What is Debate?

A debate is a form of public discourse; it is a formal direct oral contest or competition in argumentation between two or more people on a defined proposition at a specific time. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, debate is “a formal discussion on a particular matter in a public meeting or legislative assembly, in which opposing arguments are put forward and which usually ends with a vote.” (The Oxford English Dictionary, 3rd Edition, Edited by J. Simpson and E. Weiner. Clarendon Press, 2010).

A debate, therefore, is a formal, disciplined, and rule-governed contest/competition that is conducted within a set framework. A debate may comprise single participants or teams that include several students. In a typical debate, two teams are presented with a proposition that they will debate, with each team given a set period of time to prepare their arguments. Debates are performed in a structured setting that gives all participants a chance to present and defend their arguments.

In other words, the two debating sides are given a proposition to debate. The Affirmative side of the proposition – also called the Proposition – advocates, supports, and upholds the resolution. The Negative side of the proposition – also called the Opposition – opposes and refutes the resolution; as such, they deny the stance of the Affirmative. Stated differently, the Proposition is the team that attempts to secure the acceptance of a proposition. The Opposition is the team that attempts to secure the rejection of a proposition. It is vital that the proposition should take a definite stance on an issue.

Basic debate styles vary widely in terms of their format, time limits for speeches, the order of speeches, and how arguments are presented. In addition, debating formats vary from one institution or organization to another and debating rules will differ from one competition to another. Despite these differences, debates also have many features in common. Overall, debates are very common in social, political, religious, and educational environments.

Although the topics addressed in a debate can be virtually anything, most debates tackle controversial issues that appeal to the audience. Certain debates also allow for audience participation where attendees can pose questions to the debaters.

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