Six little known strategies to approach motions

Many of us are taught about principle and practical arguments to strategise during casebuild. There are actually four other things you need to know…

Almost every debater will ask during casebuild, “What’s our principle argument? What’s our practical argument? Do we go full principle/practical?”

But that’s really only the tip of the iceberg. Very surface-level strategy for arguments.

To be better than that, you want to look at six other things that are in the submerged parts of the iceberg. In casebuilding, you want to get used to making these considerations. Look at the motion and think about these things:

Type 1 or 2

Sometimes you really only find one decent argument in some motions. But is that fine? Should you force yourself to find another one, or should you settle with it?

Well, if it’s a Type 1 motion, there really is only one strong argument. So you want to center your case there, and that’s fine. If it’s a Type 2 motion, there are multiple strong arguments. You will sense this in casebuilding. Identify it early on so you can invest your casebuilding time appropriately.

If you’re a closing team in BP, it’s also very useful to identify this! If it’s a type 1 motion, you should probably run more or less the same arguments as your opening, because they’re round-winning. In order to become more important than them, what you contribute is more depth in that argument. It’s usually also helpful to divide the argument into process and impact, if you feel like there’s only 1 argument but it’s a big chunk.

If it’s a type 2 motion, there are probably other arguments you can run and weigh against the opening arguments. Also, don’t be afraid to run more than 2 arguments, if you do find many!

Examples of Type 1 motions:

Examples of Type 2 motions:

Focus on harm or benefit

It’s good to be comparative in debates, but sometimes you want to focus a little more on either your opponent’s harms or your side’s benefits.

Because in some motions, you’ll realise in casebuild that both of the worlds are quite bad and you would only have to win as the lesser evil. In some others, you want to race your opponent in giving as many solutions/benefits as possible.

Remember, this doesn’t mean you should run negative cases full of harms without a positive case with some benefits, and vice versa. Make the prioritised portion 70-80% of your case, not 100%!

Examples of motions where you focus on harm:

Examples of motions where you focus on benefit:

Invest in likelihood or importance

Arguments are made up of likelihood and importance. Since your speech time is limited, you can emphasise on one of those axes. Let me demonstrate with the motions below.

In the graphic suffering motion, you don’t want to spend 3 minutes saying you’re going to attract people to your social movement and make it impactful, because the other team is going to claim the same, just with a different method.

In the HSAM motion, you don’t want to go on a lecture of how this condition makes you smart, because your opponent will probably agree and just say other benefits are more important.

Here are good hints to identify where you should invest in:

  • Invest in likelihood if both teams have the same goal, and the likelihood of achieving benefits is not obvious
  • Invest in importance if the likelihood of achieving benefits is quite obvious, and both teams have a different goal

Examples of motions that are won on likelihood

Examples of motions that are won on importance

  • This House would choose the job they are passionate about* *You are a talented, middle-class person in your early twenties about to start your career. You have the choice between a job in which you will make a lot of money and work long hours(e.g. investment banker, corporate lawyer, etc.) and a job that pays less but that you are more passionate about(e.g. social worker, chef, teacher, small business owner, etc.)

Low impact or high impact

Impacts in debates need to be proportionate to the motion given. Small/abstract impacts can be just as important as big ones. It’s not always go big or go home!

High impact motions are usually the ones debaters are more in tune with, because there’s this sense of big responsibility when you’re acting in roles called Prime Minister or Deputy Leader of Opposition.

But just look at the villain motion below. You don’t want try to make arguments like “crime will increase on Opp side and people won’t punish them” because these are just TV interactions that affect you subtly! Aim for reasonable scopes of arguments, like tendencies for bad people to play victim and the invalidation of the actual victims in social interactions.

Examples of low impact motions

  • This House opposes the increasing sympathetic presentation of villains in movies and TV shows (e.g. One that makes audiences feel for the villain because they have felt suffering and pain)
  • This House believes that the wishes of the dead (e.g. testamentary wills, organ donations, burial requests) should not be given legal protection

Examples of high impact motions

Emotional detailing or technical detailing

The title already spoils it for this one. And it’s easy to tell if a motion is emotional or technical. Sometimes, though, people polish their style appeal to be extremely emotional or extremely technical, that they don’t adapt according to the motion type!

And since the meta seems to prioritise technical detailing currently, here’s something good to remember. Some motions are simply won not by listing dozens of mechanisms to achieve benefits, but by telling stories that express why judges should vote for your side.

This means it’s okay to switch between structures that flow to tell stories and structures that list reasons for supporting a case. Here are some examples to practice!

Examples of motions that require emotional detailing

Examples of motions that require technical detailing

Single scenario or multiple scenario

Most motions are single scenario motions, where there’s a context you agree on and a benefit you argue for. In these debates, you’re going to want to maximise the likelihood of the scenario where your benefits occur because that’s how you prove you’re better than your opponent.

That means if you want to engage in the “best case of the opponent” or your “worst case scenario”, it should really only take up to 20% of your speech.

However, there are some debates where there’s simply more than one scenario to explore. The way you prove your proposal is valid should include all scenarios. People often debate in different contexts, only engaging in scenarios convenient to them, and that makes a messy debate.

Examples of multiple scenario motions

  • This House believes that in post-conflict states, members of the previous regime and their families should not be eligible to hold political positions
  • This House would hold a second binding referendum on whether the UK should leave the EU

Remember, multiple scenario motions can be about there being multiple backgrounds or multiple outcomes. It’s either the input or the output that’s two-pronged.


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