“No way I should’ve lost that round; I won every argument on the flow.” “How did I lose? The judge ignored my most important argument!” “It’s not my fault I lost; my logic was perfect.”
You’ve likely heard people justify their losses in these ways. Thoughts along those lines might have even come to your own mind before. The good news is: there’s something you can do that will consistently win not just your flow, but the judge’s. That skill is tagging.
Starting Off – What is Tagging?
A tag is a short phrase of two to five words that you want the judge to write down to remember an argument. We all instinctively tag our contentions in LD, as well as our harms and advantages in TP. If you state: “My first contention is that preventive war protects human rights”, the tag is: “preventive war protects human rights”. If you tell the judge: “My first harm is of economic damage”, your tag is: “economic damage”.
The tag is what you want the judge to write down. It’s also likely that if you debate Lincoln-Douglas, you have a tag for your value and applications. If you’re a Team Policy debater, you probably have tags for your evidence in your briefs.
The key to tagging is this: Move from tagging instinctively to deliberately tagging every argument you run.
When to Tag
Throughout my years in competition, I’ve noticed that the vast majority of competitors don’t tag consistently. Surprisingly, even at the highest levels of competition like semifinals and finals rounds, opponents will tag in their constructive and then not at all in their rebuttals. You can easily set yourself apart by not just tagging every so often, but by making it a habit to tag every single argument.
This means that if you’re responding to an argument, instead of saying: “My opponent said […]”, and then moving directly into the content of your response, state a sentence like: “My opponent said […], my response is that [tag]. [Content of the response]”.
Don’t tag occasionally and then ignore it at other times; make it a habit to tag every argument you give.
The reason to tag consistently is because it vastly increases the chance of the judge writing down your arguments. If you tag sometimes, and then not tag other times, you send the judge mixed signals. They have to guess what you want them to write down. Regardless of how important you see an argument as, the judge may have a completely different perspective. When you consistently tag, and give the judge something to write down for every argument, they’re more likely to remember that argument and factor it into their decision.
That brings us to…
How to Tag
Learning to tag is difficult. It’s easy to skip the tag and launch into your argument because you don’t have to spend time condensing it down into a sentence for the judge. So how do you make a tag?
I’ve developed a simple question I ask myself whenever I need a tag: “What’s my argument in the shortest phrase possible?”
For instance, imagine the resolution is that “The European Union should be abolished.” You’re negative, and you notice that your opponent’s entire case revolves around one branch of the European Union being flawed, rather than the entire European Union itself. You plan to give one response to the entire affirmative case, which is that because your opponent has only proven one part of the EU flawed, that doesn’t prove the resolution.
Ask yourself “What’s my argument in the shortest phrase possible?” Tags that come to mind for me are: “Part to whole”, “Doesn’t prove resolution”, “One branch, not EU”, or “Doesn’t justify abolition”. All of these would work, and they all have one thing in common: they summarize the argument in a few words that are easy for the judge to write down.
A tag is not meant to explain every detail of your argument, or every single premise; it’s summarizing the entire argument in one phrase. It’s like the SparkNotes summary of a book. When crafting a tag, you have to keep it short, accurate, and memorable.
I wrote at the beginning of this article that tagging will boost your consistency. You might be questioning why.
The Importance of Tagging
In the rounds where having an edge on argumentation matters the most, judges will likely spend some time to look over their notes before they cast their ballot – even if it’s just a few minutes.
If you don’t tag, one of two situations are likely:
Situation A. The judge didn’t write down your argument, because you didn’t give them something simple to put in their notes. Argumentation goes by quickly, and by the time the judge thought of something to write down, you moved on to the next argument.
Situation B. The judge wrote something down, but it doesn’t encapsulate your argument. When you don’t tag, you give the judge no direction on what to write down on their notes.
Both of these situations decrease your consistency. Hoping that the judge wrote down your argument the way you want is leaving the round up to pure chance. Tagging solves that. When you tag every argument, you let the judge know what to write down, so when they refer to their notes later, they remember exactly what you were saying.
Remember this: Even if it looks like you won on your flow, that doesn’t mean you won on the judge’s. Tagging transfers your flow to the judge’s during the round, which is the simplest and easiest way to increase your consistency.
About the Author
Kyle Lee has competed in both Stoa and NCFCA. His accomplishments include over one hundred top-three finishes, first place on Stoa speech ranks for the 2020-2021 season, and the record for the most first places won at a single NCFCA tournament (seven firsts in one go at the 2020 Bothell WA, NCFCA Qualifier). He coaches actively through his organization Conclusive Edge. Outside of speech and debate, Kyle is an avid rock climber, holds a second-degree black belt in Karate, and enjoys writing music in his free time.