Debate Tip of the Week: Organize Your Prep

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Looking back at my time in debate, I realize I was horribly disorganized with my prep. I was scattershot, following whatever topic sounded most interesting at the time. I’d then latch onto a particular brief, spending all of my time on it at the expense of everything else. Don’t follow my mistake! You should organize the way you prep with these simple steps.

1. Make Lists

Human brains are terrible at remembering things, but computers (or even paper) are great at it. Whenever you think of something you should research, add it to your list. Make permanent the things you want to remember for later and you’ll never have to do that remembering yourself.

2. Create Specific Plans

Every week, create a plan for what you’d like to accomplish that week, and then break down those goals into specific steps. It’s more psychologically rewarding to accomplish a number of small things than it is to try to slog through one large task, so breaking everything down to their individual parts actually helps motivate. If you’re a policy debater, work with your partner to develop and review these weekly plans.

3. Start Broad

The first thing you should do with a resolution or a case is to research the simple stuff–just google the topic or find the wikipedia page on it. From there you can collect pages that might have interesting information on them to read through later. From wikipedia you can look at the footnotes for useful links. At this stage, even if you’re not finding a lot of information you’ll want to cut into evidence, you’re harvesting ideas and language. You’re finding interesting ideas that may become a case or an argument in the future. And you’re starting to learn what words people use when they talk about these topics to help your future search queries.

4. Go Deep, Intentionally

When you begin by reading broadly you’ll gather a lot of ideas to dive into. You should be writing those down somewhere to return to later. Once you return, you can research that one specific strand deeply and intentionally. Keep yourself disciplined that you’re only going to follow this one path. If you find something unrelated but interesting, write it down and save the article for later. By dedicating time and effort to deepen your research you’ll find arguments and resources that other debaters will not have, making your briefs that much better.

5. Work Systematically

The process of writing a brief can be broken down to the following steps: research queries, collecting articles, skimming and eliminating unrelated articles, reading and cutting paragraphs, cutting evidence, formatting evidence, and organizing the brief. You should do each of those steps in turn to maximize your efficiency. Collect a bunch of interesting articles in tabs before you read them. Once you have an annoying number of tabs open, go through them quickly to make sure they’re relevant. Then start actually reading the articles. Format and cut cards all in one chunk. You shouldn’t be finding a single article before cutting and formatting it in one go; that simply takes longer to do and is more mentally scattershot. Think systematically.

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