In-depth Voting Guide

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Offense and defense

Unlike football, for debate the best offense is not a good defense. The best and only offense is a good offense.

An offensive argument is a reason to vote for your side. A defensive argument is one that mitigates your opponent's case. For example, imagine the topic: the US should adopt an assault weapons ban. You are Con. An offensive argument would be that assault weapons empirically act as a crime deterrent, so banning assault weapons would increase crime. A defensive argument would be that past assault weapons bans have failed to significantly reduce crime. The former argument is a reason that an assault weapons ban is bad. The latter argument is merely a reason that an assault weapons is not as good as Pro might claim.

Voters should only be voting for offensive arguments. Defensive arguments, on their own, cannot logically form a basis for decision because they only mitigate the opponent's case. They don't provide an actual reason to vote for a particular side.

Impact analysis

A good offensive argument has a link and an impact. A link is the explanation of how the argument relates to the resolution. An impact is the reason to vote for your side. Take, for example, the topic: Iran poses a greater threat to the United States than North Korea. You are Pro. You run an argument about Iran cutting off the Strait of Hormuz. The link is that Iran has the military capability to cut off all access to the Strait of Hormuz and has threatened to so in the past. The impact is that if Iran cut off the Strait of Hormuz, the US would lose access to Middle Eastern oil, which would cause a large uptick in oil prices.

In contrast, Con argues that North Korea might launch nuclear weapons at the United States. The link is that North Korea has operational nuclear weapons and has threatened to use them against the United States in the past. The impact is that a nuclear explosion in Los Angeles would kill 10 million Americans.

As the judge, you have to weigh Pro's Strait of Hormuz argument against Con's nuclear attack argument. For impact analysis, you are supposed to consider probability and magnitude. Probability is the likelihood that the impact will happen. Magnitude is the total size of the impact. A nuclear attack has a greater magnitude because 10 million lives is a much bigger impact than higher oil prices. However, given that the United States would retaliate against North Korea using nuclear weapons, North Korea would likely be deterred from launching a nuclear attack, so the probability of this impact is low. In contrast, Iran is far more likely to cut off the Strait of Hormuz given that the current Revolutionary Government has shown a willingness to resort to extreme tactics, such as when it took over the United States embassy in Iran. So the judge could still vote Pro, even though the magnitude of the impacts are smaller, because the probability of Iran harming the US by cutting off the Strait of Hormuz is much higher.

A good RFD should engage in impact analysis and consider both probability and magnitude.

If you cannot fit your RFD within the 1,000 character limit, say "RFD in comments," and leave your RFD in the comments section of the debate.

[A more extensive explanation of offense/defense and impact analysis can be found in post 4]
What makes an RFD so bad that it will be removed by a moderator?

There are a few general things that will get your vote removed:

(1) Failing to explain every single point you award.

If you award conduct and argument points and explain why you awarded arguments, but fail to explain why you awarded conduct, your vote will be removed.

(2) Failing to explain *why* you awarded a point

This is slightly different than #1. You may have mentioned every single point category you awarded in your RFD, but you failed to explain why you awarded that point. If you say, "Con had much better arguments," you are merely reciting that Con had better arguments; you have failed to explain why Con had better arguments. An RFD is meant to give valuable feedback to the debaters, so you need to explain why you awarded a particular point.

(3) Failing to be specific enough

If your RFD could be copy-pasted into any debate and it would still make sense, you are not being specific enough. If you say, "Con had better arguments because Pro used some straw man arguments, Con didn't have very good rebuttals, and Pro had a strong case," then you are being too generic in your RFD. You need to explain which of Pro's arguments were straw men and why these arguments were important in the debate, such that Pro losing those arguments cost Pro the debate. You need to explain why Con's rebuttals were bad, and which of Pro's arguments were insufficiently refuted, and why those arguments swayed you to Pro's side. And you need to explain which arguments in Pro's case were strong, and why those arguments convinced you to vote Pro.

(4) Voting based on personal bias

If your RFD mentions that you voted for the side you agreed with before the debate, your vote will be removed. Debate is an intellectual exercise. You are supposed to vote for the side that performed better in the debate, not the side you happened to agree with beforehand. To do this, you are supposed to be a tabula rasa judge. "Tabula rasa" means "blank slate." You are supposed to evaluate the debate from the perspective of an unbiased third party who has no opinion about the topic and has no prior knowledge about the subject matter of the debate. Vote the way that a reasonable non-biased third party would vote. So if your RFD references that you found one side more persuasive because you were already predisposed to believe that side, your RFD will be removed because you are not giving the debater whose side you already disagreed with a fair chance in the debate.

Competitive debate in real life is switch-side debate, meaning the debaters have to advocate on both sides of the topic. So debates will often have to advocate for a position they disagree with. It's unfair to penalize someone merely because they happened to be taking a position in a debate that you already disagreed with.

(5) Piggybacking off someone else's RFD

It is impermissible to reference someone else's RFD as the reason you voted. For example, you can't say, "I voted Con for basically the reasons in Ragnar's RFD." This is impermissible because: (a) you have to do your own work; your obligation is to provide independent and helpful feedback to the debaters, and (b) you are supposed to form your decision about the outcome of the debate without reading other people's RFDs. You can read other RFDs after you have already reached a decision, but not before. You should only be reading the debate before making a decision -- you should not read comments, RFDs, or anything else that might sway you. So referencing someone else's RFD in your own RFD leads to the inference that you were improperly persuaded by someone else's RFD, which is unfair because if you vote Pro, it shouldn't be because of the way someone else summed up Pro's position in their RFD. It can only be based on things Pro said.

(6) Referencing arguments not made in the debate

You're only allowed to vote on things the debaters actually said. You shouldn't be using your own arguments to rebut something a debater said, or as a reason to vote for a particular side. Raising your own arguments means you are not being a tabula rasa judge. A tabula rasa judge is supposed to be an unbiased third party with no outside knowledge of the topic. If you make your own arguments, you are allowing your outside knowledge to sway you.

(7) Your RFD just doesn't make sense, says something that is objectively false, contradicts itself, or you voted for the wrong side

This should be self-explanatory. If your RFD's reason for voting just doesn't make any sense, claims that Pro or Con did something that they did not actually do, or says that Pro had better arguments but you accidentally voted Con, your vote will be removed.

(8) Awarding arguments, sources, conduct, or S&G for impermissible reasons

Arguments. The point is "more convincing arguments." Saying that one side had a longer argument or a better structured argument is not a valid reason for awarding the argument point. The point should be awarded for substance, not structure.

Sources. Sources should only be awarded because one side had better quality sources. Saying that one side had more sources is never going to be sufficient. If one side had so few sources that it constituted inadequate source support, then you can consider quantity. But normally, you need to show that one side had sources of superior quality.

Spelling and grammar. You need to explain with some specificity what was so bad about one side's grammar or spelling. And you should only be awarding the point if the errors were so bad that they hurt readability. A single spelling error is not a sufficient reason to award the point.

Conduct. The violation needs to be relatively serious. You can't award conduct just because one debater was slightly nicer. And you shouldn't use conduct to double vote (such as by awarding conduct because one side used a logical fallacy, which should be reflected under the argument point vote).
More on Offense, defense, and impacts

(1) Offense/Defense

Offense is an affirmative reason to vote for a particular side. If the topic were: Resolved: All schools should adopt merit pay, an "offensive" argument would be that merit pay would improve educational quality in our nation's schools.

Defense is an argument that merely mitigates the reasons that you would vote for a particular side; it is not an independent reason to vote for your own side. On the same topic as above, an argument that "the test score gains in schools that implemented merit pay are due to other factors" would be defensive. Even if the argument is 100% true, at most is proves that Pro was not entirely correct in Pro's assertion that merit pay improves test scores. But it's not a reason that merit pay is *bad.* For Con, "offensive" arguments are reasons merit pay is bad, e.g. that it would discourage people from becoming teachers.

(2) Links and impacts

A proper offensive argument has a "link" and an "impact." A "link" is the explanation of the argument itself and how it ties into the resolution. So for example, on merit pay, Pro's link is that studies show that schools that adopted merit pay improved their test scores by 10%.

The impact is why the "link" or argument constitutes a reason to vote Pro or Con. In the above example, the "impact" would be that implementing merit pay across the nation would improve test scores by 10%. Pro could add to this impact further by finding a study that said if we improved our test scores by 10%, it could add $1 trillion per year to our economy because would could have more math and science majors, who could take important tech jobs.

So the "impact" to Pro's argument that merit pay improves test scores is that we could add $1 trillion per year to the economy.

Con might claim that merit pay would discourage people from becoming teachers. The link is that people like job security, and merit pay systems abolish tenure. The impact is that if fewer people become teachers, we will have a teacher shortage. Con could expand on this impact by claiming that a teacher shortage would reduce student performance because it would increase class sizes.

(3) Impact Calculus

Let's say the topic is "Resolved: North Korea is a greater threat to the US than Iran."

Pro runs that North Korea could attack South Korea at any time, and such a war would draw the US into it. Stratfor estimates show that such a war would cost 400,000 lives (that's the impact).

Con runs that Iran can cut off the Straight of Hormuz, a major oil route. Iran is building the military capabilities to do so and has threatened to do so in the past (the link). If Iran did so, it would cost the US approximately $250 million in lost trade and higher oil prices (the impact).

At the end of the debate, the judge is supposed to weigh: (a) the probability and (b) the magnitude of all the impacts.

Probably ties into (1) how persuasively it was argued and (2) how good the rebuttals are. The opponent can show that the impact is highly improbable by using good rebuttal responses.

The judges are also supposed to weigh the magnitude. Assuming the probabilities were about even as to North Korea provoking a war with South Korea and Iran cutting off the Straight of Hormuz using their navy, then the judge weighs which is more important: 400,000 lost lives in a war on the Korean Peninsula or $250 million.

In this case, Pro would probably win because 400,000 lives outweighs $250 million.

That's impacts and impact calculus in a nutshell.

[Disclaimer 1: This guide is not exhaustive. Users often seem to find new and creative ways to vote in manners that are unfair, inadequate, or strategic. Just because your vote doesn't fall into one of the eight categories listed above does not necessarily mean it will not be removed. But if you generally vote in a good faith effort to provide legitimate and specific feedback to the debaters and you vote honestly - without fudging a point here and there to try to make your vote count for more - then you should be fine.]

[Disclaimer 2: This is not an official document of DART moderation, and is therefore not authoritative regarding DART moderation practices.]