Category Archives: Mailbag

Friday Mail Bag v2


I’m sorry this won’t be as comprehensive as the other posts have been, I’ve been kind of sick but these are important questions that deserve to be addressed.   I will make the 1ar question a separate post this weekend.

At the beginning of every camp they start with a lecture on how to do research. Is there any information you can add or build on from these introduction lectures that usually cover “here is why templates are good, here is how to use google and lexis etc.” What are the keys to transition from a novice to a debater cutting files worthy of reading in competitive out rounds? 

You’re already pretty smart if you agree the generic use a template camp lecture is kind of dull.  The template is vital and lexis is really important but knowing how to produce UNIQUE files requires alot more work.  I think your question needs to be divided into 2 parts.  1.) How to do better research  2.) How to make files better.  I think those are two important issues I will address the first mostly in this post, I might save the second for a later one

On a Meta Level, Be thorough- “Roy, I can’t find anything on XYZ, please find it for me” I hear this all the time at camp from kids who spend 15 mins looking for something use some crappy search terms and give up.  Debate is hard, doing good research is hard, so if you can’t find something quickly rather then give up ask yourself if you really have worked hard enough.  Some of the best articles I’ve found on stuff have been on page 63 of google results.  I could have given up 5 or 10 pages in, but I kept slugging through the stuff till I found what I needed.

Things you all don’t use enough but should

1.) footnotes- this seems simple enough yet its hardly utilized.  If you find articles relevant to your research see who the author quotes or references, they will likely either be people who write supporting articles, or articles to the contrary both of which is effective.  If you don’t scour through those you are letting valuable stuff go to waste.  This will be particularly important if people use law reviews extensively this year because those are littered with citations and references

2.) look up people quoted or mentioned in cards you do find.  The PR newwire impact people read to accidental launch impacts discusses a study released from the New England Journal of Medicine a much more well respected source that analyzes nuclear war, disaster response and prepardness.  If you had initially cut that card you would be wise to then go to the New England Journal of Medicine and cut that article too.   If an article talks about someone within it google them see what they write about that can be of use.  

3.) google authors, names of articles etc.  If an expert is well respected they will be discussed by others in the field, or cited by them.  

4.) Email authors with questions on where to look for stuff / resources.  There was a science editor for Reason Magazine this year that I emailed numerous times asking him about stuff he had written and other places and people who shared similar opinions to him to get more info.  They might not always reply but sometimes it can be of use.

5.) familiarize yourself with databases well.  JSTOR, EBSCO, Ejournals at a University, Factiva, CIAO, Stinet, Proquest, and questia are amongst some of the better ones.  Learn how to search them effectively and navigate through that.  I think alot of people even if they are on the right track aren’t efficient enough. 

6.) Start big and consolidate-  I heard a story about some novice debaters researching econ updates and one of them said they did this search into google news “US economy low” .  Obviously you want to mix up your terminology.  You won’t always find cards about political capital, but it might be labeled political clout, clout, influence etc.  When researching you want to start off with big over arching searches that produce lots of results, and as you continue and are more on track you can get into more specific search terms.  A search like “obama w/15 “political capital” w/5 “agenda” w/10 “LOST or Law of the sea” is likely to yield less results then a vaguer search like “obama w/25 “Political capital” or “clout” or “influence” or “bully pulpit” or “agenda” AND LOST or Law of the sea” etc.  

This is just a preliminary I will add more to this before camp begins

Mailbag Friday v1


I recently switched speaker positions to the 2N. I would be interested in hearing your thoughts on what you think is a solid strategy to approach the many choices a 2N has to make concerning what arguments to go for (both in the block and in the 2NR). I have had only one semester experience, but find myself always second guessing and wishing I went a different route in the block and 2NR.”

Thanks for the question.  I think ALL 2ns definitely have this issue.  Part of your question shows a basic flaw in the ways 2ns think.  You ask about the block and the 2nr, but what about the 1nc.  My big point with my kids is this “Do you have winnable options.”  A lot of the negative problems stems from constructing poor 1ncs which either make the strategy very apparent to the other team or just limit your options in general.

For example if you have in the 1nc T, generic K, states, politics and business confidence and little or no case, a smart 2ac should realize that biz con isn’t a net benefit to the CP and that since you have little or no case args you can’t go for the biz con da and win.  This makes the block significantly harder because now they’ve spent more time on the other potential worlds etc etc.

Tip 1- make sure you have a couple of viable worlds in the 1nc for the block to collapse down too and that they make sense.  Investing time in the case is always good, it makes a DA and Case viable, it also makes it easier to defeat solvency deficits to counterplans if you can minimize what it is the aff actually solves for.

Tip 2- Re-evaluate during and right after the 2ac what is viable and what isn’t.  Did they just make 40 args on politics?  Well maybe we aren’t going for politics.  Make sure your block keeps the same mindset as in the 1nc.  Does what I’m extending serve some utility.  Will it scare the 1ar?  Will it get a good time tradeoff?   Does it work as a strategy in general.  This is really situational but you need to ask yourself what kind of block and 2nr do I need to give for us to win the debate.  Is this 1ar so fast that if I collapse to just states and politics they’ll make the 2nr hell for me?  Or are my cards on this stuff just so so, which means I need to make the block big to deflect attention from that?  Conversely you could decide your best chance of winning is to lock it down on an issue and make the whole block the K.  You have a good idea of who you’re debating and what you’re up against.   Assume you also aren’t going to fully cover because no 2nc has ever taken up 4-5 sheets of paper and actually covered well.

Tip 3- Take prep time before the cx of the 2ac.  Talk to your 1nr about what they are going to be going for, that way you both are on the same page on stuff, too many times people wait till the cx is over the 1nr looks at the partner whose hectic and is like “so what am I taking?” the response is usually mumbled and just blah.  Those 20 seconds of prep time are valuable.

Tip 4-Have good blocks for the 2nc, this will let you spend some time deciding what you want to go for and what is viable, the less time you spend running around looking for stuff the more calm and clear headed you can be for deciding what to go for in the 2nc and 2nr.

Tip 5- Trust the 1nr.  The 1nr is to quote the movie swingers “The (wo)man behind the (wo)man.”  A great 1nr makes the block soo much better and your 2nr significantly easier.  Its usually easy to predict cocky 2ns 2nr strategy, take what was in the 2nc and assume its going to be in the 2nr.  This is a serious mistake.  The 1nr easily has 12-15 mins of prep time to get their speech ready, it should be awesome.  Giving them an important issue is key because they can read your opponents ev, indict it, do all the things that are really difficult to do in the 2nc.  To often they are relegated to theory etc.  This is un-strategic not just for the reason above, but if the 1nr gets theory etc and the aff has no plan on going for theory they get to use the 1nr to prep their 1ar.   If you “sandbag” some of the important stuff in the block to the 1nr the 1ar has less time to prepare for it etc.

Tip 6-Don’t take any shortcuts- Obviously if something cheap shot ish is messed up you can extend it, but when you look for easy ways to win the debate that’s when you usually make a mistake and give up the round.

Mastering tips 1,2,5 will get you significantly more neg wins and help you get to the next level where you can work on refining those skills and some more advanced techniques.

What would your advice be to a graduating senior who will be debating next year in college? What are the biggest hurdles that they will have to overcome? What can they do during the summer to make the transition easier and to improve their skills? What are some of the most common misconceptions that incoming college freshmen have about college debate? If you had it to do over again, how would you improve your transition from high school to college debate?”

This is actually a really good question, and I think alot of college frosh flake out, quit or get discouraged because of the transition to college and their inability to adapt.

The biggest hurdle to deal with is this LEARN TO LOSE.  YOU WILL LOSE A LOT OF DEBATES AND THAT IS OK!!!.  Too many good HS debaters show up to college after a season of late elims and expect that they will shock the world in college.  You won’t, you’re not expected to and most importantly THATS OK.  The reason (as someone whose recruited kids to go to Emory before) that I like kids who aren’t super super successful is because they are often hungry for wins and will not get discouraged by losses.    4-4 is good for a college frosh, make something like that your goal.  You will not be top speaker, you won’t be past the octos (if you make it to the doubles or past it) at any big tournament (GSU, KY, Harv, Wake, Texas, NDT) but you aren’t expected too be either.  You have 4 years to do your best, this first year is a year of adjustment to a life away from home, much tougher academics and better debaters, if you set unreasonable expectations you won’t meet them and will likely get too discouraged to rebound well.  LOSING IS OK say it out loud again.

Everyone decent in college is proficient in debate.  If you are debating a real good 4-4 team or 5-3 or better team they can do the tech well.  In HS a team can run through a tournament “out techning” everyone.  At the highest levels of college debating the debates are decided on in depth knowledge of the literature and its explanation.  There are very few “tech” wins at the top level.  If you just coached a HS team to be tech they could be a quarters team, that alone is insufficient in college, which means older kids with more on the line are going to know more then you.   You will also be on the brunt end of some Jedi tricks learn from those mistakes.  Much of college debates are decided on evidence, so without good business you’re going to be in bad shape.

In that transition from the elite level of HS debating to bottom of the totem poll in college will also come other issues. 1.) people for the most part don’t know who you are, whatever rep you had will vanish for the most part which means you need to build connections with judges because over 4 years you can understand those people and know how to debate in front of them. I would love every debate I ever have to be in front of Jarrod Atchison, John Turner and Kevin Hamrick. I learned what they liked and executed that. 2.) you will probably get the freshman treatment from some judges, a close debate might not go your way, some 27.5 bombs might get dropped etc. Take those in stride. I’m not saying its legitimate or fair but its part of the maturation process. You will one day maybe benefit from that.

There’s a simple formula for college debate: Hard work à Success. It might take time but it works. You are not likely to be the best debater on your team, learn from your elders, I learned so much from the older kids at emory, even just sitting back at team meetings listening to them watching them in the elims when I wasn’t there. There is soo much more to debate then just the arguments. How you compose yourself, prep for the debate, prep for the tournament. All of these are small things that lead to big picture success. If the people aren’t particularly hard working then don’t emulate them. Some people have lots of talent but don’t apply themselves, learn from the good influences not the bad (Frat parties and getting high do not make a good tourney prep)

I think what I did for work my freshman year is not the norm, I got to work with 2 emory coaches for the summer at a debate camp and spent time doing topic work, since most people don’t do that here’s what I suggest. 1.) contact your coach(es) and take on assignments, it shows you are interested in working and want to be part of the team 2.) read all the edebate posts on the topic. I will concede most are shitty, but you all don’t know the people well enough to employ your own filter, at this point you are hunting for info. 3.) talk to teammates and get their input, think smart 4.) do some of the stuff from my schools out for summer, read theory articles rewrite those blocks, etc. Debaters of this generation are so very lucky to have all these resources available to them. I would have killed for a strong cross-x or 3nr type place to really read and understand stuff.

Finally I’ll be honest high level college debate is hard and time consuming. It comes at the expense of a lot of other stuff. You must be good at time management to keep your grades and social life available. But if you think you can win the NDT and do all of the college stuff stop right now, it’s just not possible. If you debate for a big team which isn’t solely dependent on you for ev try other stuff out (just realize this will compromise your debate success). In the end debate is a great activity but do not let it dictate how you view or judge yourself. Winning tournaments and speaker awards is nice but make sure you have some balance with grades and other stuff too

Mailbag Friday-

The 3nr is going to try something on Fridays that could end up being a dumpster fire but only time will tell.

In addition to any posts Bill, Scott or myself post we will also write / comment about things you all want to read about.

So what do we need from you? In the comment section below type out a topic or issue of intrigue. Keep in mind this is read by a bunch of different people so something like “Bill what do you think of the WI state blah blah” will probably not get picked or written about cause most of us could care less about the cheeseheads.

Go to town