Thursday, November 14, 2013

Debate Evidence Rules Changes for 2014-15

Debate Evidence Rule Changes

The National Forensics League Board of Directors decided it was time to address grumblings in the various NFL districts with regard to the rules of evidence in Lincoln-Douglas, Public Forum and Two-Person Policy Debate.  Personally, I was not aware of any major controversy.  For me debate requires evidence and if asked, the debater needs to show the evidence.  It is the way we debated in our district for years and has never been an issue.  I do know, that in other districts in our state, rules for evidence have been discussed and disputed.  Some districts, for example, require that if a team is asked for evidence, they must hand it over during their own preparation time, and not during the prep time of the team that asked.  Others, have claimed the evidence does not need to be produced, merely cited.

The NFL Board apparently, saw the issues as "diverse and complex" and set about charging the Competitions and Rules Committee with addressing the issues.  As a result of their efforts, the NFL has released new guidelines which are to take effect during the 2014-15 competitive season, although they encourage districts to implement the guidelines during the present (2013-14) competitive season. The official release of information from the NFL can be found here.  Nevertheless, in case the link dies or the information is moved, I will summarize the guidelines below.  My paraphrase of the guidelines will not, by the way, be sufficient for determining if rules violations have occurred.  For this, you will need a copy of the official NFL document, so get it while you can or get a copy of the Fall 2013 issue of Rostrum magazine.

Responsibilities of Debaters

A. Evidence is any facts attributable to a specific, identifiable source.  The committee states the source must be "authoritative".  If the information is not attributable to a specific, authoritative source, it is the opinion of the student competitor.

B. When giving evidence in a round, competitors are expected to orally give, at minimum, the author's last name, the source, and year of publication.  If the debater continues to give evidence from the same source, then it is only necessary to give the author's name.

C. In addition to the oral citation mentioned in item B (above), debaters also need to have the full MLA or APA citation of the evidence and if taken from a website, this should include the name of the "website, database or access point" as well as date accessed and the website address.  This attribution must appear on the evidence but need not be read.

D. Any evidence, whether directly quoted or paraphrased, must be cited in the above prescribed manner but if the debater is mentioning a general or theoretical concept then is it not considered evidence and as such does not have to be cited.  The example given by the committee states, "If a debater were to reference “social contract theory” in general, a source citation is not required. However, if s/he references John Locke’s social contract theory, evidence citation would need to be available."

E. The use of ellipsis (...) in evidence is prohibited unless they appear in the original source.  Nevertheless, there is no requirement to read every word of a source in the round.  Debaters may omit words in their speeches as long as the omitted words appear in the printed copy.  (See part G.2 below).

F. The original source (or a copy) must be available during the round for inspection by the opponents or judge during and after the round.  If an opponent asked for the evidence during a round it must be handed over during the round.

G. The portion of the evidence quoted in round must be denoted.

  1. Orally given evidence must be marked by a clear oral pause or by saying "quote, unquote".  What constitutes a "clear oral pause" is left to the discretion of the judge.
  2. The portions of the written evidence read, must be marked.  Typically this done, using underlines or highlights and the unread portions are minimized.  It is up to judge to decide what constitutes sufficient highlighting.

H. Use of private communication is prohibited as evidence.  Emails or other forms of communications between a debater and a source is forbidden as evidence.

Rules Governing Violations

A. The evidence should not be altered so as to change the meaning or intent of the original author.  This basically means, do not alter the wording of the original source.  It is considered a "serious distortion" of the original if added words are not [bracketed].

B. Non-existent evidence is defined as:

  1. Failure to produce the source (or copy) within 20 minutes of a request by the judge or a tournament official following the end of the round.
  2. The evidence cited is not found in the original (or copied) source.

C. Misrepresented evidence is defined as:

  1. Debaters claim a conclusion different than the original source.
  2. Claiming a "straw-man" argument is the conclusion of the original source.
  3. Exaggerating the impacts of the original source.
  4. The debater claims to have read the complete evidence when in fact, s/he did not.

D. Technical violations occur when the debater fails to meet any of the requirements mentioned in Responsibilities of Debaters section A-H above.

Claiming and Resolving Violations

The balance of the NFL article deals with claiming and resolving violations of the evidence rules.  It is notable that the judge is the first arbiter in deciding whether or not a violation has occurred in the round and the judge's decision cannot be appealed. Nevertheless, it seems there are procedures for over-ruling the judge if a rule has been ignored or misinterpreted by the judge, provided a coach or representative adult files a formal claim with the tournament officials within twenty minutes of the end of the round.  Some of the violations, if upheld, will result in loss of the round, some are more serious and result in disqualification of the debater.

Read the rules and begin to use them if you do not already.
Your comments are welcome.

Evidence in Debate: Rules Changes, National Forensics League. Rostrum, Fall 2013
(Introduction by Steve Schappaugh, Competition and Rules Committee Chair), Accessed 11/14/2013


  1. I've never before been asked in a public forum round for my evidence. Does this happen in your area?

    1. I can tell you it happens frequently in our state and sometimes even judges are asking to review evidence when it is disputed. Occasionally the evidence is misrepresented but rather than disqualify the debaters, it usually results in the single evidence or contention being ignored.

  2. What are rules for using evidence in other languages for Foreign Policy Resolutions?

    1. Good question and one I cannot help you with. As far as I know, neither NSDA or World Schools Debate has rules about evidence in other languages. (As a matter of principle, it is logical to think evidence should at least be in a language common to both side of the round in question.) I suggest asking NSDA for clarification.


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