Evidence is undeniably one of the most important parts of Team Policy debate. I care about it particularly because a good evidence battle can win you a round, and because there’s an entire category of speaker points dedicated to evidence.
Here are a few tips for getting a perfect 5 in the evidence category.
1. Vocal emphasis while reading.
It’s always important to vary your tone when speaking, but it becomes especially essential when reading evidence.
Evidence is often very dense and difficult to understand. If you make it clear, using your voice, what words are the most important, the judge will find it easier to comprehend.
2. Explain evidence after reading.
Vocal emphasis is great, but you often also need to explain the evidence in your own words.
After you say end quote, say something along the lines of, “This means that [brief explanation]”.
Be ethical when rephrasing your evidence. Too many people try to make it seem better than it was by amplifying the evidence in their own words. The same goes for tags.
3. Impact your evidence.
Don’t just read it and move on. Explain why this piece of evidence is important. This is not the same as the explanation, but it often goes along with it.
An example would be saying, “The quote I just read is extremely essential to this discussion. While the negative team has only speculated what will happen, we’ve shown conclusive results from an empirical study that supported our point.”
4. Set up an evidence standard.
Set up a standard for the opposite team when impacting.
You do that by saying, “until the negative team brings up [x evidence], they have not proven their point and it is irrelevant.” As long as the standard is reasonable, the judge will go along with it.
Then later in the round you can remind the judge about the standard and the fact that the negative team never met it. (Same goes with Affirmative).
Extra example: “Baseless speculation can never stand against an expert’s informed opinion on this topic. The negative team must bring up more solid proof, whether logic or evidence, to prove their point. They can try to attack our expert’s credibility, but it’s quite clear that his word still holds more water than the negative team’s complete lack of proof.”
5. Compare evidence numbers in your last rebuttal.
I already see a lot of people do this, but they usually do it wrong. All they do is say “we read x amount of evidence, they read y. Moving on…”
They don’t even impact it!
Explain to the judge why in this particular round, that extra evidence makes you the winner.
Example: “When talking about the Middle East, a very complex topic, we need to look at historical precedent and expert opinions. Everyone has their own opinion on the Middle East, but not everyone has an informed opinion on it. The negative team speaks well and they had some statements that sounded great, but we responded to every point with evidence that contradicted it. Out of the 14 quotes we read, they only contested two of them. That means at least 12 are credible, and these 12 credible quotes directly refute and defeat every single negative argument. So as you can see, this disparity in evidence alone makes an Affirmative vote the right choice.”
That example is long, but in a round where the main topic was proof or lack thereof, it definitely fits in.
Here are a few ways to make your evidence count seem even better:
- Only count evidence by PhD’s or studies.
- Only count sources from a specific region familiar with an issue.
- Only count uncontested evidence (basically evidence that everyone considers credible).
- Only count evidence that is statistics or direct facts vs. opinions
- Remove any evidence that doesn’t talk about your plan’s specific idea.
- Remove any evidence that you later proved was actually favoring your proposal.
Whenever you modify the count of evidence, make the total count clear to the judge, then give them the modified count.
For example, “Throughout the round, we have read exactly 13 pieces of evidence, the negative team has only read 3 evidence quotes. However, several quotes were not about our specific plan. If you only count evidence specific to our proposal, we read 10, they read absolutely none. In fact, the only time they read evidence about our plan was when they read ours out loud to you.”
It’s important to be ethical when doing this, once again. Too many people will not make it clear what evidence they’re filtering out of the count, making the numbers distorted. Plus, judges will notice if you claim they read only 1 and they actually read 3. Don’t do it, folks.
6. Tag evidence so it’s easy to write down.
If you just mention your evidence author and date and start reading, the judge will probably not have it in their notes.
Say something like, “Let me read you some proof from a PhD in Middle Eastern studies. You can put this down in your notes as ‘Iran unlikely to attack'”.
7. Do some name dropping.
I got this idea from Simon Sefzik, a great debater from my club. (He’ll write a guest post in the near future, stay tuned…)
Another way of reminding judges that you’re winning the evidence war is to drop the name of your credible authors when responding to an argument.
Example: “The affirmative team claimed that their plan would do x. But as Dr. John McClain, Dr. Robert Stewart, and Dr. Awesome proved earlier, that result is highly unlikely based on historical precedent.”
Or if someone asks you a bad question in CX like “Don’t you think x thing will happen?” you can say “No, in fact I don’t. Nor do Dr. Name 1 and Dr. Name 2, which I read evidence from in the very speech you’re cross-examining. #rekt”
The more you mention your evidence (without getting repetitive), the more it will look like you dominated in that arena.
8. Don’t read long/complicated evidence.
Seriously, when people get up to the lectern and rattle off 20 sentences in one dense piece of research, I cringe so hard that it physically hurts.
If the judge doesn’t understand the evidence, you only get 10% of the benefit of having the evidence.
Think about it like this. If the only purpose of evidence was to show the judge that someone credible agrees with you, you would just read names and credentials, not even the quote. That would be a standard debate practice. The quote would be there just to verify that they do agree with you.
Pick the simpler evidence 9/10 times.
Attacking enemy evidence
In addition to getting points for using your own evidence well, you can get points for tearing apart your opposition’s evidence.
1. Pick at the info of the evidence.
Okay pretty much everyone does this, so I won’t spend much time here.
Claiming authors/magazines are not credible, the date is too old, or some other argument related to the background evidence of the evidence, all falls under this umbrella.
Try to limit nit picking here, just mention it if you have a very good reason to disregard the evidence.
Some examples of good reasons to do this:
- You have a good source indict against an author.
- The date is before an important event that makes it irrelevant.
- The magazine/source is from an obviously biased individual. For example, the evidence says Iran’s economy is great and is from Iran.
- Avoid attacking that the source is a blog unless the author is clearly just a random person with an opinion.
- Point out strange website names for comedic effect, if you want. I heard one team point out that a piece of evidence talking about security clearances was from some weird spiritual healing website. This gets a laugh, and the judge will usually disregard the evidence.
- If the author has a PhD in something unrelated AND the evidence doesn’t make sense.
- You have good reason to believe a study has bad methodology. Note: GOOD REASON.
It’s annoying when people try to pick apart every piece of evidence and just ask questions no one can answer. The prime offender is people who always ask for study methodology, and assume because they don’t have it in front of them it must be flawed.
2. Pick apart the logic of the evidence.
Just because someone has a PhD, doesn’t mean they’re the authority on an issue.
You can mention to the judge that there’s an entire book called “Why People Believe Weird Things” that has a chapter dedicated to why even smart, educated people believe totally incorrect things. It has a lot to do with confirmation bias. Lots of prominent PhD’s will also be very political and opinionated, ignoring anything that disproves them.
If a PhD makes a claim without a warrant, it is sometimes worth attacking the evidence. After all, if you provide better logic than the PhD, why on earth should the judge disregard what you said?
A quote like “A treaty with x nation would be good.” serves nothing other than basic advocacy.
A good way to approach this attack is to ask in CX, “What reasons did the author give for his belief?”
3. Identify evidence exaggeration.
Most teams exaggerate their evidence, purposefully or not.
One of the easiest and yet most effective CX questions you can ask is, “Could you read the part of your evidence that said [x]?” When they can’t, say, “Oh, so the evidence actually said [y], and [x] was your words?”
Make sure they actually read it out loud, not just say “Yeah it does”. Don’t let them squirm away by saying “Well I mean it basically says that yes”.
Another way to approach this is to ask them to repeat their tag, then ask about the evidence after they’ve dug themselves into the hole.
You: “Under point 2, your evidence said ‘Iran will strike swiftly’, right?”
You: “Okay, can you bring up that evidence and read me the part that says that?”
Them: “Um yeah hold on… *shifts through paper* *looks at evidence while blushing* Well yeah it says here Iran will get ma-”
You: “Could you read it out loud for all of us please? Thanks”
Them: “*reading* ‘If [x], Iran’s anger is a possibility.'”
You: “And you said earlier that ‘Iran will strike swiftly’, Right? So where is that part in the evidence?”
Them: “Well it says Iran will get angry so-”
You: “It says Iran’s anger is a possibility, right? And it doesn’t say they will strike, does it?”
You: “Thank you *mental fist pump*”
You look like an absolute beast after a CX like that.
(Note: the tactic of asking what they claimed the evidence said FIRST is very important, because it traps them. They can’t just change what they said after they realize they’re caught.)
4. Identify a pattern of evidence exaggeration.
If the opposing team has made a habit of evidence exaggeration throughout the round and you’ve proved it at least 2-3 times to the judge, then you can make a bigger deal of it in your speech.
“Throughout this round, we’ve fact-checked the affirmative team’s evidence 3 times in Cross-examination, and found that they had exaggerated what the evidence actually said. I’m not accusing them of doing this on purpose, because it’s easy to do it accidentally. But they’ve established a pattern of evidence exaggeration, and for that reason I’d encourage you to hold the rest of their evidence to an equal level of skepticism.”
If the opposing team has another pattern like claiming your evidence is not credible or something like that, you can use similar rhetoric.
5. Emphasize the logic behind your points.
If you’re negative and you have less evidence than the affirmative team, they’ll often make sure the judge remembers that. It’s often more effective to directly rebut this.
We’ve read less evidence than the affirmative team, that’s true. However, I disagree with their interpretation of this fact. We’ve poked several holes in the logic behind their case that they have not been able to fix. Our job isn’t to bring more evidence to the table, it’s to show inconsistencies in the affirmative team’s case, or harmful results of their plan.
In fact, in your judging packet, you got a piece of paper that explains the speaker points on your ballot. Look at the category of Evidence. Under 5, the highest rank, it says “Presented interesting and understandable evidence, examples, and/or reasoning in support of every major argument.” The word or is key. The affirmative team wants you to believe that Team Policy debate rounds are won by the person with the most evidence. In reality, they’re won by strong reasoning, which sometimes is supplemented by evidence.
(Only do the second part if they’re community or inexperienced, otherwise it will come across wrong.)
You can also include in your rhetoric here that you’ve shown how the affirmative evidence isn’t very credible, or that it’s exaggerated, etc. Use a combination of all of the previous points to get a 5 in evidence even if you don’t have much or any of it.
Getting a 5 in evidence is actually pretty easy, because it’s almost all about content. Very little of it is your presentation.
It may be a good idea to write down the main points I provided on a piece of paper and carry it to your next tournament because there’s a lot to absorb.
Enjoy the 5 in evidence, you only have five more categories to go 😉
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