• Ben Silvian

How Should I Research for Debate?

The best debaters are often the best researchers, simply due to the fact that if you find strong evidence yourself, you are far more likely to understand how to use it strategically in the round than if it was sent to you by someone else.


Like all things in debate, strong research skills are built with practice, but we at Debate Resource would like to give you a head start by helping you understand how to effectively use Google and how to effectively read studies. The tips and tricks provided in this article will give you a leg up as a researcher and help you find killer evidence.


Research goals:


To start, we will go over a debater’s goals when researching. We believe that all debate research boils down to five main objectives:


Objective 1: Stockpile evidence in favor of the argument in question


Whenever you find evidence that seems promising, save it! At the beginning, as we have said before, you are just looking for quantity: get good quotes and links into your documents. Later on, you will want to comb through these articles and studies to figure out exactly what they say, but for now just find the evidence, organize it in an efficient way (tip: use hyperlinks! Ctrl+K), and keep researching!


Objective 2: Stockpile evidence against the argument in question


What happens when you find evidence that directly contradicts your argument? Don’t move backward by scrapping your argument altogether; instead, save that evidence to be used on the other side! All you need is to have your “PRO Research Document” and your “CON Research Document” up in 2 tabs, and paste your quotes and links into the applicable doc.


We promise - you will thank yourself later! It is much better to save too many links than to remember you had found that killer evidence early on but you forgot to save it and it’s lost forever.


Objective 3: Identify new warrants


Research isn’t all about finding quotes – it is also about building your topic knowledge and advancing your ability to use unique, nuanced warrants. Whenever you find an author that has a unique take, a link you’ve never heard of before that gets around the most common responses, write it down and use it as a basis for further research. It may even end up as one of the core links in your final case!


Objective 4: Identify new keywords for future research


Oftentimes, research comes down to using the right keywords. This is where jargon is VERY useful! If your topic is about nuclear weapons, you need to know that a keyword like “Weapons of Mass Destruction” or “WMDs” will give additional search results that the competition isn’t looking for. As you find more and more keywords related to the topic, keep writing them down and using them in future Google Searches.


Objective 5: Discover new arguments


Beside talking to your friends and family, reading articles and studies is the best way to discover new arguments and contentions you can use. As you find new arguments, keep writing them down and adding them to your list to research more later, and to find relevant keywords for. Keep building your documents with content – later, you will work on forming them into arguments and formatting them for simple and easy access in-round.

How To Use Google

Everyone who has grown up in the twenty-first century understands the basics of Google search. However, here are some tips that are lesser known that will help you cut through the noise and find the evidence you are actually looking for.


Tip #1: Use Quotation Marks


Quotation marks are the most powerful tool in Google search and should be used often. When you put a word or phrase in quotes, Google requires every result that comes up to contain that word or phrase. In other words, it sets those words or phrases as highest-priority-keywords, helping you cut through the noise.


While putting individual words in quotation marks is powerful, the beauty of this is you can search for exact phrases. All results will contain that “long-tail keyword” allowing you to find exactly the content you are looking for.


Tip #2: Time Search


If quotation marks are the most powerful tool Google allows, time search comes in a close second. What’s crazy about time search is almost nobody uses it! It’s very simple to set up a custom date range.


First, enter your search. In the next row under the search bar, you have a variety of options, where you can look for “all,” “news,” “images,” etc. Look all the way to the right, past “settings,” over to “tools.” You will see a drop-down that says “any time.” Click it and scroll all the way down to “custom range.” This is where you put in the precise date range you want your search to filter through.


Why use time search? Usually for 1 of 2 reasons.


First, you likely want to find the most recent articles. If your evidence “post-dates” your opponent’s and you can provide a feasible reason that recency matters with regard to that topic, that is a clear point for you in the judge’s book, and they are likely to trust your evidence over your opponent’s.


Second, you may want to understand an event that happened at a certain period in history, or better yet, how a certain period in history interpreted a certain event. We often suffer from “recency bias,” in which we let the most recent headlines crowd out a deeper, fuller understanding. Time search helps you get around that.


This will build the depth of your understanding. If you can not only explain a topic, but how our understanding of that topic has changed over time, your legitimacy will skyrocket and the judge will want to vote for you because you clearly did your homework.


Tip #3: File Type PDF


Tired of finding articles from illegitimate sites at the top of your Google results? Enter the phrase filetype:pdf right into the google search bar after your search keywords. The results will be exclusively pdfs.


These pdfs are likely to be academic articles, or articles published by other well-known and legitimate websites. They will also be longer articles, with more content for you to browse and learn from.


Tip #4: Minus Sign


The minus sign helps you if you keep encountering the same type of wrong result. If a word has multiple meanings and you keep getting stuck with results on the wrong one, you can minus a keyword relevant to that “wrong” interpretation to maximize your chances of getting the right results.


If your keyword is “nuclear” because you’re looking for results on nuclear war, but you keep getting results about nuclear energy, just minus out energy by including in the search bar: “-energy.” Simple as that.


The minus sign doesn’t need to be used too often, but can be powerful in the right circumstances to get the exact results you’re searching for.


Tip #5: Hotkeys


Finally, we want to provide you with a list of hotkeys to make your Google search process more efficient. Here is a list of helpful hotkeys:


Ctrl F: Find within the page

Ctrl W: Exit Tab

Ctrl Shift T: Reopen most recent closed tab


The most important of these is Ctrl + F. If you aren’t using Ctrl + F multiple times a day to see if the content you really want is within the article you found, you’re probably wasting time.

To end this article, here is an easy step-by-step process to finding strong evidence quickly.


Step 1: Enter the keywords you are searching for into google

Step 2: Add quotation marks around multi-word keywords as well as necessary keywords that must be included in any article you want to read.

Step 3: Past or type “filetype:pdf” into the search bar too, and SEARCH

Step 4: Click on an article or study

Step 5: Use Crtl + F to find any relevant keywords within the study

Step 6: Paste relevant quotes with those keywords into your document and hyperlink the URL to the author name and organization, which you will write down as base text just before the quotation.

Step 7: Repeat!


That’s it, and good luck searchin!