How to Structure a Case

When writing L-D cases, case structure is all important. Commonly called “framework,” this has to do with designing arguments that are presented in the Constructive speech that follow some sort of logical consistency to arrive at the conclusion. Too commonly, debaters will just design arguments as they like them individually, without the idea of any sort of grand scheme to their argumentation. While this could win a few “Lay” judges, even they will often admire the logical flow of an opponent’s case. With two debaters at close to equal skill level, a good case can make all the difference.

Ask a good writer (whether of books or essays) how they go about the writing process, and the vast majority will say to create some sort of an outline first. Have an idea of what one wishes to say. It may sound appealing to just start from the top and start at it but this is not going to create the best case. There are a few steps to take in designing a case. For example’s sake, I am going to use the old debate topic, “Resolved: It is morally permissible to kill one innocent person to save the lives of more innocent people." I will walk through the writing process on the Neg side (the case I wrote for that was pretty straight-forward as far as structure goes). The first step is to ask, “presuming you believed Negative on this resolution, why would you?” That is the nice part of L-D. Unlike other debate topics for other events, most people will be able to sympathize with both sides of all topics. So, if I were going to say that it is wrong to kill one to save more, why would I? My friend Omar Qureshi (who was State Champion in Missouri L-D and 2nd at NFL Nationals in IX) once told me that whether in debate or in speech, always make the arguments that sound best to YOU. Regardless of what one has been told is “the right answer” or what other people suggest, arguing in the framework that justifies it in one’s mind will allow for a debater to invariably be able to speak to their judges in a more truthful manner and not get confused on what their position is in round. I would choose to oppose this resolution because… I do not think it is right for anybody to ever take a life.

So the next question that obviously emerges is “what makes you hold to that belief?” The answer to this question should be a concept that most people believe in. That is the Value (V). Values are usually general concepts that can snag the judge. Something that they can, or easily can be convinced, accept as a good with YOU holding the high ground in the debate of achieving that value. If a judge does not buy the value as something we should “value” in the round, that is a rocky start. Watch a lot of high-level National rounds of LD; common values are often simple terms such as “Justice”, “Morality”, “Freedom”, “The Quality of Life”, etc. In this case, I would say that I do not think people should kill others because of morality. It is morally wrong to kill people in my mind.

Now, I have to find some theory that backs up that belief. This is the Value Criterion (VC)/Judging Criterion. That is often referred to as the “measuring stick of your Value” or how one achieves it. It is basically like saying, “Judge, you agree __V__ is good, right?" Well here is how to get to do that. Through ___VC____. This makes the link between the V and VC very important. Possibly the most important tenet of the case. This link has to be unbreakable. A tricky situation can emerge if both sides have the same V but different VCs. Then it becomes a strong battle of wits. Otherwise, a judge may easily buy one’s VC as true from one’s V, supposing the opponent does not have a strong counter to one’s standard. This VC can be anything from a specific philosophy (Utilitarianism, Locke’s Social Contract) to a generic standard such as telling the judge to vote for whoever can show “the maximization of rights.”

In this situation, I chose a VC of “Deontology,“ a moral theory concerned with duties/rights that, while interpreted differently by different people, always is premised on the notion that the ends do not justify the means. I noted this from a definition that specifically noted that Deontology is a philosophy held to mainly by the philosophers St. Thomas Aquinas and Immanuel Kant. This led me to use the first of two strategies for case structure (each one has pros/cons). I chose to make separate arguments to back up my V/VC. My 1st Contention premised on Kantian moral theory and my 2nd Contention premised on Aquinas’ theories. In this case, it served as a pretty great link. My VC definition said that the two main philosophers that held to it were Kant/Aquinas, so I made two arguments--one for each of these philosophers to be tied back into the resolution. Each contention featured evidence, both from the philosopher himself and from professors who analyzed the moral problem posed in the resolution under that philosopher’s thoughts, and my own personal analysis in order to prove the contentions true.

However, a second way to structure contentions is to create a logical flow across arguments where one is based off the others. This could allow a debater to slowly develop one strong argument across all their contentions, “If Contention 1 is true… this leads to Contention 2 which is also true.” This strategy can allow a debater to develop one strong, possibly irrefutable, argument to make their case. However, a drawback is that if the opponent catches one major flaw in any of the arguments it can spell doom for the entire case. It is a strategy that can offer great reward but at a much greater risk--something to only try if one has a really great idea on how to make their arguments.

To sum up, remember that one’s V and VC are all important. Each argument should ALWAYS tie back to them. Note that most L-D debaters will not follow that rule. For a truly strong case, one cannot debate like people do in Public Forum where a good argument is a good argument. Each argument has to have a reason. Debaters need some rock to stand on, to prove to the judge that their V and VC are true. Thus, a debater can merely win the round by proving the superiority of one’s V/VC to their opponent’s. It takes time to write a good case but when a debater has one that makes sense, people will be able to notice and a debater will feel a lot more confident in round.