Lincoln-Douglas Debate

Lincoln-Douglas (LD) is a one-on-one format where students debate questions of ethics, philosophy and their practical applications. The debate typically focuses on topics related to values and principles, such as moral dilemmas, social justice, government policies, and individual rights. Typically, debaters establish a value or a principle that serves as the central criterion for evaluating arguments. For example, justice, freedom, or the protection of individual rights. Debaters present criteria to show how their arguments align with the chosen value.

WACFL tournaments use LD topics chosen by the National Speech and Debate Association. Topics change every two months. (Important note: NSDA will list a novice LD topic, which WACFL does not use. All LD debaters, regardless of experience level, will debate the same topic.) At WACFL preliminary tournaments, students debate twice on the Affirmative and twice on Negative.

LD debate provides an opportunity for students to develop their research, public speaking, critical thinking, and persuasive skills. It encourages participants to analyze complex topics, consider ethical implications, and construct coherent arguments based on logic and evidence.

Sequence of speeches and timing in a Lincoln-Douglas debate round

Speech Time Limit Purpose
Affirmative Constructive 6 minutes Present the affirmative case
Negative Cross-Examination 3 minutes Negative asks questions of the affirmative
Negative Constructive 7 minutes Present the negative case and refute the affirmative case
Affirmative Cross-Examination 3 minutes Affirmative asks questions of the negative
First Affirmative Rebuttal 4 minutes Refute the negative case and rebuild the affirmative case
Negative Rebuttal 6 minutes Refute the affirmative case, rebuild the negative case, and provide reasons why negative should win the round.
2nd Affirmative Rebuttal 3 minutes Address negative voting issues and offer reasons for why the affirmative should win.

Each debater is entitled to 4 minutes of preparation time during the round.

Summary of Judging Criteria

At a high level, the judge serves three primary purposes during each debate round.

  1. Determine the winner and assign speaker points. In most cases, you will be the only judge in the competition room.
  2. Provide constructive feedback. Students will want to know why you voted the way you did. You should comment on areas of strength and weakness, with the goal of helping competitors improve.
  3. Tournament official. You will keep time for the speeches and prep time. Judges also ensure tournament rules are followed and keeps the experience positive for both students and the host school.

Judges should also bring the following to the tournament

  • Notepad and pen/pencil. You'll use these to keep track of arguments during the debates.
  • Laptop or tablet computer. You'll need this to access, which is where you will enter your decisions, speaker points and comments to the debaters.

Want more details on how to be a great debate judge? First time judges should read this document for more information on judging.