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December 12, 2011 / compassioninpolitics

My generic getting better at policy debate advice

I coached college debate for a number of years at 4 different universities, including a number of top finishes and elimination rounds at National tournaments [note, I’ve left one comment on switching from LD to policy on this answer. Otherwise the other 85 to 95% of the answers speak to everyone]:

Rule 1: Improve your game
Rule 2: Do competitive intelligence. Do competitive inteiligence. Do competitive intelligence.
This is why Football teams spend hours watching the entire season of their opponents before the next game….hours and hours. Your competitive intelligence is usually a wiki, what your teammates know, and what people at the tournament will tell you or people you know will tell you before the tournament. Take advantage of the extensive competitive intelligence you have now. If you don’t, you are shooting yourself in the foot.

1. Read the debate wiki (think and ponder why they make particular arguments and how that boxes out alternative positions for the negative–if its a good idea, grab the site and find it for your affirmative).
2. Read the files. There are probably 100 files you can read and learn from. Those who know the arguments better and can explain them clearly usually win.
3. Read the 3nr.
4. When in doubt… one of the 3 above….or read some of the virtual debates or watch a video online (debate lecture or a policy debate round).

The three most important objectives for you:
1. Learn to flow policy debate rounds (I would check out JV rounds that are clear)
2. Create 2AC frontlines to most negative arguments
3. You probably want to run critiques on the negative, because of your LD/philosophy background (plus there is a strategic advantage to running critiques).

You should create a semi-generic strategy for the types of negatives that are on the topic:
1. development of space (issues like NASA or privates are probably more relevant to these debates than in the military debates where Department of Defense is more relevant).
2. military/National missile defense
3. coop with China (this may wind down to topicality–because of “China”–depending on how people are interpreting the topic and how good you get at extra-topicality.
4. critical affirmatives (assuming they are big in your region).

Figure out what people are running on the affirmative and negative. Make a list and systemically write answers to the arguments & on the negative–create a strategy (a good strategy usually involves either:
disad + counterplan + case OR critique + alternative+ other stuff….the only exception is in topicality debates or critical/performance debates (and still they still generally apply)

Use other fronlines as models for how to write new ones. SDI used to put out frontlines that were pretty good–or at least decent–that provided a model for the types of arguments.

Six Issues You Will Want to Up Your Game on Very Soon: (after you get the basics down)
1. Offense vs. Defense–focus on answering offense. Know the difference between the two types of arguments (ie for the 2ac Turns are offense and add-on advantages are offense)
2. Claim/Warrant distriction. This is grounded in the work of Steven Toulmin on argumentation. This is the data or the why behind an argument (you did this in LD–it may or may not have had a name).
3. Impact comparison (see lecture at Georgetown lecture)
4. Evidence comparison (see lecture at Georgetown lecture)
5. Making a 2ac offensive (see “The Speech” by Duck–aka Scott Deatheredge)
6. In terms of critique. Read the capitalism critique from a variety of camps. Mike Shakleford did a decent lecture at Berkeley which is available online which explains the core parts of this critique as it applies to debate). He doesn’t speak to its application to this topic–but the overall impact debate.

When you read a piece of evidence while you are prepping for the season, think of 3 questions:
1. what are the strengths of the evidence? (a ) quality of reasons, b ) number of reasons it uses to justify its conclusions, c ) quality of qualifications, d ) credibility of author, e ) impact f ) flexibility/functionality/it answers other arguments)
2. what are the weaknesses? (it non-uniques itself in the un-underlined portion–in otherwords they claim its a simple causal relationship, but its really far more complex–its not credible, or it gives terrible or non-sensical reasons)
3. how can I shorten this without taking away its impact, functionality, and the reasons it gives.
4. what would this work with? how can we impact this? how does this access or link to other impacts?
5. will this help us set up our end game? will it help us make comparative assessments versus our opponents arguments? (ie impact comparison, evidence comparison, framing debates, creating nuance which makes their arguments not apply, & pre-empting other arguments)

Some evidence frames debates or frames the ballot or provides nuance–these types of argument are critical to the overall debate–in a big way. (ie “this comes first before all other issues”–usually they don’t scream quite that much, but its key that you listen up for these types of “flagged” arguments–because without answering them, you may be in a world of hurt. Usually you want to ask questions in cross-ex about them.

For an affirmative to win an argument for their affirmative they usually need to win 3 things:
1. problem coming in the near future
2. that problem is big
3. we solve it.

Usually #3 is the easiest to address if you have specific evidence–although its important to address 1 and 2.

Why is Preparation Now So Vitally Important?
Nothing helps your game more than isolating the best arguments the negative team is going to make before they make their speeches. Read the negative evidence–and write arguments (aka frontlines) about how your evidence already answers it and where necessary read more evidence (if it provides additional reasons or other big impacts). This goes back to the issue of competitive intelligence, but takes it a step further. You have 7 x 16 hours between weekend tournaments (at a minimum plus or minus). You only have 8 to 10 minutes of prep. You have to be ready to roll–without even thinking–so you can deal use prep time to
1) find arguments
2) talk to your partner
3) think about any surprises
4) write amazing overviews
5) read their evidence. If each of those gets 2 minutes…thats not a lot of time to answer all 20 to 40 arguments they make in a given speech.

Policy debate requires a real commitment to reading, thinking, doing practice debates, improving–all of which involve investing time, energy, and brain power. Early on it may involve some loses until you learn how judges make decisions. However, make sure both you and your partner are committed to excellence and committed to being “successful” (ie playing to the top of your game).

Download all the open evidence files on a jump drive or to a Drop Box. Read as much as you can. Highlight them down. If you highlight your evidence down by 1/2, that means you can read twice the amount of evidence. Thats HUGE!!!!!!

1. Figure out what of the above you understand & do it. Execute like crazy and invest time to get better and reach for excellence.
2. Ask your varsity members to explain any of the above you don’t understand.

I also answered this question here about how to get better at debate, they are similar, but may provide some clarity.



Leave a Comment
  1. thechillsauce / Dec 15 2011 12:13 am

    You left the stuff for LD to policy on here, nvm if you meant it on purpose.


  1. Learn Policy Debate: Policy and Cross examination debate resources | Learn Policy Debate

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