The following PDFs are great resources for understanding Cross-Examination Debate. They are divided into categories;

General Introductions

Speaking and flowing


Topicality and Theory


Politics Disadvantages

Case Arguments



Resolved: The United States is justified in using private military firms abroad to pursue its military objectives.


The following PDFs are great resources for understanding Lincoln-Douglas style debate.

Resolved: Wikileaks is a threat to United States national security.


As with most public forum resolutions, the February topic is very timely. You will have no trouble finding plenty of articles online about Wikileaks.

There are several terms in the resolution to which you should pay attention. Because the resolution specifies Wikileaks, you are restricted to the leaks for which Wikileaks has been responsible. Other leaks are not relevant.


Judges have various backgrounds. Some have no experience at all, while others are former TOC champions. If you want to be successful, you need to be able to debate in front of all of them and cater to what they want to hear. Often, adapting to a judge can be just as important as your arguments.  The following are some basic guidelines for judge adaptation.

Your Demeanor.  Your demeanor should be calm, cool and collected. If you look nervous, the judge will think you are unprepared and your arguments will seem less convincing. Act like you own the joint, and you will be fine. Confidence is just as much a part of debate as the arguments themselves.  Of course, be careful not to cross the thin line between confidence and arrogance. You should also look like an honest person. While you may think that is a strange thing to say, you never really believe people who have shifty eyes or smirk like they are getting away with something.

Your Dress.  While many debate teams have different dress policies, it is always good to look professional. Even if your coach does not require you to wear a tie and jacket, you should at least be wearing clean, unwrinkled clothing. Guys should stray away from baggy pants and girls should avoid wearing skirts that come above the knee. You should make sure that you are well groomed and look like you’ve bathed. No one wants to be in a small room with someone who is not wearing deodorant!

Your Delivery.  Always give the judge what they want. Before every round, ask the judge how they feel about speed. If they are comfortable with speed, then go ahead and speak fast. If not, then you should slow it down. Speaking quickly, however, may not always be to your advantage. Just because a judge says that they can “handle” speed, that doesn’t always mean that they want you to go fast.  You should be attentive to body language and ask clarifying questions if necessary. If you prepare a long case that requires spreading, you should carry a shortened version as well just in case you run into a judge that cannot handle or does not like speed.

The Environment.  If you have ever been to a debate tournament before, you know that you could be debating anywhere from a closet to an auditorium. So it is necessary to change your behavior according to the features of the room. Speak louder if the room is bigger and softer if the room is smaller. Be mindful of things like noisy air conditioners, loud crowds in the hallway, etc that might influence how loud you should speak. Always arrange the room so that it works for you, but make sure you are making the judge the focal point of the room. You are speaking to her, not the audience or your partner. Make sure you can see the judge at all times-even when the other team is speaking.

Etiquette.  Every judge hates mean debaters. Do not be rude to your opponent. You are much more persuasive if you are professional and courteous. If your opponent says something during his speech that you disagree with, don’t make a face or throw your hands in the air. You will have a chance to rebut them in your next speech, so don’t distract the judge during your opponent’s speech. If you are negative, do not start packing your things during the affirmative’s last speech for any reason. It is rude and makes it seem like you are no longer paying attention.

Different Regions.  Different regions of the United States feel differently about debate. If you are traveling, you’ll want to keep these distinctions in mind. Texas and California are known for being progressive. You’ll see most of the new trends in debate in these places, and the judges here will typically be more open to new and different things.  Texas does differ by region, however. The major metropolitan areas like Dallas, Austin, and Houston will be very progressive while smaller towns will be more traditional. Other parts of the country, especially the Northeast, are very traditional.

Always Weigh.  Regardless of who your judge is, they want you to make the decision for them. By the end of the round you should have picked the most important arguments and be able to succinctly explain why you won the debate. Help the judge decide that you won; they will appreciate it. Even if you feel like you are oversimplifying things, that’s ok. It’s better to oversimplify than leave people in the dark.

Avoid Being Too Technical.  Just because your case can be super technical, doesn’t mean it has to be. Put your arguments in English. As a judge, one of the most annoying things to watch is a debater who thinks that throwing around debate terms and using fancy phrases strengthens an argument. In reality, all this does is make the round confusing and void of clash. Go read your case to someone who doesn’t really know how to debate, and if they don’t understand it, then dumb it down.

Be Ethical.  Don’t lie about dropped arguments, make things up, or put words into the mouth of your opponent. Don’t clip cards or fabricate evidence.  Judges know when you are doing this and most take it very seriously.

Have Several Cases. For the most part, judges fall into three categories: Mama judges, coaches, and college debaters.

A “mama judge” is someone who has no idea how to debate or what it is.  While they aren’t necessarily mothers, they are usually someone who has come along just to help out and got pulled into judging because the tournament needed someone to pick up a ballot. These people will be confused by technical arguments, will hate you if you are mean, and tend to vote based solely on how persuasive you are.  You should have a completely different case for these kinds of judges. It should be simple, void of technical terms and intricate philosophy, and very straight forward.

Coaches know what they are doing, obviously. They will understand technical arguments but will hate it if you are mean. They want clean debates and no shenanigans.

College students can be spotted from a mile away. They are usually wearing hoodies, carrying a cup of coffee, and look like they would rather be anywhere else than judging at a tournament. These people want the same things as coaches, except for that they also want you to be funny. College students are used to faster paced, more difficult debates. Since they have been listening to high school debate all day long, they are bored. If you entertain them, they will probably vote for you.

by David Weeks

What is a card?

A card is a paragraph or several paragraphs taken from a credible scholarly or journalistic source that proves a specific argument true. It is a word-for-word quotation, without adds (unless bracketed), deletes, paraphrasing, or ellipses. This quotation, when put together with a summary tagline and a citation, makes a card.

Why do they matter?

  • We are not professional experts in the fields that we debate. We may debate standardized tests and social networks, but we are not education policy specialists or sociologists. Using a credible source to back up your claims allows you to invoke that source’s authority on the matter. Obviously, your source’s qualifications will not matter if the card does not provide a warrant or reason why the claim is true.


  • They offer us interesting ways to compare clashing arguments.


What makes a good card? (in descending order of importance [generally])

  • Strength of warrant that supports the claim of the argument. Your cards should explain why your claim is true. They should either offer empirical reasons for why your argument is true (ie. Recent study about the failures of standardized tests), or an analytical reason (ie. A is true because B, B is true because C). If you have cards with analytic warrants, make sure they are developed and deep.


  • Author qualifications. The card should be an expert in a related field. Avoid quoting undergraduates or those without some formal post or official experience. Be careful when quoting authors whose credibility is not yet fully established, just as those still in law school. Watch out for politicians when they’re campaigning or trying to appeal to specific groups of people.


  • Source of publication. It’s best to draw from respected scholarly journals and periodicals (such as law reviews, think tank publications, and social science journals). Books from university presses and respected newspapers/magazines are also acceptable. News sources may still be used, but are seen as less legitimate. Avoid news giants like CNN, MSNBC, FOX, etc. Instead, try the Washington Post, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, LA Times, Houston Chronicle, Boston Globe, Christian Science Monitor, the Financial Times, Economist, and BBC. News services like Reuters and the Associated Press are also fine.


  • Date of publication. Some arguments don’t require that your card be extremely recent, but many empirical arguments require recent cards. Arguments about current saving or spending rates, predictions about deficits, or demographic observations should be three years old or less.


  • Specificity. The card should be talking about the matter at hand, rather than an issue only tangentially related to the subject of debate. Often, law journals will refer to court decisions and pieces of legislation, so make sure that what they’re referring to matches up with your intent.


  • Number of warrants. If a card has several arguments or warrants, it is harder to refute.


  • Rhetoric. Choose cards that are concise and forceful.


o Conciseness/Directness/Clarity Avoid wordy cards. If they’re concise and clearly explain the warrant, its probably a good card.

o Forcefulness/Persuasiveness Cards that use forceful, decisive language are more persuasive than boring, dry descriptions

What makes a bad card?

  • Weak warrant


  • Having too many rhetorical questions or excessive archaic language. Would thou not be more persuasive to the arbiter of thy oratorical duel if thou wouldst avoideth the employment of rhetorical questions in thy speech? Indeed thou couldst enhance the clarity of expression of what thou dost opine!


  • “Strawperson” arguments. You should not card a passage that is an author’s explanation of an argument that he/she does not support or endorse. Often, authors will explain the argument of the opposition, or describe an alternate explanation that they disagree with. Do not card them as saying this, because you attach their qualifications to the statement in doing so. Red flags for strawperson args are “It is often said that…” and “[Person X] argues that…”.


  • Mitigated or Qualified statements- Avoid using cards that make highly qualified statements. Do not read a card describing the “worst case imaginable” as what will inevitably happen. For this reason, be careful about reading cards that contain “sometimes,” “occasionally,” “can,” “might,” “it is conceivable that…,” and “has the potential to…”


  • Out of context arguments. Be careful that you aren’t quoting the author on another issue or misinterpreting the intent of the passage.


  • Missing or incomplete citations. Make sure you have a citation, complete with the full name of the author, year of publication, author qualifications, title of article/chapter, title of source journal, book, or website, and page # if applicable.


  • Unavailable to the general public. Avoid sources that are not available to the general public such as private e-mails.


  • Power-tagged. Tagline that you provide for the argument overstates the content of the card, by either exaggerating the impact, or over-generalizes or over-specifies the claim.


  • Under-tagged. Tagline is too vague or understates the impact of the card.


Where do I find them?

  • Finding the articles and books

o Online. Begin with basic searches like dogpile, google, and googlescholar. Debate Central,, victorybriefs, and paradigm provide debate-specific resources. Try,, Proquest, WorldCat, PolicyFile, PAIS International, Wilson’s Education Index, and CSA’s PsycInfo.

o Library. Try your local library, then call regional college and university libraries and ask if they allow guests. If they do, find out what your rules and constraints are (for example, if you can’t check out books, bring change for the copier or scanner).


  • Search terms

o Terms in the resolution

o Political/legal terms of art (eg. Value Added Assessments)

o Influential article that many authors quote

o Footnote mining– find the part of the article that looks most useful and search for the works cited in the foot/end notes of that section)

o Search within search-jstor and lexis can return thousands of results. Try narrowing them down by searching within your search results.

o Control+f to scan a webpage


What do I do once I found a passage for a card?

  • Tag it. The tag should be a concise claim that the card proves true. It should not be much more general or specific than the actual card is.


  • Cite. Include the full citation.


  • Underline/Highlight.

o Maintain warrants, some forceful rhetoric, but don’t underline extraneous wording.

o Do not exclude words that change the meaning of the sentence entirely like “not”, and words that change the strength of the statement like “generally” “sometimes” “might”.



The short story- don’t do it. You will not learn as much, and you’ll get punished. Some coaches and judges are very serious about accurate cites, and fabricating anything can get your school banned from a tournament forever. Besides the fact that it’s wrong, it’s just not smart.

Understanding debate terminology is essential to excelling in the round.  These terms are not limited to debate.  They are applicable more broadly to assessing ideas and arguments.

Affirmative: The side that supports the resolution is affirmative.  The affirmative case explains why the resolution is correct and is presented during the affirmative constructive (AC).

Abuse:  This refers to arguments, assumptions, or definitions made by one side that prevent both sides from completing on equal ground.  Abusive assumptions skew the round in favor of one team.

Apriori- see “Prima Facie” 

Best Definitions:  Debaters may argue that their definition is superior to that of another debater for a variety of reasons such as setting fair limits for the debate or being used in the literature.

Burden of Proof:  A debater who offers an argument must show that it is valid in order for it to be accepted.  In Lincoln-Douglas debate, the affirmative team has the burden to prove the resolution true while the negative has the burden to prove the resolution false.

Card: A piece of evidence with a claim and warrant. 

Constructive: Constructive speeches are speeches in which debaters introduce their position and advocacy.  In Lincoln-Douglas debate the first two speeches are constructives.

Contention: A contention is a major argument in the debate.  Affirmatives and negatives build their cases with contentions.

Criterion:  A criterion is a necessary or sufficient standard by which to measure the competing values.  It is a conceptual tool used to decide which value should be upheld.  For a more detailed explanation, see “Logic in LD: Casing Applications (Continued).”

Cross-ex: Cross-ex and CX are both short for cross examination.  Cross-ex is the time one debater gets to interact with another debater by asking questions.  In Lincoln-Douglas debate, each debater gets three minutes of cross-ex time after his or her opponent’s constructive speech.  The time can be used for clarification or to set up an argument.

Crystallize: Debaters generally crystallize the debate in their last speech.  Crystallizing involves summing up the debate, addressing the most important arguments, and offering voting issues.

Evidence: Evidence refers to published literature introduced into the debate to provide support for an argument.  Lincoln-Douglas debate is less evidence-intensive than Policy Debate.

Flow: Flowing is a note taking technique.  Debaters and judges flow throughout the round to keep track of the arguments being made.  The “flow” may also refer to the notepad itself.

Games Theory: Games theory is the idea that debate must be fair for both sides.  The rules of debate must not provide a better opportunity for one side to win over another.

Ground: Ground refers to the arguments debaters can make during the round.  It is used to say that each side must have sufficient ground for the round to be fair.

Prep Time: In Lincoln-Douglas debate, debaters have a total of three minutes of prep time that can be used during the debate to get ready and plan for their next speech.

Prima Faciae: Latin for “on face”.  A prima facie argument, or an apriori argument, is one that supposedly comes before arguments that relate to the value criterion. Sometimes called a “prestandards issue”, you must answer these arguments somehow, since they are intended to be arguments that will make you automatically lose the round.

Predictability- This is used to refer to how predictable an argument was based upon the topic literature or some standard of preparedness.

Rebuttal: Rebuttal speeches are shorter speeches later in the debate in which debaters argue over issues that were built during the constructive speeches.

Refutation: Arguing against constructive arguments made by the other debater.

Resolution: The topic of the debate.  The resolution sets forth the issues to be discussed in the debate and the respective sides affirmative and negative teams will take.

Spread: Spreading is when one debater makes as many arguments as possible attempting to make too many for the opponent to answer.

Standard- This means the value criterion.

Status quo: The status quo is the current situation while the debate is occurring.

Value: A value is an idea that a debater argues is paramount.  The contentions in an Lincoln-Douglas case uphold the value.  Generally, the debater will present philosophical background to support and explain their value.  For a more detailed explanation, see “Logic in LD: Casing Applications (Continued).”

Value Objection: The negative debater can offer a competing value that is upheld through their case.  The negative must show that this value is superior to the affirmative’s value.

Voting Issue: Both teams can make voting issues throughout the debate.  A voting issue is a reason to affirm or negate.  Voting issues are arguments that have been won by one side or another that conclude that the resolution is true or false.

Warrant: The reason why your claim is true. If an argument has no warrant, it may be automatically disregarded by some judges.

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