Cite Evidence Properly

Evidence has had its issues recently, but for some reason this summer all hell broke lose in terms of how evidence is getting cited at camps. Proper citations are important, so this post will explain why and tell you how to properly cite evidence.


Why should you cite evidence properly?


1. Credibility. Improperly cited evidence should not be viewed as credible. No one finds (or should find) a peer reviewed journal article written by a qualified author and writes “smith 14” and gives no extra information. Debate is very evidence focused, if you want to win debates you should be debating sources, qualifications, and recency. These things are impossible to debate if they aren’t included in the citation. If your evidence doesn’t have these things, most people will assume that its a negative, not positive, quality of your evidence.


2. Fairness- debate is a research activity. When you present evidence your opponents should be able to check the veracity of that evidence. If you don’t include complete information in the citation then other teams will not be able to easily track down the evidence and check it. People who want to learn about your arguments won’t be able to find it either. This is a reason lack of information hurts your credibility, when things are not properly cited it becomes harder to fact check them which invites suspicion.


3. Academic training- all stupid pro policy bluster aside the most important skill you will learn/take away from debate is the ability to do research. Whatever job you end up in, whatever advanced education you pursue research is going to make your life easier and your performance better. Part of doing research in different contexts is learning to cite things properly. If you go to college you will probably need to learn both MLA and APA citations, if you go to law school you will need to learn foot and end noting. Almost every professional or academic sphere has its own principles for how to cite and use information. You can’t just go rogue and copy lexis URLS or you will probs get fired.


Before moving on, lets drop the old offense/defense paradigm here, one of my favorite games to play with lab students- what is your offense? Why are you citing things improperly? Laziness is not a good justification, so why are you doing it? Feel free to post your brilliant defense of improper citations in the comments, but odds are pretty good you have no o.




So how do you cite things properly? The general rule of citations is: include as much useful information as possible. This consists of two parts

-useful information

-as much as possible


And it should follow this format


Last Name(s), Qualifications, Date

(First Name, Publication info, Page)


Let’s start with “useful information”. This varies depending on where you are getting the evidence you are citing, so lets break this down


The First Line:

The first line of a citation is the minimal information you will verbally present in the speech. This should take almost no time- “Smith, PhD, 15” . If you want to read more in depth quals/citation information aloud more power to you. NEVER EVER put “Name, Date- blah blah blah, Quals”. This is pretty easy to understand logically. In the Smith citation above, you can easily skip PhD if you are so misanthropic that you think saying those 3 letters will destroy your chance of debate success and glory. However, when you arrange the citation a different way and someone does want to read the quals its much harder to track down/find. There is literally no conceivable offense for not listing the quals there/using this format other than you are a stupid curmudgeon who derives pleasure from flaunting the rules. I didn’t invent this system, when I was first taught it I thought it was stupid and didn’t use it for quite some time. In hindsight, that was really really stupid. It really is the best way. If you can’t explain a coherent, offensive argument for not doing it then just do it.


1. Last Name- this should be self explanatory, but often it isn’t. You must list the last name(s) of the authors of the work following these rules

A. 1 Author- list 1 name-obviously.

B. 2 Authors- list and read both names. Many people either arbitrarily pick one of the authors to list or just pick one of the authors either because they “seem” more qualified, or to avoid drawing attention to the fact that the evidence is co-authored by someone objectionable. Both are not acceptable. It should be obvious that the latter is not acceptable, you can’t hide the fact that someone easily indictable contributed to the evidence. At that point, the first should never be acceptable because you yourself do not have perfect knowledge of all indicts that exist, and can never be sure you are not omitting someone objectionable.

C. 3 or more authors- I would prefer you list them, but academic standards allow for use of “et al.” You cannot arbitrarily pick which author to use the name of. There is some variance in how academic journals publish author names, but as a general rule you use the name of the person listed first by the journal, even if a famous debate person is listed 4th you can’t just pick their name and et al. the rest.


2. Qualification- in the 1st line of the citation you should pick ONE qualification to list, ideally the most applicable one. So if someone has multiple advanced degrees but this card is about the economy, list their degree in economics. Sometimes people hold multiple professor jobs, pick the most applicable one etc. You can list as many qualifications in the second line as you’d like, but everyone finds the giant paragraph citation to be obnoxious and unnecessary. When qualifications aren’t listed in the article you can google the persons name to find them pretty easily.


Qualification don’ts

A. List quals they didn’t have at the time- if someone wrote an article in 2003 and at the time was a JD candidate but is now a Prof of Law at Haaaarvard you can’t list Prof as their quals for that article.

B. Misunderstand academic titles- if someone is a graduate student, and teaches undergraduate courses they are not a “professor”. A graduate student means they have already completed a regular 4 year degree, most PhD students have also completed a graduate degree. JD candidates are in law school which usually requires completion of a 4 year degree. Make sure you know what the terms you are using mean, or what the degrees stand for.

C. Make them up- you can’t assume just because someone is writing in a journal they have a PhD. Use google, it really isn’t that hard.


3. Date. Usually a year is sufficient for the first line. For something time sensitive like uniqueness including the month and day is acceptable, otherwise put that information on the second line.


The Second Line


Personally I like shrinking the size of the second line to the same size as un-underlined text in a card. I think it looks cleaner and is easier to read, but you can really format this however you want- the important part is that you have the relevant information.


First Name- turns out there is more than one Smith, and if people want to vet your authors knowing their first name is important. Which Kagan your card comes from is important. If an author lists their name with a hyphen or an initial or something non standard you should duplicate their name that way so people can figure out who it is.



Publication Info

This is were things get #dicey. Publication info is a blanket term that encompasses all the stuff you would need to find a source, and that varies based on the source. Lets look at a few in depth.


Academic Journal

For this you need

A. The Name of the Journal- this is essential both in debating the veracity of the evidence and in trying to track it down later. I like to italicize this

B. The volume and number- i.e. Volume 3 issue 2, sometimes abbreviated like this ” 16:9″. Sometimes it can be a season like “winter”.

C. The title of the article- not really essential to track something down if you have the above info but people seem to like it so I include it. Sometimes you can find a copy of the article just on google by using the title


Things that are not acceptable

-A database URL- “tandfonline” “jstor” “muse” etc. These URLs are not “stable” – they are generated just for you when you do your search, they won’t work for other people and are totally useless information. If you cut a card and include a lexis URL as the citation I can’t click that link to find it. If you include a journal database link in the URL you are announcing to the world you have no idea what you are doing

-“online”- even worse than above

-omitting any of the information included above. You can’t just put the title for example and not any other info




Smith, PhD, 15

(John, BA/MA Yale, PhD Princeton in IR, “Understanding the Security Dilemma” Journal of international affairs 3:1, p. 74)


For a Book

-if it has a singular author you just list that, and the name of the book

-If the book is a collection of chapters by different authors you need to first make sure you are citing the write author for the section you are citing. Then you need to also include the name(s) of the editor in the citation as the book won’t come up by chapter authors


Not acceptable

-“p google book” or “p online” or “p ebrary”


Jones, Prof IR Lancaster, 14

(Andrea, BA/MA LSE, The agent question in IR in Understanding Global Politics ed. Booth, p. 334)



For a website /article

-try and include who the publication is if its not obvious from the URL

-article names are more useful here than other places

-make sure the URL is stable, i.e. it can be clicked to find the actual content, not a description of the content or an abstract of the content or a database that contains the content


Doe, senior editor, 8-21-15

(Jane, Deal or No Iran Deal? )


A lot of people include a “date accessed” – feel free to do so, though its pretty useless and does not replace any previous information you need.


This should cover all the basics of citations. Remember- every time you miscite a piece of evidence you make a kitten sad.

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