Research and Write Your Constructives

The first rule of Fight Club  Debate Class is that you have to understand both sides of the debate resolution.  Why?  Because you’re going to debate both sides over the course of this class.  Now we write our constructives – the first speeches of the debates where you lay out your arguments.

Our resolution is:

In a democracy, voting ought to be compulsory.

IN a democracy, voting ought to be compulsory.

Definitions and Developing Your Case

I asked you to get definitions of the key  terms and words in the resolution:

  1. democracy
  2. voting
  3. ought
  4. compulsory.

Get them out now.

Write the resolution on a very large piece of paper or a whiteboard.  (Whiteboards are very useful for this exercise.  Most libraries have meeting rooms with whiteboards where you could do this, or you can simply tape a bunch of pieces of paper together.  Your call – but your assignment today will be to upload a picture of this analysis.)

Near each term, write your definitions.

Be smart and include your source, or plan to keep your definitions.  Some words may need a bit of adjustment – compulsory is based on the word compel, so you might want to define that too.

Now play around with the sentence, writing it down and reading it aloud.

“In a government by the people, choice is expected to be done.”  “In a practice of social equality, one should be forced to indicate an opinion.”  “In a democratic social contract, members must be forced to indicate their preferences.”

By rewording the resolution, you start to see some other options to understand it.  As you refine your definitions in context to each other, you can start to think about the most important idea that needs to be presented in the argument.

What do you think is the most important idea?  How do we judge if our arguments support it?

If you decide that “democracy” means a socially equitable society, then what’s the most important thing?  It’s not freedom.  It’s not justice.  It may be equality.

If a democracy is a government run by the people, the most important idea has to focus either on “government” or on “people” which could split your value between Governmental Authority (or Legitimacy) or Citizenship, which you might call Civil Rights.

Do you see that your definitions create different options for you to debate?  That’s why definitions are always the first thing listed in a debate constructive.

Let’s break down the Affirmative constructive first.

AFF Constructive (AC)

The speech layout for all constructives starts with the value and value criterion (V/VC) framework.  Here you present the most important idea of the round – the value – and how you prove it, accomplish it, or decide why it’s the most important – the value criterion.

The most common value of  LD debate is Justice.



How does justice apply to voting rights?

  1. Civil Liberties
  2. Social Obligation
  3. Governance by the people.

How does justice apply to compulsory actions?

  1. Loss of liberty
  2. Support of government.

Is justice still the ideal value for this case?

If that’s true, what would be better?

  • Welfare of Society
  • Governmental Legitimacy
  • Human Rights
  • Natural Rights
  • Human Dignity.

This is not an exhaustive list. Go take a look at this fantastic source for your resolution.   This blog is published by a local debate coach Jim Kellams.  He’s taken several students to the Ohio state debate tournaments and to Nationals.  This blog has several posts about this resolution.  You will want to take the time to read them.

What do you think is the most important factor in voting?

When you have answers to these questions, then you’re ready to move on to your Value Criterion

Proving Your Value to Your Judge

How does your judge know your value is… well… valuable?  How do we know we are our contentions are related directly to your value?

You are going to provide a “weighing mechanism” which is debate jargon for how the judge decides the better value.

All of these sound complicated, but in the end, they’re all about the Value Criterion.

The Value is an idea:  the Value Criterion is action to achieve it.

Value Criterion

It does sound like the VC pulls a lot of weight in your debate.    That’s true, it’s the key component of your debate constructive.

You can think of your framework this way:

(This is the idea) and (this is how we achieve it.)

  • The idea is  Justice and we achieve it by compelling participation in our government.
  • The idea is Democracy and the best way to get it is to require voter participation.

How is the idea linked to the achievement?

The idea is Justice and we achieve it by compelling participation in our government because justice is the work of the government by the people.

The idea is Democracy and we achieve it by requiring voter participation so that the government does what the people want.

The Key to Your Framework

Do you know what a keystone is?

When building an arch, the builders start on each side, building equally until they reach the top.  Then they place the keystone:  the top element in the arch that balances the weight of the structure against each side.  If one side carries more weight, then the arch falls.

The keystone to your framework is the link between your value and value criterion.  After you write choose your framework, you have to finish it off with the link between the two.

Building the link doesn’t have to be a single sentence.  You can add several links – we’ll call those contentions – to explain your ideas further.

Contention Debate

You start your contentions with “Contention 1.  [Tagline.]”

The tagline is a short description of your contention.  “Contention 1:  Overcomes absenteeism.”

Contentions are the claims you are going to make to support your framework.  Claims have four parts:

  1.  Statement.
  2. Evidence
  3. Warrant
  4. Impact

Statement:  This summary presents your idea to the judge.  It should be very precise and easy to understand.

  • “Compulsory voting overcomes absenteeism.”
  • “Citizens have moral obligation to vote.”
  • “Democracies require citizen participation.”
  • The common people in a society need to express their political will to the government.”

Each of these statements starts with your definitions and links to your framework.

Evidence:  You can’t just make up facts.  Those are called fiction. Or maybe fake news.  Evidence is the real-life examples of the truth of your claim.  For example, you might refer to the many nations in the world that have compulsory voting and how it affects the country.  Or you might show how the lack of citizen participation leads to a small percentage of the population selecting the country’s leadership.

You need facts and you need to cite your source for the information.  This is called a card.  The name of the source is usually the name of the card.  If you’re citing a Washington Post article, you might say it’s the Washington Post card or you might call it by the name of the author.  This practice helps people track your evidence.  You may have many different pieces of evidence – this allows everyone to know which piece you’re discussing or demanding.

Evidence: You’ve probably heard the term warrant before – like a warrant for arrest.  A warrant is the explanation why the information proves the claim.

Sometimes you’re going to have to explain to the judge why your claim is true.  You can say that compelling everyone to vote is good.  Now tell the judge why compelling everyone to act in a specific way is good.

Compulsory voting overcomes absenteeism.  You will see in [this card] that [Country X] began to require voter participation and they saw the number of voters go up so that the country’s government had stronger support by the citizens. When a government has better approval of the citizens, it’s less likely to have internal political struggles, which benefits the citizens’ welfare.

That last sentence is the warrant.  That explanation tells everyone the benefits and why those benefits help the citizens.  Many of the benefits or harms you talk about are warrants for your claim.

The opposite of a benefit is a harm.

Benefits and harms make great points in debate.  Most of the time it’s really how we judge in the world, not just debate.  If something creates a benefit, then it’s perceived as a good thing.  If it is harmful, it’s bad.  Using benefits and harms in your debate contentions is very persuasive.  You want to use these and explain them very clearly in your speeches.  You’ll bring up these points during your rebuttals and you’ll attack the opposition’s benefits or show that their harms are actually benefits.  We call that a turn and it’s a very strong way to rebut your opponent.  When you write your contentions, think about how your contention may be turned against you.


The secret sauce to a debate is the impact statements.  Many debaters don’t bother.  They make claims and give evidence.  Adding warrants builds up a case but when you put in impacts, then you’re smoking!

Impacts are the results of your claims.

Compulsory voting overcomes absenteeism.  You will see in [this card] that [Country X] began to require voter participation and they saw the number of voters go up so that the country’s government had stronger support by the citizens. When a government has better approval of the citizens, it’s less likely to have internal political struggles, which benefits the citizens’ welfare.  The impact of this is that the stabilized government leads to better treatment of the citizens’ human rights.

I don’t think you have to identify your parts of your claim:  “My claim is… the evidence is…” isn’t necessary.  But it’s a great way to complete the contention before you link it back to your framework.

Compulsory voting overcomes absenteeism.  You will see in [this card] that [Country X] began to require voter participation and they saw the number of voters go up so that the country’s government had stronger support by the citizens. When a government has better approval of the citizens, it’s less likely to have internal political struggles, which benefits the citizens’ welfare.  By reducing absenteeism, we see that compulsory voting increases the participation of the citizens in the government, which upholds my value of Democracy.

The AC is 6 minutes long.  That’s not much time to present too many contentions.  It’s better to have 3 strong contentions than to have 5 weak ones (and have to defend them.)

Keep in mind that you don’t have to put out every piece of evidence in your constructive.  You can save it for the rebuttal.  You can’t introduce new contentions in the rebuttals, but you can introduce more evidence to support your points.  We’ll talk about that later.

The End

Finish your speech with “For these reasons, I affirm today’s resolution.  I now stand ready for cross-examination.”


NEG’s Constructive (NC)

The same process for the AFF’s constructive speech, with a few extra twists, produces the NEG’s constructive (NC).

  1. The AFF is strictly limited to supporting the resolution.  How AFF defines the resolutional words might change what you think the debate is about, but she can’t go off topic and start advocating for dogs also to have the vote.  NEG has EVERY OTHER THING in the universe to talk about, as long as it’s firmly related to negating the resolution.  NEG can’t start talking about cats voting because cats can’t be compelled to do anything.  NEG can start talking about how compulsory voting harms liberty, or benefits weak candidates, or will lead to the election of a puppet or Manchurian candidate.
  2. The NC is going to be shorter because the AFF has 6 minutes to put forward a case and NEG has 7 minutes to lay out theirs AND attack AFF’s framework and contentions.  Timing is tight and there are a few tricks, such as accepting the AFF’s definitions unless you need a different one.  If you both are using the same value, then recognize that and don’t debate it again.  “AFF and I agree to the value of Justice, defined as to each his due.  Moving on to my value criterions…” cuts out the stuff you don’t have to address again.
  3. Use your case to attack the AFF.  Sometimes your contentions don’t address the points AFF is trying to make – then attack them on their own merits and how they link to the framework.  But if you’re talking about the same thing (voter rights) then mention it and why your argument is better.  “In AFF’s contention 3 about voter rights, she says [XXX] but as you can see in my contention 1, I prove that wrong with my [title] card evidence.”
  4. Tie up your framework argument quickly.  Don’t try to explain it three ways.  Give one strong explanation with warrants and impacts and move on.

When you’re done with your NEG case, you tell the judge that you’re moving on to attack the AFF’s case.  That’s a critical step for everyone to know that they need to move to the other flow.  Don’t forget it.  It’s like saying “please” or “thank you” – a common courtesy to everyone in the debate round.







Research Links:



Presentation links:

What exactly are warrants? from Debate

Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan: Justice, and the Social Contract