CNDF Basics 7 - Flowing: How to Take Notes like a Debater
Updated: Apr 14, 2021
By Eli Lu
Good flowing is the prerequisite to good debating. I mean, if you can’t keep track of what your opponents and partner are saying; how are you supposed to be able to respond? Unfortunately, I had to learn this lesson the hard way because I was stubborn, and refused to practice flowing. As a result, I would end up missing important things opponents would say in round because I didn’t hear them while I was writing my refutation.
But! You don’t have to make the same mistakes as I did!
Here’s our guide to flowing in debate.
First off, what is flowing?
Flowing is, in its most basic form, taking notes on what’s being said in the debate as it goes on. In other formats like Public Forum, certain tournaments allow students to flow on a laptop because they need to reference online citations anyways. But in CNDF, chances are: You’re going to have to flow on paper.
Okay, but… how do you flow?
“Why does this need a guide? Don’t you just write notes? How hard can it be?”
You’re free to figure out your own flowing method (actually that’s highly suggested), but this guide is for if you need a place to start, or a few common methods to try out. Everyone’s flowing method is going to be tapered slightly to their own preference, but almost all of them stem from one of these four basic formats.
This one is pretty simple, you use 1-3 pages of paper and go from left to right, drawing columns for each speech so you can see the progression, what’s replied to, what flows clean through (not being refuted by the opposing team), and what’s already been taken down.
Similar to the linear method, except you start on both ends (you may need a pretty wide piece of paper, I usually use a legal pad and write really small if using this method). Government first speech goes on the very left. Opposition first speech on the right, but any refutation to the government first speech goes next to the gov first speech column. Then, gov refutation goes next to opp first speech column. Reconstruction (defending against refutation) from the gov team also goes in the next column on the left. Opposite with opp team reconstruction. You continue like this until the summary speeches.
The benefit of this method is you can clearly see all the responses and reconstructions to every argument and just exactly how both teams are interacting during the debate. It also helps out the summary speaker in that they can clearly see what is standing strongest on the flow, and what they should weigh on.
Turn the paper to portrait, and draw a line directly down the middle. Gov on one side, opp on the other.
On one sheet of paper, flow the government contentions and all the refutation to it, then the reconstruction, etc. etc.
On the other sheet of paper, flow the opposition contentions and all the refutation to it, then the reconstruction, etc. ect.
Continue this way until the end of the debate: You’ll most likely need multiple sheets of paper.
Write your opponents speeches all on one page, however you like. Then write out your speech, including all your refutation and reconstruction on a different page (ideally with quick summaries of what your opponents’ contentions were next to them so you know what you’re addressing).
For most debaters using this method, they make sure to only take up the sheet of paper of their speech, instead of their flow. That way, they aren’t confused by what they’re supposed to talk about, and are able to focus better. Though, I’d only suggest this method if you’re a quick writer because it’ll take you longer to write an additional summary of your opponents contention on a separate sheet of paper than if you just brought up your flow and improvised accordingly.
Also, this format doesn’t quite show the progression of the debate and how the two sides interact well.
What do I flow?
Flowing is tricky, because you both have to catch everything your opponents are saying, but you also have to prove why they’re wrong at the very same time. It’ll take quite a bit of practice before you can put everything together smoothly and quickly, but really, that’s all you need: Practice.
But if you want to maximize flowing efficiency at the expense of specific notes, you can choose to only flow these three key things in every argument.
What’s the problem they’re trying to solve? What’s the image of the status quo or gov world they’re trying to paint? Or the principle they’re applying to this debate?
2. Mechanism (Link)
How do they solve that problem or avoid it? Or help that principle?
Why is solving or avoiding that problem important? Why is helping that principle important?
And that’s about all the advice I have on flowing! Good luck and I hope your handwriting is neater than mine! Don't hesitate to contact us at email@example.com or @EqualProposition on Instagram for any questions.
Briana Lu is a co-founder of Equal Proposition.