High School Debate
vs. APDA

Perhaps you're an experienced high school debater, but you've never done parliamentary debate before. What will the switch be like? Here are some explanations, from team members with high school experience in each of these formats.


The format of a parli round will seem very familiar to those who have done policy (cross-x) debate in high school. There are two people on each team, and the distinction between constructive and rebuttal speeches remains. Debaters are given a limited ability to interrupt each other during constructive speeches and ask questions, which often serve a role similar to the cross-examination portion of a policy round.

There are, however, very important differences between the two formats. Parli rounds do not have a single topic area specified for the entire year. The government team can choose what they wish to propose with almost no constraints. This means that every round at a tournament is about a totally different proposal. Opposition is given no advanced warning about the topic. This means that the the format emphasizes thinking on your feet and responding intelligently to unique, creative, and intelligent proposals. It also means that the format is not as focused on research. Typically, research ("cards") used in policy debate take one of two roles. The first is to provide basic facts that are necessary for understanding the issue. One of the few limitations on proposals is that they not require arcane knowledge to debate intelligently, so these researched facts are not required. Debaters are expected to follow the news, be familiar with the workings of the US government, and so forth, but nothing more is expected. The other type of research common in policy rounds is a quoted expert opinion. Such an opinion holds very little weight in a parli round. Debaters are expected to support their claims directly, through logic, rather than through appeals to authority. This, like other aspects of parli, makes reasoning and quick thinking central to the round.

Many successful parli debaters participated in policy debate in high school. Parli debate generally does not exist at the high school level, so there is no experience handicap to overcome. Some differences, both in style (parli debaters talk at a normal speed) and format require a little getting used to, but this tends to be a minor and temporary problem. After a little adjustment, you will find that many of the skills of policy debate are very useful in a parli round as well.


As a Lincoln-Douglas debater, you're already familiar with the approach of developing a solid philosophical grounding for your arguments, and this is a key ability that will serve you well in parliamentary debate. However, there are three main ways in which you'll find parli strikingly different from LD: debating with a partner, choosing your own cases, and justifying your own philosophy.

The idea of 2-on-2 debate may seem very strange initially. After learning to manage your half of the debate round yourself, letting another person take over part of the job may seem scary, but this is really a great benefit. Your partner can suggest arguments and responses to you, which is invaluable given that there's no set-aside prep time and you need to think fast. With two people listening, you have a better chance of catching all the nuances of your opponents' case and having a clever response ready for each. It's like they say, two heads are better than one.

In LD, your case is given by the current resolution. In parli, you get to choose your own case whenever you are assigned to the Government role in your round. (This is similar to the Affirmative position. The other side is the Opposition, similar to the Negative.) The case that Gov chooses is not known to Opp until the round begins. This means there is more of an element of surprise, and it also means that you get to have rounds on topics that interest you. Parli cases do tend to be more specific than LD resolutions, couched in the language of a particular actor taking some action. Cases of the form "X ought to be valued above Y" hardly ever appear. (And wasn't the right answer really always that X and Y are both important, to varying degrees at varying times?)

Although philosophy and logic are important parts of a parli round, you won't ever have to specify a Value Premise or a Value Criterion. It's much less important whether a famous dead philosopher named an idea with a cute catchphrase, and much more important that you be able to explain why that idea has merit on its own terms. In other words, you don't want to cite Locke's social contract or Rousseau's social contract as things which must be followed to the letter; you want to talk about the general concept of a social contract and the implications of that idea for just governance.

Public Forum

In parli as in public forum debate, there are two people on each team that take turns giving constructive and rebuttal speeches. There are a handful of technical differences, but the general style of a PF round is similar to the parli approach. This means that most former PF debaters are able to make a pretty smooth transition into parli.

Ex-PF debaters might, at least at first, feel a bit lost without the crutch that research provides in a public forum round. I can remember teams crating binders of research into rounds, furiously flipping through their pages when Aff misquoted the latest NIE report. There is no extensive research in parli. No, there are much better ways to spend time in college. There is also no supreme authority to decree a monthly "resolution." In parli, debaters have the freedom to choose the topics for debate. Since there's no research, the resolution (or "case construct") must be of a topic that a reasonably well-read college student would know about. This rule protects you from having to know all the minutiae that would come with a heavily researched case, although you should be familiar with some current events, workings of government etc. Additionally, quotations and expert opinions, things that would often lead to quote wars in PF, are rarely used in parli. Arguments are much more logic-based. Second, unlike in PF, there is no coin flip to start a round and decide who speaks first or which team gets Aff or Neg. Instead, one team (called the Government) is assigned just before each round to come up with the topic for debate and present case construct, and that team always speaks first.

Constructive speeches in a parli round go about twice as long as in PF and are usually extemporaneous. Speeches are never written out verbatim like you might find in a PF round, and it's generally a bad idea to restate arguments to fill time. As a result there's a lot more emphasis on quick thinking and impromptu speaking. While this may seem daunting now especially without any prior research, most ex-PFers, including myself, find themselves wondering how they ever managed to cram good arguments into a four-minute speech. Crossfire or cross-examination also doesn't exist in Parli. But fear not, crafty questioners. Instead debaters are allowed to briefly interrupt their opponents' speeches and ask a challenging question. There are also fewer speeches and no two-minute prep time. Unlike in PF the first speaker in a parli round (called the Prime Minister on the Gov side and the Leader of Opposition on the Opp side) has the burden of the final say and speaks more than the second speaker (Member of Opposition/Government) who only gives one speech.