Case Writing Basics

By Anika Matin, The George Washington University ’18

Starting out on APDA, you will come to the realization that you will be the government team about half the time, and you will need cases to run. Writing a case will take time, so here are some tips:

  • Start off simple. This means taking the time to just brainstorm and think of some broad subjects. Think of subjects that you are interested in or familiar with. This will help you get into the mood and groove when writing a case, because it is easier to write about something that you already know about or want to learn more about. Following this step would be like saying, “okay I want to write a case about history or religion or art etc.” Remember the goal is to pick a subject that excites you or that you want to explore in order to ease you into a more fun writing process, especially since you will potentially be speaking about said subject for an entire round and hopefully tournaments to come.
    1. I am going to stick in a continuing example which will follow each tip that I provide. So subjects that I am interested include economics and public policy.
  • From this you can delve into some more research outside of your head. This means surfing the web, just a quick google search of “debate topics” or searching up the “pros and cons of ‘x’” may help you stumble upon something or inspire you. Another strategy is to be aware of your surroundings. Did you just have an interesting conversation with a friend about a specific event or did a professor just say something remotely interesting? What about any movies you watched or a book you read? Try looking closer into your textbook or reading a news article. In addition to that, you can look up old APDA links, posted APDA videos, or old material you used in debate if you are a high school debater. All of this allows you to not necessarily find a word for word case statement to use when writing a case, but instead provides you with the tools necessary to think of something yourself or tweak something you have found.
    1. With economics and public policy in mind, I once had to read an article and write an essay about the merits and drawbacks of a soda tax implementation, and at the Swarthmore Pro-Ams tournament during the spring semester in 2015, there was a motion about a sin tax. So a topic that fits my interests and that I am familiar with is the use of a sin tax, which I will define below. This will help you write you case statement, which I will address later on. Case statement is what you as the “Government” side will be proposing, and that both teams will ultimately be debating about during a round at a tournament.
  • After you have found something to work with, get some background info. This can range from a more in depth internet search on said topic to going to the library or asking a friend or parent who might know more about the topic than you. This learning process will give you a good grasp on your case which is key to debating it. Everything you learn in this step can go into presenting case statement in a round. When you present case statement in a round you want to briefly explain any facts necessary for discussing the case while opposition asks questions related to any information they feel that they may need to know before the round proceeds. Now would be the time to think of all the questions you would ask about your own case statement if you heard it with the first time and had no background and find the answers!
    1. So now that I have narrowed in on a topic, let’s go over the basics, a sin tax is an excise tax, and this specific tax is typically used on goods that are on the market or on activities that are considered harmful for society. Examples include alcohol, tobacco, gambling, and “fatty foods” such as soda and candies.
  • You have been warned—when writing case statement be aware of what the implications of your case statement are. For example, is your case time-space (ex. You are Nixon, do not drop the atomic bomb as a case statement means that debaters in the round cannot use any information or make arguments that are outside the scope of knowledge during that time period)? Does it need to be trigger-warned (trigger warnings should be included if a case contains anything that may be emotionally triggering when debated about (ex. eating disorders, abuse, suicide etc.)? Is it already SQ (SQ = status quo, ex. There should be a progressive income tax, because a progressive income tax is already in place or in other words is currently status quo, you would be proposing something that is already in place)? Does it sound tight (explaining this is a bit more complex, but essentially case statement would be a truism or tautology, which is basically saying that you are proposing something that is simply true and is impossible to oppose in a 7 min. with 30 sec. grace period by side opposition- here is a link for more info.: (Note: don’t worry—information about all of the above is available in other articles on the Novice Mentor web site). This would be the time to jot down things that need to be stated at the top of a case or are red flags that you might have to go back to step one.
    1. Well the sin tax would be a policy change, which should be clarified, and let’s limit this to the United States. So final case statement is, a sin tax should be implemented on a federal level in the United States.
  • Now may also be the time to bring in reinforcements, this is essentially the “two heads are better than one” saying. I found it extremely helpful to case with a varsity or work with a fellow debate member while casing, or even make my friends listen to my initial idea and eventually my fully written out case. Maybe even shoot a message to me or another Novice Mentor. Once you have case statement written and you share your idea with others, gauge their reactions and hear the other perspectives that are out there!
    1. This is where a back and forth can ensue… For example in our case, we are for the sin tax, and may hear arguments against it, such as when I was working with my varsity when prepping this case, I suggested that addictive substances essentially have inelastic demand in price, which means that a change in price has little change in demand. Thus, if our primary and most intuitive argument is that the sin tax will deter people from buying “harmful products” we now know to backtrack, and think about whether we want to include addictive substances in our model or case statement, and instead limit the sin tax to just “fatty foods” and gambling etc.
  • Now try to write up the skeleton of your case, the bare bones. This usually means thinking of three independent points. Each of these points should be distinct and support your case statement. Trying to think of three points right off the bat might be difficult, so something I found helpful would be to just jot down a few things that you know you want to say that support your case statement. Now try sifting through that, and organizing it into distinct points. From this you might come up with more than you thought you had!
    1. So when I think sin tax, I want to talk about government responsibility and how paternalism can be beneficial for society. I probably also want to highlight that prevention is key, and if we deter people now from purchasing unhealthy and harmful products, we help them once the policy change is in place and set a healthy standard for the future. It’s also probably a plus to have tax revenue that can be used to fund other beneficial government projects.
  • Now let’s get into detail, each point should have a sort of tag-line or claim. This should be the main theme of your argument. Within each point, you should also write “sub-points” which are called warrants. These warrants are essentially the reasoning for why your claim is true. The warrants are followed by the impact of the point, which is what will happen if your claim is true and why it works in favor your advocacy. Within your points you can even pre-empt the opposition if you think it might be helpful to address an opposing point in advance. You also want to be aware of which points you would like to place weight on or emphasize, because ultimately there will be major voting points for when the round boils down and you want to crystallize and outweigh. Also beware of using certain terms that can be considered offensive, such referring to people as “poor, stupid, or fat,” try and use substitute or avoid an argument altogether if you think it may be offensive or explain your point clearly and without derogatory terminology, this ultimately gives you more credibility as a debater and fosters a more accepting environment on APDA.
    1. So let’s think of three points with a few warrants and impacts (these aren’t extremely fleshed out—they serve as an example. You can look up more detailed cases online, but the following should demonstrate this tip just fine):
      1. The government has a fundamental role in intervening in the market when they see that something is adversely affecting society. (CLAIM)
        1. The government is allowed to be and should be paternalistic when it sees that individuals are adversely affected and if there are unhealthy effects on society. (WARRANT)
          1. Governments often intervene in the private market in order to maximize social welfare and prevent the negative externalities caused by products such as alcohol, tobacco, and fatty foods. (EXTENTION OF INITIAL WARRANT)
        2. Products such as: alcohol, tobacco, and fatty foods – are not necessary purchases. By allowing them to be on the private market we still provide the free choice to purchase said products, but indicate to individuals that products that contain a higher risk must be purchased at a higher cost because of their impacts on individuals and society (WARRANT)
        3. [Let’s try pre-empting the opposition, let’s use the example I used for step 5] With the concept of inelastic demand, govt. can acknowledge that people who are addicted to said products are still financially concerned individuals, thus we say that financial deterrents are effective insofar as that such a policy change will directly impact these very individuals every time they purchase said product, thus it is still likely to influence their consumer behavior. (IMPACT/PRE-EMPT OPP)
      2. Consumption taxes are economically efficient
        1. Consumption taxes are roughly stable which raises the price of current and future spending about the same. Thus, because consumption taxes apply when the good or service is being consumed, it is irrelevant in reference to how a person spends their money. (WARRANT)
        2. People must pay them up front if they need said good, therefore there is no way to evade this specific type of tax, which directly impacts those who choose to consume said products. (WARRANT)
          1. Therefore, people faced with a consumption tax will buy less of the taxed product and service in the moment and continue to in the future. (IMPACT)
  • The sin tax produces revenue for the government
    1. Each time someone does purchase said product and continues to do so it can be used to fund other government projects. This includes the idea that said products can cause harms against society, and these funds can be used to remedy that or just go towards other positive projects, and example of this is how Missouri casinos provided more than $30 million dollars for state early childhood education and college programs. (WARRANT AND IMPACT)
  1. A potential collapse (which is what the case boils down to, often arguments used as potential reasons for voting decisions in rebuttal speeches), would be to lay out two worlds- one in which people continue to buy said products at a higher price, and one in which people are somewhat deterred from buying said products. What will actually happen is a mix of the two. Because since this is the case, you gain the advantages of both, people understand that purchasing such products is done at a higher price and will try to engage in such behaviors less, but also each time they buy said product there is revenue that can be used for other important and socially beneficial projects because of it. But remember that this is not what you should depend on, you should be engaged in the round and listen to the off case and on case points that the opposition make, and develop responses based on the round!
  • Another tip on how to stay out of the danger zone and contribute to watching your baby case grow is to try and think of points that the opposition would say. This helps to make sure your case is not tight or even write-up an opp-choice case. By working with others, learning and taking note of what the opposition has said when faced with your case, or thinking of opposing points yourself, you can get a gist of what you may hear from an opposing team so you can think of how to beat arguments ahead of time or keep a tight block ready for use.
    1. Let’s think of some viable points for our possible tight block/other side to the sin tax case, this can include that:
      1. It is a regressive tax, which negatively targets people of a lower socio-economic status
      2. It is likely that people will not be deterred by the marginal increase in price of the products with the sin tax, and therefore will not actually disengage in such purchases and practices
  • The sin tax oversteps the government’s jurisdiction by defining what people should or should not buy, and what should be considered morally acceptable or “sinful”
  1. The implementation of a sin tax affects the sales of businesses and the economic activity of state and local governments when and if people do choose not to purchase
  2. The sin tax can cause an increase in condemned products and services on the black market
  • Now that you have your case, you can be super pumped and proud of yourself. Make sure to save it in multiple places, as at tournaments you may not have the best wifi and because technology can be unreliable. You wouldn’t want to lose all that hard work!

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