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paper-jpgTo be honest, I did not want to use briefs for LD until last year.  Last year, I collected a lot of evidence so that I would be able to discuss applications, but I would always attempt to refocus the debate on the terms I wanted to discuss; I would try to make irrelevant the points my opponent wanted to discuss.  

Unfortunately, this did not always work. 

Many will tell you to basically ignore your opponent’s case, but when your opponent spent the last six minutes (or four or five, if you are Affirmative) presenting a well-researched point of view on the resolution, judges want to hear that refuted.  They may think yours is important too, but if you only spend a few seconds on the subject of your opponent’s case, they may start to think that you do not know what to say about it.  

This holds true even when you agree on the value for the round.  A lot of judges look back at what your opponent said earlier (even if it was with a different value) and vote against you because you did not do a good job refuting it.  

That is where briefs come in.  They allow you to engage your opponent on their own ground, because you understand the issues like your opponent does.  

Of course, value debate briefs don’t mean solvency or significance points.  For general tips on constructing a brief, see this article and this video.  But how exactly does one construct a value brief?  

Here’s what you should do:

Have Them

This should go without saying, but it bears repeating.  While sometimes you can pinpoint the problem with your opponent’s application or argument quickly (The USSR did not collapse because of their environmental policies), sometimes your opponent’s points make sense to you too.  Having done the research outside of the round will be apparent to the judge when you can discuss intelligently the issues of the round with your opponent.

So yes, have briefs.  Understanding your opponent’s case and having the knowledge to engage with him on it will be helpful in the long run.

Develop A Strategy

In order to engage with your opponent, you need an overall strategy.  Perhaps that would be emphasizing that the value you presented is more appropriate to the debate round, or that your opponent is presenting a case based on a false understanding of statistics, or that your opponent’s case does not work in the real world of criminal justice.  Whatever your strategy is, that should be what your brief is, not just a laundry list of problems with your opponent’s stance.  

So begin by creating a strategy, or a basic point you want to hammer home about this case or this application.  I will include some example briefs below so you can see how I have done this.  All the points in your brief should connect to this strategy in some way.  Irrelevant points only distract the judge; focus your brief-making on a strategy.  

Have Evidence

This post is not intended to be a diatribe on the irrational rejection of evidence in value debate, but this discussion is very important for understanding what briefs should look like.  There is no more reason for a judge to believe a 16-year-old Value debater than a 16-year-old Policy debater.  A few years ago, policy debaters were covering the criminal justice system too, discussing many of the same things as value debaters this year.  They needed evidence.  Why shouldn’t value debaters need the same?  

When discussing the specifics of America’s system, there is no reason for a judge to simply believe a teenager that America’s justice system prioritizes retribution.  You need experts to back this up.

The NCFCA resolution especially expects to be implemented in a real-world criminal justice system.  You cannot simply claim that retribution deters more than rehabilitation without backing that up.  The fact that it is “value debate” is no excuse.  If you want to make claims about how things work in the real world, then you must provide support for your claims about what’s going on in the real world.  

This means research.  Do not take a debater’s word that Singapore is a completely retributive system.  Actually explore the facts.  You might be surprised.  More than that, you can surprise your judge and opponent.  You can look more credible and more researched.  Your opponent’s warrantless claims sound much more specious when the experts, as well as you, disagree.

For a discussion of how to research, refer to this article.

Know your stuff

In a recent round, I was Affirmative.  After responding to my opponent’s case and defending my own case in the 1AR, my opponent simply walked back over his first speech in his NR, without further developing his responses.  He simply repeated his earlier arguments.  This kind of debating means that in most debates, giving the 2AR is the easiest speech of the round.  Because my opponent could only reiterate his points from the NC, the 2AR was simply pointing out that he had dropped most of my responses.  

You do not want to be like the Negative in this scenario.  You can avoid this by actually knowing your stuff.  Just like only knowing what’s on the brief in a policy round will leave you vulnerable to the far more knowledgeable Affirmative, only knowing what is on the brief for value debate will leave you with no way to respond to your opponent’s responses to your responses in your NR/2AR.  If you want to have intelligent responses all through the debate, you have to understand the issues yourself, not just stick to what is on the brief.  It also helps to write your own briefs if you want to do this well.  You should also write your own cases as well.  Here’s Isaiah on why you should write your own case (applies in value as well as policy debate).

In other words, you have to go beyond the brief and know why you put what you put on the brief.  This means that when responding to an application like Kelo v. New London, you must actually read the decision, not just read what people said about Kelo. Once you understand Steven’s decision, it is far easier to extend your responses all the way through the round.  Instead of having one knowledgeable speech in response to your opponent’s arguments, you can have two, and increase your credibility as well as your win rate.  

Prep General Arguments

It is part of being a debater to have rivalries with other debaters.  You may really want to hit that one debater, so you prep a whole case in response to his.  You go to the next tournament and do not even hit him.  This is frustrating for a number of reasons, not least of which is the amount of work you put into that brief.  

But chances are that someone at that tournament has similar ideas to the person you wanted to debate.  Perhaps several people are arguing that retribution deters crime.  Of course they will be arguing that idea in different ways, with a different value and different examples.  The brief that you prepare against your friend could do just as well against these other people, if you prep for the general argument that retribution deters crime instead of the specific argument our friend makes. 

General preparation means that you can work your brief into what it needs to be in round, and that you will be prepared with the information you need to do this.  

Practically, what this looks like is making a brief on Deterrence in general, or making a brief on the specific examples that get used a lot.  But the bottom line is to prepare for arguments many people will run, not just one person.  

Only Include Relevant Points

Over the summer I collected about fifty pages worth of research, which was all fine and dandy until I actually had to use that in the first practice rounds.  It involved a lot of wasted time flipping through pages trying to find the evidence I wanted, and confusion as I tried to find out what I wanted to run.  Do not subject yourself to that in value debate (or policy debate for that matter).  

Of course, you could organize your points with a table of contents and basically memorize the tags of all your evidence, but if your brief was concise and ready to be deployed immediately, then it would involve significantly less preparation time, less prep time in round, less work, and less paper, which your parents will probably appreciate.

Your value briefs should include the relevant points so you waste neither your own time nor your opponent’s time.  I am sure you can construct nine responses to an application of Norway, but can you make the judge care?  You only need the information that you will use in round.  So focus on what matters.  

In practice, this means not including information that does not help you, and leaving out information that you will have to waste prep time reading through.  Your briefs should be ready to skim over in prep time and apply to the case straight away in your speech.  

Outline Responses

One last thing you do not want to do with briefs is write a paragraph-long response to an argument.  This goes back to a general discussion of why outlining cases is preferable to pre-writing them (some small benefits include higher speaker points, more time variability, and a greater ability to adapt to the opponent’s case, but I digress).  Particularly when it comes to a brief, you need to be able to work the specific argument to the round- something a pre-written block of text does not allow.  

I have seen several people who employ pre-written briefs in their debates against me.  These pre-written briefs (as well as the cases they wrote) tended not to mesh well with the argument I was actually making.  I had presented an argument about the effectiveness of a privately run rehabilitation program that happened within a prison, and my opponent responded with a pre-fabricated argument about how the resolution happens within the criminal justice system, so that application does not fit under the resolution.  But my application actually was a rehabilitation program taking place in prison.  This is a bit of an extreme example (chances are your pre-written responses are not completely wrong in most cases), but simply writing a response to a general argument without allowing room for adaptation will leave you open to making these kind of mistakes.  


Noah Farley is a junior in high school.  He has been debating for three years, primarily in LD and Parli.  He participates in both Stoa and NCFCA but doesn’t have a favorite league yet.


Example Briefs:

So with all that said, you might still want to know what briefs look like.  So here are two briefs I recently constructed.  The first is for an NCFCA Negative, arguing against a generic “rehab lowers recidivism” case.  The second is for a Stoa Affirmative, arguing against an application of Kelo v. New London.  I hope these two briefs demonstrate what a general case brief and an application-specific brief might look like.   

Affirmative: Rehabilitation lowers recidivism:

  1. More important goal- Justice is most important value (cross-apply value responses)
  1. Difficult to compare (Country-to-country comparisons are not simple)

Carolyn W. Deady, “Incarceration and Recidivism: Lessons From Abroad”.  March 2014, Accessed December 8, 2016.  http://www.salve.edu/sites/default/files/filesfield/documents/Incarceration_and_Recidivism.pdf

It should be noted that comparing international recidivism rates can be tricky. Countries track them differently, often using different terms (reconviction, re-arrest, relapse, reimprisonment) and varied lengths of time for studies.  

  1. Offender specific- effects of one policy are difficult to nail down

Recidivism is offender-specific

Lin Song and Roxanne Lieb.  “Recidivism: The Effect of Incarceration and Length of Time Served.” Washington State Institute for Public Policy. 1993  Accessed December 8, 2016. http://pgn-stage.wsipp.wa.gov/ReportFile/1152/Wsipp_Recidivism-The-Effect-of-Incarceration-and-Length-of-Time-Served_Full-Report.pdf

Study findings indicate that the effect of incarceration (versus other sentencing options) and sentence length on recidivism is complex and is likely to be offender-specific. For some offenders, incarceration and longer confinement seem to increase the risk of recidivism. For other offenders, the likelihood of reoffense will either be unaffected or reduced by longer terms of incarceration. Furthermore, early-release programs do not appear to affect overall recidivism rates.

  1. Small impact on safety- much recidivism is made up of people who broke their parole, not people who hurt others

Jeffrey Ian Ross, Ph.D. and Stephen C. Richards, Ph.D.  “Beyond Bars: Rejoining Society After Prison” Penguin Group 2009. (No URL)

Nearly 50 of new admissions are people who have previously served time; in effect, the same individuals are being “recycled” over and over again.  Most men and women who go back to prison do so for parole violations.  A smaller number are convicted of new crimes.

Negative: Kelo v. New London is bad

  1. Nothing to do with Public Need- Decision had nothing to do with Public Need

Justice John Paul Stevens “Kelo v. City of New London” Legal Information Institute 2005.  Accessed December 8, 2016.  https://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/html/04-108.ZS.html

Moreover, while the city is not planning to open the condemned land–at least not in its entirety–to use by the general public, this “Court long ago rejected any literal requirement that condemned property be put into use for the … public.” Id., at 244. Rather, it has embraced the broader and more natural interpretation of public use as “public purpose.

  1. Eminent Domain generally benign- ED typically used to build things the public uses, not bring in more tax dollars

Aministrator, “Eminent Domain: Not All That Bad.” Iowa City Beacon November 15, 2016.  Accessed December 8, 2016 http://icbeacon.com/eminent-domain-not-bad/

The Interstate Highway System was started by President Eisenhower in the 1950s as a way to tie the country together and facilitate the movement of troops and material. As an eight-year-old kid eager to get to the farm for a visit to grandma, the two-lane highways of the early 1950s choked with National Guard Convoys was excruciating. The interstate system changed all that. Judging from the number of trucks along I-80 it is pretty clear that private commerce may be the ultimate beneficiary of the system. But there are a lot of people heading for the lake or a visit to the grandkids who are more likely to get there safely on an interstate. Whenever you fly into an airport you are the beneficiary of eminent domain.

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