Framework vs. Contentions

Cases in Lincoln-Douglas have two parts to them: the framework and contention(s). This article discusses the difference between the two components of a case.

Note that this is primarily relevant to Lincoln-Douglas debate. Both Policy and Public Forum debate presume a consequentialist decision calculus for the most part, and they often will not have a framework component to a case at all.


This is the part of the case that is the core argument about the topic. Here, debaters will make arguments in support of their side of the resolution. For example, if the topic is about a living wage, the contention for the Aff side would be cards and analytics about why a living wage is a good idea. Contention research will be topic-specific, as a result. You’ll search to find support for your arguments that make up the core of your case.

Many debaters often wonder how many contentions they should read. The answer is that it depends. The benefit of more contentions is that it gives you a diversified set of arguments and gives you more options for later speeches. However, fewer contentions can allow you to have a greater degree of depth and development, making each argument stronger.

Generally speaking, 2 contentions is a good balance. Some think that 1 is too few and 3 is too many, but some debaters are successful with those approaches. 4 or more is always too many.


Framework is the way of “framing” or evaluating the contentions. It’s often challenging to evaluate the contention debate without some method of evaluation, especially in Lincoln-Douglas (which does not presume consequentialism, unlike Policy or Public Forum).

The framework debate is about how we evaluate impacts/arguments. In a sense, this is a philosophy debate – what impacts are most important to us? What makes an action “good” or “ethical”?

A typical framework will contain a “value” and a “value criterion.” The value is the ultimate ethical objective that the debater thinks ought to be attained in this round. Everything in the round should build towards this abstract, overarching goal. Common values are broad, such as “justice,” “morality,” “liberty,” etc.

The value criterion is a more specific way to evaluate or access the value. This will be a means for the debater to evaluate who better achieved the value. For example, if the value is morality, a debater may use a value criterion of utilitarianism to argue that utilitarianism is the most moral ethical system.

Bolstering the value and value criterion will be analytics or evidence in support of the debater’s ethical theory. So, the aforementioned value criterion of utilitarianism might be bolstered by cards about why utilitarianism is a strong ethical theory to adopt.