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A First Look at Creating Paperless Debate Files

businessGoing paperless changes a lot more about debate than just what materials you bring to the tournament. Almost every facet of the activity—from argument conceptualization to evidence production to in-round execution—will eventually be revamped to harness the advantages and minimize the limitations of purely electronic debating.

This post will focus on one of the most important, but often overlooked, building-blocks of debate success: file construction. A lot has changed since Naveen Ramachandrappa’s sweet intro to electronic research and will continued to be altered by paperless in several ways:

1. Indexes.

They are far less relevant in an electronic world. Small/medium (1-150 pages) files do not need an index at all. Instead, debaters should simply use the Document Map built into Word for navigation. If you’re having trouble seeing the entirety of your “Index” in the Doc Map, you can adjust the font to be smaller by using “Styles + Formatting” (for Word 2003), then right-clicking “Document Map” and choosing “Modify”.

For larger files (150+ pages), some of my students have argued that a traditional index is easier to use because it allows the debater to see all pages at once. I don’t believe this is necessary: the Doc Map can be navigated easily with a mouse (especially if you have one with a scroll-wheel – highly recommended) and its easier than flipping back-and-forth between the body of your file and the index on page 1.

2. Highlighting is the New Underline

With a paperless file, having the whole thing underlined but not highlighted is worthless. The highlighting function in Word is decent but very slow. You can make it faster by creating a Highlight Macro, but it still won’t be fast enough to do in a pinch.

Imagine that you’re Aff and someone reads Spark against you. You have 300 pages of answers, but not a single card is underlined.

Know that feeling?

That’s why you have to highlight as a paperless team. Your critique answers only help if you can use them, and you can’t use non-highlighted files because people chronically over-underline.

In fact, I could be convinced that underlining should be phased-out altogether. It is a relic of a previous era: the day of the copier. People underlined because it could be copied; highlighting would be lost. Highlighting serves the same function and can be easily shared in an electronic world. Plus, it’s much easier to read that pure underlining.

I’ve experimented with this, but continue to both underline and highlight for two reasons. First (and, to be honest, most importantly), I like the aesthetic look of it. Purely highlighted cards *seem worse*. I know that this is silly and a result of habits engrained from papered debate that will soon pass, but it is undoubtedly powerful now. Second, I feel that people both over-underline and over-highlight. Doing both requires a two-step process that causes people to limit how much they highlight, creating better files.

I’d like to hear from some people on this. Thoughts?

3. Old School Dividers are Back

For a long while, I would insert dividers into my file by creating a page that was totally blank other than a Heading that said:

“*** LINKS ***”

Some people call them “DeLucas” – after a famous traveling magician – but I won’t get into that now.

The purpose was two-fold: 1) file organization – because it clearly divides your Doc Map into separate sections and 2) filing – because you can “wrap” the divider around several sheets of paper to sub-divide pockets of an accordion.

Well, after some time, I stopped using them. Most files aren’t long enough to warrant sectional division and the extra sheets of paper didn’t do much other than pad the page numbers of some lazy debaters’ work. At worst, you can insert a Faux-Divider by put it on the top of another page and shrinking the text so it becomes indecipherably small.

With paperless, though, they’re back. Paper waste is a non-issue, as it won’t be printed. Files that previously didn’t need division now do, because time is a premium in debates and you want to be able to find your “Links” section ASAP on the fly.

Old school dividers again serve a very useful purpose: they allow debaters to visually identify important sections of files, letting them quickly navigate through work on the go.

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