We’ve all been there before: It’s the start of a fresh season of speech and debate, you’ve begun building your affirmative case, and you’re itching to begin prepping negative briefs against your biggest opponents. The only problem is, you don’t know what they’re running. At this point, what do you do? Wait until a caselist comes up? Wait until the first tournament and learn their case topic there? As basic as it may seem, one of the best courses of action to take is to start preparing general negative briefs.
At the beginning of the year, writing negative briefs on general topics under a resolution can make a world of difference during the competitive season. Writing these briefs can have an array of benefits, but we can narrow it down to three main benefits: sharpening research skills, expanding knowledge, and increased preparedness.
Benefit 1: Sharpening Research Skills (Mainly for new debaters)
If you have been debating for a couple of years, you can probably skip this section and go on to the next benefit. However, practicing researching is something all debaters can benefit from. Especially as newer debaters are beginning their debate journey and trying to sort through the fire hose of new information, practice is vital. Specifically, this includes practice debate rounds, practice with cross-examination, practice flowing, and possibly most important, practice researching. As a debate coach, I am constantly encouraging my newer debaters to practice researching via writing general briefs.
But why? Wouldn’t it be better to write briefs against specific cases I know they are going to hit? The reason is that at the beginning of the year, general briefs are typically easier than case-specific briefs for newer debaters to attempt writing. Instead of trying to research ideas on how ending Foreign Military Sales to Saudi Arabia isn’t viable, they begin their research with the general idea of why Foreign Military Sales aren’t effective. It’s simpler for a beginning debater to find evidence and build arguments against or for broader ideas.
Oftentimes, newer debaters will start off trying to research specific cases but end up discouraged as they haven’t sharpened their research skills enough to be effective researchers. General briefs provide these newer debaters an easier path to practice researching, cutting evidence, and providing proof for a general idea. As they continue to practice these skills by means of general briefs, they continue to build and sharpen their ability to write case-specific briefs.
Benefit 2: Expanded Knowledge
This benefit applies to all debaters, from the 12 year old stepping into the room for the first time to the senior national champion: knowledge of the resolution is critical to debating well. In order to debate persuasively you need to know the layers of the resolution, you need to know the lingo, the key ideas, the main actors, and the policies regarding it. How do you get that knowledge? Writing general briefs.
Through the process of writing general briefs you’ll be taking massive amounts of information about the resolution and essentially depositing it in your bank of knowledge. Some of the best arguments I have heard in debate rounds came from my partner or I remembering something we put in a general brief at the beginning of the year and utilizing that knowledge.
Albert Einstein once said, “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” One of the keys to debate is taking complex ideas and explaining them simply to the judge, and in order to do that you personally must understand that complex idea. Preparing general briefs in the pre-season helps you build your understanding of the world around the resolution. The best debaters are the ones that can explain the major ideas of the resolution without looking once at their paper, computer, or notes. They get to that point by researching, writing, and organizing general briefs.
Benefit 3: Increased Preparedness
So now, after months of anticipation, you’ve gotten to a point where you can start prepping your opponents’ cases. Where do you want to be? Just beginning to figure out what foreign military sales are or already four pages into the brief just simply based on arguments you drew from your general briefs? Clearly, we all desire to be in the latter position.
Whether you’re a new debater or an experienced one, the process of writing general briefs adequately prepares you for the point when you start writing case-specific briefs. As you start writing case-specific briefs you will oftentimes find that information regarding resolutions is extremely cross-applicable to many cases. A card of evidence that you put in one general brief can help support arguments against three other specific cases.
Writing these general briefs prepares your mind, your thought processes, and your argumentation for writing case-specific briefs. You will be able to more efficiently and effectively write compelling arguments and build killer negative strategies against cases.
But the preparedness goes beyond just writing case-specific briefs. As writing general briefs expands your knowledge of the resolution, it prepares you for unforeseen arguments and cases. In one round last year, my partner and I walked into the room against a team that was running a case we knew absolutely nothing about. However, through utilizing information about the resolution that we had gathered from general briefs we were able to pull off a solid win.
I can imagine that some of you are itching to start briefing your arch-nemesis’ case, but you may want to slow down for a second and consider writing some general briefs first. In the next article in this series I will introduce some ideas/tips on how to effectively write a general brief, but the basic idea is relatively straightforward: simply gather information on a general topic and put it into a negative brief format. Ultimately, taking the time to understand the resolution and write general briefs could have big implications for your entire season!
Thaddian Burson is a high school junior, and is heading into his third year of speech and debate. He is a hardcore TP’er and limited prepper. Some of his noteworthy achievements include 6th place in Team Policy at the 2019 NCFCA National Championship and the Iron Man award at the 2019 NCFCA National Championship. Thad enjoys learning how to communicate in a winsome manner and in a way that brings glory to God.