Loose Nukes Because every debate can be improved with a little highly-enriched uranium.


Parametrics: A response to Isaiah McPeak (part 2)

Part 2 (or part 5, if you're counting that way) in my parametrics discussion with the incomparable Isaiah McPeak of Ethos. Because we all love quasi-useful theory debates. 😛

Before reading, make sure you've read the original parametrics post, Isaiah's first response, my response to Isaiah, and Isaiah's second response. (That's over 7,000 words - w00t!)

Occam's razor, redux: No unnecessary leprechauns!

(Note: My examples for the remainder of this post will relate to topical counterplans. I realize that topical counterplans are not the point of parametrics, but in practice, they're the only part that matters in-round, and they're an easy place to see the logic in action. Bear with me here.)

In my response, I referenced Occam's razor as my justification for rejecting parametrics. Isaiah objected to this, saying:

. . . the statement  that “we should reject parametrics automatically as an unnecessary layer of complexity” still smacks of “rejecting” parametrics, rather than saying “don’t USE parametrics because there is no need”. I find it humorous to see Occam’s razor as a reason to “reject” anything. Occam’s razor isn’t a reason to reject, it is a reason to ignore/not use.

The problem is that parametrics isn't something you apply on a case-by-case basis: it's either true or it isn't. Because of this, "not using" it is more or less equivalent to "rejecting" it.

Running a theory argument is essentially the same as pointing out a logical fallacy: you're saying "X is not a logically valid reason to vote." For example, fiat says "'that won't happen' isn't a logically sound reason to vote against a plan", topicality says "nontopical plans aren't a logically sound reason to vote for the resolution", etc. Parametrics is the same way: it's a reason why topical counterplans are a logically valid reason to vote against the resolution.

Since it's a logical argument, if parametrics isn't true, topical counterplans are never a reason to vote against the resolution. You can't apply it on a case-by-case basis.

Wikipedia states:

It is coherent to add the involvement of Leprechauns to any explanation, but Occam's razor would prevent such additions, unless they were necessary.

Premise 1: Endorsing the resolution means the judge should vote Affirmative.
Premise 2: Running a "topical counterplan" endorses the resolution. (By definition.)
Conclusion: If a topical counterplan is run, the judge should vote Affirmative.

We can destroy this logic by inserting an extra premise, leprechauns:

Premise 1: Endorsing the resolution means the judge should vote Affirmative.
ARBITRARY EXTRA PREMISE: Mischievous leprechauns change the resolution after the 1AC, just because they feel like it.
Premise 2: Running a "topical counterplan" endorses the resolution. (INVALID)
Conclusion: If a topical counterplan is run, the judge should vote Affirmative. (INVALID)

Premise 1: Endorsing the resolution means the judge should vote Affirmative.
Premise 2: Running a "topical counterplan" endorses the resolution. (By definition.)
Conclusion: If a topical counterplan is run, the judge should vote Affirmative.

We can destroy this logic by inserting an extra premise, parametrics:

Premise 1: Endorsing the resolution means the judge should vote Affirmative.
ARBITRARY EXTRA PREMISE: We redefine the resolution to be just the Affirmative plan, just because we feel like it.
Premise 2: Running a "topical counterplan" endorses the resolution. (INVALID)
Conclusion: If a topical counterplan is run, the judge should vote Affirmative. (INVALID)

Yes, we could use leprechauns to defend topical counterplans. But unless there's a particularly pressing reason to, we shouldn't. Likewise, we could use parametrics to defend topical counterplans. But unless there's a particularly pressing reason to, we shouldn't.

Does parametrics correct injustices?

But what if there is a "particularly pressing need?" Both Isaiah and I agree that the popular argument - offtopic disadvantages - is not a justification for parametrics. In his last post, however, he raised a new point:

Suppose the Government team abolishes our nuclear stockpile, and the Opposition reduces it instead. Both the Government and the Opposition could theoretically be construed as "significantly reforming policy towards Russia." . . . So the affirmative does some wordplay and spends its time on dictionary definitions of the word “reform” instead of comparing the benefits of abolishing over reducing (which is a fair, reasonable, and should be expected debate) . . . Given that [the] negative ran a CP, parametrics is a great argument here to focus the debate back on the substantive issues.

There are two problems with this.

First, just because something is important doesn't mean we should talk about it in-round. (The situation in Libya is important, but we shouldn't be discussing it in a round about, say, tax reform.) That's the whole point of the resolution - to narrow the ground of discussion. Reduction vs. abolition feels like a worthwhile, "substantive" issue, but it's not what the resolution is about. The resolution asks us: "should we reform our policy towards Russia?" Not: "how should we reform our policy towards Russia?"

I could run an unrelated Affirmative plan about Africa, and it might be important, but it's not relevant. Likewise, I could run a topical counterplan, and it might be important, but it's not relevant. It doesn't fall under the resolution-appointed topic of discussion.

The argument above essentially says, "well, let's change the resolution then." (That's basically what parametrics does.) But this is a slippery slope. If "being important" is enough to justify changing the resolution, we should do away with the resolution entirely, so we can talk about any important issue we want. That's ridiculous.

If you want to keep the debate substantial... just don't run a topical counterplan.

Second, there are many cases where introducing parametrics does not have a good outcome. For example, the Negative could get up and propose a counterplan that is identical to the Affirmative's plan, except with one mandate slightly changed. (This is common in other leagues.) As a result, the entire round winds up being a completely superfluous discussion of implementation details, instead of actual argumentation about whether the plan is a good idea.

People have been arguing about whether topical counterplans improve debate for years. The only answer everyone can agree on is "we don't really know." Until there's no particularly pressing reason to insert the arbitrary premise of parametrics into debate... we shouldn't.

No unnecessary leprechauns! 🙂

Coming Thursday: How to instantly improve your organization and clarity with one easy trick.

Filed under: Parametrics, Theory 2 Comments

Parametrics: A response to Isaiah McPeak (part 1)

Some months back I wrote a lengthy post laying out my objections to parametric theory. This past Saturday, the fascinating Isaiah McPeak of Ethos Publications (makers of the Ethos sourcebook) posted a response defending parametric theory and offering some additional advice on topical counterplans. This is my response to his response.

This is an ongoing discussion, so you'll want to read my original parametrics post and Isaiah's response before diving into this post.

Missing the point: The failure of the standard argument

In his response, Isaiah goes to great lengths to explain exactly why affirming the resolution does not require affirming every possible example of the resolution. He concludes by stating:

As you argue later, “All three frameworks discussed so far have been based off of the assumption that voting for the entire resolution endorses every possible plan.” Since I have challenged this assumption, the rest of your arguments kind of fall.

I must admit that I'm somewhat puzzled by this, because he's making the exact same argument I am. In very next paragraph after the one he quoted, I argue that voting for the entire resolution does not endorse every possible plan. In fact, this argument is the reason I reject parametrics: if one example is enough to affirm the resolution, why do we need to narrow it down to the Affirmative plan? Parametrics is simply unnecessary.

I suspect the confusion arises from the structure of my original post. I spend the first half of it explaining the standard (flawed) arguments for parametrics, before turning around and explaining why it's wrong in "What everyone misses: The requirement of the resolution." This structure makes sense from a teaching standpoint, but it can be confusing if you don't read the entire thing.

Occam's razor and the parametric beard

Occam's razor is often stated as "entities must not be multiplied beyond necessity" (although these exact words do not appear in any of his works.) Basically, explanations shouldn't be more complicated than they need to be. Wikipedia gives a good example:

It is coherent to add the involvement of Leprechauns to any explanation, but Occam's razor would prevent such additions, unless they were necessary.

A similar principle applies to debate theory: Don't go for a complicated paradigm when a simple one works just as well. My personal rule - The Resolutional Bludgeon - states:

If you can resolve a problem with the resolution alone, do it.

In this case, since the resolution alone is enough to explain the proper behavior of teams in the round, we should reject parametrics automatically as an unnecessary layer of complexity.

Why prefer the resolution, though? Occam's razor again. If we go for another paradigm, we have to add in the resolution to explain topicality, et cetera. The resolution alone is much simpler than an alternate paradigm plus the resolution. Preferring it tends towards maximum simplicity.

Parametrics in parliamentary

At this point, it would seem that we are almost in agreement - there's nothing inherently wrong with the standard rezcentrism framework. Isaiah seems to believe that parametrics is necessary anyway. His primary argument for this stems from parliamentary debate:

As an experienced parli debater, I’ve used parametrics quite a few times and seen the application from resolutions like “mute the red phone” where you really need parametrics because every negative counterplan could potentially be construed to “mute the red phone”.

This would be a persuasive argument for the application of parametrics - if "mute the red phone" was, in fact, a policy resolution. It's not.

Earlier, Isaiah makes this point for me:

The phrasing of policy vs. value ... has different logic requirements. A value resolution is usually phrased “x value is greater than y value”. Here the “sum total” must be taken into consideration, so that an aff or neg wins by proving the rez is more true than false or more false than true. The phrasing of a policy resolution “X policy body should be changed” does not require proof that MORE policies should be changed than not, but merely that one should be changed ...

I would contend that "mute the red phone" has different logic requirements as well. While it implies a policy action, the resolution is intentionally vague and subjective. (It's a metaphor, not a specific range of policy options.)

To put this visually, policy resolutions are commonly depicted as a circle containing a range of options. Metaphor resolutions are more like a blob:Some actions (like physically muting an actual red phone) are clearly topical. Other actions (like unilaterally abolishing our nuclear stockpile) are also clearly topical, but in a more vague, metaphorical way (you're not literally "muting" a red phone, just getting rid of it and what it controls.) Still other actions (like abolishing duck hunting) might also be topical, but only under extremely broad interpretations of the resolution.

All this means that, even if parametrics is necessary for vague parliamentary resolutions, that doesn't automatically make it necessary for not-so-vague policy resolutions.

I don't actually believe that parametrics is necessary for metaphor resolutions - you can achieve the same results with straight-up topicality. With any resolution - especially vague ones - there's a fuzzy continuum between "clearly topical" and "clearly nontopical". Where exactly the "topical/nontopical" dividing line falls in that continuum can be hotly contested in the round. The exact same standards and brightlines used to argue that a Government plan is nontopical can be used to argue that a counterplan is nontopical.

To illustrate how this works, suppose the Government team abolishes our nuclear stockpile, and the Opposition reduces it instead. Both the Government and the Opposition could theoretically be construed as "muting the red phone". What now? Argue topicality! For example, the Opposition could present the standard that, to "mute" something, you have to completely eliminate its effectiveness; reductions don't eliminate effectiveness, so the Opp isn't "muting the red telephone." (Cue reasons-to-prefer.) Problem solved, with pure topicality.

All this is to say that metaphor resolutions in parli don't justify parametrics in TP.

Why does this matter?

As I've said before, parametrics isn't about topical counterplans - that's just a side effect. It's the most noticeable side effect, however, and arguably the most important in the real world.

You might notice that I haven't delved into the pragmatic issues surrounding whether topical counterplans are "good" for debate. The short answer is "I don't know" - I can see persuasive arguments on both sides (see Isaiah's post for a good listing.)

Under the resolutional framework, however, running a topical counterplan logically leads to an Aff win, and whether or not topical counterplans are "good" doesn't change that. If topical counterplans were clearly the best thing since sliced bread, it might be worth creating an exception in our framework, but the issue isn't that clear.

Note: I'm using the term "topical counterplan" here, even though I realize that "topical" counterplans aren't technical "topical" under the parametrics framework... don't kill me, HSD.

A side issue...

In my original post, I used "morally-difficult plans like banning abortion" as an example of arguments that were banned simply because they were abusive, not because of a specific logical framework. Isaiah took issue with this:

I hotly disagree with this assumption. ALL positive good on a policy level has at its root a moral premise. The skill of debate is CHARACTERIZED by learning to break seemingly tough problems into respective pieces (i.e. don’t argue “stealing babies is good”, argue “their plan doesn’t fix the problem”). From this perspective, all cases have morality at the root and a debater would be gaining little from Stoa/NCFCA debate if not learning to navigate the complexities of why we do what we do.

I'm not going to argue this, because it's completely beside the point. My original argument was simply that some things are inherently disallowed, even without a complex theoretical framework. (Punching your opponent in the face, as a less controversial example.) Whether or not abortion plans fall into this category is irrelevant to the logic of the point.

Regardless, there is a theoretical framework that works in this case - the resolution. We don't need to declare offtopic DAs "inherently disallowed", or parametricized away, to have a rational debate.

We now return you to your regularly scheduled programming.


The Epic Formatting Post

I wasn't quite sure whether to make this an introduction for newbies, or a technical reference manual, so I decided to make it both. The resulting monstrosity is probably the only document in existence that includes both technical descriptions of font readability and a giant mecha.

Written by quasi-request of several people, who probably regret ever bringing up the subject.

Semi-related note: Factsmith 1.1 was just released, which is part of the reason this post is late. Easier collaboration, access dates, automatic updates, etc. Get it while it's hot.


All of this is going to sound a lot more complicated than it really is (I really love technical details.) In fact, if you get Factsmith (see Part 2), you can pretty much ignore everything else in this post, but you might want to read it anyway to understand the reasoning behind what Factsmith does.

Otherwise, the most important sections are Parts 1 and 2, and the Extend-o-tron at the end.


Why format?

Answer: You format to win. Strange as it sounds, a well-formatted brief will help you win.

We format briefs for the same reason that we cut quotes instead of just printing the entire article out: It makes the evidence easier to handle. If your taglines and dates always look the same, and are always in the same place, you'll be able to find them much faster in-round than if you have to read through the whole document to find them.

Speed wins rounds. Formatting means speed. Ergo, formatting wins rounds.

Rule Number 1: Visual distinction

Taglines should look a certain way, citations should look a certain way, quotes should look a certain way. Basically, everything that serves a purpose should have a distinctive appearance.

Associating a specific look with a specific type of content allows your eyes to jump directly to where you want to go without having to read all the text. Taglines are a good example. If all the text looks the same, you have to read it all to find the taglines; if taglines have a specific appearance, you can just find the next piece of text that looks "like that" and read it.There are a number of properties that contribute to an element's visual style:

  • Font size - making text larger or smaller.
  • Text decoration - Bold, italic, and underlined text all looks different. Note that italic looks a lot closer to normal text than bold does, so making text italic may not be the only distinction needed (see the citation in the example above.)
  • Text location - placing text in different locations on the page, like centering it. In the case of items like page numbers that are always in the same place on the page, this may be the only distinction needed.
  • Spacing - separating a block of text by putting blank space on one or more of its sides (as in the citation shown above, which has a blank line below it.)
  • Font typeface - this is a weak effect, since most readable fonts look fairly similar, but it can be useful when combined with other properties.

Sub-elements should also be visually distinguished. For example, you could always put the article title in quotes, as above. It's a subtle difference, but if makes it easier to quickly find the title in the citation.

Rule Number 2: Consistency, consistency, consistency

Every element of the same type needs to have the same look - every time. Without consistency, most of the benefits of visual distinction are lost - your brain has a much harder time recognizing what an element is without reading it.

In Soviet Russia... consistency formats YOU. (Sorry, I couldn't resist.)

When I say "the same look", I mean "exactly the same look." It's easy to be lazy and settle for things looking "about right". Take a little time to make everything look perfect - it'll make things easier for you in-round. Plus, psychologically, potential traders won't think as highly of your briefs if they're sloppily formatted.

...and the rest is up to you

As long as your elements are visually distinct and consistent, what they look like is entirely a matter of personal preference. I'll cover some technical recommendations in Part 3, but basically, if you like the way it looks, go with it.


Pictured: Cheating.

Cheating with Factsmith

If you do any amount of research on a Windows computer, stop reading this post and go download a copy of Factsmith. I'll wait for you.

Back? Okay, now I'll explain what you just installed on your computer. Factsmith is a free research software package that basically does all your formatting for you. Instead of copying and pasting lots of text, you can just pull everything together with easy drag-and-drop and have Factsmith turn it into a beautiful document, ready for the printer.

Cheating? Probably. Worth it? Yes.

Factsmith isn't the only software designed for debate research - it's just the one I'm obligated to support, by virtue of, you know, writing it. 😛 I do think it's probably the best, though, and right now it's the only one being actively updated (albeit infrequently.)

The two other research packages to look into are Evidence Scribe, which comes in two flavors (desktop and web-based), and the formatting tools built into Blue Book Report. You can see a comprehensive feature comparison here. Another tool to look into is Debate Synergy, a complex set of Word extensions designed for NFL/collegiate debate.

If you're new to Factsmith and want to take it for a spin, here's a link to the quickstart guide. In the meantime, I'll keep talking about formatting the manual way.

Necessary software

To process words... you need a word processor. (Even if you're using Factsmith or a similar tool. You'll still need one to view and print the resulting briefs.) You probably already have one.

'"Uncle Cosmo, why do they call it a word processor?"
"It's simple, Skyler. You've seen what a food processor does to food, right?"
- Shoe

I could offer a detailed comparison of the competing products, but I'll just say that if you don't already have Microsoft Word or Pages, snag a copy of OpenOffice.org. It's totally free, and does everything an ordinary debater would ever need their word processor to do. (It's popular, too - the latest version has been downloaded almost 100 million times.)

For the rest of this post I'll be assuming you're using either OpenOffice or Microsoft Word.

Side note: Google Docs is great for collaboration, but isn't so good for formatting because it lacks a lot of page layout features. For this reason, I recommend doing final formatting in another word processor, instead of printing directly off of Google Docs.

Basic formatting functions

(Experienced debaters can probably skip this section.)

Doing basic formatting in OpenOffice

Most of the common formatting tasks are done with the main formatting toolbar (at the top of the screen by default.) It looks like this:The options are, left to right: Select font, select text size, toggle bold, toggle italic, toggle underline, left-justify, center-justify, right-justify, full-justify, numbered list, bullet points, decrease indent, increase indent, select color, highlighter, select background color.

To change the formatting of some text, select it with the mouse (click and drag so the background behind it changes color.) Then click the button you want. For example, to change the font, select the text, click the font box on the left, and click the font you want. To make text bold, select the text, and click the "B" button. (Click it again to remove bold.)

The best way to figure out how everything works is just to play with it a bunch. There are also keyboard shortcuts for most of these, if you like that sort of thing.

More advanced formatting can be done by selecting the text you want, clicking the Format menu, and clicking "Character...". A window will pop up with several tabs and various options. Formatting that applies to the whole line of text (like spacing, indentation, etc.) can be done by clicking the Format menu and clicking "Paragraph..."; a similar window will appear. Again, playing with it is the best way to learn.

(Note: You can also access the Character and Paragraph windows by right-clicking the selected text and clicking Character or Paragraph on the popup menu.)

Doing basic formatting in Microsoft Word

Most of the common formatting tasks are done with the main formatting toolbar, on the Home tab of the ribbon at the top. It looks like this:The options are, from left to right, top to bottom: Select font, select text size, increase text size, decrease text size, remove formatting, bullet points, numbered list, multilevel numbered list, decrease indent, increase indent, sort, show/hide special formatting marks. Bold, italic, underline, strikeout, subscript, superscript, select case, select color, highlighter, left-justify, center-justify, right-justify, full-justify, change spacing, select background color, create table. (You can see what each button does by putting your mouse cursor over it and waiting for a moment.)

To change the formatting of some text, select it with the mouse (click and drag so the background behind it changes color.) Then click the button you want. For example, to change the font, select the text, click the font box on the left, and click the font you want. To make text bold, select the text, and click the "B" button. (Click it again to remove bold.)

The best way to figure out how everything works is just to play with it a bunch. There are also keyboard shortcuts for most of these, if you like that sort of thing.

More advanced formatting can be done by selecting the text you want, right-clicking it, and clicking "Font...". A window will pop up with several tabs and various options. Formatting that applies to the whole line of text (like spacing, indentation, etc.) can be done by right-clicking and clicking "Paragraph..."; a similar window will appear. Again, playing with it is the best way to learn.

Easier formatting with paragraph styles and templates

Case-by-case formatting, as described above, is simple and easy-to-understand, but there is a better way. Enter paragraph styles.

Paragraph styles allow you to pre-define sets of formatting options, and apply them to an element with a single click. Even better, if you decide you want to change the way (say) your citations look, you don't have to go through and manually reformat them all - you can just change the paragraph style, and everything set to it will change too. Magic!

Both Word and OpenOffice come with a number of pre-defined styles; I'll explain how to use them first, before explaining how to make your own.

Using paragraph styles

In OpenOffice, the fastest way to set the style of a paragraph is to click on it and select the style you want from the style dropdown to the left of the formatting bar (pictured, right.) The style dropdown doesn't display all available styles, just ones that you use in the document, plus some extra common ones. (To see the full list, click the button to the left, and the "Styles and Formatting" window will appear. You might have to set the dropdown at the bottom to "All Styles" to find what you're looking for.)

In Microsoft Word, the interface is a little more complicated. Word displays the top few styles in a panel on the Home tab of the ribbon:If the panel shows the style you want to apply, click the paragraph and click on the appropriate style in the panel. If not, click the small button on the lower left of "Change Styles" (the bottom one in the row of three.) More styles will appear. Click the one you want.

Creating paragraph styles

What if the default styles don't look the way you want? Change them, or make new ones.

In OpenOffice:

To modifying an existing style: The fastest way is to find a paragraph that's set to the style you want, right-click it, and click "Edit Paragraph Style..." from the popup menu. Alternatively, you can open the "Styles and Formatting" box by clicking the button to the left of the style selector, find the style you want, right-click it, and click Modify.

To create a new style: Open the "Styles and Formatting" box by clicking the button to the left of the style selector. Click on the button on the far right (the one with the little green plus sign.) Click "New Style from Selection" on the popup menu, type in a name for the style, and click "OK". (The new style will start off with the formatting of the current paragraph.)

In both cases, a window will appear with lots and lots of formatting options. Customize them to your liking, and click OK.

In Microsoft Word:

To modify an existing style: Find the style you want on the styles panel, like you were going to apply it. Right-click it, and click "Modify". A window will appear with lots of formatting options. Alternatively, you can find a paragraph that's set to the style you want and make formatting changes to it manually. Then right-click it, click "Styles" from the popup menu, and click "Update [stylename] to Match Selection".

To create a new style: Format a paragraph the way you want the style to look, right-click it, and click Styles from the popup menu. Then click "Save Selection as New Quick Style...". Type in a name for the new style, and click OK.

You'll want to create styles for section headers, taglines, citations, and evidence quotes, at minimum. You'll probably want your section headers and taglines to be modified versions of Heading 1 and Heading 2, respectively, to make tables of contents easier (see Part 3, Table of contents.)


Recreating your paragraph styles every time you create a new brief is annoying. Instead, create a template - basically, a blank brief with all the paragraph styles, headers, footers, tables of contents, etc. already added. Save this somewhere and make a copy of it when you want to create a new brief, instead of making everything from scratch.

Alternatively, you can add your document as an "official" template that appears on the list when you create a new document. The process is a little complicated, so I'll just link to instructions for OpenOffice and Microsoft Word.

Keyboard shortcuts

Here's a neat trick most people don't know about: You can assign keyboard shortcuts to paragraph styles, so when you press (for example) Alt+F9, the current paragraph is set to the "Citation" style. This is much faster than hunting around in the styles display.

Tip: In Microsoft Word, the preset Heading 1, Heading 2, and Heading 3 styles are already set to Alt+Ctrl+1, Alt+Ctrl+2, and Alt+Ctrl+3, respectively. In OpenOffice, it's Ctrl+1, Ctrl+2, and Ctrl+3.

To set a keyboard shortcut in OpenOffice, click the Tools menu, and then Customize. A window will appear; click the Keyboard tab. Find the keyboard shortcut you want in the long list at the top, and click on it. Next, scroll down to the bottom of the "Category" list, and double-click "Styles". Click Paragraph. Find the style you want in the middle list (Function), and click on it. Finally, click the Modify button in the upper right part of the window, and click OK.

To set a keyboard shortcut in Microsoft Word, follow this guide.


Table of contents

In an ideal world, every brief would come pre-packaged with a genie to float above your head and tell you where everything is. Unfortunately, most briefs do not have genies, so you need a table of contents.

To add a table of contents in OpenOffice: Put the cursor where you want the table to go, click the Insert menu, and select Indexes and Tables. Then click Indexes and Tables again from the popout menu. A new window will appear. If you want, you can customize the table in this window, but it's not very intuitive, so you probably just want to click OK.

To add a table of contents in Microsoft Word: Put the cursor where you want the table to go, click the References tab in the ribbon, and click Table of Contents. Then click your desired style.

But how does the word processor know what to include in the table of contents? It uses paragraph styles. Text set to Heading 1 will be first-level entries, text set to Heading 2 will be second-level, and so on. To include an evidence card on the table of contents, just set its tagline to Heading 1 or Heading 2. (You can redefine the heading styles to match whatever you want your taglines to look like, as described in "Easier formatting with paragraph styles and templates" in the previous part.)

Note that the table of contents may not update automatically when you change taglines, but it should always update when you save or print. If this bothers you, you can force it to update manually (in Word: Click "Update table" on the References tab; in OpenOffice: Right-click the table and click "Update Index/Table".)

A related trick from Joseph Clarkson: The table of contents is an excellent place to mark your favorite arguments. Just mark them with a highlighter - you'll save a lot of time in-round.

Headers and footers

This picture actually exists.

Headers and footers are text and information that's automatically added to the top or bottom of every page - for example, if you wanted to have the phrase "WEASEL TUXEDO" at the bottom of every page.

To add headers or footers in OpenOffice: Click the Insert menu, then Header or Footer, and then Default. This will get you a blank field to put whatever you want in. To edit a header/footer later on, just click it.

To add headers or footers in Microsoft Word: Click on the Insert tab in the ribbon, click Header or Footer, and select the style of header you want. To edit a header/footer later-on, double-click it on the page.

There are two things that really need to go in the header/footer.

First, page numbers. Page numbers are pretty much a must - unless you are particularly fond of spending thirty minutes painstakingly resorting all your evidence after a round, of course. Even if you staple all your briefs, you still need page numbers to navigate off of the table of contents.

To add page numbers in OpenOffice: Put the cursor where you want to have the number and click the Insert menu, then Fields, then Page Number.

To add page numbers in Microsoft Word: Click on the Insert tab in the ribbon, click Page Number, and select where you want them to go from the dropdown menu.

Second, the brief title. If you don't staple your briefs, this is essential for after-round resorting. If you do staple your briefs, it's still nice to have the brief title on every page so you can riffle through a stack of briefs and find it without stopping to check the title pages. The brief title should always go in the header, since nine times out of ten you'll be looking at the top of briefs when you flip through them.There are a couple of other things you may also want to put in the header, primarily your team name and club name. This way, if you lose your evidence, other teams can get it back to you - or, if they can't find you, they can get it back to a clubmate. Since you almost certainly have space, go ahead and add them.

Card splitting

Card splitting is when a piece of evidence crosses more than one page. This is bad, for reasons that will become obvious the first time you're reading a killer card and suddenly realize that the most important part of it is still back at the table.

There are two ways to ensure that cards stay on the same page:

Manual way: Page breaks

Basically, manually start a new page whenever a card would run over. There are two ways of starting a new page: inserting a page break, or pressing Enter a bunch of times to create blank space. I recommend page breaks, for several reasons.

To insert a page break: Hold down the Ctrl key and press Enter.

First, compatibility. Briefs will sometimes display slightly differently on different computers and word processors; for example, if the font is slightly different, the brief may require five blank lines instead of four to reach the next page. There are few things more annoying than frantically trying to print a brief on a hotel computer, only to discover that all your taglines are separated from the evidence. With page breaks, the computer automatically calculates how much space is necessary, so the worst you can get is an extra blank page.

Second, and related, ease of modification. All sorts of minor tweaks can change the amount of blank space necessary: changing a tagline, trimming a quote, decreasing the font size, etc. If you have to fill the space manually with blank lines, you have to do a lot more work, and you're more likely to mess up.

Automatic way: Paragraph locking

This is the best way if you're using paragraph styles. You can tell your word processor to keep specific paragraphs together, and it will automatically handle all the page breaks. To do this, edit your paragraph styles for taglines, citations, and quote text to set the following attributes:

In OpenOffice: On the Text Flow tab of the paragraph settings window, check "Do not split paragraph" and "Keep with next paragraph".

In Microsoft Word: On the Line and Page Breaks tab of the paragraph settings window, check "Keep lines together" and "Keep with next".

Each card will now lock together on one page.

Note that you need to have a gap between the evidence that does not have these attributes set, or the word processor will unsuccessfully try to keep the entire brief together on one page. (You could not set the "keep with next" option for the quote itself, but then multi-paragraph quotes will spill over pages. The best way is to simply have a blank line of Default style between each card.)


There are two different types of fonts: Serif and sans-serif. Serif fonts have little extra strokes at the end of certain lines, like Times New Roman. Sans-serif fonts do not, like Arial. There is evidence that, on paper (not on a screen), serif fonts are easier to read than sans-serif fonts, so I recommend using a serif font for your quotes. Other elements are less important.

Examples of a few good, readable fonts:I recommend using Times New Roman for most text, and whatever you prefer for "special" elements like sections and taglines, to taste. Go for whatever is most readable, and whatever you do, don't use Comic Sans. (I once saw a 1AC printed entirely in Comic Sans. I am not making this up. My eyes have only recently recovered.)

Congratulations, you have successfully spent precious seconds of your life making this text readable, only to discover that it contains a random scene from Hamlet. HAMLET: Sir, I lack advancement. ROSENCRANTZ: How can that be, when you have the voice of the king himself for your succession in Denmark? HAMLET: Ay, but sir, 'While the grass grows,' -- the proverb is something musty. (Re-enter Players with recorders) O, the recorders! let me see one. To withdraw with you: -- why do you go about to recover the wind of me, as if you would drive me into a toil? GUILDENSTERN: O, my lord, if my duty be too bold, my love is too unmannerly. HAMLET: I do not well understand that. Will you play upon this pipe? GUILDENSTERN: My lord, I cannot.

Text size

There is a lot of conflicting evidence about what size font is the most readable. It depends a lot on what font is used, who is reading it, and whether it's on paper or on a screen. Generally, however, there's a "sweet spot" between 10 and 14 points. I recommend 12-point font, for three reasons.

First, 14-point is not ideal for younger eyes. You won't notice much difference reading aloud, but when scanning a brief at the table, your eyes have to cover more ground. Since you won't have any trouble reading smaller text, there's no real advantage. Plus, it's not very space efficient.

Second, 10-point fonts don't work well in standard brief format. This is because of something called horizontal retrace, which is what your eyes do when they reach the end of a line and jump down to the next one. It gets harder to do this the longer the line is. With a 12-point font, each line has about 85 characters; with a 10-point font, you'll get up to 110. Thus, while small fonts can be easier to read in narrow columns, 12-point is a bit easier across a whole page.

Third, 12-point font is standard for almost all briefs and sourcebooks (except the Blue Book line). When trading briefs, the other party will probably be expecting 12-point font, so if you use something else, you may be giving them more or less than they expected.

Note: 12-point size may look a little different for different fonts. For example, Tahoma 10-point is only marginally smaller than Times New Roman 12-point.

Added material

OK, time for my personal crusade.

It's normal to add explanatory material (like full versions of acronyms) to quotes, in square brackets. For example:

"Researchers at USCN [University of South Central Nowhere] announced the shocking discovery yesterday."

The problem is, some quotes will contain text in brackets already. The normal solution to this is to add a note indicating which brackets were added. But there's a much better way: Italicize all added brackets; leave all original brackets unchanged. For example:

"Researchers [see 156] at USCN [University of South Central Nowhere] announced the shocking discovery yesterday."

The first set of brackets was in the original; the second was added. By using this system, you can see what was added at a glance, instead of hunting around in the citation.


Tagline case

There Are Two Different Ways Of Capitalizing Your Taglines: Title Case (This Style) Or Sentence Case, Like Ordinary Written Sentences. Some People Prefer Title Case Because It Looks More Official, but I recommend writing taglines in sentence case like this. It's a lot easier to read.

TITLE CASE IS NOT THE HARDEST TO READ, OF COURSE; THAT WOULD PROBABLY BE ALL-CAPS, LIKE THIS. Interestingly, early computers and teletypes only used capital letters, to cut down on the storage and processing power required. Nerd folklore has it that lowercase letters were initially favored for their readability, but were rejected when an executive pointed out that "it would be impossible to spell the name of the Deity correctly." (There is, alas, no evidence that this ever happened.)

Quote emphasis

It is normal to "highlight down" long quotes, and only read the most important parts of them. The normal way of doing this this simply to underline the parts you want to read. A few other ways you might want to experiment with:

  • Bold instead of underline, bold with underline, or a thick underline.
  • Shrinking the font size of everything that isn't underlined.
  • Actual highlighting.

In my opinion, simple underlining gets you the best bang for your buck, with occasional font-shrinking if the quote is really long, but this is mostly just preference.


Template time! Yay!

For your enjoyment, I've attached several brief templates that you can use, peruse, modify, and mangle however you want. I recommend that newbies start with one of these, instead of trying to start from scratch.

I've included a few "dummy" cards in each to show how they're used. Click to download.

Snapdragon I (OpenOffice)
A basic, utilitarian 12-pt Times New Roman style with a focus on simplicity and readability. Official style of the COG sourcebook, and Factsmith's default style.

Snapdragon I (Microsoft Word)
A basic, utilitarian 12-pt Times New Roman style with a focus on simplicity and readability. Official style of the COG sourcebook, and Factsmith's default style.

Blue Book (OpenOffice)
Designed after the style used by the Blue Book, Monument Publishing's flagship sourcebook - with a table of contents and a few other improvements added.

Blue Book (Microsoft Word)
Designed after the style used by the Blue Book, Monument Publishing's flagship sourcebook - with a table of contents and a few other improvements added. (Note: the Word version doesn't look quite as good as the OpenOffice version.)

Evidence Scribe (OpenOffice)
Designed after Evidence Scribe's standard export style, with shaded citations, boxed headings, and a variety of fonts and sizes.

Evidence Scribe (Microsoft Word)
Designed after Evidence Scribe's standard export style, with shaded citations, boxed headings, and a variety of fonts and sizes.


Educationally speaking…

In which we learn that judges are not extraterrestrials. Also, how to talk to them so they actually pay attention to what you are saying.

Clarity outweighs strength

Really? Yes, really. To illustrate this, let's look at two (fictional) plans, presented as a community judge hears them. Which would you rather vote for?

“We propose carrying out a forsolith transform using micro-ethicalic nodules. This has something to do with pollution. Here's some evidence saying this is a really great idea.”

“The government currently has a blank fund where they put taxes paid with invalid Social Security numbers. This fund currently has $138 million in it, and it's not being used for anything. We propose using this money to improve water treatment in rural America; this could potentially save up to 20,000 lives every year.”

If you're like most people, you would rather vote for the second plan. It's simple, it makes sense, and it sounds like a good idea. The first plan sounds decent - for all you know, it could be fantastic - but it's inherently less appealing because you don't understand how it works.

Judges are the same way – they inherently prefer plans that make intuitive sense to them. This effect is so strong that it can override the actual efficacy of the plan. After seeing a lot of weird decisions, I've become convinced of a simple rule:

Most judges would rather vote for something they understand than something flawless.

This is so important, I'm going to say it again:

Most judges would rather vote for something they understand than something flawless.

The conclusion is straightforward: Explaining your arguments well gives you an automatic advantage. Why? I don't really know. I suspect a large part is memory – if the judge understands the route to a conclusion, the conclusion itself will be much more memorable, and hence more important in the judge's mind.

We three kings

Okay, so you should explain yourself. End of discussion. Right? Wrong.

There are three basic mindsets of argumentation. Pretty much any competent debater will fall into one of these categories:

The first mindset is The Debater. The Debater is all about argumentation and proving the point. The Debater tries to win on the flow (even if it requires reading an H subpoint to their fifth disadvantage.)

The second mindset is The Talker. The Talker is all about presenting the point well. He talks smart, looks smart, and walks smart. The Talker tries to win through surface persuasion - the "this guy sounds like he's right" effect.

"Hmmm... I behold a plan..."

The third mindset is The Teacher. The Teacher knows he's right, so winning the round is simply a matter of educating the judge until he or she recognizes the fact. The Teacher tries to win through knowledge.

Which is best? Think about how you are persuaded: you learn the facts and come to a conclusion. Judges are not extraterrestrials - they think like you do. Both The Debater and The Talker presuppose that information is conveyed, but The Teacher is the only mindset that starts with education, and uses speaking and argumentation structure as tools, instead of the focus. Talking like a teacher ties directly into the "persuasion" part of the judge's brain.

One size does fit all

You might think that these mindsets are for different types of judges: The Debater for flow judges, The Talker for speaker judges, etc. That's a mistake. Because The Teacher ties into fundamental brainwork, all you have to do to adapt it to different judges is change what knowledge you presuppose.

Let's say you're got a super-strict former-NFL flow judge. He already knows what it means when you "drop", "extend", or "perm" something, and what "prolif" entails, so you can start at a very high of education - like speed-reading Khalilzad.

Switch to a parent judge, and you have to start a little lower. You can assume that he or she generally understands how to evaluate your arguments, but you'll need to take some time explaining exactly how (for example) the plan causes inflation, and why that's bad. (Instead of just saying "mandate 2 presupposes inflation cross-apply 1NC Smith 09 equals economic collapse which goes global Mead 92 nuclear war, next point.")

Community judges require you to start even lower, with basic concepts like "why it matters that I quoted an expert on this, and they didn't," but the argument explanation itself is similar.

But what about speaker judges? Is there any hope? Well, yes. Clarity overrides many flaws - most judges will think you speak a lot better if they understand what you're talking about. (Learning is interesting. If the judge is learning, they'll find you interesting.) At any rate, good speaking is a skill to pursue regardless of what mindset you hold.

The bottom line

People are persuaded by knowledge. If you start with the basic idea that debate is about educating the judge until they understand why you're right, your ideas will stick.

Instead of trying to debate, try to teach.

Filed under: Speaking 1 Comment

How debate works (poster)

How debate works (poster)Click on the image for a larger, printable poster-sized version (17x22 or 8.5x11)

Filed under: Uncategorized 1 Comment

4 useful bookmarklets to improve your research

A "bookmarklet" is a small script stored in a bookmark. When you click the bookmark, it does something nifty. Here are four useful bookmarklets for researchers:

1. Retrieve Google's cached version of the current page

Google's bots save basic text copies of webpages they visit. If a website is temporarily down, you can often read it anyway by loading Google's cached copy. (Unless Google itself is down. But - let's face it - if Google is down, you probably need to be in a fallout shelter, not researching.) With the button below, you can instantly access Google's copy of any page.Cached VersionTo "install" this bookmarklet in your browser, just drag-and-drop it onto your bookmarks toolbar (or menu). Then, whenever you need to get the cached version of a page, just click on the little "Cached Version" shortcut and it will take you right there.

2. Retrieve Archive.org's backup of the current page

Google's cache works well for pages which are temporarily unavailable, but what about pages that have been offline since 2006? Amazingly, there is a way to retrieve them: the Internet Archive. The Internet Archive is a nonprofit digital library with a stated mission of "universal access to all knowledge", which basically means "a complete public backup of everything ever put on the internet." If you find a really amazing link to an article that no longer exists, you can often plug it into the Internet Archive's WayBack Machine and get a copy of it.WayBack VersionThis bookmarklet works the same way as the Google Cache one; just drag it onto your bookmarks toolbar and click it when you need it.

3. Translate the current page into English

If you run across a useful article in Russian, it's not hard to get an English version. Google supplies some excellent translation software, which you can access on demand with this bookmarklet.TranslateGoogle Chrome will do translations automatically, but this bookmarklet is still useful for Chrome users, since it gives you a static URL. If you want to cite a translated page, it's helpful to have a URL that gets you directly to the translated version.

A note: There are a few sticky ethical considerations in citing a machine-translated article, since it's harder to be sure of the author's original intent. Just be careful.

4. Information on demand

This one's a little more complicated. If you need to look up a bit of information frequently, you can create a button that will display it in a popup box. (For example, I use a button like this to store my library card number, which I use to access EBSCO, JSTOR, and a few other databases. When I need it, I can just click the button and copy the number out of the popup.)

To make an info-button, create a new bookmark and use the following as the URL:


Replace yourtexthere with whatever your text is. There's a catch, though: The text must be URL-encoded. To save yourself some time, you can use this online tool to do this automatically. Save the bookmark, and you're done!

Of course, you could always just memorize the information, but where's the fun in that?

Filed under: Research No Comments

Democracy is bad

Or, at least, democracy disadvantages are.

Democracy disadvantages: The conventional approach

Essentially, the Negative reads some statistics indicating that the general public dislikes the plan, and says something like the following:

"This nation was built upon the principle of democracy - the principle of majority rule. By passing a plan that is against the will of the majority, the Affirmative is violating democracy. We must uphold our constitution! Vote Negative! Freedom! Democracy! Conservative defense tax cuts constitution balanced budget small business Reagan!"

Et cetera. I used to run this on occasion. This disadvantage has a lot of appeal - all it requires is a stack of survey results and the ability to wax eloquent about the blood of our forefathers. It's also a really bad argument.

Why this is a bad argument

Debate becomes useless.

Think about it this way. If the plan is unpopular, the Negative can run a democracy disadvantage. If the plan is popular, the Affirmative can run a democracy disadvantage against the Negative - the status quo doesn't uphold democracy, so it's a reason for reform. If democracy violation is a voter, then the popularity of the plan is suddenly the only thing that matters. If it's popular, Aff wins. If it's unpopular, Neg wins.

Obviously, spending the entire round trying to prove that your plan is popular is not very educational. You can also make a uniqueness argument - the status quo does not always uphold majority rule, so the impacts are clearly not large.

So when does popularity matter?

Simple: When it has situation-specific real-world impacts. Let's look at two arguments.

Argument 1: "The majority doesn't like this, which is inherently bad because of democracy."

Argument 2: "The majority doesn't like this, so they'll try to undermine it, killing your solvency."

The first is a no-go, but the second is entirely legitimate (provided you have the necessary evidence, of course.) Since it's a factual, real-world issue, you can have a reasonable debate about it. Such an argument expands the educational scope of debate, rather than impeding it.

There's a reason why I say situation-specific real-world impacts, by the way. Pure democracy violation is technically a real-world impact (undermining future majority rule, or something) but it isn't tied to any specific plan - anything unpopular links to it. Rejecting universally-applicable arguments keeps things sane.

Extend-o-tron 5000: Yet another theory block

Here's a sample theory block against democracy disadvantages. (You knew it was coming...)

"The Negative argued that, because our plan is not favored by the majority, it therefore violates the principles of democracy. We believe that you shouldn't vote on whether our plan is popular; you should vote on whether it's a good idea. Accepting the Negative's argument renders debate useless. Here's why.

"If the Affirmative plan is unpopular, then the Negative can say it violates democracy, and they win. On the other hand, if the Affirmative plan is popular, then the Affirmative can argue that voting Negative violates democracy, and they win. Debate literally becomes a popularity contest.

"The majority isn't always right. Vote on whether our plan is a good idea."

A brief note on the lack of a theoretical framework

Theory buffs may be a bit unsatisfied by this. Like so many other theory issues, this is essentially an abuse-limitation argument - it doesn't have a neat resolutional framework to explain it. Unfortunately, none of the possible frameworks make much sense, so it's just another reminder that abuse is an inherent limit.

Filed under: Arguments, Theory 5 Comments

The Epic Tagline Post

Hitler on a magic carpet

Picture is unrelated.

Since this post is a day late, here's a picture of Hitler on a magic carpet.

What's a tagline?


More importantly, "why should I care?" Simple: good taglines make good rounds. How you write your taglines can have wide-ranging consequences:

  1. Organization - Good taglines make it easy for the judge to follow what you are saying, making you sound more organized.
  2. Persuasiveness - Good taglines make your arguments sound more distinct and pre-planned, making you sound more confident.
  3. Argumentation - Good taglines make it easy to understand evidence at a glance, improving your understanding of the case and helping you argue better.
  4. Flowing - Good taglines are easier to write down, making your flow more organized and useful.

In short, if you're not paying much attention to your taglines, you probably have a lot of room to stretch out and improve your speaking.

Flow tags vs. Brief tags

Taglines serve two purposes. First, they tell you what the card says so you don't have to read the whole thing (the "brief" tag.) Second, they provide a short "handle" for the evidence that the judge can write down and use to track it throughout the round (the "flow" tag.) These two purposes are very different, and often require very different tags. For example:

Brief tag: "Obama promises to veto any new spending"

Flow tag: "Spending freeze"

All sorts of problems arise when people don't understand this distinction and try to use the same tagline for both. Usually, the tagline winds up being either far too complicated to write down, or far too short to adequately explain the card. (Ethos tends to land on the former side; most novices tend to land on the latter.)

In reality, these two tags are rarely the same, nor should they be. A good tag must have both. Many debaters eschew the flow tag and only include the descriptive brief tag in their printed briefs, on the grounds that the flow tag can change in different contexts. While this is true, prepared flow tags save a lot of time in the vast majority of cases, so there's no reason not to include them.

There are basically two ways of including both:

  1. Put the brief tag on a different line from the flow tag. What this will look like depends on your formatting.
  2. Combine the two in some way.

Since the two-line method is straightforward, I'll focus on #2. There are basically two ways of combining the brief tag and flow tag:

  1. Separate, on one line. To use the example above, "Spending Freeze: Obama promises to veto any new spending". This is simple and clean, and is probably the easiest way to start doing flow tags if you're used to only using brief tags.
  2. Flow tag, then any additional information that's needed (but not included in in the flow tag.) For example: "Spending freeze - Obama promises to veto". This is usually shorter. Some people may find it confusing if they're not used to thinking schematically.

Flow tags: Be S.A.F.E.

What makes a good flow tag? I follow a standard I call SAFE.

Short: The tag should contain as few words as possible. If there's a way to rewrite it to make it shorter, do it. (For example, "Damages our relationship" becomes "Relations hurt".)

Accurate: The tag should accurately reflect the core meaning of the card. (If the tag says it will hurt relations, then the card had better actually say it will hurt relations.)

Flowable: The tag should avoid words that are long, hard to spell, or otherwise not easy to write down. (Use "hurt" instead of "damage", "bad" instead of "detrimental", etc.)

Easily-understood: The tag should immediately make sense. This seems obvious, but it's violated surprisingly often. (For example, "IRC can't make laws" is much easier to understand than "IRC is not a legislative body".)

Brief tags: What's the difference?

The purpose of the flow tag is to help the judge understand and manipulate the evidence. The purpose of the brief tag is to help you understand and manipulate the evidence. In other words, the brief tag tells you what the evidence says, and how to use it.

Generally speaking, the brief tag will merely be a factual summary of what the evidence says, including all the details you need to understand it without reading it.

Avoid needless words

Short is golden. When you're scanning a brief, the more compact the taglines are, the faster you can read and understand them. This translates to a better understanding of the case, and hence a better chance of winning. Basically, if you can make a tagline shorter without significantly damaging usability, do it.

I should clarify that I'm not advising you to cut out information, although that may be a good idea under some circumstances. I'm just saying that there is no reason to write "The Forkoro nuclear reactor meltdown was the result of an accident" when you can write "Forkoro meltdown was an accident". (Remember that your taglines do not necessarily have to be complete sentences.)

A related note: Sticking All Your Tags In Title Case Like This Makes Them Slightly Harder To Read And Hence Harder To Use. If You Really Prefer Them That Way, Go Ahead, But For Most People, they're a lot easier to read if you write them in sentence case like this. See?

Direct-quote tagging is the spawn of Satan

Direct-quote tagging is the practice of taking sentences from the quote verbatim and using them as your taglines. This method was originated by several high-profile researchers, and has since spread to many other people. It's fast, it's easy, it identifies you with the elites, and it is the Manifestation of Pure Evil.

I'm deadly serious. There is absolutely no reason whatsoever for you to do this. Direct-quote tagging consistently violates all of the principles discussed above, leading to taglines that are wordy, obtuse, and unflowable. (If you don't believe me, here's a real-life example from a brief I had to reformat: "Sulfate concentrations in the atmosphere – a major component of fine particles, especially in the East – have decreased since 1990." It means "Acid rain has gotten better since 1990." WHY?)

The only real justifications for doing this are "it's fast" and "it reduces powertagging". However, the amount of time saved when researching is more than offset by the amount of time wasted when trying to use the darn thing, and if you really can't afford to spend an extra 15 seconds writing a good tag, you're doing something wrong. Similarly, the best way to reduce powertagging is simply to not write powertags. Direct quotes don't reduce powertagging anyway, since one sentence rarely captures the nuances of the whole card.

I understand that there are plenty of excellent debaters for whom direct-quote tagging works perfectly fine. That doesn't mean it's a good idea any more than the existence of perfectly healthy smokers means smoking is a good idea. In my experience, people who use direct tags tend to be less concise and harder to flow overall. You can make it work, but it requires a lot of unnecessary effort that could be avoided if you just did it right from the beginning. Please, if only for the sake of the people you'll trade evidence with, don't use direct-quote tagging.

Extend-o-tron 5000: A tagline workshop

Here's a real-life example to test out some of these concepts on.

US has permanent veto over any changes to the convention
William H. Neukom, President of the American Bar Association, September 27, 2007. LL.B. Stanford University. A.B. Dartmouth College “Statement submitted to the Committee on Foreign Relations of the United States Senate regarding the Convention on the Law of the Sea” http://meetings.abanet.org/webupload/commupload/IC965000/relatedresources/2007sept27sfrcstatements_t.pdf

The rule of law in the oceans is not static, and the Convention will provide the platform for additional legal rules on future uses and protections of the oceans. The ABA did not endorse the treaty until 1994 because we agreed with objections to one part of the treaty dealing with deep seabed mining. After intensive negotiations, again led by the United States, those objections were resolved in an Agreement signed by the United States in August 1994 and now in force with the Convention. In accordance with that Agreement, the United States will become a permanent member of the governing Council of the International Seabed Authority and of the Finance Committee, which operate by consensus, once it becomes a party to the Convention. From that point forward, no decisions will be able to be made over the objections of the United States. Our failure to become a party to the Convention and take advantage of these changes negotiated in the Agreement will become more problematic in the future when and if mining of the deep seabed becomes commercially feasible.”

This evidence doesn't have a flow tag at all, so we'll have to create one, but first let's work on the brief tag. What we have right now is fairly accurate and contains pretty much all the information we need, but it's wordy. Here are a few possible alternatives:

  • "U.S. will be able to veto changes to UNCLOS"
  • "Changes will require U.S. consent"

Etc. I'll go with the second one for simplicity (you'll see why later.)

The flow tag is supposed to be a short handle that describes the content of the quote. Let's go with "Can veto". Now check: Is this SAFE?

Short - Two words. Check.
Accurate - That's what the quote says. Check.
Flowable - Neither of the words are longer than four letters. Check.
Easily understood - We can veto it, obviously. Check.

Now, combine the two together in some way. I'll go with the separate-on-one-line method: "Can veto: Changes will require U.S. consent". (If you want, you can add in some extra notation to indicate what this is responding to.)

And that's it!


Running out of time?

Running out of time, especially in the 1AR, can be a major problem. You need to respond, but how do you get through everything you need to without speed-talking like a dying fish? In this post, I'll lay out some basic techniques to improve efficiency and timeliness.

There are two main "problem areas" that contribute to running overtime: The table and the stand, or how you construct your speech and how you deliver it.

At the table

When planning your speech, you first need to very quickly estimate how much content you'll have to omit. (A few things? A lot of things? Almost everything?) Once you have a baseline, you need to "clump and dump" until you have a reasonable amount of content.

1. Clump

If you can take out several arguments with one response, do it. Recognizing opportunities for clumping is highly intuitive, but if you actively look for patterns, it will quickly become automatic. Procedurally, you want to imagine all the possible responses you could give to each argument, and see which ones are similar across subjects. If you can use the same response against a lot of different arguments, clump them. If all else fails, never underestimate the power of simply outweighing things en masse. (More on that later.)

2. Dump

If it isn't important, drop it. An "unimportant" argument is, basically, one that you can drop without losing the round. (Obviously.) Some examples of arguments you can safely drop:

  1. Disadvantages you can outweigh later.
  2. Weak arguments.
  3. Extra responses to things.
  4. Otherwise-strong arguments that the judge clearly isn't buying.

Basically, when in doubt, just focus on the core theses of your strongest arguments.

At the stand
Image courtesy of the U.S. Department of State. Not even kidding.

Not a podium.

First, a quick side note. That thing you are standing behind (a music stand, a stack of debate boxes, whatever it is) is not a "podium", it's a lectern. A podium (derived from the Greek πόδι, or pódi, meaning "foot") is a raised platform that you stand on; a lectern is a slanted desk that you stand behind. Got it? (Sorry, I couldn't resist.)

1. Organization

Bad organization (and bad explanation of your organization) can waste a lot of time. If you're constantly having to explain where you are, you won't be able to say as many things. Design your speech to flow smoothly, but as you talk, keep that flow low-key.

A flowery, long-winded introduction/roadmap is sort of like a really big bun with a tiny hamburger patty on it. The bun is important, but if it's the entire burger, the judge is just going to go to Wendy's instead. In other words, you need a roadmap, but keep it short - no more than one or two sentences. (For example: "In this speech you'll be seeing that a lot of the Negative's 'problems' are actually just benefits of our plan. I'll be covering the two disadvantages first, followed by the three solvency points." Literally that short.)

In the speech, keep your signposting clear but concise. Before each argument, try to summarize what you're responding to in one sentence or less. ("They said this would hurt the economy. However...") Keep it short and sweet.

2. Know when to stop

By far, the single most effective way to save time is to talk less. Most people use more time than they really need to make their points. Additional explanation helps drive the argument home, but if you're pressed for time, just leave it out.

The first key is simplicity. Skip the complicated side-issues and focus only on the core concept. This is pretty straightforward - you just have to do it.

The second key is conciseness. Get to the point immediately. A good way to practice conciseness is to break all your arguments down into four points (argument, response, warrants, and impact) and try to say only one sentence for each point. For example:

"They said that their plan will improve relations with Russia. (argument) However, history disproves this. (response) Almost their exact plan was passed in 1949, and again in 1973, and both times it made relations worse. (warrants) If you pass the Affirmative plan, relations won't get better, they'll get worse. (impact)"

In a real round, you'll usually have evidence in your Warrants section. (By the way, getting in the habit of responding to all arguments with this basic structure will help your clarity and make it easier for the judge to follow you. Personal experience here.)

The third key is to simply stop talking. Once you've said everything you need to say, don't repeat it - just move on. 99 times out of 100, if you make your point clearly, the judge will get it the first time and won't need to hear it again. Force yourself to stop talking and move on down the flow.

3. Talk faster... but sparingly

Generally speaking (pun intended) slower is better. However, there are certain situations where being able to talk fast is an advantage. When you have a lot to say, for example!

As I've mentioned before, however, your word economy will usually degrade the faster you go (and your judges will take longer to understand what you're saying.) Thus, you may not actually be able to say any more by talking faster. Focus on conciseness first.


A new argument against whole-rez cases

If you read my last post, you may have noticed that the paradigm I use makes arguing against whole-resolutional cases a lot more difficult. In this post I lay out an entirely new argument.

What's a whole-resolutional case?

Whole-resolutional cases are kind of like campfire bogeymen - very few people have ever seen one, but it's best to be prepared. A whole-resolutional case is, basically, a case without a plan. The Affirmative team simply says, "the status quo needs reforming," but doesn't specify how they're going to go about it. (Usually, this just involves reading a lot of harms.)

This sounds wrong, but it makes sense. All the resolution says is that we should reform the status quo - conventionally interpreted, it doesn't require the Affirmative to be specific about how. Whole-rez cases are (fortunately) rare, but they do pop up from time to time (mostly as "surprise" cases), so it's useful to understand how to combat them.

The conventional argument: Counterwarrants

Conventionally, when you hit a whole-rez case, the traditional response is to run counterwarrants - usually, disadvantages against possible plans. Since the Affirmative is saying the resolution as a whole is a good idea, they have to defend the resolution as a whole - meaning every possible topical plan. You just have to prove that some of those are bad - abolishing the Federal Government, or redirecting our entire aid budget to kill innocent puppies, for example.

For theory wonks, this can be summed up in two sentences: Normally, under parametrics, the Affirmative narrows down the resolution to their plan, so offtopic DAs are a no-go. A whole-rez case doesn't propose a plan, so it doesn't narrow down the resolution - which means you can have a blast and pile on the disadvantages.

For everyone else, this can be summed up in two words: Nuclear. War.


Why this doesn't work

If you read last week's parametrics post, you may already see why this doesn't work. (If you haven't read it yet, you should probably do so now; this will make more sense.) The resolution isn't a collection of plans; it's the affirmation of a need. By voting for the resolution, you're not endorsing a specific plan, you're just endorsing the fact that we need a plan. This means that counterwarrants are irrelevant, because they don't disprove the need for reform.

Let me use the classic restaurant analogy. The resolution says, "we should go out to eat tonight." A typical Aff plan says, "yes, let's go to Wendy's." A whole-rez plan says, "yes, we should go out to eat tonight," but doesn't specify which restaurant. Running counterwarrants is like saying "eating out of a trash can would be bad." That might be true, but since the plan never specified that you were going to eat out of a trash can, it's irrelevant - it doesn't prove that you shouldn't go out to eat at all.

A new argument

Wait! Don't everyone switch to whole-rez cases yet! A need-based paradigm opens up an interesting new problem, which I haven't ever seen discussed before. Interestingly enough, it's basically a topicality issue. Let's look at the paradigm presented in the last post:

“The judge should vote Affirmative if one good, topical reason for reform is presented.”

The problem is the two words "for reform". A whole-rez case argues a need, but it doesn't explicitly argue a need for reform. Let me explain.

A whole-rez case basically argues that there is a problem in the status quo. However, problems can be solved in a lot of different ways: going away by themselves, divine intervention, etc. Reform is not necessarily the only (or even the best) way to solve the problem. The only way for the Affirmative to prove the resolution true is to prove that reform is the best way to solve the problem - which you can't do without solvency evidence for a specific plan. Briefly put, harms alone cannot prove that reform is necessary.

Since the Affirmative cannot prove a need for reform, their case does not fully affirm the resolution, and does not deserve the ballot.

Extend-o-tron 5000: A sample theory block

Here's a sample theory block to run against whole-rez cases, to give you ideas. As always, material in italic brackets will change based on the year's resolution.

"The Affirmative has given us lots of reasons to believe that there are problems with the current system, but that's not the extent of the resolution. The resolution says that we should reform the status quo, but the Affirmative team hasn't given us a plan, so we don't know if reform would actually do anything.

"Our standard is that the Affirmative must prove that reform is necessary. If they can't prove that reform is the best way to solve the problems they've presented, then they haven't proven that we need to [reform our policy towards Russia], so there is no reason to vote Affirmative.

"The violation is that the Affirmative cannot prove that reform is the best way to solve the problem without presenting a specific plan to examine. Reform is not automatically the only possible solution, or even the best solution. The problem could go away on its own, something else could solve it, or God could suddenly intervene and supernaturally fix everything. Since the Affirmative hasn't shown us how a specific reform or plan can solve the problems they've presented, they fail our standard and haven't proven that reform is necessary.

"The impact of this is that the Affirmative hasn't fully proven the resolution. Since you don't have a complete reason to vote for it, you have to vote Negative."

You may ask: "This seems like a really short debate round - what else can I run?" Simple: Argue the harms straight-up.  It's not hard if you think abstractly. Imagine how this "problem" affects other nations and parts of our policy, and find positive consequences. For example, bad relations with Russia may improve our relations with their enemies, and so forth.

Filed under: Arguments, Theory 5 Comments