Guidelines for Topic Writing
1. Topics should be simple, declarative sentences. Examples are: “Extra-terrestrial intelligence exists” and “Schools should not serve junk food.” Clarity helps students understand which issues support the topic and which arguments might effectively clash with the proposition team’s case.
2. Topics should encourage the application of higher-level thinking skills. Using comparative language (“On balance, video games do more good than harm”) or complex terms (“It is unethical to eat meat”) encourages higher-order thinking.
3. Topics should be challenging, serious issues of local, regional, national, or international concern. While debating about whether Batman could defeat Superman (hint: Batman will probably lose) or whether a dog makes a better pet than cat may be fun, MSPDP debates focus on topics such as federal bailouts of banks, the application of economic sanctions as a tool of foreign policy, abolition of supermajority voting in legislatures, and military intervention. These topics help students better understand their world.
4. Topics should be age-appropriate. At the same time that they are challenging, MSPDP topics should also involve issues of interest to students and their age group. A mix of topics at every tournament engages all students.
5. Where possible, topics should intersect with the school curriculum. Topics are often drawn from what students study in class. Note that it is important to create exceptions for the social studies sequence - it is not fair to ask sixth graders to debate against eighth graders on an issue contained in the eighth grade history sequence.
6. Topics should be chosen and approved by teachers. Teachers have the best idea of what students can do and should be learning. The league president's job is to seek feedback from teachers and select topics.
7. Topics should be fair to both teams. They should not ask too much of one team while making it much easier for the other team to win. They avoid extreme language like “always,” “never” and “all,” which makes the topic nearly impossible for the proposition to prove in a relatively brief debate.
8. Topics should avoid false dichotomies. A false dichotomy occurs when a topic poses a choice when, in fact, a choice need not be made. A topic such as “Citizens should give up freedom for safety” makes it proportionately much easier for the opposition to win as they must only prove that citizens need not make such a choice.