Oklahoma State University, ENGL 1213: Composition II–Student’s Own Question

Below appears an authoritative version of the guidelines for the Student’s Own Question assignment (SOQ), superseding any previously published information regarding the SOQ.


The First-Year Composition Program at Oklahoma State University describes the SOQ as enabling students to “research and write a ten page [sic] research [paper] in response to their selected inquiry questions,” one that offers practice in “in-text citation, argument structure, and deep revision skills,” among others. Doing so will take the form of a single exercise, per Program standards: a researched, predominantly argumentative essay of 3,100 to 3,400 words. As a single exercise, its single score will be entered as the grade for 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, along with a copy of the relevant grading rubric and notes.

Identify a (Tentative) Thesis

A note on the T&S assignment sheet indicates that the earlier assignment “directly contributes to the large project with which the semester concludes: the SOQ, worth 30% of the total course grade.” That contribution takes two forms. One is that it points to secondary (and tertiary/critical) source material likely to be useful, something detailed below. The other, and the more immediate, is that it offers questions worth answering in the SOQ. Comments returned from the instructor suggest which of the questions posed in the T&S is the most likely to have an interestingly researchable answer. That answer will serve as the thesis of the SOQ, the central point the rest of the paper exists to support and validate.

Such a thesis should present a reasonable claim in an authoritative manner, one that indicates what question is being answered without having to explicitly present a question. For example, if the T&S asked “Why does the Professional Writing concentration of the State College English degree not include a course in graphic design?” the thesis for the SOQ might be something like “The Professional Writing concentration of the State College English degree lacks a course in graphic design because of tensions between the English and Design departments.” A well-written thesis makes clear what issue is being addressed without having to pose a question explicitly. It is also one that 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.

Return to top.

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 SOQ 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.

Return to top.

Identify and Develop a Counter-Argument

The SOQ 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 SOQ 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. To follow from the example above, if a paper will argue that “The Professional Writing concentration of the State College English degree lacks a course in graphic design because of tensions between the English and Design departments,” one workable counter-argument could be that “The Professional Writing concentration of the State College English degree instead lacks a course in graphic design because of an overabundance of degree hours already required,” followed by a demonstration of that assertion’s validity. 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 StratRdg 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.

Return to top.

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. To follow from the example above, if a paper will argue that “The Professional Writing concentration of the State College English degree lacks a course in graphic design because of tensions between the English and Design departments,” and its counter-argument is that “The Professional Writing concentration of the State College English degree instead lacks a course in graphic design because of an overabundance of degree hours already required,” a workable rebuttal could be that “There is room to include such a requirement, however,” followed by an explanation of where that room is or how it could be developed. 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 StratRdg asks for its focal text) 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.

Return to top.

Develop an Introduction and a 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.

Return to top.

Compose the SOQ PV

After completing the tasks above, which collectively constitute a sequence of prewriting, each student should independently draft a predominantly argumentative paper of 3,100 to 3,400 words, which will be brought to class in printed hard copy as the SOQ PV. To be noted is the audience to be addressed. For the SOQ, representative of more formal academic and professional writing as noted above in “Identify and Develop a Counter-Argument,” the primary audience whose needs are to be met consists of program and department administrators who are in positions that allow them to make changes to curricula. The secondary audience to keep in mind consists of students and professors of the discipline about which the paper is written, both sets of whom will have vested interests in any changes made to the courses of study concerned therewith.

The SOQ PV will do well to open with a graceful introduction that identifies the topic being discussed and articulates a context for it before asserting a thesis and perhaps providing an essay map that forecasts the organization of the document that follows. It will do well to then present 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 SOQ PV is due in print (as a typed, stapled copy) at the beginning of class on 8 April 2016. It should be presented as a single document, and it should be at least the minimum acceptable length for the final submission (3,100 to 3,400 words plus a four-line heading—student name, instructor name, course and section, and date of composition—title, and appropriately MLA-formatted list of Works Cited).

The text of the SOQ 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, its paragraphs indented one-half inch in their first lines and flush to the left margin thereafter. 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.

A quiz grade will be taken from the presence and quality of the SOQ 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 SOQ 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 composition that is done. Please note that the materials composed for the SOQ PV may well need to change; keep in mind that they cannot get better without changing, and that all creative work can be improved.

Students are encouraged to consult with the instructor and with tutors in the Writing Center during the process of composing the SOQ 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.

Return to top.

Revise the SOQ PV into the SOQ RV

Following the in-class workshopping of the SOQ 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—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 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 SOQ RV, should still open with a graceful introduction that identifies the topic being discussed and articulates a context for it before asserting a thesis and perhaps providing an essay map that forecasts the organization of the document that follows. The SOQ RV 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. It should still end 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 SOQ RV is due via D2L before the beginning of class time on 15 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.) It should be presented as a single document, and it should be at least the minimum acceptable length for the final submission (3,100 to 3,400 words plus a four-line heading—student name, instructor name, course and section, and date of composition—title, and appropriately MLA-formatted list of Works Cited). Formatting should be the same as that for which the SOQ PV calls.

The SOQ RV will be assessed via the grading rubric below as a minor assignment. 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 next submission; the SOQ RV is a work in progress, so changes and improvements are expected.

Students are encouraged to consult with the instructor and with tutors in the Writing Center during the process of composing the SOQ 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.

Return to top.

Revise the SOQ RV into the SOQ Update

Following the in-class workshopping of the SOQ RV, students are strongly encouraged to revise their papers in light of the comments made by peer reviewer/s. 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 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 SOQ Update, should still open with a graceful introduction that identifies the topic being discussed and articulates a context for it before asserting a thesis and perhaps providing an essay map that forecasts the organization of the document that follows. The SOQ Update 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. It should still end 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 SOQ Update is due via D2L before the beginning of class time on 22 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.) It should be presented as a single document, and it should be at least the minimum acceptable length for the final submission (3,100 to 3,400 words plus a four-line heading—student name, instructor name, course and section, and date of composition—title, and appropriately MLA-formatted list of Works Cited). Formatting should be the same as that for which the SOQ PV calls.

The SOQ Update will be assessed via the grading rubric below as a minor assignment. 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 SOQ Update is a work in progress, albeit one nearing completion.

Students are encouraged to consult with the instructor and with tutors in the Writing Center during the process of composing the SOQ 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 top.

Revise the SOQ Update into the SOQ FV

Following the return of instructor comments on the SOQ Update, 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 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 SOQ FV, should still open with a graceful introduction that identifies the topic being discussed and articulates a context for it before asserting a thesis and perhaps providing an essay map that forecasts the organization of the document that follows. The SOQ FV 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. It should still end 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 SOQ FV is due via D2L before the beginning of class time on 29 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.) It should be presented as a single document, and it should be at least the minimum acceptable length for the final submission (3,100 to 3,400 words plus a four-line heading—student name, instructor name, course and section, and date of composition—title, and appropriately MLA-formatted list of Works Cited). Formatting should be the same as that for which the SOQ PV calls.

The SOQ FV will be assessed via the grading rubric below as a major assignment, worth 30% of the total course grade. 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—because it is certain that students will be asked to complete other writing tasks, not only in their future coursework, but in their professional lives after their formal coursework is completed.

Students are encouraged to consult with the instructor and with tutors in the Writing Center during the process of composing the SOQ 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.

Return to top.

Grading Rubric

A copy of the grading rubric that will be applied to the SOQ RV, SOQ Update, and SOQ FV can be found here: G. Elliott Spring 2016 ENGL 1213 SOQ Grading Rubric Revision. Grading of the SOQ PV is discussed above.

Return to top.

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.”

Examples of responses to similar assignments are also available, some of which are noted below:

That the SOQ 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.

Because the SOQ represents an entry into more formal academic and researched writing, it will rely in large part upon appropriate documentation of the sources used to inform it. Failure to provide appropriate documentation may be investigated as an academic integrity violation.

Return to top.

Geoffrey B. Elliott
16 April 2016

Updated to include a revised grading rubric.

15 thoughts on “Oklahoma State University, ENGL 1213: Composition II–Student’s Own Question

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s