Without established backfiles or older teammates to aid in the process of learning how to write blocks or even what files should contain, prepping as a small school debater can feel very overwhelming, especially at first. We have written this article to serve as a guide and starting point for learning how to prepare files for various argumentative styles in Lincoln Douglas debate.
Kritiks (Leah Yeshitila)
A lot of K debate necessitates reading, and due to the elitist nature of academia, these articles can be hard to access. The biggest piece of advice I could give you is to share the links to the articles you need access to - specifically to college students, since sometimes their school gives them access! If they don’t have access to these articles, send these links to the Forensics Discord* and they can provide you with PDFs! Some of my favorite places to find articles range from JSTOR to university publishers.
Depending on whatever you’re looking for, contacting debaters in the community for what chapters or sections of the reading are most debate applicable will save you tons of time. There are also many ways to gain general knowledge of K debate in your area of expertise and preference. The wiki has tons of these arguments already cut, and “wiki stalking” can help you find the contact information for prominent K debaters, all of which would probably be happy to help you out! Open Ev, a publicly available prep resource that can be found here (http://www.debatecoaches.org/resources/open-evidence-project), is a great place to find K files from camps as well. Sometimes, these readings can become very dense, and downloading an extension that reads these papers/PDFs out loud can help you internalize the warrants in a unique way. While doing research, I’d recommend searching with quotation marks when looking for a specific author or literature base. Here is a good research resources to aid you in researching effectively (across all styles of debate!): https://hsimpact.wordpress.com/2018/06/26/michigan-camp-lectures-2-2/.
Compiling and Organizing Files
Create a folder in your Dropbox for readings solely. Separate them by author so you can have easy access to that material! Additionally, while highlighting papers, save the changes so that you can get access to the commonly used paragraphs and debate applications. Reading is incredibly important! The best K debaters are those who read often and educate themselves about the authors they read, as well as their positionalities (while being conscious of their own).
When you understand the literature base you’re going for inside and out, it makes theorizing its interactions with other literature bases much easier. While cutting your cards, compile a file separated by “method” arguments and “theory and power” cards when building an “Aff” K file. All K Affs debate very similar strategies, such as T and the Cap K. Create frontlines for these arguments and organize them in a 1AR Blockfile - that way it’s easily accessible. Be sure to prep out presumption pushes, method responses, impact turns, and role of the ballot responses. On the neg, create a general file for links. Generic links can be useful for policy 1ACs or common K Affs. If your K critiques debate, you can also create a file with these links to various policy affs or K affs can ensure you’re always prepared when someone breaks new. When building a “neg” K file, the focus is quite similar to building an affirmative Blockfile, but instead focusing on 1NC positions, focus on common 1AR responses like “extinction outweighs,” responses to your theory of subjectivity, the permutation, link defense/offense, and policy/state good arguments. Most Ks also have typical or common responses that can easily be prepped out in advance to make preparation for future rounds easier. When you hit more innovative arguments, continue to update these files.
Research for K debating is tedious, and requires a lot of reading, so splitting up papers over multiple days is the best way to create and build files within weeks in a less intensive way. While cutting kritikal affs or 1NCs, think of what the debate application would be, especially if the literature base is niche. Oftentimes, these authors do not write for a debate application specifically, so while cutting the cards, review them with a fine tooth comb to verify the card’s usefulness.
When creating an Aff, thinking critically about what the method and theory of power will be and how to apply it in a debate round strategically. A kritikal 1AC with embedded responses to T or other 1NC positions makes 1AR/2AR pivots much easier.
Policy Arguments (Alyssa Sawyer)
When trying to cut a position from scratch or answers to positions, lots of googling is key (here’s an article with helpful search term tips: https://www.girlsdebate.org/general-resources-1/2019/5/31/debate-advice-research-tips) You should just make sure it’s from a mostly reputable (or at least defensible source). For example, author qualifications matter if it’s an economic study you’re basing your internal link off of, but if you just need a uniqueness update from this week the author doesn’t need to have qualifications to report on something. Similarly, recency matters more for things like uniqueness but it’s alright if impact evidence is on the older side. Generally if possible you should cut the most recent, robust and qualified evidence since evidence quality matters a lot more in policy debates. Additionally, when researching, before cutting any position it is good to gain a sense of how the topic literature discusses the argument so you can preempt any answers or potential issues with it, and to ensure that it’s a solid position to cut. You do not want to cut a new aff just after looking at one article.
However, as a small school debater, it is not always possible to cut everything from scratch. Taking disads and case answers from the wiki is an efficient strategy to be sufficiently prepared, but it is key to do it effectively. For it to be the most useful, you should organize the arguments in your files (will be outlined later in this article) and make sure you know what the argument says and evaluate the quality of the evidence and warrants before retrieving it. If you have time, you should try to recut or rehighlight for understanding. To get a sense of who is reading effective policy arguments on any given topic, you can check the results of tournaments as well as the NSD bid list. To find the actual positions, you can browse through these wikis. If you are looking for more specific answers to an aff you should look at the people who read those affs and who they’ve hit, and then check those people’s neg wikis if the round report looks promising. The search bar can also be a useful tool if you use keywords and want something precise (especially if you are looking in topics from previous seasons). Other wiki resources that are helpful are the college policy and high school policy wikis. Although they don’t use the same topics, some cards can be recycled because topics can cover similar territory, and generic impact cards apply regardless of the event or resolution.
Compiling and Organizing Files
To make prep for any round easy, but especially verses new affs, it can be incredibly useful to have a negs file that contains all the 1NCs of your policy arguments. You should organize it in the way that is best suited to you, however, here is one way you can organize it(this is an example based off of the JF21 topic about lethal autonomous weapons):
Innovation DA (Block)
—Climate Impact (Block)
—Disease Impact (Block)
Deterrence DA (Block)
Innovation DA (Block)
Xi DA (Block)
Iron Dome (Hat)
Natural Gas DA (Block)
Process CP 1 (Block)
Process CP 2 (Block)
Advantage CP (Block)
Case Answers (Pocket)
Arms Racing (Block)
This allows you to see easily pre round what arguments you have versus every aff for quick compilation, and is also very helpful vs new affs because you don’t have to open a lot of files to see what can apply. Your aff file can be organized similarly, where you have 1ar pockets/hats vs DAs/CPs and more specific blocks under each category that answer specific positions.
In addition to generic aff and neg files for each topic, it can also be very helpful to have an impact generics file. This file ideally would contain a lot of impacts (i.e. grid collapse, nuclear war, warming, agricultural decline, bees, Indo-Pak war, US hegemony, etc.) and have at minimum impact defense to each. That way, if you hit a new position like a new aff, you have some sort of carded defense. However, it is helpful to have reasons why each impact is both good and bad, so if you ever need an impact you can quickly pull from this, but more importantly, you will have impact turns vs most positions. That guarantees you a source of offense versus new or small affs, as well as a way to turn new DAs read against you. For more common impacts like cap good/bad, warming good/bad, and US hegemony good/bad you may want to invest time in creating separate impact files with more 1NC and 2NR material.
In regard to writing blocks, it is helpful to have pre-written out 1ars to most positions. That saves you time in round and doesn’t take too long to write, especially since you’ll hit similar things across rounds. It is less necessary to have 2nr blocks written pre tournament, since you’ll usually have prep time or pre round to write things out. But, it can be helpful to have overviews or turns case arguments, especially if you read the DA or case argument a lot. Pre-writing 2ars is not a great use of time since policy 2ars ideally are very contextual to the round, which means blocks aren’t helpful since your speech should vary.
To prepare for each tournament, you should look at the entry list and briefly check to make sure you at least have thought about a game plan against each aff (i.e. what DAs apply, what the 2nr will probably be).
You should not put positions in the 1nc that you are not comfortable going for or that aren’t good enough to be in the 2nr. This applies to all types of debate, but specifically for policy debate, since many off case positions are often read. That isn’t strategic since any good policy debater will probably be able to identify that, undercover it, and you can’t go for it so you won’t be able to take advantage of the 1AR’s under allocation. The only exception is if it is an excellent time trade off, but I would be careful since really short DAs are typically missing internal links and warrants.
Philosophy (Sophia Tian)
To start researching philosophy, find phil cases on the HSLD wiki (these cases are typically referred to as “ACs” and “NCs”) and read the evidence/syllogism (syllogism = logical justification) including the small text/unhighlighted parts – if you’re confused about something in a case, you could always try contacting the person who ran it!
Generally, there are three main frameworks: virtue ethics, Kant, and consequentialism. You can use the search function on the wiki to search for these terms. Often people who run one of those three frameworks will also run types of philosophy, so you can discover more by looking through their wiki page.
Start broadly – don’t focus all your efforts on one specific part of a philosophy, but try to understand it step-by-step (e.g. don’t try to only research moral non-naturalism if you’re interested in Kant, try to understand the general syllogism that most people use in debate first). As you learn more phil, there are probably going to be more specific parts of a philosophy that you want to explore. A Google search with the philosophy name + the specific area you want should yield papers explaining what you’re looking for.
CircuitDebater Main Page/Library – there are a couple of pages explaining how phil is used in LD
SEP (Stanford Encylopedia of Philosophy) – this is a non-debate website dedicated to explaining different types of philosophy, but it is very dense.
IEP (Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy) – this is like the SEP but it is less esoteric.
PhilPapers – usually, lots of published phil papers that aren’t on the SEP or IEP are found here.
Compiling and Organizing Files
You should have one main file for each different philosophy (e.g. one file for Kant, one for virtue ethics, etc.). Each file should contain:
The basic syllogism
Extensions of your framework
Frontlines to common responses (e.g. for a Kant file, you should prep out schmagency and tailoring)
Responses to non-util frameworks (e.g. Kant vs virtue ethics, Kant vs agonism)
Responses to kritiks (e.g. Kant vs Curry, Kant vs pess)
In addition to this, you should make a separate file for answers to utilitarianism/consequentialism – util has dozens of justifications/answers and it’s easier to leave them all in a separate file than include them in your main file. However, you could also put this in your main file if your theory has extremely good framework-specific responses to util and you don’t want to only have broad answers.
Generally, you need to get really tech – phil has a bunch of short analytics that could each be round-ending, so it’s important to be fast/efficient enough to answer them all while also being clear. Practicing efficiency drills and redoing speeches will help you improve quickly.
If you want phil to become your main strat, there’s no way to learn it quickly – you should read source literature, outside sources, etc. – simply reading a framework on the wiki isn’t going to be enough. Spend a lot of time reading your philosophy – stick to one or two theories because phil can be extremely dense and confusing.
You should also write your own frontlines! You can docbot a 1AR and 1NC, but phil relies on a thorough explanation of how your theory interacts with your opponents – you need to be able to explain a 1-2 sentence analytic for 3 minutes in the 2AR and that’s impossible if you don’t understand your own theory. However, don’t rely too much on docbotting your frontlines – this seems to contradict the above point, but the purpose of writing frontlines is to force you to research your theory more. Good Kant debaters, for example, will not need to copy and paste the response to the tailoring objection because they can answer it on the fly.
If you don’t want phil to be your main strat, you don’t need to do as much research – e.g. someone who goes for tricks every round but runs Kant will not need to understand Kant as much as someone who goes for Kant every round. The basic things you should do are to read frameworks on the wiki and prep out the common responses to your framework.
Tricks (Lilly Broussard)
For tricks, there are only a couple of topics that need authentic research - the concept is mostly predicated on transparency and recycling (which is good for accessibility!) but also can lead to redundancy every round if you’re not careful. Researching a) paradoxes and b) definitions for every topic make up the majority of genuine research that needs to be done. In terms of wikis, there are a few who you can probably scour to find analytics that have been commonly used over the years: Abhinav Sinha (Dulles 21), Robbie Gillespie (Heritage Plantation 19), Perry Beckett (American Heritage Plantation 20). Also, “Defining and Debating A Prioris” by Noah Simon explains pretty thoroughly the basis of tricks debate while getting into the nuances of variations. Tricks are arguably the most straightforward arguments to understand, it just depends on the amount of time you are willing to invest in learning them.
Compiling and Organizing Files
File compilation is rather intuitive - since “tricks” is a broad term, but the arguments can easily be split into independent categories that are relatively separable (similar to how policy can be split up into disads, counterplans, etc. tricks can be divided into friv theory, a prioris, skep triggers, etc.), most files are split up into the type of argument they are. The most efficient way is probably to file by applicability. Mine are filed by how useful they will be in a given debate round so I can command+A an entire doc and paste it into a doc. The first subset, general framing arguments that are probably not independently defined as tricks (i.e. truth testing ROB, skep ROB, other philosophical justifications lacking offense etc.) make up a phil file that can be applied even in rounds where tricks probably cannot be run. Second, the actual line-by-line that triggers skep or presumption, which serve as the “links” to whatever the aff reads (generic definitions that prove the rez incoherent, xyz framing triggers skep, etc.) make up another file, so doc compilation is easier contingent upon the 1AC. Lastly, I keep a file for independent arguments such as presumption and permissibility dumps which are pretty much always applicable and pretty useful, as well as one for justifications for and shorter arguments like “eval after ___” and “no neg analytics” blips.
The majority of “prep” to be done when debating tricks or frivolous arguments is twofold: 1] your explanations during cross and understanding of the arguments, and 2] the 2N explanation of arguments that aren’t constructed to make sense on face. Researching one-liners that you don’t understand is probably the only way to get an in-depth understanding of the arguments you are reading. Also, preempting CX questions about skep and potential problematic applications is helpful. Understanding your own arguments and being able to explain blips and paradoxes when pressed is probably a good idea. Further, writing 2NRs should seek to answer “why should I vote on this”? Many judges will already have less predisposition to tricks as a whole - it’s prob not ideal if the 2NR extrapolates solely on tech and does not give a coherent ballot story. This overview should also preempt the 2AR, and spin what it is going to go for. Also, 2N files should look different depending on the 1AC - explanations of tricky arguments and skep versus Ks should look different than the explanation versus policy. 2NR files will be your best friend in terms of tricks prep, but should look different from your generic disad extensions.
The best tip possible is to get creative! While most TT shells and skep justifications are the same, there are endless amounts of a prioris, spikes, and shells you can generate and write. The antecedent consequent justification is not the only a priori in existence, nor is shoes theory going to be the last shell about clothing ever run.
There are also a couple of strategic things to do with tricks rather than just extend a dropped blip and make your judge (and potential speaks) sad:
Most people don’t spend time responding to the a priori line by line proper, and only respond to the truth testing framing. This makes the 2N extrapolation extremely strategic. While the ideal 2N is on skep or various framing, tricking the 1AR into responding to things you may not go for is k2 a good strat.
Time allocation in the 2NR should not be 3 minutes on five different paradoxes no matter how tempting lol - the majority of the work needs to be done winning your role of the ballot and pre-empting the 2AR which will inevitably stand up and heg against blips and/or uplayer.
Depending on how tricky you are planning to be, preempt the spikes bad debate. This will inevitably occur, and is likely the most common aff offense v this strat.
Theory/T (Aanya Ghosh)
Since most theory arguments are analytical, becoming accustomed to wiki navigation and being able to use its tools to your advantage to effectively narrow down searches is an important skill to develop. Learning how to navigate can help in other aspects of wiki-based research—for example, scouting opponents pre-tournament. This is true for all search entries, but especially theory—because of the wide range of formatting, the nature of the wiki makes it so that search results are oftentimes flooded with entries completely irrelevant to the keyword you initially entered. Unlike more standardized practices, like “Topic–AC–Title”, a format almost universally used for posting affs on the wiki, organization for theory shells can be especially varied. Some only put broken interpretations, which means only putting the text of the interpretation of the shell, not the standards or paradigm issues, in a cite box.
Pictured: an example of a “Broken Interps” cite box for 1AR theory, taken from my wiki.
Others put the full text of shells they read in separate cite boxes, while others only denote when they read theory in round reports and don’t make a cite entry.
Pictured: an example of a cite box containing the full text of a common negative theory argument, taken from my wiki.
As shown in the examples above, some keywords that may help are “1-” “Th” “G”, widely used to denote cite boxes for generic arguments and/or theory. Since the “G” and “1-” keywords can also be used for other generics like kritiks, be sure to keep that in mind when using them!
After entering your search phrase, e.g. “condo”, navigate to the “Refine search” box in the right-hand corner when results load. Object type allows you to filter through rounds and cites. Under Result Type, ‘Attachment’ will show you the text in an open-source document, and ‘Document’, ‘Object’, and ‘Object Property' will display round reports. Location and Creator filter results through specific schools and debaters. Through the Upload Date settings, you can also set a date and time for results, which can be helpful with finding topicality that pertains to a specific resolution. This feature is also useful for other time-contingent arguments, such as politics disads that need to be updated relatively frequently. Additionally, refer to the high school or college policy wikis as well if LD doesn’t get results, or look at previous years’ case lists.
Compiling and Organizing Files
How you choose to organize your files mostly depends on personal preference. One way to format is by side-specific constraints, such as having a 1AR theory file and a 1NC/2NR theory file. Another idea is making files for theory about a specific practice, such as files for paradigm issues, disclosure shells, CP theory, or theory vs the K (colt peacemaker, floating PIKs, utopian fiat).
You’ll need to diversify formatting slightly for policy-style theory, or basic theory arguments that originated in policy debate and made their way to LD, like condo and PICs bad. Judges who have a policy background are typically more amenable to short paragraph-style theory arguments, but an LD judge may have a higher threshold for formal shells. The primary distinction is between paragraph vs shell format. Paragraph theory is no more than a few lines long and usually looks something like “X is a voter for y reasons…” LD-esque theory is a lengthier process, with an interpretation, fleshed-out standards, and paradigm issues read consecutively in a speech.
When making a theory file, one of the first things to do when frontlining a specific shell is formulating answers to the counter-interpretation, or your opponent’s counter-model of debate. Focus on a diversity of ways to generate offense against their standards and comparatively weigh on your own. Writing out 2ARs and 2NRs on generic shells is a great way to practice block-writing skills and familiarize yourself with the ins and outs of arguments you’ll be going for relatively frequently. While relying on the doc is never ideal, it may end up helping during a round when you’re pressed for time.
Topicality is a stock issue pertaining to whether the affirmative defends the resolution as worded. The term is used broadly across debate to refer to various procedural negative arguments that argue an affirmative advocacy does not meet its burden to be topical. These almost always propose the resolution is a limit that confines affirmative advocacy. A lack of topicality can be problematic for a litany of reasons, most commonly articulated as unfairness, the ability to sidestep meaningful in-round clash, and hindering the educational benefits of debate. Theory arguments such as conditionality bad or PICs bad criticize a specific practice as abusive in a similar way to topicality.
Getting yourself familiar with theory, as well as topicality, provides many strategic benefits. Whether you’re debating unfamiliar affirmatives as the negative or responding to topicality yourself, having a good understanding of both and investing in robust file construction, will certainly pay off in-round.
Common Forms of Topicality:
T- Framework is one of the most popular topicality arguments found across Policy and Lincoln-Douglas debate. Put very briefly, this form of topicality is a strategy against critical affirmatives, colloquially referred to as “Non-T Affs”, that do not defend the resolution as is commonly done in the status quo–hypothetical implementation of a policy action. The negative says this practice is unfair, a detriment to education, or takes away from productive in-round argumentative clash. These affirmatives usually have a strong defense of ontology and/or a justification as to why debating the topic is problematic in some form, both of which help formulate offense against T-Framework in the form of impact turns. Some K Affs read counter-interpretations, but impact turning framework is generally more common. It’s useful to familiarize yourself with going for it and constructing different shells against different affs, since it’s a core generic when hitting a Non-T aff you might not understand or have specific prep against.
Nebel T is exclusively read in the Lincoln-Douglas debate format against plan affs, or affs that don’t defend the whole resolution in its entirety and instead specify a subset of the resolution’s terms. The semantic basis for these arguments lies in “bare plurals” often found in debate topics. For example, on the Jan-Feb 2020 Lincoln-Douglas debate topic, “Resolved: States ought to eliminate their nuclear arsenals”, an aff that defended eliminating only a certain type of nuclear bomb or that only one country should eliminate its arsenals would violate Nebel T.
Extra-Topicality is an argument concerning the scope of affirmative fiat. This argument says affirmatives may only defend the instrumental implementation of the resolution, and nothing beyond that. The components of aff plan texts that go beyond resolutional scope are commonly referred to as “planks”. For example, on the 2021 September-October Lincoln-Douglas debate topic, “Resolved: Member Nations of the WTO ought to reduce Intellectual Property Protections for Medicines”, one aff defended the COVID-19 IP waiver. An Extra-T argument against these said the IP waiver extended to medical devices beyond medicine; thus, the aff advocacy was extra-topical.
Effects-Topicality arguments focus on affirmatives that achieve solvency through a means of implementation that isn’t the resolution. For example, an aff on the Lincoln-Douglas November-December 2019 topic, “Resolved: The United States ought to eliminate subsidies for fossil fuels” that advocated for the president to sign a treaty about something completely unrelated that eventually eliminated fossil fuel subsidies would be effects-topical.
More specific interpretations concern terms of art—for example, T-Substantial and T-Reduce–that define these words in resolutional context.
Below are some potential useful resources if you are beginning to learn theory debate: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JI0qPK2EZGs, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XjzoNgaBTQc, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kNaoe_Tk_eo, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JI0qPK2EZGs&t=458s