Elements of Debating
by Leverett S. Lyon
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A Manual for Use in High Schools and Academies



Head of the Department of Civic Science in the Joliet Township High School



This book pretends but little to originality in material. Its aim is to offer the old in a form that shall meet the needs of young students who are beginning work in debate. The effort has been made only to present the elements of forensic work so freed from technicality that they may be apparent to the student with the greatest possible economy of time and the least possible interpretation by the teacher.

It is hoped that the book may serve not only those schools where debating is a part of the regular course, but also those institutions where it is a supplement to the work in English or is encouraged as a "super-curriculum" activity.

Although the general obligation to other writers is obvious, there is no specific indebtedness not elsewhere acknowledged, except to Mr. Arthur Edward Phillips, whose vital principle of "Reference to Experience" has, in a modified form, been made the test for evidence. It is my belief that the use of this principle, rather than the logical and technical forms of proof and evidence, will make the training of debate far more applicable in other forms of public speaking. My special thanks are due to Miss Charlotte Van Der Veen and Miss Elizabeth Barns, whose aid has added technical exactness to almost every page. I wish to thank also Miss Bella Hopper for suggestions in preparing the reference list of Appendix I. Most of all, I am indebted to the students whose interest has been a constant stimulus, and whose needs have been to me, as they are to all who teach, the one sure and constant guide.
























I. The purpose of discourse

II. The forms of discourse: 1. Narration 2. Description 3. Exposition 4. Argumentation

When we pause to look about us and to realize what things are really going on, we discern that everyone is talking and writing. Perhaps we wonder why this is the case. Nature is said to be economical. She would hardly have us make so much effort and use so much energy without some purpose, and some purpose beneficial to us. So we determine that the purpose of using language is to convey meaning, to give ideas that we have to someone else.

As we watch a little more closely, we see that in talking or writing we are not merely talking or writing something. We see that everyone, consciously or unconsciously, clearly or dimly, is always trying to do some definite thing. Let us see what the things are which we may be trying to do.

If you should tell your father, when you return from school, how Columbus discovered America on October 12, 1492, and should try to make him see the scene on shipboard when land was first sighted as clearly as you see it, you would be describing. That kind of discourse would be called description. Its purpose is to make another see in his mind's eye the same image or picture that we have in our own.

On the other hand, if you wished to tell him the story of the discovery of America, you would do something quite different. You would tell him not only of the first sight of land, but of the whole series of incidents which led up to that event. If he could follow you readily, could almost live through the various happenings that you related, you would be telling your story well. That kind of discourse is not description but narration.

Suppose, then, that your father should say: "Now tell me this: What is the difference between the discovery of America and the colonization of America?" You would now have a new task. You would not care to make him see any particular scene or live through the events of discovery but to make him understand something which you understand. You would show him that the discovery of America meant merely the fact that America was found to be here, but that colonization meant the coming, not of the explorers, but of the permanent settlers. This form of discourse which makes clear to someone else an idea that is already clear to us is called exposition.

And now suppose your father should say: "Well, you have told me a great deal which I may say is interesting enough, but it seems to me rather useless. What is the purpose of all this study? Why have you spent so much time learning of this one event?" You would of course answer: "Because the discovery of America was an event of great importance."

He might reply: "I still do not believe that." Then you would say: "I'll prove it to you," or, "I'll convince you of it." You would then have undertaken to do what you are now trying to learn how to do better—to argue. For argumentation is that form of discourse that we use when we attempt to make some one else believe as we wish him to believe. "Argumentation is the art of producing in the mind of someone else a belief in the ideas which the speaker or writer wishes the hearer or reader to accept."[1]

You made use of argumentation when you urged a friend to take the course in chemistry in your school by trying to make him believe it would be beneficial to him. You used argumentation when you urged a friend to join the football squad by trying to make him believe, as you believe, that the exercise would do him good. A minister uses argumentation when he tries to make his congregation believe, as he believes, that ten minutes spent in prayer each morning will make the day's work easier. The salesman uses argumentation to sell his goods. The chance of the merchant to recover a rebate on a bill of goods that he believes are defective depends entirely on his ability to make the seller believe the same thing. On argumentation the lawyer bases his hope of making the jury believe that his client is innocent of crime. All of us every day of our lives, in ordinary conversation, in our letters, and in more formal talks, are trying to make others believe as we wish them to believe. Our success in so doing depends upon our skill in the art of argumentation.


1. Out of your study or reading of the past week, give an illustration of: (1) narration; (2) description; (3) exposition; (4) argumentation.

2. During the past week, on what occasions have you personally made use of: (1) narration; (2) description; (3) exposition; (4) argumentation?

3. Explain carefully the distinction between description and exposition. In explaining this distinction, what form of discourse have you used?

4. Define argumentation.

5. Skill in argumentation is a valuable acquisition for:

(Give three reasons).






I. The forms of argumentation: 1. Written. 2. Oral.

II. The forms of oral argumentation: 1. General discussion. 2. Debate.

III. The qualities of debate: 1. Oral. 2. Judges present. 3. Prescribed conditions. 4. Decision expected.

Now, since we have decided upon a definition of argumentation, let us see what we mean by the term "debate" as it will be used in this work.

We have said that argumentation is the art of producing in the mind of someone a belief in something in which we wish him to believe.

Now it is obvious that this can be accomplished in different ways. Perhaps the most common method of attempting to bring someone to believe as we wish is the oral method. On your way to school you meet a friend and assert your belief that in the coming football game the home team will win. You continue: "Our team has already beaten teams that have defeated our opponent of next Saturday, and, moreover, our team is stronger than it has been at any time this season." When you finish, your friend replies: "I believe you are right. We shall win."

You have been carrying on oral argumentation.

If, when you had finished, your friend had not agreed with you, your effort would have been none the less argumentation, only it would have been unsuccessful. If you had written the same thing to your friend in a letter, your letter would have been argumentative.

Suppose your father were running for an office and should make a public speech. If he tried to make the audience believe that the best way to secure lower taxes, better water, and improved streets would be through his election, he would be making use of oral argumentation. If he should do the same thing through newspaper editorials, he would be using written argumentation.

Argumentation, then, may be carried on either in writing or orally, and may vary from the informality of an ordinary conversation or a letter to a careful address or thoughtful article.

What, then, is debate as we shall use the word in this work, and what is the relation of argumentation to debate? The term "debate" in its general use has, of course, many senses. You might say: "I had a debate with a friend about the coming football game." Or your father might say: "I heard the great Lincoln and Douglas debates before the Civil War." Although both of you would be using the term as it is generally used, you would not be using it as it will be used in this book, or as it is best that a student of argumentation and debate should use it.

The term "debate," in the sense in which students of these subjects should use it, means oral argumentation carried on by two opposing teams under certain prescribed regulations, and with the expectation of having a decision rendered by judges who are present. This is "debate" used, not generally, as you used it in saying, "I debated with a friend," but technically, as we use it when we refer to the Yale-Harvard debate or the Northern Debating League. In order to keep the meaning of this term clearly in mind, use it only when referring to such contests as these. In speaking of your argumentative conversation with your friend or of the forensic contests between Lincoln and Douglas, use the term "discussion" rather than "debate."

It is true that the controversy between Lincoln and Douglas conformed to our definition of "debate" in being oral; moreover, at least in sense, two teams (of one man each) competed, but there were no judges, and no direct decision was rendered.

Since argumentation, then, is the art of producing in the mind of someone else a belief in the idea or ideas you wish to convey, and debate is an argumentative contest carried on orally under certain conditions, it is clear that argumentation is the broader term of the two and that debate is merely a specialized kind of argumentation. Football is exercise, but there is exercise in many other forms. Debate is argumentation, but one can also find argumentation in many other forms.

The following diagram makes clear the work we have covered thus far. It shows the relation between argumentation and debate, and shows that the specialized term "debate" has the same relation to "discourse" that "football" has to "exercise."

/ Miscellaneous Swimming / Play Skating Kinds of Rolling hoop / Other athletic games exercise Athletic games Football Work

/ Description Kinds of Narration discourse Exposition Argumentation / Written Oral / General discussion Debate


1. Be prepared to explain orally in class, as though to someone who did not know, the difference between "argumentation" and "debate."

2. Set down three conditions that must exist before argumentation becomes debate.

3. Have you ever argued? Orally? In writing?

4. Have you ever debated? Did you win?

5. Which is the broader term, "argumentation," or "debate?" Why?

6. Compose some sentences, illustrating the use of the terms "debate" and "argumentation."



I. The three requirements stated.

II. How to make clear to the audience what one wishes them to believe, by:

1. Stating the idea which one wishes to have accepted in the form of a definite assertion, which is:

(1) Interesting.

(2) Definite and concise.

(3) Single in form.

(4) Fair to both sides.

2. Defining the "terms of the question" so that they will be:

(1) Clear.

(2) Convincing.

(3) Consistent with the origin and history of the question.

3. Restating the whole question in the light of the definitions.

To debate successfully it is necessary to do three things:

1. To make perfectly clear to your audience what you wish them to believe.

2. To show them why the proof of certain points (called issues) should make them believe the thing you wish them to believe.

3. To prove the issues.

Each of these three things is a distinct process, involving several steps. One is as important as another.

It is impossible to prove the issues until we have found them, but equally impossible to show the audience what the issues are until we have shown what the thing is which we wish those issues to support. First, then, let us see what we mean by making perfectly clear what you wish to have the audience believe.

Suppose that you should meet a friend who says to you: "I am going to argue with you about examinations." You might naturally reply: "What examinations?" If he should say, "All examinations: the honor system in all examinations," you might very reasonably still be puzzled and ask if by all examinations he meant examinations of every kind in grade school, high school, and college, as well as the civil service examinations, and what was meant by the honor system.

He would now probably explain to you carefully how several schools have been experimenting with the idea of giving all examinations without the presence of a teacher or monitor of any sort. During these examinations, however, it has been customary to ask the students themselves to report any cheating that they may observe. It is also required that each student state in writing, at the end of his paper, upon honor, that he has neither given nor received aid during the test. "To this method," your friend continues, "has been given the name of the honor system. And I believe that this system should be adopted in all examinations in the Greenburg High School."

He has now stated definitely what he wishes to make you believe, and he has done more; he has explained to you the meaning of the terms that you did not understand. These two things make perfectly clear to you what he wishes you to believe, and he has thus covered the first step in argumentation.

From this illustration, then, several rules can be drawn. In the first place your friend stated that he wished to argue about examinations. Why could he not begin his argument at once? Because he had not yet asked you to believe anything about examinations. He might have said, "I am going to explain examinations," and he could then have told you what examinations were. That would have been exposition. But he could not argue until he had made a definite assertion about the term "examination."

Rule one would then be: State in the form of a definite assertion the matter to be argued.

In order to be suitable for debating, an assertion or, as it is often called, proposition, of this kind should conform to certain conditions:

1. It should be one in which both the debaters and the audience are interested. Failure to observe this rule has caused many to think debating a dry subject.

2. It should propose something different from existing conditions. Argument should have an end in view. Your school has no lunchroom. Should it have one? Your city is governed by a mayor and a council. Should it be ruled by a commission? Merely to debate, as did the men of the Middle Ages, how many angels could dance on the point of a needle, or, as some more modern debaters have done, whether Grant was a greater general than Washington, is useless.

The fact that those on the affirmative side propose something new places on them what is called the burden of proof. This means that they must show why there is need of a change from the present state of things. When they have done this, they may proceed to argue in favor of the particular change which they propose.

3. It should make a single statement about a single thing:

(Correct) In public high schools secret societies should be prohibited.

(Incorrect) In public high schools and colleges secret societies and teaching of the Bible should be prohibited.

4. It must be expressed with such definiteness that both sides can agree on what it means.

5. It must be expressed in such a way as to be fair to both sides.

But you noticed that your friend had not only to state the question definitely, but to explain what the terms of the proposition meant. He had to tell you what the "honor system" was.

Our second rule, then, for making the question clear, is: In the proposition as stated, explain all terms that may not be entirely clear to your audience.

And in explaining or defining these terms, there are certain things that you must do. You must make the definition clear, or it will be no better than the term itself. This is not always easy. In defining "moral force" a gentleman said: "Why, moral force is er—er—moral force." He did not get very far on the way toward making his term clear. Be sure that your definition really explains the term.

Then one must be careful not to define in a circle. Let us take, for example, the assertion or proposition, "The development of labor unions has been beneficial to commerce." If you should attempt to define "development" by saying "development means growth," you would not have made the meaning of the term much clearer; and if in a further attempt to explain it, you could only add "And growth means development," you would be defining in a circle.

There is still another error to be avoided in making your terms clear to your audience. This error is called begging the question. This occurs when a term is defined in such a way that there is nothing left to be argued.

Suppose your friend should say to you: "I wish to make you believe that the honor system should be used in all examinations in the Greenburg High School." You ask him what he means by the "honor system." He replies: "I mean the best system in the world." Is there anything left to argue? Hardly, if his definition of the term honor system is correct, for it would be very irrational indeed to disagree with the assertion that the best system in the world should be adopted in the Greenburg High School.

To summarize: Define terms carefully; make the definition clear; do not define in a circle, and do not beg the question.

As you have already noticed, terms in argumentation, such as "honor system," often consist of more than one word. They sometimes contain several words. "A term [as that word is used in debating and argumentation] may consist of any number of names, substantive or objective, with the articles, prepositions, and conjunctions required to join them together; still it is only one term if it points out or makes us think of only one thing or object or class of objects."[2] In such cases a dictionary is of little use. Take the term "honor system," the meaning of which was not clear to you. A dictionary offers no help. How is the student who wishes to discuss this question to decide upon the meaning of the term? Notice how your friend made it clear to you. He gave a history of the question that he wished to argue. He showed how the term "honor system" came into use and what it means where that system of examinations is in vogue. This, then, is the only method of making sure of the meaning of a term: to study the history of the question and see what the term means in the light of that history. This method has the added advantage that a term defined in this way will not only be entirely clear to your audience, but will also tend to convince them.

A dispute may arise between yourself and an opponent as to the meaning of a term. He may be relying on a dictionary or the statement of a single writer, while you are familiar with the history of the question. Under those circumstances it will be easy for you to show the judges and the audience that, although he may be using the term correctly in a general way, he is quite wrong when the special question under discussion is considered.

To make this more clear, let us take a specific instance. Suppose that you are debating the proposition, "Football Should Be Abolished in This High School." Football, as defined in the dictionary, differs considerably from the game with which every American boy is familiar. Further, the dictionary defines both the English and the American game. If your opponent should take either of these definitions, he would not have much chance of convincing an American audience that it was correct. Or if he should define football according to the rules of the game as it was played five or ten years ago, he would be equally ineffective.

You, on the other hand, announce that in your discussion you will use the term "football" as that game is described in Spaulding's present year's rule book for the American game, and that every reference you make to plays allowed or forbidden will be on the basis of the latest ruling. You then have a definition based on the history of the question. As you can see, the case for or against English football would be different from that of the American game. In the same way the case for or against football as it was played ten years ago would be very different from the case of football as it is played today.

All this does not mean that definitions found in dictionaries or other works of reference are never good; it means simply that such definitions should not be taken as final until the question has been carefully reviewed. Try to think out for yourself the meaning of the question. Decide what it involves and how it has arisen, or could arise in real life. Then, when you do outside reading on the subject, keep this same idea in mind. Keep asking yourself: "How did this question arise? Why is it being discussed?" You will be surprised to find that when you are ready to answer that question you will have most of your reading done, for you will have read most of the arguments upon it. Then you are ready to make it clear to the audience.

When you have thus given a clear and convincing definition of all the terms, it is a good plan to restate the whole question in the light of those definitions.

For instance, notice the question of the "honor system." The original question might have been concisely stated: "All Examinations in the Greenburg High School Should Be Conducted under the Honor System."

After you have made clear what you mean by the "honor system," you will be ready to restate the question as follows: "The question then is this: No Teacher Shall Be Present during Any Examination in the Greenburg High School, and Every Student Shall Be Required to State on Honor That He Has Neither Given Nor Received Aid in the Examinations."

Your hearers will now see clearly what you wish them to believe.

Thus far, then, we have seen that to debate well we should have a question which is of interest to ourselves and to the audience. The first step toward success is to make clear to our hearers the proposition presented for their acceptance. This may be done:

1) By stating the idea that we wish them to accept in the form of an assertion, which should be:

a) interesting

b) definite and concise

c) single in form

d) fair to both sides

2) By defining the "terms of the question" so that they will be:

a) clear

b) convincing

c) consistent with the origin and history of the question

3) By restating the whole question in the light of our definitions.


1. State the three processes of successful debating.

2. What are the three necessary steps in the first process?

3. What qualities should a proposition for debate possess?

4. Give a proposition that you think has these qualities.

5. Without reference to books, define all the terms of this proposition. Follow the rules but make the definitions as brief as possible.

6. Make some propositions in which the following terms shall be used: (1) "Athletics," (2) "This City," (3) "All Studies," (4) "Manual Training," (5) "Domestic Science."

7. Point out the weakness in the following propositions (consider propositions always with your class as the audience): (1) "Physics, Chemistry, and Algebra Are Hard Studies." (2) "Only Useful Studies Should Be Taught in This School." (3) "All Women Should Be Allowed to Vote and Should Be Compelled by Law to Remove Their Hats in Church." (4) "Agricultural Conditions in Abyssinia Are Superior to Those in Burma."

8. Compare the dictionary definition of the following terms with the meaning which the history of the question has given them in actual usage:

(1) Domestic science.

(2) Aeroplane exhibitions.

(3) The international Olympic games.

(4) Township high schools.

(5) National conventions of political parties.



I. What the "issues" are.

II. How to determine the issues.

III. The value of correct issues.

When you have made perfectly clear to your hearers what you wish them to believe, the next step is to show them why they should believe it. The first step in this process, as we saw at the beginning of Lesson III, is to see what points, if proved, will make them believe it.

These points, as we call them, are better known as "issues." The issues are really questions, the basic questions on which your side and the other disagree. The negative would answer "No" to these issues, the affirmative would say "Yes."

The issues when stated in declarative sentences are the fundamental reasons why the affirmative believes its proposition should be believed.

A student might be arguing with himself whether he would study law or medicine. He would say to himself: "These are the issues: For which am I the better adapted? Which requires the more study? Which offers the better promise of reward? In which can I do the more good?"

Should he argue with a friend in order to induce him to give up law and to study medicine, he would use similar issues. He would feel that if he could settle these questions he could convince his friend. Now, however, he would state them as declarative sentences and say: "You are more adapted to the profession of medicine; you can do more good in this field," etc. If the friend should open the question, he would be in the position of a man on the negative side of a debate. He would state the issues negatively as his reasons. He would say: "I am not so well adapted to the study of medicine; it offers less promise of reward," etc.

Each of these would in turn depend upon other reasons, but every proposition will depend for its acceptance on the proof of a few main issues. Perhaps this point can be made clearer by an illustration. Suppose we should take hold of one small rod which we see in the framework of a large truss bridge and should say: "This bridge is strong because this rod is here." Our statement would be only partially true. The rod might be broken, and although the strength of the bridge as a whole might be slightly weakened, it would not fall. But suppose we should say: "This bridge really rests on these four great steel beams which run down to the stone abutment. If I can see that these four steel beams are secure, I can believe in the security of the bridge." So a mechanical engineer shows us that certain rods and bars of the framework hold up one beam, and how similar rods and bars sustain a second, and that yet other rods and bars distribute the weight that would press too heavily on a third, and so at last we are convinced that the bridge is safe. It is not because we have been shown that several of the bolts and braces are strong, but because we have been shown that the four great beams, upon which it rests, are reliable.

Thus it is with everything in which we believe. We do not believe that taxes are just because the government must have money to pay the president or to buy uniforms for the army officers. These things must be done, but they are incidentals. They are facts, but they are like the small braces of the bridge. We believe that taxation is just, because the government must have money for its work. Paying the president and buying uniforms are details of this more fundamental reason.

In the same way we might say: "Athletics should be encouraged in high schools because it will make John Brown, who will participate, more healthy." That is a reason, but again only a small supporting reason. We might rather choose a fundamental reason, which this slight reason would in turn support, and it would be: "Athletics should be encouraged in high schools because they improve the health of the students that participate."

In a recent debate between two large high schools on the proposition: "Resolved, That Contests within High Schools Should Be Substituted for Contests between High Schools," one of the contesting teams took the following as issues:

1. Contests within high, schools will accomplish the real purpose of contests better than will contests between schools.

2. Contests within high schools are the more democratic.

3. Contests within high schools can be made to work successfully.

When these three facts had been demonstrated, there was little left to urge against the claim.

Recently among the universities of a certain section, this question was discussed: "Resolved, That the Federal Government Should Levy a Graduated Income Tax." (Such tax was conceded as constitutional.) One university decided upon these as the issues:

1. Does the government need additional revenue?

2. Admitting that additional revenue is needed, is a graduated income tax the best way of securing the money?

3. Could a graduated income tax be successfully collected?

Here again if the debaters favoring a graduated income could show that the government does need the money, that the proposed tax is the best way to get it, and that such a tax would work in practice, they would make the audience believe their proposition. If the speakers on the negative side could show that the income of the federal government is sufficient, that, even if additional revenue is needed, this is a poor way to obtain it, or that this plan, though good in theory, is impracticable, they would have a good case. Thus in every question that is two-sided enough to be a good question for debate, there are certain fundamental issues upon which the disagreement between the affirmative and the negative can be shown to rest. When either side has answered "Yes" or "No" to these issues and has given reasons for its answer that will find acceptance in the minds of the audience and of the judges, it has won the debate. It is easy, then, to see why "determining the issues," and showing the audience what these issues are, is the second step in successful debating.

Although there is no fixed rule or touchstone by which an issue can immediately be determined, there are several rules which will aid in finding them.

1. In all your thinking and reading upon the question, constantly try to decide: (1) What will the other side admit? (2) Is there anything that I am thinking of in connection with this question that is not essential to it?

2. Do not try to make a final determination of the issues until you are sure you understand the question.

3. Be always ready to change your issues when you see that they are not fundamental.

With these general rules in mind, think the question over carefully. This process of determing the issues can, and should, go on at the same time as the process of learning what the question means. One helps the other. Having decided what will be the issues of the debate, set those issues down under appropriate heads; such as, "Is desirable," "Is needed," "Would work well," etc. Whenever you think of a reason why a thing is not needed, would not work, etc., put that down in a similar way. Now read more carefully (see "Reading References," Appendix I) on both sides of the question, and, whenever you find a reason for or against the proposition, set it down as above. The best method of doing this is to have a small pack of plain cards, perhaps two and one-half by four inches. Use one for each reason that you put down. As you think and read you will determine many reasons for the truth or falsity of the proposition. Gradually you will see that a great many of them are not so important as others and that they do not bear directly on the question, but in reality support some more important reason that you have set down. As you begin to notice this, go through your pack of cards and arrange them in the order of importance. Begin a new pile with every statement that seems to bear directly upon the proposition and put under it those statements that seem to support it. You will soon find that you have all your cards in two or three piles. Now examine the cards which you have on the top of each pile. See if the proof of these statements would convince any person that you are right. If so you have probably found the issues.

Always think first, then read, then think again.

If you have determined the issues wisely, it will be easy in the debate itself to show the audience and the judges what those issues are. You will have a tremendous advantage over your opponent, who in his haste or laziness may have chosen what are not the real issues of the question. He may present well the material that he has, but if that material does not support the fundamental issues of the question, you are right in calling the attention of the judges to that fact.

Few debates are won on the platform. They are won by thoughtful preparation. Be prepared.


1. Give in your own words, as briefly as you can, a definition of the term "the issues of a question."

2. Give one illustration of your own of the issues of a question.

3. What is meant by "determining the issues"?

4. Will the affirmative and the negative teams always agree on the issues?

5. Can a question have two entirely different sets of issues? Why, or why not?

6. If there can be only one correct set of issues for a question, and you believe that you have determined those, what must you do in the debate if your opponents advance different issues?

7. Think over carefully and set down what you believe are the issues of one of the following propositions. Frame the issues as questions.

(1) a) Football Should Be Abolished in This [your own] School.

b) Football Should Be Installed as a Regular Branch of Athletics in This [your own] School.

(2) a) Manual Training /Should Be Established in This Domestic Science [your own] School.

b) Manual Training / /Boys /Should Be Made Compulsory For in This [your own] Domestic Science Girls School.

8. Are there any terms in any of the above propositions which should be made more clear to an average audience? Are there any terms on the meaning of which two opposing teams might disagree?

9. Define one such term so that it would be clear and convincing to an audience not connected with the school.

10. Give two reasons why you believe it is or is not beneficial to study argumentation and debating.

11. If you were debating the question, "This [your own school] Should Establish a School Lunch-Room," would you take as one of the issues, "All students could obtain a warm meal at noon." Why, or why not?



I. What "proof" is.

II. A consideration of how "proof" of anything is accomplished.

III. An infallible test of what the audience will believe.

IV. The material of proof-evidence.

V. Evidence and proof compared.

Having determined what the issues are, and having shown the audience why the establishment of these issues should logically win belief in your proposition, all that remains is to prove the issues.

Now it is clear that neither the audience nor the judges can be led to agree with us and to accept our issues as proved, by our telling them that we should like to have them believe in the soundness of our views. Neither can we succeed in convincing them by telling them that they ought to believe as we wish. The modern audience is not to be cajoled or browbeaten into belief. How, then, are we to persuade our hearers to accept our assertions as true? The only method is to give them what they demand—reasons. We must tell why every statement is true. This process of telling why the issues are true so effectively that the audience and judges believe them to be true is called the proof.

Naturally, the reasons that we give in support of the issues will be no better than the issues themselves, unless we know what reasons the audience will believe. And how are we to know what reasons the audience will believe? We can best answer that question by determining why we ourselves believe those things which we accept. Why do we believe anything? We believe that water is wet; the sky, blue; fire, hot; and sugar, sweet, because in our experience we have always found them so. These things we believe because we have experienced them ourselves. There are other things that we believe in a similar way. We believe that not every newspaper report is reliable. We believe that a statement in the Outlook, the Review of Reviews, or the World's Work is likely to be more trustworthy than a yellow headline in the Morning Bugle. Our own experience, plus what we have heard of the experience of others, has led us to this belief. But there are still other things that we believe although we have not experienced them at all. We believe that Columbus visited America in 1492, that Grant was a great general, that Washington was our first president. Directly, these things have never been experienced by us, but indirectly they have. Others, within whose experience these things have fallen, have led us to accept them so thoroughly that they have become our experience second hand.

If we are told that a man who was in the Iroquois Theater fire was seriously burned, it seems reasonable to us because our experience recognizes burning as the result of such a situation. But if we are told that a man who fell into the water emerged dry, or that a general who served under Washington was born in 1830, we discredit it because such statements are not in accord with our experience. We are ready, then, to answer our question: "What reasons will those in the audience believe?" They will believe those statements which harmonize with their own experience, and will discredit those which are at variance with their experience. This experience, as we have seen, may be first hand, or direct; or it may be indirect, or second hand.

In every case, the speaker's argument must base every issue upon reasons that rest on what the hearers believe because of their own direct or indirect experience. Suppose I assert: "John Quinn was a dangerous man." Someone says: "Prove that statement." I answer: "He was a thief." Someone says: "If that is true, he was a bad man, but can you prove him a thief?" Then I produce a copy of a court record which states that, on a certain day, a duly constituted court found John Quinn guilty of robbing a bank. All my hearers now admit, not only that he was a thief, but also that he was a dangerous person. I have given them a reason for my statement, and a reason for that reason, until at last I have shown them that my assertion, that John Quinn is a dangerous citizen, rests on what they themselves believe—that a court record is reliable.

Sometimes an issue cannot be supported by a reason that will come at once within the experience of the audience. It is then necessary to support the first by a second reason that does come within its experience. Remember, then, as the fundamental rule, that the judges and audience will believe the issues of the proposition, and, as a result, the proposition itself, only when we show them, by the standard of their own experience, that we are right.

The reasons that we give in support of the issues are, in debating, called evidence. Evidence is not proof; evidence is the material out of which proof is made. Evidence is like the separate stones of a solid wall: no one alone makes the wall; each one helps make it strong. Evidence is like the small rods and braces of the truss bridge: no one alone supports the weight; each helps to sustain the great beams that are the real support of the bridge.

Suppose we had the proposition: "The Honor System of Examinations Should Be Established in the Greenburg High School." We assert: "There is but one issue: Will the students be honest in the examination?" Now, what evidence shall we use to show that they will be honest? We may turn to the experience of other schools. After a careful investigation we find evidence with which we may support the assertion in the following way:

The Honor System should be established in the Greenburg High School, for:

I. The student will do honest work under that system, for:

1. Experience of similar schools shows this, for:

(1) This plan was a success in X High School, for:

a) The principal of that school states [quotation from principal], for:

(a) See School Review, Mar., 1900.

(2) This plan is approved by Y High School, for:

a) Etc.

Here the statements used in support of the issue are evidence. If the evidence is strong enough to bring conviction to the audience to which you are speaking, it is proof.

But notice here an important point. Why should this tend to make those in the audience believe that the honor system should be adopted? Simply because we have shown them that it has worked well elsewhere, and their own experience tells them that what has been a benefit in other schools similar to this will be a benefit here.

And in its final analysis this evidence is no stronger than the words of the men who state that it has worked in schools (X) and (Y).

If the experience of the audience is that these men are untruthful or likely to exaggerate, our evidence will not be good evidence. If the experience of the audience is that these men are capable, honest, and reliable, this evidence will go far toward gaining acceptance of, and belief in, our proposition.

Many attempts have been made to put evidence into different classes and to give tests of good evidence. There is but one rule that the debater needs to use: In judging evidence for a debate consider what the effect will be on the audience and the judges. Will it be convincing to them? In other words, will it make their own experience quickly and strongly support the issues?

Time is always limited in a debate. The wise debater will then choose that evidence which will most quickly make his hearers feel that their own experience proves him right. When the speaker has done this, he has chosen the best evidence and has used enough of it.

In courts of law where witnesses appear in every case and testify as to circumstances that did or did not occur, it is necessary that the jury be able to distinguish carefully between what it should and should not believe. Witnesses often have a keen personal interest in the verdict and, therefore, are inclined to tell less or more than the truth. Sometimes witnesses are relatives of persons who would suffer if the case were decided against them and they have a tendency to give unfair testimony.

In order that the jury may decide as fairly as possible what evidence is sound and what is not, the attorneys on each side of the case make out a copy of what are called instructions. These are given to the judge who, provided he approves of them, reads them to the jury. Usually these instructions urge the jurors to consider four things. They must consider, first, whether or not the statements of the witness are probable; that is, are they consistent with human experience? Do they seem reasonable and natural? A second thing which the jury is told to bear in mind is the opportunity which the witness had of observing the facts of which he speaks. Was he in a position to be familiar with the thing he describes? In this connection, the jury is sometimes instructed to consider the physical and mental qualities of the witness. Is he a man who is physically and mentally able to judge what he observes under such circumstances? A third factor which the jury must consider is the possibility of prejudice on the part of the witness. Has he any reason to feel more favorably toward one side than toward the other? Is the defendant his friend or relative or employer? A final consideration is what is commonly called "interest in the case." It is clear that if the witness will be benefited by a certain verdict, he may be inclined to frame his evidence in such a way that it will tend toward that verdict. All these considerations are based on the rule of referring to experience. What a judge really says in a charge to the jury is this: "Does your experience warn you that the testimony of some of these witnesses is unsound? Determine upon that basis in what respects these witnesses have told the whole truth and in what respects they have not."

To summarize: The issues of a proposition are proved by being supported with evidence. Since evidence is the material with which we build the connection between the issues and the experience of the audience, that evidence will be best which will receive the quickest and strongest support from the experience of the hearers.[3]


1. In the following extract from a speech of Burke, the famous debater has asserted that it is undesirable to use force upon the American colonies. State the four main reasons why he thinks so. Under each principal reason, put the reasons or evidence with which it is supported. Is this evidence convincing? Why, or why not?

First, Sir, permit me to observe that the use of force alone is but temporary. It may subdue for a moment, but it does not remove the necessity of subduing again; and a nation is not governed which is perpetually to be conquered.

My next objection is its uncertainty. Terror is not always the effect of force, and an armament is not a victory. If you do not succeed, you are without resource; for, conciliation failing, force remains; but, force failing, no further hope of reconciliation is left. Power and authority are sometimes bought by kindness; but they can never be begged as alms by an impoverished and defeated violence.

A further objection to force is that you impair the object by your very endeavor to preserve it. The thing you fought for is not the thing which you recover; but depreciated, sunk, wasted, and consumed in the contest. Nothing less will content me than whole America. I do not choose to consume its strength along with our own, because in all parts it is the British strength that I consume. I do not choose to be caught by a foreign enemy at the end of this exhausting conflict; and still less in the midst of it. I may escape; but I can make no insurance against such an event. Let me add that I do not choose wholly to break the American spirit: because it is the spirit that has made the country.

Lastly, we have no sort of experience in favor of force as an instrument in the rule of our Colonies. Their growth and their utility has been owing to methods altogether different. Our ancient indulgence has been said to be pursued to a fault. It may be so. But we know, if feeling is evidence, that our fault was more tolerable than our attempt to mend it; and our sin far more salutary than our penitence.

2. Wells's Geometry gives the following proposition: "Two perpendiculars to the same straight line are parallel." The evidence given is: "If they are not parallel, they will, if sufficiently produced, meet at some point, which is impossible, because from a given point without a straight line but one perpendicular can be drawn." Is this evidence sufficient to constitute proof? Does it convince you? Why, or why not?

3. Set down as much evidence as you can think of in ten minutes, to convince a business man that a high-school education is an advantage in business life.

4. Support the statement that football has benefited or harmed this school, with five truthful statements that are evidence. Indicate which ones would be most effective, if you were speaking to the students, and which would make the strongest impression on the faculty.

5. In the following statements of testimony, tell which ones would be good evidence and which not. Tell why or why not in each case.

(1) X, a student, was told that unless he should point out the pupil who had put matches on the floor, he would be expelled. X then said that Y was guilty.

(2) James Brown, a teamster, asserts that the use of alcohol is beneficial to all persons.

(3) John Burns, a labor leader, declares that labor unions are beneficial to trade.

(4) F. W. McCorkle, a large manufacturer, states that labor unions have proved beneficial to commerce.

(5) Professor Sheldon, a college president and profound student of economics, has declared that labor unions help the trade of the world.

(6) Henry Hawkins, a student at the Johnstown High School, asserts that they have the best football team in the state.

(7) M. Metchnikoff, chief attendant at the Pasteur Institute, says: "As for myself, I am convinced that alcohol is a poison." M. Berthelot, member of the Academy of Science and Medicine, states: "Alcohol is not a food, even though it may be a fuel."

(8) Lord Chatham, a member of the English Parliament, said, in speaking of the Revolutionary War: "It is a struggle of free and virtuous patriots."

6. On the basis of your answers to 5, state three conditions that would make a man's speaking or writing weak evidence as testimony; three that would make a man's testimony strong.

7. In Exercise 5 is (3), (4), or (5) the strongest testimony in favor of labor unions. Why? Which is next?

8. Can you see one danger of relying on testimony alone for evidence?



I. What the brief is.

II. What the brief does.

III. Parts of the brief:

1. The introduction in which—

(1) The end desired is made clear.

(2) The issues are determined.

2. The proof, which states the issues as facts and proves them.

3. The conclusion, which is a formal summary of the proof.

IV. A specimen model brief.

V. A specimen special brief.

VI. Rules for briefing.

When a builder begins the construction of a wall, he must have the proper material at hand. When an engineer begins the construction of a steel bridge, he must have metal of the right forms and shapes. Neither of these men, however, can accomplish the end which he has in mind unless he takes this material and puts it together in the proper way. So it is with the debater. He may have plenty of good evidence, but he will never win unless that evidence is organized, that is, put together in the most effective manner.

The builder, if he were building a wall of concrete, would get the correct form by pouring the concrete into a mold. So also, there is a mold which the debater should use in shaping his evidence. When the evidence has been put into this form, the debater is said to have constructed a brief.

In a previous lesson we saw how we might prove that John Quinn was a dangerous man by using the evidence of a court record. If we had put that evidence in brief-form we should have had this:

John Quinn was a dangerous man, for:

1. He was a thief, for:

(1) The Illinois state courts found him guilty of robbing a bank, for:

a) See Ill. Court Reports, Vol. X., p. 83.

The brief, then, is a concise, logical outline of everything that the speaker wishes to say to the audience.

Its purpose is to indicate in the most definite form every step through which the hearers must be taken in order that the proposition may at last be fully accepted by their experience.

The brief is for the debater himself. He does not show it to the audience. It is the framework of his argument. It is the path which, if carefully marked out, will lead to success.

Now, as we have seen, there are three principal steps in debating:

1. Making clear what you wish the audience to believe.

2. Showing the audience why the establishing of certain issues should make them believe this.

3. Proving these issues.

The first two of these steps constitute what in the brief is called the Introduction.

The third step, proving the issues, is the largest part of the brief and is called the Body or the Proof.

In addition to these two divisions of the brief there is a sort of formal summary at the end called the Conclusion.

The skeleton of a brief then would be as follows:


In which: (1) the desired end is made clear; (2) the issues are determined.


In which the issues are stated as declarations or assertions and definite reasons are given why each one should be believed. These reasons are in turn supported by other reasons until the assertion is finally brought within the hearers' experience.


In which the proof is summarized.

Of course no two briefs are identical, but all must follow this general plan. Suppose we look at what might be called a model brief.


Statement of proposition.


I. Definition of terms.

II. Restatement of question in light of these terms.

III. Determination of issues.

1. Statement of what both sides admit.

2. Statement of what is irrelevant.

IV. Statement of the issues.


I. The first issue is true, for:

1. This reason, which is true, for:

(1) This reason, for:

a) This reason.

b) This reason.

2. This reason, for:

(1) This evidence.

(2) This authority.

(3) This testimony, for:

a) See Vol. X, p. —, of report, document, magazine, or book.

II. The second issue is true, for:

1. This reason, for: (1) This reason.

2. This reason, for:

(1) This reason.

(2) This reason.

III. The third issue is true, for:

1. This reason, etc.

IV. The fourth issue is true, for:

1. This reason, etc.


Therefore, since we have shown: (1) that the first issue is true by this evidence, (2) that the second issue is well founded by this evidence; (3) that the third and fourth, etc.; we conclude that our proposition is true.

Now, let us look at a special brief, made out in a high-school debate, for a special subject.

The preceding is an affirmative brief and there were four issues. In the following we have a negative brief, in which there were three issues. Refutation is introduced near the close of the proof.

Of this we shall see more in the next lesson.




I. Definition of terms.

1. Contests, ordinary competitions in:

a) Athletics.

b) Debating.

2. Intra-high-school contests (contests within each school).

3. Inter-high-school contests (contests between different high schools).

II. Restatement of question in light of these definitions. Contests within each high school should be substituted for contests between high schools in Northern Illinois.

III. Determination of issues.

1. It is admitted that:

a) Inter and intra contests both exist at present in the high schools of Northern Illinois.

b) Contest work is a desirable form of training.

c) Not all contests should be abolished.

2. Certain educators have asserted that:

a) The inter form of contests is open to abuses.

b) The intra contests would be more democratic.

c) Intra contests would be practicable.

3. Other educators disagree with these assertions.

4. The issues, then, are:

a) Are the inter contests so widely abused in the high schools of Northern Illinois as to warrant their abolition?

b) Would the proposed plan be more democratic than the present system?

c) Would the proposed plan work out in practice?


I. Contests between the high schools of Northern Illinois are not subject to such abuses as will warrant their abolition, for:

A. If the abuses alleged against athletic contests ever existed, they are now extinct, for:

1. The alleged danger of injury to players physically unfit is not an existing danger, for:

(1) It has been made impossible by the rules of the schools, for:

a) This high school requires a physician's certificate of fitness before participation in any athletic contest, for: (a) Extract from athletic rulings of school board.

b) Our opponent's high school has a similar regulation, for:

(a) Extract from school paper of opponents.

c) The X High School has the same ruling.

d) The Y High School has the same requirement.

2. The charge that athletic contests between high schools make the contestants poor students is without sound basis, for:

(1) A high standard of scholarship is required of all inter-high-school athletic contestants, for:

a) Regulations of Illinois Athletic Association.

B. The evils charged against inter-high-school debating cannot be cured by the proposed scheme, for:

1. They are due, when they exist, not to the form of contest, but to improper coaching, for:

(1) "Too much training," one of the evils charged, is an example of this.

(2) Unfair use of evidence, the other evil alleged, is simply an evil of improper coaching.

II. The proposed plan would not be so democratic as the present system, for:

A. The present plan gives an opportunity to all students, for:

1. Its class and other intra contests give a chance to the less proficient pupils.

2. Its inter contests afford an opportunity for the more proficient pupils.

B. The proposed plan would deprive the more capable pupils of desirable contests, for:

1. They can find contests strenuous enough to induce development only by competing with similar students in other schools.

III. The proposed plan would not be practicable, for:

A. It is unsound in theory, for:

1. No pupil has a strong desire to defeat his close friends.

2. There is no desirable method of dividing the students for competition under the proposed plan, for:

(1) Class division is unsatisfactory, for:

a) The more mature and experienced upper classes win too easily.

(2) "Group division" is not desirable, for:

a) If the division is large, the domination of the mature students will give no opportunity to the younger students.

b) If the division is small, it is likely to develop into a secret society.

B. Experience opposes the proposed plan, for:

1. College experience is against it, for:

(1) N. University tried this plan without success, for:

a) Quotation from president of N.

2. High-school experience does not indorse it, for:

(1) It is practically untried in high schools.


I. The argument which the affirmative may advance, that the experience of Shortridge High School demonstrates the success of this plan, is without weight, for:

A. It is not applicable to this question, for:

1. The plan at Shortridge is not identical with the proposed plan, for:

(1) Shortridge has not entirely abolished inter contests, for:

a) School Review, October, 1911.

2. Conditions in Shortridge differ from those in the high schools of Northern Illinois, for:

(1) Faculty of that school has unusual efficiency in coaching, for:

a) Extract from letter of principal.

(2) Larger number of students, for:

a) Extract from letter of principal.


Since there is no opportunity for serious abuse arising from contests between schools, and since the adoption of contests within the schools alone would lessen the democracy of contests as a form of education, and since the proposed plan is impracticable in theory and has never been put into successful operation, the negative concludes that the substitution of intra for inter contests is not desirable in the high schools of Northern Illinois.

From these illustrative briefs we can draw:


The introduction should contain only such material as both sides will admit, or, as you can show, should reasonably admit, from the phrasing of the proposition.

Scrupulous care should be used in the numbering and lettering of all statements and substatements.

Each issue should be a logical reason for the truth of the proposition.

Each substatement should be a logical reason for the issue or statement that it supports.

Each issue in the proof and each statement that has supporting statements should be followed by the word "for."

Each reason given in support of the issues and each subreason should be no more than a simple, complete, declarative sentence.

The word "for" should never appear as a connective between a statement and substatement in the introduction.

The words "hence" and "therefore" should never appear in the proof of the brief, but one should be able to read up through the brief and by substituting the word "therefore" for the word "for" in each case, arrive at the proposition as a conclusion.


1. Turn to Exercise 1, in Lesson V, and carefully brief the selection from Burke.

2. Is the following extract from a high-school student's brief correct in form? Criticize it in regard to arrangement of ideas, and correct it so far as is possible without using new material.



I. Recent popularity of soccer.

1. In England.

2. In America.

II. Soccer a healthful game, for:

1. Develops lungs.

2. Develops all the muscles.

III. Issues.

1. Soccer is a beneficial game.

2. Would the students of "A" support soccer as a regular sport?


I. Soccer is a beneficial sport, for:

1. It requires much running, kicking, and dodging, both in offensive and defensive playing, therefore—

(1) It develops muscles.

(2) It develops lungs.

2. It is played out of doors, therefore

(1) It develops lungs.

II. Students of "A" would support soccer as a regular sport, for:

1. Who has ever heard of students who would not support soccer, baseball, basket-ball, and all other exciting games?

3. The following is the conclusion of an argument by Edmund Burke in which the speaker maintained that Warren Hastings should be impeached by the House of Commons. If it had been preceded by a clear "introduction" and convincing "proof," do you think that it would have made an effective "conclusion"?

Therefore, it is with confidence that, ordered by the Commons:

I impeach Warren Hastings, Esquire, of high crimes and misdemeanors.

I impeach him in the name of the Commons of Great Britain, in Parliament assembled, whose parliamentary trust he has betrayed.

I impeach him in the name of all the Commons of Great Britain, whose national character he has dishonored.

I impeach him in the name of the people of India, whose laws, rights, and liberties he has subverted, whose property he has destroyed, whose country he has laid waste and desolate.

I impeach him in the name and by virtue of those eternal laws of justice which he has violated.

I impeach him in the name of human nature itself, which he has cruelly outraged, injured, and oppressed in both sexes, in every age, rank, situation, and condition of life.

4. Take any one of the following propositions and without other material than that of your own ideas, state at least two issues, and, in correct brief form, proof for belief or unbelief.

(1) High-School Boys Should Smoke Cigarettes.

(2) No One Should Play Football without a Physician's Permission.

(3) Girls Should Participate in Athletic Games While in High School.

(4) High-School Fraternities Are Desirable.

(5) Women Should Have the Right to Vote in All Elections.



I. What the forensic is.

II. How the forensic may be developed and delivered: 1. By writing and reading from manuscript: (1) Advantages and disadvantages. 2. By writing and committing to memory: (1) Advantages and disadvantages. 3. By oral development from the brief: (1) Advantages. III. Style and gestures in the delivery of the forensic.

When the brief is finished, the material is ready to be put into its final form. This final form is called the forensic.

As practically all debates are conducted by means of teams, the work of preparing the forensic is usually divided among the members of the team. The brief may be divided in any way, but it is desirable that each member of the team should have one complete, logical division. So it often happens that each member of the team develops one issue into its final form.

The forensic is nothing but a rounding-out of the brief. The brief is a skeleton: the forensic is that skeleton developed into a complete literary form. Into this form the oral delivery breathes the spirit of living ideas.

No better illustration of the brief expanded into the full forensic need be given than that in Exercise I, Lesson V. Compare the brief which you made of this extract from Burke with the forensic itself, a few paragraphs of which are quoted there. Any student will find that merely to glance through a part of this speech of Burke's is an excellent lesson in brief-making and in the production of forensics. First study the skeleton only—the brief—by reading the opening sentences of each paragraph. Then see how this skeleton is built into a forensic by the splendid rhetoric of the great British statesman.[4]

There are two ways in which the forensic may be developed from the brief. Both have some advantages, varying with the conditions of the debate. One is to write out every word of the forensic. When this is done, the debater may, if he wishes, read from his manuscript to the audience. If he does so, his chances of making a marked effect are little better than if he spoke from the bottom of a well. The average audience will not follow the speaker who is occupied with raveling ideas from his paper rather than with weaving them into the minds of his hearers.

The debater who writes his forensic may, however, learn it and deliver it from memory. This method has some decided advantages. In every debate the time is limited; and by writing and rewriting the ideas can be compressed into their briefest and most definite form. Besides, the speaker may practice upon this definite forensic to determine the rapidity with which he must speak in order to finish his argument in the allotted time.

At the same time this plan has several unfavorable aspects. When the debater has prepared himself in this way, forgetting is fatal. He has memorized words. When the words do not come he has no recourse but to wait for memory to revive, or to look to his colleagues for help. Again, the man who has learned his argument can give no variety to his attack or defense. He is like a general with an immovable battery, who, though able to hurl a terrific discharge in the one direction in which his guns point, is powerless if the attack is made ever so slightly on his flank. Perhaps the greatest disadvantage of this method is that it does not give the student the best kind of training. What he needs most in life is the ability to arrange and present ideas rapidly, not to speak a part by rote.

It would seem, then, that this plan should be advised only when the students are working for one formal debate, and are not preparing for a series of class or local contests that can all be controlled by the same instructor or critic. With beginners in oral argumentation this method will usually make the better showing, and may therefore be considered permissible in the case of those teams which, because of unfamiliarity with their opponents' methods, can take no chances. This plan of preparation is in no way harmful or dishonest, but lacks some of the more permanent advantages of the second method.

The second method of developing the brief into the forensic is by oral composition. This method demands that the debater shall speak extemporaneously from his memorized brief. This in no way means that careful preparation, deliberate thought, and precise organization are omitted. On the contrary, the formation of a brief from which a winning forensic can be expanded requires the most studious preparation, the keenest thought, and the most careful organization. Neither does it mean that, as soon as the brief is formed, the forensic can be presented. Before that step is taken, the debater who will be successful will spend much time, not in written, but in oral composition.

He will study his brief until he sees that it is not merely a succession of formal statements connected with "for's," but a series of ideas arranged in that form because they will, if presented in that order, bring conviction to his hearers. "Learning the brief," then, becomes not a case of memory, but a matter of seeing—seeing what comes next because that is the only thing that logically could come next. When the brief is in mind, the speaker will expand it into a forensic to an imaginary audience until he finds that he is expressing the ideas clearly, smoothly, and readily. Pay no attention to the fact that in the course of repeated deliveries the words will vary. Words make little difference if the framework of ideas is the same.

This method of composing the forensic trains the mind of the student to see the logical relationship of ideas, to acquire a command of language, and to vary the order of ideas if necessary. In doing these things, there are developed those qualities that are essential to all effective speaking.

A debater's success in giving unity and coherence to his argument depends chiefly on his method of introducing new ideas in supporting his issues. These changes from one idea to another, or transitions, as they are called, should always be made so that the hearer's attention will be recalled to the assertion which the new idea is intended to support. Suppose we have made this assertion: "Contests within schools are more desirable than contests between schools." We are planning to support this by proving: first, that the contests between schools are very much abused; second, that the proposed plan will be more democratic; and third, that the proposed plan will work well in practice. In supporting these issues, we should, of course, present a great deal of material. When we are ready to change from the first supporting idea to the second, we must make that change in such a way that our hearers will know that we are planning to prove the second main point of our contention. But this is not enough. We must make that change so that they will be definitely reminded of what we have already proved. The same thing will hold true when we change to the third contention.

The following illustrates a faulty method of transition: Contests between schools are so abused that they should be abolished [followed by all the supporting material]. The proposed plan will be more democratic than the present [followed by its support]. The proposed plan would work well in practice [followed by its support]. No matter how thoroughly we might prove each of these, they would impress the audience as standing alone; they would show no coherence, no connection with one another. The following would be a better method: Contests within schools should be substituted for those between schools because contests between schools are open to abuses so great as to warrant their abolition [followed by its support]. We should then begin to prove the second issue in this way: But not only are contests between schools so open to abuse that they should be abolished, but they are less desirable than contests within schools for they are less democratic. [This will then be followed with the support of the second issue.] The transition to the third issue should be made in this way: Now, honorable judges, we have shown you that contests between schools are not worthy of continuance; we have shown you that the plan which we propose will be better in its democracy than the system at present in vogue; we now propose to complete our argument by showing you that our plan will work well in practice. [This would then be followed with the proper supporting material.]

Great speakers have shown that they realized the importance of these cementing transitions. Take for example Burke's argument that force will be an undesirable instrument to use against the colonies. He says: "First, permit me to observe that the use of force shall be temporary." The next paragraph he begins: "My next observation is its uncertainty." He follows that with: "A further observation to force is that you impair the object by your very endeavor to preserve it." And he concludes: "Lastly, we have no sort of experience in favor of force as an instrument in the rule of our colonies." He used this principle to perhaps even greater advantage when he argued that "a fierce spirit of liberty had grown up in the colonies." He supports this with claims which are introduced as follows:

"First, the people of the colonies are descendants of Englishmen."

"They were further confirmed in this pleasing error [their spirit of liberty] by the form of their provincial legislative assemblies."

"If anything were wanting to this necessary operation of the form of government, religion would have given it a complete effect."

"There is, in the South, a circumstance attending these colonies which, in my opinion, fully counterbalances this difference, and makes the spirit of liberty still more high and haughty than in those to the northward. It is that in Virginia and the Carolinas, they have a vast multitude of slaves."

"Permit me, Sir, to add another circumstance in our colonies, which contributes no mean part towards the growth and effect of this untractable spirit. I mean their education."

"The last cause of this disobedient spirit in the colonies is hardly less powerful than the rest as it is not merely moral, but laid deep in the natural constitution of things. Three thousand miles of ocean lie between you and them."

He finally summarizes these in this way, which further ties them together.

"Then, Sir, from these six capital sources; of descent; of form of government; of religion in the northern provinces; of manners in the southern; of education; of the remoteness of situation from the first mover of government; from all these causes a fierce spirit of liberty has grown up."

It may be well also to point out more clearly the somewhat special nature of the first speeches on each side. The first speech of the affirmative must, of course, make clear to the judges and the audience what you wish them to believe. This will involve all the steps which have already been pointed out as necessary to accomplish that result. The first speaker can gain a great deal for his side by presenting this material not only with great clearness, but in a manner which will win the goodwill of the audience toward himself, his team, and his side of the subject. To do this, he must be genial, honest, modest, and fair. He must make his hearers feel that he is not giving a narrow or prejudiced analysis of the question; he must make them feel that his treatment is open and fair to both sides, and that he finally reaches the issues not at all because he wishes to find those issues, but because a thorough analysis of the question will allow him to reach no others.

The first speaker on the negative side may have much the same work to do. If, however, he agrees with what the first speaker of the affirmative has said, he will save time merely by stating that fact and by summarizing in a sentence or two the steps leading to the issues. If he does not agree with the interpretation which the affirmative has given to the question, it will be necessary for him to interpret the question himself. He must make clear to the judges why his analysis is correct and that of his opponent faulty.

In presenting the forensic to the judges and audience forget, so far as possible, that you are debating. You have a proposition in which you believe and which you want them to accept. Your purpose is not to make your hearers say: "How well he does it." You want them to say: "He is right."

Do not rant. Speak clearly, that you may be understood; and with enough force that you may be heard, but in the same manner that you use in conversation.

Good gestures help. Good gestures are those that come naturally in support of your ideas. While practicing alone notice what gestures you put in involuntarily. They are right. Do not ape anyone in gesture. Your oral work will be more effective without use of your hands than it will be with an ineffective use of them. The most ineffective use is the making of motions that are so violent or extravagant that they attract the listeners' attention to themselves and away from your ideas. Remember that the expression of your face is most important of all gestures. Earnest interest, pleasantness, fairness, and vigor expressed in the speaker's face at the right times have done more to win debates than other gestures have ever accomplished.



I. Refutation explained.

II. Refutation may be carried on: 1. By overwhelming constructive argument. 2. By showing the weakness of opponents' argument.

III. The time for refutation: 1. Allotted time. 2. Special times.

IV. The right spirit in refutation.

Our work up to this point has dealt with what is called the constructive argument, i.e., the building up of the proof. But to make the judges believe as you wish, you must not merely support your contentions; you must destroy the proof which your opponents are trying to construct.

As with the successful athletic team and the successful general, so with the successful debater, it is necessary, not only to attack, but also to repulse; not only to carry out the plan of your own side, but to meet and defeat the plan which the other side has developed. In debating, this repulse, this destruction of the arguments of the opposition, is called refutation or rebuttal.

There are two principal ways in which the refutation of the opponent's argument can be accomplished. The first is to destroy it with your own constructive argument. The second is to show that his argument, even though it is not destroyed by yours, is faulty in itself, and therefore useless.

Although only one of them is labeled "Refutation" in the model brief in the sixth lesson, both types are illustrated there.

There the negative, believing that the first argument of the affirmative would be, "Inter contests are open to abuse," makes its first point a counter-assertion. It uses as the first issue: "Contests between the high schools of northern Illinois are not subject to such abuses as will warrant their abolition." Which side would gain this point in the minds of the judges would depend on which side supported its assertion with the better evidence.

If one side wished to raise this question again in the refutation speeches, which close the debate, it could do no better than to repeat and re-emphasize the same material which it used in its construction argument.

The second method of refuting, i.e., showing an argument to be faulty, is also illustrated in the brief in the sixth lesson. It is marked "Refutation." This material was introduced because the negative felt sure that the affirmative would attempt to use the experience of Shortridge High School as evidence of the successful working of this plan. It was shown to be faulty in that the experience of this school would not apply to the question here debated.

The student's study of what makes good evidence for his own case will enable him to see the weakness of his opponents' arguments. Apply the same tests to your opponents' evidence that you apply to your own. What is there about the evidence introduced that should make the audience hesitate to accept it? Point these things out to the audience. It may be that prejudiced, dishonest, or ignorant testimony has been given. It may be that not enough evidence has been given to carry weight. Whatever the flaw, point out to the audience that, upon a critical examination, experience shows the evidence to be weak.

In every debate there is a regular time allowed for rebuttal. This is, however, not the only time at which it may be introduced. In the debate, put in refutation wherever it is needed. One of the best plans is, if possible, to refute with a few sentences at the opening of each speech what the previous speaker of the opposition has said.

In all refutation, state clearly what you aim to disprove. When quoting the statement of an opponent, be sure to be accurate.

Something like the following is a good form for stating refutation:

Our opponents, in arguing that labor unions have been harmful to the commerce of America, have stated that they would use as support the testimony of prominent men. In so doing, they have quoted from X, Y, and Z. This testimony is without strength. X, as a large employer of labor, would be open to prejudice; Y, as a non-union laborer, is both prejudiced and ignorant. The testimony of Z, as an Englishman is applicable to labor unions as they have affected, not the commerce of America, but the trade of England.

A similar form is shown in the brief on inter-and intra-high-school contests in refuting the experience of Shortridge High School.

In all refutation, keep close to the fundamental principles of the question. Do not be led astray into minute details upon which you differ. Never tire of recalling attention to the issues of the question. Show why those are the issues, and you will see that the strongest refutation almost always consists in pointing out wherein you have proved these issues, while your opponents have failed to do so.

In order to be fully prepared, however, it is a good plan to put upon cards all the points that your opponents may use and that you have not answered in your constructive argument. Adopt a method similar to this:

Shortridge argument

I. Will not apply for: (1) Not this plan. (2) Conditions differ, for: a) School Review, October, 1911.

Then if your opponents advance arguments that are not met in your speech, merely lay out these cards while they speak, and use them as references in your refutation.

The closing rebuttal speech is always a critical one. Here the speaker should again point out every mistake which his opponents have made. If their interpretation of the question has been wrong, he should, while avoiding details, emphasize the chief flaws in their arguments. On the other hand, he should summarize the argument of his own side from beginning to end; he should make the support of each of the issues stand clearly before the judges in its complete, logical form.

In these closing speeches, as in the opening of the debate, much may be gained by an attitude which will win the favor of the hearers toward the speaker and his ideas. An attitude of petty criticism, of narrowness of view, is undesirable at any stage of the debate. The debater who is inclined to belittle his opponents will only belittle himself. To the judges it will appear that the speaker who has time to ridicule his adversaries must be a little short of arguments. Insinuations of dishonesty and attempts to be sarcastic should be carefully avoided. These weapons are sharp but they are two-edged and are more likely to injure the speaker than his opponent.

The right attitude for a debater is always one of fairness. Give your opponents all possible credit. When you have then refuted their arguments, your own contentions seem of double strength. It is said that Lincoln used this method with splendid effect: He would often restate the argument of his opponent with great force and clearness; he would make it seem irrefutable. Then, when he began his attack and caused his opponent's argument to collapse, its fall seemed to be utter and complete, while his arguments, which had proved themselves capable of effecting this destruction, appeared all the more powerful.

In your desire to do well in refutation, do not be led to depend upon that alone. There is no older and better rule than, "Know the other side as well as you know your own." Do not believe that this is in order that you may be ready with a clever answer for every point made by the other side. The most important reason why you should know the other side of the question is the necessity of your determining the issues correctly, and thus building a constructive argument that is overwhelming and impregnable. Many a debate has been lost because the debaters worked up their own constructive argument first, and only later, in order to prepare refutation, considered what their opponents would say. Had they proceeded correctly, they would have destroyed the proof of their adversaries while they built up their own.

A clever retort in refutation often wins the applause of the galleries, but an analysis of the question so keen that the real issues are determined, supported by an organization of evidence so strong that it sweeps away all opposition as it grows, is more likely to gain the favorable decision of the judges.


1. What is the purpose of refutation? 2. What two principal methods may be followed?

3. What must one do to refute correctly and well?

4. Do you think it better in refutation to assail the minor points of your opponent or to attack the main issues?

5. A fellow-student in chemistry said to you: "The chemical symbol for water is H{4}0; two of our classmates told me so." You replied: "The correct symbol, according to our instructor, is H{2}O." Did you refute his assertion? How?

6. A classmate makes an argument which could be briefed thus:

Cigarettes are good for high-school boys, for:

I. They aid health of body, for: (1) Many athletes smoke them, for: a) X smokes them. b) Y smokes them. c) Z smokes them.

If you disagree with this assertion, do not believe they aid health, and know X does not smoke cigarettes, how would you refute his contention?

7. If your opponents in a debate quote opinions of others in support of their views, in what two ways can they be refuted?

8. In a recent campaign, the administration candidate used this argument: "I should be re-elected, for: Times are good, work is plentiful, crops are excellent, and products demand a high price." Show any weakness in this argument.

9. Show the weakness of proof in this argument: Harvard is better at football than Princeton I. They defeated Princeton in 1912.

10. What general rule can you make from 9 concerning a statement supported by particular cases?



Teams.—The opposing teams in a debate usually consist of three persons each. A larger or smaller number is permissible.

Time of Speaking.—Each speaker is ordinarily allowed one constructive speech and one rebuttal speech. The constructive speech is usually about twice the length of the refutation. Twelve and six, ten and five, and eight and four minutes are all frequent time-limits for debates. Many debaters make shorter speeches.

Order of speaking.—The debate is opened by the affirmative. The first speaker is followed by a negative debater, who, in turn, is followed by a member of the affirmative team, and so on until the entire constructive argument is presented. A member of the negative team opens the refutation. Speakers then alternate until the debate is closed by the affirmative. The order of speakers on each team is often different in refutation than in constructive argument.

Presiding chairman.—Every debate should be presided over by a chairman. His duties are to state the question to the audience, introduce each speaker, and announce the decision of the judges. He sometimes also acts as timekeeper.

Timekeepers.—A timekeeper representing each of the competing organizations should note the moment when each speaker begins and notify the chair when the allotted time has been consumed. It is customary to give each speaker as many minutes of warning before his time expires as he may desire.

Salutation.—Good form in debating requires that each speaker shall begin with a salutation to the various personages whom he addresses. The most common salutation is: "Mr. Chairman, worthy opponents, honorable judges, ladies and gentlemen."

Reference to other speakers.—In referring to members of the opposing team never say, "he said," "she said," or "they said." Always speak of your opponents in the third person in some such way as, "my honorable opponents," "the first speaker of the negative," "the gentlemen of the affirmative," or "the gentlemen from X."

In referring to other members of your own team say, "my colleagues," or "my colleague, the first speaker," etc.

The judges.—There are generally three judges. Where it is practicable, a larger number is desirable because their opinion is more nearly the opinion of the audience as a whole. Needless to say they should be competent and wholly without prejudice as to teams or question.

The decision.—The decision of each judge should be written on a slip and sealed in an envelope provided for that purpose (see Appendix IX, "Forms for Judges' Decision"). These should be opened by the chairman in view of the audience, and the decision announced.



We have now completed our study of debating. We saw first that all talking and writing is discourse, and that one great division of discourse—that which aims to gain belief—is argumentation. Argumentation we divided into spoken and written argumentation. We found that it varies in formality but that, when carried on orally under prescribed conditions and with the expectation of having a decision rendered, it is called debating.

Successful debating we found to require three steps: showing the hearers what belief is desired; showing them upon what issues belief depends; and supporting these issues with evidence until we have established proof.

We learned that the first of these steps could be taken by stating the question in the form of a definite, single proposition; defining the terms of this proposition; and then restating the whole matter. We found that the second step required that the material that both sides admit, together with all other material that is really not pertinent to the question, should be first removed, and that the fundamentals of the question should be stated as the issues. The last step, proving the issues, we found to involve two processes. It was necessary, first, to find and select evidence, and, second, to arrange that evidence in logical order—the brief-form.

The accompanying diagram is one that has helped many students to visualize more clearly what is attempted in a debate and to see how the debate may be made successful.

The doubt that the audience very reasonably has of the new idea proposed is bridged over by the proposition. But this proposition will not be strong enough to cause the minds of the listeners to pass from unbelief to belief unless it is well supported. The whole proposition is therefore placed upon one or two or three great capitals—the issues, under each of which is a pillar of proof. These pillars are composed of evidence of every sort. The intelligent debater has, however, before placing a single piece of this evidence in the proof, tested it carefully. He has tested it with the question: "Will it help bring conviction to the audience; how will it affect my hearers?" Moreover, not satisfied with this scrupulous choice of evidence, he has been careful not to pile it in regardless of position, but to place each piece in the position where it will lend the strongest support to the entire structure.

When this has been done, the bridge of proof is built solidly upon the experience of the hearers, and, almost without their knowledge, their minds have gone from unbelief to belief.


[Footnote 1: Baker, Principles of Argumentation.]

[Footnote 2: Jevons, Primer of Logic.]

[Footnote 3: For a thorough discussion of the principle of reference to experience, see Arthur E. Phillips, Effective Speaking, chap. iii.]

[Footnote 4: Edmund Burke, On Conciliation with the Colonies.]





Practically every subject that is interesting enough to be a good subject for debate has been written about by other people. Every good library contains the books on the following list, and with a little experience the student can handle them easily. A general treatment of every important subject can be found in any of the following encyclopedias: Americana, New International, Twentieth Century, Britannica.

Everything that has been written upon every subject in all general, technical, and school magazines, can be found by looking up the desired topic in: The Reader's Guide to Periodical Literature, or Poole's Index.

If the matter being studied deals with civics, economics, or sociology, look in: Bliss, Encyclopaedia of Social Reform, etc.; Lalor, Cyclopaedia of Political Science, etc.; Larned, History of Ready Reference and Topical Reading; Bowker and lies, Reader's Guide in Economics, etc.

What Congress is doing and has done is often important. This can be found in full in: The Congressional Record.

Jones's Finding List tells where to look for any topic in various government publications.

In studying many subjects the need of definite and reliable statistics will be felt. These may be found on almost any question in the following publications: Statesman's Yearbook, Whitaker's Almanac, World Almanac, Chicago Daily News Almanac, Hazell's Almanac, U.S. Census Reports.

Never consider your reading completed until you have looked for any special book that may be written upon your subject in the Card Catalogue of your Library.

Make out a Bibliography or Reading List (as illustrated briefly in Appendix V) before you proceed to actual reading.



The two specimens that immediately follow are analyses of the same question by students of the same university. The first is a selection from the speech made by Mr. Raymond S. Pruitt in the Towle Debate of Northwestern University Law School in 1911. The second is the introduction to the speech made by Mr. Charles Watson of the Northwestern University Law School in the 1911 debate with the Law School of the University of Southern California. Students should observe how the two speakers determine somewhat different issues.

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