Northern Oklahoma College, ENGL 1213: Composition II—Researched Paper

Below appears an authoritative version of the guidelines for the Researched Paper assignment (ResPpr), superseding any previously published information regarding the ResPpr.


As noted in the introduction to the Prop assignment (https://elliottrwi.com/instruction/northern-oklahoma-college/northern-oklahoma-college-engl-1213-composition-ii/northern-oklahoma-college-engl-1213-composition-ii-topic-proposal/), ENGL 1213: Composition II serves, among others, as a bridge into more formal genres of academic writing, including those that develop new knowledge—that is to say, researched writing. Because it is an introduction to them, and because the development of new knowledge is a complicated process, ENGL 1213 breaks down the process of writing such papers into a number of component assignments, mimicking the research process prevalent in the humanities and of which the sciences often use a variant. A “final” step in that process is to compile and present in accessible fashion the results of academic inquiry conducted. The ResPpr is directed toward that end, asking students to array their ideas and support for them in a manner likely to convince an interested audience that their ideas are worth consideration.

Students will note that the shape of the ResPpr is effectively identical to that of the Student’s Own Question assignment required of students enrolled in sections of ENGL 1213 taught by Dr. Elliott at Oklahoma State University during the Spring 2016 term. Consequently, much of the phrasing for the ResPpr derives from the other assignment, here: https://elliottrwi.com/instruction/osu/oklahoma-state-university-engl-1213-composition-ii/oklahoma-state-university-engl-1213-composition-ii-your-own-question/. It is reproduced herein without comment, taking the ResPpr assignment sheet as a different version of its University counterpart.

Successfully completing the ResPpr will require students to accomplish a number of tasks:

Information about each follows, along with a copy of the grading rubric and notes.

Refine Thinking on the Topic, the Question about It, and an Answer Thereto

The ResPpr is meant to examine and present as valid an opinion about the idea voiced in the Prop, following up on one of the answers to the Prop’s question advanced in the earlier Explore (https://elliottrwi.com/instruction/northern-oklahoma-college/northern-oklahoma-college-engl-1213-composition-ii/northern-oklahoma-college-engl-1213-composition-ii-exploratory-essay/). As it treats the materials in yet more refined and advanced form, it needs to give additional thought to them, looking at how they may be adjusted to reflect emergent circumstances while still retaining the inner core that promoted initial involvement with and investigation of the topic and determination of questions and answers about it.

Particular thought needs to be given to the answer advanced in the Explore, as it will serve as an at-least tentative thesis for the ResPpr. It needs to present a reasonable claim in an authoritative manner, one that indicates what question is being answered without having to explicitly present a question. A well-written thesis also advances a position without insulting the reader, as well as being something that asks for explanation to validate it. (A self-evident thesis hardly merits discussion, reading as trite or worse.) In essence, it offers an intellectual destination, one that requires some travel to reach—travel provided by the rest of the paper.

It is important to keep in mind that the initial thesis must be regarded as tentative. During the process of developing the argument supporting it (as discussed below), it may happen that the thesis will need to be reconsidered or even discarded entirely, as evidence and the reasoning applied to that evidence may argue that a variation on the thesis, or even another thesis altogether, is a more accurate answer to the question that spurred the initial investigation. Being open to such changes is one mark of a thinking, reasoning, intelligent person, so changing theses is not something to be taken as a failure.

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Identify and Develop Support for the Thesis

Theses are not necessarily valid on their own. For readers to accept them, they need to be supported by a number of argumentative points, each of which derives from carefully explained primary, secondary, and (optionally) tertiary/critical evidence. After the (tentative) thesis for the ResPpr is determined, then, support for it needs to be arrayed.

Each point of support marshaled for the thesis, each reason that it is valid, needs to emerge from close examination of specific primary, secondary, and/or (optionally) tertiary/critical evidence. That is, there need to be specific words or images on a page or from the mouths of experts speaking about their areas of relevant expertise, or else directly reported authorial observations, that undergird the assertions made. That evidence needs to be clearly and explicitly presented to readers, so that they are able to understand what materials lead to the ideas presented in the paper. More importantly, how that evidence serves to support the ideas about it needs to be explained. Readers do not approach the materials presented from the same positions as authors of the papers wherein they are presented; they need to have the process through which the authors move from the evidence to their ideas about it explained in detail so that they can follow along with it and, if all goes as it should, come to accept that the idea is arrived at sensibly, becoming itself sensible. Additionally, how the ideas themselves serve to validate the overall thesis of the paper needs to be made clear, and for much the same reason that the evidence informing the ideas needs to be explained in terms of how it informs the ideas.

Additionally, the points of support for the thesis cannot exist in isolation. They must be presented in relation to one another, ideally in an order that both fosters readerly comprehension and conduces to the effectiveness of the overall argument. The chronological order discussed in earlier assignments may be a useful organizing principle, depending on the question being addressed and the answer given to it. Some questions and answers will not admit of such treatment, however, so other orders may need to be deployed. Traditional rhetorical order (i.e., weakest point to strongest point) or a slight modification thereof (i.e., starting with the second-strongest point before presenting the weakest and growing progressively stronger throughout the paper) suggests itself as a useful organizing principle in such cases. In some circumstances, a simple additive order might be most helpful, although it is less likely to be so than many others. Whatever organizing principle is at work needs to be clearly indicated in the way new points are introduced—and transitioning into new ideas tends to work better than transitioning out of old ones.

It will be helpful to develop the list of Works Cited during the process of composition, rather than postponing it for creation after drafting is done. Continuous development reduces the chances of overlooking a source in later development, which is an error with potentially grave consequences. Embedding in-text citations should occur during the process of drafting, as well, and for the same reason.

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Identify and Develop a Counter-Argument

The ResPpr serves as something of an introduction to the kinds of formal academic writing prevalent in many disciplines, as well as types of formal writing common outside academe. Papers such as the ResPpr are often referred to as conference papers, meant to be delivered in fifteen to twenty minutes to groups of peers interested in the general area of research treated by the paper. They are often also called “white papers,” and they are used as support for establishing or changing policies. Both types of papers have expectations of genre, including an indication that the author 1) is familiar with the work done in the area discussed by the paper and 2) has considered other opinions before arriving at that presented in the paper. One way to do so is to present a counter-argument.

A counter-argument serves to present an opposing or divergent view to that articulated in the thesis. In effect, a counter-argument serves to anticipate a possible objection to the thesis being argued, something which helps to strengthen authorial ethos in that it demonstrates superior command of relevant material and a considered approach to it.

It may seem paradoxical to include a counter-argument, and including a counter-argument does not, on its own strengthen support of a thesis. Another component is required: the rebuttal (discussed below). Further, for the counter-argument to be effective, it has to articulate a reasonable position, one that can easily be understood as being valid. A straw-man or otherwise fallacious counter-argument will not suffice; it will instead have a detrimental effect on the strength of support for the thesis, indicating that the author is insufficiently certain of materials or is insufficiently able to investigate divergent opinions to be able to handle reasonable objections. As such, the counter-argument must be presented sincerely and honestly, given as much attention as a solid point of support for the thesis. Additionally, the disjunction between the thesis and the counter-argument is such that particular attention to transitioning into the latter is needed. Readers need to be eased into the counter-argument; an abrupt introduction of it will confuse and annoy them, greatly diminishing the effectiveness of the writing, overall.

The use of secondary sources to develop the counter-argument suggests itself as a useful tactic. It is easier to report another’s words (perhaps summarizing them as the AnnBib asks for its focal text) as a means of presenting alternative views of the topic than to develop counter-arguments internally. Doing so is by no means required, and there will be some projects where such a tactic is inappropriate, but it is often helpful.

Further, as with supporting the thesis, continuous development of in-text citations and the Works Cited list to which they refer during drafting of the counter-argument is recommended.

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Identify and Develop a Rebuttal

The counter-argument serves to demonstrate to readers that a paper’s writer has command of the material being discussed and has considered other opinions. On its own, however, it does not conduce to the support of the argument being made by the paper. For it to do so, it must be followed immediately by a rebuttal, an argumentative point that demonstrates that the counter-argument is in some way inapplicable to the situation being treated in the paper. This is not necessarily the same thing as saying that the thesis is correct—and it should not be. What it is is a counter-argument to the counter-argument, the provision of which facilitates return to the main line of discussion in the paper while demonstrating further the author’s considered approach to the topic being discussed.

As noted, the rebuttal serves to demonstrate that the counter-argument is in some way incorrect or inapplicable to the specific situation being discussed by the thesis. In effect, the rebuttal serves to undercut the potential objection raised in the counter-argument, clearing intellectual ground upon which to build the argument that supports the thesis.

Like the counter-argument, the rebuttal must present a reasonable argument to be effective; an extreme or untenable assault on the counter-argument will have the same effect for it that an extreme or fallacious counter-argument will have for the thesis. As such, the rebuttal must be presented sincerely and honestly, given as much attention as a solid point of support for the thesis. Additionally, the disjunction between the counter-argument and the rebuttal is such that particular attention to transitioning into the latter is needed. Readers need to be eased into the rebuttal; an abrupt introduction of it will confuse and annoy them, greatly diminishing the effectiveness of the writing, overall.

As with the counter-argument, the use of secondary sources to develop the rebuttal suggests itself as a useful tactic. It is often easier to report another’s words (perhaps summarizing them as the AnnBib asks for its focal texts) as a means of presenting alternative views of the topic than to develop rebuttals internally. Doing so is by no means required, and there will be some projects where such a tactic is inappropriate, but it is not seldom helpful.

Further, as with supporting the thesis and indicating the counter-argument, continuous development of in-text citations and the Works Cited list to which they refer during drafting of the rebuttal is recommended.

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Develop an Introduction and Conclusion

After having considered what the thesis will be and how to adequately support it, how to move into the thesis and its support must be determined, as must how to move out of them. The former needs to introduce the topic being discussed in the paper, identifying it clearly and providing context for the discussion to come. An indication of authorial involvement with the topic would also be useful, as it helps to situate ethos and provides an appropriate pathos appeal to motivate reading. The introduction should also articulate the thesis to be presented; readers tend to benefit from and appreciate knowing the end towards which their reading efforts will be directed. It might be useful to follow the presentation of the thesis with an essay map: a statement of the order in which points will be presented. Forecasting organization for the reader eases reading—but if an essay map is provided, it must be followed scrupulously. Doing otherwise has the effect of lying to the reader, with commensurate damage to the paper’s credibility and the author’s.

The conclusion should do more than simply recapitulate the thesis and supporting points. It needs to move towards some greater implication, perhaps suggesting a course of action that can be taken in light of the now-validated thesis. Indicating what value accrues to the inquiry conducted in the paper is another good strategy, something that returns the paper to the world and moves forward, addressing the relevance the paper has for future uses.

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Compose the ResPpr RV

The prior five sections speak to concerns to be considered among prewriting activities. That is, they do not generate independent texts for assessment, but they do stimulate discussion and guide thinking along the way towards texts for assessment. For them to contribute to an effective ResPpr, however, they must be consolidated and set down in a form accessible to the expected audience; that is, they need to be compiled and sorted into an easily legible and intelligible order that serves to articulate a central idea and effective support therefore. The ResPpr RV is the first iteration of doing so.

The ResPpr RV should open with a paragraph that articulates the writer’s involvement with the topic, describes and contextualizes the topic, and presents the question to be answered and a selected answer thereto in an appropriate construction. (The paragraph can be thought of as a distillation of a successful Explore.) It might then offer an essay map. It should follow with a counter-argument and rebuttal, in that order, before moving on to present a well ordered series of points that support the thesis with solid primary, secondary, and (optionally) tertiary/critical evidence that is explained in terms of how it supports each point made—as well as an explanation of how each point serves to support the thesis. The paper will do well to conclude with a paragraph that moves beyond simply repeating the thesis and the points made in support of it to some kind of recommendation or indication of what readers can do now that they are provided with the validated thesis presented in the text.

The ResPpr RV is due electronically before the beginning of class time on 13 April 2016. It must be submitted in .doc, .docx, or .rtf format. (No other file types will be accepted; submissions in another file type will be treated as though not submitted.) The text of the ResPpr RV should be 3,100 to 3,400 words long, exclusive of a four-line heading (student name, instructor name, course and section, and date of composition), an appropriately descriptive title, and an MLA-style Works Cited list. It should be double-spaced on letter-size sheets with one-inch margins on all sides. It should be in 12-point Times New Roman, Garamond, or Georgia type. Page numbers should appear in the upper right corner of the page, with the student’s surname preceding the number; page numbers and surnames should be in the same typeface as the rest of the document. Paragraphs’ first lines should be indented half an inch from the left-hand margin; subsequent lines should be flush left. The Works Cited list should begin on a new page with a horizontally centered subject-heading; its citations should align left with the first lines flush to the left margin and subsequent lines indented half an inch. Double-spacing remains in place; no extra spaces intervene within or between citations. Usage should conform to standards promulgated by the MLA and discussed during class time.

The ResPpr RV will be assessed as a minor assignment according to the rubric below. The text and comments made about it will be returned to students via email. Those comments should be used to improve the text further in advance of its final submission; the ResPpr RV is a work in progress, and changes to it are expected therefore.

Students are encouraged to consult with the instructor and with tutors in the Student Success Center during the process of composing the ResPpr RV. No extra credit will be afforded to the project for doing so, but doing so is likely to improve the grade received and will likely be considered positively in the Prof score awarded at the end of the term.

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Revise the ResPpr RV into the ResPpr FV

Following the return of instructor comments on the ResPpr RV, students are strongly encouraged to revise their papers in light of the comments. They should work from global issues—such as the presence and appropriateness of a thesis, the effectiveness of counter-argument and rebuttal, the adequacy of support for the thesis, the adequacy of evidence undergirding the support, and the adequacy of explanation thereof—to more local issues—such as how best to transition from sentence to sentence, and how best to phrase for concision and emphasis. Only after all of that is done should there be any thought of checking and amending as appropriate the surface-level features of formatting, spelling, punctuation, and the like.

The paper resulting from the process of revision, the ResPpr FV, should still open with a paragraph noting the topic, question, and answer thereto being treated; an essay map might be provided, as well. It should still follow with a counter-argument and rebuttal, in that order, before moving on to present a well ordered series of points that support the thesis with solid primary, secondary, and (optionally) tertiary/critical evidence that is explained in terms of how it supports each point made—as well as an explanation of how each point serves to support the thesis. The paper will do well to conclude with a paragraph that moves beyond simply repeating the thesis and the points made in support of it to some kind of recommendation or indication of what readers can do now that they are provided with the validated thesis presented in the text.

The ResPpr FV is due electronically before the beginning of class time on 20 April 2016. It must be submitted in .doc, .docx, or .rtf format. (No other file types will be accepted; submissions in another file type will be treated as though not submitted.) The text of the ResPpr FV should be 3,100 to 3,400 words long, exclusive of a four-line heading (student name, instructor name, course and section, and date of composition), an appropriately descriptive title, and an MLA-style Works Cited list. It should be double-spaced on letter-size sheets with one-inch margins on all sides. It should be in 12-point Times New Roman, Garamond, or Georgia type. Page numbers should appear in the upper right corner of the page, with the student’s surname preceding the number; page numbers and surnames should be in the same typeface as the rest of the document. Paragraphs’ first lines should be indented half an inch from the left-hand margin; subsequent lines should be flush left. The Works Cited list should begin on a new page with a horizontally centered subject-heading; its citations should align left with the first lines flush to the left margin and subsequent lines indented half an inch. Double-spacing remains in place; no extra spaces intervene within or between citations. Usage should conform to standards promulgated by the MLA and discussed during class time.

The ResPpr FV will be assessed as a major assignment worth 20% of the total course grade according to the rubric below. The text and comments made about it will be returned to students via email. Please note that, while the ResPpr FV should be able to stand alone as an independent piece of writing, the ResPpr will need to be included in the FinPort later in the term. The comments made on the ResPpr FV should therefore serve not only to inform performance on future assignments and writing tasks outside the classroom, but also to aid in the creation of a best version of the ResPpr for use later in the term.

Students are encouraged to consult with the instructor and with tutors in the Student Success Center during the process of revision. No extra credit will be afforded to the project for doing so, but doing so is likely to improve the grade received and will likely be considered positively in the Prof score awarded at the end of the term.

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Grading Rubric

A copy of the grading rubric that will be applied to the ResPpr RV and the ResPpr FV appears at the following link: G. Elliott ENGL 1213 Composition II Researched Paper Grading Rubric Revision.

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Notes

A sample of the kind of work students are asked to do is available: “Sample Student’s Own Question/Researched Paper: Why Not Have a Rhetoric Requirement among UL Lafayette PhD Students in English.”

Other examples are also readily found, noted in the list below. Note that they are written to different specific purposes than the ResPpr assignment; the examples are to be taken as models of content and style rather than objects of explicit mimicry.

That the ResPpr is a substantial and complex assignment is clear; the heavy weight in has in the course reflects it. An early start on the assignment is strongly recommended—partly because it is possible, if not likely, that responsible research will lead to reconsideration of the thesis, as indicated above. Time to adjust for such an event will be helpful—and even if it is not needed, time spent developing the paper early will minimize the time needed to do so later, and the end of the term tends to be a busy time.

The ResPpr is a venture into formal academic research. As such, it must strive to adhere to the conventions of formal academic research writing—which include full and appropriate documentation of the sources used to inform and compose it. Failure to provide appropriate citation may be treated as an academic integrity violation.

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Geoffrey B. Elliott
16 April 2016

Updated to include a revised grading rubric.

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