Skip to main content

How to Learn Lincoln-Douglas Debate

Lincoln-Douglas Debate is a one-on-one forensic competition format modeled after historic debates between Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas. Learn how to participate.


  • Step 1: Pick affirmative or Negative side on given issue Choose the affirmative or negative side of a given topic.
  • TIP: A Lincoln-Douglas format is a debate judged on the moral validity of one ideal over an opposing ideal. Other debate formats are judged on the more practical application of a debate position.
  • Step 2: Research the topic and prep resource citation cards Research your stance. Write notes with source citations on 3-by-5 index cards, to be used as evidence during the debate.
  • Step 3: Prepare an L-D Debate flow sheet Use a legal pad held horizontally to create a Lincoln-Douglas Debate flow sheet. Divide the page or pages into seven sections, one for each round of the debate.
  • TIP: Before participating in the debate, fill in your side's evidence points in the appropriate sections on the flow sheet. Leave the opponent's sections empty for note-taking during the debate.
  • Step 4: Affirmative states resolution with evidence State your position clearly and support it with three or more facts during the opening round if you're affirmative.
  • Step 5: Negative cross-examines opponent Aim your questions at your opponent's opening statement with a strategy that points out flaws and negative implications of your opponent's position if you're negative.
  • Step 6: Negative participant presents opposing statement Present your opposing statement clearly with supporting facts during the opening round if you're negative.
  • Step 7: Affirmative cross-examines opponent Cross-examine the opponent's negative position if you're affirmative.
  • TIP: Cross-examination rounds in Lincoln-Douglas format debates typically have three-minute time limits.
  • Step 8: Affirmative makes rebuttal speech Make a rebuttal speech if you're affirmative. This four-minute rebuttal round will serve to rebuild your case.
  • Step 9: Negative makes rebuttal speech Make your rebuttal speech if you're negative. The negative rebuttal round has a six- or seven-minute time limit.
  • Step 10: Affirmative states final case State your final case in a three- or four-minute rebuttal of your opponent's negative position if you're affirmative.
  • FACT: Senator Hillary Clinton challenged Senator Barack Obama to a Lincoln-Douglas format debate during the 2008 Democratic presidential primaries.

You Will Need

  • A forensic competition
  • Research
  • An opponent
  • Extensive research
  • 3-by-5 index cards
  • Pens or pencils
  • A legal pad

Popular Categories