Flowing the Debate

Flowing Sheeting or Flowing is the system that debaters use to get down on paper, in abbreviated form, the arguments and evidence presented in a debate round.  The Flow allows you to literally see how the arguments and supporting evidence presented by each team literally flow through the debate round, from speech to speech.  

The Primary Purposes of the Debate Flow

  1. Record of your opponents’ arguments and evidence so that you know what you have to refute.
  2. Visual record of which arguments have been beaten, which arguments are still being contested, and which arguments have flowed through the round without being attacked.
  3. Notes from which you speak.

The Mechanics of the Debate Flow

1.      For years, the 8.5”X14” yellow legal pad was the popular choice for flowing.  However, many debaters have moved to using a spiral bound sketch pad.

2.      An accountant fine point pen with black ink is a good choice because you have to write very small and black ink is the easiest to read.  However, some debaters like black ink to record the affirmative and red ink to record the negative.  This makes it very easy to distinguish between the aff columns and the neg columns.

3.      Create a column at the far left of the page for the first affirmative speech (1AC).  It will probably take a number of pages to flow all of the 1AC.  The affirmative team should have pre-flowed their own case, either on the pad itself or on stiff pieces of paper that can be clipped to the pad.

4.      Some debaters make sure that the affirmative plan is flowed on a page by itself or on a separate pad.  This is so that negative disadvantages run against the plan can be flowed opposite the plan.  Other debaters worry less about where they flow the aff plan, but they put the neg disads on a separate sheet of paper or on a separate pad.  Whatever method you use, you want to make sure that the disadvantages do not get mixed in the negatives direct refutations to the 1AC contentions.

5.      Negative “off-case” arguments such as topicality or critics are usually flowed in the left-hand column of a new page, or on an entirely different flow.

6.      If the negative runs a counterplan it should be flowed on a separate page or a separate pad.

Some debaters juggle as many as four flow pads in a round!  The alternative is lots of flipping back and forth between pages in a single pad.  You will not know which method works best for you until you get some experience flowing actual debate rounds.

7.      It is important not to arguments to close together on the flow.  You never know which arguments might expand in later speeches.  For example, the negative might run a 10 point response to subpoint A under contention II, or in 2AC the affirmative might read 6 pieces of extension evidence to subpoint C of contention III.

8.      If you know that you missed something, leave a space so that you can fill it in later.  You might get the missing information from your partner’s flow or from a clarification question in C-X.

9.      Most debaters will be speaking faster than you can write.  You need to be able to get down a shortened, but meaningful version of the arguments and evidence they are presenting.  To help you do this you need to develop a vocabulary of abbreviations for concepts related to the particular topic or commonly encountered in argumentation.  Here are just a few examples.

10.  Flow in outline form so that you can see how concepts relate to one another.

11.  Connect (usually with an arrow) refutations to the original arguments so that the flow of the arguments across the page can be easily discerned

12.  If an argument has been dropped or granted, indicate that on your flow.

13.  Flow as much as you can of what is said.  Flow items in this prioritized order:

·         tag line of argument

·         key component of the evidence (e.g. – a statistic)

·         date of the evidence [This allows you to determine if the evidence is outdated]

·         name of the person being quoted [Advance debaters will have sources files that indict the credibility of many of the commonly used sources on a topic]

·         qualifications of the person being quoted

·         name of the publication

·         synopsis of the evidence [Quite often you will find that the actual evidence does not match/support the tag line]

Here is an example of how you might flow a contention in a debate round

Flowing is one of the essential, entry-level skills for debate.  It is a skill that can only be developed with lots of practice.