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Filed under: Learning

Debate Terms: What is a Case?

If you are new to the debate world, there are a lot of specialized terms you will become familiar with. “Case” is one of those you are likely to pick up simply from the context it is used in. Still, it bears some consideration because many new debaters don’t create proper cases when they start out.

What is in a case?

A Case is simply the over-arching argument that you intend to make in the debate. Typically it is directed at answering a specific question or supporting a specific claim. You can think of it as your battle plan for the debate. A good case includes a number of different elements.

The Thesis: This is the conclusion that you intend the audience to reach. Sometimes it is a debate resolution, sometimes it is simply the goal of your presentation. Everything in your case should be in service to proving the thesis.

Definitions: Every debate will involve key terms, and it is crucial that all debaters and the audience understand the meaning of the terms with respect to the debate. Highlighting these up front will help any debate have greater clarity and meaning. Sometimes the outcome of a debate depends greatly on definitions.

Observations: These are facts on which your argument depends. They can be simple observations such as “the sky is blue” or much more complicated claims such as, “the majority of Americans embrace capitalism.” Sometimes these facts will be simple assertions, other times evidence citations are used to support their validity.

Arguments: This is the connective tissue of a debate. It takes the evidence and observations and uses them to logically support the conclusion of the thesis.

A case is usually laid out in exactly that order, with the Thesis repeated at the end of the case as the inevitable conclusion of the evidence and reason.

Articles about debate theory are difficult to illustrate.

Why have a case?

To get started

When you enter a debate looking to prove a point, you need a case to make that point. It may not be as formal as what I’ve outlined above, but it should have most of these elements to be effective in persuading anyone that your claim is true. Until someone has made a case in a debate, there is no real reason for an opponent to make any arguments.

To provide structure and stay focused

Having a formalized case is also very helpful for organizing your thoughts. When you force yourself to Define, Observe, and Argue you are ensuring that you don’t miss any important elements. So long as you can establish and defend these elements, you can prove your point to a person making a reasoned judgment about your case. In the course of a debate, it can be easy to get sidetracked and lose sight of your objective. Having a defined case lets you remember your objective and stay focused on it during a debate.

To control the debate

Providing a strong well-organized argument is part of something called framing. Other people’s thoughts, including your opponent, will follow along with yours if your ideas are presented in a compelling way. An easy to follow and logically ordered set of arguments is one good way to do this. When your opponent spends most of their time talking about your ideas, you have an advantage, both in the ability to prepare for those arguments, and with an audience who sees you as the leader of the discussion, and thus the authority.

Do you need a case as Con?

When you are in a responding possition in a debate (Con, Negative, Defense etc…) you don’t necessarily need a case of your own. It is possible to simply attack the elements of your opponent’s case. If you are a defense lawyer in a criminal case, you only need to cast doubt on the prosecution contentions. In other forms of debate, this may not be enough. Even if you cast doubt on your opponent’s arguments, without a case contrary to the thesis, they may gain the benefit of any doubt.

A good felt lining always makes a case more appealing.

The case for a written case

Thesis: Having a written case is better than not having one.

Definition: Written Case = A case for debate that is recorded in written form rather than one that is simply “in your head” or not using a case at all. Typically it is read during a debate.


  1. Omissions or errors in observations or argument can be fatal to a case
  2. Reading a case ensures that each element is presented in a consistent manner
  3. Written cases allow for fine-tuning of language through review and revision
  4. Debaters often engage in the same debate more than once
  5. Debaters want to win debates and to be persuasive
  6. Written cases can be easily shared and preserved


  1. Written Cases Ensure Quality Arguments: Becuase debaters want to win, and because omissions and errors can lead to losing a debate, debaters need a way to minimize errors and omissions. Reading a written case helps ensure that a case is presented in its complete form each time it is argued. Further, it provides a consistent means to review the case for flaws and to make improvements.
  2. Written Cases Save Time: When debaters engage in a debate more than once, having a written case allows them to quickly prepare for the next debate. Further, if a fellow debater wants to argue the topic, you can easily share your case, allowing them a head start on preparation.
  3. Written Cases Make Improvement Easier: A written case gives you a foundation for improving upon an argument. After a debate, you can review which portions worked or did not, modify the case in writing, and then preserve those improvements for further debates on that topic.


I’ve shown you three reasons why a written case is superior to one you simply keep in your head. They help you win by ensuring you cover every part of your argument, they save you time in subsequent debates, and they give you a framework for improving your arguments over the long run.