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How to Read a Background Guide

A good background guide gets better with each read. Because of that, we think it’s important to look at all of the included information not just once, but sometimes five times. There will always be stuff you missed, or things you can build on to work with your arc or to write a great resolution.

The First Look

This is where you’re going to get an idea for what the committee will actually focus on. We’ll take it step by step, cover to cover.

The first thing you’ll typically see in a background guide are letters from the chair (and maybe crisis director) – these are sometimes interesting to read. These are typically introductory letters where the chairs and CDs introduce themselves and say what they’re interested in. They’re typically pretty informal. I like to know what my dais members are interested in and if they have a particular passion for the topic (which they hopefully do). Sometimes you can also gauge how experienced they are as a delegate, which should give you some indication of how debate will go. What we mean by this is that sometimes more inexperienced chairs have a harder time controlling the room and may use stricter parliamentary procedure in order to try and bring about order to the room instead of just going with the flow of debate. How to control a room is learned in time, and is something even the most experienced chairs may have trouble with. Check out our article on how to be a great chair here.  Also if you’re looking to get on your chair’s good side, bringing up one of the hobbies and talking to them about it is a great way to make connections on the circuit. 

Past the letters will be the first bit of information relevant to the committee: background and introductory information. This information has been researched by the dais members and chosen specifically for the committee. Do a general read of this at first to see what time period you’ll be in and what the big issues are. More in-depth reads will come later in the background guide reading process. 

Next you will typically encounter “questions to consider.” An oft-overlooked bit of the guide, these questions will essentially guide debate. They are created by the dais to specifically lead debate to talk about those questions (i.e. this is what the dais wants you to talk about). Read through these carefully. It’s far more important to absorb the questions the dais wants you to ask and skim through the background information at first, and we’ll tell you why in a minute. 

Past this will be position information. These short little bios tell you important and relevant information about the positions in the committee. Sometimes a fun fact will be included in the bio which can often be helpful in building an arc or getting people to side with you on an issue. Look at your position’s bio first. It’s important to take in everything that the dais has included that they believe is relevant to your place in committee. From this, then look back at the other positions and see who your allies may be. 

Love at (Second) Sight

Now’s when you’ll really get into the meat of the guide. Using the “questions to consider” part, look again at the background information. Is there anything in there that specifically addresses one or more of the questions? If the guide is written well, there should be. Highlight, circle, or do whatever to this info so you can look back at it later. There’s a reason the writers put it in the guide, so use it. This is why it’s more helpful to look at the questions before doing a deep dive into the background material. Now you’re able to focus more on what the dais wants you to know without getting sidetracked by other information that may not be as relevant. 

Look at the positions again, but this time using your new information from the guide. Are there any positions that are radically against the situation? Who is on your side and who’s on the opposing side? How many positions are on the opposing side? Are you friends with anyone? Check the article here for more questions to ask while reading a guide so you get the full picture of what’s going on. 

Now look at the sources at the end of the guide. Another underrated part of the guide, these sources are often the key to good research. In this article about how to research a position, we talk about doing a deep dive into the sources as one of the first steps to good research. When you’re looking at the sources, try and figure out what the writers of the guide left out. Is there any information that you find important that wasn’t featured in the guide? If so, make a note of it. 

The Third Read (and On)

This is where you really pick apart the information. How are you going to address the questions, and how does your position play into the situation that you’ll be discussing. Make sure you don’t graze over anything in the guide, the dais wrote this guide a certain way for a reason. Try and absorb all the information you can from it, and then take to the books and the internet to look for more information. It’s better to be over-researched and use only 20% of it in debate than to have very little research and the debate is focused on the 20% you didn’t look at.

Good luck and hit us up at with any comments, questions, or other fun things!

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