Category Archives: Topicality

Digging Into The Debate Theory Archives: Hingstman on Topicality and the “Division of Ground” Standard

Digging Into The Debate Theory Archives is a series highlighting “old” debate theory articles that are particularly thought-provoking, influential, or illuminating and that active debate students would benefit from reading.

Dr. David Hingstman recently retired after a long and distinguished coaching career. In this post, I will share one of my favorite of his many scholarly articles: a 1985 conference paper explaining a “division of ground” framework for understanding and debating topicality.

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Burden of Rejoinder, Bonus Episode: Topicality on the Water Resources Protection Topic

In this short bonus episode of The 3NR’s new podcast, Bill Batterman and Brian Manuel discuss their early thoughts about topicality on this year’s water resources protection topic. Does “protection” provide a meaningful limit? How can the resolution be interpreted to exclude “effects topical” cases? We’ll revisit these and other topicality questions in the future, but we wanted to share our early impressions after the first few regular season tournaments.

This episode was recorded during the same session that we recorded episode one. Our second full-length episode will be shared soon. You should now be able to subscribe to Burden of Rejoinder in your favorite podcast application. If we missed a podcast directory or if you would like to suggest an episode topic, send us an email at

Digging Into The Debate Theory Archives: Unger on Topicality, Reasonability, and the Best Definition Standard (a.k.a. Competing Interpretations)

Digging Into The Debate Theory Archives is a series highlighting “old” debate theory articles that are particularly thought-provoking, influential, or illuminating and that active debate students would benefit from reading.

One main purpose of this series is to share important debate theory scholarship that is currently unavailable online. This installment is a good example: it features James J. Unger‘s seminal article introducing the “best definition” standard for topicality. Originally published in the October 1981 issue of Rostrum, it was later included in the Advanced Debate textbook. Oft-cited but unavailable (until now) online, Unger’s article developed the theoretical basis for what is now known as the “competing interpretations” model of debating and judging topicality.

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Digging Into The Debate Theory Archives: Cheshier on Effects Topicality

Digging Into The Debate Theory Archives is a series highlighting “old” debate theory articles that are particularly thought-provoking, influential, or illuminating and that active debate students would benefit from reading.

In this installment of the series, I am sharing David Cheshier’s 1999 Rostrum article about effects topicality. Cheshier’s monthly columns in Rostrum were an excellent resource for debaters in the late 1990s and early 2000s, and they addressed many of the most important theoretical controversies of the era. While some columns feel a bit dated in 2021, many are as relevant as ever. This one is a good example — especially for students preparing to debate the 2021-2022 water resources protection topic.

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How To Research Topicality: Suggested Sources and Search Terms

Topicality research is difficult. Because topicality is a semantic issue, the type of supporting evidence required is different than the evidence debaters typically offer in support of their other positions.

For one thing, it is often from “reference” sources: dictionaries, encyclopedias, “explainer” websites and articles, background sections in journal articles, etc. These are not good sources of evidence for most other debate arguments; their purpose is generally to document “facts,” not to argue in favor of a particular position or perspective. For the same reason, these reference sources also tend to describe the context of a controversy without taking a position on it.

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Topicality “Protection,” the Oregon Statewide Planning Goals, and the Legal Fight Over the Bradwood LNG Terminal

The fate of the 2021-2022 high school policy debate resolution likely hinges on the definition of the word “protection.” If it is defined narrowly, the topic has the potential to be much better than skeptics (and fans of the runner-up Russia topic) had initially assumed. If it is defined broadly, this season will be a frustrating slog. Unless “protection” establishes a meaningful limit on topical plan mechanisms, students will struggle to research and prepare for all of the many, disparate policy proposals that could, by effect, “protect” water resources.

One of the most promising topicality interpretations of “protection” is based on a protracted legal battle in Oregon over the construction of an LNG terminal. It defines “protection” of water resources as policies that “save or shield [them] from loss, destruction, or injury or for future intended use.” There’s a lot more to it, but this is a limiting interpretation that could, if it prevails, keep the water resources topic relatively manageable.

To understand this evidence, it is important to understand the context of the legal fight over the Bradwood terminal. This requires more background information than one might initially realize. In this article, I will share what I have learned about the Bradwood terminal, the Oregon Statewide Planning Goals, and the decisions of Oregon’s Land Use Board of Appeals and Court of Appeals. This is wonky stuff, but I think it is important for students to understand it. And at the end, I’ll share some A+ topicality cards.

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T Combat Troops

I wanted to get a discussion going as I think this could potentially have a really negative effect on the topic.

At least at Umich there has been a lot of discussion over the T arg that “military presence” excludes combat troops. This would obviously extremely complicate a chunk of Iraq/Afghanistan affirmatives. IMO, the topic was largely crafted to discuss just those two areas- that is where the most up to date and broad research is being conducted in the world right now- they are the hot topic if you will.

So in my mind, in a debate where it came down to the negative having a more precise or field contextual definition vs the aff argument that such an interpretation would exclude a really big part of what people thought they were getting when voting for this topic, the aff is in pretty good shape.

I will leave it at that for now and let people discuss amongst themselves a little, but I am interested to hear what people think.

UPDATE- Per request, below the fold are some of the cards in question

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Changing The Federal Poverty Measure: A Viable New Affirmative at the TOC?

One of the affirmatives that was produced during the summer at both the Baylor and Northwestern institutes advocated a change in the Federal Poverty Measure in order to provide more needy individuals with access to means-tested social services. To the best of my knowledge, however, no teams have consistently read this affirmative during the season—at least not on the national circuit. Will this be a popular new case at this weekend’s Tournament of Champions? A few thoughts about the viability of this affirmative are below the fold.

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