How to Cut Cards for Speech & Debate

Two debate opponents leaning against podium.
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The phrase "cutting cards" refers to the process of collecting quoted evidence for use in competitive speech and debate tournaments. The phrase comes from the era of debate before computers when competitors would photocopy pages from books and then cut the copies with scissors to make them fit on notecards. Today, most debaters prefer to compile evidence in text documents and either use their computers or print out files for use in tournaments.

1 Find a Quotable Resource

The first step in cutting a card is finding an appropriate quotable source. Academic books and journal articles are usually the best, but established newspapers and magazines can provide equally credible material about current events. The International Debate Education Association advises against quoting evidence from sources like blogs and forum posts, as these are not usually rigorously researched or fact-checked. Additionally, try to avoid articles that take a neutral point of view or summarize arguments on both sides of an issue. Otherwise, your opponents may quote your own source back at you.

2 Copy and Paste

Once you've located a good source for your argument, copy and paste the relevant portion of the document onto the card. If you're working on a computer, just highlight the appropriate section and copy it into a word processing document. If you're cutting cards from a physical text, make a photocopy of the relevant page or pages. Cut evidence in context, meaning you should copy more text than you plan to actually use in a debate. For example, if you only want to cite two sentences of a paragraph about solar power in an article about alternative energy, you should copy the entire paragraph for context.

3 Add a Tag Line and Citation

After you've copied the quotation, add a tag line and citation. A tag line is a brief summary of what the card says and how it should be used in a debate. For example, if your quotation says that solar energy can't produce enough electrical power to replace coal-fired power plants, your tag line might read, "Solar fails -- can't replace coal." Short and accurate tag lines will help you quickly identify important evidence during a debate. Underneath the tag line, write a citation in any format you like. Include the author's name and qualifications. For example, if a professor of chemical engineering authored your solar power article, your citation should include something like "Dr. John Doe, professor of chemical engineering at Harvard."

4 Underline or Highlight

In an actual debate, you save time by only reading the portion of the article you have underlined or highlighted. The National Debate Coaches Association recommends underlining instead of highlighting to avoid clarity problems when making photocopies, but that's not a problem if you're relying on a computer. Whether you're highlighting or underlining, the Dallas Urban Debate Alliance advises students to include on the card the claim you want to advance and the reasoning behind it. In the solar energy example, you would highlight not only the claim that solar energy can't displace coal-fired power plants but also the rationale for that claim. For example, you might underline a sentence explaining that batteries can't hold enough solar energy to operate factories.

Nick Robinson is a writer, instructor and graduate student. Before deciding to pursue an advanced degree, he worked as a teacher and administrator at three different colleges and universities, and as an education coach for Inside Track. Most of Robinson's writing centers on education and travel.