You just pulled an all-nighter pounding out your LD case (or commandeered one from our widely acclaimed sourcebooks) and want to ensure it’s airtight before tomorrow’s tournament. Here are five strategies for your arsenal.
Strategy 1: The Five Whys
Debaters could stand to be both less and more like toddlers—less caterwauling after unfair rounds, more relentless interrogation of literally everything. The question “why?” represents a demand for justification. There are two distinct incarnations of this question and you should be fluent in the answers to both for each element of your case:
- Why is this true?
- Why is this important?
If you journal the answers to these questions for every sentence of your LD case, you’ll be infinitely better equipped than 95% of your competition.
To execute the “Five Whys” drill effectively, pick any idea in your case—this can be as macroscopic as your value or minute as the second sentence of your first contention’s third subpoint—and channel your inner toddler: Ask yourself “why?” five times. This could entail:
- Breadth: Generate five different reasons for a particular idea in your case, fortifying it with broad support. For instance, if your value is freedom, you contrive five different reasons to prefer freedom.
- Depth: Generate five interconnected for a particular idea in your case, fortifying it with deep support. If your value is freedom, you write a reason to prefer your value, then X reason for your reason to prefer, then Y reason for X reason, then Z reason for Y reason, etc.
Strategy 2: Debate Yourself
Record yourself presenting your AC (independently beneficial for refining the only scripted aspect of the round). Play the recording, flow the speech, and present a full NC against your case. Don’t forget to record the NC so you can switch to affirmative, listen to the speech, and present a 1AR against yourself. You’ll isolate case flaws you never noticed before. Besides, if you’ve never watched a recording of yourself, you’ll identify approximately two hundred problems with your delivery. Bonus points if you concoct an effective strategy to CX yourself.
Strategy 3: Case Diagrams
Some of us developed PTSD from English curricula mandating we outline essays in excruciatingly unintuitive ways. If that’s you, don’t think about outlining your case—diagram it visually. Use a large blank piece of paper, draw boxes and circles containing claims and warrants, and connect everything with arrows. Get creative. You’ll begin conceptualizing argumentative relationships differently, which facilitates new insights.
(And seriously, outlining is overrated. I survived college using this technique without ever constructing a conventional outline.)
Strategy 4: Definition Briefs
Create briefs containing every potential permutation of the key terms in the resolution. OneLook Dictionary Search is a superb resource for this. This benefits you in two ways:
- Economizes Time. You can already predict your opponent’s definition based on their source, which translates into not frantically flowing a definition with which you’re unfamiliar.
- Defuses Definition Debates: You’re prepared to drop “consensus” as a reason to prefer your definitions whenever you’re confronted with the bane of every LDer’s existence.
Strategy 5: Value Briefs
There are, like, three main species of values commonly used in NCFCA and Stoa:
- Utilitarian Goods: Quality of life, general welfare, societal wellbeing, health, security, safety, prosperity, economic growth, progress, life, etc.
- Rights-Based Obligations: Human rights, human dignity, autonomy, liberty/freedom, life, etc.
- Other Miscellaneous Obligations: Justice, democracy, purpose of government, equality, etc.
Life is included in multiple categories because debaters leverage it in different fashions, presenting life sometimes as a utilitarian good (vote for whichever side protects the most lives) and other times as a moral obligation (vote for whichever side doesn’t violate the right to life). This ambiguity affects other concepts listed above but that’s a topic for a subsequent blog post.
Armed with this typology, simulate value clashes with yourself—give yourself five minutes to scribble down how you’d beat a particular value, then convert those notes into cogent reasons to prefer and compile everything into a brief.
Joel Erickson coaches Lincoln-Douglas debate for Ethos and British parliamentary debate at Wheaton College, where he studied philosophy.