Tag Archives: debate

Types of Debate Proposition

In debating, the proposition is the main issue or the central topic of the debate. In general, there are three types of propositions. The three types of propositions are propositions of

  • Fact
  • Value
  • Policy

Understanding the differences in these three types of propositions is important in developing a strategy for a debate.

Proposition of Fact

A debate that is defined as a proposition of fact is a debate that is focused on whether something is true or not. For example, a debate may address the following proposition of facet.

Resloved: human activity is contributing to global warming

The affirmative side would argue that humans are contributing to global warming while the negative side would argue that humans are not contributing to global warming. The main concern is the truthfulness of the proposition. There is no focus on ethics of the proposition as this is when we come to a proposition of value.

Proposition of Value

A proposition of value looks at your beliefs about what is right or wrong and or good and bad. This type of proposition is focused on ethics and or aesthetics. An example of a proposition of value would be the following..

Resolved: That television is a waste of time

This type of proposition  is trying to judge the acceptability of something and or make an ethical claim.

Value propositions can also have these other more nuances characteristics. Instead, affirming the good or bad of a proposition, a proposition of value can also make a case of one idea being better than another such as…

Resloved: That exercise is a better use of time than watching television

Now the debate is focus not on good vs bad but rather on better vs worst. It is s slightly different way of looking at the argument. Another variation on proposition of value is when the affirmative argues to reject a value such as in the following.

Resolved: That encouraging the watching of television is harmful to young people

The wording is slightly different from previous examples but the primary goal of the affirmative is to argue why television watching should not be valued or at least valued less.

One final variation of the proposition of value is the quasi-policy proposition of value. A quasi-policy value proposition is used to express a value judgement about a policy. An example would be

Resolved: That mandatory vaccinations would be beneficial to school age children

Here the affirmative is not only judging vaccinations but simultaneously the potential policy of making vaccinations mandatory.

Proposition of Policy

Propositions of policy call for change. This type of proposition in pushing strongly against the status quo. Below is an example.

Resolved: That the cafeteria should adopt a vegetarian diet

The example above is using for clear change. However, notice how there is no judgement on the current state affairs. In others words, there is not judgement that the non-vegetarian diet is good or bad or that a vegetarian diet is good or bad. This is noe reason why this is not a proposition of value.

In the case of a proposition of policy, the affirmative supports the change while the negative supports the status quo.


Debate propositions shape the entire direction and preparation for the debate itself. Therefore, it is important for debaters to understand what type of proposition they are dealing with. In addition, for teachers who are creating debates, they need to know exactly what they want the students to do in a debt when they create propositions.


Phrasing Debate Propositions

Debating is a practical way for students to develop communication and critical thinking skills. However, it is often the job of the teacher to find debate topics and to form these into propositions. A proposition is a strong statement that identifies the central issue/problem of a controversial topic.

There is a clear process for this that should be followed in order to allow the students to focus on develop their arguments rather than on trying to figure out what they are to debate about.

This post will provide guidance for teachers on developing debate propositions. In general, debate propositions have the following characteristics

  • controversial
  • central idea
  • unemotional word use
  • Statement of affirmative’s wanted decision

We will look at each of these concepts in detail


Controversy is what debating is about. A proposition must be controversial. This is because strong statements for people to take a position. With a slight push to the edges students are not required to dig deep and understand the topic. Below is an example of an uncontroversial proposition

Resloved: Illegal immigration is sometimes a problem in the world

This is not controversial because it’s hard to agree or disagree strongly. The mildness of the statement makes it uninteresting to debate about. Below is the same proposition but written in a more controversial manner

Resloved: Illegal immigration is a major problem that destabilizes nations all over the world.

The revised proposition uses languages that is less neutral yet not aggressive. People have to think carefully where they stand.

Central Idea

A debate proposition should only address one single idea. The safest way to do this is to avoid using the word “and” in a proposition. However, this is not a strict rule but rather a guideline. Below is an example of proposition that does not have one idea.

Resloved: Illegal immigration and pollution are major problems that destabilizes nations all over the world.

The problem with the proposition above is to determine if the debate is about illegal immigration or pollution. These are topics that are not connected or the debaters must find ways to connect them.  In other words, this is messy and unclear and the proposition cannot have these characteristics.

Unemotional Words

Propositions should avoid emotional language. One of the foundational beliefs of debating is rational thought. Emotional terms lead to emotional thinking which is not the goal of debating. Generally, emotional terms are used more in advertising and propaganda than in debate. Below is an example of emotional language in a proposition.

Resloved: Illegal immigration is an abominable problem whose deprived, lawless, existence destabilizes nations all over the world.

The terms here are clearly strong in how they sound. For supporters of illegal immigration such words as abominable, depraved, and lawless are going to trigger a strong emotional response. However, what we really want is a logical, rational response and not just emotional attacks.

Statement of affirmative’s wanted decision

This last idea has to do with the fact the proposition should be stated in the positive and not negative. Below is the incorrect way to do this.

Resloved: Illegal immigration is not a major problem that destabilizes nations all over the world.

The proposition above is stated in the negative. This wording makes debating unnecessarily complicated. Below is another way to state this

Resloved: Illegal immigration is beneficial for nations all over the world.

This slight rewording helps a great deal in developing clear arguments. However, negative affirmatives can appear in  slightly different manner as shown below.

Resloved: Illegal immigration should be decriminalize.

The problem with this statement is that it provides no replacement for illegal immigration. When debating identified problems must be matched with  identified solutions. Below is a revised version of the previous proposition.

Resloved: Illegal immigration should be decriminalize and replaced with a system of open borders who monitor the movement of people.

This proposition has a strong opinion with a proposed solution.


This is not an exhaustive list of forming debate propositions. Rather, then goal here was to provide some guidelines to help teachers who are trying to encourage debating among their students. Off course, the guidelines provided here are for older students. For younger, kids it would be necessary to modify the wording and not worry as much about the small details of making strong debate propositions.

Types of Debates

Debating has a long history with historical evidence of this practice dating back 4,000 year. Debating was used in ancient Egypt, China, and Greece. As such, people who participate in debates are contributing to a rich history.

In this post, we will take a look at several types of debates that are commonly used today. The types of debates we will cover are as follows.

  • Special
  • Judicial
  • Parliamentary
  • Non-formal
  • Academic

Special Debate

A special debate is special because it has distinct rules  for a specific occasion. Examples include the Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1858. These debates were so influential that there is a debate format today called the Lincoln-Douglas format. This format often focuses on moral issues and has a specific use of time for the debaters that is distinct.

Special debates are also commonly used for presidential debates. Since there is no set format, the debaters literally may debate over the rules of the actual debate. For example, the Bush vs Kerry debates of 2004 had some of the following rules agreed to by both parties prior to the debate.

  1. Height of the lectern
  2. type of stools used
  3. Nature of the audience

In this example above, sometimes the rules have nothing to do with the actual debate but the atmosphere/setting around it.

Judicial Debate

Judicial debates happen in courts judicial like settings. The goal is to prosecute or defend individuals for some sort of crime. For lawyers in training or even general students, moot court debates are used to hone debating skills and mock trial debates are also used.

Parliamentary Debate

The parliamentary debate purpose s to support or attack potential legislation. Despite its name, the parliamentary debate format is used in the United States at various levels of government. There is a particular famous variation of this called the Asian parliamentary debate style.

Non-formal Debate

A non-formal debate lacks the rules of the other styles mentioned. In many ways, any form of disagreeing that does not have a structure for how to present one’s argument can fall under the category of non-formal. For example, children arguing with parents could be considered non-formal as well as classroom discussion on a controversial issue such as immigration.

This form of debate is probably the only one that everyone is familiar with and has participated in. However, it is probably the hardest to develop skills in due to the lack of structure.

Academic Debate

The academic debate is used to develop the educational skills of the participants. Often the format deployed is taken from applied debates. For example, many academic debates use the Lincoln Douglas format. There are several major Debate organizations that promote debate competitions between school’s. The details of this will be expanded in a future post.


This post provided an overview of different styles of debating that are commonly employed. Understanding this can be important because how you present and defend a point of view depends on the rules of engagement.