Research Strategies and Tips

by David Weeks

What is a card?

A card is a paragraph or several paragraphs taken from a credible scholarly or journalistic source that proves a specific argument true. It is a word-for-word quotation, without adds (unless bracketed), deletes, paraphrasing, or ellipses. This quotation, when put together with a summary tagline and a citation, makes a card.

Why do they matter?

  • We are not professional experts in the fields that we debate. We may debate standardized tests and social networks, but we are not education policy specialists or sociologists. Using a credible source to back up your claims allows you to invoke that source’s authority on the matter. Obviously, your source’s qualifications will not matter if the card does not provide a warrant or reason why the claim is true.


  • They offer us interesting ways to compare clashing arguments.


What makes a good card? (in descending order of importance [generally])

  • Strength of warrant that supports the claim of the argument. Your cards should explain why your claim is true. They should either offer empirical reasons for why your argument is true (ie. Recent study about the failures of standardized tests), or an analytical reason (ie. A is true because B, B is true because C). If you have cards with analytic warrants, make sure they are developed and deep.


  • Author qualifications. The card should be an expert in a related field. Avoid quoting undergraduates or those without some formal post or official experience. Be careful when quoting authors whose credibility is not yet fully established, just as those still in law school. Watch out for politicians when they’re campaigning or trying to appeal to specific groups of people.


  • Source of publication. It’s best to draw from respected scholarly journals and periodicals (such as law reviews, think tank publications, and social science journals). Books from university presses and respected newspapers/magazines are also acceptable. News sources may still be used, but are seen as less legitimate. Avoid news giants like CNN, MSNBC, FOX, etc. Instead, try the Washington Post, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, LA Times, Houston Chronicle, Boston Globe, Christian Science Monitor, the Financial Times, Economist, and BBC. News services like Reuters and the Associated Press are also fine.


  • Date of publication. Some arguments don’t require that your card be extremely recent, but many empirical arguments require recent cards. Arguments about current saving or spending rates, predictions about deficits, or demographic observations should be three years old or less.


  • Specificity. The card should be talking about the matter at hand, rather than an issue only tangentially related to the subject of debate. Often, law journals will refer to court decisions and pieces of legislation, so make sure that what they’re referring to matches up with your intent.


  • Number of warrants. If a card has several arguments or warrants, it is harder to refute.


  • Rhetoric. Choose cards that are concise and forceful.


o Conciseness/Directness/Clarity Avoid wordy cards. If they’re concise and clearly explain the warrant, its probably a good card.

o Forcefulness/Persuasiveness Cards that use forceful, decisive language are more persuasive than boring, dry descriptions

What makes a bad card?

  • Weak warrant


  • Having too many rhetorical questions or excessive archaic language. Would thou not be more persuasive to the arbiter of thy oratorical duel if thou wouldst avoideth the employment of rhetorical questions in thy speech? Indeed thou couldst enhance the clarity of expression of what thou dost opine!


  • “Strawperson” arguments. You should not card a passage that is an author’s explanation of an argument that he/she does not support or endorse. Often, authors will explain the argument of the opposition, or describe an alternate explanation that they disagree with. Do not card them as saying this, because you attach their qualifications to the statement in doing so. Red flags for strawperson args are “It is often said that…” and “[Person X] argues that…”.


  • Mitigated or Qualified statements- Avoid using cards that make highly qualified statements. Do not read a card describing the “worst case imaginable” as what will inevitably happen. For this reason, be careful about reading cards that contain “sometimes,” “occasionally,” “can,” “might,” “it is conceivable that…,” and “has the potential to…”


  • Out of context arguments. Be careful that you aren’t quoting the author on another issue or misinterpreting the intent of the passage.


  • Missing or incomplete citations. Make sure you have a citation, complete with the full name of the author, year of publication, author qualifications, title of article/chapter, title of source journal, book, or website, and page # if applicable.


  • Unavailable to the general public. Avoid sources that are not available to the general public such as private e-mails.


  • Power-tagged. Tagline that you provide for the argument overstates the content of the card, by either exaggerating the impact, or over-generalizes or over-specifies the claim.


  • Under-tagged. Tagline is too vague or understates the impact of the card.


Where do I find them?

  • Finding the articles and books

o Online. Begin with basic searches like dogpile, google, and googlescholar. Debate Central,, victorybriefs, and paradigm provide debate-specific resources. Try,, Proquest, WorldCat, PolicyFile, PAIS International, Wilson’s Education Index, and CSA’s PsycInfo.

o Library. Try your local library, then call regional college and university libraries and ask if they allow guests. If they do, find out what your rules and constraints are (for example, if you can’t check out books, bring change for the copier or scanner).


  • Search terms

o Terms in the resolution

o Political/legal terms of art (eg. Value Added Assessments)

o Influential article that many authors quote

o Footnote mining– find the part of the article that looks most useful and search for the works cited in the foot/end notes of that section)

o Search within search-jstor and lexis can return thousands of results. Try narrowing them down by searching within your search results.

o Control+f to scan a webpage


What do I do once I found a passage for a card?

  • Tag it. The tag should be a concise claim that the card proves true. It should not be much more general or specific than the actual card is.


  • Cite. Include the full citation.


  • Underline/Highlight.

o Maintain warrants, some forceful rhetoric, but don’t underline extraneous wording.

o Do not exclude words that change the meaning of the sentence entirely like “not”, and words that change the strength of the statement like “generally” “sometimes” “might”.



The short story- don’t do it. You will not learn as much, and you’ll get punished. Some coaches and judges are very serious about accurate cites, and fabricating anything can get your school banned from a tournament forever. Besides the fact that it’s wrong, it’s just not smart.

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