The first two papers in this class gave you specific instructions for completing the
assignment. For paper 2, you will be writing a research paper with an open topic; in other
words, you get to choose your own topic (with certain restrictions – see below).
We find students are often confused about the purpose of a research paper. Some believe a
research paper is just a “data dump”, or a paper full of information on a subject but without
any clear rhetorical purpose. For this class, however, you will be writing a “researched
argument”; you will be making a claim and using research as evidence to support your
claim. For example, a research paper that asks if Martin Luther King was in favor of
nonviolence will probably not lead to any new observations or claims; most everyone agrees
that King was a pacifist. A more focused and arguable paper would be to discuss whether
King’s strategy of nonviolence is effective for fighting against terrorism in the 21
Preliminary Research & Primary Text
The first step in writing this research paper is to identify a text or topic from A World of Ideas
that interests you. We ask that you choose an author who has been anthologized in our
textbook because we know there is scholarship on those topics. (Helpful hint: You might
want to scan all of the texts before making your decision). After you have decided on which
topic you want to examine in more detail, then you should begin preliminary research.
Start by investigating major texts that the author has written, by searching the UTPB and
UTTC libraries catalogs and databases, and by searching reliable encyclopedias and Internet
sources (sorry, no wikis allowed!). Once you have decided which text you want to write
about, begin to read it right away. Make time for this primary text, as it will be the basis for
The Topic Proposal
After you have read and seriously thought and considered the ideas in that text, it is time to
write a 400 word proposal. Formal proposals call for you to identify an issue as a problem
and present a solution to the problem. For this course, the proposal is a prewriting
activity for the researched argument essay. Thus, the problem you will need to identify is
what you don’t know about your research topic and how you plan on solving that problem
In 400 words, propose why you should research a certain topic for your argumentative essay
addressing the following issues:
1. Significance of the topic: What do you already know about the history of the topic,
the topic’s affects, etc.
2. Two sides of the argument: Identify the two sides of the argument, and where you
expect to position yourself in this argument. What reasons do each side provide as
support for their position? Do you side with one camp or another or do you have a
3. Explain your position on the argument. Be sure to explain the logic of your choice
rather than the emotions that drove you to accept this position. Remember that you
need to provide valid, logical reasons rather than rely simply on the rightness or
wrongness of an issue .
4. The type of research you plan to complete: What specific journals, books, etc. will
you consult? Do not simply state you will search the internet and/or the
library. I want specific titles of magazines, newspapers, journals, books, and websites
and why you plan to consult these specific references. You should also include the
key terms you will use while searching various search engines.
With this assignment, you are planning your research strategy and argument. This is worth
5% of your overall paper grade. If you wish to change your topic at a later date, that’s fine,
but you will be required to write another proposal, and contact me before submitting it.
Your proposal will be graded on your address of each of the four issues above and the
essay’s structural strategies we have covered so far this semester. You need to submit your
proposal essay as an attachment labeled Lastname_first initialProposal.doc (MS Word file)
such as Smith_JProposal.doc. You will also be participating in Discussion Board workshops
for your research paper as well, so make sure to manage your time wisely in the coming days.
III. Secondary Research
Your research question cannot solely be answered by examining the primary text. Often,
secondary research is needed to supplement and aid your discovery process. Many of the
authors we are discussing this semester have been the subjects of critical analysis for many
years (or in some cases, centuries). Therefore, I do not suspect that you shall have any
trouble locating secondary sources such as critical analysis, biographical information, and
historical context for the primary texts. I do not like to place limits on your research for this
paper, but inevitably I will be asked the same question: how many sources do I have to use?
Well, the best answer is, “As many as you need.” I doubt this will fly with you, and frankly,
it doesn’t work for me either. Therefore, I will ask that you include secondary information
from at least:
Two scholarly books on the author or subject;
One scholarly journal;
One reliable, scholarly internet or web source.
If you want to use other sources that are not scholarly, or if you have difficulty meeting these
requirements, you must clear it with me before proceeding: otherwise, I will deduct points
from the final essay grade. Secondary research is not the most important part of your paper
– your thesis is – so while I want you to spend time doing secondary research, do not make
the mistake of just locating sources without interpreting them. In other words, stay on topic,
and write your own ideas and observations into the paper. Remember that this is a formal
collegiate essay and, therefore, should be free of personal pronouns (the exception would be
when a personal pronoun is used in a quote.) Such phrases as “I think” or “in my opinion”
are not necessary and weaken your argument. Your name is on the paper so the fact that
these are your thoughts and ideas or beliefs is evident.
Once you have begun to gather secondary research, I will require you to submit an
annotated bibliography, in which you list and briefly summarize the sources you are
considering for your paper. Like the proposal, I will not hold you to these sources, but
hopefully it will keep you from procrastinating too much. An annotated bibliography is
similar to a Works Cited page. However, after each works cited entry, you will include a 2-3
sentence summary of your source and a one sentence statement of how this source was
useful to your argument. Here is a sample entry from an argument about child labor in
Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s poem “Cry of the Children.”
Horrell, Sara and Jane Humphries. “Child Labour and British Industrialization.” A
Thing of the Past? Child Labour in Britain in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries.
Ed. Michael Lavalette. New York: St. Martin’s, 199. 76-100.
Horrell and Humphries present an exploration of child labor in Britain (i.e. Scotland,
North Ireland, England, and Wales) during the Industrial Revolution. The authors
provide useful statistics on the dynamics of child labor in relation to male-dominated
households, female-dominated households, and the income child laborers
contributed to the household. Also, they feature a section on legislation specific to
child labor issues. Each item establishes the background issue needed to create my
argument that Elizabeth Barrett Browning was commenting on contemporary
issues in her poem.
IV. The Draft
After you have selected a primary text to examine, proposed an arguable research question,
and gathered a list of possible secondary sources, it is time to write a draft of your paper.
Ten pages may seem like a lot, but by the time you reach this stage, you will be more than
ready to begin writing your paper. Each stage is important: it is difficult (and detrimental to
your grade) to write the research draft the night before the deadline. We will work on
format and style as we progress with the paper, but for now do not worry about it: make
your primary text the primary focus of your paper. Be patient with your draft; gather
research, take good notes (as I will show you how to do), and take a deep breath. You will
have time if you make time; every one of you is capable of writing a brilliant paper. But if
you get completely stuck, remember what an old professor of mine said, “‘Tis better to turn
in a bad draft than turn nothing in at all.
As always, feel free to come to my virtual office if you have any questions. Remember that
during the semester we will be doing other activities in addition to the research project, so
make sure to schedule your time accordingly. The first step is to decide which topic you
want to write about, and begin to read a primary text from A World of Ideas on that topic.
There will be foul-ups, missteps, and wrong turns – don’t fret. Take it in stride – this can be
some of the most enjoyable, exciting work you do at the collegiate level, and even though it
is a major part of your grade, it is also a lot of fun, both for you and for me.