Cleaning up debates

Let’s talk about how to make debates cleaner. By clean, I am referring to organization: a messy debate is one where arguments are poorly organized and not grouped together logically. A clean debate is where the debaters make a conscious effort to sort like arguments together.

Why is this important? A clean debate

1. Makes giving your speeches easier-it allows you to avoid repetition by putting all related arguments close to one another. It allows you to strategically “view” the debate much easier as you don’t have to flip back and forth between sheets to get the big picture. It helps you assess priorities. It makes it easier to not drop things.

2. It makes judging debates substantially easier. One of the hardest things about judging (assuming the judge is attempting to limit intervention) is evaluating a debate where the crucial issue(s) lack clash. What I mean is lets say the debate’s central question is whether or not to evaluate consequences or just look at the motives of an action to determine whether or not the plan should be done. These debates can often devolve into “two ships passing in the night” whereby each team spends all their time explaining their arguments and no time responding to the other teams arguments or  engaging in comparisons. This is often a direct result of messiness: the 1AC will have a contention about morality, the neg will read some cards on their disad about why consequences should be evaluated, and while these two sets of arguments are responding to one another that they are occurring on different sheets  acts as a kind of psychological barrier to the students debating- they refuse to compare them. This is often the case in debates where both the 1AC and the negs go for disad have the same impact- for example war on the Korean peninsula. The central question of these debates is not magnitude because both impacts are basically the same. Probability is the most important factor- and it should be assessed in terms of what is the relative risk of the adv vs the risk of the da. Negatives do slightly better here usually because they have been trained to emphasize disad turns the case, but there is never the kind of comparison judges really need.

Enough on that, take my word for it, cleaner debates are better. That being  said here are some general tips in no particular order for cleaning up debates. Most of them relate to road mapping and the process of deciding where to put arguments, so these are things you can instantly do without needing a lot of prep- and after talking to some fellow judges recently I can say these are definately the kind of thing you want to be doing if you are looking to improve your points.

1. When doing 1NC case orders, group things according to the internal link not the terminal impact. So if the affirmative has a hegemony advantage with three impacts -conflict, warming, and prolif- that should be 1 sheet of answers in the 1NC. Even if your arguments are exclusively impact defense, don’t break that up into 3 sheets- keep all the hegemony debate on one page. 1NC’s generally break the case up into way too many sheets and this is a classic reason why (there will be more 1NC sheets below). One contributing factor to this is definitely the aff trend towards having many 3 card or less impact/advantages in their 1AC’s, but even if the aff made that choice that isn’t a reason you should compound the error by making the debate even messier.

Many people will probably disagree with me on this, but I think anything more than 2 pages of case in the 1NC is unnecessary. 2 is a good break if you plan to take some of the case in the 2NC and some in the 1NC- break it up into 2 pages. If you are getting to the case with 4+ minutes to engage in some heavy debate you may need 2 whole sheets. Anything more than 2 needlessly complicates things. In fact, for the usual 1NC that is 3 minutes of case or less, I am a big fan of the “dump”. It eliminates wasted time on transitions, and as long as the 1NC does a good job of grouping things together logically doesn’t sacrifice any cleanliness.

2. Put off case arguments that respond to an advantage on the case. If the 1AC had a china relations advantage, and you have a china relations disadvantage, put it on the case. Obviously there are exceptions to this- if the aff had a climate impact and your politics disad has a climate impact, that doesn’t mean you should read politics on the case. But if you usually read a case specific argument off case, and the aff has an advantage that is highly related to it, just put it on the case.

3. This is really the same as 2 but I am separating it out for clarity- if the aff has a contention in the 1AC to pre-empt your disads, put your answers on that case flow , don’t read them on the disad. The most common examples of this include

-uniqueness underviews- like withdrawing now or social services increasing on last years topic

-“no war” /mandelbaum style arguments

-util bad/low probability bad impact framing

-k’s of disad impacts

Many times i see the neg either read some answers to this on the disad in the 1NC, or the much more common, ignore it until the block and then read a ton of answers on the disad. You should definitely be answering these in the 1NC if your strategy requires you to beat them (i.e. you need to win a war disad) and you should be doing it on the case. This is a good example of the 2 case page division- if the 1AC is occupation of Afghanistan is colonialist, and pre-empts to da’s then you should have 1 case page responding to their advantage and 1 page responding to the pre-empts.

4. Label things appropriately- a few examples

– “Framework” is a theory argument about what things the judge can/cannot consider- so saying “plan focus” excludes reps K is framework, saying the judge is an activist/shouldn’t look at politics is framework. There should never be more than 1 page with a framework debate because each team should have  1 framework interpretation and they should be clashing with each other

-arguments about how to weigh various arguments against each other are impact calculus- deontology/util/probability etc all fall under this category. These should have a sheet separate from “framework”

-stick to labels previously given- if the first team to address an issue called it X, keep calling it X. Especially if page X is related to page Y keeping the names consistent is really important to make the process of road mapping not take 5 hours.

5. Group impact calculus- whatever speech first does the ABC’s of impact calc all subsequent speeches should do their impact comparison in the same place and make it responsive- each speech should be directly countering the other teams arguments in addition to making their own.

All these recommendations are designed to encourage clash- so when you get all the arguments grouped together well, then you have to start debating differently- not relying so much on the other team dropping things and instead focus on engaging and beating their arguments. Cleaning up the debate doesn’t necessarily win it for you- in fact if your style of debate is to avoid engagement than this is probably going to hurt you, but that is indicative of a bigger problem. Cleaning up debates will improve your points and (hopefully) make it easier for judges to vote for you.

7 thoughts on “Cleaning up debates

  1. Ellis

    if the 2ac, let's say on a big case flow, goes in a reasonable order grouping sets of arguments by issue (e.g. economy uniqueness, deficit solvency) but the 2nc scrambles it by sequencing weirdly, what order is "cleanest" for the 1ar? this is partly a flowing question cause im unsure whether to flow the 2nc in its own order or right next to the 2ac issues and force them back into 2ac order

    1. Scottyp4313nr

      If the 2AC grouped things logically and the 2NC goes rogue then I would say re-organize things in the manner that the 2AC did because that grouping is logical and the 2N’s isn’t. If the neg kicked several arguments making the previous grouping by the 2AC no longer the most “logical”

  2. miles

    unrelated, but in an earlier post you said that dropped 2ac args should be game over, but how do you point out they've dropped a deadly case arg in a way that doesn't let the 1ar be like "o no we grouped it we're retarded?"

    1. Scottyp4313nr

      Explain why the set of arguments the 2AC gave was not responsive, and then say they don't get to re-explain or cross apply arguments from other areas

  3. Rishee

    so if the 2nc does impact calculus at the top of the DA and the 1ar answers it there and the 2nr too but the 2ar wants to start with impact calculus then beating the case defense before answering the disad, should he/she shift it to the top of the case flow or just say "impact calc, case, DA" as the order?

  4. Snoop Dogg

    Hey ScottyP – Why do you think it's strategically advantageous to answer the 1ac preempt args (no war, uq tricks, etc) in the 1NC vs the 2NC?

  5. Scottyp4313nr

    Snoop Dog,

    Sorry I missed your comment initially. There are 2 reasons as I see it to start the debate over 1AC pre-empts earlier

    1. Late development generally hurts the neg- take for an example the aff has read some politics uniqueness pre-empts that you ignore in the 1NC. After the 2AC you decide to extend politics and kick other strategies. Then for the first time you answer these pre-empts in the 2NC. Now the 1AR extends said pre-empts and reads 3-4 amazing extension cards making your disad unwinnable. Now you only get the 2NR to recover, and you have kicked your other options

    2. Some issues judges feel need to be clear from the get go- the most obvious example of this is framework. If the aff has a 1AC FW contention, oftentimes they will include in it an arg about why you have to answer it in the 1NC to allow them a chance to respond etc. Many judges will reject 2NC fw args in this instance because they feel FW is such an important argument that to sand bag it in that way is unfair to the aff/should be punished.

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