In light of recent cross-examination exchanges getting out of hand just a little bit, I thought a bit of a write-up on what should happen during a normal cross-examination in a debate. Some styles of debating might have different rules on cross-examination - if you're debating in one of those styles by agreement with your opponent, you may want to check out their rules.
Don't call out your opponent. Personal attacks do not cease to become problematic in cross-examination. If your opponent is breaking rules or doing something they shouldn't be, it will almost certainly be obvious to the judges. It's not your role as a debater to determine that kind of thing and will only get you penalized at best.
Stick to questions and answers. You shouldn't really be making statements, only questions and answers. In general, you shouldn't make new arguments too, either in questions or answers. Sometimes you can get away with it in response to a question if your opponent really presses you, and even there you should save the bulk of it for your round.
There may be a few exceptions to this, as allowed by your opponent - a common one is if you don't want to ask a question off the bat, it's legitimate just to post something blank at the start of the CX so that you get a notification when your opponent posts. Most opponents will also allow you to correct a previous answer if you've made an accidental mistake or such (for example, a grammar issue that changes the meaning of what you posted). If you're not sure, check with your opponent. Usually they'll be cool about it.
Avoid asking too many questions at once. If you're asking more than about 3 questions at once, consider asking fewer, more direct questions instead. You might want to drop some issues to focus on others. While a scatter-gun, gish-gallop kind of strategy might be applicable in a few debate rounds, abusing the fact that there's no effective post limit in the cross-examination box is problematic.
Try not to post a question while you still have questions that need answering. It goes without saying that cross-examination is not a one-way street - both sides have to have roughly equal opportunity to ask a question. Additionally, adhering to this guidelines makes the debate much easier to read for judges.
A small amount of leeway needs to be allowed here. Messages in the cross-examination box can get posted quickly during heated exchanges and sometimes members will legitimately accidentally ask in the wrong order or miss a question. Still, each time you ask a question, it is a good idea to review some of the previous posts slowly to ensure you don't have any questions still being asked of you.
Once you have an answer, give your opponent some time to ask a question. It's only fair. Even if your opponent's answer is really vague and you only want to ask for more clarification or something, it's good sportsmanship to just leave at least (roughly) five minutes or so to enable your opponent to post something else if they feel it is needed. In many ways this goes hand in hand with the previous guideline.
Avoid leading questions (and other fallacies). You may answer a question however you want, so if your question is laden with assumptions or is designed to give a false impression, then you shouldn't be surprised if your opponent tries to explain that your question is unfair. The best questions are usually open ended.
Other common question issues include:
- Double negatives - avoid these in structure generally but specifically in your cross-examination. Actually avoiding negatives in general probably makes things the easiest.
- Poor phrasing of the question (so it doesn't literally say what you intend it to ask).
- A question which forces a response that is too long to make in a cross-examination post, such as asking for a large number of quite specific details.
- Questions that are immaterial to the debate, for example asking for the debater's personal views on the matter.
- Demanding specific answers (such as "yes" or "no"). Answerers have no obligation to comply and this generally appears aggressive.
Semi-important note: the exact rules on this one will vary a LOT by style. A small number of CX guides actually encourage the asking of leading questions, for example. It is relatively risky to do so though, and there's no harm in avoiding it given the broad field of judges debaters on edeb8 will typically have to appeal to.
Avoid answering the question with another question. Try to give a meaningful answer to each question you are given. Answering questions with questions undermines the whole point of cross-examination - while you are going "back and forth" (unlike in BP-style POIs), it's not supposed to be a conversation.
This being said, there's nothing wrong with the answer and the question being in the same post, provided that it's clear that the question is not also the answer. A legitimate example of this might be "I don't understand your question. Can you please rephrase it for me?".
Answer shortly and clearly if you can. Some questions may demand longer responses but you should not need to go through every detail of your arguments that supports your answer to a question. Judges will be able to infer that kind of detail and will understand that they won't find much deep analysis in a cross-examination post.
Generally try to maintain a high standard of civility. Cross-examination is not more "informal" than the other parts of the debate, so keep up a high standard when you're doing it.
This is just a broad overview. I've focused on what not to do, but there's a lot of more constructive detail that frankly I don't have the experience to talk about. For more details check out these links:
That concludes everything but I want to finish with a note for judges.
Cross examination is hard! It's not commonly done around the world and it takes a lot of skill to get right. Don't judge people too harshly on these rules. If somebody flagrantly violates them, be sure to put that as feedback for that person and encourage them to keep working on it!
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