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Debate Research Aids

Research Tips

The vast majority of time involved in developing the Policy Case, either Affirmative

or Negative, revolves around researching for "evidence" (facts, statistics, and expert

opinions) to support your case. While this takes regular effort, there are ways to

make research more efficient. 

It starts with a good search term and good search tools.
Use a good search engine (or catalog search) that is set to filter for your desired results.

For example, set the engine to bring up only academic or legal articles to avoid having to

sift through the gossip blogs or trivial mention of your topic.

Phrase your search question to help target the results you seek. Then rephrase your question to receive different results. For example, searching for "illegal aliens" may be too broad. Instead search for "the cost of illegal aliens to America's economy."  Try several different configurations of that phrase, for example "how much do illegal aliens cost Amercan business."  Then switch the term "undocumented workers" for "illegal aliens." Continue to vary your queries as you receive results. Be sure to check the opposite position of your question as you will be searching for both Affirmative and Negative cases. For example rephrase your search to look for "illegal aliens benefit US business." Continue using the same concepts of rewording and re-targeting as you look for results.


Be sure to backup and save your work!
Bookmark your fruitful searches, then copy and categorize (or "block") your information into a word processing program. Finally print off your results into evidence sheets to be placed in your debate notebook. Only printed evidence is allowed in rounds (which includes your evidence sheets, and books, newspapers and magazines in their entirety). 

Always back up your evidence to protect from loss. You should have 2 copies of all evidence, one for yourself, and one for your partner. 

Keep track of your time.
Keep track of your search time for credit hours. Also mark the research you have found to track your work for grade purpose and to help decide which partner should get which research should the team split for one reason or another.


Carefully organize and cite your evidence.
Remember all evidence must be carefully cited with appropriate author, credentials (of author), publisher or source, and date it was either published or retrieved off the internet. Good evidence is authoritative only if it is from an author and source that is both reliable and well informed on that topic.

Evidence should also be well organized for easy retrieval during the debate round. Carefully sectioning evidence with notebook divisions speeds locating it during the round. Placing evidence in plastic sheet protectors allows one piece of evidence to be notated and reused round after round (with the use of dry erase or vis-a-vis pens). 

Evidence Blocking Example  


Evidence Block Form

There is no shortcut to research as nothing replaces diligent and consistent effort, but using a focused approach, with good search tools, remembering to carefully cite, categorize, organize, and backup your results, can significantly reduce the time a student spends on evidence collection.

Evidence Bias
All evidence should be accurate, factual, and balanced. Biased evidence presents an issue solely from the perspective of the author's personal opinion or conclusions. It seeks to persuade the reader by using only the evidence that supports its position, ignoring evidence or facts that disagree. Such pieces should be reserved for the OpEd (opinion/editorial) section of the news source.

Opinions are not bad. We form opinions every day which help us interact in our world in a way that is useful to us. We use expert opinions to help guide our decisions. 

Bias is not inherently bad. We all must determine what we believe is true, and what is not true, in order to make meaninful decisions. Therefore, everyone has a worldview bias...the lens they use to interpret the world around them in order to make sense of the world and how they live in the world. 

Every writer then writes from their own personal understanding which thereby includes their bias to a certain degree. 

However, responsible news writers attempt to fairly and accurately portray an issue from both sides, even those they disagree with, so that differing opinions and viewpoints are equally presented. The purpose is to allow the reader to draw their own conclusions about the issues from facts accurately presented.

When opinion is presented as news, "bad" bias is present. When it attempts to report false facts to persuade, it becomes propaganda. 

Opinion bias can be disguised by:

  •  The omission of facts (what was included vs. what was not included), 

  •  Choice of sources (using only those fitting the writer's bias while ignoring others),

  •  Imbalance of support (unfairly weighting the piece to one side),  

  •  Presenting the piece with "spin" (providing only one interpretation of the issue), and

  •  Unfavorably labeling persons, groups, or ideas of one side (while the other is not labeled).

For more information on bias, particularly media bias, please see the Student Daily News article, Media Bias, then review the analysis of Conservative vs. Liberal positions, then review the links at examples of media bias.

Also see All Sides, an organization which attempts to evaluate the bias leanings of different news sources and then links news articles from "all" sides for current issues. MRCTV reviews news with the purpose of determining bias and misinformation as does their segments Reality Check.



Search Tools


Google arguably is the most used search engine with enormous crawlers and several search options.

Google Safe Search for Kids is Google's family friendly search engine. 

Google Scholar. Confines searches to academic peer reviewed material. 


But let's be honest. Google search products have become very one sided in their results as it seeks to protect its users from what it considers "disinformation." Then, there is personal privacy concerns as Google tracks your use history and sells it to companies for profit.


DuckDuckGo is an excellent search engine that gives broad spectrum results without the personal tracking associated with Google. 

Freespoke is another excellent search engine that gives broad spectrum results for both the "left" and the right" as well as much better privacy on search, even labeling some articles "left" or "right" leaning.


Bing, which is a product of Microsoft, still seems to offer a more balanced spectrum of responses. Tracking may be an issue if you log into your Microsoft account.


Mojeek is a search product (web crawler) out of Germany that provides balanced spectrum results and privacy.

MetaGer is a search engine hosted in Germany that is private and extensive.


Yahoo Search is a more limited search product but still provides a more balanced spectrum to date (Fall 2021). However, it does track your user history.

Noodle Tools provides search tools for a modest annual fee. This particular tool walks a student through their search quest in a question format. Noodle Tools also provides a Knowledge Base article database and MLA and ALA format help.

12 Fabulous Academic Search Engines
A list of 12 great search engines (not all are free)

7 Best Private Search Engines (and some warnings how to protect yourself)

More Search Tips

Virtual Salt's Internet Search Tips  This article gives a detailed overview of internet research tools and research tips. 

Some Notable Research Resource Websites


Black's Law Dictionary, 2nd Ed, free online with additional definitions added by Free Law Dictionary


NOLO's Free Dictionary of Law Terms (legal terms and court cases)


Find Law (legal terms and court cases)

Cornell University Law School Library website

The Heritage Foundation  (conservative think tank with authoritative articles)

The Cato Institute  (conservative think tank with authoritative articles)

Congressional Budget Office (administrative branch responsible for budget analysis reports to Congress)

Congressional Research Service (branch of Library of Congress responsible for research reports to Congress)

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