How Do You Determine the Winner of a Debate?


Quick Answer

High school and college debates determine winners using a point system that assigns numerical values to the participant's performance in a number of key areas. Public debates, such as those between competing political candidates, typically have no official scoring system, and winners are determined based on the viewer's subjective opinion.

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How Do You Determine the Winner of a Debate?
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Full Answer

Debate judges determine a participant's score using a standardized rubric. Topics on the rubric include the strength of the participant's argument, clarity and organization, style and presentation, and how well the debater cross examines her opponent. These criteria typically only apply to affirmative and negative debates on a single issue; policy and parliamentary debates use their own scoring criteria.

The better a participant performs in the key debate areas, the higher scores she receives. Some debate tournaments allow judges to arbitrarily add or subtract points for particularly strong or convincing arguments or stylistic errors such as speaking too loudly or quietly. Once all of the debate rounds are over, the judge adds up each opponent's points. The participant with the larger score wins the debate.

While large public debates often have officials of their own, these individuals are only present to ensure the debate goes smoothly and that each participant has equal time to make her argument. The winner in such a debate is the participant who manages to convince the largest number of people of her argument's validity.

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