A Guide to American Parliamentary Debate

Written by Josh Sandberg & Sihong Chan for Stanford CTL35SI


A debate round has two teams with two debaters each. The Government team proposes a case that the Opposition team has to try to disprove. Simple, huh? The trick is that there is no in-round preparation time, and the opposition never knows the exact case ahead of time, so you are forced to think fast on your feet and improvise a great deal of every speech.

Order and timing of speeches:

Note: Each speech has a thirty second grace period

Cases and resolutions:

3 requirements:

Otherwise anything goes!

Time-space cases: Limit knowledge to a specific person, time, or place, and make arguments within that context. No future knowledge allowed! Example: You're President Lincoln, before the start of the Civil War - let the south go.

Points of information, clarification and order:

Different ways of standing up and interrupting the other side's speech in order to ask a question or make a point.

Some useful references:


The 'official' blurb:

Parliamentary debate is an off-topic, extemporaneous form of competitive debate which stresses rigorous argumentation, logical analysis, quick thinking, breadth of knowledge, and rhetorical ability over preparation of evidence. It is patterned after the style of platform debate first made famous at Oxford University. The format pits two two-person teams against each other in a contest of argument, wit and rhetoric which roughly simulates debate in a House of Parliament.

Parliamentary debate on APDA focuses on skills which are not greatly emphasized by other forms of intercollegiate debate. Rather than concentrating on extensive preparation of evidence, APDA encourages a breadth, as well as a depth, of knowledge -- as students can be forced to debate almost any topic at short notice, they must have a working knowledge of all manner of political, economic, social and philosophical issues. A high premium is placed on quick thinking and logical, rigorous analysis. APDA debate is audience-centered; speaking skills learned on APDA can be directly appreciated by the general public, not only specially-trained judges. By focusing on argumentation and rhetoric rather than rapid recitation of evidence and technical rule-based strategies, parliamentary debate is an activity which is easily learned, extremely adaptable, and widely accessible, yet still rigorous, intellectually demanding, and rewarding.

The legacy of parliamentary debate can clearly be seen in the resumes of APDA alumni. In the past few years, APDA graduating classes have included several Rhodes, Marshall and Truman scholars, with numerous other alums attending top-rate graduate institutions like Harvard, Yale and Stanford Law Schools, Yale Medical School, and Princeton's Woodrow Wilson School.