A STUDY OF STOCK ISSUES, JUDGING CRITERIA,
AND DECISIONS IN DEBATE
James C. McCroskey and Leon R. Camp
The need for research has been a repeated concern of teachers of speech
since the founding of the Speech Association of America a half-century
ago. One segment of the field of speech, academic debating, was the subject
of relatively few studies until recent years. During the past decade several
studies have been reported concerning judging and stock issues in debate.
The purposes of the study reported below were to replicate portions of
several of these studies and to consider some questions not considered
in previously reported research. Specifically, this study was designed
to shed some light on the following questions:
1. Which stock issues tend to be the most important in judges' and debaters' minds?
2. During which speech does the most important issue tend to become evident?
3. Do partners tend to agree on the major stock issues in their debates?
4. Do winning debaters tend to recognize the most important stock issue more often than losing debaters?
5. What factors contribute to a debater's ability to recognize the most important stock issue in a debate?
6. Can debaters render objective decisions in the debates in which they are participants?
7. Is there a relationship between debater and judge agreement on stock issues and decisions?
8. What is the relative importance of selected criteria in arriving at decisions in debates?
9. Does the judge's bias on the topic enter into his decision?
The data for this study were obtained by three questionnaires submitted
to judges and debaters at the annual Southern Speech Association Tournament
in Houston, Texas, April 8-10, 1964.1 Each judge was asked to
complete Judges Form I at the completion of rounds 3, 4, 5, and 6 in the
college division and at the completion of rounds 3 and 4 in the high school
division. On this form the judge was asked to indicate the decision in
the debate, his personal opinion on the topic, what stock issue he considered
to be the most important in the debate, and during which speech the issue
became apparent to him. The stock issues the judge was asked to consider
were as follows:
1. Need (Is there a problem in existence which is serious enough to require action to alleviate it?)
2. Inherency (Is the cause of the problem an intrinsic part of the present system, or can it be overcome with minor modification?)
3. Plan (Would the action suggested by the affirmative overcome the problem?)
4. Practicality (Is it reasonable to assume that the affirmative proposal could be implemented?)
5. Desirability (Would the adoption of the affirmative proposal be advantageous or disadvantageous to society?)
6. Counterplan (Is a substitute proposal suggested by the negative a
better solution to the problem than the affirmative plan?)
Each judge was asked to complete Judges Form II once during the tournament. On this form he was asked to rank from one to seven various criteria for judging debate. Space was provided for adding criteria not listed on the questionnaire. In addition, the judge was asked to indicate his occupation.
Debaters were asked to complete a questionnaire similar to Judges Form
I at the completion of rounds 3, 4, 5, and 6 in the college division and
at the completion of rounds 3 and 4 in the high school division. On this
form he was asked to indicate what he considered to be the most important
stock issue in the debate, who he thought won the debate, which side he
had debated, his high school debate experience, his college debate experience,
and whether he had a course in argumentation and/or debate.
Table 1 reports the percentage of debates in which each issue was considered
most important by judges and debaters in each division of the tournament.
The need issue was considered most important in a majority of the debaters
by both judges and debaters in both divisions. Inherency was the second
most important issue in the college division; plan ranked second in the
Relative Importance of Stock Issues in Debate
|High School Division||
|High School Division||
division. The findings of a similar study by Giffin and Megill were
in general agreement on the importance of the need issue.2 There
was a marked difference, however, on the importance of other issues. Their
findings were as follows:
On the basis of these studies it is clear that the need issue is considered the most important by judges and debaters, while the counterplan issue rarely assumes importance. To determine the importance of the other issues further research will be needed.
Giffin and Megill found that the most important stock issue in the debate
was determined by the judge frequently in either the first or second negative
speech. As indicated in Table II, no such trend was found in this study.
Similarly, no issue was found to be recognized substantially more often
in one speech than another.
Speech in Which Judge Determined Major Issue
|College Division||High School Division||
|First Affirmative Constructive||18.8%||21.9%||19.8%|
|First Negative Constructive||31.2||15.6||26.0|
|Second Affirmative Constructive||25.0||28.1||26.0|
|Second Negative Constructive||18.8||21.9||19.8|
|First Negative Rebuttal||6.2||12.5||8.4|
|First Affirmative Rebuttal||0.0||0.0||0.0|
|Second Negative Rebuttal||0.0||0.0||0.0|
|Second Affirmative Rebuttal||0.0||0.0||0.0|
In 21.7% of the debates in the tournament considered by Giffin and Megill, judges did not determine the major stock issue until the last three rebuttal speeches. In the tournament studied by the writers, no judge found it necessary to wait until this point to determine the most important stock issue.
One item of information that was gleaned from these data could prove helpful for debaters. The debater during whose speech the judge determined the major stock issue tended eventually to win the decision. Specifically, this was the case in 55 of the 88 debates from which completed questionnaires were available. The probability that this could occur by chance is .10 > p > .05. While this is not a high level of significance, it does tend to indicate that there may be a relationship between the judge's point of determination of the major issue and who will win the debate. The debater would be wise to take this possibility into account.
Table III reports the degree of agreement between partners on the most
important stock issue in the debate. The possibility of the indicated proportion
of agreement to disagreement occurring due
Agreement on Stock Issues by Partners
|High School Division||
|Teams Agreeing on Issue||88||43||131|
|Teams Disagreeing on Issue||31||20||51|
to chance is less than 1% for the college division and less than 5% for the high school division. This is an encouraging sign, for if partners can not agree on the major issue the likelihood of their working together as a team is greatly diminished.
The importance of teamwork is indicated by examining the debates in which partners on one team agreed with each other on the major stock issue while partners on the opposing team were in
disagreement with each other. Of the fifteen debates in which this occurred, the partners that agreed with each other on the major stock issue won fourteen. This strongly indicates that partner agreement is a significant factor in successful debating.
Because the ability to recognize the major stock issue in the debate
should indicate ability in analysis, it would seem reasonable to assume
that those debaters who recognize the major stock issue should tend to
win more debates than those who do not. Table IV reports the data concerning
this question. It appears that there is a trend in the hypothesized direction,
but it is not statistically significant. A need for further research with
a larger sample would seem to be indicated.
Agreement with Judge on Stock Issue and Ability to Win Debate
|Debater Won||Debater Lost||Total|
|Debater Agreed with Judge||90||82||172|
|Debater Disagreed with Judge||64||70||134|
From the above discussion we may conclude that it is far more important for debaters to agree with their partners on the major issue than it is for them to agree with the judge. Such agreement, however, should not be considered a guarantee for winning debates. In 38% of the college debates and 37% of the high school debates all four debaters agreed upon the most important issue. Obviously, half of these teams lost.
Noting the fact that more debaters agreed with the judge on the major
issue in the debate than disagreed, the writers tried to determined what
factors contributed to this result. Tables V and VI report the findings
on two of these factors. It is readily apparent from Table V that experience
was not a significant factor in improving the student's ability to pick
out the major stock issue. In fact, the only difference that approaches
significance is between debaters who had high school and college experience,
and those who had college experience only. The significance of the difference
is .10 > p > .05 in favor of those debaters who had only college
experience. This would tend to indicate that not only does high school
experience fail to help the college debater determine the major
stock issue, it may even be harmful.
Experience of Debater and Ability to Pick Out Major Stock Issue
|High School and College||College Only|
|Agree on Issue||69||51|
|Disagree on Issue||73||33|
College 1 Year
|College More than 1 Year||
High School 1 Year
|High School More than 1 Year|
If recognition of stock issues is as important to successful debating
as writers of many textbooks infer (and as the writers of this paper believe),
this area should receive considerable attention in argumentation and debate
courses. The data reported in Table VI indicate that course work in argumentation
and debate did not improve the debaters ability to recognize the major
stock issue. In fact, those debaters who had no course work did slightly
better than their friends who had such course work. Perhaps this suggests
that instructors should re-examine the treatment of stock issues in their
Course Work in Argumentation and Ability to Determine Major
|Had Course||No Course||Total|
|Agree on Issue||90||90||180|
|Disagree on Issue||74||67||141|
Some writers have suggested that debaters could adequately judge themselves.
Two previously reported studies indicate that debaters' judgment corresponds
quite closely with critics' judgment on ratings and rankings.3
A study reported by King and Clevenger indicates that the reverse is true
with decisions.4 Our findings, as reported in Table VII, agree
with the latter. Only 29 of 284 debaters believed they had lost. Thus,
if the students had been judging the debates in this tournament, 89.4%
would have awarded themselves the decision. It can be reasonably
concluded that debaters tend to over-estimate their ability. Very few debaters
are able to recognize that they have lost a debate.
The Relationship Between Debaters' Decisions and Judges' Decisions
Those debaters who recognized they had lost the debate were mostly in the college division. Table VIII indicates there was a strong relationship between the debater's ability to determine the major stock issue and his ability to agree with the judge on the decision. The probability that this apparent relationship could occur by chance is .05 > p > .02. Thus, the ability to determine the major stock issue will help a debater to decide whether or not he won the debate, even if it won't help him alter the decision.
In 1959 Giffin reported a study of criteria employed by 34 debate judges
at the "Heart of America" tournament.5 Giffin suggested
seven criteria and asked the judges to "allot numerical portions"
of the ratings they gave each team to these criteria. Using the same criteria,
the present writers asked the 63 judges at the Southern Speech Association
tournament to rank these criteria from one to seven on the basis of their
importance in reaching decisions. Table IX reports the rankings
Agreement on Issues and Decisions: College Division
Agreement on Issues
of the three divisions of judges, the total group and Giffin's findings
translated into rank order. The ranking reported in Table IX is based on
the mean rank of each group. It should be noted that this procedure is
statistically questionable. However, ranks based upon median and modal
ranks are almost identical with those reported. It can, therefore, be assumed
that the mean rank procedure has not distorted the opinions of the judges
Relative Importance of Criteria in Arriving at Decisions in
(N = 21)
|High School Coaches (N = 21)||
(N = 21)
(N = 63)
(N = 34)
|Case--selection of logically defensible arguments||
|Analysis--ability to analyze the topic-area||
|Organization--ability to organize ideas into a structured whole||
|Evidence--support of argument with information||
|Refutation--perception of irrelevant or irrational arguments||
|Language--phrasing of concepts clearly and concisely||
|Delivery--ability to speak well||7||7||5||7||5|
Several observations based upon these data are noteworthy. The college and high school judges were in complete agreement on all items. The concern sometimes expressed by college coaches regarding the "competence" of high school coaches to judge college debaters seems completely unfounded, unless the college coaches also wish to question their own competence. However, the "other" category showed substantial disagreement on the criteria for judging debate.6 Although these findings conflict with those of a study reported by Roever and Giffin,7 some support is provided by this study for those who would bar such individuals from judging in tournaments. Decisions from this group could be expected to vary considerably from those rendered by the coaches.
These findings also seem to indicate a need for a change in ballot construction. Since most standard tournament ballots include delivery as one of five criteria for ratings, it is significant that the coach-judges in this tournament considered delivery the least important judging criterion. (The median rank was 7 as the modal rank.) Since usually only five criteria appear on ballots, it would seem reasonably to omit delivery from ballots altogether.
The final problem considered in this study was judges' bias and its
relation to decisions. A study reported by Scott indicated that judges'
bias on the topic had no effect on their decisions.8 In an attempt
to replicate this study, the writers asked each judge to indicate his personal
belief on the topic and the decision he rendered in the debate just completed
on Judges Form I each round. No reliable conclusions can be drawn from
the data obtained. Twenty-one judges voted with their bias; twenty-five
voted contrary to their bias. Most significantly, however, over half of
the judges, fifty-two, refused to express an opinion. One might speculate
that these people were voting with their bias and didn't want to admit
it, even though the questionnaire was anonymous. It is not known whether
Scott was faced with this problem. He did not report the percentage of
judges who refused to state their opinion on the topic. Thus, the question
of judges' bias entering into decisions remains unanswered.
While not all of the questions for which this study was designed have
been answered by it, and while any conclusions must be qualified to the
extent that this study included only one tournament on two debate topics,
some tentative conclusions are in order:
1. The need issue is considered by both judges and debaters to be the most important issue in the majority of debates. The counterplan issue rarely assumes importance.
2. The judge usually determines the most important issue in the debate during the constructive speeches.
3. The debater during whose speech the judge determines the major issue in the debate tends eventually to win the decision.
4. Partner agreement on stock issues is a significant factor in successful debating.
5. There is a slight tendency for debaters who agree with the judge on the major stock issue to win more often than those who disagree.
6. Experience has little or no positive effect on debaters' ability to determine the major stock issue in a debate.
7. High school debate experience may be detrimental to college debaters' ability to determine the major stock issue in a debate.
8. Course work is argumentation and/or debate has no effect on debaters' ability to determine the major stock issue in debate.
9. Debaters cannot render objective decisions in the debates in which they are participants.
10. The ability to determine the major stock issue in a debate will help a debater to decide whether or not he won the debate.
11. High school and college coaches are in agreement on the relative importance of criteria in arriving at decisions in debate.
12. Non-coaches are in substantial disagreement with coaches on the relative importance of criteria in arriving at decisions in debate.
13. Delivery should not be included as one of the items on debate ballots.
1. The writers would like to express their appreciation to Dr. Gregg Phifer, tournament director, and Dr. William DeMeugeot, director of the high school debate division, for their assistance in securing the data for this study.
2. See Kim Giffin and Kenneth Megill, "Stock Issues in Tournament Debates," Central States Speech Journal, XII (Autumn, 1960), 27-32 or Kim Giffin and Kenneth Megill, "A Study of the Use of Key Issues in Tournament Debates," Gavel, XLIII (Nov., 1960), 67-68. The reader will note that Giffin and Megill did not include "inherency" in their study.
3. Leroy T. Laase, "An Evaluation of the Quality Rating System in Measuring Debate Achievement," Quarterly Journal of Speech, XXVIII (Dec., 1942), 424-430 and Joseph Baccus, "Debaters Judge Each Other, Quarterly Journal of Speech, XXIII (Feb., 1937), 74-80.
4. Thomas King and Theodore Clevenger, Jr., "A Comparison of Debate Results Obtained by Participant and Critic Judging," Southern Speech Journal, XXV (Spring, 1960), 223, 232.
5. Kim Giffin, "A Study of the Criteria Employed by Tournament Debate Judges," Speech Monographs, XXVI (Mar., 1959), 69-71.
6. The "other" category included English teachers, drama teachers, speech students, etc.
7. James Roever and Kim Giffin, "A Study of the Use of Judging Criteria in Tournament Debate," AFA Register, VIII, No. 1 (1960), 12-14.
8. Robert L. Scott, "The Objectivity of Debate Judges," Gavel, XXXVII (Nov., 1954), 14-15.
Click Here To Go Back To PERIODICALS