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Arguing a Position with Sources
In this essay unit, you will take a stand on a debatable issue. By "debatable issue," I mean a topic for which there are multiple sides, and for which there is sufficient evidence to persuade an audience of the validity and importance of a topic. Your issue should be something for which there is some level of public or social debate. Part of the purpose of this assignment is to think critically and honestly about your topic, so it needs to be something you can research, explore, and find a variety of viewpoints on. Here are the steps to follow as you start thinking about a possible topic:
Although I am willing to approve a wide range of topics, I do have certain topics that are off limits. These topics will not be approved, and any assignments written on these topics will automatically receive a 0/0% grade. Some of these topics are not appropriate for the scope of our class, some of them have just been done to death and there is nothing new to be said about them, and others cannot be argued in a neutral, objective way. Off limit topics are anything related to abortion, gun control/gun rights/the second amendment, immigration, anything of an overtly religious or spiritual nature, advocating for or against war (current or past), advocating for or against a political candidate or party (foreign or domestic), allowing high school students to become professional athletes, preventing injuries in high school/college/professional sports, performance enhancing substances in sports, or legalizing any drugs/controlled substances. I will also not accept generic, nondescript topics like "how to succeed in life," "how to improve your outlook," or "the importance of self-improvement." There is nothing new or interesting to be said about topics like this, nor is there sufficient research to support these topics.
I know this probably sounds like I’m putting all the good topics off limits, but believe me, there is still plenty you can talk about. Examples of topics you may want to discuss include obesity, the opioid epidemic, food deserts, environmental destruction, sex trafficking and slavery, gentrification, the objectification of women in the media, fracking, micro plastics in the food supply, various types of pollution, the cost of education, and so on. These are just examples, you don’t have to pick any of them, but they give you a sense of what’s available.
NOTE: Here are the possible essay topics we brainstormed in class on 1/2/20: euthanasia, plastic usage, gene manipulation, animal cloning, animal adoption vs. "shopping" for animals, school redistricting, drone strikes, privatizing zoos vs. public zoos, animal captivity, LGBTQ+ adoption rights, trans person in the military, free education, human trafficking/sex slavery, wage gaps, official languages.
Some Friendly Advice:
Make sure your topic isn’t too broad. For example, this topic is too vague: “Parents should let kids live their own lives.” On the other hand, this is a great topic: “When parents allow their teenagers to own a car, they encourage responsibility and maturity.”
Make sure your topic is debatable: You cannot debate a proven fact, nor can you debate an obvious falsehood. You also cannot adequately debate an issue without enough evidence on either side. Arguing that the US gained independence from the French is no good because this is clearly false. Arguing that grass is green is not in question, and therefore not debatable. Trying to argue whether life exists on other planets may be fun, but there really isn’t enough reliable evidence on either side of that debate to write a clear, concise essay.
Have a thesis statement. As with any essay, you need a thesis statement that clearly communicates your position near the end of your introduction. Remember that a good thesis should have two parts, the claim and the proofs, which tell your audience the overall direction your argument is headed.
The more you know about an issue, the easier it will be for you to write this paper. Don’t choose something distant from your own life because you think it’s “important.” I’m interested in your writing, and the way you structure your argument, not seeing if you can write an essay based on what you think I want to read. If the issue is important to you, it’s important to me.
Remember that you’re trying to persuade your audience, not club them over the head. How often do people accept your advice when you insult them? “Gee, you’re right, I’m a complete jerk! I’ll try to shape up.” Not very effective, huh? The point of an academic argument is to demonstrate that your opinion is most likely the correct opinion, and that you respect others enough to show them the merits of your opinion without making them feel inferior. It’s a delicate balance, but it can be done.
Things You Need to Know:
Audience: For the purpose of this essay, your audience is your course professor. In this case, you want to assume the professor does not know anything about your topic. Therefore, anything you need the professor to know about the topic, no matter how obvious it may seem to you, will need to be clearly stated in the essay.
Purpose: You need to convince your audience that your perspective on your topic is well thought out, credible, important, and needs to be considered. Ultimately, this should be your goal with any academic essay.
Counterarguments: Whenever working to convince someone of something, it is incredibly important to understand other perspectives on the issue as well. In this way, you can show that you are unbiased and that you fully understand all aspects of the issue. You will need to utilize counterargument within your essay, addressing an opposing view to your argument and either refute (explain why that point is not valid) or concede that counterargument (admit the point is valid, but explain why it doesn’t prove your point of view wrong).
Support: Support is also very important to convincing an audience that your argument is the best argument. While your argument will be yours, you want to show that it is not just you that is being affected in this way. It is important to bring in outside sources that help show that your ideas are worth considering. For this assignment, you need at least three (3) scholarly sources. By “scholarly sources,” I mean sources written by experts in their respective fields and published by academic publishers and/or in academic journals. We will discuss how to find these sources through the HCC Library Database System in class.
Format: All essay drafts should be written in standard MLA format, with appropriate citations and a Works Cited page according to MLA 8th Edition standards (2016 update). We will discuss formatting standards in class; please see me with MLA-related questions.
Length: This essay should be no less six (6) full pages long. You are happy to go longer than that, but short essays will lose credit and any essay less than five (5) full pages will not receive a passing grade. The Works Cited page never counts as part of your page length.
Tips for Argumentation:
Your essay will change and grow over time, and you may find that your opinion of the issue has changed from one draft to another. That is okay – honest – but remember the various drafts your paper should present the following:
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