Cross-Examination Debate is a form of speech competition in which teams of two advocate for and against a resolution that typically calls for policy change by the United States federal government. It is also referred to as Policy Debate, Cross-X, CX, or C-X. Affirmative teams generally present a plan as a proposal for implementation of the resolution. The negative will generally prove that it would be better not to do the plan or that the opportunity costs to the plan are so great that it should not be implemented. CX debate is sponsored by various speech organizations.


Academic debate had its origins in intracollegiate debating societies. Intercollegiate debates have been held since at least as early as the 1890s. By the mid 1970s, structured rules for lengths of speeches developed. Each side (affirmative and negative) was afforded two opening constructive speeches, and two closing rebuttal speeches, for a total of eight speeches per debate. Each speaker was cross-examined by an opponent for a period following his or her constructive speech. Traditionally rebuttals were half the length of constructives, but when a style of faster delivery speed became more standard in the late 1980s this time structure became problematic.

Style and deliveryEdit


Policy debaters' speed of delivery will vary from league to league and tournament to tournament. In many tournaments, debaters will speak very quickly in order to read as much evidence and make as many arguments as possible within the time-constrained speech. Speed reading is referred to as spreading. At the majority of national circuit policy debate tournaments, spreading is the norm.

Some feel that the rapid-fire delivery makes debate harder to understand for the lay person. Rapid delivery is encouraged by those who believe that increased quantity and diversity of argumentation makes debates more educational. Others, citing scientific studies, claim that learning to speak faster also increases short and long term memory. A slower style is preferred by those who want debates to be understandable to lay people and those who claim that the pedagogical purpose of the activity is to train rhetorical skills. Many further claim that the increased speed encourages debaters to make several poor arguments, as opposed to a few high quality ones. Most debaters will vary their rate of delivery depending upon the judge's preferences.


Debaters utilize a specialized form of note taking, called flowing, to keep track of the arguments presented during a debate. Conventionally, debater's flowing is divided into separate flows for each different argument in the debate round (kritiks, disadvantages, topicality, etc.). There are multiple methods of flowing but the most common style incorporates columns of arguments made in a given speech which allows the debater to match the next speaker's responses up with the original arguments. Certain shorthands for commonly used words are used to keep up with the rapid rate of delivery. The abbreviations or stand-in symbols vary between debaters.

Flowing on a laptop has become more and more popular among debaters, despite the reservations of certain schools, tournaments, and judges. Some debaters use a basic computer spreadsheet; others use specialized Flowing Templates, which includes embedded shortcut keys for the most common formatting needs.


Although there are many accepted standards in policy debate, there is no written formulation of rules. Sometimes debaters will in fact debate about how policy debate should work. These arguments are known as "theory arguments," and they are most often brought up when one team believes the actions of the other team are unfair and therefore warrant a loss.

Burdens of the affirmativeEdit

The burden of the affirmative is a basic part of debate. It is an agreement that the affirmative team must prove their points through evidence. This is to prevent the affirmative from creating fake plans which has no evidence on either side; therefore, the affirmative will always win.

Stock issuesEdit

One traditional way to judge policy debate states that the affirmative team must win certain issues, called the stock issues. They are generally interpreted to be as follows:

(Does the Affirmative team's proposed policy comply with the wording of the resolution or topic?)

(Is the Affirmative's plan happening already, and if not, why?)

(Is the plan important enough to even warrant consideration or make a difference? What is wrong in the status quo to justify implementation of the plan?) This issue is commonly labeled by debaters as: "Harms". Example: "Harm 1: Money wasted", Harm 2: Inefficiency."

(Will the plan accomplish what it says it will and can it even happen in the real world?)

Advantages and DisadvantagesEdit

Most affirmative teams today generally frame their case around advantages, which are good effects of their plan. The negative team will often present disadvantages which contend that the affirmative plan causes undesirable consequences. Debaters often, in an attempt to make sure that their advantages/disadvantages outweigh the advantages/disadvantages of the other team, will impact these arguments with a very high magnitude result, such as the extinction of the human race or a global nuclear war.

Negation theoryEdit

Negation Theory is a theory which dictates that the negative need only negate the affirmative instead of having to negate the resolution. The acceptance of negation theory allows negative teams to run arguments, such as topical Counterplans, which may affirm the resolution but still negate the affirmative's specific plan.

Negative strategyEdit

After the affirmative presents its case, the negative can attack the case with many different arguments, which include:

  • Topicality: The Negative will attempt to argue that the Affirmative team does not fall under the rubric of the resolution and should be rejected immediately regardless of the merits or advantages of the plan. This is a type of 'meta-debate' argument, as both sides then spend time defining various words or phrases in the resolution, laying down standards for why their definition(s) or interpretation(s) is superior. Most yearly topics have at least one or two commonly run Affirmative cases that are only arguably topical, so Topicality is often justified as a check or deterrent on and against such plans, which usually have quite strategic components.
  • Disadvantages: The negative can claim that there are disadvantages, or adverse effects of the plan, which outweigh any advantages claimed. In order to outweigh any positive effects of the affirmative case, impacts must be arguably 'larger' than the opposing team's.
  • Counterplans: The negative can present a counter solution to the affirmative case's problem which still goes against the resolution. This is generally accompanied by on-case arguments that the counterplan does not solve, as well as disadvantages that link to the affirmative case but not the counterplan. Counterplans narrow down the on-case arguments to: advantages the counterplan cannot borrow, the inherency, and the solvency. Upon the negative running a counterplan, most debates boil down to the solvency of the affirmative case, and the disadvantages.
  • Kritiks: The negative can claim that the affirmative is guilty of a certain mindset or assumption that should be grounds for rejection. Kritiks are sometimes a reason to reject the entire affirmative advocacy without evaluating its policy; other times, kritiks can be evaluated within the same framework for evaluation as the affirmative case. Examples of some kritiks include ones against biopower, racism, centralized government or anthropocentric viewpoints. Kritiks arose in the early 1990s, with the first kritiks based in deconstructionist philosophy about the intrinsic ambiguity of language. Kritiks today has evolved to include the affirmative advocacy within their alternatives. These kritiks argue that the ontology implied through the reasons to prefer the affirmative are inherently bad and should be rejected. This circumvents the question of the benefits of the plan itself, instead focusing the debate on the representations of the plan. The alternative then serves the steal the affirmative ground through the passage of the plan minus its "bad" representations. This type of alternative is commonly known as a floating PIK (plan inclusive kritik alternative).
  • Theory: Sometimes the subject matter of the affirmative's case will create an uneven playing field from the beginning. In these cases, the negative can resort to making objections as to the procedure or content of the affirmative case. These objections often are "theoretical" in that they try to make objections based upon what bad can/has come to debate from the infraction.


Evidence in debates is organized into units called cards (because such evidence was originally printed on note cards, though the practice has long been out of favor). Cards are designed to condense an author's argument so that debaters have an easy way to access the information. A card is composed of three parts: the tag, the cite, and the body. The tag is the debater's summary of the argument presented in the body. A tag is usually only one or two sentences. The cite contains all relevant citation information (that is, the author, date of publication, journal, title, etc.). Although every card should contain a complete citation, only the author's name and date of publication are typically spoken aloud in a speech. Some teams will also read the author's qualifications if they wish to emphasize this information. The body is a fragment of the author's original text. The length of a body can vary greatly—cards can be as short as a few sentences and as long as two or more pages. Most cards are between one and five paragraphs in length. The body of a card is often underlined or highlighted in order to eliminate unnecessary or redundant sentences when the card is read in a round. In a round, the tag is read first, followed by the cite and the body.

As pieces of evidence accumulate use, multiple colors of highlighting and different thicknesses of underlining often occur, sometimes making it difficult to determine which portion of the evidence was read. If debaters stop before finishing the underlined or highlighted portion of a card, it is considered good form to "mark" the card to show where one stopped reading. To otherwise misrepresent how much of a card was read—either by stopping early or by skipping underlined or highlighted sections—is known as "cross-reading" or "clipping" which is generally considered cheating. Although many judges overtly condemn the practice on their paradigms, it is hard to enforce, especially if judges permit debaters to be excessively unclear. Opponents will generally stand behind a debater whom they believe to be "cross-reading" or "clipping", as if waiting to take a card (see below), and silently read along with them in an attempt to get their opponent to stop or the judge to notice.

As cards are read in round, it is common for an opponent to collect and examine even while a speech is still going on. This practice originated in part because cards are read at a rate faster than conversational speed but also because the un-underlined portions of cards are not read in round. Taking the cards during the speech allows the opponent to question the author's qualifications, the original context of the evidence, etc. in cross-examination. It is generally accepted whichever team is using preparation time has priority to read evidence read previously during a round by both teams. As a result, large amounts of evidence may change hands after the use of preparation time but before a speech. Most judges will not deduct from a team's preparation time for time spent finding evidence which the other team has misplaced.

After a round, judges may wish to examine evidence whose merit was contested during the round or whose weight was emphasized during rebuttals so that they can read the evidence for themselves. Although widespread, this practice is explicitly banned at some tournaments, and some judges refuse to call for cards because they believe the practice constitutes "doing work for debaters that should have been done during round". Judges may also call for evidence for the purpose of obtaining its citation information so that they can produce the evidence for their own school. Opponents and spectators are also generally allowed to collect citations in this manner, and some tournaments send scouts to rounds to facilitate the collection of cites for every team at the tournament, information which is sometimes published online.


Speaker pointsEdit

The judge is charged not only with selecting a winner, but also must allot points to each competitor. Known as "speaker points" or simply "speaks", its goal is to provide a numerical evaluation of the debaters' speaking skills. Speaker point schemes vary throughout local state and regional organizations particularly at the high school level. However, the method accepted by most national organizations such as the National Forensic League, Tournament of Champions, National Catholic Forensic League, Cross-Examination Debate Association, and National Debate Tournament, use values ranging from 1–30. In practice, within these organizations the standard variation is 26–29, where 26s are given to extremely poor speakers, where a perfect score is considered incredibly rare and warranted only by an outstanding performance. Generally, speaker points are seen as secondary in importance to wins and losses, yet often correlate with a team's win/loss rate. In other words, the judge usually awards the winning team cumulatively higher speaker points than the losing team. If the judge does not, the decision is considered a "Low-Point Win". Low-point wins usually indicate that the debate was poor, as neither team spoke well; or that the team which lost was ahead overall, but lost on a technicality or minor issue, or by a very slim margin.

In some smaller jurisdictions, the judge ranks the speakers 1-4 instead of awarding them speaker points. Either speaker-point calculation may be used to break ties among teams with like records. Some areas also use speaker rankings in addition to speaker points in order to differentiate between speakers awarded the same number of points. Many tournaments drop the highest and lowest score received by each debater, in order to ensure that the speaker award calculations are fair and consistent, despite the preferences of different judges.


Experienced debate judges (who were generally debaters in high school and/or college) generally carry a mindset that favors certain arguments and styles over others. Depending on what mindset, or paradigm, the judge uses, the debate can be drastically different. Because there is no one view of debate agreed upon by everyone, many debaters question a judge about their paradigm and/or their feelings on specific arguments before the round.

Event structureEdit

The times and speech order are generally as follows:

Speech Time (high school) Time (college)
First Affirmative Constructive (1AC) 8 minutes 9 minutes
Cross-examination of First Affirmative by Second Negative 3 minutes 3 minutes
First Negative Constructive (1NC) 8 minutes 9 minutes
Cross-examination of First Negative by First Affirmative 3 minutes 3 minutes
Second Affirmative Constructive (2AC) 8 minutes 9 minutes
Cross-examination of Second Affirmative by First Negative 3 minutes 3 minutes
Second Negative Constructive (2NC) 8 minutes 9 minutes
Cross-examination of Second Negative by Second Affirmative 3 minutes 3 minutes
First Negative Rebuttal (1NR) 5 minutes 6 minutes
First Affirmative Rebuttal (1AR) 5 minutes 6 minutes
Second Negative Rebuttal (2NR) 5 minutes 6 minutes
Second Affirmative Rebuttal (2AR) 5 minutes 6 minutes

In addition to speeches, policy debates may allow for a certain amount of preparation time, or "prep time," during a debate round. NFL rules call for 5 minutes of total prep time that can be used, although in practice high school debate tournaments usually give 8 minutes of prep time. College debates typically have 10 minutes of preparation time. The preparation time is used at each team's preference; they can use different amounts of preparation time before any of their speeches, or even none at all. Prep time can be allocated strategically to intimidate or inconvenience the other team: for instance, normally a 1AR requires substantial prep time, so a well-executed "stand up 1AR", delivered after no prep time intimidates the negative team and takes away from time that the 2NR may have used to prepare the parts of his/her speech which do not rely on what the 1AR says.

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