Arguing Topicality - A General Negative Overview

Topicality is a love-hate relationship. I love going for it and hate answering it, and many debaters feel the same way as well. I do not have any particular desire to discuss something I hate. So we will focus on how to argue topicality on the negative, starting with the 1NC and working our way down from the block all the way to the 2NR.

The 1NC:

Before we get any further, when should one even read T? That depends on a lot of factors, but two main ones stick out: the 1AC and the judge’s preferences. First, a debater needs to evaluate the opportunity cost of reading T. If the 1AC is obviously not topical, then by all means go for it. But if the plan text looks reasonably topical, do not just automatically read a lousy T violation as a means to waste time. Stalling and wasting time is a two-way street. The few seconds difference a debater might acquire from reading garbage they do not intend to go for will always be mitigated by the fact that they were actually reading garbage. If a debater has a ton of offense on case, read that instead because that has a 100% risk of being potentially useful.

Now, with respect to judges, if they have indicated that they are not a fan of procedurals, then take that preference seriously. If one still wants to read T, read ONE violation with a clear abuse story in mind. Not potential abuse. In-round abuse. If a speaker possess neither, do not bother wasting time. This applies to procedurals like ASPEC as well.

Moving on, the standard 1NC T shell usually looks like this:

A. Interpretation

B. Violation

C. Standards

D. Voters

That is totally fine. Most debaters do not have too many problems with the 1NC because it involves the same simple template.

The most important part of the 1NC is going to be standards. Debaters want to have 3-4 strong, offensive reasons to prefer their interpretation of the topic. Not only that, have a diverse selection of terminal impacts. What quality is the most important when it comes to T? Education? Predictability? Fairness? Be sure interpretations gives one inroads to all of these things.

The Block

The block’s job is to make life difficult for the 1AR and maximize 2NR flexibility. A debater wants to force one of two situations: either the 1AR panics and spends too much time on T, allowing a speaker to kick out of it and go for the other positions that were under covered, or the 1AR under covers T and allows one to wipe them out in the 2NR.

Which partner should take T? There is no correct answer. Try to determine which partner is stronger with procedural arguments; then it makes it easy. On the other hand, if both are equally comfortable with T, then it may depend on what the 2AC response was. If the 2AC was relatively weak, the 2NC should probably take it. On the other hand, if the 2AC was fairly nuanced, it might be worthwhile for the 1NR to take the extra prep time he or she has to write out coherent answers ahead of time. These are all up to personal opinions and situations.

On to matters of substance. The first thing that has to be done is the entire T shell has to be extended. How to do this depends largely on the line-by-line. Extend one’s interpretation and violation as a response to their we/meet, then explain why they do not meet. If the 2AC gets very nuanced in terms of why they meet one’s interpretation, then a debater should devote an appropriate amount of time to dissecting their arguments.

For standards, what often ends up happening between the 1NC and 2AC is that there is no direct clash. There are simply reasons to prefer each interpretation without any sort of weighing mechanism or reasons why the other interpretation is bad/their standards are weak. In that case, the block should provide this clash. YOU said limits are good--they said limits are bad. Go line-by-line through all the reasons why limits are good. Add more reasons why limits are good. Use those to answer their limits are bad arguments. Add on pre-empts to their limits bad arguments. A debater wants to swamp them with more line-by-line analysis than they can handle. Do that for each standard.

Next, did they drop any of YOUR standards? Is it something that their interpretation does not capture? Make a big deal out of it. If they concede predictable limits are good, one should argue that 1) their interpretation does not provide predictable limits, 2) predictability is the gateway to fairness and education which makes it the most important standard in the round. ALWAYS FIND SOME REASON WHY ONE’S INTERPRETATION IS GOOD THAT OUTWEIGHS EVERYTHING. Put analysis on why that one standard/voter rules supreme. If one can nail down the T debater to a lone issue that one is crushing the aff on, it puts one way ahead in the debate. It provides the judge with a way to weigh the two interpretations.

Next, do impact calculus. Use the team’s standards to describe where the in-round abuse was. (Note: it is always best to have in-round abuse.) If there is potential abuse, describe how it forced a change in strategy in a way that negatively affected the ability to debate. Articulate why topicality is a voter.

Other things: sometimes when arguing limits, it is helpful to provide a list of cases that would be topical under a debater’s interpretation. It is equally helpful to have a topical version of their case handy. Do not just read them. Explain how these differ from the affirmative case and how they do not link into one’s abuse story.

Of course, if they read that they should only have to provide a reasonable interpretation to be topical, one will need a lot of answers and a handy defense of competing interpretations good.

The 2NR:

First, ask “should I go for T?” It depends. If the 1AR did a good job handling the offense, or if a mistake was personally made on one part of the flow, one may want to set T aside. But if the 1AR under covered T and did not do enough work on YOUR extensive line-by-line analysis, by all means, go all in on it. Five minutes of T or bust. NEVER, EVER go for other arguments in the 2NR if also going for T. Debaters need every second to make their case.

The 2NR has one goal in mind: force the judge to pull the trigger on an argument he or she may not want to pull the trigger on. That means offense, offense, offense. Again, extend the entire 1NC shell. (Failure to extend any one part of it is an auto-loss for many judges).

Take the time to explain the violation in-depth. Get more nuanced than in previous speeches. This helps resolve any confusion that might exist. Then, do the same thing done in the block; spend lots and lots of time analyzing the standards. Do not just say that one’s personal interpretation is superior. Demonstrate why that is the case, using the force of overwhelming line-by-line analysis.

Impact calculus should be the most important part of the speech. What standard is the most important? Why? Where did in-round abuse occur? Who offers the interpretation with the best vision for debate? Answer all of these questions and expand on the block to be in good shape.

Finally, the 2NR must anticipate. If the affirmative is in a hole, what part of the flow are they most likely to concentrate their firepower on? I have seen teams go all-in on reasonability before and come out winning; despite the fact that they were losing on the rest of the flow. That is the danger with T--fail to win a small part of the flow and then there is trouble. But if a debater can anticipate where the affirmative is strongest on T, they can pre-empt their analysis and allocate a significant amount of time to that position.