How to prepare can seem mystifying to a lot of newer debaters or those who have not had good prep practices hammered into their heads. As a high school debater I did not have much coaching support, so when I moved into college debate I was “enlightened.” It was easy to think “welp I’ve got files and they’re highlighted and I mostly know how to go for them,” but it is a much more programmatic process than just that. In today’s tech age putting a large number of resources in the hands of debaters across the board, debaters can invest so much more in preparedness than ever before. So start your prep early and be ready to slam your opponent’s after following this guide. In the first part of this series, I cover how to organize files in your virtual tub.
Having organized virtual tubs sounds like a no-brainer, but it’s easy to, well, not do it. Relying on memory of where you have ‘x’ cards does not put you in a good spot when you’re in a crunch. Having well-organized files means you can quickly navigate through your documents to find appropriate arguments and answers for both pre-round prep and in-round prep. Organizing files also has a secondary effect of building a mental catalog of where you have cards. When *you* have placed files in particular folder, you’ll intuitively remember where they are for quick access.
I have attached an example of what an organized virtual tub can look like, built off of how I organized my files as a debater:
I’ll give a breakdown of how to use this filing structure. Here are the main folders:
!-Answers to Ks
Why the exclamation points? I used exclamation points to keep some folders sorted above others. I didn’t want “Previous Topics” or “Speech Docs” to alphabetically mix into folders I may be using in debates. This can also be done with numbering (“1-“) or lettering (“A-“) if you want to order your folders more particularly.
In your aff folder, you should have sub-folders for different affirmatives. Your H1B aff files should not intermingle with your Open Borders files, otherwise you risk confusing yourself with file organization. You could create a generic advantages folder since a lot of advantage ground is cross-applicable between various affs (as with any topic), but I lean toward having them integrated with specific affs and just copying cross-applicable cards to different files. This is especially important because varying internal links will (should) modify how you write a variety of blocks.
In specific aff folders, you should have a 1ac’s folder and a 2ac’s folder. 1AC’s shouldn’t be in a master aff files. There’s an important reason for this: you shouldn’t always read the same 1ac. You should have a variety of versions, maybe with different internal link or impact cards cycled in or different advantages, different solvency mechanisms, etc. Having different versions of your 1ac allows you to change your aff based on predicted neg strategy, or to cut out some parts to let you read more impacts, or more solvency cards, etc. For 2ac’s, I recommend putting case extensions and case blocks in one file and then off-case frontlines and blocks in another. Why? Creating an overly large document is a baaaaaad idea. It’s harder to navigate because there’s more material to scroll through and it’s more likely to lag or crash your word processor, eating up precious prep time in a debate.
Answers to Ks Folder
Why doesn’t this belong in the aff folder? Ks are read on the aff and neg, you’ll end up using this folder on both sides of the debate. This is a fairly straightforward folder. The sub-folders are not necessarily for specific Ks, but are intended to be more blanketing into categories of specific Ks, then there are specific Ks. This is mostly an organizational preference on my part, but it does simplifying putting files with cross-applicable answers close to specific Ks (it makes logical sense to generic identity politics answers in the “Identity” folder along with a “Race Ks” sub-folder).
Again, a folder useful for both aff and neg. This should be an exhaustive compilation of all of your impact cards AND impact answers. Why not just impact answers? There’s 2 big reasons:
1) Impacts go both ways. Even if you perceive “Unilateralism Good” as the “impact,” that does not mean you will never debate a team that says “Multilateralism Good/Unilateralism Bad.” The same is true of Growth, Warming, etc.
2) When putting together new arguments, it’s easier to have already put your impact work in a central place to pull cards for your new DA or advantage rather than digging through an old DA or advantage.
As you can see, there are a lot of general folders that can have specific sub-folders. For instance, “Econ” can have “Growth” and “Trade” sub-folders/files, or “Environment” can include “Biodiversity” or “Warming” or “Deforestation” sub-folders/files.
This folder will be one of the most important to keep maintained, simply because there are a lot of potential negative arguments to read.
This folder has 5 sub-folders:
- Case Negs
“Case Negs” is categorized into “General Advantage Answers,” “General Solvency Answers,” “K Affs,” “Topic Areas.” You could create folders for specific affs rather than using “topic areas,” as that is more applicable for list topics.
As I mentioned for the Aff folder, there are general advantages that will be cross-applicable between different affs. So it makes sense to create “General Advantage Answers” folder with specific advantage answer files that include topic-generic internal link/solvency answers and impact answers and then putting specific aff internal link answers in specific case neg files.
This is similarly true of “General Solvency Answers.” For every topic there will be all-encompassing solvency arguments that apply to the whole topic like “Trump circumvention/non-enforcement.” The value in having general case answers separated from specific case negs is for debating new affirmatives that you do not have a specific case neg to.
“Topic Areas” or “x Aff” folders are largely self-explanatory. There can be stylistic differences in whether or not you create a single master file for case negs or separate them into different files for advantages or solvency, though I lean toward the former.
“K Affs” can in many ways be redundant with the “Answers to Ks” folder. However the function of this folder for case negs to specific affs different teams read as opposed to just generalized responses to the literature area a K aff uses.
The CP folder is pretty straightforward. I prefer sub-categorizing CPs into different types (Advantage CPs, Agent CPs, Process CPs, PICs, Specific Aff CPs, etc), but that’s a matter of personal choice. From there I create different folders for different CPs.
The DA folder is straightforward as well. Different folders for different DAs. Perhaps different folders for different classes of DAs (econ DAs, politics DAs, etc.) The reason I prefer creating different folders for individual DAs is to simplify placing update files in appropriate places when I don’t have the time to immediately compile files, same with CPs.
The K folder as I used it mostly lacks sub-categories of Ks and mostly has folders for specific K arguments. That’s a matter of personal choice.
The T-FW-Procedurals folder is straightforward. I preferred sub-folders for T, FW, and Procedurals mainly because I would have multiple documents for each (separate definitions and violations files for T, FW and updates for it, breaking procedurals into specific files for each one.”)
I preferred putting all theory for both aff and neg in one general folder. This was mainly an effort to prevent losing theory files in the minutia of my aff or neg folders and because appropriately naming files overcame any possible confusion. It’s also useful to have a central place for theory so you don’t forget about or lose theory arguments you had put in a 2AC file or CP file.
You should create sub-folders for different topics you debated on or have files from so you can archive your dropbox from that season. It is so valuable to keep all of your files because people (or you) will invariably borrow from previous topic work. Having answers to a former education topic aff that a team reads as an advantage CP keeps you from getting blindsided. This also creates a valuable resource for your newer squad members who did not debate on previous topics. They are the most vulnerable to being “backfile checked.”
You should save speech docs from every single debate that you have been in. There are so many reasons why:
1) It helps you to do speech redoes. Having your opponent’s document to reference means you can give an even better redo and thus improve even more, especially in your evidence analysis skills.
2) Saving your speech docs also saves any blocks you wrote on the fly in a given debate. You can then integrate them into your aff file, DA file, CP file, case neg, etc. Why would you want to lose a 2nr CP solvency overview you wrote specifically for a Syrian Refugees aff that won you a debate? Save it and you save yourself future prep time. In my freshman year of college, my partner asked me to write him a heg impact overview during his 2ar prep. I wrote an impact overview that ended up being used YEARS later as it was continually modified for efficiency, specific impact comparison, assuming specific answers, and so on. We won a lot of debates was going for the heg advantage in the 2ar because of the re-use and refinement of that one impact overview that proliferated into a variety of different ones.
3) Adding to your files. Just like you should scour open evidence and the caselist for new cards, you should recut and use good evidence that was read against you.
You should organize your speech docs by topic, by tournament, by round (with round number, side, and opposing team in the folder name), and then name speech docs appropriately for each speech. This sounds overly complicated, but it amounts to a 3-5 minute ritual to do at the end of every debate that has a hugely valuable payoff.
One thing I hoped to illuminate with this article is that all the way down to how you organize your files, there is a certain strategy involved. It took me too long to come up with my own file organization (with some elements borrowed), the ideal goal of this article is enabling anyone reading this to organize their virtual tubs and kick off positive debate habits, whether they use this system or one inspired by similar thinking.
Colin Dailey is an Assistant Debate Coach at George Mason University and Co-Owner of Policydb8.com.
Edited by ColinD