How to Construct a Case

Written by Josh Sandberg & Sihong Chan for Stanford CTL35SI

Choosing a Topic:

Oftentimes, the hardest part of constructing a case is coming up with what you’re going to debate on. I get my inspiration from a variety of sources—The Economist, T.V. shows, classes, conversations with friends etc. Even when you think you have a really good idea for a case however, things aren’t that simple. Something that looks great at first turns out to have only one argument that you will be through with in 30 seconds, or on the other hand, might be too complicated to present in a mere 8 minutes. So here are some suggestions on what and what not to do when you’re coming up with your case…

You should be able to describe what you want to argue in a one or two-sentence "case statement" - if you can't figure out how to say it in two sentences, it's probably way too complicated. Think of it as a thesis statement in an essay, and remember that clarity is key! You may want to provide background material or an introductory story, but don't go overboard - it takes time away from your actual arguments.

Coming up with Arguments:

So now you have an idea that you think might work, what next? APDA cases by convention have 3 (or more) major arguments. In practice, this normally works out to be one solid argument, one argument that kinda makes sense but is of questionable importance, and one argument that is not only flimsy but also that a normal person buying a cheeseburger at McDonalds wouldn’t even consider when thinking about the motion. DO NOT BE LIKE THAT! Here are some suggestions on how to make a strong case…

Speaking with Structure:

Once you have some fantastic arguments, your job as a presenter is to express them as clearly and powerfully as possible. Structure is key! If you're talking, and I don't know exactly what you're trying to say, I've already started to zone out. Divide each argument into multiple sub-points, and tell me when you're moving from one to the next. Make your arguments easy to flow by using short and memorable titles for each bit of analysis or example. If I don't write something down, chances are I won't remember it five minutes later, much less thirty.

Adding Polish:

If you master the ability to maintain a strong and logical structure within your speech, you will be a remarkably better speaker than the rest of the population. This is when you can begin to develop your own style to further distinguish your presentation. Some common things to consider include pace (speed), physical movement, eye contact, and inflection. Everyone strikes a different mix; the idea is to find one that is natural for you while avoiding the extremes.