Sample Assignment Response: A Topic Proposal and Summary for ENGL 112 at DeVry University

To continue on from earlier work (here, here, here, and here), I will go further along the assignment sequence expected of the students in ENGL 112: Composition and develop the assignment students in the class are asked to do for their fifth week: a topic proposal and source summary for a commentary paper. As previously, I hope that my efforts will assist in my students’ efforts and others’ to write better and help others to do the same.

If only it were so simple a choice…
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For the assignment (which aligns fairly neatly with the ENGL 135 Topic Selection assignment), students are asked to answer a series of prompts in advance of drafting an essay. The prompts–identify a topic and outline personal involvement in it, summarize two perspectives on it–are meant to help students identify a current, complex topic in which they have some personal investment and to refine their understanding of the topic and the ongoing conversation of which it is part before moving into writing a commentary-style essay on that topic. The University explicitly discourages topics “overly emotional or rooted in religious or moral subjects,” to which proscription my teaching traditionally adds political ideology, gun control, abortion, and the legalization of marijuana.

The first challenge in addressing such an assignment is to identify a field of inquiry. Experience teaches that students, particularly students in first-year writing classes, will try to treat too broad a topic and one for which they are not necessarily well-equipped–not because they are stupid, but because they believe they have to treat major philosophical and cultural concerns to do “real” work. The truth is that working on a narrow topic will yield better results than trying to grapple at a pass with questions that have been debated for millennia without resolution; it is more true in the short sessions at DeVry than at many other schools.

I decided to address the matter by falling back on the topic I seem to have been treating throughout the sample responses I’ve been developing for the present session: roleplaying games, specifically the Legend of the Five Rings Roleplaying game, with which I have ample experience, as I’ve attested. It is, admittedly, not a topic of serious heft, but it is one I am confident is little treated, which will help me produce an example for my students–both because it will help me to show them that they can move beyond simple reporting and that they can pursue topics relevant to their interests even when those interests seem to be relatively minor concerns.

With a general topic in mind, I set up my response document. As with the other planning materials I’ve developed during the session, I eschewed the template provided by the University in favor of addressing the prompts directly. I pulled up the most recent planning sheet–that for the Rhetorical Analysis from the third week of the session–and mimicked its formatting in the new document. I then transferred the prompts from the University’s materials into my own, formatting them for ease of reading. This included setting up hanging indentations for the sources the assignment needed summarized.

The document set up, I proceeded to address the prompts provided as I could from my own background knowledge and understanding. Those identifying the topic and my engagement with it were the easiest to address, being closes to me and longest established in my mind. (Too, since I was working as what amounts to an extension of previous work, I felt justified in borrowing from the earlier work I had done–something that I have had students ask after doing. It is a fairly common practice, although anything that is formally published will need to be cited and attested if it is used in another work.) Audience was also addressed fairly easily, as I have been working with a clear idea of whom I am addressing throughout the session.

The matter of the specific angle for me to treat was a more difficult one to address. There are many concerns attendant on roleplaying games, dating back at least to Michael Stackpole’s Pulling Report (I’ve noted addressing roleplaying games in my academic work before, and across a fair span of time, I believe.) While the ire of popular culture towards roleplaying games has largely cooled, it remains present, and those of us who were on the receiving end of that fervor remain wary of it. Too, games which concern themselves with emulations of cultures not necessarily those of their players always run into questions of appreciation versus appropriation–but it seemed that that issue beckoned for attention in the current project. It was therefore to that issue and angle that I attended; I will admit that my engagement with the material biases my angle and approach to it.

Consequently, I asserted a specific issue and angle to treat in my coming commentary essay, working toward what might well serve as a tentative thesis–namely, that the Legend of the Five Rings Roleplaying Game is more an issue of appreciation than appropriation, although there are certainly problems to be found in the manner in which it goes about incorporating materials into its narrative milieu. I knew, though, that my own opinion might well change based on research I would do, so I did not advance the idea as a formal thesis quite yet.

Instead, I went then to search the University library for materials regarding my prospective project. I first searched Academic Search Complete, pre-limiting my search to full-text peer-reviewed journal sources from 200 onward and searching for “cultural appropriation” in the hopes of finding a useful definition of the term. The search yielded 534 results, which was unworkable for the scope of the project and the time available to it, but I was fortunate that one of the early results was a philosophical piece–and such pieces often make much of asserting definitions before engaging with them. I pulled that source, taking its citation data and summary into my own document.

I then looked into the other term most germane to my treatment: cultural appreciation. A search of Academic Search Complete for the term with the same restrictions yielded 469 results; no stand-out among the early results was forthcoming, so I narrowed my search to “cultural appreciation definition.” Only 13 results returned, which was a small enough number to survey sources individually. One source was culled from that set of results, cited, and summarized into the document.

The content made ready, I reviewed my document for style and mechanics. After making the adjustments that needed making, I rendered the document into an accessible format, which I present here: G. Elliott Sample Proposal and Summary. May it, like its predecessors, be of good service!

I could still use your support as I develop more materials for my students and others to use as they further their own understandings of the world.


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