by Beth Skinner


Everyone knows that intelligence is at the heart of debate. After all, debaters are the most intelligent people there are, right? Well, this column is about a different kind of intelligence; the kind that spies look for. I’m talking about strategic information.

So, what kind of information do you need? Think about what will help you to be better prepared and win more rounds. If you know what affirmative case each other team is running, you can sit down and plan out a strategy ahead of time. This will save lots of prep time for the 2NR which is vital for being able to make a strong closing.

When you’re affirmative, it is also important to know what kinds of arguments you’re likely to hear. If you know that Mervo is coming to the tournament and that they have a really strong disad that links to your case, you have time to get answers together before you get there.

Really competitive debaters will take intelligence gathering to the extreme. If you know not only which arguments your opponents run but which ones they tend to go for at the end of the debate, you can plan out your strategy for the whole round. But even if you have better things to do with your time that to keep track of Forest Park’s 2AR arguments, spending a little effort in intelligence gathering can really pay off. So, how do you do it?

There are lots of ways to get the information in the first place. You can keep your flows of debates and write out your opponents’ arguments. You can ask your friends if they heard any good new arguments. You can ask your coaches or judges. You might even trade information with other people.

The most important thing is to keep your information organized. Write things down. Just trying to remember what your case is can be a stress on your brain so you don’t want to permanently injure yourself by trying to remember everyone else’s, too. Lots of debaters keep a notebook where they keep track of arguments. In college, a lot of teams keep argument lists that everyone shares.

However you choose to record your information, remember to bring it to the tournament so that you can benefit from all your hard work. One of the best things about intelligence gathering is that it can make you less nervous. It’s hard to go into debates and feel prepared to answer a lot of brand new arguments. It gives you that queasy feeling in the pit of your stomach. If you know what the arguments are beforehand, even if you don’t have good answers ready, at least you won’t feel so nervous.

You don’t have to have intelligence to be a good debater but we all know that it helps.