Oklahoma State University, ENGL 1213: Composition II–Developing a Topic and Locating Sources

Below appears an authoritative version of the guidelines for the Developing a Topic and Locating Sources assignment (T&S), superseding any previously published information regarding the T&S.


The First-Year Composition Program at Oklahoma State University describes the T&S as enabling students to “Develop and refine a research topic, along with keywords to search that topic”; “Apply keyword knowledge to search for appropriate scholarly sources”; “Analyze a topic in order to determine possible inquiry questions”; and “Describe and be able to apply a system for searching and organizing sources.” Doing so will take the form of two individual exercises, per Program standards: a topic proposal and an annotated bibliography. The two are weighted equally, and their average score will be entered as the overall T&S grade.

Students in Prof. Elliott’s sections of ENGL 1213 in the Spring 2016 instructional term at Oklahoma State University will need to perform several tasks to successfully complete the exercise/s:

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

Select a Subject of Inquiry

As noted in a similar assignment, offered to students in Prof. Elliott’s Spring 2016 section of ENGL 1213 at Northern Oklahoma College (https://elliottrwi.com/instruction/northern-oklahoma-college/northern-oklahoma-college-engl-1213-composition-ii/northern-oklahoma-college-engl-1213-composition-ii-topic-proposal/), one of the goals of first-year courses is “to help students orient themselves in their disciplines.” Accordingly, for students in Prof. Elliott’s sections of ENGL 1213 in the Spring 2016 instructional term at Oklahoma State University, the T&S (as well as the more extended project to which it contributes: the SOQ [https://elliottrwi.com/instruction/osu/oklahoma-state-university-engl-1213-composition-ii/oklahoma-state-university-engl-1213-composition-ii-your-own-question/]), will focus on curricular issues relevant to the student’s own course of study.

Students should begin their search for a subject of inquiry for the T&S with their prescribed courses of study, either at their current undergraduate level or, for those who anticipate transitioning into graduate or professional school—veterinary school, pharmacy school, medical school, an MBA program, an Ed.S. program, or a similar program—in the near future, the curriculum required for their desired program. Each will have no small number of requirements, including but not limited to prerequisite courses, general education courses, in-major courses, examinations, internship or practical requirements, interviews, and capstone projects. No curriculum can anticipate all needs or all possible approaches, however, so there will be gaps in the coverage offered by any degree plan, even if that gap seems a thing that would fit well with the prescribed course of study. Students should focus their attention on one such item, either a curricular requirement or a conspicuous gap in the curricular requirements, preferably at the upper-division level or higher. Catalog descriptions and published course syllabi, which will count as primary sources for the project, may be of help in determining what avenue of inquiry to follow, what topic to select.

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Develop a Rationale for Approaching the Subject

Topics of inquiry are not arrived upon ex nihilo; they instead emerge from the interests and needs of those who pursue them. How personal and professional interests and needs lead to the determination of what subjects receive inquiry is worth investigating, worth explicating to readers. Doing so allows for assertion of situated ethos, as personal investment tends to lend itself to direct experience and thus credibility, as well as a tacit pathos appeal, as personal involvement is personal and therefore elicits sympathetic reading.

Thus, as students select a topic of inquiry, they will do well to log their thoughts and feelings as they make their decisions, making notes from which they will later work to lead the reader along through their process of selection. Factors to consider include what involvement with the general topic the student has and what attracts attention to the specific topic.

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Determine Potential Research Questions

After selecting a topic and developing an explanation, it is necessary to narrow the subject of inquiry yet further. If delving into a topic is following an avenue, it is needful to pick a lane in which to drive. To facilitate doing so, it is often useful to generate questions that research might answer. Such questions will be more helpful in promoting inquiry if they are causal or projective rather than declarative or procedural, as such questions will admit of both detailed investigation and answers that lead to the generation of new knowledge rather than only the recitation of already-developed knowledge. That is, asking why leads to answers not already found and demonstrated, making them more useful to ask at the collegiate level.

Students should expect to develop at least three pertinent research questions. Focusing on curricular issues, such questions could easily take such forms as

  • Why is the subject of inquiry included in the given curriculum?
  • Why is the subject of inquiry not included in the given curriculum?
  • Why is the subject of inquiry positioned where it is in the curriculum?
  • Why is the subject of inquiry approached as it is in the curriculum?

Other questions could easily be generated. Many of them potentially lead to the kind of research that discovers or develops new knowledge and understanding of how systems of education can and do function—something in which students can be expected to have some interest, given their own positions within such systems.

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Investigate Secondary Source Materials

The generation of new knowledge has to begin from already-uncovered knowledge. Students will therefore need to work from materials already developed, both primary sources (as noted above) and secondary sources: reports of research conducted into curricular matters, commentaries from interested parties, and the like. Finding such materials presents little trouble; finding which materials among them are useful is perhaps more challenging. To be useful, secondary source materials must be both reliable (i.e., the information presented in them and the conclusions made by them must be trustworthy) and relevant (i.e., they must discuss the subject of inquiry or something reasonably proximal to it). Academic journal articles and scholarly books (or chapters therefrom) are the most likely sources for such materials, although it is possible that other secondary sources—such as reports of research sponsored by major disciplinary organizations and reputable bodies that treat teaching—will be useful.

Matt Upson, Director of Undergraduate Research at Oklahoma State University’s Edmon Low Library, offers several videos that may be of assistance in negotiating a search for appropriate secondary sources:

Review of the materials is encouraged. They are meant to serve collectively as an introductory guide, not to foreclose possibilities.

Additionally, the Program recommends the use of Zotero (https://www.zotero.org/) as a means of tracking secondary sources reviewed. Ostensibly, the program will facilitate the development of a bibliography later on. However the sources are sorted and logged, however, they need to be reviewed for their potential utility to the T&S and to the later work of the course.

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Compose the T&S PV

After completing the tasks above, which collectively constitute a sequence of prewriting, each student should independently draft a two-part paper, which will be brought to class in printed hard copy as the T&S PV. The two parts, topic proposal and annotated bibliography, are described below, and expectations for them explicated.

To be noted for both components is the audience to be addressed. Topic proposals of the kind requested by the T&S are often written by academics to other academics, often in the pursuit of presentation or publication activities. Annotated bibliographies are generally written as scholarly aids, helping researchers and critics to access the work done by those who precede them. For the T&S, the primary audience whose needs are to be met consists of instructors of ENGL 1213. The secondary audience to keep in mind consists of students in succeeding years, whose courses of study might be influenced by the work done in the ongoing research project to which the T&S contributes.

Topic Proposal

Per Program dicta, the topic proposal “will ask students to write a one to two-page proposal [clarified by Prof. Elliott as 325-650 words, exclusive of heading and title] in which they explain the topic they have selected, their rationale for the topic, and three or more questions they have developed as a consequence of their first inquiries into the topic.” This can be done reasonably easily; a three-paragraph structure suggests itself, with one paragraph addressing each of the points Program dicta request. That is,

  • One paragraph could explain what the subject of inquiry is, situating it in its appropriate context.
  • Another could explain the rationale for selecting the topic, noting why it is of interest and worth investigating.
  • A third could present the research questions, offering them and giving some indication why they are appropriate questions to ask.

Other organizational patterns could be deployed that address all the required points, of course, although that laid out above has the advantage of being clear, evident, and systematic.

Another view of topic proposals is available in a similar assignment, offered to students in Prof. Elliott’s Spring 2016 section of ENGL 1213 at Northern Oklahoma College; information about it can be found at a link noted above. Additionally, a sample topic proposal written for that course can be found at the following URL:

Look to the sample as a model of form and style rather than as a subject of explicit mimicry.

Annotated Bibliography

Per Program dicta, the annotated bibliography “asks students to locate four sources that represent crucial scholarly voices on their topic. Each annotation should summarize the source’s argument and purpose and explain the rationale for selecting this source as a crucial scholarly voice. (Rationale may include such things as expertise of the writer as evidenced by publication records and scholarly awards, etc..) [sic]” Like the topic proposal, the annotated bibliography should be easy to accomplish.

The annotated bibliography should open with a brief paragraph outlining the methodology used to select the sources it treats. That is, readers need to know what thought processes undergird the bibliography so that they can more authentically evaluate it for their own purposes. A few sentences—no more than seven—should suffice to account for how the works were selected from the many that are available.

After the opening paragraph, the annotated bibliography should present no fewer than four three-part entries, each treating an individual secondary source. (Each source should be generally reliable, as noted in “Investigate Secondary Source Materials,” above.) The three parts of each entry are, in order, an MLA -style Works Cited citation, a paragraph summarizing the source, and a brief paragraph accounting for the potential utility of the source in answering one or more of the research questions listed in the topic proposal. The entries should be presented in alphabetical order by their citations. Entries should be separated from one another and from the introductory paragraph by an extra blank line.

The summary paragraph in each entry will be similar to that written for the summary component of the StratRdg (https://elliottrwi.com/instruction/osu/oklahoma-state-university-engl-1213-composition-ii/oklahoma-state-university-engl-1213-composition-ii-strategic-reading/). The first sentence of the StratRdg summary is not needed, as the citation provided in each entry suffices to identify the source. As such, the summary paragraphs in the annotated bibliography should begin with a statement of the source’s thesis, with following sentences noting major points and tendencies among the argument made in the source.

The evaluation paragraph in each entry will express in a few sentences—no more than five—the potential for use of the source in answering one or more of the questions advanced in the topic proposal. Such concerns as the reliability of the source; the relevance of the source to the subject of inquiry; and what pertinent information it contributes to framing, offering, counter-arguing, or rebutting for the answer to one or more of the research questions are worth treating.

An ongoing annotated bibliography, albeit one that displaces its evaluative comments, is available at the following URL:

Another, older annotated bibliography, one perhaps more in keeping with what is expected from that in the T&S, is available at the following URL:

Look to them as models of form and style rather than as subjects of explicit mimicry.

Submission Expectations

The T&S PV is due in print (as a typed, stapled copy) at the beginning of class on 15 February 2016. It should be formatted as a single document composed of the topic proposal and annotated bibliography, in that order, and it should be at least the minimum acceptable length for the final submission (325 words for the proposal, an introductory paragraph for the annotated bibliography, four three-part annotation entries, plus a four-line heading—student name, instructor name, course and section, date of composition—and title).

The text of the T&S PV 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. The four-line heading should be left-aligned, the title centered horizontally; both should be in the same typeface as the rest of the document. The primary text should be left-aligned; citations in the annotated bibliography should be aligned as prescribed by MLA standards. Entries in the annotated bibliography should be alphabetized by their citations, and entries should be separated from one another and from the introductory paragraph by extra blank lines.

A quiz grade will be taken from the presence and quality of the T&S PV during class on the due date. The grade will be largely holistic in nature, with more complete and on-target student work receiving higher grades. Students who arrive in class without drafts will receive a zero for the minor assignment grade, as will those who fail to attend class that day (excepting those covered under class attendance policies expressed in the syllabus and detailed during class discussions). Detailed reading will not be conducted by the instructor at that point, although comments regarding overall adherence to assignment standards may well be made.

Students should keep in mind that the T&S PV is a work in progress. A more complete draft is more desirable than a less complete one, largely in that it eases the later work that must be done and offers more opportunity for concrete improvement to the writing that is done. Please note that the text composed for the T&S PV may well need to change; keep in mind that it cannot get better without changing, and that all writing can be improved.

Students are encouraged to consult with the instructor and with tutors in the Writing Center during the process of composing the T&S PV. 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 T&S PV into the T&S RV

Following the in-class workshopping of the T&S PV, students are strongly encouraged to revise their papers in light of the comments made by peer reviewer/s. They should work from global issues—whether the subject of inquiry is clear and appropriate, whether the rationale for approaching it is, whether the questions asked about it are, whether the annotated bibliography is introduced with appropriate methodology, and whether its entries are complete and appropriate—to more local issues—such as how best to transition between each major part, how to transition from paragraph to paragraph and 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 T&S RV, should still open with an expression of the subject of inquiry, the rationale for selecting it, and at least three research questions to ask about it. The T&S RV should still follow with an annotated bibliography that outlines its methodology before offering four three-part entries (citation, summary, and explanation) in alphabetical order.

The T&S RV is due via D2L before the beginning of class time on 19 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 should be presented according to the same standards as that of the T&S PV, and it should be within the acceptable length indicated (325 to 650 words of topic proposal; annotated bibliography consisting of an introductory paragraph and four three-part annotation entries; and heading and title). Usage should conform to standards promulgated by the MLA and discussed during class time.

The T&S RV will be assessed as a minor assignment according to the rubric indicated below. The text and comments made about it will be returned to students via the email function on D2L. Those comments should be used to improve the text further in advance of its final submission; the T&S RV is a work in progress, although one nearing completion.

Students are encouraged to consult with the instructor and with tutors in the Writing Center during the process of composing the T&S 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 T&S RV into the T&S FV

Following the return of instructor comments on the T&S RV, students are strongly encouraged to revise their papers in light of the comments. They should work from global issues—whether the subject of inquiry is clear and appropriate, whether the rationale for approaching it is, whether the questions asked about it are, whether the annotated bibliography is introduced with appropriate methodology, and whether its entries are complete and appropriate—to more local issues—such as how best to transition between each major part, how to transition from paragraph to paragraph and 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 T&S FV, should still open with an expression of the subject of inquiry, the rationale for selecting it, and at least three research questions to ask about it. The T&S FV should still follow with an annotated bibliography that outlines its methodology before offering four three-part entries (citation, summary, and explanation) in alphabetical order.

The T&S FV is due via D2L before the beginning of class time on 26 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 should be presented according to the same standards as that of the T&S PV, and it should be within the acceptable length indicated (325 to 650 words of topic proposal; annotated bibliography consisting of an introductory paragraph and four three-part annotation entries; and heading and title). Usage should conform to standards promulgated by the MLA and discussed during class time.

The T&S FV will be assessed as a major assignment worth 10% of the total course grade, using the rubric indicated below. The text and comments made about it will be returned to students via the email function on D2L. Those comments should be used to stimulate still better performance on future writing; the T&S will return in an updated version as a later minor assignment (yet to be discussed), and it will directly inform later assignments in the class. Additionally, there is other writing to be done in the class and in life beyond the classroom, and it needs to be the best it can possibly be; comments on the T&S should help with that writing.

Students are encouraged to consult with the instructor and with tutors in the Writing Center during the process of composing the T&S FV. 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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Update the T&S

Because the T&S feeds into the SOQ, and because there is substantial class time between those assignments, keeping the work of finding and evaluating resources in students’ minds seems an appropriate and helpful thing to do. Because experience indicates that students will focus their attention on things that affect their grades, making the continuation of finding and evaluating resources in students’ minds a graded assignment seems appropriate, as well. The T&S Update proceeds from those causes, asking students to further refine the work done for the T&S so that it remains in their minds and they therefore retain or increase their momentum towards the SOQ.

Students in Prof. Elliott’s sections of ENGL 1213 in the Spring 2016 instructional term at Oklahoma State University will need to perform several tasks to successfully complete the exercise:

Information about each follows.

Refine the Topic Proposal

Students will have received commentary on their earlier submissions of the T&S (the RV and FV), including the identification of a single question to address as they move forward to the SOQ. For the T&S Update, they will need to consolidate, condense, and refine the Topic Proposal component of the T&S FV, clarifying issues of content and usage; in effect, students will do more of what they have already been asked to do on the project. Part of doing so will consist of focusing more narrowly on the question identified as the focus of the SOQ; because it will receive specific attention, more detail about its validity as a question to answer will need to be provided than in the T&S FV.

Return to T&S Update.

Explore More Secondary (and Maybe Tertiary) Sources

Because more than four sources are likely to be helpful in completing the SOQ, the T&S Update asks students to identify more outside materials to use in framing and supporting their arguments. Consequently, more secondary and, optionally, tertiary sources will need to be found, following the same ideas expressed for the selection of materials in support of earlier versions of the T&S.

Return to T&S Update.

Refine the Methodologies Statement

Because the current course follows the tradition of having second-semester composition courses serve as bridges into more formal types of researched writing, as evidenced by the SOQ, having students reflect on the ways in which they gather and sort information is appropriate. Consequently, earlier versions of the T&S ask for students to outline the ways in which they seek out, identify, and assess the validity of the information they use to support their research projects. The T&S Update asks for a refinement of that outline, presenting in one paragraph the means used to find information and the rubrics through which that information is assessed. Again, it is asking for an improved version of what has already been done.

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Compose the T&S Update

After completing the tasks above, which collectively constitute a sequence of prewriting, each student should independently draft a two-part paper, which will be brought to class in printed hard copy as the T&S Update. The two parts, topic proposal and annotated bibliography, are described below, and expectations for them explicated.

To be noted for both components is the audience to be addressed. Topic proposals of the kind requested by the T&S are often written by academics to other academics, often in the pursuit of presentation or publication activities. Annotated bibliographies are generally written as scholarly aids, helping researchers and critics to access the work done by those who precede them. For the T&S Update, the primary audience whose needs are to be met consists of instructors of ENGL 1213. The secondary audience to keep in mind consists of students in succeeding years, whose courses of study might be influenced by the work done in the ongoing research project to which the T&S contributes.

Topic Proposal Refinement

As noted above, the T&S Update should refine and focus more narrowly on its materials than earlier versions of the T&S. This can be done reasonably easily in a three-paragraph structure, with one paragraph addressing each of the points the assignment requests. That is,

  • One paragraph could explain what the subject of inquiry is, situating it in its appropriate context.
  • Another could explain the rationale for selecting the topic, noting why it is of interest and worth investigating.
  • A third could present the research question, offering it and giving some indication why it is an appropriate question.

While other organizational patterns could be deployed that address all the required points, the T&S Update is meant as a progress check and should be kept reasonably simple. It is meant to facilitate ongoing work, not distract from it.

Annotated Bibliography Extension

In its revised and updated form, the annotated bibliography should open with a brief paragraph outlining the methodology used to select the sources it treats. That is, readers need to know what thought processes undergird the bibliography so that they can more authentically evaluate it for their own purposes. A few sentences—no more than seven—should suffice to account for how the works were selected from the many that are available.

After the opening paragraph, the annotated bibliography should present at least two three-part entries, each treating an individual secondary source. (Each source should be generally reliable, as discussed during the term and in comments on earlier assignments.) The three parts of each entry are, in order, an MLA-style Works Cited citation, a paragraph summarizing the source, and a brief paragraph accounting for the utility of the source in answering the question selected for the SOQ. The entries should be presented in alphabetical order by their citations. Entries should be separated from one another and from the introductory paragraph by an extra blank line.

The summary paragraph in each entry will still be similar to that written for the summary component of the StratRdg. The first sentence of the StratRdg summary is not needed, as the citation provided in each entry suffices to identify the source. As such, the summary paragraphs in the annotated bibliography should begin with a statement of the source’s thesis, with following sentences noting major points and tendencies among the argument made in the source.

The evaluation paragraph in each entry will still express in a few sentences—no more than five—the potential for use of the source in answering one or more of the questions advanced in the topic proposal. Such concerns as the reliability of the source; the relevance of the source to the subject of inquiry; and what pertinent information it contributes to framing, offering, counter-arguing, or rebutting for the answer to one or more of the research questions are worth treating.

Submission Expectations

The T&S Update is due in print (as a typed, stapled copy) at the beginning of class on 23 March 2016. It should be formatted as a single document composed of the topic proposal and annotated bibliography, in that order, and it should be an appropriate length for final submission (three adequate paragraphs for the proposal, an introductory methodological paragraph for the annotated bibliography, two three-part annotation entries, plus a four-line heading—student name, instructor name, course and section, date of composition—and title).

The text of the T&S Update 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. The four-line heading should be left-aligned, the title centered horizontally; both should be in the same typeface as the rest of the document. The primary text should be left-aligned; citations in the annotated bibliography should be aligned as prescribed by MLA standards. Entries in the annotated bibliography should be alphabetized by their citations, and entries should be separated from one another and from the introductory paragraph by extra blank lines.

The T&S Update will be assessed as a minor assignment using the grading rubric indicated below. Comments will be emailed to students via D2L. Given the brevity of the assignment, comments are not likely to be extensive; they should still be considered as work on the SOQ progresses, and they are made to that end.

Students are encouraged to consult with the instructor and with tutors in the Writing Center during the process of composing the T&S Update. 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.

Return to T&S Update.

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Grading Rubrics

A copy of the grading rubric that will be applied to the T&S RV and the T&S FV appears at the following link: G. Elliott Spring 2016 ENGL 1213 T&S Grading Rubric. A copy  of the slightly amended grading rubric that will be applied to the T&S Update appears at the following link: G. Elliott Spring 2016 ENGL 1213 T&S Update Grading Rubric. Grading of the T&S PV is noted above.

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Notes

Although the T&S is a relatively small assignment, it directly contributes to the large project with which the semester concludes: the SOQ, worth 30% of the total course grade. Diligence with the T&S is likely to improve performance on the SOQ.

Owing to the restructuring of ENGL 1213 for the Spring 2016 instructional term at Oklahoma State University, only one example of the T&S is available: “Questions about the Comprehensive Exams for UL Lafayette PhD Students in English.”

The T&S is in large measure an exercise in formal citation and identification of useful source materials. More than in many other assignments, attention to the details of the work done to account for the provenance of information is obligatory. Failure to provide appropriate citation may be treated as an academic integrity violation.

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Geoffrey B. Elliott
11 March 2016

Edited to correct an identified error and to facilitate document navigation.

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