Public Forum debate was created to more accurately resemble the average person's mental image of what a "debate" looks like than the other 2 events, which tend to be jargon-heavy and difficult for outsiders to follow. 

PF largely abandons the extensive terminology and complicated argument structures of CX and LD, instead focusing on simple, logical argumentation.

Topics (called "Resolutions") for PF debaters change on the 1st of each month, and typically focus on current events-related issues ripped from the news headlines. 

PF is a 4-person format, with 2 partners on each side (2 Affirmative/Pro, 2 Negative/Con). Each partner speaks twice during each debate.

Debaters flip a coin prior to the beginning of each PF round. The team that wins the flip is given the choice of which side they will defend (Pro or Con). The team that loses the flip then gets to choose whether they will speak 1st or 2nd. PF is the only debate event in which the Affirmative (Pro) does not always speak 1st. 

Public Forum is the most popular and fastest-growing debate event in the United States, and its simple format makes it accessible even to people who have never seen any debate round before. 

Just like in track & field, there are a number of different debate events to choose from. Although all of them reward participants for their research and argumentation skills, they differ according to what sorts of topics they cover and which specific debate abilities they most heavily demand.

Abbreviated: PF

Policy debate, as its name implies, focuses on questions of public policy. Competitors discuss the desirability of passing a new law or reforming an existing one.

Debaters keep the same topic (called the “Resolution”) for the full school year. The Resolution always begins with
the United States federal government should…”, and requires the Affirmative side to propose a Plan that fits within a particular subject area.

For example, the Resolution might be “the USFG should substantially curtail domestic surveillance,” and the affirmative might advocate repealing the PATRIOT Act, or passing a law to require law enforcement obtain a warrant prior to accessing a citizens’ cell phone data, or etc.

Because the same topic is used for the entire year, Policy debaters are expected to do a tremendous amount of research. They may find themselves needing to discuss any conceivable facet of the resolution, from its political popularity to its philosophical justifications. If you choose Policy, you’d better like to read!

Policy is a 4-person format, with 2 partners on each side (2 Affirmative, 2 Negative). Each partner speaks twice during each debate. After every round, all debaters switch sides, advocating the Affirmative side for half of their rounds at a tournament and the Negative side for the other half.

Policy is the oldest debate event, and, due to its extensive research requirements, is usually considered the most rigorous.

Lincoln-Douglas debate, named for the famous series of public debates held between Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas, is a debate event focused on questions of values and ethics. Debaters are confronted with difficult philosophical problems that require them to both outline a framework for moral decision-making and apply that framework to a particular issue.

LD debaters receive a new topic (called the “Resolution”) every other month during the competitive season. The resolution usually contains the word “
ought,” such as “adolescents ought to have the right to medical autonomy.” The Affirmative advocates the position of the resolution, then the Negative refutes.

Because concepts like morality and justice can be interpreted differently by different people, both sides in an LD debate must defend their underlying intellectual paradigms, as well as the topic-specific substance of their cases.

LD is a 1-person format, meaning debates are 1-on-1, with no partners supporting either side. Like in Policy, LD debaters switch sides after each round.

Lincoln-Douglas is a favorite for debaters interested in the fundamental philosophical questions that humanity's greatest thinkers have wrestled with throughout history. 

What Is Debate?

Abbreviated: CX


In the broadest possible sense, a “debate” can be any discussion in which 2 or more parties express differing opinions on some issue. In this way, it is similar to an “argument.”

Often, though, the word “debate” is used to refer to something more structured than the average argument: debates typically focus on a prearranged topic, impose limits on when and for how long participants may speak, and are presided over by judge tasked with the job of choosing a winner at the end of the allotted time.

Merriam-Webster similarlydefines“debate” as “a regulated discussion of a proposition between two matched sides.”

On this website, we’ll narrow things down even further: our focus is on competitive, academic debate—the kind facilitated by debate teams and clubs in K-12 schools and universities around the world.

Abbreviated: LD

What Is Debate?

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