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Questions to Ask When Reading a Background Guide

A background guide can be a daunting document (shouts to us for alliteration). Here are some good questions to ask when reading your guide for the first, second, or tenth time.

While reading the letter from the chair:

  • What are the chair’s hobbies?
  • Are they passionate about the topic?
  • How long have they been doing MUN?

While reading the background information:

  • What time period is the committee set in?
  • Where is the committee set?
  • Who is the king/queen/president/prime minister/etc. at the time?
  • What’s the general situation?
  • What are the questions to consider?
  • Is there information in the background that helps address some of the questions to consider?
  • What information seems irrelevant (if any)?

While reading the list of positions

  • What does your position say?
  • Do you have any sort of power?
  • Who are you allies and who are your enemies?
  • Do you have a significant other?
  • What are your past political ties?
  • Who seems to be easily persuaded and who seems stubborn?

While looking at the sources:

  • Are they all from wikipedia?
  • Are some of the websites foreign?
  • Are there a lot of “.edu” or “.gov” websites? (these often have other really good sources linked to them)
  • Which ones can you use to find more information on your position?
  • Are there a lot of books referenced or is it mostly internet sources?
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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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What is a General Assembly Committee?

When the typical person envisions Model UN, it is likely that they will immediately picture a General Assembly (GA) committee. This is the ~classic~ form of MUN which has sprouted all the other fun variations that we have talked about (i.e. Crisis).

GA Structure

In my opinion, the best way to describe a GA committee is that it mimics the actual UN. While Crisis committees can cover any topic in the world and can have several different structures, a GA is traditionally a more literal interpretation of what the United Nations does. Many of these committees will follow actual UN bodies, like DISEC, UNODC, or UNHRC. The topics in these committees tend to be historical or current day, as they will either allow you the opportunity to go back and solve a real world global crisis as the UN in a way which you think would have been better, or take on a current global issue that hasn’t quite been handled yet. A good example of this would be UNODC (UN Office on Drugs and Crime) covering the topic of international drug trafficking. This is a very real issue that the UN would potentially pass a resolution on. Furthermore, to keep with UN structure, delegates will typically represent countries instead of individuals. Therefore, you have to know your nation’s foriegn policy, heads of state and government, and allies. For more info on how to prep for a GA, see our article on pre-conference research.While this is the standard way that GAs work, that is not to say there are not other GA style committees that are futuristic or that act as non-UN bodies, it is just less common. I’ll get more into the unconventional GA styles in a bit.

How GAs Run

As far as the way the committee runs, it is an amalgamation of parliamentary procedure, debate, and writing. Parli pro is far more stringent in GA committees. Now, I’m not trying to intimidate you, everyone can always improve on parli pro and mistakes happen to beginners and advanced delegates alike. However, the function of the committee is much more dependent on the structure of traditional parli pro than in a crisis committee. For a more expanded view of how the parli pro works and in what order things happen, see our outline of GA parliamentary procedure. 

Debate is vital in GA committees, mostly because there is no other aspect of committee. There are no crisis notes in a standard GA committee, you may only write notes to fellow delegates (which you should absolutely do to plan ideas for resolutions and build alliances). Because of the lack of crisis, your speaking is the most important part of your performance. Come in knowledgeable and ready to think on your feet, because speeches will make or break your award potential. Unmoderated caucuses will also be vital to your success in a GA. This is the time where you will convince people to believe in your proposed solution. Charm their pants off, have answers to their questions, and rebut the opponents. For more info on unmods and how to become a superstar at them, click here.

Writing is the other major aspect of a GA, as the committee will culminate in the passing of a resolution, which is a very large, comprehensive, and collaborative piece meant to solve the issue at hand. Generally, two resolutions will be presented, one from each block (a group of allies that are working for the same solution), but only one will be passed. If both are passed, any parts of the second resolution that contradict the first resolution will hold true over the first. Resolutions, like most GA things, are more structured than their crisis counterpart: directives. Preambulatory clauses, operative clauses, signatories, sponsors; it’s all a little convoluted. However, it can be learned pretty easily with some practice. See our article on writing resolutions to learn more about the process (wow how many self-promos is that now? 6?). 

Unconventional GAs

I won’t spend too much time on this, because this is supposed to be an into article, i suppose. However, I think it’s important to mention the fact that there are some kinds of GA committees that don’t quite fit into what I previously described. There are futuristic committees that may fall into a GA style, like an intergalactic governing council. There, too, may be a committee that doesn’t have you act as a country but rather as an individual, like a board of directors of a major company. You may also find yourself in an “adjusted crisis” committee. Don’t panic if that’s the case, you’ll make it. Generally, those are a GA style committee with resolutions and all the typical things, but they allow crisis notes in some capacity. It may be limited crisis powers or you may have to send group notes to encourage cooperation. However it is structured, it should be outlined in the background guide (read this to learn how to use a background guide well). If not, ask your chair! They’ll gladly explain, its their job.

Final Thoughts

GAs often get a bad rap from crisis delegates and are seen as stuffy and hoity-toity versions of the scrappy and often silly crisis committees. However, without GA, we wouldn’t have crisis, so lets collectively pour one out for the homies who choose to devote their MUN careers to mastering the fickle art of the GA. If you are a debate person, a UN, history, or international relations junkie, or just got excited by this article, this style of committee may be for you. Long live the GA dels (and the crisis dels that got their start in GA, like me). I hope this gave you an idea of what you are getting yourself into and will give you a basic roadmap for success in committee. Good luck!

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How To Be A Great Chair

A great chair is often made of a “softwood” that is in fact quite durable and weather resistant, like beech or teak. However, a great Model UN conference chair is made up of much more than that. This article will quickly cover the five of the most important things that make a great chair.

Knowledge of parliamentary procedure

Paramount to being a great chair is simply a good knowledge of parliamentary procedure. Now, this isn’t to say that a great chair needs to have a massive textbook knowledge of every tiny loophole and trick within parliamentary procedure. This means that a typical chair should be able to move through debate, unmoderated caucuses, and voting procedure with no problems. If chairs are trained correctly, parliamentary procedure should not be a difficult task to master. Training chairs for conference is extremely important. Conference secretariat can also improve chairs by maintaining communications with chairs over instant messaging to quickly answer any questions that may arise during committee. Feedback from head delegates is also important in addressing common parliamentary mistakes that chairs may be making and adjusting during conference time. Ideally, this feedback will translate into alterations and improvements for next year’s conference. Chairs themselves can read up on the training materials provided on our website here to prep for their conference role.  


While maintaining proper parliamentary procedure is important, chairs should be aware that there are times when suspending the rules of procedure or expediting committee through a “chair’s discretion” act is necessary. Generally, once or twice per conference (and most often in crisis committees) there comes a point during committee or a timed crisis that committee could be best streamlined by making temporary adjustments in procedure. However, it is up to the chair to determine when this is appropriate. Flexibility demonstrates that chairs have a good knowledge of parliamentary procedure, but also a good knowledge of the flow of committee and when to override parliamentary procedure.  

A positive, friendly attitude

The best chair I ever had was a first time chair, who embodied all of these points but especially this one. The first time I staffed a conference, I thought that because I was on a dais I had to be serious and help run the room strictly. However, that is not the case. The more I have gained experience as a delegate, the more I have realized that I genuinely enjoy my time in committees where the chair is also having a good time. A good chair shouldn’t be afraid to smile, be friendly, and laugh. While that sounds cheesy, it’s true. Especially at the collegiate level, it’s fun to be able to joke with your chair or have a great conversation with them and other delegates at socials. In committee, chairs who are positive and understanding are enjoyable to be in the room with. It is always appreciated when chairs genuinely attempt to connect with the room they are in.     


While this may apply more to a chair who is working with a high school conference, I still have seen collegiate rooms run amok because the chair doesn’t have control. This is not saying that chairs need to rule with an iron fist–that typically backfires and results in the room losing respect. Generally, losing control happens in a room where the chair is indecisive and often does not have a great grasp on parliamentary procedure. It is completely possible to be a personable, friendly chair while still maintaining control over a room. What needs to be maintained is respect. Delegates respect a chair who knows their parliamentary procedure and gets along with the committee. Being indecisive is a pitfall that some chairs end up in if they are not experienced in parliamentary procedure. Delegates can sense this and will often end up debating with the chair themselves over procedure to sway the chair’s decision. Ultimately, decisions for committee procedure are left to the chair and the chair should effectively wield this power. Chairs should be decisive, but appropriate in their use of “chair’s discretion”. 

An active in-room delegate

This is not to say that there can’t be great conference staff that doesn’t travel with the competitive team. However, overwhelmingly, great chairs are often in the role of delegate themselves. While chairs that don’t travel can be and have been fantastic, the more a delegate gains experience on the circuit, the more they can take their experiences and translate them into how they chair. I often learn and grow as a delegate and a conference staff member by learning from and emulating effective delegates and chairs. Learn what works elsewhere and use it to grow your conference, your chairing abilities, and yourself as a delegate. Often, the best chairs are the ones who understand what it’s like to be a delegate in a poorly run room and who strive to provide the best chairing to their committee.