What is Lincoln-Douglas Debate Format?

Coach Andy
Post by Coach Andy
What is Lincoln-Douglas Debate Format?


Lincoln-Douglas Debate Format

Lincoln-Douglas (LD) debate is the oldest form of American debate, developed in 1858 when two candidates for the U.S. Senate, Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas debated in front of large audiences. Read on to learn about key components of LD format, including its rules and specific procedures which should be followed when taking part in an LD tournament.

Lincoln-Douglas Debate - purpose, rules and guidelines

With the primary purpose of fostering critical thinking and encouraging the exchange of carefully reasoned arguments, LD format, like public forum and policy debate, is designed to engage two debaters in a true battle of wits. Key rules and guidelines of a Lincoln-Douglas debate include a strict time structure, with each debater given equal opportunities to present their contentions, question their opponent, and deliver rebuttals to the opponent's argument. Debaters are to adhere to their assigned positions throughout the contest, advocating either the affirmative or the negative side of a given resolution. With the goal of upholding intellectual integrity and addressing complex moral and philosophical issues, the Lincoln-Douglas format champions rational discourse and prepares students to become well-rounded, articulate individuals in society.

Overview of LD debate structure - affirmative and negative positions

The affirmative debater in LD bears the responsibility of presenting a compelling case in support of the given resolution, carefully articulating the moral and philosophical grounds for their stance. This is done by setting out a framework for the debaters to discuss the resolution, and then contentions in favor of said resolution. Conversely, the negative debater's role is to scrutinize the affirmative’s arguments, deconstructing their case by exposing flaws, gaps, or discrepancies. This dynamic interplay between the affirmative and negative positions lies at the core of LD structure and allows for debates that offer a thorough exploration and evaluation of ethical issues from multiple perspectives.

Format of a Lincoln-Douglas debate round

In a typical Lincoln-Douglas round, the affirmative speaker begins the constructive speeches by presenting their case within a six-minute time limit, followed by a three-minute cross examination from the negative speaker. The negative speaker then presents their contentions in a seven-minute speech, with the affirmative speaker subsequently conducting a three-minute cross-examination. Each debater is given the opportunity to provide rebuttals, with the affirmative speaker having a four-minute speech, followed by the negative speaker's six-minute speech. Lastly, before the round's conclusion, both the affirmative and negative speakers have a three-minute closing argument, known as the final focus. Strategic argumentation and time management are crucial in LD debates, as exceeding or under-utilizing the allocated time can greatly affect the outcome of the debate.

Cross-examination in LD debate

Cross-examinations play a significant role in Lincoln-Douglas debate, serving as a vital tool for competitors to clarify, challenge, and scrutinize each other's arguments, and fostering the development of critical thinking skills and intellectual courage, attributes integral to the very essence of Lincoln Douglas. Speakers have three minutes to ask questions of their opponents in the cross examinations phase of LD round, and cross must be done respectfully and politely.


Debating in Lincoln-Douglas debate format can be fulfilling, educational and rewarding if done correctly. Not only will you learn how to craft an argument and debate it effectively but also gain valuable skills such as critical thinking and critical listening. With the information given above, this blog post has provided an introduction to the basics of LD debate format, outlined its structure, explained the roles of affirmative and negative positions, as well as covered the importance of cross-examination in LD debates. It's up to you now as a debater to take what you have learned and begin honing your skills. Good luck!

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Coach Andy
Post by Coach Andy