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What Is the Oxford-Style Debate Format?

IQ2US Staff
Thursday, January 10, 2019

The Oxford-style debate format involves a debate on a predetermined statement – also called a “motion” – from two opposing perspectives. The two sides either argue “for” or “against” the motion within a formalized structure.

The Intelligence Squared U.S. debate series favors the Oxford-style format because both sides have an equal opportunity to share their arguments and opinions. This promotes intellectual diversity and curates thought-provoking discussions that inform, and sometimes sway, the audience.

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Debate 101: The Oxford-Style Way

The Oxford-style format is broken down into four sections: opening remarks, an intra-panel discussion, a question-and-answer period, and closing remarks. Before the debate begins, the moderator shares the motion and each audience member casts their vote. The voting breakdown is not shared publicly until the end of the debate. Below is a breakdown of the Oxford-style debate format.

  • Opening Remarks: After the initial vote, the debaters present their opening remarks one at a time. Representatives from each side alternate sharing their points. These statements are typically prepared ahead of time and don’t involve a rebuttal period, though debaters can address the other side’s argument in their remarks.
  • Intra-Panel Discussion: Following opening remarks, the debaters engage with one another directly. The discussion is guided by arguments from opening statements and questions from the moderator.
  • Question-and-Answer Period: During this portion of the debate, audience members have the opportunity to ask the debaters questions regarding the motion. Audience members typically use this time to gain further clarification on each side’s arguments.
  • Closing Remarks: Following the question-and-answer section, the debaters deliver separate 2-minute closing arguments. This an opportunity to reiterate their points, sell their argument, and persuade the audience to vote for their side.

Once both sides have shared their closing arguments, the audience places their final vote. The greater percentage change between the first and second votes determines the debate winner. 

Voter Trends

During an Oxford-style debate, Intelligence Squared U.S. tracks voting trends for both the live and online audiences, providing valuable data and insight into voter trends. For instance, in a recent IQ2 debate titled “Globalization Has Undermined America’s Working Class,” electronic voting indicated 45 percent of the live audience was against the motion before the debate. After hearing from both sides, that number jumped to 61 percent, indicating the “against” team won the live audience with a majority vote, and signifying 16 percent of the audience changed their minds from their initial vote.

Intelligence Squared U.S. provides a forum for balanced discussion grounded in facts and informed by reasoned analysis. Our diverse debate topics cover important community issues to foster healthy debate. Learn more about becoming an IQ2US member to access new content, VIP tickets to our debates, and invitations to post-debate receptions with host John Donvan, the debaters, and esteemed members of the Intelligence Squared community. Our diverse debate topics cover important community issues to foster healthy debate. Check out IQ2's top debates of 2018.

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