What is Debate?

"I may be wrong and you may be right and, by an effort, we may get nearer the truth."

Karl Popper


Debate is a formal contest of argumentation between two teams or individuals.In debating we have two sides Proposition, who supports the Motion and Opposition, who opposes the Motion. More broadly, and more importantly, debate is an essential tool for developing and maintaining democracy and open societies. More than a mere verbal or performance skill, debate embodies the ideals of reasoned argument, tolerance for divergent points of view and rigorous self-examination. Debate is, above all, a way for those who hold opposing views to discuss controversial issues without descending to insult, emotional appeals or personal bias. A key trademark of debate is that it rarely ends in agreement, but rather allows for a robust analysis of the question at hand.

A debate is an organized clash of good ideas. Each side employs worthwhile evidence to promote their viewpoint and to rebut the "flawed" evidence advanced by the other side. Debating is a formal intellectual contest and there are endless ways it can be played. However, a good debate is like a tennis match where each side, following the rules set down, bats ideas back and forth to defeat the other team. As in any other subjective sport, debaters have to persuade the judges that they have won. Yet, debating can be an exciting even dangerous activity because emotions often run high and are a very important of good debating.

Debating is commonly carried out in many assemblies of various types to discuss matters and to make resolutions about action to be taken, often by a vote. Deliberative bodies such as parliaments, legislative assemblies, and meetings of all sorts engage in debates. In particular, in parliamentary democracies a legislature debates and decides on new laws. Formal debates between candidates for elected office, such as the leaders debates and the U.S. presidential election debates, are sometimes held in democracies. Debating is also carried out for educational and recreational purposes, usually associated with educational establishments. The major goal of the study of debate as a method or art is to develop the ability to debate rationally from either position with equal ease.

Although informal debate is common the quality and depth of a debate improves with knowledge and skill of its participants as debaters. The outcome of a contest may be decided by audience vote, by judges, or by some combination of the two.


  • Motion – the topic for a debate
  • Proposition – the side who is in favor of the motion
  • Opposition – the side who is against the motion
  • Chairperson – the person in charge of the debate, who introduces the speakers and makes sure everyone obeys the rules
  • Timekeeper – the person who times the speeches
  • Point of Information – an interruption to a speech
  • Protected time – the time at the end and at the start of someone’s speech, when you are not allowed to make Points of Information
  • Rebuttal – respond to the other side’s arguments and show why you disagree with them

    The floor debate – the part of the debate, when the audience get a chance to say what they think about the issues

  • Summary speech – reminds the audience the main areas of disagreement 


Why debate?


It is an excellent way of improving speaking skills and is particularly helpful in providing experience in developing a convincing argument. Those of you who are forced to argue against your natural point of view realize that arguments, like coins, always have at least two sides.