There are many steps that go into constructing a good affirmative, ranging from initially researching and finding articles to starting the process of piecing together what potential advantages might look like to honing answers to specific positions. Although what the end result looks like or what’s strategic is incredibly dependent on the topic, your debate style, and various other issues, there are a couple of good practices that can help with the process and lead to better end results.
1. Research bottom up, not top down
One big mistake people often make at the very start is researching with preconceptions in mind about what they hope to find. For example, upon seeing a topic, some people instinctively decide to cut a Kant Aff, or decide to research a particular plan in a particular subset of the topic. While having focus while researching is good, this approach often backfires, and going into initial research with a myopic focus produces one of two things. First, it often results in you missing things you otherwise would have found because you were singularly focused on the idea you had before you even started researching. As well-informed as any given person is, they will surely know substantially less about a topic at the beginning as opposed to the end of the season, and a crucial time for educating yourself about a topic is the preliminary research stage. Second, articles aren’t written to line up neatly with topics/debate. In the rush to find something that fits the position you just know to be out there, debaters often find something (at best) that kinda sorta says the argument, and then piece together an assortment of cards to construct a pseudo-argument not really represented by the topic. This is bad – the cards will not be very good, and it will not be a very sustainable area to innovate in because authors aren’t making the argument you’re actually wanting, which maxes out the number of new things you can say within the purview of that given position. Instead, the initial approach to researching a topic is to keep a very open mind. Read as many articles as you can in the first few days – use those articles as a jumping off point for finding more specific articles/arguments. Over time, this will lead you to narrow your research more and more until it crystallizes into something specific and usable – this approach organically creates positions that are represented by the topic, and does not feed into preconceptions in advance.
2. Cut an Aff around the mechanism, not the impact
The mechanism of an Aff refers to what the Aff/plan does, as opposed to what advantages it gets to. While doing research and constructing a position, a useful frame to apply is not “how big is this advantage/how big is the impact in the 1AC?” but instead, thinking about:
1] What angle does the Aff have against CPs (particularly core generic ones like agent CPs)?
2] What good disads does the neg have?
In short, you should cut an Aff that you think has a rock-solid advocacy that doesn’t link to most disads or has offense that is unique to the plan. One mistake I often see people make in research is finding a really big/true advantage first, but thinking about how to answer core counterplans second. The danger of this approach is that if that’s not on the top of your radar from the start, it’s very likely the mechanism will not be built to answer counterplans, and you’ll just try to piece together some arguments that won’t be as good. Even if your advantage is absolutely huge, if the neg is able to suck up most of it with a counterplan through little to no effort, it’s not doing you any good.
For example, on the Jan-Feb topic someone might decide to cut a Congressional War Powers advantage. On face, this seems potentially strategic – it gets to a huge impact (lots of people write about the dangers of executive unilateral foreign policy, especially post-Trump), and the internal links aren’t terrible about how curbing military aid is one way to rein in executive foreign policy prerogatives. However, when you think about it through the lens of what unique angles this has against counterplans/preventing the neg from getting offense, this approach seems much less strategic. Advantage counterplanning to just restrict executive war powers in other areas (amending the AUMF, court rulings that Congress controls most war powers, etc.), seem to clearly solve by, in essence, just fiatting the Aff’s internal links. Additionally, to solve the advantage, the Aff likely needs to specify Congress – this gives the neg access to politics, which makes finding a disad and having a CP with 0 real solvency deficit not super challenging at all for the neg. Instead, start research by focusing on minimizing the amount of neg offense, and on cutting advantages as intrinsic to the mechanism as possible (intrinsic meaning something that only this particular mechanism can solve). The advantages may very well be smaller/worse – that tradeoff is definitely worth it because if there’s nothing the neg can do to solve it, and the disads are even worse, the Aff wins (as opposed to a huge advantage easily solved by a counterplan with a big disad as the net benefit).
Aff research is difficult, and always an ongoing process. The above tips may seem a bit abstract – the best ways to apply them are to:
1] Start research by reading as much as you can, and checking your assumptions about the topic at the door (temporarily) to allow the topic to guide your positions
2] Filter whether or not to cut a position based on what the neg gets to say (whether you can candidly assess that advantage CPing the interal links/reading core topic CPs wouldn’t solve, whether there’s a big disad, etc). Constantly assess and reassess based on what you would do if you were neg against a given position.
Let us know if you have any questions!
About the author:
Raffi Piliero debated for Harrison High School for 4 years, clearing twice at the TOC and finishing as bid leader his senior year. He’s currently a sophomore debating at Georgetown University, qualifying twice and clearing once at the National Debate Tournament. As a coach, his students have earned dozens of TOC bids, won several octas-bid tournaments, and reached the finals of the TOC.