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Core elements of debate

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Core Elements of Debating

Typically, a debate is a verbal exchange between at least two parties, with each taking opposing positions. In formal competitions, a debate pivots upon a central motion (also known as a resolution or topic). The motion itself must be debatable, that is, the topic must be worded in such a manner so as to facilitate a fair contest between two distinct and oppositional viewpoints, the affirmative and the negative. While the affirmative’s task is to uphold the motion, the negative’s duty is to reject the motion. Each side must support their relative positions through clear argumentation and legitimate supporting evidence. Often, each side also has to speak directly to their opponent’s argument, by, for instance, exposing weaknesses in both reasoning and evidence.

While various debating formats exist, the elements mentioned here are considered basic and thus common to differing styles. Hence, an understanding of the core dynamics of debate allows one to apply such skills to not only a variety of formal debate formats, but also to other situations in school and in life, formally or informally. Delivering an effective speech, writing a quality research paper, or discussing an issue amongst family and friends, all, to varying degrees, afford one the opportunity to use the basic components of effective argumentation.

Even though formal debate competitions inevitably lead to a winning and losing team, as a valuable educational enterprise, debate need not only be understood as a formal contest, but also as an opportunity to explore or discuss an issue through the employment of critical thinking skills. Indeed, the strength of debate within educational settings rests upon its ability to compel participants to view an issue from differing perspectives, and even from a perspective that one may not personally hold. In this way, debate is an avenue for exploring ideas, developing open-mindedness, and as a means to recognizing the power and responsibility of rhetoric, research, and a fair exchange of ideas. In fact, by emphasizing the value of learning in debate tournaments, educational debate combines traditional competitive debate with the vision of debate as a tool for multi-lateral learning, or for learning how to reason with an effectiveness that extends beyond the formal debate competition environment.

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