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How to Write a Topic Proposal Paper for a Debate


Preparation is the key to success in any debate. Prior to the debate, debaters must not only know what their position is, they must also be able to point to evidence that supports their position. They should also be able to anticipate their opponent’s position, as well as how he or she plans to support that position. This preparation forms the basis of a topic proposal paper for a debate.

Establishing Your Definitions

The first section of your proposal paper should clarify key terms related to the debate topic. This section allows you to control the parameters of the debate, and also ensures that you and your opponent can remain focused on the same issue. For example, in a debate over the effectiveness of capital punishment as a deterrent to crime, both debaters must establish and agree upon a definition for the concept of “cruel and unusual” as it relates to punishment types.

Summarizing Your Position

A summary of your position highlights the key questions you think are relevant to the debate topic and also articulates your responses to these questions. This section will include the thesis or argument you are promoting. For example, if you’re debating the merits of standardized testing, you might indicate that the most important question to ask is: Do such tests adequately prepare students for life after school? You could answer in the affirmative or the negative.

Identifying Support

Your position will require evidence to support it. This includes both a theoretical basis for your position and pieces of circumstantial evidence such as statistics and other facts. For example, in debating what should be done about immigration, you might indicate that your position is founded in the social contract theory of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and it examines statistics related to how many recent immigrants have become law-abiding, tax-paying citizens upon entering the country.

Acknowledging Counterpoints

Your position will certainly not be the only position that can be taken on the topic at hand. Acknowledging alternative positions or counterpoints helps you to anticipate how other people might disagree with your position in favor of a different one. For example, if you take a position that advocates for stricter regulation of gun purchasing, your proposal paper should acknowledge positions that maintain that regulating legal gun buying does not affect illegal sales of guns.

About the Author

Samuel Hamilton has been writing since 2002. His work has appeared in “The Penn,” “The Antithesis,” “New Growth Arts Review" and “Deek” magazine. Hamilton holds a Master of Arts in English education from the University of Pittsburgh, and a Master of Arts in composition from the University of Florida.

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