"I already know how to take notes," you might be thinking. But flowing isn't like note-taking in history class or during a meeting. It is a special system designed specifically to make it simple to keep track of even the most complicated debate rounds.
Learning to flow is a little bit like learning to read music. Just like you wouldn't try to compose a symphony by describing it in sentences-- you need to learn to read music before you can write it-- you also shouldn't expect to excel at debate until you become a competent flower.
Because practicing taking notes isn't the most exciting part of learning to debate, some debaters procrastinate on learning to flow properly. I strongly encourage you to resist that temptation. Once you get used to flowing, you will be amazed how much easier it makes it to give high-quality speeches and win debates.
In order to keep up, you can't write down every single word being said on your flow, nor can you write in full sentences.
Instead, you need to come up with a fast way to make notes to yourself about the main ideas in each speech you listen to, as well as arguments you want to remember to make in your upcoming speeches.
We'll have some suggestions below, but ultimately, you can use whatever symbols, acronyms, abbreviations, or shorthand is easiest for you to work with and understand. You're not obligated to do it the same way as anyone else (although it's pretty important that your partner, if you have one, be able to interpret your flows).
Most debaters also have a system for using arrows to visually track arguments that are related to each other across multiple speeches. I do recommend doing this, but there's no one mandatory right way to do it. It just needs to make sense to you.
Use legal-sized paper, instead of normal printer paper, for extra space
Flow each side (Aff and Neg) in different colors
The instructions above cover the key elements of flowing correctly. Next, here are some flowing technique tips. These aren't mandatory-- you don't have to follow them in order to be "doing it right." They are just suggestions that experienced debaters often report finding useful.
If they help you-- awesome! If they don't, feel free to swap them out for whatever works best for you.
"Pre-flow" your own cases in advance
To keep things organized, it's best to flow each independent argument (or "position") on a separate sheet of paper.
Besides maintaining order, this also makes sure you have enough room for your notes.
At the beginning of each speech, you should start a new column at the top of your flow.
As the speaker makes each point, your goal is to line that point up on your flow next to the argument from the previous speech that it is answering.
Unlike regular writing, which progresses horizontally (left to right) across the page in rows, your flow should progress vertically (up to down) in columns.
Use a 3rd color of pen or a highlighter to flag particularly important or threatening arguments
"Flowing" is the name for the system of note-taking techniques that debaters use to keep track of the various arguments in a debate round.
It is critical to your success as a debater, so don't make the mistake of allowing yourself to develop sloppy flowing skills.
Luckily, this guide will teach you how to do it.