For Prospective Members

What does HSPDS do?

Our primary activity is to compete successfully on APDA, the American Parliamentary Debate Association. The (entirely student-run) circuit is comprised primarily of schools along the East Coast (plus a few more distant institutions like U. Chicago, U. Minnesota, and Stanford), and we send debaters to away tournaments all across the region almost every weekend (see the Fall Tournament Schedule handout for details) Each tournament takes a Friday and Saturday (tournaments typically begin in the mid-to-late afternoon, so we might leave campus anywhere between 10 AM and 3 PM depending on the distance we need to cover), with three preliminary "inrounds" on Friday, two more on Saturday (for a total of five guaranteed debate rounds for everyone), and then "outrounds" on Saturday afternoon and evening. If you want to take part in the debate, you need to be well prepared and present your ideas well. If you are not familiar with the chosen topic, we advise you to contact useful institutions with the words "write my economics essay". Many tournaments have separate "breaks" for novices, so you'll have a chance to compete in outrounds despite limited experience. Most tournaments “break” to varsity quarterfinals and novice semifinals, although larger tournaments (such as our own) may break to octofinals.

We have also begun to branch out into other debate-related activities on campus. We recently organized a debate between Noam Chomsky and Alan Dershowitz, and we have been working regularly with the Campus Political Society to moderate and participate in debates between on-campus groups. We hope to expand our campus presence, and as new members of the team you will have opportunities to help us do so.

What is parliamentary debate?

American parliamentary debate is a two-on-two debate format; one side is the Government, and the other is the Opposition. The Government's role is to propose a case for the round, which the Opposition must then oppose, without being given any prior knowledge of the topic. The topics themselves are prepared in the form of cases prior to tournaments, and can be about virtually anything that one believes would make for an interesting round--some prior topics include "The average college student should be a vegetarian" and "Trading immunity for harmful scientific research done on civilians: moral or no?"

For any prospective members who debated on the National Forensics League in high school, the format of debate which parliamentary most resembles is that of Public Forum/Ted Turner debate. Argumentation is typically less rigorous than in formats like Lincoln-Douglas and Policy; because no in-depth research is done before rounds (and no preparation is possible for the Opposition), rhetorical persuasiveness and the use of clear, intuitive argumentation are prized.

How do I become a member of HSPDS?

Tournaments on APDA are hosted by its various constituent debate teams (a host school's debaters are responsible for running all aspects of its tournament, including judging, and as such do not participate in their own tournaments). Our tournament in the fall is the largest non-title tournament in the country, and helping us run it is the fall comp. In the spring comp, we have a similar judging requirement for a high school tournament hosted annually at Harvard.

Last Update: October 5, 2008. E-mail us at with any corrections or technical issues.
The Harvard Speech and Parliamentary Debate Society is a registered student organization of Harvard College.