Topicality (policy debate)

Last updated

Topicality is a stock issue in policy debate which pertains to whether or not the plan affirms the resolution as worded. [1] To contest the topicality of the affirmative, the negative interprets a word or words in the resolution and argues that the affirmative does not meet that definition, that the interpretation is preferable, and that non-topicality should be a voting issue.


Structure of Negative's Argument

An argument against Affirmative's topicality, when presented in the 1NC, is generally as follows: [2] [3]

Commonly asserted standards / reasons to prefer

Nebel T

Nebel T is an argument regarding generic nouns such as generic bare plurals. There are two interpretations of the resolution: semantic and pragmatic. An argument is semantic if it appeals to what the resolution means. An argument is pragmatic if it appeals to the benefits of interpreting the resolution in some way.

This argument was proposed by Jake Nebel, an assistant professor of philosophy at University of Southern California, with degrees from New York University, Oxford University, and Princeton University. Nebel T has experienced a surge in popularity and is commonly used by Lincoln-Douglas debaters on the national circuit. [4]

Predictable limits

Limits are a measure of how many cases would be topical under a given interpretation of the topic and whether that cleavage of cases is predictable. Teams will often debate the desirability of having a small or large number of topical cases.


Ground is a measure of the quantity and quality of arguments and literature available to both teams under a certain interpretation of the topic. Teams will often debate the desirability of incorporating or excluding certain arguments.


Brightline (sometimes called precision) is a measure of how clear the division is between topical and non-topical cases under a certain interpretation.


Grammar is a measure of how grammatically correct an interpretation is. Some teams argue that grammar is key to the acceptability of an interpretation.


An Education standard asserts that the negative's interpretation of the resolution focuses the debate down to the most important area(s) for learning. This involves explaining why the topics and discussions preserved by the negative's interpretation are more important to the affirmative case and cases under the counterinterpretation.

Effects (FX) Topicality

Effects topicality alleges that the Affirmative team is not topical in its direct plan, resolution or intent, but only arrives at alleviating the Harms introduced by the Affirmative team typically associated with the topic through a variety of internal links. An example might be a case under a topic about limiting the use or stockpiling of weapons of mass destruction that declares war on North Korea or Iran. The Negative team would argue that such a case would only possibly be topical if it could be proven beyond a doubt not only that Iran or North Korea had weapons of mass destruction but also if such a war did not increase global proliferation pressures or involve the eventual use of weapons of mass destruction or did not lead to looting of such stockpiles, all very tendentious assumptions.

Negative teams will typically argue that such plans drastically abuse the resolution (i.e. allow too wide of a variety of cases to be run). Any case or plan could fall under the topic if enough causal links are allowed, and in raising a Topicality dispute, the Negative team states topicality should be decided based on a strict reading of the Affirmative plan (whether or not it takes the stock issue of solvency into account). Affirmative teams will either argue that they are not effectual, that the plan's mandate directly falls under the rubric of the topic (though they may continue to claim remote advantages not typically associated with topical cases), or that effects topicality is acceptable.


Extra-topicality is sometimes run in conjunction with FX, sometimes separately. The argument is that the Affirmative plan includes "planks" or components that are not topical. For example, a plan under an energy-conservation topic might both sign the Kyoto Protocol and increase general science funding across the board, obviously including energy conservation. Such a plan might then argue for environmental, economic or military benefits separate from anything having to do with energy conservation. A Negative team would argue that this would be extra-topical because the plan is acting in areas that are outside the boundaries of the resolution (therefore, "extra"-topicality). Either seriously or as an example, sometimes Negatives running against FX and Extra cases will run counterplans that they argue would be the truly topical version of the Affirmative plan: For example, the Negative in the above case could run a counterplan wherein they only sign Kyoto. Negative teams will argue that the whole plan's mandate must be topical, as otherwise every Affirmative could run a different permutation of topical and non-topical components and make the topic literally unlimited. Affirmative teams will either argue that extra-topicality is legitimate or, much more frequently, that all components of their plan are in fact topical. A plan can arguably be extra-topical, not topical and FX-topical all at once: Its arguably topical plank may both not be topical no matter the causal links and rely on causal links to get to its arguable topicality, as well as having non-topical planks.

Commonly asserted voting issues

Competing Interpretations

Under the competing interpretations framework, if the negative presents a better interpretation than the affirmative's (which the affirmative does not meet), the negative wins. In other words, the affirmative's burden is to meet the best interpretation in the round. The usual affirmative answer is "reasonability", that is, that if the affirmative meets a good definition of the topic, the affirmative wins the debate, even if it isn't the best definition of the topic. In other words, the affirmative's burden is to meet some interpretation in the round that is sufficiently good.


Some teams argue that it is unfair for the negative to have to debate a non-topical case and thus the judge should vote against one. This voting issue is sometimes referred to as "competitive equity."


Some Negative teams argue that non-topical cases decrease the educational factor of a round. This is true. However, it should not constitute a real argument in and of itself; simply because the Affirmative team's plan is not the best provides no reason for the judge to vote against the Affirmative team.


Some teams argue that the judge only has the jurisdiction to vote for cases which affirm the resolution. This justification has largely fallen out of favor in collegiate debate after the 2001-2002 Native Americans topic led to large numbers of kritiks about how it was the issue and mindset of jurisdiction that destroyed Native American culture.

Affirmative answers to Topicality

Affirmatives can deploy a variety of answers to topicality violations in the 2AC. They can be generally categorized as follows:

Related Research Articles

Chewbacca defense Nonsensical legal defense strategy

In a jury trial, a Chewbacca defense is a legal strategy in which a criminal defense lawyer tries to confuse the jury rather than refute the case of the prosecutor. It is an intentional distraction or obfuscation.


Debate is a process that involves formal discussion on a particular topic. In a debate, opposing arguments are put forward to argue for opposing viewpoints. Debate occurs in public meetings, academic institutions, and legislative assemblies. It is a formal type of discussion, often with a moderator and an audience, in addition to the debate participants.

Lincoln–Douglas debate is a type of one-on-one competitive debate practiced mainly in the United States at the high school level. It is sometimes also called values debate because the format traditionally places a heavy emphasis on logic, ethical values, and philosophy. The Lincoln–Douglas debate format is named for the 1858 Lincoln–Douglas debates between Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas, because their debates focused on slavery and the morals, values, and logic behind it. LD Debates are used by the National Speech and Debate Association, or NSDA competitions, and also widely used in related debate leagues such as the National Christian Forensics and Communication Association, the National Catholic Forensic League, the National Educational Debate Association, the Texas University Interscholastic League, Texas Forensic Association, Stoa USA and their affiliated regional organizations. The vast majority of tournaments use the current NSDA resolution.

Policy debate is a form of debate competition in which teams of two advocate for and against a resolution that typically calls for policy change by the United States federal government. It is also referred to as cross-examination debate because of the 3-minute questioning period following each constructive speech. Evidence presentation is a crucial part of Policy Debate; however, ethical arguments also play a major role in deciding the outcome of the round. The main argument being debated during a round of Cross Examination is which team has a greater impact. This factor alone can decide the winner of a round. Whichever team can prove the greater impact is likely to win the round. When a team explains why their impacts are "greater" than the opposition's impacts, they utilize the concept of "impact calculus." One team’s job is to argue that the resolution— the statement that we should make some specific change to address a national or international problem —is a good idea. Affirmative teams generally present a plan as a proposal for implementation of the resolution. On the other hand, the Negative teams present arguments against the implementation of the resolution. In a single round of debate competition, each person gives two speeches. The first speech each person gives is called a “constructive” speech, because it is the speech where each person constructs the basic arguments they will make throughout the debate. The second speech is called a “rebuttal”, because this is the speech were each person tries to rebut the arguments made by the other team, while using their own arguments to try to convince the judge to vote for their team. The Affirmative has to convince the judge to vote for a change, while the Negative has to convince the judge that the status quo is better than the hypothetical world in which the Affirmative's plan is implemented.

The American Parliamentary Debate Association (APDA) is the oldest intercollegiate parliamentary debating association in the United States. APDA sponsors over 50 tournaments a year, all in a parliamentary format, as well as a national championship in late April. It also administers the North American Debating Championship with the Canadian University Society for Intercollegiate Debate (CUSID) every year in January. Although it is mainly funded by its member universities, APDA is an entirely student-run organization.

Topics is a book by Aristotle. From then on,topic, topics, TOPIC, topical, topicality or Topix may refer to:

Public Forum debate is a type of current events debate which is a widespread form of high school debate in the U.S. Individuals give short speeches that are interspersed with 3 minute "Crossfire" sections, questions and answers between opposed debaters. The winner is determined by a judge who also serves as a referee. The debate centers around advocating or rejecting a position, "resolve", or "resolution", which is usually a proposal of a potential solution to a current events issue. Public Forum is designed to be accessible to the average citizen.

Parliamentary debate is an academic debate event. Many university-level institutions in English-speaking nations sponsor parliamentary debate teams. In addition the format is currently spreading to the high school level. Despite the name, the parli is not related to debate in governmental parliaments beyond formal speaker titles such as "Opposition Leader" and "Prime Minister".

A counterplan is a component of debate theory commonly employed in the activity of parliamentary and policy debate. While some conceptions of debate theory require the negative position in a debate to defend the status quo against an affirmative position or plan, a counterplan allows the negative to defend a separate plan or an advocacy. It also allows the affirmative to run disadvantages against the negative.

In policy debate, a disadvantage is an argument that a team brings up against a policy action that is being considered. A disadvantage is also used in Lincoln Douglas Debate.

In policy debate, Lincoln-Douglas debate, and public forum debate, the flow is the name given to a specialized form of notetaking or shorthand, which debaters use to keep track of all of the arguments in the round.

In all forms of policy debate, the order of speeches is as follows:

In the formal speech competition genre known as policy debate, a widely accepted doctrine or "debate theory" divides the argument elements of supporting the resolution affirmative into five subtopical issues, called the stock issues. Stock issues are sometime referred to as on-case arguments or simply on-case or case arguments as opposed off-case arguments.

Inter-collegiate policy debate is a form of speech competition involving two teams of two debaters from different colleges or universities based on a resolution phrased as something the United States federal government "should" do. Policy debate also exists as a high school activity, with a very similar format, but different leagues, tournaments, speech times, resolutions, and styles.

In debate, which is a form of argument competition, a case, sometimes known as plan, is a textual advocacy presented, in form of speech, by the Pro team as a normative or "should" statement; it is generally presented in the First Pro Constructive (1AC). A case will often include either the resolution or a rephrasing of it.

Australia-Asia Debate, sometimes referred to as "Australasian Debating" or "Australs Style", is a form of academic debate. In the past few years, this style of debating has increased in usage dramatically throughout both Australia and the Asian region, but in the case of Asian countries including Singapore, Malaysia, and the Philippines, the format is also used alongside the British Parliamentary Format. The context in which the Australia-Asia style of debate is used varies, but it is commonly used in Australia at the primary and secondary school level, ranging from small informal one-off intra-school debates to larger more formal inter-school competitions with several rounds and a finals series which occur over a year. It is also commonly used at university level.

A Value Premise is a component of high school Lincoln-Douglas Debate case structure. The value is usually a statement which one side is attempting to achieve throughout the debate. In general, the side that best upholds his or her value premise, which was adequately defended, wins the debate. The value premise is sometimes referred to as the "value" or simply "vp". The value premise is not to be confused with the value criterion, which is the specific means of achieving the value premise.

Public debate may mean simply debating by the public, or in public. The term is also used for a particular formal style of debate in a competitive or educational context. Two teams of two compete through six rounds of argument, giving persuasive speeches on a particular topic.

A squirrel is a term in debating jargon, particularly in parliamentary debate, that indicates a definition from the side of the opening speaker that makes it too easy for his or her side. The first speaker in a debate, who is defending the motion or proposition, generally has to define the terms used in the motion. When this definition is done in an unexpected way, it can favour the opening side, because that side had been able to prepare for the particular interpretation in the preparation time. For example, if the motion read "This House Would dissolve the police", it would be a squirrel to refer to the band The Police instead of the police. Another squirrel in this case, that helps the opening side by making the debate generally easier for them, is to add unreasonable exceptions to the motion. For example, defending "dissolving the police" except in cases where it has to "uphold the law" is rather easy.

This is a glossary of policy debate terms.


  1. Prager, John. "Introduction to Policy Debate, Chapter 11" . Retrieved 7 April 2012.
  2. Brokos, Andrew; Tucker, Eric; Lynn, Les (2007). Policy Debate: An Introduction for Urban Debate League Students and Coaches (PDF). Chicago, Illinois: National Association For Urban Debate Leagues. pp. 60–63. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2017-12-14. Retrieved 4 January 2020.
  3. Bellon, Joe (2008). The Policy Debate Manual: A comprehensive introduction to the theory and practice of competitive debate (2.1 ed.). Atlanta, GA: National Debate Project. pp. 41–42. Retrieved 4 January 2020.