The Journal‎ > ‎

1AC 101: Part 2

posted Oct 15, 2012, 6:05 AM by Anthony Severin

(the following is a continuation of the 1AC 101 series. If you haven't yet read the previous post, you can do so here.)


Purpose: To spike T-presses and explain any highly technical terms.

Likely, when you drafted your first one or two 1ACs, you simply copied and pasted in definitions from another case and went with that. While that's a good first start, doing so usually does not achieve the purpose of this section. I encourage you to think of this section with two things in mind: (1) How can I spike potential topicality arguments? (2) Are there any terms in your case that absolutely cannot be defined by their context, or with a short phrase describing the obscure term immediately following their use?

With these two purposes in mind, look at your case, and the definitions you currently have. Do you really need to define “United Nations?” Is the negative really going to contend that abolishing the UN would be insignificant? Is it worth giving a definition in the 1AC to spike a topicality press? Would your ten, fifteen seconds defining "foreign military commitments" be better spent explaining the rationale behind withdrawal from South Korea?

The number one thing that I usually ask when critiquing a case is: “Is a negative really going to argue against your interpretation on this word? Is a negative really going to say that your case for reforming the UNSC veto power is not a reform of the United Nations? If not, why spend 15 seconds on it?” Furthermore, are definitions important enough to warrant displacing another 30 seconds of analysis on your justifications? These are judgment calls that are very case-specific, but I strongly encourage you to think specifically about what definitions really need to be in the case, if any at all.


Purpose:To provide an explanation for why a problem exists or why advantages do not exist.

In much the same way as definitions, inherency gives you no offense. The name of the game here in the 1AC is to get in and get out. Prove what you need to, and move on to your important stuff. Now, that doesn't necessarily mean you can't provide some persuasive material here; in fact, I strongly encourage you to do so. This section is your place to present the status quo in as negative a light as possible while remaining 100% truthful. Incredulity is a powerful tool. Simply portray the status quo as crazy (which shouldn't be too hard, given the anti-government bias innate to our leagues). If your case is military withdrawal from Europe, quote some author talking about how absurd it is that we spend billiods of dollars protecting a continent because they don't want to take responsibility for their own defense. If your case is to eliminate UN peacekeepers, provide comparisons between how many conflicts we intervene in versus how many of those conflicts are resolved. Bring the word “absurdity” to the judges mind without explicitly making your arguments.

The Plan

Purpose: To clearly communicate exactly what your case does to make the world better.

This is the core of your case. This is what makes policy debate work. This is your plan. The number one rule here is that every word in your plan should have a purpose. The number two rule is that you should meticulously, painstakingly, carefully, cautiously, meticulously (my thesaurus is failing me), search your plan for every unnecessary word and throw it out. Simplicity is the holy grail of plans. Let me illustrate why this is necessary.

So there once was an affirmative team which, for some reason, decided to make their plan go into effect “a week after an affirmative ballot.” The negative, in this (completely hypothetical) real round decided to have some fun. So they read a counterplan, which was identical to the affirmative plan, except their counterplan went into effect immediately. Competition existed (you shouldn't enact duplicating legislation a week later...) and the counterplan produced a net benefit by achieving the advantages a week earlier than the affirmative. The negative won.

In sum? Every. Word. Must. Have. A. Vital. Purpose.

Similarly, make sure that your plan actually does what you say it does. A debater who shall not be named (ahem, me) once wrote a case that said the “United States will announce that it will share all relevant intelligence on terrorists with India.” That was it. Notce that the case never actually mandated that the Federal Government actually do the intelligence sharing. Thie moral? Don't get fancy with the wording, and above all, don't try to sound like you're writing a Congressional bill. You might actually write one.

And that would be horrible.


Purpose: To show how and to what extent your plan will make the world better.

I'm going in a strange order, if you are accustomed to harms-solvency cases. That's primarily because I prefer justifications cases, though I certainly don't deny that harms-solvency cases can be persuasive. The reason I generally like comparative advantage/justifications cases is simple: word economy and development of analysis. Instead of starting off with harm 1: justice, skipping down to harm 2: money lost, then skipping a few more minutes into the future and reintroducing both ideas separately, focus your 1AC. Switching topics always takes time to signpost, and that reduces the time you can spend impacting your arguments. Thus, the justifications outline is, at least for my case-writing style, significantly more economical and fluid.

A related note here is about the number of points you have. Not only does it take time to signpost and allow the judge to switch gears, increasing the number of arguments you introduce reduces the effectiveness of your other, more powerful arguments. A perfect example occurred two years ago. Our case had two justifications: one was not very significant, but completely rock solid-- literally unassailable. The other was very significant, but had major solvency issues. In this particular example, the negative talked about the one justification that was weak, completely ignoring our other harm. They had no disadvantages or other arguments. My 2AR basically consisted of spending a minute or three refuting the neg argument against our weak justification, and spent the entire last two minutes pounding the fact that the other justification went unaddressed and they had no disadvantages. The neg won, and all three ballots had essentially the same thing: “Neg clearly won justification 1, therefore I vote negative.” Even devoting the entire last two minutes of my rebuttal failed to impress our other justification on the judges. This was partly good strategy by the negative (recognizing a weakness and harping on it), and partly a failure to on my part: even though the justification was probably true, we couldn't prove it for sure. By spreading ourselves and associating ourselves with a weaker argument, we lost credibility and the judges lost focus on the strong point of our case. I should have dropped the justification in the 2AR entirely, or better yet, before the round. The moral? Make every justification within your 1AC the strongest point of your case.

Too often I hear something like this: “Harm 1 is billions of people die. According to John Smith in 1999, quote 'billions of people die.' But, if we fixed the status quo through our plan, we'd all live. Moving onto harm 2....” and so on. It's cases like those that really send shivers up my spine. Why? Because it's nothing but the aff speaker reading quotation after quotation. I doubt not that I've written many cases that end up sounding like that, however, upon becoming a judge, I've realized that although I certainly care about evidence, what I really want is analysis. I want you to give me your argument, then use your piles of evidence to give you credibility. One of the best pieces of advice I've ever been given is this: don't let your evidence make your arguments for you.

With that out of the way, remember, this is where you should be spending most of your time; this is where you win the judge with your persuasive argumentation. This is really where you get to prove that your plan is infinitely better than the status quo. A corollary to this is that you should give yourself enough time on each argument you present here to give real impacts. This is not the place to pull your punches. This is where you go all out-- don't just say “we'll convict more guilty people.” Say that “we'll be getting hundreds or even thousands of criminals off the streets, who otherwise would be plaguing businesses, harming families and disrupting society.” Don't just say “jobs will be lost.” Say, “unemployment will increase, driving an increase in violent crime, which will feed on itself and drive more people to jail or into a life of crime, harming families and destroying businesses.” Basically, pull out some legitimately big impacts to your arguments. I'm not necessarily saying that the last line of every harm should be “NUCLEAR WAR,” but some legitimately big impacts would be nice.


Purpose: To show why you believe that your proposed action will lead to your advantages.

There's not much to say here, but I'll talk as much as I can anyway. I saved this for last, but it's really among the first things you should think about. You claim big advantages? Make sure you can prove you solve for them. You claim nuclear war? Make sure your plan does something to reduce that risk. Less obviously, let's talk about how you prove solvency. Now, hopefully your case will be something that the judge looks at the harms, identifies the status quo is the cause, and can automatically connect your plan to the advantages. Hopefully. Sometimes, however, it's not that obvious. So then you should be prepared to present your logic behind it, in full. This is a critical part of your case on which the judge must be convinced, otherwise you risk losing the judge before the 1NC even starts. Even though solvency doesn't give you offense like justifications do, you want to spend as much time as necessary here.

Your solvency should not consist of a card saying “the aff plan will work.” All too often the solvency points are like “yeah, dude, this guy said that this plan will work, so yeah, it must work, dude.” More seriously, give the judge logic. Give the judge an argument to make his own, an argument that the judge will constantly come back to whenever the neg challenges. Don't just name drop: prove your case will work, then give the judge an advocate.

Closing thoughts

Well, I hope you enjoyed it. The one theme that you'll see recurring throughout all of the above sections is that you should go through two stages: think, then prove. First, think about what the purpose of a given section is, and what exactly you want it to do for you. Second, make arguments, don't just read evidence. Give your judge an argument, not a quotation from some dusty old professor.

To go back to the original point at the beginning of the essay: learn to tie your arguments together. The difference between your 1AC now and your final 1AC is the logical connections that you make clear to the judge. Learn to leave subtle hints throughout all of your non-offensive argumentation in your 1AC, so that when you get to your gigantic justifications, the judge is already there with you, and you're simply explaining the “why” to what he or she is thinking.

Finally, “I strongly urge an affirmative ballot” is not effective at anything. We know you're affirmative, and we know you want us to vote affirmative. A simple “thank you” or “Please vote affirmative” is far more impressive. 

As always, you can contact me with any questions or comments at