Definitions are an explanation of the topic-a statement of its meaning that should be put forward by the 1st speaker of the affirmative side. Definitions should be simple, broad and reasonable enough for the negative side to accept in almost all circumstances.
Definitions are used differently in Normative and Empirical debates:
In empirical debates, a definition of the topic should be clearly stated by the first speaker of the affirmative team; this will include not just a clearer rephrasing of the topic, but also a yardstick-that is, three of four categories that the affirmative will have to prove to show their side of the topic.
e.g. On the topic, 'That nuclear energy is the future for Australia,' the first affirmative speaker would include not just a definition of renewable energy and future, but also outline three or four categories through which they will try to prove the topic, such as the environmental impacts of nuclear energy, its image in the popular mindset, its power generation and safety concerns-they should be common and reasonable enough for the negative's arguments to fall roughly into these categories. These categories will then be used in each argument and as individual issues in the speeches of both third speakers.
In a normative debate, unless the topic is either worded ambiguously or there are terms which need to be explained, the affirmative can simply give their definition in the form of their model; this will be enough to show their interpretation of the topic and exactly what they are proposing.
In the circumstance that the negative side wishes to make a clarification, adjustment or major change to the definition (or model, if they believe that it does not properly fulfil the topic) put forward by their opposition, this should be put forward at first speaker and a brief explanation of it given, but no more time is necessary. In most cases, if this adjustment is minor, the affirmative's second speaker will accept the definitional change.
However, if the affirmative's second speaker rejects the change, the debate can become a definitional debate-one in which the major clash is over which interpretation of the topic is right. The arguments usually put forward in favour of one definition and against another are:
- The common man view-what this would mean to a normal person in the street.
- The purpose-what you think the topic-setters wanted you to talk about.
- The definition of specific words can bring some insight to the wider meaning.
- If the definition put forward by your opposition is a truism, then that can be easily rejected.
In this case, each speaker needs to take a three-pronged approach to the debate:
- Why their definition is superior, often using the justifications put forward above.
- Why, even under the opposition's definition, their case is not correct-that is, even if you were to accept their definition, the problems in their case.
- Why under your definition, your side is correct.