the Opposition into a corner. This is not allowed.

Specialized Knowledge

Detailed facts about a case that are not considered common knowledge are called, oddly enough, specialized knowledge (also known as specific knowledge). In proposing the case, specialized knowledge outside that of the range of a typical, well-read college student, should not be required, as there is no opportunity for the Opposition to prepare for and research the topic proposed. It is assumed that debaters will have a working knowledge of major issues in international and national affairs, basic Western philosophy and fundamental documents like the U.S. Constitution and the Charter of the United Nations. References to such sources or events are not considered specialized knowledge.

If, however, a case hinges on facts or statistics which the Opposition could not be expected to know, or if the entire case involves obscure circumstances, then the Opposition can contest such specific knowledge. For example, avoid cases like "The general fertility rate rather than the average fertility rate should be used in making population projections for Southeast Asia." Similarly, stay away from arguments which involve citing "definitive" statistics from a source which is not generally well-known (i.e., has not received recent and prominent attention in the national news media).

However, simply because a case may involve the price of tea in Zambia does not mean that a Government team cannot run it. In such cases, as long as all of the relevant facts are presented during the PMC, and these facts are simple enough that a previously uninformed observer can understand the case, then the Government should be able to withstand charges of specialized knowledge. A good test for the Government to use is to see whether the PM can clearly explain all of the relevant facts in a leisurely two minutes.

Specialized knowledge applies only to the Government team. There is no such creature as specialized Opposition knowledge. If the Government team happens to run a case about voter registration and it just so happens that the Leader of the Opposition has just finished writing his senior thesis about that particular topic, the Government team has no recourse but to grin and bear whatever drubbing is doled out to them.

Opening and Case Statement

"Thank you Madam Speaker, esteemed Opposition, and my loyal colleague. The resolution before this House today is . . ." So goes the standard opening to a debate speech. These preliminaries should be kept short and direct -- don't be afraid to skip the standard opening altogether; originality is the best way to start a speech.

Begin with a reading of the resolution, and let it guide you in starting your speech. If you can come up with a unique way to capture the Speaker's attention, perhaps a short story that can relate to your case, go for it. You can begin with a humorous story, a serious statement, a personal anecdote, or a combination of all of these. In any case, how you say it is as important as what you say. Smile, appear confident, and jump right in.

The resolution, link (or definition), and case statement should be presented within the first minute and a half for the speech. Keep the case statement clear and concise -- the Prime Minister should be able to state the case in one sentence. A good case statement solidly sets the parameters of the debate. It is the Prime Minister's responsibility to make sure that the Government is not trying to cover too much ground, yet is also providing some space to the opposition. If a case statement includes words like "abolish" (welfare should be abolished), "never" (the United States should never negotiate with terrorists) or "all" (all narcotic drugs should be legalized), then the case is probably too broad.

The case statement is doubly important because the Opposition and the Speaker will copy it down word for word. Everyone will refer to that statement as the framework of the round. If the Government attempts to change or redefine the case statement later in the round, the Opposition will probably protest with loud voice (as well they should). According to debate protocol, once the case statement has been declared, it cannot be changed during the course of the round.


A good PMC should have three or four independent arguments to support the case statement. They should have simple titles ("buzzwords") that can be referred to throughout the round.

Simply stating arguments is not enough. The Prime Minister should paint a picture of what will happen if her case wins, and/or the consequences if it fails. Each of the arguments should directly support the case statement, and these arguments should be fully developed and vividly explained. Arguments should appeal to universally-held values that can be supported from both a logical and an emotional standpoint. For example:

Case statement: possession of marijuana should be decriminalized.


1. Liberty -- Actions which do not harm others should not be forbidden by the government. Recreational marijuana use is such a self-regarding action; therefore, government regulation of it is paternalistic and unjust and should be ended.

2. Misallocation of resources -- Enforcement of anti-marijuana laws is largely ineffective, especially in view of increasingly tolerant social attitudes. Money spent in this area is essentially wasted, and could be put to better use in other, more important areas of law enforcement.

3. Medical benefits -- Studies show marijuana to be less harmful than tobacco, a legal drug, and to have a number of important medical benefits for glaucoma sufferers and others. Decriminalization would allow these individuals to take advantage of its benefits.

When framing arguments, the Government should ask if the points directly support the case statement. If the case is "Social Security should be abolished," simply stating all of the inefficiencies of the present system is not enough. In this case, it is the government's responsibility to show that the present system cannot be fixed and must be completely abandoned (this demonstrates why this case is probably too broad). If the case had been, "The present Social Security system is inefficient and should be changed by plan X," then showing the present problems may advance the case.


At the beginning of the speech, it is often effective for the PM to explain the arguments briefly, referring to them by their buzzwords. As these argument signposts are repeated during the course of a debate, they will evoke and reinforce the arguments that they represent.

The arguments should be presented with the strongest, most emotional point last, and the second strongest argument first. The speaker has to open with a strong point, but by saving the best argument for last, the speaker is able to emphasize that important idea to the Speaker.


In closing, the speaker should tie the speech together by briefly reviewing the points. Referring back to the resolution ties the conclusions to the start of the speech and reinforces the link.

The PM should leave an impression of sincerity and conviction through a short anecdote, an illustration of when will happen if the Government plan is implemented, or a simple statement recapping the ideals behind the case. This technique also gives the Member of Government a theme to return to when he begins his MG constructive.


The Leader of the Opposition must rebut the Government's analysis presented by the PM, and provide positive argumentation in support of the Opposition's side. The LO begins speaking almost immediately after the PM finishes -- there is no prep time between speeches in parliamentary debate.


The primary responsibility of the Leader of the Opposition is to clash. This means that the LO must directly confront the case as presented by the Government -- although he need not accept everything as stated on the Government's terms. Although the Opposition must oppose the stated case, it does not necessarily have to argue exactly what the Government expects.

Assumptions and Definitions -- Take Nothing for Granted

Start with the basis of the Government's case. On what basic assumptions does the Government rely as the foundations for their case? What is wrong or misguided about those assumptions? How can those assumptions be modified to more closely resemble the situation as you see it? (The opposition philosophy can usually be found in the challenge the Opposition chooses to make against these assumptions). Look closely at the definitions presented by the Government. Are they fair, or do they contain a bias that should be examined? What more reasonable definition would you propose? Why is your definition more reasonable? Remember: your primary job is not necessarily to defeat each of the Government's arguments -- it is to defeat the Government's case. Look beyond a simple point-by-point rebuttal for deeper flaws in the case that can work to your advantage.

Opposition Philosophy

The first thing that the Opposition should do upon hearing the case statement is to frame an Opposition philosophy. As the name implies, the Opposition philosophy is the overarching principle which the opposition will support. The opp philosophy is to the Opposition what the case statement is to the Government.

Presenting an idea to support is a much stronger approach than simply attacking the ideas of the Government for two reasons. First, the opposition philosophy allows the Opposition to adopt an affirmative stance. Instead of merely decrying what is said by the Government and playing the role of devil's advocate, the Opposition adopts an independent set of ideals that they can support. Second, by giving the Opposition something to advocate, the opp philosophy compels the Government not only to support their own statement -- they now must attempt to discredit the Opposition philosophy as well.

The Opposition philosophy must do two things:

1. It should be a position statement that contradicts the Government case.

2. It should help create a framework for Opposition arguments.

Also remember, although the Opposition has the responsibility to clash, that does not mean that if the Government says "white" that you are compelled to say "black." In other words, the Opposition does not necessarily have to adopt the position diametrically opposed to the Government.

The Countercase

Suppose that the Government runs that case that "Handguns should be banned from sale in the United States." The obvious opposition would be, "No, handguns should not be banned from sale in the U.S." An alternate opposition would be, "We agree that handguns pose a danger, but basic rights of citizens (the Second Amendment) are important too. We thus counter that access to handguns should be significantly restricted in the United States, but handgun purchase should not be totally banned."

This tactic is called a countercase. A countercase is a plan put forth by the Opposition that attempts to solve the problem presented by the Government more effectively than the Government plan would. A countercase may be almost any plan that usurps the Government's advantages without the Government's disadvantages -- the only rule is that a countercase must be mutually exclusive. This either means that both policies could not go into effect simultaneously or that enacting both policies would be unnecessary. In the above example, an opposition countercase that called for banning AK-47's because they are more dangerous than handguns would not be mutually exclusive: just because AK-47's are banned does not mean that handguns have to remain legal.

Mutually Exclusive Countercases:

Case: "Ban cars in cities."

Countercase: "Restrict city licenses to people who carpool." -- One cannot both ban cars from the city and allow those who carpool to drive in the city.

Case: "Move the capital of Germany from Berlin to Bonn."

Countercase: "Move it to Hamburg." -- Germany cannot have two capitals. Non-Mutually Exclusive Countercase:

Case: "Distribute condoms in schools."

Countercase: "Increase sexual education in schools." -- A school can enact both plans at the same time.


If the Opposition believes that the PM has presented a case which violates one of the criteria set out above (truism, tautology, specialized knowledge), then the Leader of the Opposition should state that within the first minutes of his speech and explain why. If the case is not challenged at this point, the Opposition has tacitly accepted it for the remainder of the round.

If the case is challenged, the Leader of Opposition should "conditionalize" the Government's case and present a more reasonable case that is more debatable, but still within the spirit of the case and the resolution. The reason for conditionalizing a case is that spending the next half hour arguing "yes, it is a truism"/"no, it's not" is boring.

The first step in conditionalizing entails explaining what features of the proposed case make it difficult or impossible for the Opposition to provide clash (Hint: whining is bad. Sounding calm and rational is good.) The Opposition must then clearly explain how the modification it proposes will both maintain the spirit intended by the Government and allow for clash by the Opposition.

Case: "Parents should not torture their children for no reason." (truism)

Conditionalization: "Parents should never spank their children."

Case: "The government should try to reduce police brutality." (truism)

Conditionalization: "Rules regarding use of force by police should be significantly tightened."

Case: "The U.S. should implement a partial wheat embargo against the government of Guinea- Bissau in retaliation for the jailing of political dissidents during its 1994 elections." (specialized knowledge)

Conditionalization: "The U.S. should use economic sanctions against countries which violate human rights."

The "knee-jerk" response of the Opposition is often to attempt to "get even" with the Government by attempting to define them into a corner similar to the one in which the PM attempted to place the Opposition. This can backfire, though, if the Member of Government protests that the Opposition tactics are even more unfair, and then insists on sticking to the original case statement. The Opposition should be reasonable and conditionalize only as far as necessary to insure a good debate. The judge will appreciate the Opposition being such good sports.

Imagine that the Government runs: "Every citizen should contribute to their society through some community service of their choice." This proposition is hard to oppose as "should" is an amorphous term implying a voluntary desire of some kind rather than a government mandate. Obviously, no Opposition should be forced to argue that community service is in itself bad and that greed a l? Gecko is good. The Opposition could attempt to change the case to: "Every citizen should be required to donate X hours per week to community service." Given the value of freedom of choice, any Government team having to support mandatory community service would be in a bind -- the conditionalization here is not much fairer than the Government's original case.

A less risky option for the Opposition: to suggest that the focus of the debate be whether the government should offer significant financial incentives (tax breaks, rebates, etc.) to people who perform community service. The Government is thus allowed to maintain the spirit of their original statement, while the Opposition gains arguments on possible corruption, doing good for the wrong reasons, and a host of other values arguments -- much more fun than whining for twenty minutes about the Government's "truism."

If a case is conditionalized by the LO, the Member of Government has two choices. First, she could argue that the case presented by the PM is not a truism or tautology. To do so, she must provide at least one (but preferably two or three) arguments which a reasonable person could use to oppose the case or must provide a concrete reason why it is not a truism. Second, she could agree that the case is a truism and argue in favor of the conditionalized case. While the Government will be penalized for presenting an illegal case, it is possible (though unlikely) that the Opposition could successfully conditionalize but still lose the debate under the modified case.

Specific Knowledge

There are two types of specific knowledge defenses which the Opposition can employ. The first is to argue that they cannot debate the case due to a lack of knowledge. In this case, the procedure for conditionalizing should be followed. The secong method is to point out to the Speaker that the Opposition is at a disadvantage with the facts but will try to debate the case on general, philosophical grounds.


If the Opposition believes that the PM has presented a case which does not link or which is counter-resolutional, then the LO should state that within the first minute of his speech. The speaker should then provide reasons why the case violates the link rule. Merely stating that the link is bad is insufficient. The judge cannot decide that the link is invalid unless the Opposition argues that it is. After challenging the link, the Opposition should continue to debate the case as presented, in case that the judge decides that the link is valid.

When the Opposition cites a poor link, the Government has two burdens. It must prove that its link is valid and also prove its case on the balance of the evidence presented. While a Government will not often lose a round on link alone, under a straight resolution or tight link policy, it may be heavily penalized. On the other hand, when operating under a loose link or no-link policy, stay away from link arguments. They will seem whiny and irrelevant, and will often cause the judge to penalize the Opposition.

In all cases, the Opposition must debate the case as defined by the Government unless it specifically violates one of the criteria outlined above. The Leader of the Opposition may not challenge the case on the sole ground that her case is "more reasonable" than the one presented by the Government. Debates should not degenerate into extended definitional or topicality arguments. Such an outcome will lead to penalties for both teams.


After challenging, if necessary, the Government's case, the Leader of Opposition must oppose the case by presenting substantive arguments against it. There are two common ways to give an LO constructive that are best avoided. The first is to spend eight minutes generalizing how the Government is wrong using flowery rhetoric that does little to advance the Opposition. The other is to make simple point-by-point responses to each of the arguments made in the PM constructive. The best way for an Opposition to avoid arguing into a corner is to develop an independent structure that stands apart from that set forth by the Government. Once you have your opp philosophy, build your own case with independent points that support that philosophy. Once your own structure is in place, respond to the arguments presented by the Government.

An effective method to use in building the Opposition case is subsumption, also known as cross-application. This means that the Government's points are addressed within the independent points that are used to support the opp philosophy. For instance, an Opposition facing the case to ban handgun sales would probably have to address the Government point that more people are killed in handgun accidents at the hands of family members than at the hands of intruders. The Opposition has the choice to address this point directly ("In answer to the statistic on accidents versus intruders, these accidents are the result of carelessness and will not be eliminated by stopping sales; these handguns are already out there; firearm safety education is a better approach to this particular problem.") or to address it indirectly ("under our counterplan, as access to guns is restricted, there will be fewer irresponsible owners of handguns. This will ameliorate the problem of accidents and send the message that although we recognize a right to be arms in the Bill of Rights, that right entails special responsibilities as well."). Perhaps the best approach, if there is enough time, would be to cover both bases -- subsume the point under the Opposition case structure, and then tackle it directly when the LO moves on to addressing the Government's points.

In subsumption, organization is extremely important. The LO must be painstakingly clear in explaining to the Speaker where and how the Opposition's independent arguments address those already set forth by the Government. Otherwise, a Speaker or a Government team inexperienced with this technique might assume that the Government's points have not been directly addressed, in which case the Member of Opposition will have to spend eight minutes explaining how the LO really did address the Government's points.

A more simple structure (opp philosophy, independent arguments, then direct refutation) can sometimes be the best approach, especially if the Opposition is unsure of how to handle a particular case.


Government teams usually propose a case that they feel will somehow better the world. The job of the Opposition is to point out the harms that the proposed case will cause. Who is going to be better off as a result of the Government plan? More important for the Opposition to consider: who will be harmed? As the Government explains the case, the LO and MO should be brainstorming as many disadvantages as they can think of (some debaters have been known to chant "harm, harm, harm" silently to themselves as they think of ways to attack a Government case). If the Government proposes legalizing marijuana, the harms could include skyrocketing incidence of teenage pot use, the further disintegration of moral standards, a decline in workforce productivity, indirect legitimization of drug use by the government, the need for increased government funds for the administration of marijuana use, etc.

In addressing the arguments themselves, the Opposition can attack the label (is it misleading?), the logic (does the argument intuitively make sense? Can the same argument be "flipped" to support the Opposition instead?) and the significance (does anyone really care if the price of stamps goes up by one cent? Does the world really need another government sponsored research program on the frisbee?).

How strong is the case statement? No matter what else the Government implies, or how they try to modify their case as the debate progresses, the Opposition should be concentrating on the case statement. For instance, a team may have very solid arguments supporting the fact that our present welfare system is ineffective, but their case statement, "Welfare should be abolished," is eminently fallible because of its absolutist stance (see PMC for more on the case statement). In this case, the Opposition may be able to acknowledge that "the Government is absolutely right in everything they have said about the welfare system -- yet they have not shown why it should be entirely abolished." The Opposition can then go on and say that as imperfect as the present system is, the inhumanity of abandoning the poor of this country would be far worse.

Another type of weak case statement is the loosely defined variety -- "Drunk driving laws should be stricter." How much stricter? Why? Where -- is this to be on the international, federal, state or local level? Does this case mean that drunk drivers charged with vehicular manslaughter should be eligible for the death penalty, or does it mean simply that fines should be stiffer and driver's licenses suspended for longer periods? Many times, the Government will attempt to define this type of case more specifically as the debate progresses, but Opposition teams can be caught in the avalanche of a randomly shifting case by the time the PM rebuttal rolls around. With loosely-defined cases, the Opposition should attempt to pin the Government down as soon as possible -- either through points of information (see below) or during the Opposition's first speech. The Opposition should also take the opportunity to explain to the Speaker how and why the case is so amorphous.

Some Specific Opposition Strategies

1. The "Desert Island" Defense. This comes into play when the Government team runs one of those "not-quite-truistic-but-pretty-damn-close" cases. The Opposition should feel free to point out to the judge that the Government has the burden to present a debatable case, but instead has given the Opposition something with only one argument (the "desert island") to stand on. If however, the Opposition does a fantastic job of standing there, and even of expanding their ground some, then they, regardless of the starting position, should win the round. Remember -- the ultimate criterion of parliamentary debate is which team does the better debating, not which team presents the most arguments when starting positions are unequal. This defense should be used carefully, however, for if the Opposition claims that the Government has used such a tactic, but the judge can think of several potent Opposition arguments, the Opposition's plea may fall on deaf ears.

2. The "Third Option" Defense. Government teams will often give the Opposition an "either/or" case, choosing one side for themselves and presenting the Opposition with the other. Sometimes, the Opposition may have to, or, indeed, may want to, accept that choice. There is, however, often a third, fourth, or fifth choice out there for the taking. It is often to the Opposition's advantage to find and choose them when the Government is expecting (and prepared to counter) the first choice offered them. For example, in the case "Given a hypothetical split between the U.S. and Europe, Great Britain should side with the U.S.," the Opposition could certainly oppose directly and defend Europe. However, another choice, not offered by the Government, would be for the U.K. to remain neutral and act as an arbiter between the U.S. and Europe in an attempt to resolve the situation.

3. The "Head-'Em-Off-At-The-Pass" Defense. Occasionally, a Government team will present what is called a collapsing tautology, or other construction which, while appearing to be an open, debatable case will, by the PM rebuttal, have collapsed (often by virtue of new information presented in the MGC or PMR) into something bordering on either a truism or tautology, too late for the Opposition to have pointed it out. An intelligent LO will recognize such a possibility and will state in the LOC that "We would find it immensely disturbing should, during the PMR, the insinuation be made that such and such will happen by definition...." Such notation will typically be enough to deter such an attempt.


The Member of the Government speech is every bit as crucial as the Prime Minister constructive in a round -- the MG constructive is often the difference between success and failure for the Government. The MG must accomplish two main goals: establish the supremacy of the Government case and demolish Opposition attempts at refutation. If the MG fails to do so, the Opposition has twelve long excruciating minutes to obliterate the Government case. If you blow MG, you lose.

On the other hand, a good MG can end the round. Even though it sounds improbable, a devastatingly good Member of Government speech can make everything that is said afterward sound like an epilogue.

Objectives and Strategies

Ensure that the remainder of the round is debated on Government turf.

In other words, bring the debate back to the issue as seen and advocated by the Government. Suppose that the case proposed by the Government advocates ending capital punishment, and the Prime Minister has concentrated on the moral justifications for both positions. The Opposition has perhaps responded by emphasizing the epidemic of violent crime in the U.S. and the political need for a tough stance against crime. The MG then brings the debate back to the Government turf by reminding the Speaker that the original ground proposed for the debate lie in the moral questions and concerns, and not in the political analysis addressed by the LO. Even though the political points brought up by the Opposition are valid arguments, the MG points out that they are not central to the proposed case. In this way, the MG redirects the debate in the direction that was first intended by the Government. (Of course, any MO worth her salt will contest this.)

Destroy and/or dismiss the Opposition's arguments.

For example, in the aforementioned capital punishment debate, suppose that the Opposition had stated in LO that the death penalty is justified because the cost of life imprisonment is so high and taxpayers should not have to support murderers. The MG could then point out that, first of all, the death penalty is actually much more expensive than life imprisonment because of the legal costs of the inevitable series of appeals. Having established that the argument just isn't true, the MG can go on to state that even if life imprisonment were more expensive than the death penalty, this monetary savings in cost could not compare to the moral problems inherent in pronouncing death upon another human being, criminal or not.

This strategy has the effect of a one-two punch. In this example, the MG beats the argument on its own merits, then shows how the Government's argumentation is of greater significance.

In many cases, an Opposition argument will not be as easy to dismantle. If an MG finds it tough to discredit an argument directly, the best strategy is to play down the significance of the argument by contrasting it to a more compelling Government argument. Suppose the Opposition says "Capital punishment is necessary as a deterrent; as a means of saying that people who murder and take the lives of other people will face the loss of their lives as well -- for justice." The MG can then point out that although this may be an idealistic view of what the death penalty is meant to accomplish, the reality is that the death penalty is a means of revenge. The MG can also cite problems with the death penalty in that innocents may be put to death in error.

Never concede the superiority of an Opposition argument.

This mistake is probably the most common, and most avoidable, that is made during MG refutation. Although the MG may personally feel utterly convinced by the brilliant argumentation of the LO, he should never yield to the Opposition, no matter how convincing it may be. In any case, the MG should find some element of each LO argument he can oppose. There is nothing wrong with allowing the validity of a concern raised by the Opposition, especially if the concern is obvious and pressing. To attempt to discredit something which is obviously true only hurts one's case. The way to handle such a situation is to grant it validity but to compare it to Government concerns which far outweigh it.

MG Structure

I. When All Is Good

If all is going mostly according to plan -- the PM clearly outlined the case, the Opposition accepted and responded to the case that the PM introduced, and everyone understands the debate thus far, the MG should:

1. Take a step back and give a brief (and partisan) view of the round. Remember, debate is about contrast, and the MG wants to define that contrast for the Opposition, as well as for the Speaker. Also, note emphasis on the word brief. Don't get too bogged down in detail during the overview -- the object is to paint a sweeping picture that can be fleshed out throughout the speech.

2. Rebut and refute the LO's points using one of the following strategies:

* Subsumption: Use the PM's structure and repeat her buzzwords exactly. Refute the Opposition's points within this structure.

* Reconstruction and refutation: Start with the Government's case and repair any structural damage done by the LO. Follow by hitting the Opposition case and addressing their points directly.

* Refutation and reconstruction: Start by hitting the Opposition's case, addressing their points. Show how the Government case has withstood all Opposition assault.

Always emphasize any Government arguments that the Opposition has ignored, forgotten, or handled clumsily. "The Opposition didn't even address this point, Madam Speaker..."

Remember, if you drop an Opposition argument, it will become the most relevant issue in the round. Example (using capital punishment again -- Government against it, Opposition in favor of it): Suppose that the LO stated the pont that life imprisonment is more expensive than the death penalty, and that taxpayers should not have to work to feed and house murderers. The MG, dismissing this point in his own mind as ridiculous, makes a note to address it but forgets. The Member of the Opposition then rises for her speech and spends two minutes emphasizing that the MG has dropped this "crucial" point. The Leader of the Opposition then spends a minute of the rebuttal re-emphasizing this argument left unaddressed by the Government. Since new arguments are not allowed in rebuttal, the Prime Minister is stopped in the midst of an attempted explanation by a point of order from the Member of the Opposition. Thus, even a really bad, fallacious, irrelevant argument has the possibility of swinging a debate for the Opposition if the MG neglects it.

3. Introducenew arguments. New arguments are so important that it is a good idea for the MG to reserve one or two when the PM is prepping the first speech. If the MG does not introduce new arguments, then he sounds as if all he is doing is repeating what the PM has already said (and lacking new arguments, he probably is). New arguments not only lend potency to the Government case, but more importantly head off Member of the Opposition dumps (see below) by taking up time. They make the MO respond to, and debate the round on, the Government's points, rather than being able to introduce tons of new analysis on his own terms.

II. When All Is Not Good

Sometimes, bad things happen to good debaters. If the PM could have clarified the case or a certain argument a little better, if the LO has misconstrued the case in some way, or if the debate has somehow lapsed into a murky state of chaos, then it is the MG's job to place the debate back on track. He should:

1. "Clarify" what the PM meant (and really did say). Make sure that the case, the ground for debate, and the Government's main arguments are clearly understood by everyone. Back up the PM -- never shy away from what has already been said. If the MG finds it necessary to re-explain a point, he should take the attitude since there seems to be some confusion, which is entirely due to the LO's misunderstanding and/or misrepresentation of it, he'll review the argument -- although what the MG is now saying has, of course, already been eloquently stated by the PM.

Avoid contradicting the PM. If any contradictions appear, rest assured that the Member of the Opposition will exploit them in detail during the next speech -- painting the Government team as dishonest, shifty-eyes villains.

Inform the Speaker what the case is and why she should vote for it. If she does not know this after the PM speech, the Government is in trouble -- if she still doesn't know it after the MG speech, then the case will suffer a slow and painful death.

2. Establish a clear Government structure. It's never too late for organization; more than one case has emerged like a phoenix from the ashes during an MG speech. Clarifying the values that the Government upholds, the MG can reestablish what it is everyone was arguing about in the first place. In a situation where the case is fuzzy, the MG should employ buzzwords and review the PM's points. Again, it is important to show a unified front with the PM -- after all, the MG is merely reiterating what was to be presented at the start of the round (see PMC for more about establishing a structure).

3. Tackle the tough issues now. The MG has the responsibility to dismantle as much of the LO speech as possible. As tempting as it may be for an MG in a tough situation to concentrate solely on rebuilding the case, the MG must take on the LO now -- the PM won't have time to adequately address these early Opposition points in rebuttal. Also, remember that the Opposition has twelve straight minutes after the MG in which to attack the Government. Unless the MG does some damage to the Opposition case, then the PM will be faced with an avalanche by the end of the round.

4. As always, introduce new arguments.

Two Tactics to Avoid

These techniques come under the heading of slimy debate tactics to avoid at all costs. The only thing worse than employing these tactics intentionally is to use them accidentally.

Bad Tactic #1: Dropping a Government argument so it can re-emerge unscathed in the PM rebuttal.

Suppose that the PM mentions a particularly strong argument at the end of her speech, and the LO, for some reason, misses it. The ethical move for the MG is to restate this argument and show that the Opposition completely forgot to address it. Thus, while the Opposition will probably be (rightly) penalized for dropping the point in the first place, the MO at least has a chance to hit the argument and carry it across the debate. If the MG, either intentionally or out of carelessness, forgets to point out that the LO has missed this argument, then the Opposition may not have a fair chance to address it. This tactic is even slimier when the original point, either intentionally or due to time constraints, is mentioned only cursorily in the PMC.

While "dropping" a point in the MGC and "exploding" it in the PMR is not specifically prohibited, it is considered a less-than-ethical tactic which many judges will look down upon.

Bad Tactic #2: Redefining the Government case (a.k.a. the "case shift").

The Government case as presented by the PM has, contrary to expectations, been mightily assaulted by the LO and the MG is nervous about the round. Suppose that the MG sees a way to change the focus of the debate in a way that will stave off debate. Thus, the MG re-presents the case statement, but with subtle changes that preempt many of the Opposition arguments. This tactic is unfair and illegal because the LO has already addressed what she (correctly) though was the stated case, and by redefining the case, the Government attempts to place the Opposition in the unfair position of having to start all over again.

By way of an example: The case statement as presented by the PM reads, "Condom machines should be installed in the bathrooms of secondary schools in the United States." The LO has, naturally, responded to this case by ridiculing the notion that parochial and private institutions be forced to install these machines when their presence violates religious beliefs and represents an unnecessary intrusion into these schools. The MG may wish to make this nightmare a bit less scary by swearing up and down that the Government case refers only to public schools, and not to private or parochial schools. By saying this, however, the MG is attempting a case shift. The Opposition may rise on a point of information or point this out in the MO constructive. Thus, the MG is caught red-handed, the original case statement (which the judge has written down) will stand, and the Opposition will most probably go on to win the round (not to mention the moral high ground).


As the last constructive speaker in the round, the Member of Opposition has the opportunity to develop a unique overview of the debate that encompasses the aims of both sides and their underlying philosophies. The MO also has 23 minutes to analyze the Government case and determine what the glaring problems are.


What is the real harm? Analyze the actual significance of the problem in the status quo instead of the huge disasters the Government claims exist. For example, the Government has proposed that health care be socialized in the United States. The Government speeches detail the horrors that have occurred to vast numbers of people in the United States because they lack health insurance -- people dying en masse in the streets, etc. Although the LO has undoubtedly addressed the absurdity of these claims in the Leader of Opposition constructive, the MO has time to come up with a more detailed indictment of the Government's diagnosed problem and case.

The MO points out that although it is true that some people do fall through the cracks, the majority are covered to a large extent under Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security, local social programs, disability, unemployment insurance, etc. Thus, while acknowledging that there is a problem, the MG points out that the crisis is of a much more manageable scope than the Government would have one believe.

Who will be hurt? Systematically, determine who the Government proposal hurts. In this case, the MO brings forth Canadian examples such as heart patients who have had to wait for several months to obtain surgery. MG also deplores the decline of the overall quality of health care under socialization, the lack of incentives for physicians, the slowdown in the development of technology, and the dire consequences for those who require expensive but life-saving procedures such as transplants.

How can the goal be better accomplished? A better alternative usually exists to the Government case that doesn't hurt the little guy. In this case, the Opposition proposes a set of better options -- any of which would be better than the evil of socialized medicine. These options might include lengthening the term for unemployment insurance, and developing health care programs for unwed mothers and young children.

MO Burdens

1. Weigh. It is your job to put the round in perspective by contrasting the two cases. In the socialized medicine example, the MO explains that any health care problems that exist now in the U.S. are minor compared to the problems that would result from socialized medicine.

Make sure that the Speaker understands the Government case. Before the MO can demonstrate the harms of the case, she has to delineate exactly what the case statement signifies. The Speaker probably wrote down the case statement when it was first uttered in PM constructive, but may not be fully aware of what a socialized health care system entails. Of course, the Government will have described socialized medicine as the only way to ensure that everyone has access to health care, but it will be left up to the Opposition to explain that socialization entails government control of health care, the removal of the profit motive from the health professions, the introduction of an overarching government bureaucracy that will allocate resources, etc.

Present the brilliant counterproposal from the LO and contrast the two. The MO, after having explained the horrors that would result from the Government plan, then shows how new health care programs that target neglected groups would be much more effective at much less cost and with fewer risks than socialization. (See LOC for details on structuring the countercase.)

2. Clarify the Opposition philosophy. If the LO presented a philosophy, structure your speech around the original LO statement. Develop the Opposition philosophy in a more in-depth fashion, as the MO has more prep time and speech time than the LO to devote to the ideals upheld by the Opposition. Remember that the MO is in a unique position to approach the debate from a different angle than the rest of the speakers. If the PM, LO and MG are in the figurative trenches, then the MO is soaring above the field of battle with a good pair of binoculars. While retaining the basic structure of the LO, the MO has the freedom to address a set of issues that might otherwise go unnoticed during a fast and furious round of debate.

If the LO somehow forgot to present the philosophy (but had one all the time), present it explicitly at the beginning of your speech and point out exactly why and how it contradicts the Government case. If the LO didn't have a philosophy, get one!

3. Analyze the MG's speech.

Case shifts: Watch for the MG changing the original case presented in the PMC. Call attention to any slimy shifts and return debate back to the original case (for more on case shifts, see MGC). Remember -- even the most minor changes in the Government case may have wide-ranging repercussions later on. Don't allow the MG to take up any undeserved slack. If in doubt as to whether the debate is shifting, look back at the original case statement and contrast what the MG is saying to what the PM originally stated.

Contradictions: Exploit any contradictions the MG made to the PM. Emphasize the Government's lack of credibility. For example, in a case advocating sexual restraint, suppose that the PM had said "Abstinence is the only realistic policy for the prevention of sexually transmitted diseases." The MG later says that, "Recognizing that abstinence is not a realistic means of prevention for us to expect, we should promote awareness and promote sexual responsibility."

The MO follows by asking, "Which view do they really support? One says that abstinence is 'the only realistic policy,' yet the other blatantly contradicts that statement and says that abstinence is not a realistic expectation." The MO continues, emphasizing that it is impossible to accept pleas for responsibility from a Government team that doesn't even know what it is advocating.

Dropped arguments: Demonstrate to the judge how the points conceded or unaddressed by the MG are crucial to the decision. Remember that the Government has de facto conceded any Opposition points that are not directly addressed during the MG constructive. Note, however, that a dropped Opposition point in itself does not guarantee an Opposition win (the same applies to the Government). Rather, the importance of the point to the round as a whole should be impacted with the judge.

Even better than a dropped point, although more rare, are those points which the MG actively concedes. Suppose that the MG states, "Although there are some serious concerns about the decline of overall quality of health care under socialization, we still feel that our plan should be implemented because it will help those who are now being actively neglected by the system." The MO can then say, "The Member of the Government admits that there are 'serious concerns about the decline of overall health care' under their plan -- if this is the case, and they concede that it is, then why should we dismantle the present system for a system that is far worse, when we can solve the existing problems in a far simpler, less expensive manner? Madam Speaker, I believe that we know the answer to that one."

4. Return to the original LO points and present new arguments. Repeat the LO's buzzwords, and show the ill-founded logic of the MG's responses. New examples are important, because nobody likes to hear the same song and dance ad infinitum. Fresh and original examples are even better. Try to avoid overusing exhausted examples such as references to McCarthyism, anything involving Hitler, or tired metaphors, although clich*s are better than no examples at all.

Some of the best examples are realistic hypothetical instances that you dream up yourself -- verbal composite sketches of events that could have happened, etc. In the socialized medicine case, for example, a good MG example to demonstrate scarcity of resources might be that of a mother who has been trying desperately to obtain a kidney transplant, only to find that the socialized system forces her to wait for months lingering on dialysis. The MG thus shows the Speaker what a socialized system looks like through the eyes of the desperately ill, demonstrating that people will "fall through the cracks" no matter what system is implemented.

The MOC is the Opposition's last chance to bring up new points. Having had so much time to prepare, as well as the help of the loyal LO, the MO should have more than enough to say. One tactic with both positives and negatives, the "MO dump," is explored in more detail below.

5. Stop collapsing truisms. Anticipating the approach of a collapsing truism becomes easier with practice, but there are obvious clues if you know what to look and listen for.

"Problem X is bad." This statement has been used many times in many forms -- homelessness is bad, drug abuse is bad, discrimination is bad, etc. Often, a Government team will attempt to blur the line between a problem and the solution to the problem. Then, in PM rebuttal, the Government states, "Problem X is bad. Since problem X is bad, vote for the Government because we want to do something about it and the Opposition doesn't."

The best way to preempt this illogic is to present a counterplan that solves problem X in a way that is better than the Government proposal (see LOC: The Countercase). Even this approach is no guarantee, however, since the Government has the last word in rebuttal. The burden thus falls on the MO to anticipate this argument, to explain it to the judge, to reemphasize the Government burden in the round, and to point out how unfair this collapsing line of argumentation would be. By stealing the Government's thunder, the MO can keep the Opposition from being caught in the rain.

The idealistic approach. This route to the collapsing truism is a little more difficult to spot. The best clue lies in the type of case presented for debate -- idealistic and passive. "You are Senator Z. You should introduce a bill to pass the Balanced Budget Amendment." "You are a college student. You should circulate a petition on behalf of student civil rights." "You should consider Teach for America."

Notice how none of these cases require follow-through on a complete action. The Government capitalizes on this aspect in rebuttal: "We're only advocating that you take a stand by introducing the bill." "By circulating a petition, you show that you care about these issues -- no one is saying that you have to engage in civil disobedience." "Our case is that you should consider Teach for America -- if you decide that you don't want to commit two years of your life, fine, but you owe yourself the choice."

The best way to defeat this type of collapsing truism is to preempt it in the LOC (see the "Head-'Em-Off-At-The-Pass Defense"), regret the Government's failure to run a real case, and conditionalize (Congress should pass the Balanced Budget Amendment; students should sit-in on behalf of their civil rights; you should commit two years of your life to Teach for America). The MO must also review the implications of allowing the case to collapse, explain how it would be unfair, and review the burdens that the Government must meet. In other words, the MO must make it so hazardous for the PM to go through with the collapse that she wouldn't dare.

The "MO Dump"

One tactic sometimes employed by the Member of Opposition is to "dump" a large number of (purportedly) new arguments during the MOC. The hope is that the Prime Minister, who has only five minutes in rebuttal to wrap up the Government's case and respond to new MO points, will be crushed under the unbearable burden of trying to respond to eight or ten new arguments in so short a time. While the MO dump can be effective, it can also be dangerous.

While it's fine to offer a couple of new points of analysis which occurred to the MO during the course of the round, it is considered highly unethical for the Opposition to "hold back" arguments during the LOC for the sole purpose of introducing them in the MOC and giving the Government less time to address them. This slimy tactic should be avoided at all costs -- not only is it ethically questionable, but many judges, realizing the danger of a pre-planned MO dump, tend to give less credence to arguments (especially major ones) that were introduced first in the MOC, rather than having been brought up by the LO and debated throughout the round. In addition, a Prime Minister faced with an MO dump can seem like the underdog, and may be given the benefit of the doubt by the Speaker.

Another practical problem exists with the MO dump. Often, what may seem like eight or ten "independent" new points will actually be semantic variations on the same two or three basic ideas. A sharp Prime Minister will notice this fact, and, by grouping the dumped points under a few basic headings, may be able to dispose of them en masse in the rebuttal. This not only makes the PM seem brilliant -- something the Opposition should hope to avoid -- but also makes it appear as if the MO was trying to "pull one over" on the judge.


The last nine minutes of a debate provide the final chance for each side to make their cases stick. More than one round has been won or lost in those crucial minutes -- a good rebuttal can mean salvation in a close or even losing round.


The goal of the Leader of the Opposition is to crystallize the fundamental weaknesses in the Government case, solidify the Opposition, and unify what was said in LOC with what was said in MOC. The LOR must be strong enough to prevent the Prime Minister from sufficiently recovering the Government case in rebuttal. It is not enough for the Opposition to be even with or slightly ahead of the Government; the PM will have a chance to overtake the Opposition by having the last word.

The goal of the Prime Minister is to bring the round back to the fundamental values presented in the PMC, to soundly defeat any significant points presented by the Member of the Opposition, and to overcome the final Opposition position as stated in the Leader of the Opposition rebuttal. The Prime Minister's burden in PMR is often the heaviest of the debate -- but the Prime Minister also has twelve minutes to prepare a scathing and eloquent rejoinder. The PM also has the last word.

New Arguments

No new arguments may be presented in a rebuttal, although new examples are always welcome. Essentially, if an area of analysis has not yet been introduced in the constructive speeches, it may not be introduced in the rebuttals. It is legitimate, however, to expand on a previous area of analysis already introduced. In addition, speakers generally may not first respond during rebuttals to unanswered points brought up by the opposing team (one exception to this rule is outlined below). Finally, the PM and LO may bring up new examples to support old arguments, but may not take old examples to make new arguments. An example:

Argument: "Authoritarianism leads to oppression."

Original Example: "Nazi Germany."

Valid New Example in Rebuttal: "Stalinist Russia."

Invalid New "Example" in Rebuttal: "Oppression also leads to economic instability as it did in Nazi Germany."

If an argument in rebuttal is judged to be new, it is as if the argument was never stated, no matter how compelling it may be. It is the opposing team's responsibility to point out new arguments (see Points of Order, below); the judge may not unilaterally dismiss a new point in rebuttal, regardless of how new that point may be.

There is one exception to the rule that no new arguments may be made in rebuttal. Because the Prime Minister rebuttal provides the only opportunity for the Government team to refute points first made in the Member of the Opposition constructive, the PM is allowed to respond to these arguments. Arguments against points first made in LOC that were dropped by the MG are off-limits, however -- even if they were reiterated in the MOC.


Trench warfare is death. Four or five minutes is not enough time to address every point brought up by the opposing team -- especially if you are a Prime Minister facing an "MO dump." Trench warfare almost guarantees that you will forget something important and go down in flames. Even if you feel that you can address every point, doing so this late in the game only confuses the debate and obscures the important stuff. Rebuttals should concentrate on three or four main areas or issues. What is said in these four minutes should summarize the round and compare the basic tenets of each team's position.

In preparing for a rebuttal, an LO or a PM should ask:

"What is the most important issue of this round?" Often, this issue will center around the basic value clash between teams -- equality versus liberty, truth versus a "higher good," obligations at home versus obligations abroad. In most rounds, one or two really good arguments will emerge in MOC -- these should be reemphasized by the LOR and attacked by the PMR.

"What has the other team missed?" Check your flow to see which arguments have been discussed all the way across the debate -- and what issues have been dropped by the opposing team. The former should be discussed for one last time, and the latter should be pointed out briefly but forcefully to the judge.

"If we lose, what will be the reason for decision?" This question is subtly different from the "most important issue" question, because close debates are sometimes lost because of minor and entirely preventable mistakes or omissions. If you are the LO, try to predict which issues the PM will hammer on in rebuttal -- and destroy those arguments before they are made. If you are the PM, note the tone and emphasis of the MO and the LOR so that you can effectively counter the Opposition approach.

Rebuttal Techniques

There are myriad rebuttal techniques -- the following are a broad sampling. Do not try to pack all of them into one speech. Instead, keep it simple. Remind yourself that you have only four or five minutes. In as few words as possible, organize your thoughts and group them under three or four simple headings. Number the areas that you want to hit and order them so that they follow a logical train of thought.

Grouping. The LO and MO may have presented "14 independent levels of analysis," but don't be fooled. These points can often be grouped into three or four general arguments. In a case stating that "You should not tell a white lie," for example, four "separate" points about the importance of friendship, the effects of lying upon friendships, the anger of a friend who has been lied to, and your responsibility as a friend are all part of one basic argument -- lying harms friendships and will harm yours. Argumentation like this is your friend. Take advantage of the chance to consolidate your opponents' case for them, and show that all of their argumentation basically comes down to one or two basic ideas which you can easily counter.

Selectivity. This technique is the intelligent response to the urge to engage in trench warfare. Choose your battles carefully; ignore or briefly dismiss peripheral arguments and get straight to the heart of the debate. In a round involving whether to institute a 50 cent per gallon gasoline tax to offset the deficit, disputes over the number of cars owned in America are almost irrelevant and even silly. Stick to the basics -- Will this hurt the economy more than it helps? Why tax gasoline and something else? Is the deficit the huge liability it has been painted to be? Is the gas tax regressive? Again, three or four issues maximum in a rebuttal.

Multiple responses. This technique, especially useful in a Prime Minister rebuttal, allows the speaker to fire off a number of arguments in order to bring the Opposition case into doubt. Since the Opposition will have no chance to respond, these questions will stay in the judge's mind at the end of the round.

Continuing the above example, suppose that one of the Opposition's main arguments is that a 50 cent gasoline tax will hurt the economy. The Prime Minister can say,

"I have three responses to this. First, this argument is false, because the contraction in GNP can be entirely offset by a change in monetary policy by the Federal Reserve. This argument also falls because both consumers and industry will adjust to the higher prices with car pooling and greater pushed for fuel efficiency -- both much-needed changed. And, even if the Opposition argument held for the short term, the burden which the escalating national debt is placing upon this country is far more dangerous than this tax. The Opposition ignores reality, while we stand for the long- term health of the United States economy."

Overviews. Overviews are a way to organize the overriding themes or value clashes in the round. Point out "key issues," how both sides have addressed (or refused to address) them, and why your side prevails in each. Review essential observations, or the basic facts which have been established throughout the round (i.e., the key parts of the case construct from the Prime Minister constructive). Point out areas of conflict; these are specific points at which clash occurred throughout the round. Here, review the appearance and development of an argument as seen from both sides and then show why it falls to your side. Discuss "proven facts;" for example "Madam Speaker, we proved to you that the long-term future of the U.S. economy is at stake. We showed you that a gasoline tax would compel consumers and industry to increase fuel efficiency and that pressure would be placed upon government to cut the federal budget."

Dichotomies. This technique allows the rebuttalist to compare the fate of the world under the Government plan to the fate of the world under the opposition. This is an effective, vivid, and simple way to point out the main areas of conflict in an interesting manner. Again, draw three or four contrasts that subsume the points you need to make. For example:

"Under the Government plan, the United States government would place yet another unfair tax burden on the middle class. Under the Opposition plan to reduce the budget, we not only avoid higher taxes , but we reduce the deficit as well. Under the Government proposal, the economy, which is still in recession, would stagnate even further. Under the Opposition plan, we stimulate the economy and promote fiscal responsibility."

Dichotomies lend instant organization to the rebuttal, because the form is "They do X and X is bad. We do Y and Y is good because Z." Dichotomies also allow the speaker to create vivid images of the stark horrors imminent under the opposing team's plan, and of the celestial paradise waiting under your own banner of righteousness.

The deadly drop. As mentioned before, dropped arguments suddenly become the most important issues in the round. If an argument your side has made has been dropped by the opposing team, and it is significant enough to win the round, "blow it up" in rebuttal. Point it out, tell an anecdote, explain that the other side was "unable" to refute it, and develop it. By the same token, make sure that you do not drop any of your opponent's significant arguments -- especially important if you are giving the PMR and have to pick up the pieces of an MO dump.



A point of information is a question or statement directed to the speaker holding the floor by a member of the opposing team. To offer a point of information, the debater should rise and indicate that he wishes to offer a point by saying "Point of information" or "Information" or "On that very point." The speaker holding the floor has absolute discretion over whether or not to accept a point of information; this should be indicated within 10 or 15 seconds after the time the other debater rose. If the point is refused, the individual should sit down. If the point is accepted, the individual may direct a short question or comment to the speaker. Points of information should be no more than 15 seconds in length and will count against the time of the speaker holding the floor.

Points of information may be offered between the first and last minutes of the four constructive speeches, but are prohibited during rebuttals. Points of information can help a debater's speaker points and debaters are encouraged to accept and ask points (doing so excessively, however, can be distracting and detrimental). It is generally recommended that each speaker accept two or three points of information during her speech, and offer several during her opponents' speeches, so long as it does not become overly disruptive. Speakers should not interrupt the flow of their speeches to accept a point of information; rather, wait until finishing your sentence or idea before accepting. It is legitimate to tell a debater that you will not accept their point at this time, but will take it later in the round.

Points of information are particularly useful for a number of purposes:

1. To ask for clarification. Especially when presented with a vague or unclear case statement during the Prime Minister constructive, a point of information can be used to pin the Government team down on the specifics of their case and save the round from degenerating into a long definitional argument.

2. To point out a contradiction in the opposing team's argument. If a speaker blatantly contradicts what his partner previously stated, rise on a point of information to point out this contradiction and hurt the other team's credibility.

3. To respond to an argument made by the opposing team. Just as in a constructive speech, a speaker may use a point of information to directly challenge an argument made by the speaker holding the floor. Particularly if the argument just made relies primarily on emotional, unsubstantiated assertion, 15 seconds may be enough to greatly damage it. Be careful, however; if the speaker can immediately fire back with a valid counter-response, the original argument may seem stronger than ever.

4. To point out a fact missed or misstated by the other team. Sometimes, a speaker will, either intentionally or unintentionally, buttress his arguments with faulty or irrelevant factual claims. Points of information give the opposing team an opportunity to impeach these statements. While parliamentary debate is not primarily concerned with empirical disputes, pointing out an obvious factual inaccuracy will weaken your opponents' case.

5. To preview an upcoming speech. A well-placed question or statement can set the stage for a major point which you plan to bring up in a subsequent speech. In addition, hitting a previously unanswered point or raising a new line of analysis in a point of information "puts it on the flow" and makes it possible to re-iterate and expand upon that argument or response in rebuttal without being called on a new point.

6. To inject some humor into the round. A short, witty and to-the-point interjection can often make a point better than several minutes of dry prose. Points of information offer the perfect way to interject humor into the debate and simultaneously catch your opponent off guard.


A point of order is an objection to a breach of the rules of debate which is raised by a debater while one of the members of the other team is speaking. To offer a point of order, a debater should rise and state "Point of order." Briefly state the violation of the rule in question. The speaker holding the floor should stop speaking and remain silent until the point is stated, and the Speaker has ruled it well taken or not well taken. If a point is ruled well taken, the time involved in raising the point will be deducted from the speaker's time. If the point is ruled not well taken, no time will be deducted from the speaker.

While a point of order is being offered or is under deliberation, the speaker holding the floor has no right to respond. Rulings are final and may not be appealed or contradicted by either team. Points of order may be brought in a number of circumstances:

New argument in rebuttal. If a speaker offers a new point not previously introduced in the round in rebuttal, or attempts to first respond to a point previously raised by the other team (with the exception of the PM responding to a point first introduced in the MOC), the opposing team should rise on a point of order. If the point is ruled well taken, the new argument will be disregarded by the judges, and the speaker will not be allowed to continue discussion of it. The judge may not, however, unilaterally dismiss a new point in rebuttal; the burden lies on the two teams to watch out for new arguments.

Case shift in rebuttal. If the Government team attempts to shift or change its case statement in the PMR, the Opposition may rise on a point of order.

A speaker exceeding time limits. After the expiration of their allotted speaking time, each speaker will generally be allowed a 30 second "grace period" to wrap up their speech. If a speaker exceeds this time, a member of the opposing team may rise on a point of order. If ruled well-taken, the speaker holding the floor must conclude their speech immediately and sit down.

Points of Personal Privilege

If a debater feels that a member of the opposing team has seriously misquoted, misrepresented, or insulted her, she may rise on a point of personal privilege. The procedure for stating, deciding upon and timing a point of personal privilege is similar to that used for a point of order. If the point is ruled well-taken, the speaker holding the floor must withdraw the objectionable remark, and may then continue. Only rise on a point of personal privilege in a case of clear misrepresentation or defamation. Also, give the opposing side some leeway -- slight sarcasm or making fun of your case is par for the course, and if you rise in marginal cases such as this you may look as if you are overreacting. Use your best judgment, and keep an eye to the judge to guess his opinion.


An important debating technique to learn is "flowing" -- a system for noting, answering and tracking arguments throughout the debate round.

Most debaters will generally flow the round on an 8 1/2 x 11 or 8 1/2 x 17 sheet of paper -- the "flow pad" -- although some will use smaller or larger paper, index cards, or a combination of the above. To set up a flow pad, set the paper lengthwise and set up six columns -- one for each of the speeches of the round (see back cover for a sample flow). Write the resolution and the case statement at the top of the sheet -- you will need to refer back to them later in the round. As arguments are presented in the round, number then and write them down underneath the appropriate column. You can use arrows or lines to connect arguments with their responses and counter-responses; unaddressed or "dropped" arguments can be circled; and so on.

A well-kept flow will give you an instant picture of the overall pattern of argumentation in the round and to identify arguments which have been or need to be addressed by you or your partner. Use it to identify major lines of analysis when preparing your own speech. Even after your speech is finished, continue flowing the round -- it will be good practice; allow you to help out your partner; and enable you to review the round in its entirety after it's over.

Remember -- most judges will depend on their flows to decide the outcome of the round, so make sure that yours is up to snuff!


Even the best arguments presented in a boring or unconvincing way will not have as much impact. Remember, parliamentary debate is about persuasion -- and persuasiveness includes not only what is presented, but also how it is presented. Accordingly, most judges will take into account some stylistic factors in their decisions and points.

Speaking style is not something that can be taught in a few pages. The best way to improve your style is to practice; the next best, to watch more experienced debaters and public speakers and try to emulate some of their characteristics. While advanced rhetorical and stylistic techniques are beyond the scope of this introductory handbook, here are a few general pointers that may help to combat some of the common stylistic problems faced by novice debaters.

Voice. A common problem of many beginning debaters is to speak in a monotone. This is probably the single most effective way to put a judge to sleep. Vary your tone and pitch -- for most speeches, emulate a conversational tone of voice. Sound confident and self-assured, but not arrogant. This will keep the judge alert and interested, and give you the opportunity to add special emphasis by briefly shifting to a more dramatic tone at key moments. Be sure that the judge can hear you, but do not shout your speech. Your volume should be adjusted to the size of the room -- what could be effective in a lecture hall can be painful in a small classroom.

Speed. Parliamentary debate is not high-speed policy debate. If you were used to "fast" debate in high school, now is the time to undo your old habits. Judges are not specially trained to understand fast talk or "spreading" -- if you are speaking at anything more than about 200 words per minute, you are going much to fast and the judge will miss many of your arguments. In fact, almost every debater would benefit from the advice to slow down. Don't be afraid to pause between key points, before beginning a new argument, or after a particularly important example. Many beginning debaters have trouble filling up all eight minutes of most constructive speeches; one of the best ways to combat this problem is to take advantage of every minute you have -- slow down, and your message will come across all the more clearly.

Diction. Enunciate clearly, but conversationally -- don't slur your words, or the judge may miss something important. Get rid of verbal filler -- don't punctuate your sentences with the dreaded "ummm..." or "errr...." Watch out for crutches like "Mr. Speaker," "As you can see," and so on. They are only distracting and will take away from the real meat of your speech. As your partner to make a note when you use them in excess. And please, try not to slip and call a female judge "Mr. Speaker" or a male judge "Madame Speaker" -- they probably won't be all that offended, but it will sound silly.

Eye contact. Your first parliamentary rounds will not take place in front a large audience -- in all probability, there will only be five or six people in the room. Now is your chance to get rid of any old fears you might have about eye contact or speaking in front of an audience by starting small. Look at the judge, not at your partner or the other team. All comments should be directed toward the Speaker of the House -- she is the one you are trying to persuade. And smile -- if you seem like you are enjoying what you are doing, the judge is likely to find you more convincing (obviously, exceptions to this suggestion apply -- wipe the grin off your face when discussing the atrocities occuring in Bosnia, for example). Resist the temptation to keep your eyes on your flow and simply read from it. Instead, glance down at your notes to get your bearings as you end a major point, and then look up and keep eye contact with the Speaker as you explain your new point. Most new debaters look at their flow about 80 percent of the time, and at the judge about 20 percent. Work toward gradually reversing this ratio.

Gestures and hand movements. Hand gestures should be used to emphasize major points, but excessive use of them will detract from their impact and just make you look overly frantic or bombastic. Make sure that each gesture has a purpose -- don't simply wave your hands about for the mere sake of doing it. Gestures should be decisive, expansive and crisp -- after one is over, return your hand to its resting place; don't just let it hang in the air. When not engaged in a gesture, let them rest alertly at your sides, in a comfortable, unobstrusive position. Often, new debaters release nervous energy by fidgeting with their hands. Some common districting things to avoid: the "praying hands," folded or clasped in front of you throughout your speech; playing with your hair, tie, or clothes; grasping or hunching over the podium throughout your speech; repetitive chopping or "bouncing ball" gestures; hands clasped behind your back; hands in pockets; and "dead hands" laying at your sides without moving.

Movement. Probably the best sort of movement during a speech is none at all. If you feel that you must walk during a speech, take a few steps between points, not in the middle of them. For example: finish your first point; walk in front of the podium; begin your second point; finish; walk back behind the podium. Plant your feet firmly on the ground; don't bounce on your toes or rock back and forth.

General nervousness. Try not to be intimidated by the judge or the other team. Remember, most the judges that you encounter are students just like yourself; don't be embarrasses if you slip up. If you lose your place or stumble over a word, don't get flustered. Instead simply pause, take a deep breath, try to regain your bearings, and begin your sentence again. Don't call attention to your slip by apologizing, and don't lose hope and just sit down. A slip-up, confidently and quietly corrected, probably won't even be remembered after your speech is over.


The goal of competitive debate is to persuade. The object of that persuasion is the judge. The judge is the ultimate arbiter of the round, and his decision is final. Some tournaments will have panels of three or more judges in some rounds; in such a case, judges usually do not confer on their decisions, and the team capturing the majority of ballots is declared the winner. In most cases, however, there will be a single judge, who will also serve as the Speaker of the House.

Judging Criteria

The basic judging criterion for parliamentary debate is simple: persuasiveness. Unlike in some other forms of debate, a team will not automatically win a round due to their opponents' "dropping an argument" or similar categorical criteria. Rather, the judge is instructed to award the round to the team that, in his opinion, did the better debating -- whose presentations and arguments he found most persuasive. While this is necessarily a broad and ambiguous criteria, there are a few particular areas that will be taken into account by almost every judge:

Argumentation and analysis. The backbone of parliamentary debate. A team that presents coherent, logical analysis will fare better than a team that relies (solely) on assertion or emotionalism. Arguments should be clear, convincing, a provide a clash with the other team's values.

Content. While parliamentary debate is not based primarily on evidence or statistics, real-life examples and factual knowledge used to bolster your position will always help. While facts should not be used as a crutch which eliminates the need for analysis, they can provide an important way to anchor and reinforce abstract argumentation.

Refutation. Don't simply present your side of the issue -- make sure that you confront your opponent's arguments head-on and beat them. Again, a single dropped argument will not automatically lose you the round (unless it is a key argument!), but a convincing refutation of most of your opponent's points will be necessary to carry the round.

Organization. Judges appreciate a speech whose arguments are clearly and carefully mapped out. Through signposting and other techniques, different lines of argument should be distinctly presented. Rebuttals should concisely and powerfully distill the most important issues of the round, and should not get bogged down in unnecessary details.

Style and rhetoric. The manner in which arguments are presented is almost as important as the arguments themselves. A smooth, polished and confident speaking style will impress judges. Using rhetorical techniques and flourishes to add flair to a speech will add impact to your presentation.

Wit. Humor is an important parliamentary debate, and its use can add interest and impact to a speech. Wit, appropriate sarcasm, and funny examples and anecdotes will be appreciated by most judges; inappropriate jokes, pure ad hominem insult and mere stand-up comedy generally won't. Effective humor can be one of your most powerful tools, and it will often be taken into account in judges' decisions.

Points of Information. A debater who used Points of Information well will be at an advantage in the round. Both by raising powerful or witty points and by quickly, confidently and effectively responding to points offered by the other team, you can demonstrate your ability to think on your feet -- a quality respected by almost every judge.

Teamwork. Debaters are expected to perform as a team, reinforcing each others' arguments and carrying a coherent team philosophy throughout the round. Don't contradict your partner -- rather expand on arguments previously made to complement the efforts of your teammate.

Speaker Points

In addition to deciding the round, the judge will award each speaker between one and thirty "speaker points." Despite their name, speaker points are not based solely on stylistic speaking ability. Rather, they represent the overall level of debating presented by a speaker -- including argumentation, analysis and refutation in addition to style and rhetoric. Debaters will also be ranked from 1 to 4 in the round, based on their speaker points. Generally speaking, the team with the higher total of speaker points (or, in the event of a tie, the lower number of ranks) will be awarded the round.

Here is a typical speaker point scale:

Below 16: Horrible. Judges will not generally award points in this range unless the speaker, in addition to being unpersuasive and incomprehensible, was deliberately rude or offensive.

16 to 17: Very poor speech. Speaker has serious difficulty maintaining a coherent argument and expressing thoughts; speech ends well before allotted time.

18 to 20: Poor speech. Difficulty in expression and analysis; arguments unpersuasive; does not entirely fill time.

21 to 22: Below average. Speaker is lacking in one or more of the above listed areas.

23 to 24: Average. Generally competent speech; perhaps some minor flaws; unexceptional.

25: Good. Speaker is persuasive and presents material well. Speaker shines in one or two areas.

26: Excellent. No noticeable flaws in presentation or delivery. Persuasive analysis; effective refutation; expert presentation and polished speaking style. A speaker averaging a 26 every round will most probably finish in the top ten of the tournament.

27: Outstanding. Speaker excels in all areas; speech had a tremendous impact on the round; flawless presentation. One of the best speeches of the tournament. A speaker averaging a 27 every round will almost certainly be among the top two or three speakers of the tournament.

28: Among the best speeches you have ever heard. If any speaker finishes with a 28 average, he or she will almost certainly be named the best speaker of the tournament.

29: The best speech you have ever heard. Left you in tears. On the level of the best of Winston Churchill or Martin Luther King. Extraordinarily rare.

30: The best speech ever given, in the history of the world, period. Remember the monolith in 2001? If it took up debate and gave a speech, it might be a 30. It is highly doubtful that you will be seeing any.

The judge's decision, points and comments will be recorded on a ballot which will be given to you at the end of the tournament. Make sure that you review your ballots carefully to identify areas that need improvement. Novices should not be discouraged if they don't win all their rounds or earn high speaker points right away. Debating ability often comes only with practice, and even the most experienced debater has off rounds.

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