Policy Debate: Structure and Rules

There are four debaters in a policy round and each makes two speeches, for a total of eight speeches. Each debater also has a chance to cross-examine his opponent, which adds an additional four periods to the round.

As in other forms of debate, there are two types of speeches: constructives (8 mins.) and rebuttals (5 mins.). Both teams are essentially on the offensive in the constructive speeches, which lay out the plan and explain the contentions and stock issues. In the rebuttals, both teams attempt to diffuse and disprove their opponent’s arguments while simultaneously strengthening their own. New evidence is regularly introduced in rebuttals, though new arguments are discouraged.

Cross-examinations are also not unique to policy debate, though they do take on an extra significance in this category. During this three minute period, the most recent speaker is questioned by one of his opponents. Five minute preparation periods are also allowed before each speech.

In sum, then, a policy round consists of the First Affirmative Constructive (1AC), Cross-examination of First Affirmative, First Negative Constructive (1NC), Cross-examination of First Negative, Second Affirmative Constructive (2AC), Cross-examination of Second Affirmative, Second Negative Constructive (2NC), Cross-examination of Second Negative, First Negative Rebuttal (1NR), First Affirmative Rebuttal (1AR), Second Negative Rebuttal (2NR) and Second Affirmative Rebuttal (2AR).

Such rounds take place at two-day policy tournaments, which typically consist of both regular policy rounds and individual speech events. The first day of a tournament is devoted to preliminary rounds. On the second day, teams with a strong win-loss record advance or “break” to out-rounds. Awards are given not only to these teams, but to individual speakers who performed well in speech events, and to the schools with the best records overall.