Debate – Is TP or LD right for me? by: Wyatt Eichholz

Ah- summer a time to sit back and relax!! Unless… you want to get a jump start on Resolutions, learning more about argumentation styles, rhetoric, and debate! This is meant to be a helpful guide for you. Yes, you! Well, that is if you are new to the Speech and Debate universe or just aren’t sure which style of debate is right for you.

You may or may not already know that most leagues offer two primary styles of debate: Team Policy and Lincoln-Douglas Value debate. The purpose of this column is to help you better understand the pros and cons of each style so that you can better decide which one to explore. This is aimed mainly at beginners who are trying to decide which style to compete in for their novice year, but you may also find it helpful if you’re just looking to switch it up.

Just to make sure we’re all on the same page, you should not feel that picking a debate style for your novice year commits you to that format for your entire career. Both styles offer rich learning experiences that will develop your skills as a communicator in different ways. In fact, it is my personal recommendation that you should participate in both styles before you graduate. (First-time seniors will find this more difficult to pull off, but it is certainly possible with an extra measure of dedication, as league rules permit competitors to compete in both styles over the course of the regular season.)

Lasting Impact has published elsewhere more comprehensive introductions to the TP and LD formats, but for the purposes of this column I’ll provide a basic outline of each. Team Policy debate is essentially described by its name: teams of two debaters per side argue to affirm or negate a resolution on a question of policy for a total of 64 minutes speaking. Rounds will generally take about 90 minutes. Lincoln-Douglas is a style of value debate inspired by the debates of Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas. They consist of one affirmative speaker and one negative speaker arguing over a resolution about values for about half the time of a TP round.

Policy debate is primarily concerned with whether a specific action (or policy) should be taken. Value debate, on the other hand, is concerned primarily with questions of intrinsic morality and the worth of certain ideals. For example, a TP resolution once read “[US Higher Ed]” Meanwhile, a good example of an LD resolution was “[National security vs. Privacy].” In theory, these two styles take place on separate levels of thought: LD is intended for philosophical discussions of right and wrong, while TP is designed for pragmatic debates over the pros and cons of a given policy item. While it’s possible that a conflict of values may arise when debating a policy resolution, policy specifics ought not bleed into a value resolution, generally speaking. At least in my opinion, LD is an opportunity to debate universalizable, abstract ideas while the TP format is designed to facilitate in-depth discussion of practical implementation.

With the general description established, I’ll proceed with my recommendations. Please understand that what follows is only my opinion. If possible, you should seek out a coach or mentor who can help you make the best decision to fit your circumstances.

Team Policy
The principle advantage of team policy, in my opinion, is the fact that you get a partner. Two heads are better than one, as they say. Because teams are made up of two debaters each, you automatically have a second person helping you to plan strategies and brainstorm arguments. For beginners, I think that distributing the pressure of a debate round between two students is incredibly helpful. And since there are four speakers per round, each competitor individually has more time to prepare for his or her next speech.

This is crucial to counterbalance Team Policy’s greatest drawback: the breadth of material required to compete competently. Resolutions are deliberately written to encompass multiple solutions to a wide variety of problems within the general topic. For example, all of the potential resolutions for the 2020-2021 season would require vast knowledge of many countries. And because the use of computers are not permitted in debate, debaters must research and print out any necessary information beforehand. (You may have seen images of debaters dragging around giant file boxes; this explains why.) Debaters should expect to spend hours each week all school-year long researching and compiling briefs on as many policies as possible.

Of course, actually knowing how to use that information in a round is another question entirely, which brings us back to why it is so helpful to have that partner in your TP rounds. While one partner is cross-examining the opponent, the other can be reading through sources to assemble a strategy and plan out arguments.

This amount of work may seem intimidating to a beginner, but don’t let them scare you off just yet. Team Policy has some advantages specifically for novices. First, having that partner provides a huge amount of support. It’s immensely helpful to have someone to discuss strategy with in-round; to have a second pair of eyes to spot key details and find that killer piece of evidence. Often, teams will find a dynamic where the partners’ individual strengths will complement each other.

Second, TP allows beginners to rely on the preparation of more experienced debaters. Most of the key arguments and strategy against a case can be compiled into a “brief” that contains quotes and facts designed to negate a policy. Anyone can use a brief to competently argue about a topic, even if they haven’t fully researched the topic themselves. This means that it is possible for novices to buy sourcebooks (like those published by lasting impact) that boost the team’s total preparation. On top of that, many clubs will create a system to coordinate and share research between all the members, meaning novices will have the opportunity to benefit from the research of advanced competitors.

Team Policy is certainly best for someone who thinks analytically. If you find yourself asking questions like, “how will that work?” or “how much will it cost?” or “is the problem really as bad as they say it is?” you may be a policy debater at heart.

This may not matter to you personally, but in my experience the most commonly cited reason why debaters prefer LD over TP is the time commitment. With only half the competitors, each round takes half as long as Team Policy. The kind of preparation that one does for LD is also different. Most will find it more useful to read books from thinkers and philosophers in order to absorb a variety of different ideas, rather than accumulating massive amounts of specific information on particular policies. Again, this is because the conflict in LD takes place in an abstract, philosophical manner.

But LD is not necessarily easier. Because you do not have a partner, LD debaters are responsible for doing all the thinking on their own in the round. You also have less time to do that thinking because there are fewer speeches per round.

Second, the types of arguments in LD generally require a mature understanding of history and philosophy, which can take time to develop during the preseason and must be carefully explained in each round. It is simply not possible to share briefs of information for LD in the same way as one does in TP.

My Recommendation
At this point, I’ll fully admit that I am biased towards TP as the best format for a novice. This is because a) the arguments are generally about tangible, real world causes and effects instead of abstract ideas, b) you have a partner to work with in each round, and c) it is easier to supplement your own research with the research of your clubmates and/or sourcebooks. I think that these three factors make TP an easier framework within which to learn to learn how to debate. I think that this also sets up a smoother transition from Team Policy into Lincoln-Douglas as competitors advance in their career.

However, you may very well be better off in LD if you already have a good understanding of philosophical concepts. You might also prefer the shorter time requirement and the smaller amount of research needed to get started. Also, you might have practical limitations that necessitate the LD format, such as lacking a TP club or partner.

Want to learn more and dig deeper in a style of debate over the summer? Check out the Skill Set Debate Camp, happening in two weeks!! Click HERE.

Or check out the Summer Sessions through Lasting Impact! Click HERE.

  • LD with Michael Tant
  • Intermediate LD with Joel Erickson
  • Parliamentary Debate with Luke Litz