Northern Oklahoma College, ENGL 1213: Composition II—Topic Proposal

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


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. The first step in that process is selecting a subject of inquiry. That is, conducting academic research begins with identifying a topic to pursue; being rewarded for academic research begins with proposing that topic as one to be treated legitimately. The Prop is directed toward that end, asking students to suggest a topic of inquiry and argue convincingly that the topic is one worth pursuing.

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

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

Select a Subject of Inquiry

As a 2011 Journal of Special Topics paper by David Boulderstone, Calum Meredith, and Simon Clapton of the University of Leicester, “That’s No Moon” (available here: https://physics.le.ac.uk/journals/index.php/pst/article/view/328/195), makes clear, academic and scholarly inquiry can take up any number of subjects. In essence, if it can be imagined, it can be studied and criticized, both offering those who will enter into academic research much room in which to investigate the world and threatening those who will enter into academic research with an embarrassment of riches. That is, it is difficult to know where to begin a research project.

Because one purpose of first-year college education is to help students orient themselves in their disciplines, one useful—and, in this case, obligatory—limitation on the field of inquiry for a research project in ENGL 1213 is a focus on the student’s own curriculum. The curriculum can either be that pursued directly at Northern Oklahoma College or, for those students who are planning to transfer to a four-year institution, the expected curriculum at that institution. That is, students should look to their own courses of study, interrogating them for what they do and do not say about the shape of their disciplines. Students should have information about their degree plans and course requirements in any event, so focusing on their curricula should present only minimal difficulty.

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

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Formulate a Guiding Question

In conducting academic research, it is not enough to identify a subject of inquiry. There are many things that can be said about any such subject, and even things that have been said can often be usefully revisited, as situations differ and conclusions about those things should differ as the circumstances do. Finding a question to answer about the subject of inquiry therefore becomes vital, as it allows those who will enter into academic research to focus their energies and attentions as well as finding specific things to say about their subjects.

For such a subject as a student’s curriculum, one obvious question to ask is why any one given component of that curriculum is present Another is to ask why the curriculum does not include a given component. The Prop—and the research project which it begins—will focus on one of those two questions, either finding a reason why one part of the student’s curriculum is in place or why one that perhaps ought to be is not included. Having such a question in mind focuses attention and facilitates later research, which should make future writing tasks easier than they might otherwise be.

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

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Determine the Appropriate Context for Answering the Question

As noted above, conclusions about things differ with the differing circumstances in which those things find themselves. Attending to those differing circumstances is therefore something worth doing. In addition, while knowledge for its own sake is worth pursuing, receiving support for that pursuit means that those from whom that support is sought should be shown some reason to offer that support. Both the circumstances and the reason for support contribute to the way in which the guiding question about the selected subject of inquiry must be answered.

Contexts for answering questions about the presence or absence of components of a student’s curriculum include the level of curriculum being treated, the subject area of that curriculum, the expected outcomes of the curriculum, the ultimate audience for research done on the curriculum, the usefulness of the question’s answer to that ultimate audience, and the utility to the supporter of the research being conducted. The ultimate audience of the research is likely to be the relevant institution and its supervisory boards (e.g. regents, trustees, accrediting bodies). The supporter is the class instructor, whose interests are in seeing students write well and gain additional agency in their educations and lives beyond them.

Students are encouraged to consult with the instructor and with tutors in the Student Success Center during the process of determining an appropriate context for answering the guiding question about the subject of inquiry. No extra credit will be afforded to the project for doing so, but doing so is likely to improve the grade received on the Prop and will likely be considered positively in the Prof score awarded at the end of the term.

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Compose the Prop RV

The prior three 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 Prop, however, they must be consolidated and set down in a form accessible to the expected audience; receiving support for a project obliges making a case for it in a way that those from whom support is expected can understand the project and assess whether or not they can aid it. The Prop RV is the first iteration of doing so.

The Prop RV should open with an indication of the subject of inquiry, moving from generalities and an indication of the background of the curriculum as a whole to the specific component of the curriculum being treated (people need to know what is being discussed to be able to follow the discussion). The guiding question for further research should be presented afterwards, and the reasoning justifying why the question needs to be answered should conclude the Prop RV.

The Prop RV is due electronically before the beginning of class time on 3 February 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 Prop RV should range from 300 to 500 words, exclusive of a four-line heading (student name, instructor name, course and section, and date of composition) and an appropriately descriptive title. 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. Usage should conform to standards promulgated by the MLA and discussed during class time.

The Prop 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 Prop RV is a work in progress.

Students are encouraged to consult with the instructor and with tutors in the Student Success Center during the process of composing the Prop 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 Prop RV into the Prop FV

Following the return of instructor comments on the Prop RV, students are strongly encouraged to revise their papers in light of the comments. They should work from global issues—such as clarifying the background for their subjects of inquiry, detailing more accurately and more accessibly to the audience the subject itself, and reconsidering the implications of the question for the ultimate audience—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 Prop FV, should still open with an indication of the subject of inquiry, moving from generalities and an indication of the background of the curriculum as a whole to the specific component of the curriculum being treated. It should still continue with the guiding question for further research, and it should still end with the reasoning justifying why the question needs to be answered.

The Prop FV is due electronically before the beginning of class time on 10 February 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 Prop FV should range from 300 to 500 words, exclusive of a four-line heading (student name, instructor name, course and section, and date of composition) and an appropriately descriptive title. 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. Usage should conform to standards promulgated by the MLA and discussed during class time.

The Prop FV will be assessed as a major assignment worth 5% 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 Prop FV should be able to stand alone as an independent piece of writing, the Prop will need to be included in the FinPort later in the term. The comments made on the Prop 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 Prop 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 Prop RV and the Prop FV appears at the following link: G. Elliott ENGL 1213 Composition II Topic Proposal Grading Rubric.

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Notes

A number of examples of topic proposals are available on the course website; check the “Abstracts” page at the following link: https://elliottrwi.com/research/abstracts/. Look to them as models of style and form rather than as subjects for explicit mimicry. Another such model, one written for the Spring 2016 instructional term, appears at the following link: https://elliottrwi.com/2016/01/14/sample-topic-proposal-why-not-have-a-rhetoric-requirement-among-ul-lafayette-phd-students-in-english/. Other examples yet may be posted to the course website.

The use of source material other than the relevant degree plan is neither expected nor required in composing the Prop; informal citation will suffice to address the degree plan. The use of other source materials will oblige formal citation for all materials used. Failure to provide it in such a case, or to provide appropriate informal citation for the degree plan if no other sources are used, may be investigated as a violation of academic integrity standards, with substantially detrimental effects to student grades.

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Geoffrey B. Elliott
Updated 11 March 2016 to correct a noted error.

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