Surviving the 1AR

The 1AR could be an entire series of posts, or books, so the hardest part about writing this was trying to come up with the 5 most important things people could learn. Some of them are at least facially pretty obvious, but in practice  a huge majority of people struggle with them. Efficiency, as an example, is always something you want to work on. It’s more important in the 1AR than any other speech because the 1AR is the most time pressured speech in debate- you have 5 minutes to answer 13. Choice is also important in all speeches, but because of unique pressures the 1AR more than other speeches needs to make choices. I am going to bracket off those two things that are applicable to all speeches but perhaps more so for the 1AR and try and focus on specific problems I see with 1ARs and how they can be fixed.


1.Argue, don’t summarize. Many 1AR’s basically restate what was said in the 2AC and don’t engage the other teams responses. So take the politics disad, they will debate it like this


“extend non unique- the TPP won’t pass. It has major opposition from moderate democrats and big industries like tobacco. This takes out the uniqueness to the disad. Now extend winners win- a major legislative victory makes Obama look like a badass which casues congress to be too scared to oppose him. This turns the disad because it increases his political capital”


Notice that from this section of the 1AR you have no idea what arguments the negative made- that is always a symptom that the 1AR is re-explaining the 2AC and not arguing with the block. This is particularly a problem when 1AR’s are answering K’s. Oftentimes the 2AC read a lot of large cards that make lots of arguments- thats good. But a 1AR that purely explains arguments from the 2AC- even when there are lots of good ones- is bad. You need to explain how your arguments interact with and defeat the negative’s arguments. So to take that politics example, if you said non unique in the 2AC lets assume the neg said

  1. Extend 1NC uniqueness- bipart for TPP
  2. Vote counts prove
  3. Momentum for trade

Obvi they would say more words than that but those are their arguments. What you want to do in the 1AR is focus on arguments from the 2AC that answer these, or if need be, read new evidence. So a 1AR would look like

“Uniqueness: Bipartisanship is irrelevant- while some from both sides support, it won’t be enough votes to secure passage. Prefer our evidence- their vote count card is from prior to the release of the full text of the agreement, even previous supporters like Clinton flip flopped after that. Momentum is media nonsense- politicians make decisions based on electoral self interest not momentum”


Those two 1AR’s are roughly the same amount of words, the first is like a 27, the second is like a 28 (or 35 on the modern scale). Its not like the second one is magic ( or even that good) but the fact that it attempts to engage and refute the block arguments differentiates it from the rabble.

Lets say you are debating the cap K and the 2AC said “cap solves environment”. In response the neg says

  1. each new technological innovation causes new environmental problems
  2. Profit motive is the root cause of environmental collapse

A bad 1AR would be

“extend cap solves the environemnt- only cap can spur innovation by corporations, prefer our evidence cause its 2 years newer”


This 1AR is trying to make a comparison, but doesn’t explain what has changed in 2 years that makes a difference-while its entirely possible some major new tech or innovation has arisen, you need to explain what it is and why it matters.

A better 1AR would say

“Innovation sovles warming, which is the most pressing environmental problem. Residual tech problems get smaller with each development, its more important to avert catastrophe than worry about REMS. Markets can harness the profit motive to save the environment through policy like permit regimes which have wiped out acid rain”


Notice neither of the “good” 1ars wasted time with a huge amount of summary or sign posting, but still effectively let you know what they were arguing with.


2. Understand how arguments relate/fit together. I see many 1ARs where the individual pieces are good, but put together they don’t make sense. For example, when should you extend reasonability on T? Generally you want to extend it when you are going for primarily defensive arguments or the neg is using shenanigans. It rarely makes sense to extend a counter interpretation, 2 offensive arguments about why the negs interp is bad, and then reasonability. This doesn’t make sense because none of those arguments combine/work with reasonability. If you win a CI and offense you don’t need reasonability anyway. Similarly  if you are investing heavily in a solvency deficit to a CP then you want to make sure you are winning the advantage that argument relates to. Sometimes teams will have 2 advantages, and 2 solvency deficit arguments and won’t extend the ones that line up together.

Another example is investing super heavily in FW on a K, and then extending a perm. Generally the kind of arguments you would exclude when winning FW make permutations irrelevant because nonsense or abusive alternatives are excluded. Similarly, if you win a policy FW the K is prob a non unique da anyway, so what do you need a perm for?

Part of having a strategy is understanding that what arguments you want to extend is determined by what the block does, you can have a strategy discussed before the round but oftentimes you will have to abandon it when the block does something you didn’t anticipate. A good example I see is a new 2NC CP or amendment to a previous CP. Prior to that the aff had a good solvency arg, but after the change they don’t. At that point you probably need ot make a radical pivot- can you read a new disad to the amendment? Can you turn the net benefit? Neither is usually an ideal aff strategy but you have to play the hand you are dealt.


3. Think about when and why you are extending theory. A few years ago some lab leaders somewhere started telling students “mess with the 2NR by extending theory”. This produced two effects

A. 1AR’s stopped credibly extending theory well and instead constantly just tag line it the whole time.

B. People started thinking it was a requirement to extend theory in every 1AR regardless of whether it was warranted or necessary


When SHOULD you extend theory? Usually only if you need it, if you will lose the debate without it for some reason (unbeatable cp, 2AC error etc). The judging community has become pretty anti theory and often its just totally unwinnable. As a result of this shift, most 2nrs don’t incorrectly allocate their time when the 1AR extends a theory argument. This makes it a lot harder for extending theory to be productive.


NEVER THE LESS- sometimes theory is your only shot , and more people need to be thinking/realize this when it happens. It can often be “try or die” when the negative reads a CP that you don’t have any substantive answers to. So what do you do in that instance?

  1. Slow down- you cant risk the judge missing your arguments
  2. Make sure you answer EVERY line by line argument- you can’t drop any
  3. Don’t extend reasonability/defense on T that could be cross applied
  4. Try and give specific abuse and explain the voting issue component well

After that you basically just have to hope and pray your judge is a human being with a heart.


4. Balance efficiency and emphasis. What I mean is that oftentimes you know in the 1AR what are the most important arguments. These are NOT the arguments you want to worry about hyper-efficiency with. Quite the opposite- sometimes you want to be pretty inefficient if not downright repetitive on them to make sure the judge gets it. Nothing is more frustrating then losing because the judge didn’t hear or understand a key argument from the 1AR- it won’t make you feel better to hear it but that is your fault. You didn’t effectively communicate to the judge your important idea/argument.


Now, when I have explained this to students in the past they often make an objection like this

“well if I slow down and emphasize, then the other team will know what the important argument is”

True, true. If your strategy to win is to try and confuse everyone and hope it works out… go for it. Ask any judge, however, and they will 10/10 times tell you that you are more likely to win if they+the other team understand your argument then if neither of them does. You don’t have to go bonkers here, a small reduction in speed, a little more emphasis is all it takes. Think about how often people drop stuff even when its emphasized, which brings us to


5. Don’t drop stuff. Obviously this applies to most speeches, but this has become an epidemic in 1AR’s lately. Here are some of the largest offenders

A. Turns case- usually at the top of a DA in the Overview/impact calc portions. Gotta answer these. Judges do weird things when you drop turns the case, they often think the following:

-if the disad does not turn the case, the neg has to win a high risk, say 90% , to win

-if the disad DOES turn the case, the neg has to win almost nothing, say 1%


Is this thinking correct? Almost certainly not. Is that description accurate? Definitely.


B. The Rambly K overview- usually when negs read a large scripted overview on a K its not just a series of FYIs. They (or their coaches) have worked a lot of important arguments into that overview and you need to make sure non slip through the cracks. The longer the overview the more the tendency is for 1As to just tune out and ignore it when the OPPOSITE should be happening. They are trying to lull you to sleep with some smooth talking before they drop the hammer on you- don’t let that happen.


C. Voting issues- I think people got so used to judges just intervening with “reject argument not team” that they decided they never had to answer voting issues ever again. In the last few months, however, I have been on some panels where I was not the only one willing to vote on 25 dropped reasons the 500 2AC perms were illegitimate. I’m not super optimistic that theory is coming back to reign in bad practices…. but im not not optimistic.


D. The case- so many 1ARs do the following when they debate the case

-no line by line

-a string of super short arguments

-never read evidence

The end result is that many affs are just not winning much if any of their case and are losing to TERRIBLE disads as a result. Don’t let this happen to you. Its really easy to line by line your advantage and if need be read a new card to answer block development. Especially if your advantage is a key piece of the puzzle (say its the only adv the CP doesn’t solve and you have no offense on the disad) you don’t want to muddle your way through it you need to CRUSH.

















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