Dec 20, 2007

how to write an LD case

Disclaimers: This is a work in progress. I am only one debate coach out of thousands nationwide. My word is not gospel; if you don't like my methods, suggest your own. Shared knowledge makes for better debate. Floss daily.

There are several parts of the process of writing an effective LD case. Their order may change depending on your experience and your thinking style. However, all of them come into play at some point.

Understanding the Resolution
This is where you always have to begin: by making sense of the resolution. Your experience level, though, dictates whether you can slide over the trip to the dictionary on your way to brainstorming, or whether you want to make a dictinoary vist the beginning of your brainstorming process.

Let's say you don't understand the resolution at all. Grab a will do nicely, since it includes all kinds of definitions--and look up every important word. Or phrase, since some words shouldn't really be defined on their own.

I've made up a sample resolution for analysis.
Resolved: It is immoral to use performance-enhancing drugs in an attempt to gain athletic advantage.
"Immoral," "performance-enhancing drugs," and "athletic advantage" are crucial here. "Attempt" is included to maintain a reasonable burden of proof, so the Aff doesn't have to show that the drugs in question are successful.

Brainstorm reasons for and against the resolution. A value / criterion structure will arise out of the reasons. In other words, simply put "because..." at the end of the resolution, and think of every possible way to fill in the rest of the sentence. (At this point, if possible, it's wise to collaborate with a teammate, or check out an online resource for arguments you haven't considered.)

Draw a line down the center of a piece of paper--and on either side, write a "because..." for and against. Don't start with just an affirmative or negative position--instead, use both sides to shape your thinking.

Eventually, you might have 10-12 reasons for, say, the affirmative. What do you do with them? You have to choose either one that stands alone, strong enough to build a case around, or choose 2-3 that are united under a common value and criterion.

You have to ask, What are the big questions here? What are the assumptions underlying the resolution? Your primary questions, given this resolution, might include, What is the overall purpose of sport? Does sport have its own moral obligations, or does it fall under a larger moral system?

Where Values and Criteria Come In
The resolution contains important aims, ends, goals, or aspirations. Every "because..." promotes an implicit value, and points to a way to judge how that value can be achieved (criterion philosophy #1) or how to weigh that value against other values (criterion philosophy #2). (For my extended thoughts on criteria, see here.)

I find it useful to operate, as in other forms of persuasive writing, with a thesis at the center. Let's consider an example. If you have three reasons...
1. Drug use destroys fair play.
2. Drug use puts winning before character.
3. Drug use is a lazy, cheap route to success.
All of these could be subpoints under an overarching thesis, "It is immoral to use performance-enhancing drugs in an attempt to gain athletic advantage, because it defeats the virtuous aims of competition."

Now you have a value of morality and a criterion of virtuous competition. Since the resolution is framed in negative terms--"immoral" instead of "moral"--each subpoint will be a criterion violation. Hold on to that for now, as we talk about other potential values.

Morality. The word "immoral" gives us a strong hint that "doing the right thing" could very well be the most important aim of the resolution. "Virtue" or "Integrity" might be allied concepts here. (Health is an important aim, but since the resolution focuses on morality, health issues would have to relate to that.)

Human Dignity. Perhaps morality isn't the core value, but rather a means of protecting human dignity (and thus morality is the criterion). If drug use degrades humanity, it is immoral.

Societal Welfare Perhaps morality is a means to ensuring the good of society, and athletic drug use has effects beyond its users. This works well with a criterion of utilitarianism, ensuring the greatest good for the greatest possible number.

On the negative, we might have...

Victory. It could be argued that the goal of sport is to win; call this the "Vince Lombardi" value, after his famous admonition: "Winning isn't everything. It's the only thing."

Freedom. Athletes, it could be argued, should be free to ingest whatever substances they wish. (Freedom could also be a criterion to a value of morality--we would judge any given moral system as valid based on its respect, or lack of respect, for human freedom. This is known as libertarianism.)

Potential criteria under a value of morality:

Equality. Drugs might "level the playing field," and overcome natural inequalities such as differences in height or muscle mass. However, if everyone's doing drugs, the Aff might respond, those with natural advantages will still rise to to the top.

Entertainment. Perhaps the true role of sport is to entertain; this is either a negation of some grand moral purpose for sport, or in fact its major moral purpose: to provide joy to spectators and participants. Either way, perhaps drugs, by allowing athletes to perform at higher levels, increase the entertainment value of sport.

Consequentialism (and one form, Utilitarianism) vs. Deontology. For how these theories play out, see here.

The basic structure of an LD case
So you have some definitions of key terms, and good reasons allied under a value and criterion structure, as expressed in a thesis based on the resolution. What then? It's time to organize your ideas into a case. The following structure is strongly encouraged.

1. Introduction. Some sort of snappy quote.
2. The resolution. Cited exactly as worded.
3. Any necessary definitions. Be sure to provide sources if your definitions are controversial or counterintuitive.
4. Any resolutional analysis. Only if you need to clarify some important aspect of the resolution that helps explain the format or framework of your case.
5. Your thesis.
6. Your value.
7. Your criterion.
8. Your contentions, in order. Any applicable evidence must be properly sourced and cited.
9. Your conclusion. It works well to call back to the introduction.

Each part of the case will be numbered below in the sample.

Michel de Montaigne once said, "There are some defeats more triumphant than victories." I agree, and [1] affirm the resolution, Resolved: It is immoral to use performance-enhancing drugs in an attempt to gain athletic advantage. [2]

For clarity in the round, I offer the following definitions: "Immoral" is defined as violating principles of right conduct. "Performance-enhancing drugs" are chemicals or substances ingested to boost speed, metabolism, muscle mass, or some other biological feature relevant to "athletic advantage," which is defined as benefit or gain in the context of a sport. An example of athletic advantage might be the ability to throw a discus ten feet further, or to run a mile thirty seconds faster. [3]

Also, I offer an important resolutional analysis: the resolution, since it includes the word "attempt," does not require the affirmative to show that the drugs in question provide an actual, measurable advantage. Instead, the affirmative must show that the act of taking the drug in hopes of gaining advantage is itself immoral. [4]

My thesis: It is immoral to use performance-enhancing drugs in an attempt to gain athletic advantage, because it defeats the virtuous aims of competition. [5] Sport has many forms of worth, but its greatest benefit to its participants is the development of their character. Thus, my value is morality,[6] and my criterion is the virtuous competition. [7] Sport without a moral framework is just exercise.

Contention One: Drug use destroys fair play. [8]
One of the fundamental aspects of competition is fairness, the idea of a "level playing field." Inherent to virtuous competition is playing within the rules and abiding by referees' decisions, ensuring that both sides have, at least in theory, an equal chance of success. Although natural gifts--height, muscle mass, endurance--are inequitably distributed, there are virtuous ways to overcome the odds--and this is key--that are inherent in the competitive activity. Practice, determination, effort, on the field and in the gym. Drug use turns sport into a competition among chemists, and, mostly, a battle of bank accounts.

Contention Two: Drug use puts winning before character.
The old saw, "It's not whether you win or lose, but how you play the game," is a central axiom of virtuous competition. Drug users, by relying on chemical cocktails to improve their performance, in essence are fixing their eyes on winning above all. This has multiple effects: it makes them more likely to cheat in other instances--tripping an opponent when the ref isn't watching, knowing that the win matters above all. It could lead to boorish or selfish or even self-absorbed, limelight-hogging play. Instead of playing for the spiritual, emotional, or even physical benefits, winning becomes the only motive, and all else is sacrificed.

Contention Three: Drug use is a lazy, cheap route to success.
The most important virtue of competition comes from the challenge. By reducing the natural barrier to success, the drug abuser has to work less to achieve the same results. This not only negatively affects the individual, but harms teammates, who will be more likely to take the lazy route, and even harms society, as youth, who look up to role models, decide to imitate their indolence.

As we have seen, the aim of sport is not exercise, or fun, or even eternal glory, but the development of moral character.[9] Performance enhancing drugs, by corrupting fair play, by promoting winning above character, and by shorting the challenge, destroy the virtuous aims of competition, and thus their use is immoral. For these reasons you must vote affirmative. I now stand open for cross-examination.

(Should this or something like it ever become an actual LD topic, you might consider reading this debunking of steroids stats. Also potentially of interest: a libertarian debates in favor of PEDs.)


Debater29 said...

Here's one method to writing an LD case...kinda.

What's your thought on how many contentions you should have? I usually think three is the basic number... but I went against this kid who had like 6-9 and in the end, I was so bored of listening that I didn't hit every contention (cause like even if you ask what the contentions are during the crossX ... you can always talk a lot about some contentions).. therefore.. some are still missed.. and you win for having a lot of contentions... -.-''

okiedebater said...

This is just my opinion, but I like to have 3 on Aff, 2-3 on Neg. It's okay when my opponents have up to 4 on the Affirmative, but any more than that and they are sacrificing evidence just to try to keep me from hitting all their points...

okiedebater said...

Just a few questions about this practice resolution:
1) The Affirmative's position is that it is the athlete's intent to gain an athletic advantage. If he were then given the performance-enhancing drugs without his knowledge, would there be a moral difference?
2) If performance-enhancing drugs are immoral at least partially because of the fact that they could make things too easy on the athletes, leading to laziness, and favor the wealthy, could that not also mean that other things within the realms of athletics, such as large disparities in budgets and quality of facilities also be immoral?

Jim Anderson said...


1. I think the resolution (which I made up, so any potential ambiguities are my fault) could be reasonably interpreted to include the agent's intention and knowledge.

2. I'm glad you noticed that; it was one of the reasons I wrote the case this way. A consistent Aff would have to say "Yep, but that's a different resolution," I think.

Anonymous said...

I offer the same disclaimer -- I do not claim that the suggestions I am about to offer are the only way, I just find that these are the strategies that have helped me win several rounds.

1. Introductions and conclusions waste time -- even 30 seconds is 30 seconds taht could have been spent making arguments, potentially ones that your opponent would have dropped and you could extend in the rebuttal.

2. If the resolution asks a question of justice or morality, I would take that and make it the value. The values really aren't important because they're all inherently vague -- I always equate them: "I offer justice as a value, my opponent offers x, but in the end these are both vague, generally good things we want to achieve in the world. Instead, we need to focus on how to get there, which is why you are going to default to the criterion debate."

3. I would never make morality a criterion, because it is unbelievably vague. The criterion should be something that is extremely specific, clearly definited, and functions as *both* a way to meet the value. If you win that your criteiron is the best way to achieve the value, then you win that the round should be judged that way. For example, with the plea bargaining topic, the value might be justice and the criterion might be prosecutorial accuracy. Under the criterion, the argument would be that you can't determine one's due until you determine the crime that has been committed, making it a prerequisite to any conception of justice. If you win that this is the only way to reach justice, then obviously teh judge needs to weigh the round based on accuracy, because that is the only way to determine who best achieves justice.

4. Two other time-saving suggestions -- keep the titles of sections quick, ie "Definitions", "Resolution Analysis"; it's implied that you are about to offer definitions, you don't need to state it. Also, on the negative, I never read the resolution or read definitions if they are unnecessary, my NCs start out "I negate, the value is _____". If there are necessary framework arguments, I'll make them after "I negate".

5. Make several arguments under the criterion about why it is the best way to reach the value, then just extend whichever one your opponent drops. It makes winning the standards debate really easy, and is thus very strategic.

6. I always write cases with one contention and multiple subpoints. This, for the most part, prevents you from being spread. If all of your warrants are very specific to a criterion, then there are not as many diverse arguments that people will have prepped several answers to. It also creates a clear story for the judge, and makes it so that any piece of offense is enough to win the round because they all fulfill the standards.

These are all things that I learned/picked up from debaters that have experienced a lot of success, and I've found all of them to help me in several rounds.

Anonymous said...

Where my last post says "and functions as *both* a way to meet the value." that sentence should be finished with "and weigh the round". ;)

By the way - do you mind if I ask what school[s] you coach at? I compete on the Northwest Washington circuit & was just curious.

Jim Anderson said...

anonymous, your observations are excellent; for #1, I would only say that it depends on which region you're from. In more traditional areas, judges expect the whole oratorical package, rather than simply, "I affirm," and arguments to follow.

I coach at Capital HS. Thanks for stopping by, and see you on the circuit.

ld n00b said...

I know the whole point of the post was how to write a speech in general, not about whether or not it is immoral to use performance inhancing drugs, but I can't resist the temptation 2 point out 2things on both sides:

Aff: If someone is gaining an advantage then it means it is not a situation of equal drug use. A situation in which everyone uses the maximum amount of steroids is NOT prohibited by the resolution, since no1 would have the advantage, and thus an aff would not need to defend against this.

Neg: Medical drugs are performance inhancing. If I have strep throught and I have to play a baseball game in 3 days, and I take anyibiotics, my gameplay will be much better than if I have strep throat. The same would go for life-saving drugs. So a neg could argue this resolution makes it immoral for an athlete to take life-saving medicine and continue playing.

In terms of linking those to how to write a debate speech, #1 shows how an AFF should try to lower the BOP as much as possible, and #2 shows how the NEG needs to widen the scope of the resolution.

SO maybe that was a teensy bit relevant after all.

-LD n00b

Anonymous said...

Where I come from, the criterion has to be warranted in terms of the value.

Ever since I was a novice my coaches have insinuated that i have 2-3 warrants for why my criterion links to the value and I think that they make it that much harder to take out the case and i noticed that the AC had no warrants for the criterion aside from a sentence which was unwarranted.

Also, i've learned that the value ought to be straight out of the resolution and thus answer the question.
So for the steroids example the value should be morality. The criterion would go on to act as a weighing mechanism to see which side better achieves the value (a world w/ steroids, or a world w/o)

Anonymous said...

I noticed in your sample case you didn't have evidence. Is it ok not to provide some? Also, what is a good speaking speed in LD date in terms of word/min? I just came back from one and one of my match speak so fast that I couldn't really understand his arguments so I couldn't counter his case so I lost. What do I do in situation like this? Thanks advance for your advise.

Jim Anderson said...

1. Evidence isn't always required; it's mostly for empirically backing up a claim that needs it. For instance, in the third contention, when I argue that drug abuse will be imitated, a statistic might help shore up the argument.

2. It's hard to determine exactly how fast is too fast. My basic advice for "the spread" is in four parts:

First, listen for taglines.

Second, get clarity in CX. It's not the best thing to do with your CX time, but it's better than going into your rebuttals clueless.

Third, group contentions like mad.

Fourth, if you can, attack your opponent's case at the root: show how its V/C (framework) is so flawed that the rest of the advocacy is immaterial. Even use the metaphor of sawing down a tree at the trunk to ensure that your judge "gets" your strategy.

I should probably devote a whole post to the spread. I'll put it in the queue...