Debating is the process by which individuals or groups advance, support, dispute or defend opinions. A debate may be formal or informal. Sometimes a debate is subject to judicial decision.

When individuals argue with friends about the merits or demerits of a new film or with a boss about company policy, they are engaging in debate. But a debate does not have to be an oral exchange. Many famous debates have been conducted through written correspondence or through publication of papers in which researchers debate others' claims, findings or theories. Sometimes presidential candidates will debate policy, and the exchange will be aired live on television.

The common thread among all these exchanges is a clear statement of opinion supported with evidence or reasoning and a defense against an opposing view. In debate, both sides of a case are heard, and each side may reply to the other. Thus, debate is not just about stating conflicting opinions, but about resolution. Opinions are held up for scrutiny and comparison, and decisions are made.

Debate has long been a part of human history. In every part of the world, and in every age, debate has been crucial to shaping a society, its political expression and intellectual discourse. Debate is sometimes expressed as a form of verbal warfare. The Latin root for the words debate and battle is identical: battuere, to beat.

Some claim that debate can only exist in a democratic society as part of Western civilization. But debate has helped to form every type of society, even where only the wealthiest individuals were permitted to participate. In closed societies, restrictions may be placed on who may debate and on the topics. There may even be limitations on what can be said about a given topic. However, the process of debate still persists in spite of such forced restraints.

The earliest evidence of organized debate dates back to the sixth century BCE and the reforms of Solon. From 461 to 445 BCE, during the reign of Pericles, the ecclesia, the popular assembly in Athens, afforded regular opportunities for debate. When the assembly met every 8 to 10 days, any adult male citizen could speak about any matter, taking any side, with impunity.

Debate is an important skill. Students are often tutored in various models of debate. The modified parliamentary debate is the most common form of intramural debate among students around the world. Parliamentary debate is simple, flexible, with wide appeal and is well-suited to the classroom.

Successful debating is dependent on a thorough mastery of the subject matter, familiarity with the strategies used for argument and knowledge of proper debate format. Individual speakers taking part in a debate have specific responsibilities, notes should be taken to help the debaters keep track of the flow of the argument and techniques must be learned to ensure clarity and the effective delivery of arguments.

Organized debate can take numerous forms, and individuals may even create their own rules of debate. However, most formats used in debate will share certain characteristics. In general, the side that supports the proposition, known as "the affirmative," will begin and end the debate. A proposition may pose a belief or call for a change in action. The affirmative begins by building a case for change and concludes by demonstrating that, taking into account all objections, the case has been made and can support such change.

The two sides of the debate take turns giving speeches. When the first affirmative speaker has finished speaking, a speech is given by a member of the opposition, and so forth. This helps to heighten the clash of ideas between the two sides of the debate. Since both sides must have the chance to give an equal number of speeches, but the affirmative must begin and end the debate, the format is relaxed at some point to allow two opposition speakers to have consecutive turns at the lectern. In most cases, the first opposition "rebuttalist" speaker will follow the final opposition "constructive" speaker.

Constructives are speeches that build cases or arguments. As such, a constructive speaker is first in any debate. Rebuttals are those speeches that offer no new arguments but recreate and extend opinions argued earlier. Rebuttalists will also refute the extended arguments of the opposing side. In general, rebuttalists speak for a shorter period than constructives, which reflects the importance of winnowing and putting together the most pertinent arguments.

In general, debaters are given a limited time in which to make their speeches. Once all the allotted time has been spent, the debate is over. Both sides receive equal speaking time.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

On That Point! An Introduction to Parliamentary Debate
John Meany; Kate Shuster.
International Debate Education Association, 2003
Debate and Critical Analysis: The Harmony of Conflict
Robert James Branham.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1991
Argumentation, Discussion, and Debate
A. Craig Baird.
McGraw-Hill, 1950
Pros and Cons: A Debater's Handbook
Trevor Sather.
Routledge, 1999 (18th edition)
Fundamentals of Argumentation Theory: A Handbook of Historical Backgrounds and Contemporary Developments
Frans H. Van Eemeren; Rob Grootendorst; Francisca Snoeck Henkemans; J. Anthony Blair; Ralph H. Johnson; Erik C. W. Krabbe; Christian Plantin; Douglas N. Walton; Charles A. Willard; John A. Woods; David F. Zarefsky.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1996
Discovering the World through Debate: A Practical Guide to Educational Debate for Debaters, Coaches and Judges
Robert Trapp; Joseph P. Zompetti; Jurate Motiejunaite; William Driscoll; Judith K. Bowker.
International Debate Education Association, 2005
Gifted Tongues: High School Debate and Adolescent Culture
Gary Alan Fine.
Princeton University Press, 2001
Speak Out! Debate and Public Speaking in the Middle Grades
Kate Shuster; John Meany.
International Debate Education Association, 2005
Many Sides: Debate across the Curriculum
Alfred Snider; Maxwell Schnurer.
International Debate Education Association, 2006 (Revised edition)
Transforming Debate: The Best of the International Journal of Forensics
Jack E. Rogers.
International Debate Education Association, 2002
Teaching Communication: Theory, Research, and Methods
Anita L. Vangelisti; John A. Daly; Gustav W. Friedrich.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1999 (2nd edition)
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 32 "Directing Debate and Forensics"
An Analysis of Differences in Success Rates of Male and Female Debaters
Bruschke, Jon; Johnson, Ann.
Argumentation and Advocacy, Vol. 30, No. 3, Winter 1994
High School Student Perceptions of the Efficacy of Debate Participation
Littlefield, Robert S.
Argumentation and Advocacy, Vol. 38, No. 2, Fall 2001
A Research-Based Justification for Debate across the Curriculum
Bellon, Joe.
Argumentation and Advocacy, Vol. 36, No. 3, Winter 2000
Forensics Education? How the Structure and Discourse of Forensics Promotes Competition
Burnett, Ann; Brand, Jeffrey; Meister, Mark.
Argumentation and Advocacy, Vol. 38, No. 2, Fall 2001
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