The Lincoln-Douglas Debate Handbook

This is a non-profit website designed for high school Lincoln-Douglas debaters, their coaches and parents. Its main purpose is to promote LD debate as an activity and provide students of all experience levels with valuable tools for honing their debating skills.

The primary draw of this website is the modestly named Ultimate LD Debate Handbook, 75+ pages aimed at teaching your students (or you) the ins and outs of LD debate. I wrote the handbook because, sadly, there are still not many quality handbooks on LD debate. This is surprising for an activity that boasts more than 20,000 annual participants and holds great potential for teaching our future politicians, businessmen, lawyers, judges, professors and consultants how to analyze and create compelling arguments. I firmly believe that debaters and their coaches deserve to have more choice of quality instruction in the activity that requires more dedication than most varsity sports.

The handbook is available electronically as a free download. You can distribute it as you wish as long as it remains in its original form.

Here are some things that should make my handbook worth your time:

A different approach. The primary purpose of this handbook is not just to teach you or your students to win more debate rounds but to demonstrate how to find the underlying puzzle inherent in every resolution, conduct an in-depth research inquiry to uncover a number of useful solutions to this puzzle, and then apply the new-found knowledge to LD debate. 

Level of detail. The structure of about ten years worth of resolutions is discussed in detail in this handbook. There is also a 3,500 word section on the Value Premise and Criterion; the case-writing section weighs in at over 25 pages. The handbook addresses such standard issues like rebuttal preparation and topic analysis and also offers sound advice on balanced negatives, proper use of evidence and philosophy (my advice may surprise you), word economy drills, team cases and judge adaptation.

It is easy to follow. I guarantee that everyone can benefit from reading this book, even those who have no interest in LD debate – I regularly assigned parts of this book when teaching International Politics classes at Columbia University. One common problem in most LD handbooks is that they only make sense to experienced debaters and remain virtually inaccessible to novices. I don't think that makes for a useful teaching tool. I have gone to great lengths in my handbook to clearly explain every relevant concept of LD debate and give each debater a solid understanding of the activity. The book will move you seamlessly from the first reading of the resolution to putting the finishing touches on your affirmative/negative case. I had individuals who knew nothing about LD debate read the final manuscript -- after a single reading they could explain the purpose of a value premise with ease and comfortably describe the process of researching the underlying puzzle of the resolution. And if you're ever stumped on any concept or explanation I'd be more than happy to explain it further in an email.

This handbook is not just for LD debaters. The information in this handbook combines the best and most useful skills I picked up from successful debaters and coaches. It is further augmented with my own research experience as a graduate student. As result, the research strategy contained in this handbook is so adaptable that you can use it on virtually any school assignment. And given that the strategies, tips and advice contained in this handbook contain proven research methods and analysis tools that have worked for thousands of students in the past, all the techniques, advice and even the terminology translate with ease. 

The price. It's free. Even if you account for the value of time it will take you to read it this handbook can easily become the most high-yielding purchase you will ever make in your life. For the price of a single tournament registration fee this handbook can teach someone how to excel in LD debate and succeed in any academic venture that requires research in the social sciences.

In addition to the handbook, there are other features of this site that can prove useful to both coaches and debaters. The Q&A section below is there to answer some pressing questions that are not covered or explained clearly enough in the handbook, as well as general questions about LD debate as an activity. I enjoyed Lincoln-Douglas debate immensely while I was in high school and the skills I acquired as a debater (and later as a judge) have served me well in both college and graduate school. I put together this website to help interested high school students become polished debaters. My hope is that you can get as much out of the activity as I did and this website is here to help you along.

You can either right-click on the link below to save the .pdf file to your computer or you can left-click on the link and wait for your web browser to load up the file. You will need Acrobat Reader to open the document. You can get it here


Marko Djuranovic


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Questions and Answers

Here are some questions I have received over the years.

Q.      You should put your model of the basic case structure here for everyone to see.

Done. Although the information below makes more sense in the context of the entire chapter on writing cases, I think it still provides a useful summary of how to go about understanding value premises and criteria.

Q.      How do judges vote, do they do it through which points you won, or do they do it with who upholds the value criterion of the round?

I wish there were a straightforward answer but these two issues are hard to separate: your arguments about why someone should uphold your side of the resolution should be more convincing than your opponent's and a big part of this is your ability to tie your position to some generally respected broad value. 

To make matters even more complicated, each judge unfortunately has his/her own set of expectations and these vary immensely. Some judges will tell you what they look for during the round, others won't. You could ask the judge briefly before the round but some, even if you ask them very clearly, won't really know what you're asking them. And even if they understand your question, most judges will probably say they want to see both, that the points you "win" should tie back to your criterion and value. 

Where you will run into problems is that some judges will refuse to give you a win if you don't uphold your value while others will be more lenient and will still grant you a win if you've made some really good points that outweigh a lack of overall support of your value. Therefore, the best thing to do is to always re-iterate how your arguments link back up to your value premise and criterion and outline two or three key points in the round that you feel you've argued better than your opponent. That way you're giving each type of judge something to grasp.

Q.      So do you believe that a criterion should be achievable on both sides and if it's not then that's a good attack on one's opponent?

Yes. The idea of a criterion is to help establish (in conjunction with the main value) a fair standard for judging the round, where fair is defined as something that both sides can reasonably prove. If this is clearly not the case you can safely say: "My opponent's criterion is not a achievable on both sides and thus is not a good way to judge the main value(s) in this round. It is abusive in that it doesn't allow for a fruitful debate on the topic as it defines me out of the round." You can then turn this into a positive point by saying: "I think my criterion can be achieved on both sides and is therefore a better way to structure the debate round."But keep in mind that this is not so much an "attack" on your opponent's position as it is an attempt to agree on how to structure the debate. You're still left with the task of actually proving the relevance of your position to your main value. 

My reasoning is this: if a criterion is supposed to be a standard by which the main value is judged, it's not very helpful in the round if only one side can uphold it. A standard is not very useful in a debate round if one side cannot achieve it by definition. All your opponent is doing is proving that his/her side of the resolution better upholds his/her side of the resolution. And that's not very useful or interesting. 

Q.      I am enjoying your textbook. With all of your experience, would you consider developing video tapes for novice debaters? I have not found any "creative, interesting videos" teaching debate. You would make a fortune. There is a tremendous need.  Do you know of any videos we could purchase for our school?

There are a number of very good videos that demonstrate L-D skills as sufficiently as one can do in a few hours in a non-interactive setting. Also, the NFL sells videos of final rounds of each Nationals tournament and I've found that these can be useful as well, particularly to students who do not debate much on the national circuit. If you're looking for a good teaching tool, a final L-D round video is a solid investment. As for making a fortune on video tapes, I should point out that "need" and "demand" are two separate things and, unfortunately, do not often go hand-in-hand. This is very much the case with L-D debate where just getting the students to put in the time to practice is often more difficult than actually teaching them. 

Q.      How do I tie a tie?

Click here. It takes some practice but you have to learn to do it eventually.

Q.      I have a tournament tomorrow. Quickly, I need to know how to flow!!

Since this is apparently quite an emergency, just use the chart below to get you started. The arrows represent the suggested order of presenting the arguments. This chart is also located in the handbook if you have the time to look at some other useful info.

  Q.      What should I wear to a tournament?

Ask your coach as he/she is more likely to know the standards in your area. But if you're a guy, a pair of clean khakis, a nice shirt, a tie and a coat will do. As for shoes, you can probably get away with pretty much anything that's not sneakers or sandals. You can go ahead and wear a suit if you have one (or if you like wearing one) but don't consider it a requirement. For girls there's naturally more variation and choice. Business suits are generally successful as are various combinations of skirts and blouses. As long as you stay away from "provocative" outfits you should be fine. 

A good rule of thumb is that you are at a tournament to debate, not to show off your wardrobe. Try to dress in a way that shows your respect for the activity but also allows you to deal with the possibility of both a very hot and a very cold room -- school buildings are old and you never know what conditions you may encounter.