Glossary of policy debate terms

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This is a glossary of policy debate terms.


In debate an actor is an entity that enacts a certain policy action. If a plan were to have the U.S. send humanitarian aid to Sudan, then the actor would be the United States federal government.

Many times, actors are subdivided into more specific "agents".

The most common agents include the Supreme Court, the President (usually through the use of an Executive Order), and Congress. Sometimes, the actors get smaller and devolve into Executive agencies. For example, on a previous high school debate topic – the use of renewable energy – the plan could use the Department of Energy.

Sometimes the Negative will use a counterplan to solve for the harms of the affirmative and the most common method of doing so is by the use of an agent counterplan, which simply does the mandates of the Affirmative plan through the use of another agent. Sometimes, the Negative will even use another country. If the Affirmative plan were to send peacekeeping troops to Congo, then the Negative would have Bangladesh (or any other country), do it.


In policy debate, the affirmative (AFF) is the team which affirms the resolution. The Affirmative side negates the negative side. The affirmative team will have a plan that they are advocating for that should be within the resolution. For example, if the resolution was that the government should increase regulation of education, a plan might be that the government should ban the use of zero tolerance policies in schools.

The affirmative team speaks first and last.

Agent counterplan[edit]

In policy debate, an agent counterplan is a counterplan that proposes to do affirmative's plan (or part of it) with another agent.[1] For example, if the affirmative plan were: "The USFG should send troops to Liberia" an agent counterplan would be "France should send troops to Liberia." Like most mainstream argument forms in policy debate, they are presumed to be legitimate, though it is possible for the affirmative to defeat them on the grounds that they are illegitimate by arguing that they are unfair, uneducational, or illogical. Because they make it possible for the negative to win without refuting most of the claims of the affirmative case (mooting much of the 1AC offense), they are a key component in many negative strategies.

Most affirmatives try to avoid domestic USFG agent counterplans (e.g., if the plan involves Congressional legislation, the negative might counterplan to have the president issue an executive order) by not specifying their agent beyond the United States federal government in their plan text. On international topics, international agent counterplans cannot be similarly avoided, although many consider them object fiat or otherwise theoretically suspect.

Some debate theorists (e.g., Lichtman and Rohrer; Korcok; Strait and Wallace) have argued the kind of fiat involved with these counterplans is inconsistent with the logic of decision making.[2][3][4][5]

Constructive speech[edit]

In policy debate, constructive speeches are the first four speeches of a debate round. Constructive speeches are each followed by a 3-minute cross-examination period.

In high school, constructive speeches are 8 minutes long; in college, they are 9 minutes.

In general, constructive arguments are the only time that a team can make new arguments. The last four speeches of the debate are reserved for refutations of arguments already made.

In current policy debate, the "first affirmative constructive" (1AC) is used to present the "plan". Whether all new "off-case arguments" must be presented in the "first negative constructive" is a point of contention.[6][7]


In policy debate, defense refers to argument which has no implication other than mitigating an argument made by the opposing team. For example, consider the argument, "A prevents B from happening". "A will not prevent B from happening" is a defensive argument, while "A causes B" is an offensive argument.

Defensive arguments may often be conceded to "kick out" of positions. For example, a team wishing to kick out of their politics disadvantage could concede the argument "Fiat takes out the link." Although this argument is frowned upon by the community, the fact that it is conceded gives it 100% percent weight in the round and thus takes out any offence the other team may have on that flow. For example, an impact turn on a disad with no internal link becomes irrelevant.[8]

Double turns[edit]

It is a classic debate mistake for an affirmative to read both link and impact turns. For example, a negative team might read a disadvantage saying that the plan will collapse the economy, and that economic collapse causes nuclear war. An affirmative would double turn the disadvantage by saying that actually, the plan would prevent the economy from collapsing, and that economic collapse is crucial to prevent nuclear war. Therefore, the affirmative is now arguing that the plan will cause nuclear war. While either of these arguments alone turns the disadvantage, the two arguments together double-turn. The negative can grant these two arguments, and the affirmative is stuck arguing that the plan would cause nuclear war.


In policy debate, a drop refers to an argument which was not answered by the opposing team. Normally, a "dropped" or conceded argument is considered "true" for the purposes of evaluating a debate.

"Silence is compliance." (Sometimes, "Silence is consent.") Debaters tend to use this as a general rule while evaluating a debate round. If a team says nothing against an argument, then because 'silence is compliance', they must agree to whatever the argument was.

An argument is normally considered dropped if it is not answered in the speech in which the opposing team has the first opportunity to answer it. Generally, in the first affirmative rebuttal, the speaker is required to answer all arguments made so far by the negative team. This is because if the affirmative chooses to respond to the arguments in the second affirmative rebuttal, it is abusive to the negative because the affirmative gets the last speech, leaving the neg with no way to refute any argument made.

Many debaters refer to dropped arguments as "conceded," "unanswered," or "unrefuted."

Some judges will not evaluate some arguments, even when they are dropped, such as arguments labeled "voting issues" but which are unsupported by warrants. For example, "the sky is blue, vote affirmative" is an argument that most judges would believe does not need to be answered.

Debaters sometimes use the "dropped egg" argument to refer to arguments dropped by the opposing team, stating that "A dropped argument is like a dropped egg. Once an egg is dropped, it can not be fixed (or whole) again. Therefore, you should disregard their argument..." etc. This argument is optimal for lay, or parent, judges who need a reference to real life to understand the multiple (sometimes complex) arguments of policy debate.


Fiat (Latin for 'let it be done') is a theoretical construct in policy debate – derived from the word should in the resolution – whereby the substance of the resolution is debated, rather than the political feasibility of enactment and enforcement of a given plan,[9] allowing an affirmative team to "imagine" a plan into being.

For example: a student at a high school debate argues that increases in United States support of United Nations peacekeeping may help to render the United States more multilateral. Such an increase is very unlikely to occur from the debate judge voting affirmative, but fiat allows the student to side-step this practicality, and argue on the substance of the idea, as if it could be immediately enacted.[10]

There are different theories regarding fiat:

"Normal means" – going through the same political process comparable with normal legislative processes. There is no overarching, accepted definition of the legislative pathways which constitute "normal means," but clarification about what an affirmative team regards as "normal means" can be obtained as part of cross-examination by the negative team.

"Infinite" or "durable fiat" – the degree to which an imagined, or "fiated", action is considered permanent. In many policy debates, debaters argue about the reversibility "fiated" actions. For example, in a debate about whether the United States Federal Government should implement new regulations designed to reduce climate change, a Negative team might argue that regulations would be repealed if the Republican Party gained control of the Presidency or Congress. Various interpretations of fiats have been constructed in order to promote more realistic policy debates.[11]


Harms are a stock issue in policy debate which refer to problems inherent in the status quo. These problems may be either actual (occrring at the time of the policy decision) or potential (not currently occurring in the status quo, but with the possibility of occurring in the future). In the case of potential harms, the policy offered by the affirmative functions as a preventative measure.

Impact turns[edit]

Example: If the negative argued the plan would cause nuclear war, which is bad, the affirmative could impact turn by arguing that nuclear war is an on-face positive event (perhaps in preventing the development of even more deadly weapons in the future).

An impact turn requires impact calculus, that is: the reasons nuclear war is good must outweigh the reasons why nuclear war is bad.

Very often, kritiks are subject to impact turns on account of their philosophical, rather nebulous impacts; a critique of the state declaring that the purported increase in state power that the plan creates is bad because it unduly exercises power and forces citizens into doing things that they would not choose to do otherwise might be impact turned by first mitigating the harm the state does and then saying that other things the state does — such as provide police and fire services — are good.


Inherency is a stock issue in policy debate that refers to a barrier that keeps a harm from being solved in the status quo.[12]

There are four main types of inherency:[13]

  • Structural inherency: Laws or other barriers to the implementation of the plan. An example of this would be a plan under which the United States federal government imposes unilateral tariffs and quotas to prevent international trade. This plan is inherent because it goes against current World Trade Organization laws.
  • Gap inherency: Although the present system is aware that the problem exists, the steps in place fail to solve the existing harms. An example of this would be a plan removing all American forces from Afghanistan claiming that, although some troops are being removed from Afghanistan in the status quo, not all troops are being removed and the harms of military presence still exist.
  • Attitudinal inherency: Beliefs or attitudes which prevent the implementation of the plan. An example of this would be a plan under which the United States federal government eliminates all immigration laws concerning Mexico. This plan is inherent because the general attitude of Americans is that such increases in immigration would increase unemployment.
  • Existential inherency: Perhaps the strangest of the four, this claims that the plan won't be implemented simply because there is no reason it would be. An example of this would be a plan under which the United States federal government makes playing the board game Monopoly illegal. It may be possible to prove this plan to be a good idea; however, it is inherent and won't happen simply because it hasn't and probably won't. Existential Inherency also means that the Plan is already in action, therefore, there's no reason to implement it.

Despite the classification of these four as the "main types" of inherency, the existence of other types are subject to theory (much like a substantial part of the lexicon for the event). In higher level policy debate inherency has become a non issue. There are some judges who will not vote on it, and negative teams do not run it often because it may contradict uniqueness arguments on disadvantages. However, inherency arguments are more likely to be run with a "Stocks Issues" judge who could hold that the absence of an inherent barrier is enough to merit an affirmative loss.

Internal Link turns[edit]

Example: If the negative argued the plan would cause the economy to collapse, resulting in war the affirmative could internal link turn by arguing that economic decline would actually decrease the desire to go to war.


A judge refers to the individual responsible for determining the winner and loser of a policy debate round as well as assessing the relative merit of the participant speakers. Judges must resolve the complex issues presented in short time while, ideally, avoiding inserting their own personal beliefs that might cloud impartiality. Each judge follows a paradigm, which they use to determine who wins the round.

There are five main types of judge paradigms:[14]

  • Stock Issues: Will ideally vote mainly based on the affirmative case's stock issues, and will usually vote negative if the affirmative has lost at least one of them.
  • Policymaker: Will see whichever team has the most net beneficial policy option as the winner. It's often advised for the negative team to run a Counterplan, as it gives the judge a better option than doing nothing instead of the affirmative case.
  • Tabula Rasa: Latin for blank slate, these judges will view the debate round without any pre-conceived notions of what's important in debate, and will allow the debaters to provide interpretations on how to view the round.
  • Games Player/Game Theorist: Will decide the winner of the round based on the strategy employed by the debaters, as they see debate as a game. Each Games Player judge has a "game" they judge the round on.
  • Lay Judges: Judges who have little to no experience in debate, and isn't familiar with the terminology or format of the activity.

Link turns[edit]

Example: If the negative argued the plan would destroy the economy, the affirmative would link turn this argument by arguing that the plan would help the economy.

A link turn requires that the affirmative win that there is no uniqueness (Uniqueness says that the disadvantage will not occur in the status quo). In the above example, in order to link turn effectively, the affirmative would need to win that the economy would collapse. Otherwise, the Negative can kick the disadvantage, arguing it is a moot issue, by saying that economic collapse will not occur in the status quo, so the prevention of a non-existent event carries no advantage.


A kritik is a form of argument that challenges a certain mindset or assumption made by the opposing team, often from the perspective of critical theory. A kritik can either be deployed by the negative team to challenge the affirmative advocacy or by the affirmative team to indict the status quo or the negative advocacy. The structure of the kritik is generally similar to that of the disadvantage in that it includes a link and an impact or implication. Unlike the disadvantage, however, it excludes uniqueness and includes an alternative or "advocacy statement". The term is German for 'criticism or critique' (and capitalized in that language, though usually not in English).


In policy debate, the Negative (NEG) is the team which negates the resolution and contends with the affirmative team.

The negative team speaks second and second to last.

Negative block[edit]

In policy debate, the negative block refers to the second negative constructive (2NC) and the first negative rebuttal (1NR). Although the two speeches are divided by a three-minute cross-examination of the 2NC, they are given back to back without the interruption of an affirmative speech. This is a result of the affirmative having the first and last speech.

Almost universally, negative teams will "split the block" by dividing the arguments between their speeches to avoid repeating themselves. Usually, the division will be based on flows, but sometimes based on second affirmative constructive (2AC) arguments if there is a more compelling reason to divide arguments on flows. Often the 2NC and 1NR will go for different "worlds" of arguments, enabling the 2NR to go for only 2NC or only 1NR arguments, if the opportunity presents itself.

Because the 1NR has the ability to answer arguments which were dropped by the 2NC, the cross-examination of the 2NC will generally not emphasize dropped arguments. Also, because the cross-examination provides de facto preparation time to the 1NR, some debaters will end the cross-examination early if they have no important questions to ask.

Off-case arguments[edit]

Off-case arguments, sometimes called On-Plan arguments are policy debate arguments presented by the negative in the 1NC. They are generally flowed on a separate sheet of paper each and read before case arguments.

They are so named because they are not directly responsive to the arguments made by the 1AC.

Topicality, although a stock issue, is universally considered an off-case argument, because it deals directly with the plan text rather than the evidence behind it.


In policy debate, offense refers to arguments that make a definite value judgment about an advocacy. For example, "Ice cream is bad for your health" is an offensive argument, while "Ice cream doesn't make you healthier" is a defensive argument.

At the end of the debate, the judge must make a decision between the advocacies of two teams. Offense is the way that teams definitively differentiate between the value of their advocacies so that the judge can make an informed choice. Debate is impossible without offense; a debate between someone who said "ice cream isn't perfect" and someone who said "ice cream isn't the worst food ever" would be inconclusive because neither argument actively provides direction in choosing whether or not to get ice cream.[8]

Plan inclusive counterplan[edit]

In policy debate, a plan inclusive counterplan (or PIC) is a counterplan presented by the negative team which incorporates some of the affirmative's plan either functionally or textually. Most judges consider PICs theoretically legitimate although it is possible for the affirmative to defeat them on the grounds that they are illegitimate. Because they moot much of the 1AC offense, they are considered one of the deadliest negative strategies.

PICs include agent counterplans which propose to do the affirmative plan with a different agent, and exclusionary counterplans which exclude part of the affirmative plan. For example, if the affirmative plan was to "Pass the farm bill" a PIC would be to "Pass parts A and B of the farm bill".

Post-fiat argument[edit]

Post-fiat arguments attempt to show that the consequences of passing and enacting the affirmative plan would be in some way worse than the harms described by the affirmative. Such arguments are labelled post-fiat because they require the supposition of a world where the plan is passed and implemented.

Pre-fiat argument[edit]

Pre-fiat arguments are arguments that relate to in-round issues. Examples include: abuse topicality arguments (the affirmative is not within the resolution, therefore preventing the negative from running an argument they would have otherwise been able to run) and language kritiks (those condemning the affirmative for using inappropriate or dangerous language). The team making a pre-fiat argument will argue that the pre-fiat argument should be evaluated before any other argument in the round. This is also what makes Topicality a "voter" issue, as abuse (and other procedural arguments) are pre-fiat.

Preparation time[edit]

In policy debate, preparation time (prep time) is the amount of time given to each team to prepare for their speeches. Prep time may be taken at any time in any interval. Another form of prep time is known as alternate-use time. Alternate use time replaces preparation time and cross-examination. Alternate use time can be used for cross-examination or preparation in any amount the team desires at any time during the speech. Generally tournaments using alternate use time will have more time than tournaments using preparation time because it is used for both cross examination and preparation.

Although preparation time varies from tournament to tournament, in high school each team is generally given between 5 and 8 minutes of prep time depending on the state and tournament; in college, each team is generally given 10 minutes of prep time. At some collegiate tournaments, for example the University of Texas at Dallas, alternate use time is used giving the debaters a total of 16 minutes and eliminating the mandatory cross examination periods. This time can be used as preparation time or to ask questions during the normal cross examination periods.

Some judges will allow the team taking preparation time to continue asking questions of their opponent. However, because most judges will not require the other team to answer, these questions are generally clarification oriented rather than combative, unlike those asked in cross-examination. Many judges disapprove of using alternative use time for non-alternate use activities, for example - asking questions of the other team or presenting more arguments.[15]

Rebuttal speech[edit]

In policy debate, the rebuttal speeches are the last four speeches. Unlike the constructive speeches, rebuttal speeches are not followed by a cross-examination period.

In high school, rebuttals are usually five minutes long (with the exception of certain states and organizations that use four minute rebuttals).[16] In college debate, they are generally six minutes.

Rebuttal speeches must address arguments made in the constructive speeches. They generally may not propose new arguments or recover arguments dropped in a team's previous speeches.[17] Teams breaking from this precedent are often met by claims of abuse from opponents.


In policy debate, a resolution or topic is a normative statement which the affirmative team affirms and the negative team negates. Resolutions are selected annually by affiliated schools.

At the college level, a number of topics are proposed and interested parties write 'topic papers' discussing the pros and cons of that individual topic. Once a topic is chosen, it is debated by affiliated students nationally for the entire season.

Role of the Ballot[edit]

The role of the ballot is what the judge's vote stands for or is intended to affirm. For example, a team might say "the role of the ballot is to vote for whomever saves more lives in third world countries".


Significance is a stock issue in policy debate which establishes the importance of the harms in the status quo. As a stock issue has fallen out of favor with the debate community almost all debaters and judges now believe that any plan which is preferable to the status quo is significant.

Significance derives from the word "substantially" which appears in most resolutions, and one can argue that Significance has been subsumed by the option for the negative to use a Topicality violation on that word.


Solvency is a stock issue in policy debate, referring to the effectiveness of the affirmative plan or the negative counterplan in solving the harms or problems of the status quo.[18] A good solvency mechanism will have a solvency advocate: a qualified professional specifically advocating the proposed course of action. After the First Affirmative Constructive speech (1AC), it is assumed that the Affirmative team can completely solve all of their harms unless the speaker indicated otherwise. This solvency can be mitigated by defensive arguments, e.g. corruption will prevent the plan from being implemented to the extent necessary to completely solve. An offensive argument (as opposed to a defensive argument) might change from one stock issue to solvency, one of which could be a Disadvantage. If the Negative team can prove that the effects of the plan make the harms worse than they are in the current situation, then the Affirmative team cannot guarantee positive benefits and therefore no reason exists as to why the plan should be adopted.

Straight turns[edit]

A disadvantage (or advantage) is said to be straight-turned when the responding team has answered an argument only with turns and with no defensive argument.

For example: If the affirmative link turned the economy disadvantage above but also argued that economic collapse did not lead to war, the negative could "kick" the disadvantage by granting the impact take-out to eliminate the risk of a turn.

A common negative mistake is to grant a non-uniqueness argument to kick a link turned disadvantage. Since non-uniqueness arguments are critical components of link turns, a disadvantage with only non-unique and link turn responses is actually straight turned.


Topicality is a stock issue in policy debate which pertains to whether or not the plan affirms the resolution as worded.[19] To contest the topicality of the affirmative, the negative interprets a word or words in the resolution and argues that the affirmative does not meet that definition, that the interpretation is preferable, and that non-topicality should be a voting issue.


In policy debate, a turn is an argument that proves an argument the other side has made is in fact support for one's own side. This is as opposed to a take-out which merely argues that the argument the other team has made is wrong. The turn can be used against virtually any argument that includes a link and impact (or something equivalent), including disadvantages, kritiks, and advantages to the affirmative case.

For example, if the negative said "The plan increases poverty," the affirmative could turn with "the plan decreases poverty" or take-out by proving the plan didn't increase poverty.

There are four types of turns:

  • Link Turn
  • Internal Link Turn
  • Impact Turn
  • Straight Turn


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  2. ^ Lichtman, A.; Rohrer, D. (1975). "A general theory of the counterplan". Journal of the American Forensics Association; vol. 12, pp. 70–79.
  3. ^ Korcok, M. M. (2002). "The decision-maker". Perspectives in Controversy: Selected essays from Contemporary Argumentation and Debate, (ed. K. Broda-Bahm). New York: International Debate Education Association, pp. 241-264.
  4. ^ Strait, L. P.; Wallace, B. (2007). The Scope of Negative Fiat and the Logic of Decision Making. Debaters Research Guide, Wake Forest University Press; pp. A1–A7
  5. ^ Strait, L. P.; Wallace, B. (2008). "Academic debate as a decision-making game: Inculcating the virtue of practical wisdom". Contemporary Argumentation and Debate; vol. 29, pp. 1–36.
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  7. ^ "Coaching the Negative" (PDF). NAUDL. Retrieved 12 March 2013.
  8. ^ a b "Offense Versus Defense". International Debate Education Association. Missing or empty |url= (help)
  9. ^ Snowball, David (1994). "Fiat". Theory and Practice in Academic Debate: A Reference Guide (3rd ed.). Augustana College. Retrieved 20 February 2013.
  10. ^ Glass, David. "Scrutinizing Traditional Conventions". National forensic League. Archived from the original on 15 October 2011. Retrieved 20 February 2013.
  11. ^ Kearney, Michael W. (2014). "How Durable Is It? A Contextualized Interpretation of Fiat in Policy Debate" (PDF). National Journal of Speech & Debate. 2 (2): 3–5.
  12. ^ Bruschke, Jon. "DISADS". The Debate Bible. Retrieved 17 April 2012.
  13. ^ Prager, John. "Introduction to Policy Debate, Chapter Two - The Stock Issues". Retrieved 17 April 2012.
  14. ^ "debate". debate. Retrieved 2018-01-18.
  15. ^ Cheshire, David. (2001). How to Cut Prep Time Use. Rostrum. Retrieved December 31, 2005.
  16. ^ Prager, John. "Introduction to Policy Debate, Chapter 1". Retrieved 12 March 2013.
  17. ^ Prager, John. "Introduction to Policy Debate, Chapter 7". Retrieved 12 March 2013.
  18. ^ Prager, John. "Introduction to Policy Debate, Chapter Two". Retrieved 7 April 2012.
  19. ^ Prager, John. "Introduction to Policy Debate, Chapter 11". Retrieved 7 April 2012.