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Topicality

My goal for this page is to help you understand what topicality means, how to structure the argument, how to answer the argument, and provide you with some sample topicality positions.


What is Topicality?

This is not an easy question, but I will try to explain it in the most straight forward way possible.  Topicality is an argument run by the negative team to challenge whether the affirmative's plan solves a problem that falls within the topic area.  Let me see if I cannot show you what this means.

Cases that fall within the box are topical and cases that fall outside of the box are non-topical.  The words of the resolution are what form the box.  For example, because the resolution says United States, the United States must perform the action of the plan, not some other country.  Each word and/or phrase of the resolution, includes certain cases and excludes others.  Here are some examples.

Resolution:  That the United States federal government should establish a foreign policy significantly limiting the use of weapons of mass destruction.

The cases inside the box are topical because they fall within the bounds of the resolution.  The cases outside the box are non-topical because they violate some word or phrase in the resolution.

United Nations Bans Prolif -- US Must be the actor not the UN.

US Funds Info Tech Educ -- Not address Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD).

US Signs Treaty Outlawing Landmines -- Landmines are not WMD

Give New Nuclear Technology To N. Korea -- Not limit use of WMD, it limits acquisition of WMD.

** Key Point **

Topicality is judged by determining if the plan actions are topical, not if the advantages are topical.  Many affirmatives write non-topical plan planks and then use their advantages to make themselves topical.  Do not let them trick you like this.  The plan itself must be topical, the advantages are not relevant to whether the affirmative is topical or not.

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How do you structure a Topicality Argument?

A topicality argument has four basic components.  They are:

There are many different ways to structure the Topicality argument.  Some people put the violation first, other put the standard first, and still others put the definition first.  The order does not matter, but all four components must be in the position.  

Here is a sample structure with explanations.

 

__________ Topicality

Subpoint A:  Definition -- Provide the definition for a term from either a dictionary definition or from an article or book.

Subpoint B:  Violation --  This is a short explanation of why the affirmative plan violates the definition provided by the negative.

Subpoint C: Standards --  The standards provide the reason why the negative's interpretation and/or definition is better.

Subpoint D: Voting Issue -- This explains why the judge should vote against the affirmative for running a non-topical case.

Common Standards:

Common Voting Issue Rationales:

E-mail me at debatelab@yahoo.com if you want further explanation for these standards and voting issues.

 

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How do you answer a Topicality Argument?

Your best bet for answering a topicality position is to break it into its component parts and attack it piece by piece.

Subpoint A:  Definition --  Explain why the definition is bad.  It is too narrow of a definition, it comes from a bad source, it does not take into account this resolution, etc.

Subpoint B:  Violation --  The best answer to the violation is that you fall within the confines of the definition.  This is typically called "we meet".  It means that you do not violate the definition, but you actually meet the negative's definition of the term.

Subpoint C: Standards --  Commonly the affirmative runs what are called counter standards.  These are reasons why the affirmative does not need to meet the negative's standards.  I would encourage you to argue against the negative's standards and give counterstandards as well.  Here are some common counter-standards.

Subpoint D: Voting Issue -- Most of the time, if you press someone in cross-x to explain why Topicality is a voting issue they cannot.  Simple answers like, Topicality takes us from the substance of debate are good answers.  Most judges, however, believe that topicality is a voting issue, so don't waste much time on these arguments.

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Topicality Arguments for this topic!!!


Establish Topicality

 

Subpoint A:  Definition

 

Merriam Websters Online Dictionary, 2001

 

to bring into existence

 

Subpoint B: Violation

 

The affirmative does not bring a policy into existence, rather they merely enhance a current policy.

 

Subpoint C: Standards

Each Word - Each word of the resolution must have a unique meaning.  The affirmative cannot make a term moot through its definitions.

Best Definition - The team providing the best definition of the term use should win this topicality debate and the round.

Bright line test - The negative provides a definition which clearly includes a set of cases and excludes others.  Whichever team provides the most precise definition that most clearly defines what should be included or excluded from the topic should win the topicality debate.

Subpoint D:  Voting Issues - Topicality is voting issue for the following reasons.

1.  Jurisdiction - If the case does not fall within the jurisdiction of the resolution, just like in a court, the judge must throw out the case.

2.  Fairness - The negative team came prepared to debate the resolution.  It is unfair to allow the affirmative to discuss topics that the negative was unprepared to debate.

3.  Tradition - Topicality has always been a voting issue and you should vote on it as well.

TOP | T Positions

 


Establish (2) Topicality

 

Subpoint A:  Definition

 

Merriam Webster's Online Dictionary, 2001

 

to gain full recognition or acceptance

 

Subpoint B:  Violation

 

The affirmative enacts new legislation rather than seeking to gain full acceptance of an existing legislation or international treaty.

 

Subpoint C:  Standards

 

Each Word - Each word of the resolution must have a unique meaning.  The affirmative cannot make a term moot through its definitions.

Best Definition - The team providing the best definition of the term use should win this topicality debate and the round.

Bright line test - The negative provides a definition which clearly includes a set of cases and excludes others.  Whichever team provides the most precise definition that most clearly defines what should be included or excluded from the topic should win the topicality debate.

Subpoint D:  Voting Issues - Topicality is voting issue for the following reasons.

1.  Jurisdiction - If the case does not fall within the jurisdiction of the resolution, just like in a court, the judge must throw out the case.

2.  Fairness - The negative team came prepared to debate the resolution.  It is unfair to allow the affirmative to discuss topics that the negative was unprepared to debate.

3.  Tradition - Topicality has always been a voting issue and you should vote on it as well.

TOP | T Positions


Significantly Topicality

Subpoint A:  Definition

Meriam Webster's Online Dictionary, 2001

Significantly - in a significant manner : to a significant degree

Significant - of a noticeably or measurably large amount

Subpoint B:  Violation

The affirmative plan isolates one country that it seeks to stop from using WMD.  Since there are over 100 countries and nearly 20 countries that possess WMD, this is an insignificant limitation on the use of WMD.

Each Word - Each word of the resolution must have a unique meaning.  The affirmative cannot make a term moot through its definitions.

Best Definition - The team providing the best definition of the term use should win this topicality debate and the round.

Bright line test - The negative provides a definition which clearly includes a set of cases and excludes others.  Whichever team provides the most precise definition that most clearly defines what should be included or excluded from the topic should win the topicality debate.

Subpoint D:  Voting Issues - Topicality is voting issue for the following reasons.

1.  Jurisdiction - If the case does not fall within the jurisdiction of the resolution, just like in a court, the judge must throw out the case.

2.  Fairness - The negative team came prepared to debate the resolution.  It is unfair to allow the affirmative to discuss topics that the negative was unprepared to debate.

3.  Tradition - Topicality has always been a voting issue and you should vote on it as well.

TOP | T Positions


Use Topicality

Subpoint A:  Definition - From Dictionary.com

Use

1)  The act of using; the application or employment of something for a purpose

Subpoint B:  Violation

The affirmative limits the ability of a country or group to obtain weapons of mass destruction (WMD) not to use WMD.

Subpoint C:  Standards

Each Word - Each word of the resolution must have a unique meaning.  The affirmative cannot make a term moot through its definitions.

Grammar - The verb use is distinct from the verb acquire.  To be grammatically correct the affirmative must stop the use of WMD not the acquisition.

Best Definition - The team providing the best definition of the term use should win this topicality debate and the round.

Subpoint D:  Voting Issues - Topicality is voting issue for the following reasons.

1.  Jurisdiction - If the case does not fall within the jurisdiction of the resolution, just like in a court, the judge must throw out the case.

2.  Fairness - The negative team came prepared to debate the resolution.  It is unfair to allow the affirmative to discuss topics that the negative was unprepared to debate.

3.  Tradition - Topicality has always been a voting issue and you should vote on it as well.

TOP | T Positions


Foreign Policy Topicality

Subpoint A --  Definition from World Book Encyclopedia, 1998

Foreign Policy refers to the relations of a nation with other nations in an attempt to achieve a set of objectives.

[World Book Encyclopedia, 1998, vol 7, p. 386]

Subpoint B -- Violation

The affirmative plan establishes a domestic policy, not a foreign policy.

Subpoint C -- Standards

Each Word - Each word of the resolution must have a unique meaning.  The affirmative cannot make a term moot through its definitions.

Grammar - The phrase Foreign Policy has a distinct definition that separates it from other government actions and policies.

Best Definition - The team providing the best definition of the term use should win this topicality debate and the round.

Precision - The team providing the most precise definition of the term Foreign Policy should win the debate.

Subpoint D:  Voting Issues - Topicality is voting issue for the following reasons.

1.  Jurisdiction - If the case does not fall within the jurisdiction of the resolution, just like in a court, the judge must throw out the case.

2.  Fairness - The negative team came prepared to debate the resolution.  It is unfair to allow the affirmative to discuss topics that the negative was unprepared to debate.

3.  Tradition - Topicality has always been a voting issue and you should vote on it as well.

TOP | T Positions


Weapons Of Mass Destruction Topicality

Subpoint A -- Definition 

Cordesman, February 12, 2001

Many government officials and concerned citizens believe that it is not a question of if, but when, an incident will occur that involves the use by a terrorist of a chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear (CBRN) weapon -- a so called 'weapon of mass destruction' (WMD -- that is designed, intended or has the capability to cause mass destruction or mass casualties.

[Anthony Cordesman, Defending America: Asymmetric and Terrorist Atacks with Biological Weapons, Paper for the Center for Stategic and Intl Studies, February, 12, 2001]

United Nations Fact Sheet, 2001

The Branch provides substantive support for the activities of the UN in the area of disarmament whose main focus will continue to be on weapons of mass destruction (nuclear, chemical and biological weapons).

[available at http://www.un.org/Depts/dda/WMD/WMD.htm]

Subpoint B -- Violation

The affirmative plan solves for weapons that are not chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear weapons.

Subpoint C -- Standards

Each Word - Each word of the resolution must have a unique meaning.  The affirmative cannot make a term moot through its definitions.

Field Context - This definition comes from of International Relations that specially deals with weapons of mass destruction threats to the United States.

Grammatical Context - Weapons of Mass Destruction is a grammatical phrase with a specific meaning.  Breaking the phrase into component parts destroys its specific meaning and violates the phrases' grammatical context.

Precision - The team providing the most precise definition of the term Weapons of Mass Destruction should win the debate.

Subpoint D:  Voting Issues - Topicality is voting issue for the following reasons.

1.  Jurisdiction - If the case does not fall within the jurisdiction of the resolution, just like in a court, the judge must throw out the case.

2.  Fairness - The negative team came prepared to debate the resolution.  It is unfair to allow the affirmative to discuss topics that the negative was unprepared to debate.

3.  Tradition - Topicality has always been a voting issue and you should vote on it as well.

TOP | T Positions

 


Extra Topicality and Effects Topicality

 

Extra Topicality Shell

  1. The affirmative plan contains a number of extra topical provision. (Insert the plan planks that are extra topical)

    1.    

    2.    

    3.    

  2. Justification for rejecting the entire affirmative plan on the basis on any extratopical provisions is found in the following subpoints.

    1. Legislative paradigms:  You are asked to render a single decision on the plan as offered by the Affirmative in this round.  If a bill in Congress is to be amended, a separate vote must be taken first and then they vote to accept or reject the bill.  Likewise if the Aff. is to be amended, you should vote negative this round and next time you hear it you can vote Aff.

    2. Judicial paradigm:  If a law has unconstitutional provisions it will be overturned by the courts, regardless if it's 1% or 99% unconstitutional.  If the Aff. contains any extratopical provisions it should likewise be rejected.

    3. Forensic precedent:  Extratopical provisions should be a basis for decision because they limit clash.

      1. Extratopical provisions generate extraneous issues to debate and detract from the time available for resolutional issues.

      2. Allowing extratopical provisions to be simply ignored is an after-the-fact solution.  Time has already been wasted by both teams.

      3. This would represent hypothesis testing.  The original plan minus each of the different extratopical provisions represents different plans, and should be rejected.

  3. Extratopical is not limited by rules.  It is debate theory and as such should be discussed and persuasively argued.  In light of the independent justifications offered for the rejection of Affirmative's inclusion of extratopical provisions, the Aff. must offer their own rationale for the acceptance of such provisions or their rejection for the round as a legitimate forensic policy.

  4. The Affirmative offers the plan as an operational definition of the resolution.  The inclusion of (nontopical) or extratopical provisions make the plan an illegitimate operational definition.  None of the before-mentioned items can be operationally equated with a limitation on the use of weapons of mass destruction.  They go beyond the scope of the resolution.  They are simply not analogous, and thus the plan as a total statement does not represent a reasonable operational definition, and should be rejected.

 

Effects Topicality Shell

  1. Effects Standard Illegitimate.  The effects standand says that if the effects of the Aff. plan are topical, their entire case is topical, but 

    1. Unfairly broadens the topic:  The purpose of the resolution is to limit the area of discussion.  If the affirmative is allowed to claim topicality by the effects of their plan, the topic becomes overly broad and worthless.

    2. Collapses burdens:  Under the effects standard, if the Aff. can prove solvency, they are assumed topical.  Topicality is a jurisdictional issue and must be decided before issues of solvency are considered.

  2. Affirmative team not topical by effects standard:  The affirmative is only topical by effects.  Their plan does not involve a direct limit on the use of weapons of mass destruction, thus only the effects of their plan are topical.

  3. Impacts

    1. Effects standard destroys debate:  Affirmatives can always win because the negative is unprepared.  The topic becomes irrelevant.

    2. Prima Facia:  The case must be topical on its face.  It cannot gain solvency by an effect of the plan.

    3. Voting Issue:  If the negative demonstrates that the negative has presented a non-topical case, the negative should win the round.

    4. Increases the educaitonal value:  A limited topic allows for a more in depth discussion and understanding of the topic area, rather than focusing on extraneous issues.

    5. The resolution provides a jurisdiction for debate.  As the judge in this round, you cannot adopt an affirmative plan that falls outside of your jurisdiction.

TOP | T Positions

 


 

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