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The goal of competitive debating is to persuade. The key to being persuasive is to present arguments that support a position and counter arguments that refute an opposing position. By itself, however, presenting well-reasoned arguments and counter argument will not usually be enough to guarantee success. A debater's speech must be well organized so that the debater makes good use of his or her time. The speech should also be delivered with confidence and flair. And finally, debaters on a team should show evidence of working together.



A speech is scored on six key elements: argument, content, rebuttal, style, teamwork and overall.

Argumentation and analysis

A team should present three or four separate and distinct arguments. Each argument should be supported by evidence. And each argument should be clearly related to the resolution.



An argument must be backed up with evidence. This can take the form of statistics, real-life examples and factual knowledge.


After the Prime Minister's speech, the focus of the remaining speeches will be on rebuttal. Each argument presented by a speaker must be opposed by each successive speaker with a counter argument. A single dropped argument will not automatically mean the team loses the debate but a convincing refutation of most of the opponent's points will be necessary to carry the debate. (Note: The Prime Minister is not be scored for refutation in his/her first speech. The team score is averaged over the two speeches. The Opposition must accept the resolution as defined by the Government and present arguments and counter arguments that relate to the resolution as defined. Failure to do so is fatal. The exception to this is when the Opposition is challenging the resolution as trivial, tautological or special knowledge.)

Style and rhetoric

The manner in which arguments are presented can, at times, be as important as the arguments themselves. A smooth, polished and confident speaking style is very persuasive. And using rhetorical techniques and flourishes to add flair to a speech can heighten the impact of the speech. Effective use of humour can be a very powerful style element.


Debaters are expected to perform as a team. Earlier speakers set the stage for latter speakers while those following expand on and reinforce earlier arguments. A follow-up speaker may need to clarify (and even correct) a point made by an earlier speaker. This should be done very carefully, however, because contradictions and inconsistencies between speakers can be fatal.


This is how the pieces fit together. Definition of the resolution should be unambiguous and steer debate onto the Government's strongest ground. Arguments should be clearly and carefully mapped out with more time allotted to the key arguments and less to minor ones. Rebuttals should concisely and powerfully distill the central issue in an argument and drive to its core. Speakers should not get bogged down in unnecessary details. They should use all their time but leave sufficient time to recap their arguments/counter arguments.


Argument (10 points)

Content (10 points)

Rebuttal/Refutation (10 points)

0 no arguments
1-2 few arguments, marginal relevancy, unclear
3 one clear, relevant argument together with muddled thinking 4-5 more than one clear, relevant argument
6-10 multiple, interesting arguments

0 no content
1-2 partial content
3 content for key premise in all arguments
4-5 strong evidence for one argument or content for secondary premises 6-10 strong evidence for several arguments and content for secondary premises

  1. 0  no counter arguments

  2. 1  some missed arguments, unclear rebuttals

2-3 no missed arguments, one clear rebuttal
4-5 clear rebuttals to all arguments
6-10 devastating rebuttals and/or new arguments to support antithesis

poorly organized, hesitations, flat, distracting mannerisms

Style/Rhetoric 0
(5 points) 1 no significant weaknesses

2 crisp delivery, some flair
3-4 humour, choice of words, other rhetorical devices 5 outstanding speech is all regards

Teamwork 0 no set-up or follow-through
(5 points) 1 nominal set-up or follow-through

2-3 speakers share in full development of arguments 4-5 seamless presentation, balance of styles

Overall 0 unpersuasive and incomprehensible (10 points) 1 hit-and-miss

2-3 more "hits" than "misses," generally solid performance
4-5 all hits, effective use of time
6-10 perfect execution, interesting arguments, entertaining and persuasive


One of the more difficult concepts in debating is the difference between an argument and evidence. Both are necessary, but they are two different things. An argument without evidence is a mere assertion. Evidence without an argument has not relevancy. The following example will illustrate what judges are looking for in a debate.

RESOLUTION: The Leader of the Liberal Party of Canada should be fired.




The Leader is a liar. Deceit by political leaders undermines confidence in the political process. This is bad so the Leader should be fired.

Various examples of lies, broken election promises or other deception

Poll results, editorials, etc linking dishonesty with confidence

The examples are isolated and not sufficient to establish a pattern.

The examples are not factually correct.

All politicians lie, other skills possessed by the Leader are more important and respected.

The Leader is incompetent. This is creating a real risk to Canada and Canadians. This cannot be tolerated.

Various examples of where the Leader has misjudged an issue or handled a situation poorly

Negative consequences of mismanagement

The mistakes are isolated ...

The Govt does not understand the Leader's strategy in the examples cited and fails to appreciate his wisdom.

The public no longer supports the Leader. His unpopularity will result in the party losing the next election. This is bad.

Poll results
Anecdotal evidence of dislike

The results are a blip.

Other leaders even less popular so it is not clear that this will cost the election.

It would be good if the party lost.


The trick in successful debating is judging what can be assumed and what needs to be proved. In the first argument, the Government clearly needs to prove that the Leader has been dishonest. If the Government does not back this argument up with at least one example of a lie, it is simply making an unproven assertion. How many examples of lies are needed? There is no sure answer.

While the Government clearly needs to present evidence to prove that the Leader is a liar, it is safer for the Government to assume other parts of the argument. For example, it is less controversial to say that deceit undermines confidence. Nevertheless, the Opposition could choose to rebut this part of the argument and the Government's Second Speaker would have to address this counterargument.

Finally, it is probably safest to assume that undermining confidence is bad. Counterarguments are still possible, but not likely to be persuasive.

One guide to deciding what needs to be proved in an argument is to use the "does it follow" test. For example, if you cite a single example of deceit, "does it follow" that the individual is a liar? And if the Leader is a liar, "does it follow" that people will lose confidence in the political process. If you can imagine someone saying, "No, it does not follow." then you need to prove that part of your argument.

Turning to the third argument, this one is interesting for two different reasons. First, this argument

appeals to a different persuasive element. Arguments #1 and #2 are idealistic arguments based on assumptions about the political process. Argument #3, on the other hand, is more of a pragmatic argument based on assumptions about the desirability of re-electing the Liberal party. Even more interesting, as the counter arguments illustrate, each of the parts of this argument are equally open to attack. As a matter of debating strategy, the Government could focus attention on proving that the Leader is down in the polls in a bid to distract the Opposition. If the Opposition failed to pick up on an obvious weakness in the argument, a judge could mark them down.


There are obviously different ways to get a certain score. The following simply illustrates one way to receive a certain score.

If the Prime Minister simply said "The Leader is a liar so he should be fired," the argument would be unclear and only marginally relevant (at best). To score a "3" on Argumentation, the Prime Minister would need to completely develop one argument. If all three arguments were completely developed, the Prime Minister would score a "5." Scores above "5" are considered bonuses and would require more originality and interest than is in these three predictable arguments.

If the Prime Minister provided examples of lies, mismanagement and poll results, the Content would be scored a "3." To receive a "4" or "5," the Prime Minister would have to present numerous examples to convincingly demonstrate a pattern or content to prove some of the additional premises in the arguments. Again, scores above "5" are considered bonuses and would require extensive evidence relating to each part of all the arguments.

If the Leader of the Opposition addressed each of the Prime Minister's arguments and had a clear counter argument for one of them, the Rebuttal would be scored in the "2-3" range. Clear counter arguments for each argument would be required to score in the "4-5" range. If the Leader of the Opposition had counter arguments of each argument and, for example, completely dismantled the third argument by attacking each of its parts, the score would get up into the bonus range.

In order, these are the Adjudicators essential responsibilities:

  • Correctly identify the winner and loser of the debate

  • Assign the speakers scoring as laid out in this criteria

  • Explain both individual speakers and teams strengths and weaknesses and relate

    these to the scoring

  • Direct and suggest directions for each speaker on how to improve 


Elements of an outstanding debate:

Arguments (points offered): very persuasive, focused, relevant, factual, universal.

Content: compelling evidence for each argument that ties into the proposition as a whole, demonstrates a logical progression.

Rebuttal & Refutation: delivers convincing counter arguments, eviscerates key points with evidence and witty repartee, emphasizes weakness in opponents' logic.

Delivery: crisp, clear, easy to follow, exhibits relaxed body language, uses appropriate tone.

Teamwork: complementary, seamless, balanced.

Style & Rhetoric: compelling, entertaining, anecdotal, emphasises key points, uses rhetorical fluorish to good effect, exhibits likeability.

Adjudication Scorecard Sheet .pdf

Toronto Debating Society


A non-profit community organization interested in the power of persuasion, critical thinking, and a good debate. © 2019

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