Debate team essentials include effective argument outlines

Whether your debate team is on the positive defense or the negative attack of an argument proposition, debate team essentials include a well-structured approach to your argument. Structure is achieved through planning, organization and cohesion of your ideas that will stand up to your opponents’ attacks. Likewise, such structure will be your foundation against the natural stress and pressure of having to present those ideas in a coherent way during the debate.
Debaters need to have an outline and notes ready.

Written outlines are essentially idea cues that keep your argument together in some logical way. Your outline consists of short, pithy notes and, if necessary, supporting detail that underpins the general propositions presented in shorter outline form. Whether you outline on a piece of notepaper or use a computer application like PowerPoint, the out line approach will, as that old aphorism about the purpose of time says, “keep everything from happening at once.”

How to outline

There are several reliable “how-to” guides for outlining. “How to Write an Outline” at is a 9-step approach that covers everything from choosing the topic, determining the larger purpose of the outline, gathering supporting materials, as well as all including the steps that bring everything together.  It may not be necessary for the purposes of your debate or speech to worry much about outline form (I.A.1.a., for example). The important thing is the ordering, cohesion, support, and subordination of your points. An outline, in sum, is brainstorming, grouping of ideas and their supporting elements “writ small.”

Using Microsoft PowerPoint for your outline

Micros oft PowerPoint is a handy resource for getting an outline shaped into an audience-friendly presentation or for just a personal argument outline. PowerPoint works on both Mac and Windows platforms. You can either work “on-the-fly” or key in (or import) an already prepared outline into instant slide presentations.

Here are some steps:

  • Choose the View/Normal option and enter your outline title text. Format your slides so that the text is left-justified. Enter the first slide title as your first main element.
  • Use thekey and then the tab key to position a subordinate item.  PowerPoint’s default format is the traditional outlining numbering beginning with Roman numeral one, followed by a capital A, etc.
  • Use the New Slide command on the Home/Slides tab to add additional slides. When you finish the first draft of your outline, right click inside your outline text to “promote” or “demote” an outline item.

Use the “six-item rule.”

One suggested method for preparing outline items for your slide is to have no more than six items on the slide with no more than six words to each item. This can be challenging, but following this rule forces economy of wording and clarity in presentation. It is also much easier for the speaker and the audience to follow.

Fleshing in the detail

While your outline notes should be short, you can add detail as comments only you can read. In the “Normal” view of the PowerPoint slide there is a window below the slide that says, “Click to add notes.” This area is not projected to your audience and you can add notes or reminders to support any of your six items on the slide.

Having a “hard copy” of your presentation

PowerPoint has an array of printing options. Select File/Print to decide on the range of your slides, whether or not to include your notes, the orientation and color of your handouts, and other options.  Also, in the File/Save and Send menu, export your saved slides and supporting notes to a Microsoft Word document that you can use during the debate or presentation.


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