Formal debate rules & guidelines

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Re: Formal debate rules & guidelines

#1  Postby Calilasseia » Jul 21, 2013 10:02 pm


This post is provided to inform potential participants in any debate of the tiresome but necessary bureaucracy that needs to be processed, in order to launch a formal debate on the forum. I'll start by defining the two participants as 'proposer' and 'opposer'.

The proposer has to provide a statement, forming the title of the debate, which consists of [1] a proposition to be debated, and [2] whether or not the proposer plans to establish the proposition to be true or false. A certain amount of diligence in framing this title in advance is a good idea, so that ambiguities are eliminated at source before the debate begins. Whoever chooses to be the opposer should then accept or decline the challenge on the basis of that debate title.

Once we have a proposer and opposer, who have agreed to debate the proposition in question, the next step is to agree upon the mechanics of the debate. These can be summarised as follows:

Step 1: What proposition is being defended/opposed in the debate?
Step 2 : How many posts do the protagonists expect to post as part of the formal debate?
Step 3 : What limitations on post size do the protagonists expect to be in place?
Step 4 : What maximum time period is expected to elapse between posts in the debate?

Step 1 I've already covered in my second introductory paragraph. Steps 2, 3 and 4 are thence to be decided by mutual agreement. It is usual, though not a binding necessity, for both participants to decide that they will adopt the following structure when agreeing upon Step 2:

[1] One post devoted to introductory comments and explanations;
[2] A number of posts forming the substance of the debate thereafter;
[3] One post devoted to closing comments.

If the participants agree to this structure, then they should state explicitly whether or not the total post count they choose to agree upon includes or excludes the opening and closing posts in [1] and [3] above.

Likewise, with respect to Step 3, participants should explicitly state the size of the posts that they consider apposite for the debate, and agree upon this. The usual procedure is to agree upon a maximum word count, though it is understood that this number is merely the central value of a bounding region. For example, if the participants agree upon a post count of 2,000 words for the posts in section [2] of the debate structure above, then it is usually understood that a post count that is between, say, 1,900 and 2,100 words is acceptable in this vein. A boundary of ±5% either side of the declared total is frequently the choice adopted, though again, participants can agree different terms. It is also usual for this word count to cover the participant's own words in the post. Participants should decide in advance whether or not that total includes or excludes quoted material from sources such as scientific papers or academic treatises. References cited are usually excluded from the post count, and it is wise to devote a separately delineated section at the end of a debate post to said references. Likewise, participants may choose to adopt a different word count for opening and closing posts. This should be agreed explicitly in advance.

A good tip for participants is to run their posts through a word processor before submission. Modern word processors include word count features allowing post sizes to be checked. For those participants not possessing one already installed on their computers, a good, serviceable, free word processor can be obtained by downloading OpenOffice, which can be found here. Users of Microsoft Office can take advantage of the word count feature in Microsoft Word: via the Menu, select "Tools -> Word Count". For other word processing software, check your manual or help files. Spelling and grammar checking can be performed at the same time.

Whilst this is not usual practice, participants can choose to agree upon a minimum word count as well, though most debate participants dispense with this step.

With respect to Step 4, participants should agree upon a maximum period of time to elapse between responses. 7 or 14 days are typical values chosen for this. In addition, since a moderator will be asked to provide various support services for the debate, one of those support services includes alerting one participant of extenuating circumstances for an extension. Participants, of course, cannot know in advance if they will be subject to such real-life incidents as road accidents, serious illnesses, bereavements, etc., and so, provision is made through the moderator servicing the debate, for such events to be covered. In the extreme case, death of one of the particpants will result in the debate being declared void. Participants should agree with the servicing moderator upon channels for information relating to the aforementioned to be passed on, so that the debate can be serviced appropriately.

Be adivsed that launching a formal debate involves a considerable long term commitment to that debate thread. If participants agree to a total of 10 posts, with a 7 day period elapsing between responses, then this could commit participants to a total of 140 days' posting in that thread - that's close on five months. For longer debates, the time period extends accordingly, and a debate involving 20 posts by each participant could theoretically extend the debate to nearly a year. Participants that are sufficiently passionately committed to the debate topic may not find this particularly onerous, but potential debate participants are hereby advised that debates are long term projects, and should not commit themselves to this unless they are genuinely willing to exhibit the endurance required.

Once participants have agreed upon the above steps, this is the moment when a moderator should be contacted to launch the debate thread on their behalf, post relevant notices of the debate taking place, and provide other housekeeping functions in the debate thread. Moderators have their own separate "how to" manual for the occasion.

One final point, before the launch of the debate itself, that I stress with particular importance here, is this: the full set of rules of the Forum Users' Agreement are still in force within the debate thread. In particular, particpants are reminded that provisions agains plagiarism and other serious offences are enforced with more than usual vigour within debate threads. Particpants are therefore strongly advised to avoid undue personalisations, ad hominem attacks, and other similar offences, not least because posts in a debate thread require moderator acceptance before being posted, and will be surveyed for violations prior to the decision being made to accept or reject the post.

Now that this is covered, it remains to deal with the matter of the debate thread itself.

The ONLY individuals permitted to post in the debate thread, are the debate participants, and any moderators intervening within said thread for the usual reasons. ALL other posts by other individuals will be rejected.

So that observers of the debate can comment upon proceedings, a separate debate comment thread is launched at the same time as the debate thread itself, a separate thread referred to colloquially as the "Peanut Gallery" thread. Participants in the debate thread proper are forbidden to post in the commentary thread for the duration of the debate itself. The commentary thread will also be the venue for posting of notifications about unfortunate events befalling any of the participants, and again, this will be performed by the moderator servicing the debate. Observers posting in the commentary thread are again reminded that the full set of rules of the Forum Users' Agreement are still in force within that commentary thread.

Once the participants have agreed to conduct the debate, and a moderator has offered to service the debate, the opening post in the debate thread will consist of a moderator announcement, detailing the nature of the debate and the terms. An example of this can be viewed here, though exact style may vary, depending upon which staff member has volunteered to service the debate.

It simply remains to wish all future debate participants, a fruitful and educational venture into the world of formal debates.
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