Some Thoughts on Paperless part 1

Here are a bunch of random thoughts I have had about paperless, comments/suggestions etc. from others who are going to make the jump this summer appreciated.

First, some changes I think would be useful for file production for paperless teams after playing around with it this summer

1. Fonts etc.- I was devastated at my job interview when my soon to be boss blasted my beloved Arial narrow. Apparently lots of studies have been done about fonts and reading comprehension/retention and sans serif fonts score poorly. However, there apparently is also a debate about the best fonts for reading on paper vs on a computer screen. Originally I picked AN because of economy- it takes up a tiny amount of space compared to behemoths like TNR and Garishamond. I adjusted the margins, didn’t put unnecessary spaces or indentations etc in my template in order to save space, not to make it the most reader friendly. But now that space/printing cost isn’t a concern I need to rethink a lot of these conventions. What makes things most readable off of laptop screens (usually small, lower resolution) in a debate round is a lot different from what is most readable on the page. Doing a demo debate this summer I realized that the “reading” view in MS word didn’t fit a “real world” page into its virtual page because of the restrictions of my screen etc. which made it much more annoying to use then had the page fit(the “show print page” feature resulted in an awkward font size). This view also made it more difficult to mark cards then traditional “normal” or word 07 “web” view.  I usually highlight electronically in a dark color because they show up better in when printed in black and white, but that made it more difficult to read on a computer then things highlighted in yellow for me. Conclusions

-Georgia may be the best font for paperless debate

-Spaces between tags/cites/cards may make it easier to orient things quickly ( though I am still against this, this is what some kids told me but I haven’t tried it yet). Similarly indenting card text may help

-It’s less important to fit a card on 1 page but more important to make sure if it is broken up over multiple pages that the jump occurs at a logical break- i.e. not mid sentence

2. File organization

Some traditional file organization concepts I think are a hindrance in paperless. “no one card blocks” is something most kids learn at camp- obviously this is a paper saving technique. With paperless I think it is more important to subdivide things as much as possible even if that results in 1 card blocks.  The way I organized the permits aff last year was like this

AT: Energy Prices

AT: Energy Prices- Volatility link

AT: Energy Prices- Permit Speculation link

and so on. So there was some general cards about energy prices, then responses to the specific links so that a specific answer to the negs card could be read. I think the way I would do it now would be to get even more in depth with more sub divisions like

AT: Energy Prices- Volatility Link- Generic

AT: Energy Prices- Volatility Link-Permits reduce volatility-oil prices

AT: Energy Prices- Volatility Link-Permits reduce volatility- predictability

AT: Energy Prices- Volatility Link-Volatility doesn’t affect overall prices

AT: Energy Prices- Volatility Link-Backstops cushion volatility

Now obviously you could still have a “energy prices” 2AC, and a “volatility 2ac” that were pre selected cards. But more organization gives you the option to get more specific if the round calls for it.

Now related to this, I experimented a bit with what would be the best way to organize files. To look at it in the extremes you could have

1. A big permits aff all in one file- this is what I turned out last year, the idea being kids would go through and “sort it out” how they wanted it.

2. A lot of smaller files for particular arguments, so a 20 page “AT: States CP” file, and then a 20 page “AT: Federalism disad” file etc.

Here are the arguments I see for each side. First, big file

-less word docs to open- seems trivial but definitely something to consider- when I did the demo by the 1AR i had like 20 docs open and flipping between them became cumbersome. Also, the time it takes to find and open an additional word doc is not inconsequential. Say it only takes 3 seconds (it takes more), if you do that 100 times a tournament that’s 5 minutes of prep. So having one big aff file with most of your stuff can make things smoother

-easier to update- one thing about paperless is that you can’t just file away updates, when something changes you need to update the file and then redistribute it to everyone. So if you have 1 big aff file and you cut a new card for each of 20 positions, you just update one file. If you have those things in 20 files everyone on the team needs to replace those 20 files with the new one. Things like dropbox make this easier but still can be a pain for the person who needs to alter all the drop box files.

I think these 2 points overwhelmingly convince me large files are superior. Just think about impact defense. If you have a file for each impact for a given tournament you will need to do so much re-arranging just for uniqueness updates that it will become cumbersome. 1 huge 2k page impact defense file may be a pain to put together at first, but will pay dividends later.

One other thing, in big files I think using acronyms is a useful way to organize, so for example if you are going to have a section answering states CP’s, I would make a header for that section that is like ATSCP- that way you can ctrl f that really quickly and get to it. Using whole words sometimes means you will have to stop several times throughout the file in other places where those words occur before getting to the part you want.

The small file

-cumbersome- you can ctrl f inside a big file, but still finding the particular card you need in a 500+ page file is a pain. I think the benefits outweigh this DA but it is still worth noting.

-Real world- breaking it down into smaller files more closely mimics what people do in the real world now and as such I think people are much more comfortable with it as an approach. Huge files just seem unwieldy/not user friendly.

I can’t really see any other args for the smaller file size and would be interested in hearing what other people think about it.

Next, frontlines. The reason we have front lines now is to save time putting stuff together. They said nuclear terrorism, grab the nuclear terror FL and go. So when we prepare a frontline we try and make a list of our best args against nuclear terrorism, rank them in order and we are done. So the list may look like

1. Technical barriers= no nuke terror

2. No motive- don’t want mass casualties

3. Impossible to smuggle into the country

Now what happens usually is the aff has read some evidence that answers or subsumes some of these arguments (if their advantage is written well). So what I think should happen with paperless is that instead of making a frontline that is a mix of your args, each arg should have its own frontline. So, “technical barriers” would have its own block like

1NC Technical barriers

A. Technical barriers prevent nuclear terrorism

So you read A if the aff ev says nothing about technical barriers. But let’s say the aff read a card that is like “Russian scientists will assist terrorists”. Well usually the neg just reads A anyway cause it’s in their frontline. Then maybe (probably not) in the block they will read an answer to the aff arg proving there are no barriers. I think the frontline should follow (A) with sort of a escalating level of cards that answer common aff args, so it would be like

B. Technical barriers include bomb making and fissile material acquisition

So ok, the aff said russian scientists would help them build it. Instead of reading a card “it’s hard to build a bomb” move on to B and read a better more detailed card about technical barriers. So instead of organizing by “quality” of evidence, organize by complexity of argument- so if the aff read a short stupid adv with no warrants, respond with a shorter less warranted card. if they read a longer more detailed adv, get rid of your short crappy cards and read an in depth one. “good ” and “bad” are I think less useful as categories because you should never have “bad”evidence anymore. So much is out there freely available that there are no excuses.  Usually debates develop poorly because teams read blocks and don’t engage the other sides warrants. So paperless to me seems like a good time to try and push for a paradigm shift here. The reasons we have used the traditional frontline structure are to save time and paper, going paperless eliminates these factors.

This is similar for 2AC blocks. Every time a student at camp or during the year sends me a 2AC block with numbers I immediately try and dissuade them from having this sort of formulaic approach. Debaters should start preparing blocks that are more modular. So to answer the states CP you shouldn’t have 1 block, you should have many argument modules that you can pick from based on the evidence/arguments read by the other side. The benefits to this are

-better /more responsive 2AC

-harder to scout/prepare to debate you

-argument flexibility


Since you are constructing a 2AC block in every debate in the same manner as you used to construct them before tournaments you can also just save them so if you debate the same team/strategy again you have it all ready.

3. Tech

I’m not sold on the paperless template that uses the speech.doc being better then ctrl c+ctrlv, and in fact in my experience its much slower/more cumbersome. Now granted, I have award winning cut and paste skills- but even for the less word hot key nimble of you out there I just don’t see how this process is less time consuming. Here is what I did when I debated paperless:

1. As off case args were read, I made a header for each one on a new sheet

2. After making header, i alt+tab back to aff file, found cards, ctrl c, alt tab, looked for header, ctrl v

After doing this, I had very little need to move things around within the new document. This seemed much simpler than the speech.doc route to me anyway. I guess the big adv of speech.doc is if you are sending things from a million docs and have way to many word docs open for easy alt tabing. But I also flowed on the computer and had a timer on the computer so being an alt tab ninja was a requirement from the get go.

Also, this paperless debate thing seems to me to make a mouse with extra programmable buttons a necessity. Esp with speech.doc where there are a million macros, more buttons makes the process a lot easier to do quickly.

Another random note, the way laptops seem to be moving is toward widescreen displays. It seems to me that we should change our files from “portrait” to “landscape” to avoid losing a lot of screen real estate/fit more on one page/make it easier to read things- particularly with long cards.

3 thoughts on “Some Thoughts on Paperless part 1

  1. Bill Batterman

    This is fantastic, Scott. I have long thought that many of the things we do with regard to electronic file production is an unthinking artifact of the way we used to do things with pen, scissors-and-tape, and paper. I’ve been teaching students to write modular blocks for several years, for example, because I think the old “2AC Block” model results in comparatively lower-quality debates. As the debate activity transitions to a paperless method, we have a unique opportunity to rethink a lot of the things that we do in terms of evidence production and organization. We should explicitly aim to develop new best practices that reflect *the way things SHOULD be* rather than *the way things HAVE BEEN*.

  2. Roy Levkovitz

    Maybe I’m too old and too set in my own ways on how this works, but this discussion about modular blocks is kind of big picture proof paperless is inferior. Yes, right now a debater pulls out X frontline to nuclear terrorism and knowing / listening to the 1ac is able to read the correct args from the block to answer the adv (if he/she doesn’t then they will replicate this same error sans the paper) It seems like it will be a prep time guzzler to spend time looking through all the subgrouped modules and sending them over to this speech.doc, or using the alt+tab ninja technique. One can much more readily flip through a piece of paper to the next card then do it on their laptop. Taking an extra stack of cards up if you’ve got extra time becomes uncomfortable too.

    I get the economic and comfort reasons for transitioning to paperless, but the notion that this improves debating is kinda lame.

    And Bill it seems like paperless is not a unique means of getting to good blocks, we could just teach kids to write good blocks that get printed.

  3. Bill Batterman

    @Roy Levkovitz

    “And Bill it seems like paperless is a unique means of getting to good blocks, we could just teach kids to write good blocks that get printed.”

    I assume you mean paperless is NOT a unique means of getting good blocks, and if that’s the case then I totally agree. My only point was that the fact that the paperless transition is giving us a chance to rethink the way we do things is a good thing. If we make improvements in the way we teach debate research/file creation and usage, the benefits of the new best practices will be experienced regardless of format (paper/paperless).

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