How to research a disadvantage – Part one: intro to DAs

In preparation for our January tournament, here’s a brief post a series of four posts on the basics of researching and debating a disadvantage.

Part one: Intro to disadvantages

Part two: Uniqueness research

Part three: Link research

Part four: Impact research

Intro to disadvantages:

Disadvantages (or disads, or DAs) are a negative’s bread and butter. They are the most common type of negative argument, and before you get too far into your debate career, you probably ought to have a couple in your arsenal that you know backward and forward, almost like your affirmative.

Today we are going to discuss a specific brand of disadvantage: a generic disadvantage. These types of disadvantages, as the name implies, have a wide applicability, in order to cut down on the uncertainty of the affirmative’s plan. More specific disadvantages are often preferable, but it’s best to learn from a general standpoint to get the basics down. Today, we’ll be discussing these issues from an example called a “Spending Disadvantage” the general thesis of which is that the affirmative plan spends so much money that it will tank the economy.

Three words are vital in the word of the disadvantage: Uniqueness, Link, and Impact. Try to think in these terms when talking about a disadvantage. These three are the pieces you need to build the structure or “shell” of the DA.

Uniqueness – a term that was grabbed by debaters from formal logic/mathematics, uniqueness is the hardest of DA terms to understand for beginners because it’s not something you usually use in day-to-day arguments. Usually the first argument in a disadvantage, uniqueness is a description of the world as it currently exists (AKA the status quo) that proves that your disadvantage is NOT going to happen now.

Let’s apply this idea to our Spending DA. In this example, you need to prove why the government is NOT spending too much money right now, before the plan happens. This seems odd at first (why wouldn’t I want to say that the government is spending money wildly and the plan is going to make a bad thing worse?) but remember that the negative is trying to argue that the affirmative’s plan is unnecessary; that is, you want to get the judge to think that the world as it exists right now is pretty nice. If we’re on solid ground right now, you don’t want to let the affirmative plan to let spending spiral out of control.

Uniqueness is fundamentally a logic argument: if things are alright now, they can only get worse (by doing the plan, the negative will likely argue), and if things are already bad now, they can only get better (by doing the plan, the affirmative will likely argue). This is a difficult concept, but one that is vital for good debaters to understand. We’ll have more examples of uniqueness in the research part of this post.

Link – the second piece of evidence in the DA shell is the link, which proves what part the plan will cause the disadvantage to happen. This is pretty straightforward: what does the affirmative do to connect or “link” them to the problem you outline? In our spending example, you have to read a reason why the affirmative is going to cost so much money that the government won’t be able to afford it.

Do I have to read a piece of evidence to prove this argument? I hear this question a lot. It’s a no-brainer, for example, that sending a team of humans to colonize mars is going to cost more money than you could shake a stick at. However, the answer is yes you SHOULD read evidence, even when the link may be obvious. You always want to be as specific as possible, because that allows you to pin the affirmative down on the point. As you may imagine, many debates about spending talk about whether the plan will really cost all THAT much. You want to make sure you have some evidence to back you up on this point, so you don’t sound like you’re guessing.

Also note that before we get to the impact, there’s often but not always several links in the logic chain of disadvantages called internal links. This is basically any step between the direct link to the plan and the impact of the DA.

Impact – the final piece of evidence in the shell is the impact. What is the outcome of the disadvantage happening, and why should the judge care? This should be a high quality piece of evidence, because it is predicting what the end of your story is going to be.

In our spending example this could be an argument about the federal government spending beyond its means. If the government does not reduce the amount of money it spends, that means that people will lose confidence in the government’s ability to manage its debt. This could cause investors to stop buying US debt, making the US unable to pay for the money it has already taken out, and collapsing the economy as the US has to declare that it cannot pay the money it has borrowed. As a result, billions of people who depend on the US economy suffer in poverty.

You want to make sure that you terminalize the impact: that is, explain what the horrible outcome of the disadvantage would be. Policy often gets a (sometimes fair) rap of saying that the slightest change will lead to nuclear war. Make sure you explain to the judge why to prefer your argument instead of leaving it dangling. “A new great depression caused by an economic downturn would cause millions to die of starvation” is a far better argument than “and we all know that the plan would be bad for the economy, and the economy is very important.” The first statement tells you what will happen, whereas the second leaves the judge guessing.

Hopefully these parts fit together like a story:

1. Once upon a time, the world was perfect and idyllic. The federal government was under pressure to stop spending, and countries knew that they had to get their finances in order.

2. Then one day the big bad plan came along. He played a little song on his flute and the government followed along blindly. The plan spent all the government’s money, and soon the government was spending wildly without realizing what it was doing.

3. The investors in the government got very scared that spending would never stop, so they took their money some place they thought would be safer.

4. Now the US is penniless and alone, and the world is suffering a new great depression as a result. Countries are angry at the US for spending so much that they ruined the fragile world economy. If only they had listened to the negative team…

Simplistic? Yes. But it helps to think about disadvantages this way, both in round and while researching. You are a storyteller, and missing a single step will make for a totally bungled story.


Disadvantages are much easier to research than a whole affirmative. Whereas most affs are a team research affair, usually DAs can be researched by a single motivated and experienced debater.

Step one: find your topic

If you’re thinking about generic disadvantages, you want to think about why you think the topic is a bad idea.

The topic: Resolved: The United States federal government should substantially increase its exploration and/or development of space beyond the Earth’s mesosphere.

Why do you think this statement ^^ is not true?

– It costs a lot of money to develop space

– Other countries might get mad at us, or start a “space race”

– The US might try to take over the world

– Smart people working on important engineering projects on earth would start focusing on space instead

– NASA already has a set plan for the things it wants to do, and increasing exploration will leave them with no money

– It would be popular, and Obama would win re-election, which would be awful.

– It would be unpopular, and Obama would lose re-election, which would be awful.

– It would provoke aliens

Etc., etc. You can imagine rejecting the resolution for far far more absurd reasons. You are, of course, limited by what you can reasonably find evidence for, but not much else.

Advanced folks will try to craft disadvantages that are the most strategically useful, but if you’re just starting sometimes it can be extremely difficult to guess what is going to be a good negative strategy.

If you think you’ve got a good idea for a disadvantage but aren’t sure whether it’ll work out, email us at

Step two: looking for evidence

For the three parts of a disadvantage, you’re going to need very different strategies for finding evidence.

Uniqueness changes quickly and is highly sensitive to changes in the news.

Links are (hopefully) specific to cases but aren’t likely to change too much over the course of the year.

Impacts are very stable, but you need to spend a lot of time looking for really quality evidence.

We’ll walk you through an example with a spending disadvantage. First, let’s look at Uniqueness.


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