Category Archives: Drills/Practice

“So, How Do I Get Better At Debate:” Answering Debate’s Toughest Question

Debate is hard — there are no shortcuts to success. Students often look for a blueprint that will get them from the 2-4 bracket to the finals; in response, coaches emphasize that there’s no substitute for hard work. “Nose, meet grindstone” seems to be the best answer anyone faced with the “how do I get better at debate” question ever musters. But there are tangible steps that debaters can take to improve: this website alone has published hundreds of articles offering advice to students at all levels, and there is an abundance of material available in other places that can help put students on the right track.

But something is still missing. How can debaters take all of these various suggestions, tips, and drills and integrate them into a coherent plan for overall improvement? What is needed is a curriculum: an integrated, complete course of study and practice that a debater can use to transform the raw material of hard work into a finished product of competitive excellence. And while the specific details of any particular student’s curriculum ought to be developed with their needs and goals in mind, it is certainly possible to compose a general outline of a course of study that can benefit all debaters.

This article is the first in a series that will attempt to do exactly that: provide students with a basic outline that they can use to create a personalized curriculum to use outside of the classroom or formal organized practices that will help them acquire the knowledge and skills needed to compete successfully in debate. This first article will introduce the guiding principles that underlie the recommended curriculum; part two will provide suggestions for specific coursework.

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Debate Telephone

I was reading this book on comedy writing and it had some chapter about how the reason most people aren’t funny is that they don’t really come up with their own jokes, they basically just re-hash jokes people wrote a long time ago that they have seen before. Since the majority of humor is based on surprise, these recycled jokes lose some of their impact with each retelling. On top of that, the more times a joke gets told by different people the more of its original meaning gets lost and the less funny it becomes.

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Writing Taglines with EASE

By Christina Tallungan

Writing taglines for evidence can be tricky.  There is no one exact right tagline for every card so it is helpful to remember some basic guidelines:

Efficiency –
Write taglines without flowery language and cliches.
Avoid unnecessary adverbs or adjectives, e.g., completely, totally, probably, somewhat.
Substitute commas or dashes for conjunctions like “because” or “due to”
Do NOT write “in order to” instead of just writing “to.”

Accuracy –
Re-read evidence before tagging it in a file – make sure it accurately reflects the author’s
conclusion or argument.
Do NOT overstate your evidence, e.g., say the impact is extinction when the card does not say
Consider the strategy of using evidence, but do NOT manipulate words in the evidence to make
argument that is not supported by the author.
Make sure the relationship you are expressing in the tagline is actually said in the evidence, e.g.,
an author saying that “global warming causes sea level rise” cannot be changed to “sea level
rise causes global warming.”   Debaters have a tendency to look for evidence that has key
words and overlook the relationship the author makes between those key words. Double check
your thinking and do NOT get overly excited because you found a card with key words.

Strategy –
Consider how this piece of evidence will be used in a debate round before writing the tagline.
The purpose for the card will determine the starting point for the tagline.  For example,  a uniqueness card for the military recruitment DA will not start by saying “Economic recession
causes an increase in military recruitment.”  While that tagline is accurate, it is not framed in an
ideal manner as a uniqueness card.  It will help the judge understand the purpose of the card
better if is it framed more clearly as “High military recruitment now – impoverished youth.”

Examples –
This section could have been called “Warrants,” but that did not sound as good.  Examples are
the data in the evidence that proves your overall argument in the tagline true.  These are the
parts that you will need to highlight in a comparative warrant debate.  As a result, include these
in your taglines, e.g., “Political capital high now –
State of the Union address.  This example
shows how someone can include quick examples in a tagline to distinguish your evidence from an

There is an activity that is attached for some practice writing taglines.

Writing Taglines Activity – Fall 2009

Adapting at Nationals

If you actually want to do well at NFL/CFL you will need to adapt. Most people do this terribly or not at all. If your attitude is “whatever I do what I want” well then you can do that wherever you live and not need to go to Alabama.

1. Slow down- most judges will want you to go slow, and not slow to you- slow to them. At CFLs I was on several panels where the debaters were like “whats your paradigm” (an insanle stupid question btw) and the other 2 judges said something like “i’m not very experienced… stock issues… persuasion…i’m old…” all of which translates to go slow. Then the teams went “fast”  (for them). The other two judges would stop flowing 2 seconds into each speech and the debaters would never notice or care. You are basically rolling dice at this point. Some quick guidelines

-default to the slow side- PT Barnum once said no one ever went broke betting against the intelligence of the american public, likewise, no one ever lost at NFLs for going too slow. It’s pretty simple to see why- if you go fast and the judge doesn’t like  it, you’ve auto lost. If you go fast and they are ok with it, you then still have to win the debate. 75%+ of judges aren’t going to like it- so by going fast you have a partial shot at winning 25% of judges (generously)- does that sound like a winning strategy to you?  But furthermore, you rarely NEED to go fast in these debates to win. You are not debating the top 10% of national circuit teams at NFL’s, you are debating a lot of smaller regional teams who don’t take debate as competitively as many who would read the 3nr. They will have mediocre cases/evidence, not be very experienced etc. What they will be good at is talking “persuasively”- I put that in quotes because I personally do not find some idiot fluff talking and using folksy wisdom while dropping the politics disad to be particularly “persuasive” in getting me to vote for their plan, but I am no tthe majority judge at these things. So you don’t need to go fast, and it is more  likely to hurt you.

-Bad habits- if you do any of the bad speaking habits like stuttering, double breating etc. these are magnified when you try and go like moderately fast for the most part- they stand out more because there is not as much quick recovery like when you go super fast. This makes you sound really terrible. You should be really practicing on having a smooth rate of delivery. If you sound really really good and are smooth judges won’t KNOW when you are actually going reasonably fast because none of the warning signs are there- and lets be clear- many of these judges are about style over substance- so if you can trick them (not hard to do) then you are in good shape.

-Overviews and summaries- actually work well here. For each contention of your case you should have a short introduction that explains the general concept so that your judges hear it before they fall asleep or stop flowing. Same with a disad- a short explanation of the thesis at the top. In later speeches- don’t go for hyper technical overviews, its story time. Very many of your judges will have a predominanlty speech background (or some other background) meaning they don’t know a lot about the topic. This should also lead you to mainstream/simple arguments instead of obscure complex ones. Now some will say “but some judges will be smart” and yes, some will. They will be in the minority however, and adapting doesn’t alienate smart judges because they know you are playing the game, whereas dumb judges will be alienated by you not adapting.

2. Professionalism

-no tag team cx- even if they say its ok, they are lying. They expect you both to be involved in asking and answering questions and really how hard is this

-Dress nice- you may think it sucks that you cant wear your flip flos, lip ring, and slayer t-shirt but are you going to this thing to make a fashion statement or win 10k? This one is a total no brainer, you can make your “im a unique rebel” statements later.

-Be nice- more so than at any other tournaments judges at these things care about decorum, so no matter what the other team does kill them with kindness. All jokes should be double checked that they couldn’t be misinterpreted as mean spirited.

-Minimize prompting – if your partner is about to drop a disad say something, but other wise STFU when they are speaking, this isn’t public forum and its not grand crossfire (thank god)

-Know what your evidence says- you should be able to answer cx questions intelligently without having to constantly reference your evidence or get it back to read it. Particularly if you are the 1A- you should be able to sail through any CX about your case.

3. Realize they aren’t going to call for 100 cards and sort it out- most judges call for zero and at CFL they can’t call for any- so reading 10 link cards is meaningless- read 1 or 2 and then explain them /re read key parts out loud etc.

4. Focus on qualifications- you should always read them in your 1AC/other speeches and emphasize when the other team does not have qualified evidence. Add a little style to this, don’t just say

“economic decline causes war-mead 92”

say “Economic decline causes nuclear war, this is Mead, a Senior Fellow on the Council on Foreign Relations, writing in 1992”

5. Look up- watch the judges to see if they are flowing/paying attention. Make eye contact. Also- note if they are flowing sideways- this is a pretty good sign no matter how fast you are going you are going to fast (esp if your judge is Ross or Dallas).

6. Don’t freak out about disclosure- if the other team doesn’t disclose they probably suck and its not a big deal.

School's Out For Summer – Debate Isn't…

For most of you all the debate season has come to its conclusion and with school winding down (or completed for seniors) you all have an abundance of free time on your hands.   While taking a break is definitely important to keep you sane and avoid burning out from debate, this time off can also be used to refine your debate skills.

A basis for this post comes from an email Naveen Ramachandrappa sent me before my junior year of college.  For those of you who don’t know who Naveen is, as a debater he was basically everything that was great about this activity.  He debated for UGA, was the hardest working debater I have ever met and was meticulous about how and what he did.  He produced this which is a PDF outlining how to create a debate template a must for cutting cards if you don’t already have one.

Improvements in debate happen at the margin, disproportionately, and often long-term.  It is the combination of the little things that makes people better at debate”- Naveen

We all want to see the hard work we do translate into something tangible immediately.  Despite that, you cannot get infatuated with immediate improvement and drastic changes in your results.  If you work hard you will get better, it might be a slow progression or it could be a rapid spurt but you will get better.  There is no debate HGH that you can take that will drastically improve your skills, getting better is a function of the hard work you put in over the years.  It also means if you focus on the little things, all those little things will lead to big changes in how you do.

I like breaking down things into an hourly rate of sorts.  Assuming you have around 40-50 days before you head off to your debate institutes, if you just spent 1 hour a day working on debate that’s 40-50 hrs of prep work you wouldn’t have previously done.  Bump it to 2 hrs a day and you’re looking at 80-100 hrs of work on debate with little to no serious infringements on your other plans.  If you sleep for a generous 8 hrs of the day from the other 16 other hours you are awake you need to find 1 or 2 a day to do debate work.  Everyone spending their time reading this can commit 1/16th or 1/8th of their time to improvement.

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