Category Archives: Skill Development

Good Debating Is Good Writing: 16 Common Inefficiencies

Debate is a speaking activity, certainly, but it is also a writing activity. Good constructive speeches rely in large part on well-written prepared materials, but rebuttals are where the real writing occurs. To deliver a powerful rebuttal, students must verbalize their arguments clearly and persuasively—but do so extemporaneously, without a script. Good speaking, like good writing, must be clear, concise, and well organized: the content needs to be allowed to shine through.

As part of this summer’s Hoya Spartan Scholars program, students were given an opportunity to transcribe and edit their rebuttal speeches. The transcription process is tedious—it takes a lot of time and concentration to accurately and completely transcribe a debate speech—but the payout is substantial. By transforming a spoken speech into a written text, students can more rigorously assess the content of their speeches and dramatically improve their efficiency and language choices. And by doing so, the connection between good speaking and good writing becomes obvious.

In the course of editing students’ transcriptions, one thing became abundantly clear: debaters do not communicate efficiently. Most rebuttals overflow with filler language, distracting sentence structures, and imprecise word choices. This undermines persuasiveness, of course, but it also directly sacrifices content by wasting precious speech time. The goal of a debater should be to effectively communicate as many important arguments as possible to the judge within the time constraints. Doing so requires not just speed but efficiency. And while gains in speaking speed are certainly valuable, improvements in efficiency can be much more dramatic.

A list of 16 common efficiency problems is provided below the fold. Did we miss one? Share it in the comments.

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How Not to Ask for Help

This is a pretty funny exchange between a debater trying to find author quals and an author pretty reasonably responding to their rudeness.


It reminded me of this classic when a debater emailed a think tank leader to ask if they had published a good card just to affect the outcome of a debate tournament. The responses from Friedman are pretty hilarious, and imo pretty dead on.


Main topic authors are often bombarded with emails from debaters/coaches. Most often they are emailed questions that could be answered with 5 seconds of googling, and often the emails are in the form of a demand, not a polite request. I have emailed many authors and so I offer some general tips for what you should do


1. Be polite.

2. Don’t say you are a debater- they don’t care. Also if you say you are a debater and then be a moron you are tainting the rep of every debater who follows you.

3. Write an intelligent email. Emailing someone and saying “you give realism cites plz? kthanxbai” is not likely to get a good response because who wants to respond to a moron. Use proper English/spelling/punctuation (in other words do as I say not as I do)

4. Explain why you are emailing them specifically-i.e. “I am emailing you after reading your article about platypus extinction in the International Journal of Platypai…”

5. Their time is valuable. If you can form questions that have short, direct, easy answers to give they are more likely to respond. If you ask an IR prof  to teach their class to you through email, they are less likely to respond.


How to improve at debate camp


This is an article I began writing for the first edition of the last word but was weeded out in the editing process. Several people who read this disagreed with a lot of the advice, so bear in mind this is just my opinion- if your lab leaders disagree with something/tell you to do something a different way you should listen to them.


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Do you want to be top speaker at the toc? part 1

A few have emailed/posted questions about prep for the toc. Loyal 3nr readers know most every question about how to win the TOC was answered step by step in my pulitzer prize winning series (here, here, here, ). One thing that was not addressed in great detail there was how to become the top speaker at the TOC and so this series will address this.

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Some Notes on Impacts

I’m somewhat baffled by many of the debates I see lately (as well as with the decisions of other judges when I listen to them) with the strange focus on terminal impacts, both in what percentage of time is spent debating them, and then even after a lot of time is spent arguing defense to them with how large of a “risk” judges assign them. Especially with people who I have had conversations with about how to debate or adjudicate impacts who when they are then in a debate seem to disregard/not employ the views they had previously expressed.

So below the break are some thoughts on what is going wrong in these debates and in the deciding of said debates.

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1AR Choice

The 1AR, like the lamer Matrix movies, is all about choice. A good 1AR picks from the options presented in the 2AC and hammers home a few key points, it doesn’t crappily extend every argument. I feel like past posts have gone into why this is so ad nausea, so this post will take for granted that you agree the 1AR must collapse and will instead focus on an example. In the attached xl document you will find the flow of a politics debate through the 2NC. The 2NC has done a decent job of extending the disad- no arguments are dropped, there are diverse answers to each 2AC argument, and there is some impact jive at the top. If you give the 1AR you will find yourself giving politics 1AR’s like this frequently because people have blocks to most of the 2AC arguments given in the demo speech.

Below the fold I am going to discuss ways to chose what arguments to go for and why, but before you read that look at the flow and think about what arguments you would select to go for and why. Think about different circumstances

-do they have a cp?

-is the cp plan inclusive?

-are you going to win a big risk of the case or a solvency deficit?

Then think about why these factors might affect what arguments you chose to extend.

1AR demo

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Using Guided Questions With Theory Articles: "Getting out of the Cards and into the Arguments" As An Example

The value of incorporating theory article reading and review into a student’s debate curriculum has been discussed at length in previous articles. One method that coaches can use to encourage students to delve into this literature is to provide a set of guided questions to accompany selected theory articles. In schools with formal debate classes, these short answer questions can be assigned as homework or used as quizzes to confirm that students are keeping up with their assigned reading.

To demonstrate this approach, a set of guided questions for Jim Lyle’s “Getting out of the Cards and into the Arguments: Strategies for Refutation (pdf)” is available below the fold. This article provides a wealth of actionable instruction about refutation techniques and is suggested for debaters of all levels. Coaches, feel free to reuse these questions however you would like.

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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.

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