Chapter 9



How do I keep track of the debate?

Itís important to know what arguments you opponents have raised. Equally important, you need to know in general terms what you are going to say when you stand up to speak. The solution is to produce a written record of what has been argued: the flowchart, often called the flow. Recording the debate on paper is thus called flowing the round. Each debater and the judge will prepare a flowchart of the debate, as will most observers in a round. Each speaker will take his flowchart to the front of the room with him when he speaks.

There are two techniques used in flowing a debate: each has its adherents, and you should use whichever seems most comfortable to you. Most debaters prefer to use legal pads to record arguments. The pad is turned sideways with the binding to the left, allowing lots of room to record arguments across the page. It seems to work best to record only one or two significant arguments per page: you might have one Affirmative contention on the first page, two contentions on the second, the plan on the third, and each plan attack on a separate page thereafter. You should expect to use six to ten pages per round; any less, and the notes you take get jammed together illegibly. Many debaters record Affirmative and Negative arguments in contrasting colors of pen (black ink for Affirmative, red for Negative), to help clarify who said what.

The alternative is to use a single sheet of large size art paper ó perhaps 2' by 3' ó folded into columns, and record arguments on that. This often makes it easier to separate the positions taken by each team. On the other hand, the huge paper is hard to manipulate when presenting a speech unless there is a podium in the room, which often is not the case.


How is the flowchart divided?

The flow is organized into two big divisions. The "case side" deals with issues that arise from the case presented in 1AC. This will have seven columns, to record arguments presented in 1AC, 1NC, 2AC, 1NR, 1AR, 2NR, and 2AR. Note that this is precisely the order of the speeches that comment on case issues. Of the constructive speeches, 2NC is missing, since that speaker doesnít deal with harm and inherency. All four rebuttals are present, though, because all four rebuttals will deal with case arguments.

The second division is "plan side," obviously. You will need room for five columns. The Affirmative plan from 1AC is recorded in the first column. The next column holds the plan attacks presented in 2NC. The final three columns are for the rebuttal speeches that deal with plan issues ó 1AR, 2NR, and 2AR. Note that 1NR is not given space on this part of the flow, since that speaker will not argue plan issues.

If you are using legal pad, remember to leave room for seven columns of arguments on each page that has a 1AC contention. This means that you will have lots of columns active on lots of sheets of paper. Thatís okay ó paperís cheap, and you canít afford to lose a debate because your opponentsí arguments are illegibly scribbled in a corner of the page.

Recent changes in the style of debate will require some modification to these rules of flowcharting. It has become common for First Negatives to offer plan attacks, which cannot be flowed on the case-side flow (see Chapter 13). And, increasingly, Second Negatives are called upon to offer arguments on case issues. These innovations will require some adaptation on the parts of everyone recording the round.


What gets recorded on the flowchart?

As much as possible. The purpose behind numbering and labeling the structure of your arguments is to aid in locating them on the flowchart. So certainly, youíll want the complete structure of the First Affirmative case recorded. Similarly, when the First Negative stands to present her responses to 1AC, position the arguments across from the points they refute. Where necessary, draw lines to indicate where arguments apply.

If possible, it is a good idea to record the evidence presented by the opposing team. Ideally, you will want the author, date, and some notes about the quality of the evidence provided.

Abbreviations are the key to successful flowing. Some abbreviations are obvious: SQ for "status quo," INH for "inherent" or "inherency," a capital M on plan-side standing for "Mandates," an upward or downward arrow to mean "increasing" or "decreasing." You will develop your own set of abbreviations and symbols. At a minimum, you want to be able to note places where evidence was presented (even if you donít record what the evidence said); places where no evidence was presented and your opponents relied on assertions; places where arguments were dropped by the opposing team; and points that will require clarification in the next cross- examination period. It is important that your debate partner understand the abbreviations you use and can read your flowchart!


How can the flowchart be used as an offensive tool?

At the same time you are recording your opponentsí arguments, you should prepare and write down your own in the next column for your next speech. Perhaps the speaker provided no evidence for his point? Good! Put your symbol for "assertion" in his column, and in your own next column, you can write "1. Assertion" and maybe "2. Not true (ev.)." When the time comes to deliver your speech, you can expand this by saying, "The Negative speaker next argued that current programs to improve trade with Japan are working. First, note that the gentleman relied on assertion only; he presented no evidence. But realize secondly that this assertion is simply false, as Professor Emil Gebstatter of the University of Michigan tells us in FOREIGN POLICY of last April..."

As the season progresses, you will become more familiar with the evidence you have on hand and the arguments that you can support. This will allow you to write your speech outline more or less completely as you flow your opponentsí speeches. At the very least, you will be able to minimize prep time used between speeches.

What happens if you donít use your flow for the offense in this manner? You might be able to extemporize a brilliant speech. But, without any notes on the flowpad, you wonít recognize when the next speaker drops three points of your thirteen-point spread on inherency. Or maybe you will know that the points were dropped, but you will be unable to recall what you had said in the first speech. So a clear victory for your side may fizzle away.


I donít think I can do thisÖ

Cheer up. Flowcharting is a skill, like any other. Constant practice during classroom debates and actual tournament rounds will hone your skills. You may not be able to record everything perfectly (not even the judge can), but your flows will get better as time goes on.

Flowcharting is perhaps the hardest single debate skill to master. Remember that your opponents are having just as hard a time as you are, and take heart.


When the round is over, do I throw the flowchart away?

NO!!! Your flowchart is your record of what went on in the round. If you lost the debate, you need to know precisely what arguments defeated you. If you won, you need to know where your strongest points were. Negatives will want to discuss in class the Affirmative cases that they have met, to prepare the rest of the squad. Affirmatives will want to share unusual Negative approaches with the squad, so that other Affirmative can prepare for bizarre plan attacks and other Negatives can adopt any powerful D-As.

If you have managed to record the source of any evidence in the round, it may be worthwhile to look it up at the library. Sometimes the evidence will be useful to your teammates. Sometimes, you will find that the evidence was misquoted or taken out of context. In the latter case, youíll want to photocopy the offending text and confront the team with the original source if you meet them again in competition.

You may throw out your flowcharts at the end of the debate year, but not before. Use them as learning tools as the season progresses ó they are especially useful at the start of the year (to assess the variety of cases being presented) and at the end of the year (in preparing for District and State competition).


Is there a special way to flow the 1AC speech?

Affirmative teams have an advantage here: they know the content of this speech before the debate round begins. They can prepare slip sheets to record the flow of 1AC in its entirety. These are strips of paper attached to the rest of the flowchart with paper-clips or removable tape. The slip sheet is attached to the first column of a new debate pad as each round begins; this saves time in flowing during the round, since the sheets can just be switched from one flowchart to the next.

Of course, Negatives that rely on certain arguments for many of their rounds can adopt a similar technique. The outline format of frequently-used briefs (especially topicality arguments and plan attacks) may be recorded on adhesive notes in advance of the round. The sticky notes can then be positioned on the flowchart in the appropriate spots whenever needed.


Introduction to Policy Debate
Copyright © 1990, 1993, 1996, 2002 John R. Prager
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