Cross-X: you’re doing it wrong

I have no idea what the deal with this picture is… but its awesome.


To keep this under a 5,000 word tirade I am going to stick to two lines of questioning I think are bad and try and explain how you can do it better.



1. “Oh yea, well whats your answer to this?”

This is a colossally bad line of questioning. Even worse than it, is the way some judges seem to think its good. I have heard or read many people who I otherwise respect comment on how they think its a great idea to just ask the other team what their answer to an argument not yet made in the debate is. To be fair, those comments usually occur in the following context


“What about x”

“well if you make that argument in a speech we will answer it”

Judge: Lolz its so stupid you say if they make an argument then you’ll answer it, epic fail



…I’m sorry, why is this not the EXACT appropriate response? First, the aff hasn’t asked a question, they have made an argument. Making arguments is not the purpose of CX, a point I have belabored enough. The defense of thinking this is a bad CX answer usually goes like this “well the aff presented a reasonable, possibly truthful argument that I agree with, the neg looked bad when they didn’t answer it”. Well that’s a really silly thing you just said there. Ignore for a second that all your criteria are pretty much subjective and boil down to you liked it, what exactly is the neg supposed to do? Read their 2NC block? I assume you think that is stupid, so what are they to do then? Pick their best analytic response and try and explain it with the aff constantly cutting them off? Ok assume they do that, what has been accomplished? Does that argument now go away? Does the aff make that argument in the speech, and then we hear the neg repeat their same answer amongst a litany of other answers? If that’s the case then what was accomplished by the CX? This line of questioning violates the fundamental premise of CX which is that you are supposed to be setting up arguments for future speeches. You aren’t setting up an argument, you are randomly making( are you even doing that?) an argument kinda and trying to get a window into what their answer would be. This is silly. All of the following examples prove this


Aff: 1AC

Neg in CX: what are your link turns to politics?


Aff: 1AC

Neg: what is your ontology?


Aff: 1AC

Neg: what is your answer to the death K?


“Good sir, those examples are not a favorable representation of our point!” I can already here people saying. Unfortunately, they are. If at any point you are asking the question ” what is your answer to an argument that we haven’t made yet” then this is what you are doing.


In addition to being silly, this is just lazy. You aren’t formulating a strategy, you aren’t doing something clever. You have run out of things to say and therefore you are filling time. Even if some want to insist this is an “acceptable” cx strategy, can anyone explain why its a GOOD strategy? Why its better than asking other, smarter questions that better set up the points you want to make? I doubt it. Which brings us to



2. CX is something you should prep for and strategize about. I see a lot of teams prepping before rounds, talking to coaches, but rarely are they discussing strategies for cross examination. I see a lot of people take notes after rounds and write blocks, almost never do I see someone have a prepared cross-x. Why is this? For any argument common enough that you need a 2AC block, you should have a prepared CX strategy. Think of it this way


1. Do you look smarter when you improvise on 2 seconds of thinking, or when you think about something for a long time in advance?

2. In CX, do you want to look smart?


Yep, so that’s out of the way. Think about it this way, how many times did you debate the Neolib K this year? For most of you, probably at least 10. So you had 30 minutes of CX in which to try and destroy the neolib K, did you use that time wisely? Odds are you didn’t. There are a lot of components to the K: the link, the alt, the impact, epistemology, discourse, reps, root cause etc. Having a plan of attack against those things you have prepared in advance will let you EFFICIENTLY demolish these things instead of fumbling around trying for traction.


As an example, I saw maybe the most effective cross-x of the last decade in a debate last year about the politics disad. It went something like this


1NC: Political capital disad


1A: What is political capital

1N: its sort of an intangible , metaphory thing that represents a presidents influence

1A: how much PC does Obama have now

1N: Well, its not like units of currency, but he has like, enough

1A: how much is enough

1N: dude I don’t know

1A: who is qualified to assess how much capital the president has

1N: like, political insiders, people in washington

1A: how do we know if the president has spent capital

1N: what do you mean

1A: how do you know if he has spent some capital, what are the signs that his capital has been reduced

1N; Well, he spends capital when he pushes something

1A: How do you know if he’s pushing something

1N: What?

1A: How do you know if he is “pushing” something or just “talking about” something?

1N: well, he says so


Now, at many points in that CX many of you would be tempted to DROP THE HAMMER!!!! Realizing the neg had said something silly you would try to pounce and instead of asking a question you would be tempted to make an argument. RESIST!! Making an argument just gives them free speech time, they have already fallen into the pit you can take your time and spring the trap later. The 2AC in this debate did so with an analytic argument that went something like this


“Political capital is a BS debate concept- its not something that can be measured or tracked, there is no way to know how much Obama has or how much he needs or how much he allegedly spends on the plan. Their evidence doesn’t come from Washington insiders- it comes from random staff writers trying to sell papers by focusing on the spectacle of politics, they throw around terms like political capital but don’t mean it in the sense of the disad. Where do their staff writers get the information on how much capital Obama has or is spending- from the same place Jack got his beanstalk beans? Their CX defense of this disad was laughable and you should assign it zero risk.”


There may have been more, and the My Cousin Vinny reference alone was worth a 30, but this combined with the cross-x is absolutely devastating. By not making the arguments in CX they didn’t give the neg any free speech time to respond or weasel. They let them hurt themselves and then moved on to the next question.


This also brings up another point though, cross-x, like all parts of debate, is about judge adaptation. For me- this CX was brilliant. For many others who are card carrying kool aid drinking members of the “politics is sick bro” club this CX is probably a total waste of time, as was the 2AC analytic. If judges truly want you to make arguments in CX then you should adapt to that. I think you will find that the number of judges who want that is much smaller than you think.














5 responses to “Cross-X: you’re doing it wrong

  1. I like this article a lot. I think part of the problem with current c-x practices is that people try to “clown” someone in cross-x, or embarrass them supposedly to the point of submission. I much prefer the cross-x that sets up future strong arguments than tries to humiliate someone on their lack of knowledge of a (usually) irrelevant point.

  2. I know that you’ve written about/criticized this in previous posts, but what about questions pertinent to the “unread parts of the other team’s ev”?

    E.g., you’ve read “X” but your evidence two paragraphs later in 6 point font concludes “Y”…

    I’ve seen teams like Georgetown spend the whole CX doing this (which probably isn’t a legitimate excuse if the practice is just bad), but I wonder if doing so is ever a proper CX-strategy?

  3. Galloway,

    I agree – but I suspect for different reasons. I think “clowning” someone in CX is a legitimate tactic say, when you are in the semis of a national tournament as the underdog and the other team is behaving badly. My problem with most attempts to clown is that the person asking the question rarely knows much more than the person they are trying to clown. With something like that, you have to execute pretty well to not come across as a jerk, and coming close but not quit getting there is a great way to make yourself look bad. Submission is a funny way of saying it.


    I appear to be in the minority, but I don’t think CXes like that work very well. A few reasons

    1. As a judge I often am not looking at the piece of evidence as this occurs (although that is changing with email chains) and so these CXes are frustrating to follow. They usually go like this

    Debater 1: your ev says X, but in the un-underlined part it says y
    Debater 2: you are just picking random words out and not looking at the context
    debater 1: your other card says….

    Sometimes if the small size font is particularly egregious judges will remember this exchange and factor it into their decision at the end of the round, but usually they and the debaters have forgotten by then. If there is a truly crucial piece of ev and you keep making the argument in a speech I could see it being useful, but if you are making it in a speech I’m not sure what the CX accomplishes- its more of a Galloway “submission” moment.

    2. Lots of teams read bad evidence. Why is this? Well, its because a lot of people cut bad evidence. Why is this? A lot of reasons, but a big one is often times people don’t have a great grasp on what makes evidence good, what makes a good argument etc. The reason I mention all of this is that I have seen several debaters who were not good card cutters go after the other teams evidence in CX because “that’s what you are supposed to do”. Unfortunately if you don’t know how to cut good evidence, you often will not know how to spot bad evidence/deconstruct it. So a lot of these cxes boil down to minor quibbles over terminology and what do they mean.

    3. One bad card is not really the golden fleece people think it is. Lets say a team reads an environment advantage that says the pufferfish is a keystone species. You attack that card in CX and then in the 1NC. Well if the team is any good they will either explain why the card was good, or more importantly, read better quality extension evidence that diversifies their original point. People often get sucked down a rabbit hole of attacking the EVIDENCE instead of defeating the ARGUMENT. Politics is a great example of this. I have seen some “great” cross-xs where the aff really went after the 1NC politics shell evidence. But then the 1NR read 20 more cards and the aff lost anyway.

  4. Quarters of the NDT: Michigan AP vs. Michigan State ST – Ellis’ first question for Thur during 1AC CX is –

    “uh so like what’s your answer to the drug trafficking alt cause.”

    It’s not even a question, really.

    How can debaters like Ellis Allen ask the “well what is your answer to this” type question and have an effective CX? And, I guess, how we high school debaters like myself witness college debaters do this and not be persuaded to do it as well considering how successful they are?

  5. HI Myles,

    Ellis Allen is without a doubt one of the best debaters of the last decade. Things that made him great

    Things that did not
    -that question

    I’m not trying to be snide, but I think young debaters often watch successful older debaters and think EVERYTHING they do is crucial to their success. In reality they are doing a mix of good and bad things, the better they are the more that ratio points towards the good. Did you think that was an effective CX tactic? Maybe you did- some judges like different styles and there are certainly judges I can think of who enjoy adversarial, argumentative CX’s where people just fire back at one another and nothing really comes of it. There are some debaters who are very “good” at that. Is that what makes them great? I tend to think not. I didn’t see the debate in question as I was in a dungeon being whipped to produce more evidence at the time so I can’t really say if it was an effective cx in that instance specifically. Did it set up arguments for future speeches? If so maybe it was good/was part of a larger plan. My bias leads me to suspect it did not.

    A similar thing happens with speaking habits like double breathing. Lots of students see people do that in elims/videos and then think “it must be the key!”. As a student an important thing to ask yourself at all times when watching other debaters is “what is happening/is that thing strategic/effective?”

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