This article was written by our amazing intern Cindy Zhang, one of the best high school debaters in China soon to be studying at Georgetown University. 

Crossfire is one of the most confusing part of Public Forum Debate.

During crossfire, speakers from Team A–which gives the first speech–get to ask the first question. There are three crossfires in a debate: one between the first and the second speaker, second between the third and the fourth speaker and finally between all debaters. Different from other parts of Public Forum Debate, Crossfire has few rules, allowing debaters to question their opponents freely. Despite this freedom, there is a clear line between effective and ineffective crossfire.

let’s look at a few useless kinds of questions.

  1. Expecting your opponents to admit their case is wrong. Your opponents are a mirror image of you, trying to win the debate by proving their side is right. They won’t break down and declare their side to be wrong, and probably won’t admit their arguments are wrong either.

  2. Repeating your arguments. The judges have already heard and flowed everything. It is even worse if you combine mistake one and two by reading a contention and asking your opponents if they agree or not. Keep in mind: crossfire is about getting information from your opponents!

  3. Asking long or vague questions. Long questions, where you spend 30 seconds talking, will annoy your opponents and confuse your judge. Vague questions, such as “Can you clarify your third contention?” lead to unwanted long answers.

Well then. How can we efficiently obtain information during crossfire?

  1. Question the assumptions of an argument, and the unsolidified logic that would fall apart as those assumptions collapse.
    Your opponents’ assumptions may be false, and some crossfire questions can test them.
    One simple example from the debate book Speak Up!: When your opponent states that chocolate ice cream is the best food because it makes people happy, there are multiple underlying assumptions:
    People all like chocolate.
    People all like ice cream
    People always like iced food, no matter the conditions
    People can all eat dairy products, and they can all eat animal products (think of lactose intolerance and vegetarians.)
    Are these assumptions all true? Obviously not. Similarly, when facing an argument about a debate topic, you can start with the assumed statements that lie beneath.

  1. Question the evidence
    Talking about questioning evidence, you may only think of verifying the source. Of course, reports from New York Timesand National Inquirer are definitely not on the same level of credibility. However, source is only one aspect of evidences. You can also start from these following points.

    1. Question the methodology. Here’s another example from Speak Up!
      According to CBS, a poll conducted by phone shows that 65% of Americans support US intervention into Iraq to combat ISIS. However, phone users are mostly young and middle-aged. The result doesn’t represent what American people generally think.

    2. Question the significance
      Let’s take our poll question earlier. Even if 65% of American people believes intervening into Iraq to combat ISIS is justified, so what? Should we listen to the majority of people if they are wrong?

Other than the two points above, we can also compare both sides’ evidences, use your own evidence to attack their arguments, or question their understanding of the source.

  1. Use a metaphor. 
    “Military actions aimed at overthrowing an authoritarian government is like a doctor taking removing a patient’s throat to treat a cough.”

Those are the things you need to know about crossfire. Remember, crossfire is not another speech and it’s not the time for a screaming battle. Asking questions, gathering information, and turning them into arguments favoring your side–these are what crossfire is all about.

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