Lincoln-Douglas Debate: Structure and Rules

LD in follows a very clear-cut structure, and each round consists of seven speeches: the affirmative constructive (6 mins.), the negative cross-examination (3 mins.), the negative constructive (7 mins.), the affirmative cross-examination (3 mins.), the first affirmative rebuttal (4 mins.), the negative rebuttal (6 mins.) and the second affirmative rebuttal (3 mins.).

During the constructive speeches, each debater establishes his case and lays out all of his arguments and contentions. During the cross-examinations, each debater has an opportunity to question his opponent about the arguments made in the constructive speech. Finally, during the rebuttals, each debater addresses both sides’ arguments and attempts to show the judge that his side has been the most successful. New arguments are not permitted during rebuttal.

Rounds such as the one outlined above take place at forensics tournaments, which typically last one day and consist of three or four rounds. Beginning debaters compete in the novice division, while more experienced debaters compete in the intermediate and varsity divisions. At the end of three rounds, win/loss records determine who will advance, or “break,” to finals. Debater pairings in both in-rounds and out-rounds are also determined by win/loss records.