Q&A: Nationals Preparation

Q: Would you recommend purchasing briefs in addition to independent research, or should I just focus on independent research?

A: One thing I think briefs are invaluable for is argument coverage. Because brief writers have thoroughly brainstormed and researched the topic, they are likely to cover the span of argument that exist (whether they are winning or not). Briefs then can help you double check your argument and block coverage. Especially with Nationals, I think its worth a small investment to buy a least one good brief to supplement your independent research. However, I think independent research is crucial because it forces you to understand the topic at a deeper level – briefs allow you to process pre-processed information. Doing your own research will force you to find the gaps in your knowledge and also lead you down more inventive and perhaps novel paths because you don’t have a preset idea of what the arguments are.

Q: What is the typical judging pool like?

A: I think over time the pool has gotten more experienced. More ex-PF debaters are coming back as judges, more coaches are familiar with the event, and so there is going to be a segment of the judging pool that is very debate-experienced. However, PF remains a lay friendly event so you will still have your parent judges and community members coming in to judge.

Q: Any special advice for prepping for nationals?

Do what you do best. Whatever you have been doing well all year that qualified you, keep doing it! One thing that may get forgotten in the rush to Nationals is practice rounds. This may be harder to arrange because your teammates are done for the year, you may be the only team at your school preparing the topic – but if you can get some of your peers (or maybe even a team from another school in your area) to do practice rounds, this is invaluable. You do not want your first debate on the topic to be Round 1 at Nats. Get some practice rounds under your belt – even if you just do a maverick round partner vs partner!


Q&A: Partnering Problems?

Q: I’m having a bit of a partner crisis and was wondering if you had any thoughts/advice on the situation.

My incredible partner has just graduated. We did very well competitively in the past year and I’m looking to continue to have success on the national level in the coming years. I need a new partner and unfortunately, my school is very small. My options are limited to converting an LD kid or poaching a PFer from another partnership.


Partnering is a complex thing. How people get paired works differently on every team, but here are the things you should consider as you move on.

1. Who usually pairs teams, debaters or your coach?

If your coach pairs teams, you should approach them to have a conversation. Ask who they are considering pairing you with and who you have considered for a partner. If your coach ultimately decides all conversations or thoughts should go through them.

If debaters decide partnerships, please consider the following questions:

2. Has anyone stepped forward that wants to be your partner?

Willingness to partner is a huge aspect of success. If there is someone who has shown interest and you think it could work, sit down and have a conversation about what kind of commitment you each have to debate. You want to have similar levels of commitment to work, competing, etc.

3. Is the LD person open to switching?

If someone is considering crossing over to PF, I would definitely consider this option. Again, willingness to partner is huge. Also LD skills can easily transfer into PF if the person is willing to learn and adapt.

4. Is the partnership you are considering breaking a successful one, both in round and partner dynamics wise?
The word “poach” is interesting because it has an inherently negative connotation. I think breaking up a partnership needs to be thought about long and hard. The reason for breaking cannot solely be your desire to succeed. Think about if the partnership is working and has been successful – if so, don’t touch it. If the team seems to be unsatisfied or unevenly matched, you should approach both of them with the idea. Remember, at the end of the day you will have to spend time with both partners.
I would suggest having your coach sit down with you and the partners to have the discussion. There should be an alternative partner readily available for the person who may soon be partnerless. Think about all the details before approaching this option.
5. Consider switching partners if things don’t work out.

When you find a new partner (unless you have broken another PF partnership), consider it a trial run. This should be discussed with the partner before you treat the partnership this way. You can always try and work things out, but if by about mid-year it feels like you are not moving in the same direction, consider trying a different partner. As a sophomore you do have some time to sort things out before you really need a committed partnership. I did not debate with my long term partner until junior year, and it was worth the wait.


In any partnering concern, remember that you are dealing with people- friends, peers, and teammates. Make sure you realize that partnering isn’t just a strategic game, but also that emotions and feelings will be involved. Tread carefully and think about the impact of your choices before making any moves. Always go to a trusted coach, varsity team member, or mentor to discuss your options.

Best Practices: Emphasizing good facts and arguments

Working on legal writing, I’ve run into some great and applicable advice for Public Forum debate. In a legal brief, it matters how you present the facts of the case – always truthful, but using persuasive tools to emphasize your arguments and shape the story of the arguments. The same goes for debate – you want to tell the truth, but emphasize the facts and arguments that help you most.

Techniques to Emphasize Good Facts and Arguments:

Use short & clear sentences.

  • Easy to process, easy to remember.

Put good facts/arguments in 1st or last paragraphs.

  • these are the most memorable for your judge.

Group facts and arguments together to make obvious inferences.

  • bring your arguments together to build their strength.

Repeat Good Facts.

  • always and throughout the round

Use lots of vivid detail.

  • this helps the judge remember and relate to your case.

Be specific.

  • giving specific examples, images, numbers, etc helps the judge ground a larger argument in a more tangible fact.

Use Emotional Words.

  • for example, “police brutality” rather than “legal enforcement.”

State Good Facts Alone.

  • Make your good facts/arguments stand out.

Generally the opposite logic applies to what to do with bad facts or arguments that will hurt your case in the round. You don’t ignore them, but you deal with them in a persuasive manner.

Techniques to De-Emphasize Bad Facts and Arguments:

Use longer & complex sentences.

Bury their facts by no repeating or emphasizing what your opponents drop throughout the round (but do refute everything – this applies more to later round speeches).

Don’t pile up your opponents arguments – separate them so the judge sees the individual flaws rather than the overall, cumulative strength.

Only state a bad fact once.

Use as little detail as possible.

Stay General and don’t give your opponent more evidence, logical reasoning, etc than they have provided you.

Use Clinical, dispassionate language.

Juxtapose a bad fact in same sentence with good fact. Pair your weaker arguments with your stronger to remind the judge of the big picture (good impact calculus).