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5 Tips for Filing

In extemp, effective filing is of paramount importance. In this article, Anne Smith highlights five tips to become better at filing.

Anyone who competes on a circuit that does not allow the internet or who wishes to do well on an open internet circuit is acquainted with the practice of filing.  Some extempers are filing enthusiasts who consider highlighting Economist articles to be the ideal way to spend a Saturday afternoon.  Others hate it and only do it because they know that their coach will yell at them if they don’t. Regardless of why you file or how you feel about it, there are ways to make filing more effective. 

1. Find a filling technology that works for you

There are a plethora of different softwares that can be used for filing.  Most teams use software that was explicitly designed for filing, like Prepd or Extemp Genie.  The two are pretty interchangeable, albeit with a couple of differences.  Extemp Genie has unlimited folder depth, which is very useful for constructing complex file organization systems.  Prepd only allows the user to create folders and subfolders.  Prepd has a mobile app and a vocabulary and fact flash card maker.  Prepd can auto-highlight articles.  Both have autofiling capacity, but Extemp Genie’s is more customizable.  Both have tools for monitoring team activity, but Prepd’s are significantly more thorough.  Both allow the user to easily save, highlight, and organize research and cost roughly the same amount.  

Some teams use a software design for something other than extemp.  Google Drive is free, but saving and highlighting on Google Drive can be tedious.  Evernote can save and highlight articles quickly, but like Prepd it is pretty limited in terms of folder depth.  Dropbox and OneNote are used by some squads.  You can also use a plastic tub full of paper articles, although this method is relatively rare for a good reason.  

Different programs have different benefits and drawbacks and the best choice depends on your specific situation.  For example, a team looking to establish a filing quota might choose Prepd because of its better team analytics, but a one-man squad might prefer Extemp Genie because of its more flexible autofiling.   In general, as long as you are regularly filing and are good about keeping your files organized, you can be successful with any software.  

2. Consider establishing a filing routine 

The best way to incentivize yourself to do something is to make a habit out of it.  Filing is no exception.  Some people file at roughly the same time and for roughly the same duration each day to build that habit.  Others make weekly or daily goals for the number of articles caught or time spent filing.  

For the rigidly minded, source cutting calendars work great.  Extempers who use a source cutting calendars file certain sources on certain days of the week.  For example, one could file the Wall Street Journal and the Council on Foregn Relations every monday.  Often these work best if you assin one regular newspaper and one non-newspaper source (a think-tank or journal article) to each day of the week.  Some extempers prefer to file certain sources every other week– this can be useful for sources that don’t publish a lot.   Source cutting calendars make it easier to ensure diversity and balance, especially if you are your team’s primarily filer.  Most source cutting users belong to single person or very small squads.

In order to ensure balance in terms of focus, some people assign certain topics or regions to certain days of the week.  This method works well for people who already know which issues are salient and prefer to research issues rather than save articles randomly or by source.  Filing this way tends to lead to more diversity in terms of sources, although one must be cognizant that many of the articles you run into when researching may not be quality.  In general, this method yields the lowest quality sources. There is also a very real possibility of neglecting to research something important, making this method less than ideal for squadless extempers.

Like with anything in life, different amounts of scheduling work for different people.  Some individuals are content and successful with filing whatever they feel like when they feel like it, whereas others require more structure.  The trick is figuring out how much structure works for you.  If you do choose to adapt a more regimented way of filling, make sure you don’t beat yourself up if you occasionally skip a day or deviate from your plan.  Remember that your files are a tool meant to serve you, not the other way around.  If you don’t have a routine, make sure to file from a variety of sources and don’t neglect to research all important issues even if they don’t interest you.

3. Focus on quality over quantity

Although it can be tempting to catch as many articles as possible, too many low quality articles make it harder to find what you need quickly.  The proliferation of open internet extemp prep has made focusing on quality over quantity even more advisable because you no longer need to worry as much about having an article on every conceivable topic.  In an internet enabled prep room, one of the few differences between your files and the internet is quality. 

Focusing on quality also increases your ability to gain a thorough understanding of content.  Reading high quality articles boosts knowledge because better quality articles also tend to have stronger analysis and more in depth coverage.  Another important part of quality over quantity is taking your time while filing.  Acquiring knowledge happens more effectively when you take your time .  This also leads to more effective highlighting, which makes it much easier to find useful statistics during the limited time you get for prep. 

4. Source diversity is your friend 

Modern technology allows us to access and save articles from a wide variety of sources and it is in your best interest to take advantage of this.  An important, often overlooked, element of source diversity is political bias.  To some judges, being able to cite both left and right wing news sources makes your answer seem less biased and more convincing.  Perhaps more importantly, reading a wide range of sources will increase the perspectives you are exposed to and allow you to provide more informed, in depth answers.

International extempers should consider geographical diversity as well.  In addition to providing multiple perspectives and strengthening understanding, sources from the region you are talking about tend to have more in depth and direct coverage of events and attitudes than US based sources.  The European Council on Forign Relations, for example, can serve as a more direct indicator of European’s opinions on a Biden presidency than the New York Times.  Some of my favorite non-US sources include Der Spiegel (Germany), The Lowy Institute (Australia), CBC (Canada), Al Jazeera (Qatar), and Chatham House (Britain). Finding a high quality, English language regional newspaper or think tank isn’t always possible, but it is worth filing from them when quality ones are available. 

The types of sources you file from is also important.  In addition to saving articles from regular newspapers, you should consider finding a few think-tanks or journals.  Not only do these articles tend to include more in-depth coverage, but the ability to cite them, especially if the author has good credentials looks impressive.  Think-tanks tend to have a lot of opinion pieces (usually called commentary) and some long reports that include policy proposals.  There are a lot of useful think tanks, but the Brookings Institution and the Council on Forign Relations are a good place to start.  Journals articles tend to be longer, more in-depth, and harder to read than their newspaper counterparts.  Highlighting is advisable due to their length.  Some schools subscribe to databases which have a lot of journal articles.  The Harvard International Review and The Washington Quarterly are both useful and have some articles that can be read for free. 

Finding a variety of source types and biases can seem overwhelming at first, but there are a lot of ways to find new and interesting sources.  Other people on your squad often know of interesting sources.  Watching other people’s speeches at tournaments or online can provide valuable suggestions. The Extemper’s Bible’s source list can also prove useful in your source diversification efforts. 

5. File organization is a long term, important project 

Speed of citation finding is an important part of speech outlining.  The time it takes you to find relevant, useful sources largely comes down to your knowledge and how well organized your files are.  Both are critical to your ability to succeed in the activity, but this article will focus on file organization.  

When setting up a filing system, setup folders for commonly filed upon topics.  Often, extempers will organize their IX files by region, with subfolders for each country within that region and their USX files by broad topic (e.g. US Economy) and then with more specific subfolders.  A folder for general global issues that are not country specific is helpful too.  Most filing software will allow you to save articles in multiple places and, as a general rule, taking advantage of this when dealing with articles exploring multiple topics and/or regions will save you a lot of time in prep.  If you have a software that allows the creation of sub-sub folders, this can also make you a faster prepper by allowing you to find a more specific folder easily.  If you file using Extemp Genie, you are better off giving each country its own folder and adding collections under it.  Countries you expect to be relatively non-newsworthy or defined by a single issue don’t always stay that way.

Even the best organized files will become messy if their organization system gets neglected for a long period of time.  If you find that one sub-folder has more articles than you anticipated, consider splitting it up into multiple sub-folders or sub-subfolders.  Conversely, you may want to merge together unused subfolders if they are lacking in articles or are very similar.  Many extempers work on maintaining their organization systems while they are filing and this is a good way to prevent it from becoming too overwhelming.  

Conclusion

Filing is perhaps the most chore-like element of extemporaneous speaking.  Although the era of internet enabled extemp draw has made it tempting to abandon the practice all together, filing efficiently can make you a more knowledgeable, informed extemper.  While filling, it is important to keep in mind the real goal: acquiring knowledge for speeches and creating an easily to navigate, well-organized collection of articles.  As long as you adhere to that goal, time spent saving news articles will pay off immensely in extemp rounds.

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