Three Things You Can Do To Improve Your 1ARs

Over the years, VBI instructors have found a variety of ways to express the most important lesson a debater can learn about the 1AR. Neil Conrad says “DON’T BE A VICTIM.” Ben Holguin and David McNeil say “The 1AR is NOT THAT BAD!” The takeaway is simple – most debaters underperform in the 1AR because their mindset is all wrong. The following advice is designed to help you make the 1AR the knock-out blow in your Aff rounds rather than simply jumping in at top speed and holding on for dear life until it’s over.

1. Identify the crux of the debate right away.

You don’t want the judge to have to “resolve” many layers before they get to a reason to vote for you. Instead of making your strategy about many disparate layers, make it about layered argumentation around one key issue that is the core tension in the round. On the current topic, perhaps the core tension is whether we should adopt a criminal justice paradigm or a military paradigm as the basis of U.S. counterterrorism strategy. Perhaps it is whether the community is a legitimate boundary for our moral obligations. The point is to frame the round in terms of resolving one question rather than many.

This combats the tendency of many negative debaters to throw everything against the wall to see what sticks. A lot that goes under the name “layering” is really about generating arbitrary prioritization that can be swept away by an effective framing of affirmative and negative burdens. This is particularly true of blippy “burdens” arguments against the framework that are falsely framed as ‘preconditions’ for making a policy choice. “You have to show that the state is a moral agent before you can say that it ‘ought’ to do anything.” No you don’t. I should feel quite comfortable determining that the state should or shouldn’t extend equal due process rights to non-citizens while being entirely uncertain where it falls on some phantom spectrum of agency, along with a lot of other presuppositions that are thoroughly beside the point.

2. Generate Offense

I sometimes think that debaters are put in the wrong frame of mind simply by using the word “cover.” To say that you have to cover in the 1AR suggests that your mission is simply to “get to” everything and somehow put ink on the flow. This is poor thinking both in terms of strategy and your attitude. You don’t need to just find time for the negative case. You can’t wait to get to the negative case because you can thoroughly destroy it and give the judge yet another reason to vote for you.

To have that mindset, you have to generate offense. Don’t just “get to” the NC to tick off the box, think of it as a layer you are determined to make a clear winner for you. This is particularly important against Negs that are overly defensive against the AC, because their strategy really hinges on your inability to cover and the judge defaulting to the NC. So, prepare a good, layered turn strategy to core negative positions. It is essential for making your 1AR the nail in the coffin for the Neg.

3. Make every extension meaningful through argument interaction and multifunctionality.

Multifunctionality in the AC is your best friend in the 1AR. With proper planning, you can make just about every argument you want to extend meaningfully interact with negative positions and other layers of argumentation. This dramatically improves your efficiency because every argument is doing so much more work for you. It also changes the tenor of your rebuttal because you aren’t scrambling to cover – you’re dealing out layers of positional preclusion or drop dead link and impact comparison every 10 or 15 seconds.

For this reason I think that almost all 1ARs should start by extending the AC. Not only do you avoid the common error of running out of time to extend offense, but you also take control of the lexical ordering of issues in the round. This takes planning and you may have to vary your strategy based on the circumstances, but I think this should generally be your first instinct in the 1AR.

Take no prisoners! Damn the torpedoes! Send the 2NR reeling!