Writing Assignment: Research Project

Background: This semester, the class has explored forms of “hidden intellectualism,” which are academic skills demonstrated in non-academic pursuits, then examined issues of language, education and identity. Now it is time to research an issue of your own choosing.

Writing Assignment: Select a hotly contested issue from politics, business, science, medicine, literature, film, sports, music, fashion, popular culture, or another field and frame the issue as a question. For example, your central issue could be one of the following: Should the government strengthen gun control laws? Should the courts change the legal status of corporations, so that they are not treated as persons with the rights of individuals? Should stem-cell research continue? What influence on the Hunger Games did the Japanese book and film Battle Royale have? Can rap music be classified as poetry? Should the government regulate the marketing of the fashion industry, so they cannot manipulate consumers’ tastes?

Research: Once you have selected a topic, do some research in library, the library databases, or approved academic websites, scanning abstracts, introductions and conclusions for two chapters or articles relevant to your issue, covering opposing sides of the debate.

Proposal: Write a detailed proposal and bring a hard copy to class for approval. The proposal should include:

  • a narrow topic

  • an issue presented as a question

  • a brief description of two or more opposing viewpoints (Be specific. Whenever possible, name specific people or groups.)

  • your working thesis, which answers the central question (You may change your mind later as you research, but I would like to see what you intend to argue.)

  • the names, authors, and publishers of two sources arguing opposing viewpoints from the library, library databases, or approved websites (websites we have used in class or websites that Ron approves).

Annotations: When the project has been approved, read your research materials and write two annotations (100 points each), according to the guidelines given in class with bibliographic information in MLA format, a summary of the text, and a critical response. Also, refer to the sample annotations that I have passed out to you and posted on WebAccess. Bring in a hard copy of each annotation and post on Web Access in the writing forum (25 points extra credit for doing so).

Research Paper: Write a 6-8 page paper in MLA format exploring the opposing sides of the issue, carefully weighing alternate viewpoints, but taking a definite stance. Your thesis should address an opposing viewpoint, giving a concession to the other side of the debate, then present your own opinion, answering the question you formed for the central issue, giving advice for a particular group of people. Think, “Who should do what?” and include words and phrases like “should,” “need to” and “must.” Use connecting words that show the contrast between the other viewpoint and your own opinion, such as “although,” “even though,” “however,” “on the other hand,” “nevertheless,” “yet” or “but.”

Your introduction should grab the reader’s attention with a catchy hook, introduce the central issue and opposing viewpoints, introduce the authors and articles with one-line summaries, and present your thesis. (Review hooks and introductions in “The Parts of an Essay” [27] from The Norton Sampler.)

Next, in the body of the paper, provide background to the issue, briefly explaining the history of the controversy and the current situation, then lay out your argument in topic sentences, drawing from and responding to your research materials in the ways suggested in “They Say / I Say,” presenting the other side fairly, but explaining why your perspective is stronger. Be sure to include plenty of specific evidence in the form of facts, statistics, examples, summaries, paraphrases, quotes, anecdotes, definitions and appealing to logic, morality and emotion. (Review argumentation in “Arguments” [376-388] from The Norton Sampler.)

In the conclusion, you can summarize the main points, explain the relevance of your paper, give suggestions for further research, or give thought-provoking comments for ongoing consideration. (Review conclusions in The Norton Sampler [28-29]).

Presentation: Once you have written your paper, you will present your findings in a ten minute presentation in class, sharing your research and ideas with your colleagues. The presentation is an automatic 500 points for doing a decent job. An exceptional presentation will get extra credit points.

Pointers: Be specific! Avoid generalities. Make concrete points and support each one with (I am not kidding) many, many, many, many, many quotes, facts, examples, and anecdotes from your research, personal knowledge, and experience. Be sure to go back and forth between opposing viewpoints, presenting the other side fairly, giving concessions, but taking a definite stance.

Generating Ideas: Why did you choose this issue? What concern are you going to focus on? Who might be interested in learning more about this issue? What would you like to tell them? Should a particular group change its behavior? Should a particular organization change its policy? How does the issue affect you, your family, your friends, your community, your school, your job, your future prospects? What should change? Who should change? Who should change what? What can individuals, such as yourself, your classmates and your teacher do to make things better? What can politicians, school administrators, or sports organizations do to better the situation? What facts and statistics can you use to support your argument? Can you bring in any relevant anecdotes from your own life or from those you know? What did you learn from the readings? What did you learn from your research? What are the strongest pieces of evidence that support your argument? What are the strongest pieces of evidence that support the opposing argument? Is there a middle ground you can take, rather than choosing one extreme?

Basic requirements: The paper must

  • be clear.

  • be relatively free of grammar and punctuation errors, especially regarding subject-verb agreement, sentence boundaries, and parallelism.

  • have specific wording, strong sentence focus, and active verbs.

  • use conjunctions and transitions with appropriate punctuation, showing logical connections between ideas, sentences, and paragraphs.

  • include a catchy title and introduction that gets the reader’s attention.

  • give a concession to the other side of the debate, then present the overall argument in a debatable thesis framed as advice for a particular group, answering the question “Who should do what?”

  • present main arguments in logical steps in topic sentences, which announce narrow topic and controlling idea.

  • have paragraphs that are focused on one point only.

  • support each point with many, many quotes (in quotation sandwiches), summaries, paraphrases, examples, facts, and anecdotes.

  • fairly present each side of the issue

  • capture the complexity of the issue.

  • incorporate naysayers and metacommentary, as described in “They Say / I Say.”

  • conclude in a thought-provoking manner

  • include in-text citations and a works cited bibliography in MLA format.

Exceptional papers will:

  • include a third or even fourth research source

  • give original insights.

  • cause readers to see the issue in new ways.

  • change reader’s opinions.

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