Senator George McGovern, former Democratic Party candidate for the presidency of the United States, said, “There are few other activities in high school or college that are as important as speech and debate. Regardless of an individual’s academic or career goals, the ability to research a complex question, marshal arguments, and present them in a persuasive and compelling way are skills that will serve you well all your life. Both my wife and I debated in high school and college. Before I entered public life, I taught debate and speech at Dakota Wesleyan University in Mitchell, S.D. I attribute whatever political success I may have enjoyed, in large part, to the training I received as a participant in debate and speech activities (Hunt, 13).”
Debate addresses complex topics, many of which are unfamiliar to students. In order to prepare to debate, they must conduct extensive research, organize the arguments they wish to make to support their positions, and arrange the facts they have chosen to use as evidence. Debaters must be prepared to defend their positions against well-prepared opponents if they expect to win and, to accomplish this, must understand not only their own arguments, but must anticipate those of their opponent as well. It is not surprising that debate is often described as a contact sport because much interaction as takes place as debaters clash with each other during arguments and counter-arguments.
Debate research begins with the search for and discovery of arguments that support the position assigned, as well as credible evidence to support those arguments. During this process, students must also be mindful of the opposing arguments and evidence as well as their own.
Finding good arguments as well as evidence to support them is only half the battle. Students must now organize the information and data in a structure that will be used effectively during the debate to persuade the audience and the judge. Well-structured arguments win debates while poorly-organized arguments do not, despite how compelling the information or its delivery. Debate training teaches students how to structure their arguments in a way that enables them to deliver a powerful message during the debate competition. (Research and Organization to be continued in the next edition.)