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For TPers in the throes of tournament season, evidence can seem like the be-all, end-all. They desperately scrounge for cards and trade for briefs, then head off to a round, gripping those pages like they’re Ben Gates making off with the Declaration of Independence.

But evidence is only valuable if you use it right. You can’t rely on evidence to supply the bulk of your content. And you certainly can’t commit the Fatal Mistake: you can’t run examples as arguments.

Let me explain.

Let’s say you’re debating the res, “This house welcomes the increasing automation of labor” (one of Josh’s many useful practice parli resolutions). Opp says, “No, we don’t welcome it; Alexa is an automated product and Alexa can be hacked. Self-driving cars are automated and self-driving cars can crash.” (We can debate the relevance of those examples later.)

Here, Opp has done an admirable thing and brought concrete examples into the debate. That’s great. The major problem here is that they’re running those examples as if they’re enough, on their own, to warrant an Opp ballot. They’re not. Examples, stories, and evidence should be used to support claims. They should be the icing, not the cake.

If you’re a novice TP debater, you’ve probably done this a time or two. It’s tough to generate content, so you rely on briefs to supply arguments. There’s nothing wrong with that to get started; the problem is when you just read a tag and a piece of evidence and treat that as a stand-alone argument. You need to explain your argument, then read a piece of evidence to support it: “Automated labor is dangerous. Let me explain how and why. Now let me show you two examples. And finally, if labor continues to be automated, [bunnies in Zimbabwe will die, nuclear war will break out, etc.].”


Practice doing this at home or at club in small doses. Pull out a brief–any old brief–read through it, and pick an argument. Maybe it’s one listed in the Strategy Notes section (if that section exists), or maybe it’s something you create on the spot. Either way, set a timer for 45 seconds and give that argument without any evidence. Give it two or three times to make sure you can nail it. Then, add the card in. Give the argument the same way you did before, but with the added bonus of a piece of evidence or a historical example or a personal story to liven it up a bit. Do this two or three or six or ten or thirty times, and you’ll be a pro before you know it.

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