How to research an affirmative case

Researching your own aff is an incredibly fun part of debate, but if you don’t know what to look for, it can also be very time consuming and difficult. With ODEF’s easy guide to researching an affirmative case, you can limit your frustration and maximize your time spent creating winning arguments!

First, find out what topical cases interest you!

Limit your possible topics to a list of things that interest you. They can be from your own imagination, from articles you’ve read, or things you’ve learned about in class. You want to make sure

1) they’re defensible- think about what your opponents would say. Does your idea fit under the topic? Is it totally unfeasible in the near future? Does it cause problems that you don’t want to have to argue about?

2) it’s interesting and has lots of literature about it. If you get bored reading one article about your case, that’s not a good sign. If you can only find one crazy ranting blog post that supports your idea, also not a feasible topic.

For our purposes, let’s look at the novice case list for Oregon CX:

1. Planetary defense: The plan would propose to improve the system for spotting and/or deflecting near‐Earth objects.
2. Space‐based solar power satellites: The plan would propose to solve global warming and peak oil issues by building space‐based solar satellites.
3. Ballistic Missile Defense: The plan would build a space‐tier in the U.S. missile defense system in order to protect the American people and/or allies from missile attack.
4. Moon mining: The plan would reverse the Obama administration’s decision to de‐emphasize the Moon in NASA’s exploration plans; advantages could be restoring U.S. leadership in space or gaining energy and other resources from mining the Moon.

Let’s say you think Moon Mining is a bad idea because it could cause a space race with China, and you think Solar Power Satellites is boring because everyone is running it.

Planetary defense

Space‐based solar power satellites

Ballistic Missile Defense

Moon mining

Second, do a little initial digging on the topic

You need to find out a couple things about what is going on in your topic.

Dig up some info on your affirmative case, which usually needs a couple things:


Inherency is the idea that your plan hasn’t happened yet, is not happening, and won’t happen if things continue as they do. Do both a google search and a google news search (which is on the top bar when you go to google) on your topic. If Congress passed a bill to do your plan today, your plan is not inherent.

Why is this important? If your plan has already happened, or if people generally agree it’s going to happen about it, it messes up everything else in the debate. How do you argue disadvantages if your plan has already happened? How can you prove that your plan should happen when it already has? The debate quickly becomes about what is happening, not what should happen.


Next, find some articles about why your plan would be a good idea. What evidence can you find for advantages? Also include arguments that can be made against your plan: it will help guide your research, and also help you predict what your opponents say against you. Start with a search engine and see where it leads you.

From a basic google search, here’s what I was able to come up with on our remaining subjects (all on the first page of results):

“Space Based Missile Defense” google search-

  1. Space-based missile defense and the psychology of warfare very interesting article about how space missile defense would stop anyone thinking about doing a spectacular attack, such as with nuclear weapons.
  2. Deterrence and Space-Based Missile Defense – good background on the strategic value of Missile Defense for the US.
  3. fact sheet: Space Based Missile Defense – very good Union of Concerned Scientists article about why SBMD would be extraordinarily expensive, ineffective, and would make other countries think we’re putting offensive weapons in space.
  4. Russia Proposes UN-Led Missile, Space Defense, Kommersant Says – hmm, maybe Russia would support the plan? Or maybe they’d be angry because the US is going it alone.

“Asteroid Defense” and “Near Earth Object Deflection” google searches –

  1. Planetary Defense: Near-Earth Object Deflection Strategies – Explains how the risk of Asteroids colliding with earth could create an extinction level event, and what humans could do about it.
  2. An Elegant Proposal for Near Earth Asteroid Deflection – An interesting article arguing that solar sails could be used to deflect asteroids.
  3. To Deflect Killer Asteroids, Humanity Must Work Together – Explains that the primary problem to defending the earth from asteroids could be very earthly concerns like national borders.
  4. Saving Earth From an Asteroid Will Take Diplomats, Not Heroes – disagreement about which way to take asteroids could hinder the international response.

You could also (gasp) visit your local library to see if they have any interesting books on the subject. As you can see, you should be able to pretty easily get a couple ideas for what possible advantages, disadvantages, and plans could be.

If you’re a visual person, you can create a diagram or an outline to help you see what you think good ideas for the topic are.

Space Missile Defense

Let’s say that you’ve searched and searched but just can’t find evidence that answers the fact that missile defense costs a bajillion dollars the government doesn’t have. By contrast, Asteroid deflection seems like a cool, defensible case to you from your diagram. We’ll practice setting up parts of the 1ac with Asteroid Deflection as our model.

Third, try to put together the 1AC

Now you should try to fit your evidence pieces together to make a defensible position.

A note on the Role of Evidence in the 1AC: One thing we noticed at ODEF’s first tournament is that a lot of 1ACs were elaborating on what their cited evidence “meant” by putting the evidence in their own words. This meant that many speakers ran out of time before they could read too many actual pieces of evidence. Elaboration is certainly not a bad thing, but unlike LD or Public Forum debate, the first speech is usually almost all cited evidence. This is because in policy you have three more speeches and several cross-examination periods to elaborate on what your evidence means, so you usually want to emphasize that your position is well backed by evidence from experts first.

1AC Setup

There are infinite ways to set up a 1ac. Here is one way that is used by people from beginning to expert debaters.

Contention 1: Inherency

Contention 2: Plan Text

Contention 3: Advantages

  • Advantage 1
  1. Harms
  2. Solvency
  3. Impact
  • Advantage 2
  1. Harms
  2. Solvency
  3. Impact

Contention 4: Solvency

Let’s cover each a bit more in depth:


Mentioned before, this is usually just one piece of evidence that describes how your plan is not happening now. In the case of asteroid deflection, it would probably have a tagline like:

The earth will inevitably be struck by an asteroid, but the world has no system for surveillance or defense against near earth objects


NASA has not received funding for asteroid deflection or detection

with clearly cited evidence to back it up. This should not be a long part of the 1AC.

Plan Text

Here you should have a clear and concise statement of the policy you are defending.

In this case it might be:

Plan: The United States Federal Government should fund and develop a telescope array to detect incoming near earth objects.


Plan: The United States Federal Government should develop solar sail systems of asteroid deflection.

You’re not allowed to shift out of this plan later in the debate, so spend some time getting the wording exactly right. People have lost debates because their plan text did not include a comma, or because they referenced the wrong technology.

Unlike everything else in the 1ac, the plan text is not a piece of evidence. It will just be a sentence like one of the two above. Also, it is generally unacceptable to read two plans; you have to choose one and defend it throughout the debate.

Nathan Highsmith of North Bend brought up a great question a couple weeks ago when he asked why the affirmative couldn’t defend all the case areas under the topic. After all, the resolution is to increase exploration and development in outer space, and doing all those different cases would increase exploration and development a ton. However, it’s almost always better for the affirmative to choose just one option for a couple reasons.

First, if the affirmative chooses something less than the entire topic, then the negative can’t use all of their negative evidence. If the negative has a bunch of good arguments against solar power satellites, but the affirmative chooses to defend Moon mining, that’s just too bad for the negative. Also, with only eight minute speeches you’ll really want to develop your point, and won’t be able to go in depth on everything about space policy. The ability of the affirmative to select one policy under the whole topic is called parametrics.


Each advantage should tell a story about why your plan is a good idea. Judges are supposed to evaluate your arguments equally with your opponents’, so in order to come out on top, you should guide them step by step through the logic of your argument. An easy way to do that is through the Harms – Solvency – Impact format.

Harms describes what is going on now in the world that presents a problem. What fact, if left unchecked, will lead to a much larger problem (the impact) down the road?

Solvency describes how your affirmative solves for the Harms. It should make arguments about how the plan you defend is a logical and feasible way to prevent this harm getting out of control.

Impacts explain what the outcome will be if your plan is not passed. This goes beyond harms, because it has to explain your prediction for the future, and tries to measure the “badness” or “goodness” of what will happen after the plan passes. Affirmatives try to claim big impacts for their case, so they can use it to argue about the relative value of their plan versus the negative’s disadvantages.

Let’s go through an example advantage from our Asteroid Deflection case (the evidence is very clearly fake, which is not acceptable for anything beyond a demonstration):

Advantage 1: Asteroid Impact

A. The Harms – Current asteroid detection is inadequate to prevent a collision with Earth. It’s not a question of if, but when.

Fields 2011 (Henry, Professor of physics at University of nowhere, “We’re all doomed,” Non-news journal, April 16,2011)

And then you would describe why the Earth is doomed from an Asteroid impact. You can choose which parts of the card to highlight, and should choose parts that clearly support your case. They might say things like NASA is unprepared to spot or deflect an asteroid, which will make it inevitable in the long term that they hit us. A similar collision caused the extinction of the dinosaurs, many scientists agree.

B. Solvency – the plan is necessary to spot and defend against asteroids. We can’t even estimate the risk until we get adequate detection and defense

Mosley 2011 (Rachel, Prof. of Public Policy at Shrewsburytown College of Dance, “Why we may not be doomed,” Shrewsbury post, April 17, 2011)

If the card doesn’t say what you want, you definitely don’t want to try to solve that problem by selectively highlighting the right words. For example, an author might write that “Asteroid detection is not very likely to work“, and highlighting everything but the “not” would be silly and unethical. Make sure that your evidence is concise: you do not want to cite a piece of evidence that goes on and on about something that doesn’t matter. Cards that have a strong claim in the tagline but not the evidence to support it are referred to as “power-tagged”. Big no-no.

C. Impact – Extinction of humans and most species on Earth will occur when a large enough asteroid hits the earth. This impact should be weighed above other arguments in the debate, because extinction is irreversible.

Einstein 2010 (Albert, no qualifications, Theory of relativity: an absolute idiot’s guide p, 133-134)

You get the picture. The evidence could be as long as several pages, or as short as a couple sentences. As long as it supports your point, it’s fair game, but you also want to make sure your author is qualified to speak on the topic you present.

That would be a bare-bones example of an advantage. It can include several pieces of evidence on one point, or sometimes a long piece of evidence that comprises both solvency and impact or something like that.

You usually want two advantages to give your affirmative flexibility. If the negative has very in-depth answers to one of your advantages, you want to be able to use the other as a backup.


Sometimes it’s advantageous to have a separate contention for solvency. You might want to prove something general about the plan, like the fact that it could happen today if the government funded it, that doesn’t fit under your advantages.

Other people like to use a solvency contention to start answering the negative’s arguments before they make them. For example, if you know that the negative is going to bring up that your plan costs a lot, you could read evidence saying your plan would be relatively cheap, making the 2ac’s job a lot easier.

Once you’ve assembled those elements, you’ve got the basis for your affirmative. Couple hints when researching:

1. Make sure you stay organized. Keep track of sites and books you think will be helpful by writing them down in a journal. Some people use their phone to take notes on authors or articles that will be helpful.

2. Check out other parts of this website for research help and guidance. We’ll be posting more about research soon!


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