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Event Overviews and Resources 4: Lincoln-Douglas Debate (Feat. LD tips from Coach Marcus Viney)

Updated: Jan 12, 2021

Welcome to A Long Winter's Clap: 12 Days of Speech and Debate Event Overviews and Resources. Today we are dealing in the ancient art of Lincoln-Douglas Debate - featuring tips and resources from our old frenemy, Cheyenne East Speech and Debate Coach Marcus Viney. He has ideas for New Year's resolutions that will help you deal with and dominate LD debate resolutions that you will not want to miss!


Lincoln-Douglas Debate was first adopted in the summer of 1980. Lincoln Douglas is a one-on-one values debate that takes about 45 minutes. LD debate resolutions cycle every two months and the topics vary. They can be more classic in nature, like those about free speech or violent revolution, or more culturally current like predictive policing or qualified immunity.

Here is a description straight from the NSDA:

“Lincoln-Douglas Debate typically appeals to individuals who like to debate, but prefer a one-on-one format as opposed to a team or group setting. Additionally, individuals who enjoy LD like exploring questions of how society ought to be. Many people refer to LD Debate as a “values” debate, as questions of morality and justice are commonly examined. Students prepare cases and then engage in an exchange of cross-examinations and rebuttals in an attempt to convince a judge that s/he is the better debater in the round.”

As Cheyenne East Head Coach Marcus Viney points out in his introduction to LD series on One Clap, LD is the place for underdogs and future legends. If you give it a try, you may just discover how powerful you are.

Viney also explains that LDers “learn about the foundations of moral philosophy, why governments exist, and what they’re really not supposed to be doing. Finally, you get to channel Lincoln’s spirit of advocacy. He thought we had not yet become what we promised we would be at the origin of our nation, and urged us all to help with this 'unfinished work.' LD is the place to discover what’s wrong with the world and why it may not fit with our highest values. You can become an advocate for change, and that doesn’t have to end in high school."

There is lot more to know about Lincoln-Douglas debate, and I’ll be linking to loads of great resources for anyone who wants to learn more. Let’s start with some quick helpful tips from Marcus Viney, head coach for the Cheyenne East Speech and Debate Team and evil debate mastermind.


Transcript of Marcus Viney's LD Tips: 'Twas the Night Before the New Resolution

My name is Marcus Viney, head coach at Cheyenne East. As we head into the new year, it’s the perfect time to pause and reflect on ourselves as debaters, and find the courage to create for ourselves a new year’s resolution before, well, the new resolution, which is awesome by the way. Killer robots? To help us on this journey, consider whether the following description applies to you and your habits as a debater: When the new resolution comes out, you pick out some arguments you like on both sides, throw them together into some cases, head to your first round, clash with your opponent, think about some things to say against them during prep, make some voters up on the fly, and hope you get the Ws, all before doing it again, and again, until the next resolution comes out. This is of course one way to go about doing debate, but I’m here to give you a better way. If any of the above description applies to you, you may find the following Lincoln Douglas tips helpful for you on your new year’s journey. To preview, there are four tips: tell a story, make an impact, prep before prep, and begin with the end.

Let’s start with the first tip: Tell a story.

Lincoln Douglas is about arguments, facts, and evidence, yes, but a good Lincoln Douglas case will tell a simple story. A common mistake in case building is picking out a bunch of arguments that sound good and pasting them together in a single document. But just because they’re on the same page together, doesn’t mean they’re on the same page together if you know what I mean. This is like the difference between picking out a handful of puzzle pieces you like from different boxes, and putting them together in colorful and creative collage, versus putting all the pieces from one puzzle box together to form a single clear and coherent picture, which I hope is a basket full of baby pugs. More specifically, what I’m saying is, your value, criterion, and contentions all need to work in harmony to tell the same story, so that your judge understands your argument and is therefore more likely to vote for you. Two quick tips on how to do this. First, on the framework, don’t pick ideas because you think they sound impressive, like the value of international legitimacy with the criterion of Kant’s categorical imperative. These will take you longer to explain than they are worth. Instead pick simpler combos like justice and protecting the most vulnerable. These are easier to understand and you can spend your time warranting out why they’re good and important instead of wasting time having to unpack them conceptually. Next, when you're creating contentions, don’t forget they’re supposed to work within the vision of your framework. If you frame the round with the social contract, but your contentions are about economic considerations, and you never connect the dots, your case doesn't tell a simple story, and you’re asking the judge to do the work for you. This makes judge mad; judge vote for opponent. One way to avoid this is to make sure you actually use the language of the framework in places after the framework appears in your case. By the end of your constructive, you want to have pieced together a simple and coherent picture of why your side of the resolution is right, and if you can’t tell the simple story of your case in a couple of clear sentences, it’s gonna be like that fanny pack you got from your friend; it may look cool, but is it really working for you? Never underestimate the power of clarity and simplicity when building a case.

Let’s move on to the second tip: Make an impact.

In addition to telling a story, you should always make sure that your case culminates in clear and punchy impacts. Reflect for a moment that a resolution asks us whether a change in the status quo is good or bad, and that the easiest way to judge whether a change is good or bad is by looking at the consequences of that change. For this reason, arguments on one side of the resolution or the other should focus on the consequences or impacts of the change. If they don’t, it’s not clear what they’re really doing. We once had a debater on the team, Pops, who often used an expression in round that illustrates this point well. She would say against an argument without an impact that it was “all bark and no bite.” A common mistake in argument construction is finding a good reason or piece of evidence for why something is true, but not taking it the one step further on why it matters. An argument like this may have bark, but just like my pug, it’s never gonna bite. Take the example of saying autonomous weapons like drones should be banned because they result in collateral damage. This argument may well be true, but it doesn’t have any bite until you can explain what collateral damage is and why it’s bad. To fill this in a little, we could add that according to Fang in 2017 nearly 90% of people killed in drone strikes in Afghanistan were not the intended targets, meaning that innocent men, women, and children were killed while going about their daily lives. Thus, the real reason why we should ban these weapons is because they kill innocent people. This impact not only enhances the story of the argument, but allows you to take the debate to the next level, which is impact comparison, something you can’t do without impacts. Duh. Sadly, you’re gonna have to find another podcast episode if you want more depth on impact comparison, but suffice is to say, this level of debate allows you to leave the realm of “their argument is false” and enter the mightier realm of the “even if.” Even if their argument is true, for example, that drones make us moderately safer, this is outweighed by the fact that they kill innocent people. The point here is that, whatever you do, make sure your case has a dog in the fight and that it has some teeth.

This leads us to our third tip: Prep before prep.

One of the most important lessons I’ve learned about debate is that a round is often won or lost before it even begins. This is because arguments on both sides of the resolution are like those cozy socks wrapped up for you by your grandma during the holidays: you know they’re coming. Because grandmas and arguments are predictable, you can plan ahead before the round begins. And once this insight really sinks in, you’ll realize that prep time isn’t for preparing arguments, it’s for organizing arguments that have already been prepared. Really there are two ways that you can prep before prep to improve your debate experience; one is the small picture, and one is the big. With the small picture, you prepare for individual arguments that you know coming. Often debaters will call these “blocks” because they block your opponent’s argument on the flow, but I tend to prefer the term “prebuttal” because it connotes a wider strategy than just reading evidence against your opponent. This can include the kind of prewritten “even if” impact comparisons mentioned in the previous tip, and since you have as much time as you want to write them, you can pack in powerful and emotionally charged language that would be difficult to come up with in the heat of the moment. The best debaters are busy beavers that build an entire dam of prebuttals, but even preparing for the top three or four most common arguments on both sides can dramatically increase your ability to take control of a round. As the famous Jeff Pope says: readers beat talkers. But maybe more important than writing individual prebuttals is the kind of bigger picture prep you can do by contemplating the win-conditions of both sides. A win-condition represents the condition a debater would have to satisfy in order to win the round. For example, on the last topic with the federal jobs guarantee, one could argue that one important win-condition on the affirmative was that they show the federal jobs guarantee will work. After all, why would it be the case that someone should provide batteries, for example, if we knew those batteries didn’t work and couldn’t do any of the things they’re meant to do. A general block or prebuttal, therefore, might be possible against all or most affirmatives. Maybe the negative can show, for instance, that the federal jobs guarantee can’t work because simply handing out jobs can never address the root causes of unemployment, like drug abuse and mental illness, that will remain with or without the guarantee. Being able to prepare this kind of larger block, I think would fit under the old saying of working smarter, not harder. Your grandma would be so proud.

We are now left with the curiously worded final tip: Begin with the end.

When I first entered the world of debate, I thought that closing arguments came at the closing of the debate. What I realize now is that the opposite is true. A good debater will begin with the end and plan backwards from the closing arguments they want to be making at the end of the round, and have those inform every decision they make all the way back to case construction. For this reason, this final tip is kind of like the Santa Clause of the tips where the others are just the helper elves. Santa has the big vision and the elves help put all together. Think of it this way: the closing arguments represent the final opportunity for you to convince the judge to write your name down on the ballot instead of your opponents. This means that you don’t want to be making haphazard or half baked arguments or “voters” you threw together during the final seconds of your prep time. Instead what you want to be doing is planning ahead for the strongest possible arguments you can be making on your side of the resolution at the end of the round and working backwards to design the story, impacts, and rebuttals that will allow you to do this. Truthfully what you want is for you closing arguments to be like the climactic end of a Power Rangers episode where all the best parts morph together to form a massive and mighty Megazord that can heroically pummel your opponent into the ground, and I feel like you don’t even have to know the reference to catch my drift there. To put it more literally, you’re going to want the biggest and most powerful impacts to weigh against your opponent’s, so that no matter what theirs are, you’re always going to outweigh them, and you’re going to want these impacts to flow from a simple and logical story that makes the judge feel like they’re voting on the right side of the resolution. You should be painting your side as the heroic and moral side that undeniably deserves the ballot. When you think of it this way, as the new resolution comes out, you really do want to begin with the end. This may just give you the boost you need in coming months. That’s all for now, but good luck in the new year and with the new resolution. You know, yours and the NSDA’s. Wishing you all the best on your Lincoln Douglas journey!

Thanks so much to Marcus for the gift of these thorough and really quite clever tips for debaters.


You should check out all of Marcus Viney's One Clap Lincoln-Douglas catalog if you haven't already. He has put together an amazing 10-episode introduction to LD (with activities & resources for each episode) and two great LD topic analysis episodes (with loads of puns and bad jokes) in previous episodes of One Clap. They are all linked here:

Rock On! Debate: '21 Jan/Feb LD Topic Analysis, Framework, & Aff/Neg Arguments w/ Coach Marcus Viney

Rock On! Debate: '20 Nov/Dec LD Topic Analysis, Framework, & Aff/Neg Arguments with Coach Marcus Viney

The Intro to Lincoln-Douglas Rock-On! Debate Series w/ Coach Marcus Viney is Here and It is Glorious (all 10 episodes are linked in this post)

Rock On! Debate LD #1: What is LD with Coach Marcus Viney

Rock On! Debate LD #2: Getting Started in LD with Coach Marcus Viney

Rock On! Debate LD #3: Getting Better in LD With Coach Marcus Viney

Rock On! Debate LD #4: Making Arguments in LD with Coach Marcus Viney

Rock On! Debate LD #5: Asking Questions in LD with Coach Marcus Viney

Rock On! Debate LD #6: Attacking Arguments in LD with Coach Marcus Viney

Rock On! Debate LD #7: Building LD Cases with Coach Marcus Viney

Rock On! Debate LD #8: First Round LD Toolbox with Coach Marcus Viney

Rock On! Debate LD #9: The Bigger Picture in LD With Coach Marcus Viney

Rock On! Debate #10: The LD Exercise Episode with Coach Marcus Viney


If you have any ideas for the podcast or would like to help out with content here at One Clap Speech and Debate, send me a message on the website or an email ( As the Speech and Debate season hits its stride, I have less time to create content for the podcast and the website. But, I'll continue to do my best to get usable, inspirational, and helpful content out there.

Be sure to subscribe, rate, and review the One Clap Podcast wherever you listen! Watch for new episodes of One Clap, Rock On! Debate, Coach Connection, and Speech Love!


More links to helpful resources for Lincoln-Douglas Debate:

NSDA Competition Guide:

Marcus Viney's Debate Website:

The Debate Clinic Podcast:

Debate Resources Video from the 2020 Wyoming Coaches Conference, Presented by Marcus Viney, Matt Liu, and Mack Kramer:

Mack Kramer's Debate Resource Compendium:

Wyoming Debate Roundup:

Lawrence Zhou's LD Topic Overview (Jan/Feb 2021):

Introduction to LD from NSDA:

Some Judging Guidelines for LD from University Interscholastic League

Lincoln-Douglas Debate Textbook by Dr. Seth Halvorson & Cherian Koshy

What to expect in LD from a Student's Perspective from NSDA:

LD Resources from Judge Training:

Important LD Terms from Debate Central:

LD Resources from

Introduction to Lincoln-Douglas Debate by Seth Halvorson and Cherian Koshy

Sample LD Ballot from NSDA:


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