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1AC 101: Part 1

posted Oct 10, 2012, 8:18 PM by Anthony Severin
Congratulations! It's the start of the season. You've got a whole new year of debate to experience. Maybe you've read some articles, read a couple of sourcebook briefs, or written a few briefs yourself already. You've probably already got a case idea and done some research. You're now 2% of the way there.

At this point in the season, you've got a lot of information. If you've debated for at least a season, go back a couple months after you started thinking about the resolution and compare your brain from that time period with your brain after the season ended. You'll see a tremendous change; especially if you were new to debate. You had a ton of information. After all, even only a few months into the season you generally have built up a pretty good knowledge base. What changed between, say January and June?

What changed was your ability to interpret that information. Sure, you knew that Jackson-Vanik dealt with permanent normal trade relations with Russia, but did you think that the permanent normal trade relations status is linked to ascension to the WTO? And with that in mind, how many other things does WTO ascension impact that you can now link into a disadvantage against Jackson-Vanik? It's connections like these that develop over the course of the season as you learn not just facts, but also how those facts are interrelated. Connections.

I'll mention why all of the above is important later in the series. But with that in mind, let's begin our discussion on the 1AC. Most 1ACs go something like this:

The introduction is a random paragraph of interesting but somewhat irrelevant statements, usually mentioning something about “America's foundational values”, etc.


This section “provides clarity to the round” (riiiight) by defining basic words like “reform”, or “change.” Maybe it'll even define “the United States Federal government,” or the “United Nations,” just in case you didn't know what those words meant.

Inherency and harms look like the following:
Short tagline here

loooong block of evidence

(maybe a brief summary of the evidence)


Eloquently phrased, smoothly transitioned plan which has (hopefully) a lot of thought put into it.


Hi Judge. We're just going to restate our harms in different words, or maybe even use the same words. You can doze off while we read more stuff from people saying that our plan will work.

All of this is accompanied by random statements like: “Let's move to Observation Five-thousand eight-hundred and ninety-six: Advantages. Because no one's really counting.

Finally, the conclusion. Cue mentions of “justice” or “fiscal responsibility” every few words.

That description was fairly satirical, but I hope it made the point well: we throw in a lot of things that are irrelevant. You should understand the purpose of everything you put in your 1AC. Don't just copy-paste the “usual stuff” from another 1AC. Let me say that again in different words: every 1AC is unique. No part of a 1AC should be completely the same as another; each section serves a different purpose. So let's start from the top, discuss what should and shouldn't be done in each section and, perhaps most importantly: examine the purpose of each part of the case.

But before I get into that, I want to make a very clear distinction. There are two types of arguments: offensive arguments (disadvantages, topicality, counter-plans and the like-- things that make the affirmative a bad idea), and mitigation arguments (arguments that basically say that the aff isn't as good an idea as the affirmative makes it out to be, like significance and solvency.) Although this distinction is usually brought up when strategizing as a negative, it's equally important as an affirmative. You don't win judges by reading your definitions or inherency cards; those are there to help fulfill the burden of proof. The persuasive arguments in your case (the offensive arguments, that is) are your harms, justifications and/or advantages. Those are the arguments that win you the round. It's certainly necessary to prove solvency and inherency in some way but it's not what gets your judge out of his seat. Remember this whenever you're writing a case: focus on what is most persuasive.

I'll be posting additions addressing specific components of the case in the coming days. Until then, let me know if you've got any questions or comments at