Policy Evidence - The 80/20 Rule

Many policy debaters treat evidence like rare silver, to where having more of it makes the case more valuable by default. 

"I have 17 pieces of evidence in my 1AC!"

As a result, many policy cases are written with a primary emphasis on evidence. Most of the arguments are dominated by giant quotations and blocks of statistics. Any explanation is reduced to a brief sentence at the end.

Here's An Explanation:

Harm 1 - China is Dangerous

According to Professor Alexander Wharfenburg at Northwestern in 2016,

"The on-going currency manipulation China has bolstered within its financial policies make it an ever-looming threat to U.S. interests both domestically and internationally. In the past fiscal year, the growing trade deficit has proved itself a powerful variable in the equation that is U.S. job stability and asset schmandering."

As you can see, China really has it out for us. Let's go to Harm 2...


Tailor Your Content

So it's clear, "asset schmandering" isn't a real thing. I just made it up. But that hardly matters, because the judge had no way of understanding the previous 46 words either.

Remember, evidence isn't written for your judge. It's usually written for audiences of academics, who've already read it with the surrounding pages of context you don't have time to fit in your 1AC.

Most evidence has a face value of 0. The chances of it being read cold turkey and grabbing anyone's attention are minimal at best.

Your words are the only ones that can be tailored to the person directly in front of you. Watch what happens when we deliver the same argument, but with our explanation at the start: 

Harm 1 - We're Vulnerable

"A trade deficit describes a situation where one country buys more than it sells. In other words, we couldn't make enough stuff for our citizens at home, so we had to go out shopping and buy from other nations to fill in the gaps.

This reliance is dangerous, as Professor Wharfenburg explains..."

The 80/20 Rule

We haven't read any evidence yet, and that's intentional. Because so much of our content is dense and complicated, we're okay with spending half a minute to bring the judge up to speed. Once we do, quoting experts and citing statistics will make a lot more sense than it did before.

Your case is understandable when it is written in your language. This is what I call the 80/20 rule: the idea that at least 80% of your case should be your own words, and at maximum 20% someone else's. 

Most debaters don't flood cases with evidence because it sounds better. Usually, it's because they find it challenging to explain ideas on their own terms. 

But don't abandon your explanatory skills: hone them. Your case is your personal advocacy, and your words are the skeleton of it.

A judge should never hear a piece of evidence until he knows what it is going to say.

Model your cases after the 80/20 rule, and you'll start to trust your explanatory skills more and more. Next time, we'll talk about how to improve them.