Lay Judge Hints

The Association appreciates your willingness to serve as a guest judge. Our organization believes that the world of competitive tournament debating had reached a point where specialized jargon, aggressive demeanor, rapid inelegant delivery, and strategic manipulation of issues was too frequently rewarded. In short, tournaments provided an occasion to practice argument behaviors that would be considered liabilities in the real world.

As a remedy, we have endeavored to utilize “non-debate” critics to restore a degree of civility and common sense to tournament debating. Your participation in this endeavor is vital. As you listen to rounds, we hope you will listen with an open mind but you should also feel empowered to draw on your own critical capabilities and common sense when evaluating what you hear. In short, you should feel free to respond genuinely — not as you think a debate coach would.

For those of you encumbered with previous debate experience or training, please remember that the Association believes that the true test of an argument would be its ability to persuade a public audience.


Your ballot asks you to award a win to the team that did the better debating. All other factors being equal, this generally means that the team advancing and sustaining the most compelling arguments should prevail. When “all other factors are not equal” your ballot should also serve as a vehicle for enforcing the Association’s ideals of responsible, ethical, communicative advocacy. Even if a team appears to be prevailing “on the issues,” they should not earn a win when:

• Behavior is rude or demeaning to the other debaters, the audience, or the judge.

• The presentation is not comprehensible due to a rapid speaking rate or use of a mysterious technical jargon that replaces sound analysis.

• Debaters fail to provide information (qualifications) about the authors quoted in support of their arguments, thus denying you and the opposing team the opportunity to assess the credibility of the support used.

• Affirmative teams fail to address the apparent intent of the stated proposition (i.e., overly narrow or peripheral affirmative cases). Please consult the “Objectives and Operating Procedures” for advice on resolving issues of topicality (i.e., cases which miss the meaning of the resolution).

• Either team engages in behaviors that would have the effect of limiting clash over issues central to the debate proposition.

Thanks again for your support. We hope you will find the debates you hear both enjoyable and informative.


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