The Lincoln Douglas Debate Format: Speech-by-Speech

Added on by Henry Zhang.

Each style of debate has its own conventions regarding acceptable arguments, time limits, and formats. In this lesson, we will cover the different Lincoln Douglas debate speeches and what types of arguments are expected during each speech.

The Basics of Lincoln-Douglas

LD is a one on one style of debate that encourages questions of moral permissibility and justice. In each round, the two debaters question the validity of a certain proposition or a resolution. Resolutions are statements rather than questions. Some example resolutions are:

Resolved: It is morally permissible to kill one innocent person to save the lives of more innocent people.
Resolved: Economic sanctions ought not to be used to achieve foreign policy objectives.
Resolved: In the United States, jury nullification is a just check on the government.

Further, each debater is either the affirmative or the negative. The affirmative debater speaks first and last and defends the truth of the resolution. The negative in contrast tries to disprove the resolution.

Each debater in total gets equal time to speak, and there are seven different periods of speaking time that follow the 6-3-7-3-4-6-3 time format.

The Affirmative Constructive - 6 minutes

The affirmative debater is the first one to speak and gets six minutes to present an initial argument in support of the resolution. Usually, these six minutes are pre-scripted, as the negative has not presented any arguments yet so there is no need to adapt. This pre-written position is called an affirmative case or affirmative constructive and is often abbreviated as AC or 1AC.

There are several elements that should be included in an AC:

  • Definitions - many terms in a resolution may be abstract or very specifically defined in the literature. Defining these terms adds clarity to the debate and by convention has been designated as the job of the affirmative debater.
  • Establish what it means to be just or moral - there are many conflicting understandings and paradigms of moral theories. Clarity is needed in order to defend or attack the resolution. (Note: this will be covered in much more depth in the section about standards)
  • Your arguments - you need to present a reason why the resolution is true. This is the part of debate that is most recognizable and accessible and the place where most debate actually occurs. (We'll go more in-depth as to how to make arguments here and here.)

First Cross-Examination - 3 minutes

Cross-examination (also known as CX) periods are the only times when you directly interact with your opponent. In the first cross-examination period, the negative debater spends time asking the affirmative questions. The content of these questions can vary dramatically but in general they fall into one of two categories.

The first set of questions are clarification questions. During the process of the previous six minute speech it is not unlikely that a few arguments were forgotten or not completely understood. Cross-examination is the only real time available to ensure that your opponent's arguments are what you expect them to be.

The other set of questions are pointed ones or ones that are intended to reveal flaws in your opponent's arguments. No argument is perfect, and CX is the best time to reveal these holes because your opponent is forced to answer your questions. These types of questions are in general the better ones to ask because of the advantage they give you in the debate round.

The Negative Constructive/First Negative Rebuttal - 7 minutes

This speech, occasionally abbreviated as NC or 1NR is the negative's first speech. In addition to presenting arguments as the affirmative did, the negative is also responsible for responding to the arguments that the affirmative made. Thus it's ideal to have the first 2 - 3.5 minutes of the NC to be a pre-written speech similar to the AC and to spend the remainder of your time responding to the affirmative.

In your pre-written speech, you often do not need to include definitions or arguments about how to interpret the resolution. The reason for this is that in most cases the affirmative will have interpretations that are natural and easy to adapt to. However, you should have alternative definitions ready in case your opponent proposes definitions that are ridiculous.

During your responses, you should respond to every argument that exists as a reason to believe your opponent. The general convention is that arguments that are not responded to in a given speech are considered true, so it's your obligation to adequately answer everything.

Second Cross-Examination - 3 minutes

This CX period is very similar to the first in terms of strategy and tactics. The only difference is that this time the affirmative debater is questioning the negative debater. In addition to the general questions to be asked, the affirmative can also question responses made to their own arguments, in essence giving them more issues to discuss.

The First Affirmative Rebuttal - 4 minutes

The first affirmative rebuttal or 1AR is the first chance the affirmative gets to respond to the negative's arguments. The 1AR is often considered the hardest speech because you have only four minutes to respond to the seven minutes of arguments made by the negative.

There are various different time commitment strategies that can be used, but the most important thing is to make sure that you still have a proactive reason to prefer your position.

The Second Negative Rebuttal - 6 minutes

The 2NR as it is often called is the last time the negative will have to present their position and give reasons why they should win the debate. While the negative has to answer all of the affirmative's arguments, as was done in the 1NR, they also should give a broad overview of the debate round and why they should win. This broad overview is often the most important part of the round. It involves explaining what all of the main arguments were, how those smaller arguments were resolved, and as a result who should win the round.

Further, another important aspect of this speech is preempting possible responses that the affirmative might make in the 2AR. While this is a good practice in general, it is especially important in the 2NR when you will not have an opportunity to respond once more to the affirmative. Good preemption can be the difference between winning and losing the round.

The Second Affirmative Rebuttal - 3 minutes

The 2AR is the final speech and like the 2NR, much time has to be spent giving a broad overview of the round. For this speech, it is acceptable to spend almost all of your time giving the broad overview of the round. However, an important thing to note is that it is not acceptable to make new arguments in any form. While this is true in general, it is especially true in the 2AR. When your opponent doesn't have another chance to respond, it is seen as cheating when you make new arguments in this final speech.