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Before my last tournament of my high school debate career, NITOC 2021, I had a stunning realization. 
My partner and I had booked private coaching to see what we needed to do to succeed at what was for us the pinnacle of our speech and debate career. After mere minutes of watching us debate l, our coach spoke the dreadful words to me.

“You’re doing your 2ACs wrong. You need to completely revamp the structure of your 2AC.” 

I was crushed. Not because I didn’t agree with her, but because I wished I had realized this sooner. It was almost too late to redeem myself. If I had been enlightened sooner I’m sure we would have done better at the most important tournament of our lives. 

I hope you’re not reading this right before your last tournament. Because my goal is to show you what to do to take your 2AC from okay-ish to top-tier. I’d rather you learn this lesson now than when it’s too late. You’re doing your 2ACs wrong.

Most novice/intermediate debaters I see structure their 2ACs quite simply. Respond to everything the Negative said in the last speech. It’s not a bad idea, and depending on your level of skill that might be the best thing to do. However, it’s not optimal. To see why, we have to understand what the 2AC needs to accomplish in the broader context of the round as a whole. 

What is the purpose of the 2AC? 

The 2AC needs to accomplish three main things: 

  1. Swing back the judge to their side after the 1NC.
  2. Prepare for the Neg block (using strategies like spiking arguments and bringing up material for the 1AR to pull from).
  3. Finish constructing the Affirmative case, adapting to the Negative strategy.

That last one is a goal that most debaters don’t know how to do well. Yet it is simply adding on to the 1AC that can make the difference between an okay Affirmative strategy and an excellent one. 

How to divide the 2AC up

If you’re spending more than six minutes doing direct refutation on the 1NCs arguments, you’re making a mistake. 

But Nathanael! If I drop something from the 1NC, then I can’t respond to it later! The Neg will surely capitalize on it, and then we’ll lose. 

I’m not saying you should drop things, at least not important things. But I am saying that you need to spend your time on your most important arguments, and that means extending your case as much as possible. 

In particular, I recommend 3-5 minutes of the 2AC spent bringing up constructive arguments that further the narrative you began in the 1AC. 

Let’s look at some examples of how you can construct new arguments in the 2AC.

Method #1: Adding Full Arguments

This one is pretty easy. All you have to do is just say something like: 

“I’m going to add some solvency points to our case, further proving how our plan will succeed. You can tag the second solvency point of the Affirmative side, solvency point two, as ‘99% accuracy’.”

You can have subpoints, impacts, or if it’s an advantage, a full structure (harm, solvency, impact), depending on how much time you want to spend on the argument. 

Method #2: Extending on arguments shelled out by the 1AC

Extension is the process of adding more support for or adding new subpoints under an argument previously brought up in the debate round. For example, you can extend on a harm by reading more evidence or bringing up additional impacts to the harm. 

Extensions can be super powerful, because instead of spending time explaining the story behind a completely new argument, you just focus on the new material. 

Example: “I want to bring up an additional impact to our harm. You can tag it as, ‘Increased domestic violence'”

Method #3: Spiking arguments in the Neg block

Spiking an argument is where you respond to something you know the Neg will say before they bring it up. Sometimes it’s worth it to explicitly say, “In the next speech, the Neg will come up and say X. When they do, my response is Y” However, a more strategic move is to simply bring up the argument as material for the 1AR/2AR to use. 

Methods 2 and 3 work really well together. You can combine into a big argument/contention/observation like so: 

Argument 1: Flawed Policy

  1. Failure since 2000 (extension of the harm) 
  2. Inherent to the system (spike to respond to the “We could fix it” point Neg will run)
  3. Worsening as time goes on 
  4. Impact: Must take action 

Starting your 2ACs off with an argument like this can be extremely effective at winning the judge over to your side from the get go, and also setting you up very well for the 13 minutes of the Neg block. 

The only question that remains is, how do you respond to the 1NC in only 2-3 minutes?

Here’s some tips: 

  • One thing a lot of people forget is that the 1NC is not usually that great of a speech in terms of analysis. You know your case a lot better than they do, so oftentimes novice teams end up leaving their best arguments for the Neg block. Although it can be fun to just literally destroy the silly arguments that they bring up, it’s a better idea to spend as little time as possible doing so. So if it can be brushed off with a simple, 20 second response, do that. 
  • Second, cross apply arguments that you have brought up to extend your case. It’s easy to work in a sentence or two, or even a full subpoint into your arguments that you run at the beginning, and then you can just point back to your analysis that you’ve worked into the broader narrative. 
  • Third, work on time management. A lot of arguments can be responded to much quicker than you think. If you know an argument won’t win the round for the Neg, you can drop it or brush it off very quickly. If they have a really good solvency point, then give your best responses right away, but don’t waste time with it. 

My last piece of advice: script out your 2ACs, at least the construction part. Practice them, time them, and drill down your persuasive explanations of arguments. The 2AC is a constructive, use it as such.

I hope this has been helpful, and if you have any questions about this article or debate theory/strategy in general, feel free to comment down below. 

nathanael holding gun

Nathanael Morgan is a freshman at the Saint Constantine College in Houston, Texas. As an accomplished debater with 3 years of competitive experience in Stoa and numerous awards, he enjoys researching and coaching others. Among other things, he also enjoys speedcubing, chess, and technology.

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