|Omar Salahuddin Abdullah, the Chairperson of the World's (Debates) Council Committee, made
available to all adjudicators at the 20th World Debates (Sydney) the following set of guidelines. It's an
insightful document, written based on the years of his experience in debating tournaments. This set of
guidelines will definitely help persons new to the adjudication experience.
All credit for this document goes to him.
|A GUIDE TO CHAIRING AND ADJUDICATING A WORLD'S STYLE DEBATE.
By Omar Salahuddin Abdullah,
(Chair of World's Council Committee, 1998-2000)
1. PART ONE: INTRODUCTION.
This booklet is intended as a guide, to assist you in performing effectively in your principle role as an
adjudicator in this competition, and to help you fulfil the other important responsibilities that are likely
to be asked of you. These include things like: convening and chairing a debate, keeping time,
conducting a post-debate adjudicators' discussion, giving feedback and results to debaters, and so
This -guidebook is not intended to present a 'hard and fast' prescription for any of these processes.
Neither should it be used as a 'checklist' for the content of your oral adjudication, nor the way in which
that feedback should be given. We understand that every experienced adjudicator will have
developed an individual method for the way in which he or she runs a debate, records that debate,
and gives feedback to teams and individual speakers. We are also aware that the type, quality and
duration of experience will vary considerably from one individual adjudicator to another in a
tournament of this type.
2. PART TWO: ORAL ADJUDICATION: BACKGROUND AND OBJECTIVES.
For the first time, in 1998, adjudicators were asked to give an oral adjudication, or feedback, at the
conclusion of each of the first six rounds of debating (preliminaries),
It is designed to accomplish a number of objectives; all of these being established by Council in
response to the needs of debaters as they have been expressed over the years.
The first of these relates, of course, to the development of better debating. It has been a criticism of
the World's format in the past that debaters, teams and coaches have almost no access to the kind of
constructive criticism that would allow them to hone their skills during the preliminary rounds of the
competition. Moreover, teams could only guess at how well they were doing during this stage, based
primarily on the kind of company they were debating in as the early rounds progressed.
With the introduction of an oral adjudication, delivered by the Chairperson, at the end of a debate, the
debaters will know their finishing position (first to last) and the points (3 to 0) that they will have been
awarded for that particular debate. Similarly, the adjudication will indicate how and why the
adjudicators have arrived at their decision and precisely what teams and individual speakers did well,
and what they did not do so well (constructive criticism). The oral adjudication then provides debaters
with exactly the kind of constructive criticism that they need.
The second group of objectives relates to the development and refinement of adjudication at Worlds.
Oral adjudication provides an insight into the way that adjudicators observe and adjudicate debates;
one that will not only benefit debaters, but also adjudicators. The discussion leading to the decision-
making stage gains a new importance as the Chair now has to advance the collective opinions of the
panel in order to justify the unanimous or consensus decisions that are made when the feedback is
given. This encourages all of the adjudicators on a panel to be particularly considerate and careful in
the processes of observation, recording, decision-making, justification and tabulation.
3. PART THREE: COMPETITION ADJUDICATION.
3.1 Pre-Competition Workshops.
In every major international competition these days, all those registered as adjudicators for the
duration of the competition will have to attend a seminar/workshop. It is important that you attend this
seminar, even though you have a wealth of experience in World's adjudication. This is because the
Chief Adjudicator for the competition will have certain specific things that he/she will want you to focus
upon in your adjudication and, as these will differ in perspective from previous competitions that you
have attended, you will need to know them too.
Similarly, once you register as an adjudicator, you can expect to adjudicate in all of the preliminary
rounds of that competition. If you are adjudicating well, and the feedback that the Chief Adjudicator's
Panel is getting on your post-debate discussions is good, then you might be honoured with selection
to adjudicate after the break. In this light, once you register as an adjudicator, you should commit
yourself to acquitting that responsibility until the Chief Adjudicator indicates that your services are no
longer required. This means turning up to every briefing on time and in an appropriate physical and
mental state - Scots and Irish please note.
3.2 Rules and Regulations.
As an adjudicator, you should take some to familiarise yourself with the rules of the competition. Any
questions that you think you might want to ask during the seminar should be noted down, no matter
how silly you might think them to be. Even if you don't ask them during the seminar proper, you can
always approach one of the adjudication panel immediately after the seminar is over.
3.3 Testing and Accreditation.
Each of these pre-competition seminars will end in an examination or test. This commonly takes the
form of an adjudication of a live exhibition debate, staged there and then, or the observation and
assessment of prerecorded videotape of a selected World's style match. At the end of the test-
debate, you will be given some time to go through your notes, arrive at a decision (finishing positions)
and then give your justification for this in written form. This will result in your name joining a pool of
adjudicators with similar levels of skill, something which will in turn permit the Panel adjudicator in
charge of the adjudicators tab to balance the panels (members) in terms of experience and skills.
4. PART FOUR: RUNNING THE DEBATE.
4.1 Getting There.
Adjudicators should get into the habit of carrying around what might be recognised as 'the tools of the
trade', or an adjudicator's kit, if you prefer. At the very least, this must consist of a pad of paper and a
writing implement (charcoal is messy, but better than nothing. A watch is fairly essential. You should
have a digital watch if no stopwatch is available to you, just so that you can time speeches for
yourself. Water is useful at those times that you dissolve into a fit of coughing at the moment that the
Chair calls upon the Prime Minister to speak.
You will be part of a briefing that precedes each and every round. This is your opportunity to ask the
Chief Adjudicator and members of his/her panel for any further clarification of the rules, their
application and for help in solving any problems that you are having in your adjudication of your
rounds. This also an opportunity to address your particular concerns to that same panel. Similarly,
listen to any announcements regarding adjudication processes that are made during these briefings.
At some time during the briefing, the match-ups will be either displayed on a screen (via OHP
transparency or 'Power Point' slides), or photocopies of the draw will be handed out. These lists will
tell you which room you will be adjudicating in, who will be on the panel with you and which one of you
will be chairing the panel. You will also know which teams you will be adjudicating and the respective
positions that they will be debating in.
The other things that you should consider, as the list of matches is revealed, are…
1. ... whether there is a potential conflict of interests created because you have been scheduled to
adjudicate your own university, or people with whom you have relationships that are likely to bias your
judgement. Or ...
2. ... whether you have adjudicated one or more of the teams in the forthcoming round more than
twice in succession. Or ...
3. ... whether there are other things that make the potential adjudication of that match difficult for
you, and therefore likely to affect your adjudication of the round.
Raise these concerns with either the Chief Adjudicator, or one of his/her panel of deputies, as soon
as you recognise them.
At the appointed time, the motion will be released to both debaters and adjudicators. You should write
this down as well, checking to make sure that you have the exact wording, as it is given.
Debates should commence fifteen minutes after the motion has been announced (3:1.3), so you
should arrive at the venue of your match at least two or three minutes before that.
When the time has come for the debate to start, the Chair of the panel of adjudicators should start
things off by calling teams into the room and saying something like, "I call this house to order". The
Chair may then make some opening remarks.
The panel member responsible for timing speeches starts his or her watch as soon as the speaker
starts speaking (not as soon as he or she stands up, clears the throat or shuffles some papers!).
4.2 Being There.
From that point onwards, the debate progresses with speakers being thanked for speaking by the
Chair (functioning as nominal Speaker of the House) as they conclude their speeches, and
subsequent speakers being introduced by title, position or name, or combinations of these, as their
turn comes to speak.
The panel member responsible for keeping time should try to give clearly audible signals as indicated
in the Rulebook (4:1.6). A sharp slap or knock on a flat surface (such as a table or a book-rest) with
the flat of the hand will normally suffice. If a speaker begins to run overtime, it is not necessary to
knock continuously, or otherwise signal that the prescribed optimum time is being exceeded. Good
time management should be the responsibility of individual speakers and their teams, not the
timekeeper. In this regard, it might be a good idea for the Chair of the panel to remind speakers
during the opening commentary that it is acceptable for speakers to receive time signals from their
Other than these invitations, thanks and time-signals, the adjudicators do not interfere in the debate,
being involved in taking notes which detail the process and progress of the debate and observing
those aspects detailed in the Rulebook (8-12: 3.1-4.4). The only time at which an interjection may
become necessary from the Chair of the panel is in the event that teams or individuals are becoming
unacceptably and inappropriately obtrusive during the speeches of other members. This will be times
at which the members not holding the floor have begun to indulge in behaviour which amounts to
things like heckling, barracking and the advancement of otherwise malicious interruptions in the
speech of the member holding the floor.
Now, we'd be the first to agree that these terms are subjective, and that the competition attracts many
different styles of debating which are acceptable and appropriate in such a forum (11: 4.4.2).
However, when adjudicators on a panel begin to feel that the manner of members is becoming
inappropriate in such cases, then the issuance of a verbal warning to that effect, directed towards the
individual, team or bench that is behaving in such a way, allows those thus warned to amend such
behaviour before adjudicators begin to penalise them for the perceived breach of debating decorum.
In this way, a clear signal is sent to those verging on the offensive and they have the option to curtail
that behaviour before it begins to affect their own team's manner marks.
Remember that what is, or is not, acceptable to you in this context is largely a matter of common
sense, but it is better to send a clear signal to debaters in danger of overstepping these bounds
before it starts affecting their marks/grades for the debate and allow them the benefit of the doubt up
to that point.
If you are concerned that someone has overstepped these bounds, whether subjective or not, discuss
this matter with the others on your panel at the conclusion of the debate before you reach a hard and
4.3 Note-taking and making.
The note-taking/making process is an important one. Not only should such notes provide you with a
fairly complete description of the debate after it has been concluded, it should also present you with
concrete reasons why you have reached your own particular conclusions w to how individual speakers
and each of the four teams has performed. You should try to record, for example, the degree to which
individuals we keeping in touch with the dynamics of the debate through things like POIs and
intersections. You should also be able to indicate, within a particular speech, whether POls have been
accepted, when, what they consisted of and how the speaker holding the floor at the time responded
You should also be able to track the logic and flow of an argument or idea through your own notation
and determine whether statements have been left largely unsupported (asserted) (8: 3.3), whether
speeches have a reasonable balance and are consistent (8: 3.3.3-3.3.4) and whether speakers have
misrepresented things said earlier in the debate, among other things.
An individual adjudicator’s approach to note-taking is likely to be markedly different from person to
person. The main thing is that you develop a means of accurately charting what has happened in the
4.5 The Observation Process.
The observation process is also important. You should be watching how readily a speaker's manner
develops a rapport with the audience ( if any - or your panel, if not), how she or he stands,
gesticulates and is expressive during the delivery of their
speech. Similarly, you should watch for things such as how members not holding the floor continue to
communicate with each other during the course of the debate and maintain contact with it through the
POI and more general interaction (appropriate reactions to statements being made; laughter, etc.).
4.6 Staying There.
When the last speaker has concluded his/her remarks and retaken his/her seat, it is customary for the
Speaker, or Chair of Adjudicators (in the event that he/she is taking the role of the Speaker of the
House) to be asked by debaters for "permission to cross the floor". This is so that teams can shake
hands and congratulate each other on a (hopefully) successful debate.
It is pertinent at this point to tell members that they can withdraw while a decision is made by
adjudicators, in which case they must all withdraw until asked to return to the room.
5. PART FIVE: THE DECISION-MAKING PROCESS.
5.1 The Integrity of Opinions, Decisions and Processes.
Either way, the discussion that is then held between adjudication panel members is confidential, and
its course and specifics should not be made known to individual debaters. This confidentiality is
essential if adjudicators are to maintain a degree of professionality, and neither to undermine, nor be
undermined by, their fellow adjudicators.
Consensus decisions are exactly that. Different adjudicators see debates in different ways. That's
exactly why we have panels of adjudicators. However, we should avoid making individual perceptions
about a particular debate, or a particular adjudicator, common knowledge. This in no way restricts the
kind of advice that you may be asked for by a particular speaker or team: it merely asks of you that
you are considerate of your colleagues in advancing your own comments and suggestions.
5.2 Arriving at a Decision.
At the end of the debate, your panel begins the process of discussion and decision making. While the
following is not presented as either a schedule or a checklist for this process, it is clear that these
major components will each have to feature somewhere in the process of your deliberations.
5.3 Time to Reflect.
The first thing that should happen, after the debaters, audience and television crew (it happens!)
have left the room, is that the panellists should take a few minutes to review their notes before any
form of discussion begins. During this 'quiet time' individual panellists should highlight items,
arguments, comments and so on, that they consider to be critical in terms of the debate, its outcomes
and their respective decisions.
1) Don't let any of your preconceptions about the degree of difficulty imposed bv the wording of the
motion on teams (on either side) create notions of sympathy which then bias your grading in their
favour (or against them).
2) Do consider each team (and speaker) as having a specific range of roles that they must fulfill in the
debate. Teams and speakers have responsibilities and roles which are often markedly different, but
nonetheless vital to the successful progress of a debate.
3) Don't lose sight of the balance in an individual speech. There should be a natural and appropriate
portion of time devoted to definitions, rebuttal arguments, the development of arguments in support of
a case, summaries, and responses to questions and challenges. A speaker who spends six minutes
haranguing the opposition and only starts on his or her portion of the split as the second single knock
of the gavel sounds is not delivering a very balanced speech!
Keep an eye on the watch as speakers move through transitions from one phase of a speech to
another. Not all speakers will 'signpost' these transitions, but you must endeavour to recognise them
4) Do continually test arguments for their logical development, relevance to the case being presented
(or argued against) and the validity of any support (examples, models, statistics, etc.) that is delivered
in respect of these arguments.
5) Don't ignore cries of misrepresentation, squirrelling, self-serving definitions, slides and so on.
Check these claims against your notes before you judge them to have been validly or invalidly made.
6) Do enjoy the debate, but don't communicate anything specific to the debaters as you observe it
and take notes. This is sometimes as innocent as an inadvertent nod of the head at the moment that
a speaker advances the weakest argument in the history of parliamentary debating, but the
apparently duplicitous nod suddenly makes it appear to be potentially the best one, and suddenly the
whole complexion of the debate changes. The key here is to be sufficiently conscious of your own
body language and reactions to keep them consistent with the kind of normal reaction that a speaker
is trying to evoke (laughter, seriousness, etc.).
7) Don't get too caught up with technicalities, minor infringements of the rules as you interpret them,
or pet likes and dislikes. You should be viewing the debate from the macro-level as much as from the
level of its sophistication, its intricacies and technical complexity. An adjudicator who penalises a
speaker for '...gesticulating with their left hand too much', or wearing a blouse that clashes with their
handbag, is definitely missing the point somewhere! Warm and fuzzy words, like holistic and overview,
should be in the back of your mind as you go through your notes for the first time.
5.4 Overview (see what I mean?).
The chairperson may then open the discussion by presenting an overview of the debate. This could
focus upon the case and approach of each team, the effectiveness of teams in dealing with demands
and challenges, the effectiveness of teams in responding to the "dynamics of the debate" (to include;
dealing with points of information; responding to the lead of an opening team; defending 'bench'
positions and arguments, etc.), and the various teams' acquittals of roles and responsibilities, as
these are determined by the rules.
The Chairperson's overview should be brief, but demonstrate his/her main concerns with the content
and process of the debate. They should not, at this stage, consider individual speaker's roles in the
debate in too much depth, unless it radically affects a team's likely finishing position.
Expanding the picture and initial thoughts on rankings.
The Chairperson should then invite panellists to contribute to this overview by contending with the
relative importance of the elements that have been identified. Panellists should add elements to this
picture that they feel are pertinent to developing a mutually acceptable and understandable overview.
Thereafter, the Chair should ask panellists to contribute their thoughts as to potential ranking of
teams; from the team considered to have won the debate, to the weakest team in the debate (First
place team [winner] to last place team).
This will be the most contentious part of the adjudication exercise. If you find yourselves in complete
agreement, shake hands, congratulate each other and promise to meet later over drinks before you
call the debaters back in. If you don't make such a magical connection, don't get stressed, consider
the following procedure ...
1. ... Look for any obvious correlation between the rankings of two of the panellists. If there is fairly
comprehensive agreement between two of you (part consensus?), then the other one should explain
why he/she appears to have seen the debate in a different way. Remember that being in the minority
is not in any way wrong. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion but you should be able to justify that
opinion in relation to those that are at variance with it.
2. ... Look for areas in which your collective observation and adjudication broadly agree and weigh
these against those areas in which you differ.
3. ... Assuming that complete agreement still cannot be reached, the majority decision will prevail
and the score sheets will reflect this decision (in finishing positions, ranking order, total team points,
speaker grades and marks).
4. ... If the worst comes to the worst, you should be able to find some degree of agreement by then
trying to determine the best team and/or the weakest team. It is often easier to separate these than it
is to split the teams in second and third place. By determining the top and bottom ranked teams first,
you should then be able to reach a decision on the other placings.
The Chair will then fill in the speed ballot and summon a runner to carry it off to the tabulation room.
5.5 Agreeing on grades for speakers and teams.
Panellists should then move on to confer on grades for teams and speakers. You should reach
agreement on these things if you can, because it makes the work of the tabulation crew that much
less complicated, and they can look forward to living longer and more productive lives. While the rules
allow for a degree of flexibility within the grade bandwidths that you have already decided upon,
you've managed to achieve consensus thus far, so why not push your luck a little further!
One way to approach this is to try and agree on the standard of the debate as a whole. As the power-
matching software starts to spread things out nice and evenly after about round three, you should find
this progressively easier to do as the competition goes on, because there should be an increasing
level of similarity in the strengths and skills of teams debating in each match. Remember that you still
have a little flexibility within a particular grade (or band) in terms of the marks that can be awarded to
an individual speaker, so you can still use this range to reflect your own opinions. However, remember
also that the marks of the two speakers, when added together, must still equate with the overall grade
that has been agree for the team.
5.6 Filling in adjudication sheets.
At this point, the panellists can begin to fill in their adjudication sheets, with perhaps one last
communal cheek through what has been agreed and what the final decision is, just to make absolutely
sure. It may also be a good idea at this stage for the Chair to ask for any points that the panellists
would like incorporated into the oral adjudication of the debate.
1. Decide on finishing positions.
2. Fill in the Speed Ballot form [Chair].
3. Check that the Speed Ballot has been filled in correctly [Panellists].
4. Summon a 'runner'.
5. Send the Speed Ballot off to the Tab Room.
6. Decide team grades.
7. Contribute and summarise points to be included in the feedback
8. Call teams back into the room.
9. Commence the oral adjudication.
10. Fill in the adjudication sheets, completing all mark and grade boxes and appending comments
where relevant or required.
11. Give all the completed forms to a runner before you leave the room, floor or area.
Once members have settled again, the Chair will then begin the oral adjudication.
6. PART SIX: THE ORAL ADJUDICATION.
As with things like note taking, individual adjudicators will each have their own way of giving an oral
6.1 Announcing Positions.
There is a division of opinion over whether it is best to announce results first and then give the
feedback, or whether to give the feedback first and then announce the result. Our advice would be to
adopt the former method, because it is questionable how much benefit teams and speakers can get if
they are anxiously waiting for the result and you are, unconsciously perhaps, trying to give nothing
6.2 Opening Remarks.
You may like to preface your remarks with a few comments on the quality and standard of the debate
(coming from your discussions on an overall debate grade?). You may also indicate whether there
was a unanimous agreement, or whether the panel encountered some resolvable disagreements in
the course of its discussion (thereby indicating that the match might well have been very close in
6.3 The Framework and Content of your Feedback.
As with the set-up for a debater's speech, an adjudicator's feedback should have 'matter' and
'manner'. You should also 'structure' your own intended feedback.
Give the finishing order, from team placing first in the debate (and therefore &winning' it), to that
6.4 The Overview.
Then, proceed with the overview of the debate that your panel has assembled during your
discussions, but keep it brief. Focus on the definition, the parameters and demands that this set up,
the cases and major arguments that followed this, the challenges that these represented and the way
that these challenges were met.
You should be able to trace the major issue(s) or themes which ran through the debate through this
overview, as well as focusing on the ways in which various teams dealt with these.
6.5 Relative merits of teams, roles, cases, argumentation, etc.
It would then be a good idea to explain exactly why the debate has been awarded to a particular team,
and consider the positions of the other teams relative to this. The reasons why teams have finished in
the particular order that you have determined should then follow, with the relevant explanations
offered as you go. You should conclude this phase by summarising what you have said, but by means
of reference to the key arguments and issues that you outlined in your opening commentary.
Comments about eye-contact, off-key humming and torn jeans are probably not appropriate at this
You are nearly there! Your adjudication feedback might then move towards a conclusion with any
specific comments on the roles, performance and style of individual speakers being offered. However,
this should only be necessary in the event that an individual's speech has affected the debate, or a
team's role, in a particularly critical way. Please try to keep your remarks in these cases constructively
critical, perhaps softening what might be construed as negative criticism by picking out some positive
aspects as well and mentioning them.
7. PART SEVEN: CONCLUSION.
That's about it. The main thing is that you enjoy the experience of adjudicating at Worlds and profit
from this in the context of your own development as an adjudicator, and perhaps even as a debater. It
comes down to one thing: common sense. If you continually apply that particular quality to the process
of running, observing, discussing and assessing the debates that you will see, it will not only be you
that gains. The debaters, the organisers and the competition that is Worlds Universities Debating will
Thanks for taking the time to read this guide.
Scremban, Negeri Sembilan, Malaysia. March 1999