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How to Flow: A Semi-Complete Guide

One of my favorite illustrations when judging debate rounds is to have both teams show me their flow. In a debate where one team did poorly, they inevitably have bad floor (or just flowed one speech, or “just deleted their flow”, etc).

As a debate coach, one of the most common questions I get is how to flow.

As a debate teacher, one of the most common critiques I have of my students, necessitating an hour-long frustration-filled lecture-and-practice breakdown, is poor flow.

Flow is note-taking in debate.

Competitive debate— as you know, if you know— typically involves 8 speeches, anywhere from 3-8 minutes in length, on technical political matters, with extensive citations from academic papers, sometimes delivered at blazing speeds.

Full debates commonly hash out 4-5 separate arguments (contentions), along with slews of technical add-ons like frameworks and disadvantages. Debaters state their arguments, the opponent rebuts it, and the debaters have to rebut the rebuttal.

If you’re a debater, you’re getting bored. If you’re not, you’re probably still getting bored. My point is: academic debates are complex.

And if you don’t understand this complexity, you’ll lose. And if you do, well, at least you have a shot of winning.

And you can’t understand the complexity. Not by yourself.

But flow can help you to get a handle on it. It can map out what’s happening with the arguments.

And, well, here’s how we do it.

First, you’ll need paper, one for each argument. A4 works. Bigger is good. For Public Forum, use two sheets: one for the Pro case, and one for the Con case. Turn those papers vertical, then fold it in half, twice. You now have 4 columns for each argument.

You’ll need two pens, of two colors. One is your ‘Pro’ pen, one is your ‘Con’ pen.

For the first speeches, flow (or write) all the arguments, in their colors in the first column of the page. For Public Forum, flow the entire first speeches in the first columns of each sheet. ‘Pre-flow’ your own 1st speech to save time. Here's what it'll look like:

Then, flow rebuttals (or replies) in the second column, in the other color pen. After all, we don’t respond to our own arguments. The rebuttal to the argument should go right next to the argument in question.

Next, the teams rebuild their case by answering the rebuttals. Return to the original color and flow these in the 3rd column— answers to the answers go right next to the answers.

Finally, flow any final collapse, weighing, voting issues or other Final-speech nonsense into the last column. The two final speeches can also be done on a single page for easier comparison.

You should keep your flow brief and simple by using shorthand— write keywords, not full sentences.

Shorthand can either be general, or topic-specific:

Of course, the shorthand isn’t real" shorthand and you can therefore develop your own system— the audience for your flow is you, so if you understand it then it’s good. That’s not an excuse for sloppy flow: if you con’t understand it, then it’s bad. Flow is a crucial and basic skill for debate. Get it down and you’ll be well on your way to becoming a great debater. Does that clear up your confusion? How do you flow? Comment below with your thoughts!

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Miller Broughton
Miller Broughton
Feb 04, 2021

Thanks for this! I never really learned to flow (I had my own method), but I might actually try this at Stan!

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