Steps for Approaching a New Topic


Every time a new topic is announced, students need to restart the process of understanding the topic area and generating arguments. This resource provides a structured approach for debate teams to effectively navigate the initial phases of topic preparation. This guide is designed to help debaters build a solid foundation of knowledge and perspective on new debate topics.


This resource can be applied whenever a new debate topic is announced. It is particularly beneficial for coaches and debaters seeking a systematic approach to kickstart their preparation process.

Learning Outcomes

  • Comprehensive Topic Understanding: Gain a deep and nuanced understanding of the new debate topic, including its key terms and broader context.
  • Effective Research Skills: Develop proficiency in gathering, organizing, and utilizing diverse sources of information relevant to the debate topic.
  • Analytical Thinking: Enhance the ability to analyze the topic from multiple perspectives, considering historical, current, and potential future implications.
  • Collaborative Preparation: Foster collaborative research and knowledge-sharing practices within the debate team.


Step 1: Understanding the Topic

  1. Topic Dissection: Dissect the topic into smaller segments, examining its key terms and phrases. Discuss how the wording of the topic shapes the potential scope of the debate.

    • Questions to Ask:
      • What are the key terms in this topic, and how would you define them?
      • Are there any words or phrases in the topic that could be interpreted in multiple ways?
      • How does the wording of the topic shape the potential scope of the debate?
  2. Contextual Background: Investigate the historical background and current relevance of the topic, considering how past and present contexts might impact the debate.

    • Questions to Ask:
      • What historical events or developments are relevant to this topic?
      • How has the public perception or policy regarding this topic changed over time?
      • Can you identify any current news stories or events that directly relate to our topic?
  3. Identifying Key Areas: Brainstorm potential affirmative and negative arguments, and conduct a stakeholder analysis to understand the perspectives of those affected by the issue.

    • Questions to Ask:
      • What are the most obvious arguments for the affirmative and negative sides?
      • Who are the primary stakeholders affected by this issue, and what are their concerns?
      • Can you think of any unique or unconventional arguments that could be made?

Step 2: Initial Research Phase

  1. Resource Gathering: Collect information from a variety of sources, ensuring a broad and balanced understanding of the topic.

    • Questions to Ask:
      • What types of sources have you found that provide valuable information on this topic?
      • Have you identified any experts or authorities on this topic? What are their main arguments?
      • How do different sources present the topic differently, and why might that be?
  2. Creating a Research Document: Compile and organize research findings in a shared document, making it easily accessible and navigable for the entire team.

    • Questions to Ask:
      • How have you organized the research document, and can it be easily navigated by all team members?
      • What are some key pieces of evidence or quotes you have found that strongly support our arguments?
      • How can we regularly update and maintain this document to keep our information current?


By following these structured steps, debate teams can ensure they are not only well-prepared with a thorough understanding of the new topic but also equipped with a comprehensive research base. This foundational preparation is crucial for developing strong, well-rounded arguments and strategies in subsequent stages of debate preparation.

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