a 6 step roadmap for debate

The pressure’s building. The first round robins are just around the corner. You need to get started. Here’s a guide.

1. Create your own resolutional analysis.

No matter how eager you are to write arguments for the resolution, it does you no good if you do not understand the questions the resolution is asking. You will simply be wasting your time. Prioritize analyzing the resolution. Search out definitions. Note the burdens on each side. Extract topicality arguments from your observations about the resolution. Create different ways of interpreting the resolution. Find arguments for and against each interpretation.

It is crucial to create your own analysis of the resolution, whether or not you have possession of someone else’s analysis, whether or not you think you have a good grasp of the resolution. This is because you will always understand arguments and analysis that you create yourself better than others’ analysis, and thus have the confidence to better argue for your analysis.

You can’t get to level two before completing level one. Or, I guess you could, but you’d just be cheating yourself.

2. Research the resolutional topics.

There are quite a few this year. In past years, we’ve only had to research isolationism, idealism and pragmatism, or competition and cooperation; this year, we have legitimacy, of which there are two types, popular sovereignty, and individual rights. All enormous topics in themselves.

A friend asked me several weeks ago, what’s this topic about? He and another friend couldn’t figure it out. Can’t blame them. I mean, what do you Google? In a resolution that strings three separate ideas together, you can’t really separate legitimacy from popular sovereignty from individual rights. Google “legitimacy, popular sovereignty, and individual rights”? There isn’t any literature on “legitimacy, popular sovereignty, and individual rights.” There aren’t even real results in search engines for it. That’s because it’s not a topic like competition and cooperation. It’s an amalgamation of three different ideas—related—but different. The resolution writer(s) created an entirely new topic. Which means all we can do is Google the individual elements that make up the resolution and put them together using our own analysis.

3. Create arguments.

Take your time. Brainstorm. Ideas will first multiply, then collapse into each other. You’ll find different ways of phrasing arguments that stem from the same argument. You’ll find that some arguments that sound persuasive at first have no real warrants. You’ll find warrants for arguments that originally sounded too weak to be tenable. Eventually, you’ll plateau because there is only a certain number of arguments you can make with a limited set of knowledge. At that point you can choose to either take the arguments you have, expand them with evidence and warrants, and proceed to the next step, or continue to research so you have a fresh supply of knowledge from which you can draw more arguments.

4. Write cases

Cases can come from one argument, a combination of arguments, part of an argument, or a combination of parts. Each case should have a clear central theme, a central idea that the audience can grasp throughout the speech and remember after the speech. A strong case isn’t limited by arbitrary forms that debate convention has set. A strong case is formed around the communication of ideas, not around traditional structures.

5. Refine 1, 2, 3, and 4.

Refining your resolutional analysis, research, arguments, and cases is a very fluid process.

The resolution this year is exceptionally tough to grasp. It was the first aspect of the resolution I began working on but one of the last things I finished. Cycle through thesis, antithesis, and synthesis until you have a satisfactory result. Be patient.

Because of the breadth of this year’s topic, this is the area of the resolution that holds the most potential for work this year. In other words, most of your time spent this year after you’ve established your resolutional analysis, preliminary research, main arguments, and cases will be in additional research on legitimacy, popular sovereignty, and individual rights. Each one of these topics has vast amounts of literature in scholarly journals. Additional research allows you to gain more insight into the topic, create new arguments, and basically expand your—your debate powers.

Don’t get attached to an argument if you find out that it is baseless. Don’t give up too easily on finding backing for that argument either.

Same goes for cases. Go with what works. Don’t get too attached to a single idea or intro or argument or example.

6. Rinse, lather, repeat.

When washing your hair, don’t actually follow the directions on the bottle, or you’ll be stuck in an endless loop. (interestingly, some shampoo manufacturers have changed it to rinse, lather, and repeat as necessary. nice. anyways.) Unlike washing your hair, you should actually follow the directions and repeat, repeat, repeat in an endless loop. Don’t stop. Until the season ends, of course.

Well there you have it folks. A roadmap for what’s to come this debate year.