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Judging Paradigms: The Ultimate Guide

Updated: Aug 26, 2022

Everything you ever wanted to know about unlocking the secret to pleasing your judge.

Parli varies greatly from place to place, making it impossible for debaters to guess what their judge likes.

This resource is intended to help debaters understand everything about judging paradigms, helping to bring some rhyme and reason to this highly stylized world.

What is a Paradigm?

A judging paradigm is a description of what a judge looks for in a round. For example, a judge could say, "I really like impact calc, so spend a lot of time on it during rebuttal speeches." A judging paradigm can also contain stylistic preferences, like "I don't do off-time roadmaps, so time everything." Finally, paradigms are great for figuring out how experienced your judges are. Sometimes, judges explicitly tell you, ie. "I know nothing about parli," or may give hints, such as piles of jargon in their paradigm.

Paradigm Breakdowns

Interpreting a Paradigm

Asking for a Paradigm


Paradigm Breakdowns

There is no one structure for judging paradigms. However, they do follow certain patterns, such as the topics that are covered. Remember, these are the judge's preferences, so make sure to at least skim it before the round.

When conducting a breakdown of a paradigm, let's first look at the long, written form housed on Tabroom common in online tournaments. These are typically written by experienced judges who have very specific preferences. The most common topics are:

  • Offtime roadmaps

  • Evidence

  • Impact calculus

  • Definitions debates

  • "tabula rasa" judging and decision-related info

  • Theory

  • Jargon

  • Formal interruptions

  • Spread

These paradigms can be extremely long (I've seen one with an FAQs section!), exhaustive, and helpful to experienced debaters who engage in certain specific practices. While not always jargon-filled, long paradigms might intimidate newer debaters. If you ever don't understand something (ie. Kritik? Is that even in English?), then a solid default is to argue cleanly, follow the parts of the paradigm that you understand, and not try anything funny.

Another type of written paradigm is shorter and less specific. These tend to be written by less experienced judges. They cover topics such as respecting other debaters and speaking speed, and are easier for novices to understand.

Meanwhile, verbal paradigms, most often seen at in-person tournaments, are an entirely different world. They are typically much shorter than long written paradigms, even from highly experienced judges, with the expectation that debaters will ask specific questions afterwards. For example, they may highlight the most important element of their paradigm ("I love impact calc") and answer a question afterwards ("I don't mind off-time roadmaps.")

Finally, completely new judges will most likely not have a written or verbal paradigm. In fact, if you ask them for a paradigm, they might just give you an odd look.

What then? Well, let's take a look at how to interpret paradigms and use them during a debate.

Interpreting a Paradigm

First, long written paradigms: how to sift through all that material? If there's not enough time to read the whole thing word-for-word, try and get a feel for their opinions on some common topics. Do they like definitions debates? POIs? Heckling? It is also a good idea to understand how they feel about evidence. Some judges prefer solid explanations to statistics, while some demand sources.

Another commonly-discussed topic is theory. Theory, or progressive debate, is an argument against an element of the debate itself, such as the resolution or an opponent's presentation of information. Some love kritiks and other theory arguments while some hate it, so it is always best to proceed with caution unless specifically condoned. Certainly refrain from theory when working with an inexperienced judge!

Finally, long paradigms tend to have information regarding how judges make their decisions, such as "I consider definitions debates a priori." Some judges are tabula rasa, which means they act as though they know nothing about a topic except for what is brought up in a debate. Others say they will make connections themselves or research something they do not know. Presumption is another key issue, with "presumption judges" factoring this power into the decision. Verbal paradigms are much easier to manage since they allow for question-and-answer sessions, so any unclear elements can be clarified.

When you see or hear a lengthy paradigm, it typically indicates a very experienced (and potentially picky) judge. Follow their paradigms as much as possible, even if that means closing up potential avenues.

Meanwhile, shorter written paradigms may indicate less-experienced judges. These are no less valuable, however, since the few instructions are very important. It's also helpful to consider the implicit requests in a simple paradigm. Why run theory or use lots of jargon with a judge who can't understand? In general, a good rule of thumb is to debate in an understandable way, regardless of the judge's experience.

Finally, there are the judges that don't know what a paradigm is. That's OK! If this is the case, just follow up by asking if there's anything they would like debaters to know during the round. This usually gets answers such as "speak slowly" or "break everything down." Do follow this advice, since it's important for the judge to follow the round.

Even if you're not explicitly told to, remember to explain everything to inexperienced judges. Often, especially with newer judges, the cleanest team wins.

Asking for a Paradigm

So, how does one even come across a paradigm? Well, most online tournaments have a database of written paradigms for debaters to access. If there is none for a certain judge or you are in person, ask after prep time but before the round starts.

If they have a specific paradigm, great. But if not every question you have is covered, make sure to ask. It's great to prepare a list beforehand.

And that's it!

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