So, you want to make LD arguments, do you? Well, strap in. Have we got help for you!
My name is Marcus Viney, Head Coach of Cheyenne East, and this is, Episode 4: Making Arguments!
In this episode, we’re going to focus on one of the basic elements of debate: making arguments. In essence, an argument is a chunk of reasoning put forward to prove a point. Arguments in LD will take many forms, but today we’re going to look at a few simple patterns. At the most basic level, arguments have three parts: claim, warrant, and impact. A claim is a statement you want to prove, the warrant is the reason why it’s true, and the impact is the reason why it matters or why the judge should care. Let’s look at an example. Let’s say I want to make a claim that “dogs are gross.” If I want to provide a warrant for that claim, I could say that dogs drink from the toilet, and I could explain further that most dogs are the perfect height to drink from a bowl and for some reason, they seem to find the water cool and refreshing (luckily I have a stout pug so this isn’t a problem for me). Now we just need one last part—the impact, which might sound something like this: the reason why this matters is that dogs lick your face and toilet water is full of harmful bacteria that could make you sick. See? Gross.
As a beginning debater, if you can get in the habit of using these three parts—claim, warrant, and impact—when you’re making arguments, you’ll be in a much better position to persuade judges and win more rounds (notice I just made another argument). In a debate case, a pre-written argument will have the same parts, but will take on a more formal structure, the simplest being: contention, card, and analysis. A contention is a claim used to support your side of the resolution, a “card” is a block of evidence from a source used to prove the contention, and the analysis is a chunk of writing that explains why the judge should care. A quick note about the word “card.” Before computers, debaters had to cut evidence, literally, from magazines or newspapers and glue them onto index cards. We’ve updated the process, but the concept and name remains the same.
There’s one last pattern of arguments we should discuss. Because resolutions often ask us about a change in the “status quo,” or the way things are, some of the best arguments are those that explain the outcomes of making that change and why those outcomes are a good or bad thing. Put more simply, good arguments tell a cause-and-effect story, and this story has two basic parts: link and impact. More advanced debaters will recognize that this is an oversimplification, but for getting into the basics of debate, “link and impact” can be super helpful. The link is the connection between the change of the resolution and some outcome, and the impact is the reason why that outcome is good or bad. Let’s try an example. Consider the resolution: Schools should ban energy drinks. This is a classic change in the status quo (assuming your school currently allows energy drinks). If I wanted to negate this resolution, I could argue that banning energy drinks will cause anger in the student body and that this anger is bad because it leads to things like tardiness and lower grades. My link story connects the school ban with the outcome of student anger, and my impact story explains why student anger is a bad thing. On the other side, if I wanted to affirm the resolution, I could argue that banning energy drinks will lead to students making healthier choices on a daily basis, like coffee or juice, which is good because that will lead to healthier, life-long habits. Notice that both of the arguments have the cause-and-effect, or link-and-impact, pattern. Some of you are probably already wanting to question or attack these particular arguments for some weakness you sense in them, but let’s leave that for the next two episodes.
For now, there are a few activities that will help boost and solidify your ability to make arguments. The first is “Fill in the Blank,” an exercise where you explore arguments with missing parts. Your job is to discover which missing part, whether it’s the claim, warrant, or impact, and fill in what you think would be most logical or persuasive. The handout for this episode contains several examples, but if you need more, creating your own is an excellent exercise in itself. Another activity is “Forging a Full Argument.” Here your job is to pick a resolution from the list and create a full argument for or against it, in the form of contention, card, and analysis. If you need some help, there’s an example on the handout with some guidance on creating a simple card. Finally, you can try “30 Second Improvement,” an activity that increases the difficulty of the 30-second exercises from before. The new rule is that you have to provide at least two arguments that clearly use the claim-warrant-impact structure, and for an extra challenge, you can focus on the underlying pattern of a link-and-impact story. Argue about the good or bad things that will happen if we accept the change of the resolution. The handout includes a few examples and various sentence starters that can help you organize your ideas. That should be plenty for now; we’ll talk to you next time!