Public Forum Debate Terminology


Add-on.  An add-on isi simply a new advantage (if you are Pro) or disadvantage (if you are Con) that is read in the Rebuttal.  Rather than explicitly presenting a new advantage or disadvantage (since some judges won’t like that), most debaters will will simply read it is a Turn to one of the original advantages or disadvantages.

Advantage  The advantage is one of the benefits the Pro claims from supporting the resolution.  

Advocate.  To advocate something simply means to support it with an argument.  For example, you may advocate going to the mall by making arguments in favor of going there.

Affirmative  Sometimes debaters call the “Pro” the “Affirmative.”  

Alternate causality. Alternate causality is simply an argument that says that there is another cause of the harm that the the Pro seeks to solve for.  For example, if the affirmative says that they save the economy by reducing taxes, the negative may say they do not solve because a housing crash will destroy the economy regardless.

Analytic. An analytic is an argument based off common sense or reasoning.

Answer.  An answer is simply a response to an argument.

Apriori.  An apriori claim is a claim that one teams makes that they will say is more important than all of claims made by the other side. For example, an Pro team may argue that the judge has a moral obligation to support the resolution.  They will argue that this moral obligation should hold even if the negative disadvantages are true.

Argument. Basically, an argument is a claim – an assertion – that is backed up by a warrant or warrants – reasons.  There are many different types of arguments in debate that are discussed throughout this volume and in this vocabulary section.


Backflowing.  After you give a Rebuttal speech you should give your partner a copy of your flow sheet so that he or she can fill in your arguments so that you have a flow of your own arguments. This is most important if you are the Rebuttal speaker because the Rebuttal speaker will need to reference arguments from the Rebuttal in his or her Final Focus.

Before the debate starts, both members of a team should each pro flow their team’s constructive in order that they can refer to it during the debate.

Ballot.  The ballot is where the judge(s) record winner and loser, speaker points for each time, and a ranking of the speakers in the debate in order from 1 to 4.  Many judges will write freestyle comments on the ballot (or type it into if online balloting is used).

Break.  Most tournaments have preliminary debates and elimination rounds.  If you win enough preliminary debates, you will break to elimination rounds.  Each tournament participant will have the same number of preliminary rounds, but only a given number will advance to the elimination rounds.

For one day tournaments, there are no “break” rounds. Awards will simply be given to a certain top percentage of the finishers after a certain number of debates (usually three).

Block. A “block” is simply a list of arguments constructed on a sheet of paper that contain multiple arguments in support of an overall claim.

Brief  A brief is a block.

Burden of proof.  The burden of proof identifies whose responsibility it is to prove various arguments.  The team advancing the argument is always the one responsible to prove various parts.  For example, if the negative team presents a disadvantage, it is their responsibility to prove all parts of the disadvantage.

Burden of rejoinder.  The burden of rejoinder says that once a team advances an argument that it is the burden of the other team to respond to it.  If the team doesn’t respond to it, it is considered to be won by the team that is advancing the argument.


Canned.  A canned speech is a speech that is prepared entirely before the start of the debate.  In Public Forum, the first two speeches (the Constructives) are canned speeches.

Card.  A card is simply a quote that teams read in a debate.  These quotes are called cards because debaters used to bring their quotes to tournaments on index cards.

Case.  The case loosely refers to the contents of the Constructive speeches.

Cite/Citation.  The citation is the source the evidence comes from.  The citation includes the author’s name, the source, the title (if different than the source), the page number of URL, the year, and the date.

Claim.  A claim is simply an assertion made by another team.  They may claim, for example, that an economic decline will trigger a war.

Contention  The Constructive speeches are often organized into contentions. Most Constructive speeches usually have two contentions, but they can have one or more contentions..”

Context.  Context is about whether or not the quote presented in the debate actually reflects the proper context of the article that it is taken from.  An important context question is would the author of the original piece support the use of the quote in the way the debaters have used it.

Context Challenge.  A context challenge is an argument made in the debate that says that the debaters are not using the quote that they have presented in its appropriate context. Context challenges are rare because they are considered a question of ethics.

Cost-benefit analysis.  Cost-benefit analysis is real-world terminology for the language of net-benefits.  Simply, is the advocacy cost-beneficial

Counterplan.  A counterplan is an alternative plan to the Pro advocacy that is advanced by the Con.  Sometimes debaters get away with counterplans in Public Forum, but most judges think counterplans should not be run PUblic Forum (and they ere often explicitly prohibited by the rules).

Cross-fires.  There are questioning periods during the debate.  Cross-fires follow each of the Constructive speeches, the Rebuttal speeches, and the Summary speeches.


Debate theory.  In most areas of the country there are no specific rules governing the debate other than the time limits.  Debate theory is about making arguments over what arguments and argumentative practices should be acceptable in modern debate. Theory is not common in Public Forum, but sometimes debaters argue it.

Defensive arguments.  Defensive arguments refute the basic claim made by the other side by saying that they are not true.  For example, if one said argues that economic decline causes a war and you argue that economic decline does not cause a war, you have made a defensive argument.

Disadvantage.  A disadvantage proves that resolution is undesirable.  If the resolution is, “Resolved; The United States should deploy missile defense,” a disadvantage would be a reason that deploying missile defense is a bad idea.

Drop. A dropped argument is any argument that is not responded to by your opponent in his or her next speech.


Empirical evidence.  Empirical evidence is evidence cited in a debate that is supported by a study.  The evidence doesn’t just rely on the opinion of an expert, on proven support.  It also is a reference to something happening in the past that supports the argument being made.

Empirical solvency.  Empirical solvency is solvency evidence that references an example of the success of the plan in the past.  For example, if the plan worked in Florida it can be used to prove that it is likely to work nation-wide.

Empirically denied.  Empirically denied means that history has denied the argument.  For example, in response to a spending disadvantage, the affirmative  may argue that we have spent a lot of money in the past but the economy hasn’t collapsed.

Embedded refutation.  Teams usually respond to individual arguments made in debate on a point-by-point basis.  Embedded refutation, however, is an advanced technique that is used in rebuttals where a team incorporates a reference to the other side’s argument when answering.  Embedded refutation is an advanced technique that requires skill and practice in answering particular arguments.

Extend.  Extending an argument basically refers to keeping the argument alive in later speeches rather than kicking it.   Extension includes refutation of the arguments made against it.

Evidence.  In debate, evidence refers to quotes debaters introduce to support their arguments.


Final Focus. The Final Focus speeches are the final two minute speeches of the debate. Each side (Pro and Con) has one Final Focus speech.

Flow A flow is what debaters use to take notes in a debate.  Usually most people take notes vertically – in an outline form. In debate you take notes horizontally – noting the arguments and the responses to them across the course of the debate.  Flowing is a fundamental and absolutely essential skill if you want to be a good debater.

Framework. The framework is the explanation of how the judge should evaluate the debate.  What is the most important issue? Saving lives? Acting ethically? Protecting whose interests?

Frontline.  A frontline is a set of arguments that are designed to answer a general argument. Debaters write frontlines common advantages and disadvantages.


High-low.  When deciding speaker awards, tournaments usually drop from considerations a debater’s highest speaker points and a debater’s lowest speaker points.  High-low also refers to how debates are paired at a tournament.  After the first two to four preset debates, most debates are paired high-low within brackets.  What this means is that teams with identical records (say 2-2) will meet in future debates but those with the highest speaker points will debate those with the lowest speaker points.


Impact.  The impact is similar to a harm, though the term is usually used in the context of the disadvantage.  The impact is the final, end problem that results.  For example, if the negative’s disadvantage argues that the affirmative’s advocacy undermines the economy, the impact is the final result – an economic decline may cause poverty, or even trigger a war.

Impact Calculus/Comparison.  The impact calculus or comparison  is simply how one side compares impacts — which one is larger? Which one happens first (time-frame)? Which one is more ethically significant?

Impact defense.  Impact defense consists of impact take-outs.

Impact non-unique.  An impact non-uniqueness argument says that the impact to the disadvantage is already happening – that the economy is in a downturn now, that there is widespread poverty now, or that the war that the affirmative says will happen in already occurring.

Impact take-out. An impact take-out says that the impact is false.  For example, if you argue that an economic decline doesn’t cause a war you are taking out their impact claim that an economic decline causes a war.

Impact turn.  An impact turn says that not only is the final impact not bad, it is good.  For example, if you argue that an economic decline is good because it will protect our environment, you are arguing an impact turn.

Interpretation.  Debaters will offer an “interpretation” of certain terms of the resolution — how they believe the terms of the resolution should be defined/interpreted. These definitions/meanings can be debated by both sides, but that is the general idea.

Internal link  The internal link connects one link to another link, or one link to an impact.  It is often discussed in the context of disadvantages, but all arguments have internal links.  For example, if the Con argues that what the Pro is is advocating  will cause a recession, that recession causes a depression, and a depression causes a war, the internal link is the argument that a recession will cause a depression.

Internal link turn  Just as you can turn an link and turn an impact, you can turn an internal link by arguing that the opposite of the internal link is true.  For example, if the internal link is “recession causes a depression,” an internal link turn is that a recession stops a depression.


Judge  The judge is the person who decides the winner and loser of each debate.  In

Judge paradigm.  A judge paradigm is the paradigm that the judge uses to evaluate the debate.

Judge philosophy.  A judge philosophy is a written statement by a judge that establishes his or her preferences on various debate practices and theoretical issues.   


Linearity.  Most teams who present disadvantages will argue that the affirmative will doe something (like trigger price inflation) that will push us over the brink to complete economic ruin.  All disadvantages do not have to be structured in this fashion, however.  Disadvantages can also be argued as being linear – -that the affirmative plan causes some incremental harm, such as environmental destruction and that each increment of the harm is bad.

Line-by-Line.  Line-by-line refers to going point-by-point through the flow of the other sides arguments and answering each one as you go.

Link. A link is generally discussed as part of a disadvantage.  It is the part of the argument that ties the negative disadvantage to what the affirmative is arguing.  For example, a link to a spending disadvantage argues that the affirmative plan will spend money.

Link defense.  Link defense is an argument or set of arguments that establishes why the link is false.

Link non-unique.  A link non-uniqueness argument attacks the uniqueness of the link.  For example, a link-uniqueness argument against a spending disadvantage argues that the government is spending money now.

Link take-out. A link take-out argues that the link is false.  For example, if the Pro argued a tax increase would not cause a recession, that is a link take-out.

Link turn.  A link turn argues that the opposite of the link is true. If a disadvantage claims that a tax increase will hurt the economy, a link turn would be that a tax increase helps the economy.


Negative. Sometimes people refer to the Con team as the Negative team.

New arguments.  New arguments are arguments made in the debate that are made after the team had a speech to answer the arguments.  For example,if you don’t address an argument made in Constructive speeches until either Summary or Final Focus, your answers will will be considered to be new.

Non-topical.  If the Pro advocacy does not fit within the bounds of the resolution, it is deemed to be non-topical.

Non-unique.  A non-unique argument that says a particular impact will occur regardless as to whether or not a particular advocacy is supported.


Observation.  Sometimes Contentions are called Observations.

Offensive arguments.   If someone tells you to make an offensive argument, you may think that he or she is telling you to be rude. This is not the case, however. An offensive argument simply refers to a turn – a link turn, an internal link turn, or an impact turn.  It can also be an advantage or a disadvantage.

Overview. An overview is a general explanation of a major argument in that occurs before you begin answering the line-by-line argument(s) that the other side has made.  


Pairing.  The pairing is the sheet that is released by the tab room before the start of each debate.  The pairing identifies your team, the team you are debating, the room where the debate will occur, and who the judge(s) of the debate.

Paradigm.  A paradigm is a way of seeing the world. In debate, judges have different paradigms – or ways of seeing the debate.  If you are unsure of how to debate, you may be able to Google your judge online and find their “paradigm.”

Partner.  In Public Forum you debate with a partner – it’s two people vs. two people.

Plan  In Policy Debate, the plan is the Affirmative’s basic statement of how they believe things should be changed. Plans are not accepted in Public Forum. In Public Forum, debaters argue for or against the overall resolution

Power-match. After a set-number of preliminary debates, the tournament  is matched (also known as “power-pairing”) so that teams with the same records debate each other.

Power-pairing.  See power-match.

Power-protect.  After a set-number of preliminary debates, the tournament is power-matched so that teams with identical records debate each other.  Power protect refers to protecting the best teams within those matches so that the teams with the best speaker points in with a given record debate the teams with the worst speaker points who have the same record.

Pull-down. After a set-number of preliminary debates, the tournament  is power-matched so that teams with identical records debate each other.  If there are an odd number of teams with a given record, a team will have to be “pulled-down” to debate a team with a lesser record.

Pull-up. After a set-number of preliminary debates, the tournament  is power-matched so that teams with identical records debate each other.  If there are an odd number of teams with a given record, a team will have to be “pulled-up” to debate a team with a stronger record.

Pre-round prep.  Pre-round prep is all the time that you have to prepare prior to the start of any given debate to prepare.

Preliminary rounds.  Most debate tournaments have both preliminary rounds and elimination rounds. In the preliminary rounds each two person team is assigned a number of affirmative and negative debates (say three of each).  After the preliminary debates are complete, debaters in the top four to thirty two teams (depending on the size of the tournament) are selected to participation in elimination rounds.

Prep time. Prep time is the total amount of shared time allotted within a debate to you and your partner so that you can prepare your speeches. In Public Forum, the standard allotment is two minutes.

Press. A press is any argument made against a piece of evidence. You may, for example, press your opponent’s evidence by arguing that the evidence doesn’t really say what your opponent says.

Probability  Probability refers to how likely something is.  It is an important means of risk analysis.  For example, if you argue that the affirmative plan will destroy the economy, you need to argue how probable that is.  As you will learn in debate, almost anything is possible. The question is how probable is it?

Procedural  A procedural is a debate theory argument that argues that that some specific argument advanced by the other side should not be allowed, and often it will at least be asserted that the procedural objection is a reason to vote against the other side.


Ranks.  In each debate the judge rates the debaters 1-4.  This rating number is your rank in a particular debate.  A 1 is the best rank and a 4 is the lowest rank.

Rebuttal.  In Public Forum, the Rebuttal speeches follow the Constructive speeches. In the Rebuttal, teams must refute the arguments made by the other teams in the Constructive speeches.

Record.  Your record is the total number of wins and losses that you have at any point in a tournament.  For example, if you have two wins and one loss, your record is 2-1.

Resolution  The resolution is the chosen subject for debates.  Pro teams will support it, and Con teams will argue against it.

RFD/Reason for decision. This is the judge’s reason for decision in the debate.

Risk analysis  Risk analysis involves assessing risks of the costs and benefits of a given proposal.  The central elements of risk analysis are the impact, the probability, and the time-frame.

Roadmap.  The road map is the identification of the order you will address the major positions in the debate.  Some judges allow you to give an “off time” road map before your start your speech.

Round.  A round is a single debate that occurs during the course of a tournament.

Round overview.  A round overview is a global overview of the entire debate that is often advanced by one of the final two rebutallists.  Some judges appreciate round overviews and others think that they are a waste of previous speech time.


Scenario  A scenario is a chain of events that results in a given impact.  For example, you a team may argue that if U.S. global leadership declines China will invade Taiwan, triggering a war throughout Asia.

Sign posting.  Sign-posting is using the flow to go point by point through your opponent’s arguments.  When you reference what specific arguments you are answering, and on what flow, you are sign-posting for the judge so that he or she can put your answers in the right place.

Solvency  Solvency is the basic idea that what a side is arguing for will work. For example, if the Pro is arguing for missile defense, they would establish that the missile defense system can shoot down missiles — that is Solvency.

Solvency advocate.  A solvency advocate is someone who supports the solvency.

Solvency turn. A solvency turn is a negative argument that says that instead of solving the advocacy will actually increase the harm that they attempt to solve. For example, Con teams may argue that missile defense encourages countries to build more missiles.

Speaker award.  The person with the greatest speaker point totals at the end of a tournament is the tournament’s top speaker and receives a speaker award.  The person with the second highest total speaker points is the second speaker.  Usual ten to twenty speaker awards are given.

Speaker points.  In every debate a judge assigns speaker points to each debater.  Speaker points are rather subjective.

Spread.  To “spread” in a debate simply means to talk as quickly as possible. It is generally discouraged in Public Forum debate.

Squad.  In this text, the squad refers to everyone from your school’s debate program.  Sometime this is also called the debate “team,” though the word “team” in this text refers to a two person team – you and your partner.

Status quo/squo  The “status quo” is Latin for “the present system.”  

Strategy.  A strategy is a means of achieving a specific goal.  Debaters often loosely use the word strategy to simply reference what arguments they are going to run in the debate.  But, strategy refers to more than that – it refers to a consideration to how that package of arguments will advance throughout the debate to secure victory.

Summary. The Summary Speeches are the third set of speeches in the debate. The speeches are two minutes long.


Tab room. The tab room is where the pairings for the tournament are produced and the results are calculated.

Tabula Rasa Tabula rasa is Latin for “blank slate.”  Generally, debaters wish judges to be “tabula rasa –  or “tab” for short.  They want the judge to leave as many predispositions as possible at home and judge the debate solely based on the arguments made by the debaters.

Tag. The tag is the brief statement that precedes the card that is a basic summary of the card.

Take-out.  A take-out is a strictly defensive argument that refutes the claim made by the other side.  For example, if your opponent claims that economic decline causes a war and you say that economic decline doesn’t cause a war, then you have made a take-out.

Team. In this text, a debate team refers to two individuals – you and your partner.  People often refer to the “debate team” as the squad.

Theory.  See “debate theory.”

Top heavy Top heavy refers to the notion that debaters spend a lot of time giving overviews for their arguments and strongly answering the first few arguments that their opposition makes while ignoring – or at least poorly answering – many of the arguments at the bottom of the flow.

Topical.  The Pro’s advocacy is Topical if it fits within the bounds of the resolution.

Threshold A threshold argument is similar to a brink argument.  When presenting a disadvantage, negatives will argue that the economic decline triggered by plan will push us over the threshold to economic decline.

Time frame  The time-frame refers to how quickly the impact scenario that is isolated by one of the teams will happen. Both teams will usually at least assert that the time-frame for their impact happens quickly and will argue that the judge should give it primary consideration for that reason.

Topicality  Topicality is a negative argument that essentially contends that the Affirmative team’s advocacy is outside the bounds of the resolution.

Tournament.  The tournament is the place where debates occur.  All tournaments have a given number of preliminary debates where everyone participates and then elimination rounds where two person teams debate until the last one is undefeated.

Turn When you turn an argument you say they opposite. If the other side argues you spend money, and you argue you save money, you are turning their argument.  There are three types of turns – link turns, internal link turns, and impact turns. Be careful not to double-turn yourself.


Underview.  An underview is essentially an overview that is given at the end of the speech rather than the beginning.  Underviews can help focus the judge, but arguments that are made in underviews are usually best advanced in overviews because that is when you have judge’s closest attention.

Uniqueness  Uniqueness refers to the idea that the impacts will not occur as long as the Pro or Con advocacy is supported.

Update.  Debaters are always pressed to read recent evidence in debates.  An update is simply a new, more recent piece of evidence that replaces an older piece of evidence on the same argument.        


Voting issue.  Both teams can argue that any given issue is a voting issue – an issue that the judge should vote on before anything else.


Warrant.  A warrant is a reason that is given in support of a claim.  For example:  Claim – economic decline causes war.  Warrant—World War II followed from a period of economic decline.