I’ll never forget the moment. It was my third year of debate (revenue generation policies) and my partner and I were at our second tournament together. Both of us hated research and our evidence box was in a very sorry shape. In round 2, we hit a young team that ran a case to end all United States tariffs. My partner and I looked at each other in panic as we both searched frantically for a brief…to no avail (we later figured out we actually did have a Blue Book brief on the case, but that’s a lesson for a different post). I had never won a round without a brief before. My partner was only in his second year of debate and panicked whenever he saw me panic. We closed the box, took deep breaths, and continued listening to the 1AC. Cross-examination went fairly well and when I sat down, my partner looked at me with a huge grin and started rattling off all the arguments he was going to run in his 1NC. As he gave his impressively good speech, I glanced over the case. My brains started finding holes in the arguments left and right. By the time my partner sat down from cross-examination, my flow was filled with far more than eight minutes of argumentation. We ended up winning the round.
The moral of the story is not to neglect writing briefs. Rather, it is to point out the importance of an integral part of your debate career: knowledge. Knowledge is power, and debate is no exception. We did not win that round on fluffy rhetoric or source indictments. We won because my partner knew a lot about tariffs and was able to prove why removing them altogether would result in much harm. We won because I knew a lot about unemployment and showed the audience why changing the business regime in America so drastically could increase unemployment. The judge actually wrote on the RFD that he voted for us because we seemed to know more about the case than the affirmative team did.
So there’s the what and the why: Knowing a lot about the resolution helps you win rounds. It also increases your scope of knowledge in general and makes you a more aware person. But within the specific scope of debate, a ton of background knowledge about the topic is like a goldmine. Its importance in success at debate cannot be overstated. That said, it is not all that easy to actually gain that knowledge. There are a few specific ways:
1. Find something that interests you within the resolution. It’s hard to read a lot about the resolution if it doesn’t interest you in general, but you can certainly find a small part that you like a lot. For instance, the United States’ foreign military policies do not interest me very much. Fortunately, Europe does. I read a lot about Europe’s military policies with the US, and thus I’ve become fairly well-educated on that particular section of the US military. It has also inspired me to read more about the topic. If just one area is so interesting, the rest is at least worth a look, right? (The logic worked on my caffeine-drowned brain at least.)
2. Read the news. Better yet, compete in Extemporaneous speaking. I know Extemp is not for everyone, but it made me an exponentially better debater. If you really just don’t want to do that, then at least read the news. Set up headline alerts on your phone. Check the Google News homepage every morning. Read a few articles. Talk about the news with your friends and family. Soon enough, you’ll realize how relevant it is to your world and you’ll start getting really interested.
3. Read your briefs. I do not recommend relying solely on briefs, but there are many good things to be said about having a substantial amount of evidence in your box. However, your research will not benefit you much at all if you do not know what it says. Knowing what it says will enable you to make arguments without reading the evidence in the round and will also help you cross-apply it to other cases. Furthermore, it’s always better to know what you’ll run, how, and why before you even go to the tournament. It will make your attack much more cohesive.
I cannot give you the bulletproof method to winning every round. But I can tell you that I have won several if not every negative round over the past year and a half because I’ve known so much about the resolutions. Read, become culturally aware, and get passionate about the topics that matter in the real world.