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I’ll keep this brief:

There is decidedly a correlation between quantity of negative research and competitive success in Team Policy.  Look at the list of the top eight teams at both NCFCA and Stoa nationals last year.  Almost every one of them has a reputation for being nigh obsessed with research, some regularly producing negative briefs in excess of fifty pages.  

Hang on a moment–how can that be right?

Let’s think about this for a moment: in a neg round where you’ve cut pages upon pages of evidence and almost feel more comfortable going neg against this case than going aff with your own, you’ll maybe read seven cards; reading much more than that tends to alienate judges.  Thus, we’ll suppose that in upwards of ninety percent of rounds, the negative team reads no more than fourteen cards between both speakers.

Supposing that fourteen cards can fit on eight pages, I’m forced to question the practical value of 50-page briefs.  Why do debaters need so much evidence knowing full well that they’ll actually use very little of it?

I’m persuaded there’s no good answer to that question.  I know there are several common objections to my position, which for the sake of brevity I won’t refute comprehensively here, however, for those that disagree with me, I’d love to debate in the comments or on the Ethos coaching server.

With that rabbit trail out of the way, we return to the main question of today’s article.  If toting around so much research is impractical, what changes?  I offer a few suggestions:

  1. Consolidate, don’t minimize.  You might have nine different briefs against the most popular case in a given year: one that you made, one your partner made that you didn’t know about at first, three from all the sourcebooks you’ve purchased, two from briefing rings you’re a part of, and so on.  You, reader, should have a singular brief with the best evidence from all nine copied in.  You’re not going to read 150 cards in a round, so it’s in your best interest to find the best 10 or 15 ahead of time instead of wasting prep doing so.  I learned recently that one top team has adopted the practice of trimming down the cards they use in-round against a given case to just three or four pages’ worth.
  2. Research aff
    The esteemed Mr. Mosbey has pointed out in a previous post that teams disproportionately devote their research to neg briefs.  Even if you don’t need 50-page briefs on neg, you very well may need that and more on aff.

I don’t pretend that this article is ground-breaking in any way, but rather, I hope it serves as a wake-up call to those who may need it.

Hope y’all found this helpful!


Ben Brown is the blog manager for Ethos Debate LLC. He has competed in Team Policy debate for four years, ranking in the top 16 nationally every year of his high school career in addition to having obtained a smattering of national placings in speech. When not debating, Ben can be found wishing he was debating, playing board games, or hanging out with friends and family.

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