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Has Science
Buried God?

How to Flow a Debate

Before watching the debate, read through this section twice.  The first time will give you the gist of what is presented, while the second time will allow you to see if you can actually do as it instructs.

lincoln_douglas_debates

In the world of debate, as in any other technical environment, specific terms are used to convey vitally important meaning. Apologetic jargon is fairly self-explanatory, with a few exceptions. However, it is important to note that there are multiple styles of debate, and each of these styles has specific language as well. In the high school debate circuit, for example, one may encounter Lincoln-Douglas Debate, which is philosophical in nature and includes fairly simple terminology. One may also encounter Policy Debate, which is far more technical and adheres to a paradigm for voting that includes “stock issues” like “significance,” “inherency,” “topicality,” and “solvency.”

The examples above are just a few references to the myriad of styles and formats that exist in the world of debate. However, no matter what the format or style may be, you can be certain of one thing: good note-taking (i.e. “flowing”) is an essential skill in debate.

Simply stated, “flowing” is the art of taking notes. That’s all it is. However, it’s far more complicated than it might seem. Many debaters will openly admit that flowing is their least favorite aspect of debating, but they will probably also concede that it is the practice that separates good debaters from great debaters. The good news is that good flowing does not require an extraordinary genetic trait or an exceptionally skilled individual. Rather it can be learned by anyone and then be further developed with time and practice.

Click here to see a pdf example of one debate flow: “Example of a Debate Flow

The content below is taken directly from the debate you will be watching in the next section. Consider printing it off and having it near you while you watch the debate.  You will still benefit from creating your own flow, but it this template can be a great model for you to follow. Remember, skills like this take practice.  You will only improve as you practice and continue to use this skill throughout your life.

Here are a few tips for effective flowing in a debate round:

1)      Be organized. There are very few debaters who can flow well without at least some semblance of organization on their flow sheet. If words and thoughts are scattered across your paper, you will have difficulty referencing where those thoughts were communicated in the sequence of the debate and how important each of the thoughts is in comparison to the rest. One way to do this is to create columns on your paper with each of the speakers’ names at the top of the column. When one debater responds to another, you can draw an arrow from speaker #1’s comment to the response from speaker #2. This format of flowing (columns accompanied by arrows to delineate responses from one speaker to another) is common in the world of debate and has been thoroughly vetted over the years. See the flowing diagram at the bottom of this page for an illustration.

2)      Develop your own note taking shorthand. Many debaters fall prey to the misconception that they must record EVERY word that comes out of the speaker’s mouth. This is not true. In fact, if you attempt to record everything that has been said verbatim in a debate round, you will likely miss key arguments and will simply become frustrated. Conversely, if you are able to develop an abbreviated writing style that allows you to use symbols and shorthand to record the most important thoughts and ideas articulated by a speaker, then you will feel engaged, organized and better prepared to understand the arguments presented.

3)      Don’t just write: Think while you write. This tip is an encouragement to multi-task, because debating requires thinking, listening, writing, and speaking – skills which are sometimes exercised simultaneously. Most debates are fast-paced, and you won’t have time to merely transcribe and then think deeply about the presented arguments separately. While you record the thoughts of the opposing speaker, you must prepare and record your response.

One more helpful resource for you to use is the following guide on making great debate flows:

Tips for Flowing a Debate

Now that you are equipped with the right tools, sit back and enjoy the following ideological match (which has been edited for length):