Have you ever lost to a case simply because your audience didn’t understand what was happening?

If you’ve debated for any time at all, chances are your answer is an emphatic yes. Complicated cases are as abundant in number as they are frustrating to hit. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

If complex cases have you down, check out these top 5 tips to start winning again.

Tip #1: Understand the Case Yourself

Typically, the biggest problem you’ll run into when going up against a complicated case is confusion, not only on your end, but also for your audience. So in order to combat judge confusion, your first priority should be to make sure you understand the case through and through. Listen intently during the 1AC, look back over it again when you get the chance, and clarify any remaining gray area during CX. Because chances are, if you’re unsure about something, your judge is thinking the same thing.

Tip #2: Solidify Your Philosophy

Rounds are usually won by the team that best sets themselves apart from the competition. So when you’re debating against complicated cases, make an extra effort to simplify your stance in order to stand out from the affirmative team. Though you may not think that this would make much of a difference, to your audience, it could be the deciding factor. Don’t just bring up a general standard, instead bring up a specific goal. Don’t just shell and extend, instead, narrow everything down to only 2 arguments. Go the extra mile; it’ll give you a leg up.

Tip #3: Double Check AFF Evidence

If checking affirmative evidence for accurate tagging is important in normal rounds, it’s imperative in rounds against complicated cases. Because so much evidence is read, it’s easy for the aff to misremember/mistag things without being caught. Don’t let that happen. Check everything. Set up a standard in the 1NC that evidence must be read whenever it’s referenced, and hold everyone in the round to it. Then, anytime an affirmative speaker forgets to read the evidence they reference or misquote/mistag sources, call them out on it. It’ll go a long way towards an eventual victory.

Tip #4: Favor Straightforward Evidence Yourself

Your audience will never take critiques of the affirmative vague/misquoted evidence seriously if you’re not perfect yourself. So the more straightforward your evidence is, the easier it will be 1) for your audience to understand and 2) for you to critique your opponents. In prep, try to find the clearest, simplest pieces of evidence possible. Not only will this separate you even further from the affirmative, but it will also enable you to critique evidence anytime it’s vague or misquoted.

Tip #5: Clarify for Your Audience

If you’re confused about a case, chances are your audience is too. So, in the 1NC, demonstrate your topic knowledge by taking some time to explain all of the complicated topics to your judges. Though it may sound counter-intuitive to do the 1AC’s job for them, it will earn you major points in the credibility department that will aid your case in the long run. Just make sure you’ve got tip #1 down first; there’s not much worse than attempting to explain the affirmative case in the 1NC only to find out later that you were wrong the entire time.


Noah Howard is going into his 4th year of competitive debate. Having competed at the national level for the majority of his career, Noah believes that there’s more to an argument than just a list of impacts. Behind each simple piece of evidence, there’s a much deeper world waiting to be explored. In his eyes, debate is about immersing yourself in this world of ideas, and learning to convey your findings in simple, clear terms. He believes debaters should seek primarily to grow in their own understanding; only by diving headfirst into the world of ideas can you ever reach true mastery of rhetoric.