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The Case for Layered Analysis

Sometimes, it’s hard to come up with three distinct points to answer a question. In this article, Ananth Veluvali lays out a potential solution: utilizing layered analysis.  

There are two schools of thought to answering a question: answering it through unified analysis and answering it through layered analysis. The former category centers your speech around three distinct arguments that stand on their own. The latter category centers your speech around analysis where only one point answers the question and the other two frame the question.

Ideally, you can always answer your questions through unified analysis, as it’s more technically challenging and feels more impressive to judges. Let’s take a look at an outline from national finalist Christopher Maximos that uses this type of analysis.  

Question: How will the Green New Deal influence future environmental legislation? 

Thesis: It will serve as the bedrock for future environmental legislation 

  1. By forcing bipartisan action on climate mitigation 
  2. By addressing the critical concept of environmental justice
  3. By leading to a new global paradigm on climate policy 

Notice how every point in Maximos’ outline is a distinct and independent argument; the arguments do not rely on each other. Beyond impressing the judges enough to land Maximos a third-place finish at national finals, this type of outline serves a strategic purpose—if the judges don’t buy one of Maximos’ arguments, there are two others they can look toward.

Sometimes, though, it is too difficult to come up with three distinct points in 30 minutes. For situations like that, you can look toward layered analysis. Once the common-style of doing extemp across many circuits, it’s fallen out of favor in recent years. However, spearheaded by the 2020 NSDA USX National Champion Jimmy Gao, layered analysis has started to make a comeback in the extemp world. Let’s take a look at an example of layered analysis (no source): 

Question: Should the United States embrace Great Power Competition with China and Russia?

  • Side note: Great Power Competition can be defined as the global struggle for military, economic, and ideological supremacy between competing countries (in this case, the United States, Russia and China). 
  • Liberalism can be defined as “a political and social philosophy that promotes individual rights, civil liberties, democracy, and free enterprise” while illiberalism is defined as “opposed to liberal principles; restricting freedom of thought or behavior.”

Thesis: Yes, it is what is best for the world and the United States

  1. Liberalism is a uniquely moral force
  2. China and Russia threaten the liberal-based order
  3. Only the US, through great power competition, can save liberalism 

Notice how in this speech, only one point directly answers the question (the third point) while the other two points frame the speech (why liberalism is good and why it’s under threat). Each point lends credibility to the other two, which creates a riskier strategy—if one point falls, so do your other two. For example, if the judge doesn’t buy that liberalism is important, why does it matter that it’s under attack?Thus, if you utilize layered analysis, you must be extra convincing in your speech.

Framing your speech is also very important for layered analysis. You need to establish that the topic at-hand is so complex, that even analyzing the breadth of one argument (in this case, why the US is needed to uphold liberalism) is a Herculean task. More than that, you’ll need to effectively frame the question, so your analysis feels thematic. In this case, an effective introduction might establish what Great Power Competition (GPC) is and why GPC between Russia, China, and the US centers around ideology: a battle between liberalism and illiberalism. Then, your specific points make a lot more sense, as you’re analyzing your speech primarily through a liberal/illiberal lens, rather than focusing on other potential dynamics of competition.

Concluding Thoughts:

Layered analysis is a riskier strategy, and I would advise straying away from it when possible. However, if the question you draw is terribly complex or doesn’t have the room for three unique arguments, layered analysis is a nice fallback strategy. If you do utilize layered analysis, remember to frame the question well in the introduction and make sure you fully justify each point. This strategy is like a track of dominoes: if one point falls, the rest also do.

By Ananth Veluvali

Founder, the Extemper's Bible.

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