Three Things You Can Do To Improve Your Case-Writing

As with many debate skills, there is more than one correct way to write cases. Figuring out which approach works for you is generally a matter of trial and error. That said, it is possible to become too used to a sub-optimal writing process. Below are some tips to help you improve both the quality and efficiency of your case-writing process.

Case-writing is about moving from abstract to concrete. Can you actually put into play what seemed like a good idea on the drawing board? The worst case scenario is to invest lots of time and energy into the “brainstorming” phase of the process and at the end of the day be unable to put proverbial pen to paper. Many promising starts end up as half-finished outlines in the “Island of Misfit Cases” folder on your computer. I hope that adopting some of the following suggestions will prevent you from falling into this kind of quagmire.

1. Think positionally.

The first step in the casing process is to come up with an overarching “big picture” position on the topic. For the Jan/Feb topic, I might decide that I want to write a case about subjective self-defense or critiquing Battered Women’s Syndrome. A common mistake is getting locked into case details before solidifying the big picture. When I’m developing a case position, I’m not thinking “What is my standard going to be?” or “What is my contention level offense?” The casing process needs to be more dynamic so that your case structure can organically reflect your overarching position more clearly. In other words, it is difficult to construct a compelling position piecemeal. For your argument to cohere, the case should be structured around the argument you want to make, rather than trying to jury rig the argument to fit the case structure you’ve decided on.

Having a unified, coherent position allows you to do much better strategic planning. Thinking about how positions interact allows you to think more clearly about how individual arguments function rather than trying to confront opposing positions with a series of disconnected, one-off objections that ultimately complicate a ballot story rather than simplifying it. It also allows you to access the literature base on a given case position more easily.

2. Let the evidence drive the position.

Another common error I see in the casing process is to commit to a case position before you know whether the evidence exists to support it. This will manifest itself in constructives with lots of tag lines and “Insert Card Here” in parentheses all over the case. Instead you should start the casing process by getting a good sense of the literature. This will not only improve the quality of your arguments but also improve your efficiency. There are few things that waste time more than investing in a case position only to find at the end of the day that there just isn’t the evidence to support it. Instead of racking your brain to solidify an abstract idea in your head, delve into the research to see what the literature gives you. Without this step debaters often end up winging it on critical links that can derail the whole case position or require a total restructuring.

You may feel like you are wasting time cutting cards that won’t necessarily go into the case, but your underlying knowledge of the case position will serve you well when trying to deploy it in rounds. Moreover, you will understand the other side of the position so that you can more effectively answer it, and often you will use any evidence that doesn’t go into the actual constructive as frontline or extension evidence. If you are going to commit to this case position, you will never be sorry that you have a big file on the subject.

3. You are not done when you write the constructive.

When most debaters set out to write a case, they think that means only writing the constructive speech. In fact, that is only the first step. The skill which will set you apart is the ability to deploy that case position in rounds. That requires planning. Frontlines, blocks, and extension evidence better explaining particular aspects of the position are all important to include in your case file. During this process, you should again be thinking about how your arguments will interact with opposing positions. What arguments can you extend to control the internal links to major impacts? What arguments can you make to weigh your impacts against common disadvantages?

During this process, you will likely want to go back and revise aspects of the constructive speech. For example, if your AC on the Jan/Feb topic does not allow you to make a compelling argument to control the link into patriarchy impacts, you may want to tweak it to facilitate making that argument. At the end of the day, your goal is to walk into the round not only with four to six pages you can read in the constructive, but a position that gives you the tools to strategically engage any opposing position you’re likely to encounter.