A short introduction to debating

In the fall of 2013, the Tilbury House Senior Council conducted a comprehensive Newcomer Workshop which covered every basic debating topic. For newcomers the presentation below may serve as the prefect starting point to hit the ground running in the debating world:

In addition, you will find a similar  Tutorial below, which is equally aimed to give you an idea about how a British Parliamentary style debate should be run.

Note: Not all these points are rules carved in stone; see it as a proposition to start with. For more exhaustive guides to BPS Debating see our Links section.


There are two types of debates:

1.) Problem debates 
concerned with philosophical questions
The questions is: Is sth. RIGHT or WRONG?
You MUST NOT put forward a practical case!

2.) Mechanism Debates 
concerned with practical problems
The question is: HOW should we DO sth.?
You MUST put forward a practical case!
Do not mix up those two types!

Follow the general structure:

1.) Problem (Harm) that needs to be solved

2.) Outcome (Effect) that you want to achieve

3.) Policy that puts your desired outcome into reality. Do not propose more than one thing at a time!


In your argumentation say:

1.) …why it is correct as a matter of principle (philosophical arguments)

2.) …why it works (practical arguments)

3.) …where are the benefits (outcome)

“Because” is one of the most important words in a debate!
If one side proposes valid arguments (facts) the other side should not question them but concede they are correct; you may however raise objections on philosophical grounds or question practical feasibility.


1.) Announcement of structure is helpful but the structure of the speech itself is important; you should always announce the general thrust of your speech within the first 20sec.

2.) Categorise arguments (extremely important for last speakers of 2nd Prop/Opp).

3.) Identify key arguments (esp. all 2nd speakers); clarify arguments and re-assert/confirm what has been said before.

1st Prop

1.) Open motion: LINK IT to the topic you want to debate; this may be a philosophical or a mechanism debate; in the latter case remember to put forward a practical proposal (bill e.g.)

2.) Distinguish between 1st order points (very important) and 2nd order points (less important); always put forward the 1st order points first to create the impression you have a strong case. Weak points in the beginning will make strong points put forward later look weak as well.

3.) For the same reason the team may consider the better/stronger debater going as first speaker.

1st Opp

You may oppose…

– the problem (there is no problem at all, the status quo is fine)
– the policy (the case will not have the desired effect and does harm)
– both the problem and the policy.

You may…

– give a “Split speech” (first rebuttal and then own speech); costs time and you are usually in a rush to get your speech through in 5 min. For novice debaters this approach usually is more appropriate.
– adapt the structure of the 1st Prop and give an “integrated speech” (Rebuttal and own arguments point by point)
If the 1st Prop puts forward a very strong case and you do not see a chance to rebut it, it is dangerous to go further than the 1st Prop. (“We oppose your policy because what you proposed is not enough.”)

2nd Prop and Opp – 1st Speaker

1.) Expand or deepen the debate rather than to extend it with a new case

2.) View things from a different angle; in formerly philosophical debates you may dwell on practical issues and vice versa. Dwell on the framework, the fundamentals and underpinnings that affect the case.

3.) If the 1st Prop (Opp) has been bad in fulfilling its role the 2nd Prop (Opp) has to bring the arguments that should have been brought by the 1st Prop (Opp).

2nd Prop and Opp – 2nd Speaker

1.) Sum up the entire debate

2.) Identify the major clashes and categorise arguments.

3.) Identify key points, show why your side (especially your team) is correct and that you delivered the decisive points.

4.) 2nd Prop – 2nd speaker: You may (but need not) bring new points – only minor points, not substantial ones.

5.) 2nd Opp – 2nd speaker: Do NOT bring new arguments; only bring new examples/reasons to already mentioned points.


Rather do not announce what your partner is going to say.

1.) With open motions you do not know what will be debated anyway.

2.) You may not have the time to consult on points together.


Points of Information (POI)

Taking (1-3 POI):

1.) Listen to it, do not ask the speaker to sit down immediately.

2.) Respond to it, reject it

Offering (not too many):

1.) Content

a. Bring points that go to the heart of an argument; do not raise peripheral points,
b. Do not attack the policy in a POI
c. You may try to lay the ground for your own speech or try to move the debate in the direction suitable for you

2.) Manner

a. Be a gentleman trying to be a debater not the other way around.
b. Do not offer too many points
c. Do not say “on XYZ”, just say “Point of Information” or “On this point”.

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