Cross-examination is perhaps the most under-utilized several minutes of any debate round. Since your cross-x gives you complete control over what subjects are discussed, it is crucial that you work to wring every last drop of strategic potential out of this time. Today, we’re going to look at which questions you absolutely cannot skip if you want to ensure success.
A good cross-examination should always be about more than simple clarification. You want to corner your opponent, establish your control of the round, and locate and exploit flaws in the opposition’s arguments. However, today we’re going to focus on one important type of clarification question: those that define your ground and ensure complete coverage. These are the questions that make sure you are 100% clear on your opponents’ advocacy, and how it relates to you.
If you skip these questions, you run the risk of drastically misunderstanding the other team’s strategy in the debate, and messing up your one chance to make high-quality, responsive answers. So tattoo them inside your eyelids! (don’t actually do that):
Just committing them to memory seems less painful.
What you’re looking for here (depending on the round and speech) is a copy of a plan text, counterplan texts, kritik alternative texts, advocacy statements, and permutation texts. Once you have these, read them. Make sure the responses you plan to make are actually directly applicable. A misunderstanding in a constructive can derail the entire round, so make sure you’re on-point!
You may want to directly ask “how many permutations are there?” for each position on which they read perms. Remember that individual permutations often require different types of answers. There’s nothing worse than losing because you dropped an extra perm tucked inside somewhere.
Make sure to also establish verbally that they will defend the text as written. If for some reason they refuse to, figure out exactly what they will commit to defending. This allows you to pin them down and prevent them from shifting out of your offense later in the debate. (Note that by “defend” we don’t necessarily mean “advocate.” Conditionality is a separate concern. The important thing here is to determine whether the text can be considered a stable articulation of the specific position).
Never skip this in any round where CPs/Ks are present. It is critical to establish the conditions under which your opponents will go for a particular position, so you can decide how to allocate time and strategic investment. You may also want to read theory, but you can’t do that without determining the position’s status.
Depending on the round, you may need to ask a couple of follow-up questions. Specifically, positions defined as “dispositional” warrant the question “how do you define dispositionality?” Since that term can be used in so many different ways, it is almost meaningless without the second question. Against kritik strategies, you may also want to inquire about whether they believe they can kick the alternative and go for the position as a case turn. Both of these issues will depend on the individual round at hand.
Any time you’re forced to defend against topicality or another procedural, you need to be sure you know exactly what the violation is. What is the interpretation, how exactly do you violate it, and what is an example of a plan that meets? On T, a minor misunderstanding can easily snowball into a 2AC with no responsive answers, which results in an avoidable loss. Don’t let that happen to you.
No matter what their impacts are, find out exactly how their internal link and solvency stories function. What is it about the plan/counterplan/kritik that prevents each individual impact? Asking these questions will allow you to scope out where their internal links are shoddy and exploit that. Lots and lots of solvency stories are extremely tenuous, and forcing them to explain piece-by-piece will help you draw that out. It also ensures you’re pulling your most relevant cards to answer each scenario.
Asking these questions alone is not enough to guarantee that you’ll be a cross-x rock star, but they’re a good start. Most importantly, they’ll make sure you aren’t missing anything critical before it’s too late. These strategies form the backbone of the information you need to create a tight, responsive vision for the remainder of the debate. Neglect them at your own peril.
And stay tuned to Debate Central for more cross-examination tips; we’ll be posting a more comprehensive guide very soon!
In the meantime, tell us—what cross-x questions do you think are most important? What do you struggle with?