Disclaimer: This is not meant to put down or defame anyone, so for that reason I will include no examples (except for one about me getting adjudicated).
Let’s start off with the golden rule. “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets” — Matthew 7:12
The ultimate point of this post is that you should always strive to avoid being sketchy. I’ll talk about things that are slightly sketchy, things that are sketchy enough to break the rules, and ways to avoid the appearance of evil.
And, before I begin, I want to just mention that you can be accidentally sketchy. So don’t tune out now and think “oh I am not a bad debater so this doesn’t apply”.
Seemingly innocent, but actually sketchy
Johnny has two copies of his 1AC, and no printer. He’s about to go affirmative, but he needs to change how a couple of pieces of evidence are read.
In a hurry, he crosses out a line that was previously underlined to read in a piece of evidence.
This line is arguably against his case, but it could go either way.
Johnny is now sketchy.
- The other team will get the 1AC and won’t know why that line is crossed off. They will stare at it intently and then realize it arguably hurts the affirmative position. The presumption now is that the affirmative team was crossing off important info that hurt them.
- Why did Johnny cross it off when he could have just re-underlined the part to read, or even could have drawn a vertical line in front of the place to stop reading? Because he was in a hurry, he didn’t think of the implications of what he was doing.
- Of all the quotes in the 1AC, it seems this crossed-off portion is the only one that can arguably turn against the affirmative team.
- Even if the 1AC shows signs of editing in other areas, not just evidence, that doesn’t make the evidence part less sketchy. It still looks like the sentence was deliberately hidden.
- The NCFCA official rules say that any evidence with a strikeout must have a backup copy available without a strikeout upon request for the negative team. (In my opinion strikeouts shouldn’t be allowed, but that’s another issue).
All this… and Johnny didn’t actually mean to do anything wrong!
He was just in a rush to make his 1AC better, and he didn’t think the crossed-off portion made the evidence out of context.
Now, I hope you don’t read that and think, “so I can strike out stuff as long as I have another copy of the evidence”. It’s still sketchy, even though it isn’t against the rules.
Some more sketchy things
Okay, now I’ve got your attention. What are some other sketchy things?
I’m going to include stuff that is against the rules, and stuff that isn’t. Some will be worse than others. This is simply an unordered list.
- Strawman arguments (changing the other team’s argument in your speech and attacking this new, weaker version you created. It is basically lying about what they said.)
- Reading new, unrequested evidence in the 2AR. I can count the number of times I had to read new evidence in the 2AR on two fingers. In four years of debate. Completely new analysis and arguments do not belong in the 2AR, where the negative team has no opportunity to say if something is wrong.
- Running a new case more than necessary (every round, every tournament, every other tournament…) In reality, the most I could argue you’d need is two cases (most people don’t need two though), and the only reason I’d change my case is if my old one is not good enough to defend. If you constantly change your case, you give the appearance that you’re trying to win by surprise, whether or not you are. And it’s extremely easy to commit sketchy acts when running a totally new case. Sketchy evidence, sketchy tactics, sketchy skewing of reality… It all correlates to running too many cases.
- Having the other team read your evidence in cross-examination when you didn’t read it into the round first. Using your opponent as a proxy to read new evidence into the round is… I can’t find a word for it. It’s just awful. (Having them read evidence already entered into the round is fine, in my opinion).
- Claiming a ridiculous burden of proof. This is really less sketchy than it is poor debate, but when your entire negative strategy is basically bringing up totally crazy arguments with no evidence, then pushing the burden on the affirmative team to provide evidence saying you’re wrong, that’s pretty sketchy. Asking questions and exposing holes in their burden of proof is fine and a legitimate strategy.
- Claiming dropped arguments that weren’t really dropped. A dropped argument is one that is completely unaddressed, not one that had a weak response. Also, if someone responded to argument C and their response also applies to argument E, I’d avoid talking about “dropped arguments” and just say “they didn’t specifically address argument E” if there is analysis they left uncovered. Not every point needs to be specifically repeated then addressed one by one in order to avoid dropping things, if the team groups arguments. Lastly, if you ran an argument with multiple subpoints and they used an overall argument to defeat all the subpoints, don’t say “they dropped these subpoints”. If their analysis doesn’t defeat a specific subpoint, just say “their response does not defeat subpoint [letter/number]”
- Claiming the other team didn’t read evidence that they did. (In your 2AR, unless you’re 100% sure you’re right, be very careful with how you approach issues like this).
- Power tagging your evidence. (Basically summarizing the evidence in stronger wording than the evidence itself uses, or having the judge write down a tag that makes the evidence seem better than it is). Power tagging will also get you in trouble with a good team, who will make you look dumb in CX when they have you read your evidence out loud and show the judge you exaggerated.
- Consistently saying several sentences after the timer beeps. Finish your current sentence and stop.
- Refusing to answer reasonable questions in CX, or pretending not to understand them in order to stall/change the question. Plus, if you do this to a good team, they’ll make you look unreasonable to the judge.
- Reading evidence in such a way that the author’s intent is skewed. (Rule violation).
- Cutting a sentence out of a paragraph into a card. (Include the whole paragraph. Even if it’s big. Even if it doesn’t hurt the context. Even if it DOES hurt the context.)
- Underlining evidence in such a way that weakening statements are not read. For example, an article that is from 2015 but is talking about an event in 2008 (and the point of the evidence is to say how things are right NOW, so recency is important). Underline the portion that says it happened in 2008, because leaving it out is basically trying to mislead people into thinking your evidence is talking about 2015 issues.
- Using tiny/unreadable fonts. People who have regular size font for whatever they read, and a tiny, gray font for whatever they don’t read, are just asking for trouble. I get that you want your evidence to be easy to read without stumbling, but you can accomplish that without shrinking it to unrecognizability.
- Having extremely minimal citations for evidence. Leaving out the URL, article title, author, or any other important element of evidence is also odd. The other team will ask themselves, “Why did they leave that element out? Must be something wrong.”
- Saying, “the other team has that evidence on their table!” when the evidence you’re referring to hasn’t been read into the round. (It could be on their table because you handed it to them, because it was on the same page as other evidence you gave them, or because it’s their evidence. In all these scenarios, this is still sketchy.) Evidence that isn’t read into the round is phantom evidence. If the judge hasn’t heard it quoted directly, it doesn’t exist.
- Alluding to the multitudes of evidence you have on a point, even though you will only read one of them. Bonus points for if this isn’t even true. You’re really a fun guy to debate if so :\
- Claiming you read evidence about something if you really didn’t. This one is one of the most common, by far. To keep yourself from accidentally saying this, always include a short description of the evidence and what speech it was in. This keeps you honest.
- Saving all your best stuff for your 2AR. Whether that’s evidence, arguments, or something else. It depends, however. A new analogy doesn’t really seem sketchy, but if you bring out this huge bomb of analysis that totally wins you the round in the 2AR, you bet your opponents will spread the word of your 2AR antics.
- Talking to judges before rounds (rule violation) in order to get them to like you. It’s not even necessary, is the thing. You can get people to like you in a split second based on your first impression.
- Running an argument you know is actually false but you keep going with it because you feel you can “prove” it since the other team doesn’t have the right evidence to disprove it.
- Running a case that you don’t even believe in because you know you’re mostly wrong… if you’re in a situation like that, I find it hard to believe you could avoid many of the other sketchy things on this list. (Note: it is possible, but be sure to double check yourself if you are in this situation.)
- Manipulating facts into a narrative that presents an inaccurate picture of the world, therefore helping you win with untruth. (An example would be cherry-picked statistics that are technically true, but wildly misrepresentative).
- Using evidence from a brief that you traded for without checking it first. (If you are in a hurry and can’t vet it beforehand, make sure you at least read the entire paragraph, even without underlines, to yourself, before using it. And if the evidence is too good to be true and the team you traded with isn’t one you can put 100% trust in, just don’t use it. You can win without it.)
- Anything dishonest in general.
- Doing any of the above when your reputation for it already precedes you multiplies the effect. Sorry. It’s true.
How sketchy debaters are viewed
It is my understanding that some people don’t even realize that they’re doing some of the things listed above, or don’t realize how quickly the word gets around that they do.
If you do some of the things above for more than a few rounds, someone’s going to talk about it to their friends.
You know how it goes. Some debaters only know how to ask each other “how’d your round go?” so it’s inevitable that the sketchy tactics will be mentioned.
Do you really want to sacrifice friendships over stuff like this? If so, get a life. Seriously, get a life. Debate isn’t here to teach you how to cheat in order to win. It’s there to teach you how to speak convincingly.
It is more satisfying to have a good round with amazing clash and win because you spoke well, than to win because you used any of the tactics above.
Try it out sometime.
It’s kind of cool that you can actually be an honest debater and still win!
But if you really want to do this. If you really want to win so much that you’re willing to be the people that others stare at across the room in frustration. If you really can’t be bothered to double check the words you say and look at your evidence more closely in order to stay honest. If you want to be THAT team that wins and everyone shakes their head. Go ahead and do it. You’re only hurting yourself.
Because when it comes down to it, no one truly cares about how well you did in debate. Let me repeat. No one truly cares. The only people that do are your family members, a couple of close friends, and the other debaters at the tournament.
So what you’re doing is you’re learning how to cheat to win, in order to win a prize that means virtually nothing.
And boy oh boy.
When you get out to the real world and you try to cheat your way through that, you will be in for a nice surprise. The world’s adjudication system is a lot more harsh and unforgiving than the NCFCA. So will you learn to debate with integrity, or will you have to learn it the hard way?
So you want to mend your ways…
If you have a reputation for sketchy debating, it could be for a couple of reasons. 1. You actually are. 2. You seem like it, because you’re not careful enough about what you do/say in round, or because of a couple of freak accidents.
- In the case of #1, apologize to anyone who brings it up and say that you want to improve. In the case of #2, apologize to anyone who brings it up and say that you haven’t been careful enough.
- If you get adjudicated, take the punishment without trying to wiggle your way out. Admit to your wrongs.
I once got adjudicated at Regionals for using evidence that was from an email correspondence with our advocate. I had uploaded the file to a website so that I figured it was “publicly accessible”, and included the link as well as full citations in my evidence. I also put “(EMAIL)” in the tag, and somewhere in the citation.
In other words, I thought I’d done my homework.
The first round I used it, the other team brought it up and then the judge adjudicated the issue, and I lost the round (I lost anyway, but the punishment would have been a round loss).
Honestly, I was not happy. The reason they gave was that “publicly accessible” means anyone can find it without having to see the url on my evidence. The problem was that I uploaded it to a file hosting website that isn’t searchable.
However, the rules are the rules, and I did not understand the rule properly. I cooperated and told them exactly what I did, and even though the result wasn’t nice, it was worth the feeling afterwards that I’d done the right thing.
- After each round from this day forward, ask the other team if there was anything you did in the round that they thought was dishonest or that they wish you hadn’t done. It’s a good exercise in humility, and it is the easiest way to find out if you’re improving. You can also tell the other team if they did anything wrong during this talk. (Note: this is not a time to nitpick about arguments or continue the debate, it’s a time to talk about sketchy things either of you did.)
- In-round, be more careful than you usually need to be. For example, if I ever claimed someone dropped an argument, I would always qualify it unless I was 100% sure. “I may be incorrect, so you can check your notes, but the negative team did not address this point at all in the last speech.” If I read evidence, I’d read everything in the paragraph that even somewhat disagreed with my main point, so that I would be above reproach.
- Thoroughly double check any evidence you read. If it’s not cut correctly, just don’t read it. It’s not worth the risk. If the other team points something out that you didn’t notice about it, agree immediately in-round and apologize for it (if the concern is legitimate, of course. But as a recovering sketchy debater, you should err on the side of apologizing).
- Write your own briefs during this period of recovery. The last thing you’d want is to borrow a brief that has bad evidence in it. The exception to this is to thoroughly vet all the evidence you borrow by looking it up online.
I’m not going to claim it’s easy. I honestly don’t know what it’s like, because I don’t think I ever had a reputation as a sketchy debater (well, I hope, lol).
But I know what it’s like to have to regain trust, and let me tell you: it isn’t fun.
But it’s the right thing to do, and people will respect you tremendously for applying yourself to it.
Don’t be a sketchy debater. And remember, it is possible to do all these things by accident, so tread carefully my friends.
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