Intro to Lincoln-Douglas Debate

By Charlotte Combe

What is Lincoln Douglas Debate?
Lincoln-Douglas (LD) is a one on one style of debate that examines resolutions through a lense of moral philosophy as well as pragmatic policy. Essentially, LD questions the morality behind decision making.

The Framework
LD debate is unique in that it uses a value structure rooted in philosophical principles as a way to center the debate around more than the tangible impacts that come from negating or affirming the resolution. The framework allows debaters to weigh the importance of impacts and extrapolate the moral implications of an action.

The Value
The value is something that ought to be considered most important in decision making. A value conveys that particular behaviors or conditions of life are desirable. Common values include principles like justice, morality and societal welfare.

The Criterion
The criterion is a way for a debater to measure or ‘achieve’ their value. Thus the value and criterion should be intrinsically linked. For instance, the criterion for the value of societal welfare could be something like ‘maximizing progress’. Through maximizing the mobility and innovation of a society, societal welfare is achieved. 


1) Affirmative Constructive (AC)= 6 minutes
The affirmative presents their entire prepared case at exactly 6 minutes.

2) Negative Cross-Examination= 3 minutes
Here the negative asks questions to either clarify their understanding of the AC or poke holes in its underlying logic.

3) Negative Constructive (NC)= 7 minutes
The negative presents their case which can range from about 3-4 minutes then spends the remaining time attacking the affirmative case with offensive and defensive claims about each contention. 

4) Affirmative Cross-Examination= 3 minute
Identical to the neg cross examination; here the affirmative asks questions to either clarify their understanding of the NC or poke holes in their opponents logic.

5) First Affirmative Rebuttal (1AR) = 4 minutes
During this speech the affirmative allocates time as needed to review their case and attack their opponents. The aff can ‘extend’ points that the negative has not attacked and respond to the arguments the negative made about their case. Next, the affirmative attacks the negative case.

6) Negative Rebuttal (2NR) = 6 minutes
Similar to the first affirmative rebuttal, the neg can extend claims that went uncontested and respond to ones that did. The end of the speech is used to crystallize the most important big picture ideas of the round and to weigh arguments through the framework. This often comes in the form of ‘key voting issues’ that directly communicate why the judge should vote for your stance.

7) Final Affirmative Rebuttal (2AR) = 3 minutes
Due to the brevity of the final rebuttal, affirmatives may highlight the most important points of the round through either calling attention to what went uncontested or still stood by the end of the debate. Like the 2NR the 2AR helps to weigh the impacts of the round and crystallize why the affirmative should win to the judge.

General Tips and Resources

When you are just beginning, philosophical concepts may be hard to grasp and understand. A great place to start is Crash Course Philosophy, which is available for free on YouTube!

To get a more clear understanding of the basic structure of an LD round try watching past NSDA Nationals rounds which are also available on Youtube.

Practice! Practice! Practice! Whether it’s by competing in a local tournament or doing rebuttal redos, consistently practicing is the best way to develop your skills!


Halvorson, Seth, and Cherian N Koshy. “Lincoln-Douglas Debate.” NSDA, 2013, to access these images: