Unconventional wisdom

This series will address some calcified debate folk wisdom that I find to be misguided at best and counterproductive at worse.

The topic I will address today is how to establish your order for the 2AC. Lets first talk about how people learn to give a 2AC. Initially when you start debate you are bad. As such, your coaches come up with a series of tips and guidelines to help make you less bad. Once you become less bad sometimes the advice you used previously is not as helpful anymore, oftentimes it can be harmful. This is because as you get better at debate…. you get better at debate. Specifically, as you improve you can both make specific decisions that are better for that context than a general rule, and your decision making can incorporate more factors than previously that alter the “best decision” you can make.

Here are just a few factors that can influence how you want to structure your order

1. Time allocation- how good are you at it? If you are bad sometimes you will need to put things at the very beginning to make sure you get to them- like topicality. If you know you tend to get bogged down on the case it might not be a good idea to put the case first which many view as the 11th commandment.

2. Your speaking style- in general people tend to start off strong (being very fast) and trail off (becoming slower)- this makes it a good idea to put something that is evidence intensive first- reading evidence benefits from your greater speed whereas say reading theory arguments would benefit from being presented more slowly.

3. What is the other team going for? If you know they are going for X, and you cover X first, they will be able to prep for the remainder of the time you are answering things they don’t care about. This can be good or bad- its good if you hide answers to the thing they are going for later on, its bad if you just give them free prep.

4. What is a major threat? Sometimes arguments don’t make sense against your case so you are going to blow them off- do you do that at the beginning or the end? If the reason they don’t make sense is a trick oftentimes you want to wait till the last possible moment. If an argument is very threatening and you don’t want to risk undercovering it you may want to move it earlier in the order regardless of what argument it is.

These are only some factors, not an exhaustive list (we didn’t talk about where/when to read add ons, how many arguments to make to each off case, when to read extension evidence on case etc), and they can often contradict. Given that, it is hard to have a set rule of how to organize your 2AC-you are going to have to look at a combination of factors. How do you combine factors?

Let say  you start fast and finish slow, and lets also say you have a tendancy to get bogged down on the case. If these are true you don’t wan’t to put the case first in the 2AC since often debating the case is a lot of analytic extensions that will be hard to flow when given fast. You will get bogged down making too many short analytics. Also, its easier to adjust your time spent on the case than it is on an off case. Here is an example


There is a disad and a set of case arguments in the 1NC. You want to spend 2 minutes on each. If you go to the case first and spend 3 minutes now you are going to make less arguments on the disad than you planned- how do you decide what to cut? Most likely you will just read your first 4-6 arguments. What if the reverse happens and you put the disad first and spend less time on the case- now you can chose to allocate time WITHIN the case to make up for things- spend less time on defense, adjust what evidence you are reading and where, make less analytic case extensions etc. Putting the case last gives you more flexibility- and properly taking advantage of flexibility is a skill that better debaters have that novice debaters don’t. So while novices may want to put the case first because they are slow (so they have no speed differential) and they don’t want to drop it (although this applies to the disad) when you get better at debate you can get more out of your speech by increasing the amount of small decisions you make related to time allocation. Another example:


The neg read 8 off. You suspect that 4 of them are throwaway arguments that will not be extended under any circumstances. The other 4 consist of a CP with internal net benefit, a kritik, politics, and TQPQ. Here are some things you would want to consider:

1. How can you hide arguments on the 4 throw aways that can help you on what they are going for? If they read 2 T arguments make answers like “reasonability good” on the one you suspect they are not going for. The chances they drop it may be small , but its something. It also makes extending topicality more annoying for them. If you think they will extend X but not Y and you can make a theory argument that applies to both make it on Y- teams often incorrectly kick out of things either by ignoring or conceding arguments that can be cross applied. A good example of this is mechanism uniqueness- if you run a Mexico case and say “non unique aid now” to answer a disad and then read impact turns teams will OFTEN concede this argument to kick it not realizing they have just conceded an argument that non uniques all their disads.

2.Synergy- your best answer to a CP may be a specific disad to that CP , and your best answer to the K may be a specific indict to their alternative. However, when pressed for time, it could make more sense to read an add on that helps you against both that is individually your 2nd best answer to each. Since the add on has multitasking capabilities, even though it is not your best argument objectively it has situational benefits.

3. Changing your strategy- maybe you wouldn’t normally impact turn the net benefit, but in this particular case the impact turns you read are also offense against the critique. This makes them useful in the same way as the add on discussed above.

4. What if you need theory- you know you won’t be able to beat the CP without it. Then you probably want to withold certain arguments you traditionally make against Topicality like “lit checks” or “reasonability” because these can be cross applied to work as defense against your theory argument. You have to assess how likely it is you will need these arguments to beat T and decide whether or not you can risk witholding them.

5. Say the CP is dispo and you are going to straight turn it- I would move it to the end to prevent the neg from getting the strategic info they need to plan the block till the last possible second.


This article is by no means exhaustive of the factors that go into planning 2AC time allocation, but hopefully it has given you some food for thought to help you get out of the “case first” or “T always on top” boxes we often establish for novices. Remember- rules are important until they are not. Once you understand the concepts behind rules you can often step outside them and achieve better results.


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