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“Rationalism ought to be valued over Empiricism” is the resolution for NCFCA LD this year, and between preparation for when they were considering it for the resolution a couple years ago and preparation for writing the source book this year, I have read through the Encyclopedia of Philosophy’s article on the topic 3 times in addition to the related articles from the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, the Encyclopedia of Britannica and and numerous other sources. Despite all this reading, when a debater read their debate case to me the other day, I still found myself saying, “You lost me” since the information was just too dense and complicated for me to keep up with the rate at which he was moving and the way he was explaining it. So how, with such a dense and complicated topic, can you explain it in a way that makes sense to a typical community judge with no knowledge or experience in the area? Here are a few suggestions:

  • Don’t use uncommon terms

Many debaters will use terms commonly used in the literature, and if they are less common they’ll define them. There are a couple problems with this strategy. First, it takes time to introduce and define a new term. Second, the new term is still unfamiliar to the judge, so even if you define it, it still takes more time to process when you use it later. Instead, most complicated term can be replaced with a more common term (e.g. Tabula Rasa to Blank Slate) or simple phrase (e.g. a priori to knowledge apart from experience.)

  • Use examples or analogies

Often it can be really difficult to explain an entirely new concept to a judge in such a short amount of time, but linking the new concept to a concept the judge already understands can help make it easier. Examples can help to show the judge areas where they have already seen the concept play out, and analogies can serve to show a relationship in a more familiar context.

  • Simplify the logic

At some level, every argument can be broken down into a syllogism and warrants for each of the premises. Understanding this logic structure is extremely beneficial and can help you make the connections between your arguments far more clear for your judge

  • Run it by non-debater

Oftentimes it can be hard for us as debaters, who have spent hours upon hours researching a niche topic, to understand what an average person understands about the topic. While we can simplify all we want, there really is no good replacement for just talking to people who don’t debate and seeing what they understand. Practice explaining the topic or your arguments to a friend or family member, and look for what they do and don’t understand, what questions they ask, and what phrasing or analogies finally help it to stick. Such practice can crystalize your explanations, helping to make sure everyone understands.

  • KISS (Keep it super simple/keep it simple stupid)

Sometimes the best, most logical, well-supported, and generally convincing arguments aren’t ones that can be explained reasonably in a 45 minute debate round. In these situations it is important to remember that the goal of the debate is to persuade the judge, and if the judge can’t understand your argument, it probably isn’t the best argument for the round, meaning you may want to choose a simpler one.

D. J. an economics major at North Carolina State University. Her debate philosophy is that debate should be fun for everyone, so keep it ethical so your opponent can enjoy the round, keep it entertaining so the judge enjoys it, and keep it lively and humorous so you can enjoy the round too. To learn more about D. J. you can read her bio here: https://www.ethosdebate.com/djmendenhall/ or book coaching with her here: https://www.ethosdebate.com/xl-3/

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