How to Win A Policy Debate Round?

Successful performance in Policy hinges on two factors – effective research and preparation, and effective execution.

Effective Research and Preparation

Given how research-intensive Policy is, there is a premium on making sure you enter into a round with as much high-quality evidence as possible. Since the topic is debated for an entire year, there’s no excuse for not knowing your own case—and your opponents’ cases—very well. You’ll want to make sure you’ve gotten started with research as soon as the topic comes out over the summer; spend the first few weeks combing through the literature and getting a sense of what arguments are out there before you begin casing. Have a general card file where you brainstorm ideas.

Then, as you continue researching, settle on a core Affirmative case to begin the topic with. If you’re reading a traditional Policy position, it should be a “Plan,” or a case that defends a subset of the resolution. It should be a sustainable position that has strong literature supporting it. Once you’ve settled upon this idea, start cutting “frontlines” or blocks to what teams might counter your position with.

However, remember that you’ll need to debate on both sides of the resolution. Doing Negative prep is not about finding the most persuasive case but anticipating what possible Affirmative arguments are (since you will be responding to them). Make a running list of possible Affirmative positions in the literature and then brainstorm what the most compelling offensive response to it would be. Build a strategy around that core piece of offense.

After tournaments have begun, you’ll likely have a better sense of what positions the other teams are reading (and what they might say against your cases). Once you know that, it will be far easier to adjust and make sure you have adequate prep against what you might encounter.

Effective Execution

Debate is not just a research contest; if it were, we could submit our cases to the judge and not bother reading them! Many debaters in Policy are speaking upward of 400 words per minute. This allows them to make more arguments in a limited amount of time.

To keep up with these fast talkers, you’ll want to do one (or both) of two things: speak quickly yourself or develop strong efficiency. To speak quickly yourself, you’ll need to extensively practice it. This might involve reading your cases backwards, reading your cases with a pen in your mouth, or trying to read it as quickly as you can. With sufficient practice, you can learn to speak very quickly and clearly. The second strategy does not rely on speaking fast, however. You can improve your efficiency by having strong word economy (avoid repetitive phrases/words) and cutting down on verbal pauses (such as “ums” or “uhs”).

Effective execution is not just about speed and efficiency, however. It also involves a keen sense of strategy, knowing what arguments to spend the most time on. By watching more rounds online or in person, you’ll develop a better intuitive sense of what arguments are round-winners and should be prioritized.