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Part 1 covered fact-finding questions, while Part 2 looked at Catch-22s. Now, we get to Part 3: Storytelling.


If fact-finding is the grammar of cross-examination, and Catch-22s are the logic, then storytelling is the rhetoric. Like the previous type of questioning, this also involves chains of questioning, but it is narrative rather than logical in nature. Essentially: this asks the question, “what happens next? And what happens after that?” I recommend never asking those precise questions in cross-examination (see earlier notes about how to lose). A better question format may be, “What prevents this from happening next?” Human brains remember stories better than any other method of presenting information, so giving your questions the shape of a chain of events creates a narrative your judge may be more likely to remember.

Lest I display partisan bias, here’s another line of questioning from the fictional immigration resolution:

Q: Would it be fair to characterize your argument as saying that high-tech border security lets fewer people past the border than a wall?

A: That’s what our experts conclude, yes.

Q: I hope you’ll indulge me in thinking this out more carefully. Let’s say there is a part of the border that has a physical barrier–perhaps a steel-slat wall or some sort of fence with coils of barbed wire on top. Could someone walk across the border there?

A: No, but that wouldn’t stop them from getting in. We provided evidence of the countless tunnels that have been discovered under the border. And who knows how many other tunnels are not discovered.

Q: So if someone trying to cross the border encounters a wall, you’re saying that would not stop them. It would only slow them down until they could tunnel underneath.

A: Exactly.

Q: Okay, now let’s suppose your plan is implemented, and all of this high-tech equipment is installed along the border. I’m assuming this is cameras and motion sensors, right?

A: Right.

Q: Okay, so someone tries to sneak across the border in a place guarded by cameras and motion detectors. What prevents him from walking across the border?

A: Border patrol. They would get a notification and go out to pick him up.

Q: So once he is inside, you say he will be apprehended, but at the border itself, will anything physically impede him from crossing from Mexico into the United States?

A: It isn’t needed; he will still be caught before he gets very far.

Q: Alright, so the chain of events you are describing goes like this: First, the guy crosses the border. Second, a camera or motion sensor detects him and alerts border patrol. Third, border patrol drives out to the location, finds him, and arrests him. Is that how it works or did I leave anything out?

A: Yes, that’s how it works.

Q: Now I’m guessing this will only work if those trying to sneak across the border don’t know where the detectors are located, or they can just avoid them. Is that right?

A: Yes, they will be hidden or camouflaged.

Q: Could someone just tunnel under this method of security?

A: They would have no idea which areas to avoid, and they would have to make the tunnels much longer, because we will set up the equipment to cover several miles behind the border. It wouldn’t be successful.

Q: Now your first advantage states that this method will allow us to catch more people crossing the border illegally. Where do they go after they are caught?

A: They are taken to a border patrol facility and processed.

Q: Once they are processed, do you let them go?

A: [trying to spike a catch-and-release disadvantage] DHS will pick them up and hold them until trial.

Q: How long is it before DHS picks them up?

A: It’s usually within 48 hours. [Having not researched this in depth, I’m not sure whether this is true.]

Q: Usually within 48 hours. What if DHS gets backlogged with all the extra folks who have been caught? How long will it take then?

A: DHS is required by law to transfer them within 7 days. [Again, not sure whether this is true.]

Q: So to summarize, border patrol will get a notification when a sensor is triggered. They will rush out there to arrest whoever crossed the border illegally. Then they will hold them until DHS picks them up, which is usually within 2 days, but could be up to a week.

A: Yes.

Q: Thank you, that was very enlightening.

The Application

The questioner’s partner then argues in the next speech that, instead of making traffickers work harder to get into the country, this plan makes border patrol work harder to keep them out. He then raises an argument about how border patrol is already underfunded and overworked, and now their jobs just got harder. He impacts to solvency or a disadvantage or both.

Additionally, there’s the possibility that, like me, the team running this plan did not research the full sequence of events that would result from their plan, and would be forced to answer, “I don’t know” to some of the above questions.

While the other types of questioning are common with top-level debaters (at least, from my experience watching, competing in, and judging outrounds), this is rare because it is extremely difficult to do well, especially off the cuff. If this interests you, I suggest you base it of the written opinions of credible sources (as their chain of events will likely be more credible than anything you can come up with). This means planning it out ahead of time as part of your strategy when running certain arguments (in general, it’s not a bad idea to plan out possible cross-examination strategies ahead of time). It may take some work, plus, if you have an expert saying something is likely to happen, and the opposing team “isn’t sure” if there’s anything to prevent it from happening, that makes a pretty solid argument.

These are a few types of questions (and certainly not the only types) to make your cross-examinations more powerful and productive. In closing, I would encourage you to take these as ideals; don’t be discouraged if you can’t immediately leverage these to win rounds. As with anything in debate, the way to improve is to practice, practice, practice.
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