In 2019, the TDU will release a response to a frequently asked question, designed to provide students and coaches with an opportunity to learn more about the technical aspects of debating and improve their skills, every fortnight. This will replace the Skills Focus Areas used in 2018. The Fortnightly FAQ may assist debaters with their preparation for upcoming debates, but adjudicators will not be required to refer to it in their feedback, and success in the area it describes will not be granted extra weight in scoring.

Round one: empirical debates

Most debating topics fall within one of two categories: policy debates or empirical debates. Topics in policy debates usually begin with the phrase "that we should...", and ask debaters to make arguments about whether particular policies should be implemented; essentially, they require consideration of the way the world should be. Empirical debates, on the other hand, ask debaters to make arguments about the way the world is. Empirical topics are usually phrased as statements about the world, such as that the United Nations has failed, that coal has been good for humanity, or even that cats are better pets than dogs.

Teams competing in empirical debates are required to develop criteria in order to assess whether the debate's topic is true. It can be useful to think of criteria as replacing, or forming part of, a team's definition of the topic: criteria give meaning to ambiguous words or phrases in the topic, and thereby assist teams to analyse whether the topic is true. For example, in a debate on the topic that coal has been good for humanity, teams would need to develop criteria allowing them to assess when something has been good for humanity. An affirmative team in this debate might decide that, in order for something to be good for humanity, it must:

  • improve individual people's living conditions;
  • contribute to economic growth; and
  • contribute to scientific and technological advancement.

It is recommended that teams develop between two and four criteria, to be presented at the beginning of the first speaker's speech between their introduction and their first argument. Each of the team's arguments should then be linked to one or more of the criteria.

Both affirmative and negative teams are required to develop criteria in empirical debates. Unlike other components of an affirmative team's definition, criteria can be challenged by the negative team. It is open to each team to argue that the other has chosen the wrong criteria, and teams should be prepared to defend the criteria they have selected.

Empirical debates can be complex, and are best understood through practice. We encourage debaters and coaches to contact the Schools Coordinators with any questions about this information.