In my previous article, I talked about the benefits of writing general briefs and suggested that taking the time to explore the resolution and brief general ideas can be remarkably beneficial. So, perhaps you’ve decided to write a general brief. Great! But what comes next? How does one actually write a general brief? While the specific formatting and materials may differ from debater to debater, I will provide several tips on how to get started writing, and a couple of guidelines for the briefs. Oftentimes the hardest part of writing a brief is actually starting it. So to help with that, I have three tips for starting:
Starting Tip 1: Read First
I know (especially for debaters who adore researching) it can be super easy to get sucked into citing and cutting the first piece of evidence you see… and then continuing to cut every piece after that. Unfortunately, this can lead to some pretty lengthy and yet still unhelpful general briefs. I have found that the best strategy before diving into a brief is to examine different kinds of articles, studies, papers, and books on the topic: Look at the ones supporting and those opposing your position; Look at the ones not simply on the first page of search results but also on the third, fifth, and seventh—or at least try different wordings for searches, etc. Do your best to get a good understanding of the topic before trying to cut evidence. Often what I will do is read many articles on the topic and bookmark the ones which I think will be helpful. Then, once I have a good understanding of the topic, I go back to that bookmark and begin cutting evidence. Reading first before jumping into a general brief ensures that not only are you preparing a brief for the round, but you are also preparing your mind and expanding your knowledge of the resolution.
Starting Tip 2: Move to Definitions
Typically, if you have read a decent amount about the topic you will have already found a starting point for your brief. But, if you still are stuck and don’t know where to go with your general brief, you can move to definitions. For example, if your general brief is on the ineffectiveness of subsidies you can start off by putting definitions of the key ideas, or evidence explaining the key ideas, in the brief. You can cut evidence giving the definition of subsidies and evidence explaining what types of subsidies there are, and then you can cut evidence defining effective and ineffective. Simply by putting in definitions you can already have a 2-page brief. Putting definitions and simple explanations in your brief not only starts you off in writing your brief, but can also be very important in future rounds.
Starting Tip 3: Think Simple
General briefs are meant to be simple. You are taking all the information you just read about and simplifying and synthesizing it into a brief. The best way to do this is by having a topic statement. When you go to write a general brief, come up with a simple topic statement and cut evidence supporting that statement. Some examples of these topic statements are as follows: Renewable energy is inefficient; Interventionism policies are ineffective; Public colleges are better than private colleges. All of these are general and simple and thus great topic statements for general briefs. If you come up with a simple topic statement and hold to it during your time writing the brief, it will vastly improve the effectiveness and cohesiveness of the brief.
Still, as you’re starting to write your brief there are two key things to keep in mind:
Guideline 1: Keep It General
You may be thinking, “Well obviously; it’s called a general brief.” But I know from personal experience that sometimes what starts out as a general brief becomes a very case-specific brief. The goal of a general brief is to prepare you to talk about general sections or areas of the resolution—not specific cases. For example, suppose your resolution is “The USFG should significantly reform a policy regarding domestic business.” Writing a brief on why we should not repeal subsidies for fossil fuels is exceedingly too specific. However, a good topic for a general brief could be the pros and cons of subsidies in general. If your general briefs are too case-specific that limits your knowledge of the resolution to the cases being run. The best debaters know more about the world of the resolution than simply the cases being run, and while you will eventually get to writing case-specific briefs, having the knowledge of the resolution surrounding the case is vital.
Guideline 2: Brief Briefs are Fine
The amazing thing about general briefs is that they don’t have to be long; they actually live up to their name: “brief.” In fact, if your general brief is exceedingly long, that may be an indicator that it is no longer a general brief. When the caselist comes out, it may make total sense to write a fifty page brief on your rival’s case. But don’t try to do that with a general brief. General briefs are on the shorter side, because they are simply bases for knowledge of the resolution. General briefs aren’t designed to go into specific arguments and responses; if one does, the brief is no longer a general brief but a specific one. Thus a seven-page brief (for example) on generally when/why subsidies are good can be effective.
The reality is that general briefs can have some of the best bang for your buck in the debating world. They are simple, brief, and take less time to write, and yet at the same time provide you with the opportunity to out-knowledge your opponents. Following the tips above and writing general briefs is an extraordinarily effective way to prepare for the upcoming season.