Introduction to Circuit Debate

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What is Circuit Debate?

Welcome to the world of Circuit Debate! The goal of this page is to briefly outline what exactly Circuit Debate is and introduce you to the most important things there are to know.

Lincoln-Douglas circuit debate refers to the subset of Lincoln-Douglas debate tournaments that occur on the National Circuit. The National Circuit is a set of tournaments that debaters from around the country travel to in order to compete at. Ultimately, all of the tournaments on the National Circuit serve as a way to qualify for the Tournament of Champions (TOC), which is largely considered the most "prestigious" tournament among circuit debaters. You qualify for the TOC attaining 2 bids at circuit debate tournaments throughout the year. You attain a bid by getting to a certain outround (e.g. octa-finals, quarter-finals, semi-finals, or finals), and the outround at which you bid depends on the tournament you are attending. Here is a list of all Circuit LD tournaments with their associated bid levels.

Circuit LD is distinguished from traditional LD largely by the style of arguments that are read in round. Ultimately, circuit LD and traditional LD are the same activity – you debate the same resolution, the speech times are the same, etc. However, Circuit LD is largely characterized by the prevalence of speed reading, or spreading. On the Circuit, most debaters and judges are accustomed to understanding spreading, and debaters spread so that they may read more arguments in the constrained speech times. In addition, the styles of arguments that are read in Circuit LD are different than that of traditional LD. With traditional LD, most debaters typically follow the value/value criterion model of debate. While this is still possible in Circuit LD (i.e. through philosophy), more types of arguments are read, namely, policy, kritiks, theory, and tricks.

Despite the fact that Circuit debate occurs around the country, there is certainly a community within the group. There are probably no more than ~300 debaters who consistently attend multiple circuit tournaments each year, and as a result, it is easy to get to know people who you frequently see at tournaments. Back in the era before online debating, you would be dedicating your entire weekend to traveling and competing at tournaments, so people would form friendships within the circuit.

Why should I Circuit Debate?

Circuit Debate can certainly feel overwhelming when you are first introduced to it – there are many things one has to learn to compete at the highest levels. So perhaps before figuring out how to learn circuit debate, it is worth considering whether you would like to learn circuit debate.

There are certainly many pros to circuit debate: you become exposed to a wide body of knowledge that many people never encounter in their lives, ranging from philosophical, critical, and policy perspectives, you get to meet new people from across the country that broadens your perspective and allows you to make lasting friendships, some people consider the activity itself fun, and of course, it might look good to put on one's resume.

On the other hand, there are many cons associated with the activity: most people need to put in a lot of hours to become successful (potentially at least 8 hours a week during the week leading up to, but not including, the tournament) which can lead to burnout, it can difficult to balance debate, school, and social lives, the community can be seen as toxic and exclusionary for certain groups, and finally, if you lack an established school debate program, it can be difficult not only to obtain the body of knowledge necessary for debating but also to give tournaments permission you to compete.

Ultimately, you should not make your decision to debate based on this short paragraph but should highly consider consulting with debaters currently in the community to give context to your personal situation. Virtually all debaters will be willing to tell you their own personal experiences, and a good place to start asking questions might be the Small School's Facebook debate group.

How can I learn to Circuit Debate?

As mentioned before, getting introduced to Circuit Debate can feel overwhelming with all of the concepts there are to learn. Luckily, there are many in the community who are willing to help. Below is a table of resources that contain links to various documents and websites that are intended to help out. If you know of any resources that meet the criterion of being substantial, community-endorsed, and helpful, feel free to add it to the list.

Resource Information
Circuitdebater Library The website that you are currently on! The CD library offers community-written articles on all of the most common concepts in LD debate, intended to provide an accessible knowledge base for all.
Coaches Almost all debaters have some form of a coach who helps them with debate. The obligations of a coach vary depending on the arrangement between coach and debater, but this could involve teaching content, drilling, writing prep, and giving advice before rounds during tournaments. The link in this row is to a spreadsheet where potential coaches will submit their information if they are looking for students. Alternatively, you might monitor the High School LD Facebook group, where people often post if they are looking to coach students. You could also post there that you are looking for a coach whose experience does not match what you are looking for from the above spreadsheet.
Debate Camp Many debaters attend a debate camp over the summer to refine their skills. In fact, many debaters might say that they developed their debating skills the most during their time at debate camp. These camps are private organizations that are run across the country. Depending on their region, certain debate camps might focus more on certain styles of argumentation (e.g. a debate camp in the West Coast might focus more on policy style arguments.) Circuitdebater does not endorse any particular debate camps, and as such, we will not be listing them here. However, you are strongly recommended to reach out to others in the community for suggestions on what debate camps might be appropriate for you. Don't be afraid to directly message debaters about their experiences at debate camps – these are often far more telling than what their various websites might tell you.
NDCA Wiki After most circuit LD rounds, debaters will disclose their cases by uploading them to the wiki after the round. Through this wiki, you can download various cases and see the style of arguments that are read, as well as try to decipher what some of the arguments are saying. Fair warning: you should not expect yourself to understand all (or even most) of the arguments here. Some of them are probably gibberish, and also, even experienced debaters fail to understand many arguments they themselves are reading in round.
Tabroom is the website where you sign up for tournaments and see information about all relevant tournaments during a given weekend. If you want to see more information about a tournament you have interest in attending, your best bet is to look here. Note that most of the tournaments here will not be relevant to you; if you are looking for bid tournaments to attend, see the below row.
TOC Tournament List The TOC bid tournament list shows all tournaments around the country that assign a bid if you reach a certain outround. To get more information about a particular tournament, look on tabroom.
HSLD Resource Directory Spreadsheet This spreadsheet contains links to many more resources that you might benefit from within the community. From videos of debaters to suggested drills, this website has a lot of useful information.

What does a National Circuit tournament look like?

In the era before online debating, National Circuit tournaments would typically be hosted at high school or college campuses, attracting hundreds or even thousands of speech and debate students, depending on the size of the tournament. People would travel to National Circuit tournaments from across the country, which necessitated paying for transportation and housing for the tournament (not to mention paying tournament entree fees and paying your judges). Typically, people's choice to travel to a tournament depended on whether it was "worth" going to. That is, if a tournament awarded many bids, such as an octa-finals or quarter-finals level tournament, the number of debaters competing in that tournament would increase, and debaters would be willing to travel from further out since their chance of getting the bid was perceived to be higher. These tournaments with higher bid levels also typically have better judge pools, too. Smaller tournaments, such as finals or semi-finals bids, typically attract debaters from around the area and might have more lay judges and rounds, even as a tournament on the national circuit.

Norms for LD debate also vary throughout the country. The West Coast is known for running more policy style arguments, while the Texas area is known for running a mix of LARP and kritiks, and the East coast is known for running tricks, theory, and philosophy. One's experience in LD would be dramatically shaped by the region where they debated, as judges within that region would be more proficient in evaluating certain types of arguments.

Now that many tournaments are online, some things have changed, and others have not. Competing has become far more affordable, since one does not need to worry about affording transportation and housing for tournaments. Still, though, tournaments with higher bid-levels typically attract more debaters and better judges than tournaments with lower bid-levels. Attending tournaments has become far easier, though, since one does not need to worry about the location. The norms of LD, as a result, have become slightly more spread out. While in the in-person era, nearly all rounds in the West Coast would involve policy, in the online era, it wouldn't be as rare to find a round involving kritiks, for example.

Almost all National Circuit tournaments follow a similar structure. They will take place during some weekend, and feature both prelimination and elimination rounds. Tournaments typically have around 6 prelimination rounds. During the first two prelimination rounds, you will be matched with a random opponent and assigned a random side with one judge. During the remaining four rounds, you will be matched with an opponent whose record (wins-losses) is equal to yours, and assigned a random side. By the end of the 6 prelimination rounds, you will have affirmed 3 times and negated 3 times. If you have won at least 4 of your prelimination rounds, you will have qualified for the elimination rounds. Depending on the size of the tournament, elimination rounds will start either at triple-octafinals (top 64), double octa-finals (top 32), or octa-finanls (top 16). During the elimination rounds, you will have a panel of 3 judges, and the side will be determined by a coin flip at the beginning of the round. If you lose an elimination round, you are out of the tournament. To attain a bid, you will need to reach a certain elimination round depending on the "bid level" of the tournament.

At the conclusion of the tournament, awards are typically given out for the top speakers of the tournaments (determined by your speaker points) and for the elimination round that you have reached.

What are prefs?

Most national circuit tournaments offer "prefs", or the ability to rank your judges based on your preference for them to judge you. Usually, you rank all judges in the pool on a scale of 1 to 6, with 1 being your most preferred judge, and 6 being your least preferred judge. When being assigned an opponent, you will be assigned a judge who both you and your opponent mutually prefer, that is, the judge who you and your opponent have the closest pref match, with higher prefs being preferred. The manner in which you pref judges is completely subjective, though debaters will typically pref the judges who they think have the best ability to evaluate the style of argumentation that the debater likes to read.

Foundational Ideas

In this section, we will lay out some of the foundational ideas of National Circuit Lincoln-Douglas debate. We will assume a basic level of familiarity with traditional Lincoln-Douglas debate.


All arguments are composed of a claim, warrant, and impact. The claim is the statement that the argument is attempting to prove. The warrant is the evidence, or reasoning, that backs up the statement. The impact is the implication, or relevance, of that argument. For instance, suppose you are attempting to prove that pencils are better than pens. Your argument might go, "Pencils are better than pens because they allow you to erase mistakes, which can save you a lot of time when writing." Try to identify the claim, warrant, and impact within this argument.

Many arguments within LD contain a card for the warrant to the argument. A card is a piece evidence, typically taken from a website, database, or book, that supports an argument you are trying to make. As such, many arguments will start with a claim, followed by the card which contains the evidence that supports your claim. The impact is often found within the card itself, or you can explicitly write out an impact after the card. Since many sources of evidence are long, and we do not have enough time in round to read out every word of the evidence, the cards are "cut." This means debaters will read only certain words of the evidence to make their point more quickly. Note that it is against the rules of debate to only read selective word to misrepresent what the original piece of evidence is saying.


Now that you understand how to structure an argument, you might wonder how to go about responding to them. Luckily, your intuition might serve you well here! You respond to arguments in LD no differently than you would respond to arguments in your day-to-day life, though in this section, we will more formally introduce the two different types of ways of responding to arguments.

Link Turns

Suppose that your opponent argues, "Passing the resolution will cause tensions to escalate between the U.S. and China, which is bad because that has the potential to turn into war." Note that this argument has a clear claim and impact, but is missing the warrant. For this example, assume that evidence was read backing the argument's claim.

A link turn would argue the opposite of your opponent's claim, namely, that passing the resolution would cause tensions to decrease between the U.S. and China. Note that this is distinct from arguing that passing the resolution would NOT cause tensions to escalate. If you simply argued that passing the resolution would cause tensions to NOT escalate, that could mean the tensions would stay the same (which would be a defensive response). To make a link turn, you need to explicitly argue the opposite of what your opponent is saying.

Even though this example is more oriented around a political issue, you can apply the idea of a link turn to any argument in debate. To make a link turn, you simply need to argue the opposite of your opponent's claim. If your opponent is claiming that pencils are better than pens, to link turn that argument, you would argue that pens are better than pencils.

Impact Turns

An impact turn concedes that your opponent's claim is true but turns the impact of their argument. Let's return to the earlier example argument, "Passing the resolution will cause tensions to escalate between the U.S. and China, which is bad because that has the potential to turn into war."

To impact turn this argument you would concede that the resolution causes tensions to escalate but argue that escalating tensions is actually good! To do this, you might argue that the potential of U.S. and China war is actually good (which might be harder to do), or you could alternatively argue that escalating tensions might avoid war and cause some other beneficial impact.

Please note that you need to be careful with certain impact turns. Suppose that a debater argues that, " policy will cause racist attitudes to increase across the country." A link turn to this argument would be that, " policy actually will decrease racist attitudes across the country." This argument is clearly acceptable. An impact turn, however, would need to argue that "racist attitudes are actually good," which is clearly an unacceptable argument that cannot be run.


In this section, we start to deviate more from traditional LD debate and make our way into circuit LD. In traditional LD, the role of the affirmative and negative are typically clearly defined. The affirmative must affirm the resolution by proving why it is good, and the negative must negate the resolution by proving why it is bad. There is only one way for the affirmative to win, and one way for the negative to win, that is, by proving their respective sides, substantively. Thus, "substance", or the substantive debate whether the resolution is a good or bad idea, would be considered a layer. In traditional LD debate, there is typically only one layer in the debate: substance.

In circuit LD, however, there are more ways to win the round, and as such, more layers are introduced. One way to win a circuit LD round is to prove that your opponent is engaging in unfair practices in the round and should lose for doing so. These types of arguments are called theory shells. If the debater reading theory successfully proves the abuse, they would win the round, causing their opponent to lose. Theory is considered a different layer than substance, since, it provides debaters a path to win the round that is not reliant on substantively winning the debate. That is, even if a debater is losing the debate on the substance layer but winning the debate on the theory layer, they could still win the round; this is because theory is typically considered to be a "higher layer" than substance.

This illustrates the important point that all layers are not created equal. Suppose that the affirmative debater is winning their case that "States ought to ban lethal autonomous weapons." But further suppose that the negative is winning that the affirmative was unfair in the round because they violated prep time by taking 6 minutes of prep (a silly example). Since theory is considered to be a "higher layer" than substance, the negative debater would win the round, even though they are losing on the substance level. A large component about progressive debate is arguing about which layers in the round should be evaluated first. See below for a table of common layers in debate.

Layer Description Ordering
Theory Proving your opponent should lose the round because they are engaging in unfair or uneducational practices. Considered a higher layer than substance but debated whether it should come before kritiks.
Kritiks Proving your opponent should lose the round by criticizing their orientation towards some construct. Considered a higher layer than substance but debated whether it should come before theory.
Substance Winning the round by arguing for your side of the resolution, either through policy or philosophy. Considered the lowest layer of the debate round. However, some debaters argue that philosophy operates on the same level as kritiks.


Related to layers is the concept of an "off." An "off" is a grouping of similar debate arguments that provide a path to win the round. While layers are used to generally categorize types of arguments in debate, an "off" is used to refer to a specific argument in a specific round. For example, if a debater is running a position that says "the affirmative's position will cause economic collapse, leading to nuclear war," all of the cards and evidence that support this overarching claim would be grouped together as an "off". This distinction may seem confusing, but remember that an "off" is used to refer to a specific grouping of arguments in the round, whereas layers are used to categorize arguments generally across all debate rounds. See below for a table of common "offs" that are read in debate.

Also, debate "offs" are typically used to refer to the negative's positions, since the affirmative typically only reads one "off", the AC itself.

Off Corresponding Layer Description
NC Philosophy An NC is a specific framework with contentions that give a philosophical reason to vote negative.
Disadvantage Policy A disadvantage is a policy argument that illustrates the disadvantages of passing the affirmative through a consequentialist-style link chain.
Counterplan Policy A counterplan is a policy argument where the negative proposes a counter-advocacy to the affirmative's position, rather than defending the status-quo.
Theory Shell Theory A theory shell is a specific theory argument proving why your opponent is abusive. While theory refers to all arguments that derive offense from proving your opponent's abuse, a theory shell is a specific instance of a theory argument in-round.
Kritik Kritiks Though the naming convention is confusing, a kritik would prove why one aspect of your opponent's orientation is problematic in the debate round. A kritik is a specific instance of the general category of kritiks.

Role of the Ballot

The role of the ballot establishes the conditions under which the judge ought to vote for you. In traditional LD, although not explicitly stated, the role of the ballot might be to vote for the debater who proves whether the resolution is morally desirable or not. In circuit LD, however, there are many more potential roles of the ballots which extend beyond substantively proving the resolution true or false.

To start, however, two of the most common role of the ballots are truth testing and comparative worlds. Under truth testing, for instance, the role of the ballot is to vote for the debater who proves the truth or falsity of the resolution. If the text of the resolution is proven true you affirm, or if it is proven false, you negate. For instance, if the resolution is, "Resolved: States ought to ban lethal autonomous weapons," the affirmative would have to prove that statement true. Since the word "ought" is defined as having a moral obligation, the affirmative would need to prove that it is true that we have a moral obligation to ban lethal autonomous weapons. This necessitates justifying and winning a framework, too.

This illustrates the important note that role of the ballots and frameworks are not the same concept. A role of the ballot establishes the conditions under which the judge should vote for you, whereas a framework establishes what actions are moral. In substantive debates, both the affirmative and negative will concede to a role of the ballot such as truth testing, and focus on the framework debate.

Returning to the previous point, however, role of the ballots need not be entirely substantive. Meaning, debaters may argue that judges should vote for them for reasons other than directly affirming or negating the resolution. One clear example of this might be a role of the ballot of "deconstructing oppression in the debate space." Under this role of the ballot, the debater who best fights against discrimination in the debate space should win the round. Potentially, one debater could argue why certain groups are discriminated against in debate, raising more awareness and brining attention to the issue. Then, they would argue why they deserve the ballot for doing so, even if they didn't directly debate the resolution.

Offense vs Defense

In circuit LD, there is an important distinction between offensive and defensive arguments. Offensive arguments are a proactive reason why your argument is correct over your opponent's argument. Defensive arguments are just a reason why your opponent's argument is incorrect. Importantly, a defensive argument doesn't prove why your arguments are correct; they simply weaken your opponent's argument.

Suppose the resolution is, "Resolved: Circuitdebater is a useful educational resource." An offensive argument for the affirmative would give a reason why Circuitdebater is educational; for example, it makes it easy for people to learn about new arguments. An offensive argument for the negative would give a reason why Circuitdebater is detrimental to one's education as a debater; for example it makes debaters lazy so they won't research their own arguments. A defensive argument for the negative, on the other hand, would argue why Circuitdebater is not educational; for example, Circuitdebater's website crashes all the time so debaters are never able to access its resources. Importantly, note that the defensive argument is not proving that Circuitdebater is actively uneducational; rather, it proves why Circuitdebater fails to provide education.

One might wonder, what is the point of defensive arguments, anyway? It seems like offensive arguments are always better! Defensive arguments do have utility, though. Suppose that you and your opponent have two arguments that are directly contradicting each other. You could read a defensive argument against your opponent, thus weakening their argument. Then, your argument would win. For example, suppose you argue, "Umbrellas are better than raincoats because they block more water." Your opponent argues, "Raincoats are better than umbrellas because they don't get swept away by the wind." Without any other arguments, there would be no way to determine who is winning! However, you could make the defensive argument that, "Umbrellas don't get swept away by the wind that often, only on windy days!" In this case, you could win this debate.


Weighing is the process in which you compare two arguments and attempt to show that one is stronger than the other. In debate, there are often contradicting arguments, and without weighing, it becomes difficult, if not impossible, for the judge to know which argument to prioritize.

There are many different ways to compare, or weigh between two different arguments. You can use as many weighing mechanisms as you would like when comparing two arguments, as an argument might outweigh another on several criterion. The most common weighing mechanisms are outlined in the table below.

Weighing Mechanisms
Name Description Example
Magnitude The severity of your impact Earthquakes outweigh snowstorms on magnitude since earthquakes cause far more destruction than snowstorms.
Scope The number of people your impact will affect Nuclear war outweighs conventional war on scope since nuclear war kills a far greater number of people.
Probability The probability your impact will be true Conventional war outweighs nuclear war on probability since its far less probable that countries will risk unleashing their nuclear weapons.
Timeframe The amount of time it will take until your impact becomes relevant US-China war outweighs the effects of climate change on timeframe since it's more likely the US and China will go to war before climate change kills us.
Duration The amount of time your impact will take place for Climate change outweighs war on duration since the effects of climate change will be felt for centuries while a war is comparatively shorter.
Reversibility The difficulty of reversing the effects of your impact Nuclear war outweighs conventional war on reversibility since the radiation caused by a nuclear bomb is more difficult to clean up.
Strength of Link The amount of defense that has been placed against your impact Argument outweighs Argument on strength of link because Argument was completely conceded whereas Argument has defensive responses against it.

It's worth noting that the examples from this entire weighing section are extremely general, and you should almost certainly make your weighing arguments more specific and contextual to the evidence being offered in the round.


Sometimes, Argument might outweigh Argument under one weighing criterion, but Argument might outweigh Argument under a different criterion. For example, "Nuclear war outweighs conventional war on magnitude, but conventional war outweighs nuclear war on probability." In this case, you will need to weigh between different weighing mechanisms. That is, you will need to prove why magnitude outweighs probability (or vice-versa). This is done in the same manner as the previous weighing examples. For example, "magnitude outweighs probability since even if an impact is unprovable but could be extremely destructive, we should prepare against it." As from before, this example is extremely general, and you should contextualize your meta-weighing to the specific arguments being made in your rounds.

Tech over Truth

One large distinction between traditional and circuit LD is the concept of "tech over truth." In traditional LD, many judges vote for the debater who they are most convinced by the end of the debate. Though many traditional LD judges flow, they take into account the ethos of arguments and the extent to which they believe them. Traditional LD judges might reject arguments that they deem silly even if there is no explicit rebuttal to these arguments. Traditional LD judges are said to vote on the "truth" value of arguments, since they take into account how "true" their beliefs are for the arguments they are voting for.

In circuit LD, in contrast, judges are often trained to evaluate the round solely based on the technical interactions between all of the arguments on their flow. You might view a circuit LD judge more like a computer algorithm that processes each and every argument on the flow, ultimately voting for the debater whose arguments are strongest. This often means that circuit judges will evaluate arguments that might seem silly or unpersuasive if they are conceded by the opponent. Circuit LD judges are said to value the technical aspects of the debate ("tech") over the "truth" value of the arguments.

This concept adoption of a "tech over truth" mindset has widely shaped argumentative practices in debate. On the one hand, it has allowed more diverse arguments to proliferate since judges are forced to consider all positions and be as open-minded as possible. Likely, much theory, philosophy, and critical literature, would not be in debate if judges were not willing to expand their willingness to vote on different types of arguments. On the other hand, this mindset has also allowed for many more silly arguments to proliferate. Much of tricks debate hinges on the fact that judges are willing to vote on arguments, no matter how silly they are, if conceded. Even many theory arguments, especially frivolous theory, exploit the tech over truth aspect of debate.

With all of this said, judges are ultimately human beings. Most judges will not vote for arguments they deem discriminatory, even if conceded. And most judges will also be more comfortable evaluating certain styles of argumentation than others and may even implicitly prefer certain arguments. For these reasons, it is important to always read your judge's paradigm before the round and make sure you adapt your debating accordingly.

Community Norms


During the past few years, it has become a norm to disclose your cases on the HSLD wiki. Disclosure entails uploading the case you read during each round after the round has concluded. The affirmative will typically disclose the 1AC, and the negative will typically disclose the 1NC. You should not disclose your frontlines or blocks, as that would put you at a strategic disadvantage; you should only disclose what you read.

Although there is not universal consensus whether disclosure as a community norm is actually good or bad, most debaters have accepted the practice and continue to disclose on the wiki. If you do not disclose, you can expect to have people read disclosure theory against you. Since many judges themselves are disposed to vote in favor of disclosure theory, many people have concluded that it is more strategic to disclose, even though that means people will have access to your prep after you have read it.

There are some exceptions to the practice worth noting. Some debaters do not disclose positions or performances that are of a personal nature to them. Other debaters do not disclose because their school forbids them to disclose. Also, novices are generally not expected to disclose. These debaters are still at risk of having disclosure theory ran at them; however, they might receive more sympathy from their opponents and judges.

Evidence and Evidence Ethics

Because most circuit LD rounds require a lot of evidence, it is important to make sure your evidence is accurate and cited properly. There is generally a norm in the community for what constitutes a piece of evidence that is cited "correctly." When citing evidence, debaters usually have a short summary of the evidence called the "tag" (which they write themselves); the source; and finally the card (which is the name for the body of evidence), which is highlighted and underlined in certain places in order to emphasize its important parts.

Fig. 1: An example of properly cut and sourced evidence.

In Figure 1, which is to the right, demonstrates an example of good evidence. The citation contains:

  • a tag (the bolded sentences at the top)
  • the author ("Stilz")
  • the date ("'09")
  • the author qualifications ("Anna Stilz is Laurance S. Rockefeller Professor of Politics and the University Center for Human Values at Princeton University. Her research focuses on questions of political membership, authority and political obligation, nationalism and self-determination, rights to land and territory, and collective agency")
  • access date ("12-18-2021"), although this is not necessary
  • the publisher ("Project MUSE - Liberal Loyalty")
  • the website/book name/page number ("")

Sometimes, cards will have initials or a name attached at the end of the citation to show who cut them. There is an unspoken "decorum" when it comes to evidence – when you are using evidence that isn't yours, if the cards has the initials of other people you should leave them on. Similarly, even if you "recut" a piece of evidence (which is to highlight and underline the card by yourself), you should keep the original initials (if applicable) and if you were to add your own, you would note that it was "recut," which is often abbreviated as "rct."

Continuing on to the body of the evidence, it contains:

  • highlighting (most people use blue, green, or yellow)
  • underlining (some people bold or box their underline)
  • small/shrunk text
  • the entire paragraph: when citing evidence, even if you are only taking specific sentences, you should include the entire paragraph from which you take your evidence.
Fig. 2: Miscut Evidence

When people read cards aloud in debates, they read the tag, the author name, and the highlighted parts of the card. Most debaters will use a Microsoft Word extension, Verbatim, to make cutting cards easier because it has built-in macros that will shrink text, highlight evidence, create tags, and other things that are handy for making sure you have properly cut evidence. There are also various citation creators that automatically create citation blocks for you, like Cite Creator and Cardr. For those that use Google Docs, there is Debate Template, which replicates some of the features found in Verbatim. When evidence lacks a source or is framed in a way to say something it doesn’t, it is called miscut evidence. Figure 2 shows an example of miscut evidence. It contains many problems, but some of the main points are that it:

  • does not contain the full author name
  • lacks author qualifications
  • is not properly highlighted/underlined

Bad evidence can lose rounds. In close debates where the judge must compare evidence, not properly citing your authors can lose you the round. Evidence is also an important part of judge perception.

Evidence Ethics: Stakes vs Theory

When you notice miscut evidence, there are two things you can do: you can stake the round or run theory on them.

A stake (also known as a challenge), in evidence ethics, is when you completely stop the round and ask the judge to evaluate whether the evidence is legitimate or not. If you are correct and prove your opponent’s evidence to be miscut, you win the round and (usually) get 30 speaks, while your opponent loses and (usually) gets 0-20 speaks. However, if you are incorrect and their evidence is properly cut, then you will lose the round and get 0-20 speaks while your opponent will auto-win. Unlike a theory debate where both sides can dispute the validity of a norm, stakes immediately stop the round and end it.

Running theory is the lower-risk version of staking the round. Instead of asking your judge to cease the round and examine the evidence, you run it as a theory shell. If they prove there is no violation or that their violation is not severe enough to be the reason they lose, they win the shell. Unlike a stake, that does not mean that they win the round – it means that the judge evaluates a different layer of the debate. Usually, running theory instead of staking the round is used for a strategic advantage: some "evidence ethics" shells include bracketing, missing a sentence from a paragraph at the beginning/end of it, and missing author qualifications.

For a more in-depth discussion on how to run theory on evidence ethics, see here.

It is important to note that running theory is for less severe violations – if your opponent links to a website that no longer works, used brackets, got the wrong date on their evidence, etc., this could be grounds to run a shell. However, if your opponent is fabricating evidence or paraphrasing in a way that masks the original intent of the author, this should be an evidence ethics challenge,

Before challenging the round or running evidence ethics theory, check your judge’s paradigm. Different judges will have different thresholds for voting on evidence ethics violations: some are completely unwilling to vote on it while others will vote on marginal abuse. There is no point in running a challenge if the judge will not vote on it. If you are unsure of their stance on evidence, ask them!


Another norm in circuit LD is spreading, or speed reading. Experienced debaters can typically read their cases upwards of 300 words per minute. Since speeches are limited in time, by spreading, debaters can fit more arguments into their speeches, making responding more difficult. Although spreading might sound incomprehensible to you at first, with enough practice, you will learn to understand spreading and even be able to spread on your own!

Learning to spread is an art that can be mastered over time. Many debaters often start by performing spreading drills; that is, spreading various texts regularly to practice clarity and precision in their voice. Try downloading cases off the wiki and spreading through them for practice. Importantly, you must be clear so that other people can understand what you are saying. Some spreading drills include over enunciating your words to improve clarity, spreading through a text backwards (so that you don't focus on what you are saying, but reading the text itself), alternative between reading off the doc and a filler word (like "watermelon"), or even spreading with a pen in your mouth. These drills are not necessarily endorsed and will work differently for different people, but they might be a starting point.

Learning to understand spreading, similarly, comes with practice. The best way to practice might be to watch Youtube videos of debaters spreading and attempt to flow what they are saying. At first, you might play the video at 50% or 75% speed, and as you grow more comfortable understanding spreading, increase the speed of the video up to 100%. Certain debaters are more clear than others, so you might try watching videos of different debaters for some variety. Although spreading can be very difficult to understand at first, within a few months, it is certainly an achievable goal!