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11.1: Coming Up With a Topic

Skills to Develop

  • Identify the requirements for your persuasive essay
  • Generate ideas on a topic for your persuasive essay
  • Formulate a research question
  • Create a working thesis showing your topic and your controlling point of view
  • Conduct preliminary research

The Requirements This assessment is divided into three parts (the requirements of each are described below): A formal outline due week 11 A rough draft due week 12 A final draft due week 13. You will receive 2.5% each for parts 1 and 2, and the final essay is worth 25%.

Essay 3: Persuasion (2.5%+2.5%+25%)

Choose a controversial topic on which you can base a persuasive discussion of 1,350 to 1,500 words.

You must:

  • Demonstrate the application of dialectics and consideration of altering points of view
  • Construct and follow a logical argument discussion
  • Provide supporting evidence from five to seven supplemental sources and include a reference page and citations.

Part A: Essay 3: Persuasive formal outline/5 marks (2.5%) **Due week 11**

Create a formal, sentence outline for your instructor’s approval. You must include:

  • A working thesis
  • A working outline
  • Topic sentences for each supporting paragraph
  • Notes of how you plan to develop your ideas
  • The sourcing information of where you will get evidence to support your ideas.

You will be marked on level of completion of the five components described above. You do not have to stick to the outline exactly when you start working on your draft, but you will need to demonstrate you have done some of the preliminary work.

Part B: Essay 3: Persuasive draft/10 marks (2.5%)**Due week 12**

Create a first draft of your persuasive essay. You must include:

  • A complete introduction
  • A complete conclusion
  • Paragraph development
  • A demonstration of idea development
  • A draft reference page

Part C: Essay 3: Persuasive final submission/100 marks (25%)**Due week 13**

Write a 1,350 to 1,500 word persuasive essay on a controversial topic. Use the thesis, evidence, opposing argument, and concessionary statement as the basis for writing a full persuasive essay. You must include:

An engaging introduction

Clear explanations of all the evidence you present

A strong conclusion.

The Controversy

 A controversial topic is one on which people have strong views. Imagine the type of discussion that can become really heated, usually when the subject is something people are passionate about. But a person who is passionate about a particular issue does not necessarily mean he or she recognizes the merits of the other view (although that often happens); it just means that the person has collected evidence (from a variety of sources) and synthesized those ideas to arrive at a particular point of view. When you are trying to choose your topic for your persuasive paper, it is easier if you choose a topic about which you feel very strongly. You probably have realized by this point that when you are writing, it is a lot easier to write about a topic you already have some background knowledge on, and something you are extremely interested in. This helps to engage you and keep you interested in the writing process. No matter the topic you eventually decide to discuss, there are a few things you need to think about before you begin the writing process. You will need to make sure your subject is: Significant. Is a discussion of this topic one that has the potential to contribute to a field of study? Will it make an impact? This does not mean every discussion has to change lives, but it needs to be something relatively important. For example, a significant topic would be to convince your reader that eating at fast-food restaurants is detrimental to people’s cardiovascular system. A less significant discussion would be if you were to try to convince your reader why one fast-food restaurant is better than another. Singular. This means you need to focus on one subject. Using the fast-food restaurant example, if you were to focus on both the effects on the cardiovascular and endocrine system, the discussion would lose that singular focus and there would be too much for you to cover. Specific. Similar to the point above, your topic needs to be narrow enough to allow for you to really discuss the topic within the essay parameters (i.e., word count). Many writers are afraid of getting too specific because they feel they will run out of things to say. If you develop the idea completely and give thorough explanations and plenty of examples, the specificity should not be a problem. Supportable. Does evidence for what you want to discuss actually exist? There is probably some form of evidence out there even for the most obscure topics or points of view. However, you need to remember you should use credible sources. Someone’s opinions posted on a blog about why one fast-food restaurant is the best does not count as credible support for your ideas.

Exercise 11.1

In previous chapters, you learned strategies for generating and narrowing a topic for a research paper. Review the list of general topics below. Also, think about which topics you feel very strongly.

Freewrite for five minutes on one of the topics below. Remember, you will need to focus your ideas to a manageable size for a five to sevenpage research paper.

You are also welcome to choose another topic; you may want to double-check with your instructor if it is suitable. It is important to remember that you want your paper to be unique and stand out from others’; writing on overly common topics may not help with this. Since we have already discussed the death penalty as a form of punishment in the last chapter and already developed ideas, you should probably not choose this topic because your instructor wants you to demonstrate you have applied the process of critical thinking on another topic.

Identify the key words you will use in the next selfpractice exercise to preliminary research to narrow down your topic.

Some appropriate controversial topics are:

  • Illegal immigration in Canada
  • Bias in the media
  • The role of religion in educational systems
  • The possibility of life in outer space
  • Modern day slavery around the world, ie. Human trafficking
  • Foreign policy
  • Television and advertising
  • Stereotypes and prejudice
  • Gender roles and the workplace
  • Driving and cell phones

Formulating a Research Question

In forming a research question, you are setting a goal for your research. Your main research question should be substantial enough to form the guiding principle of your paper, but focused enough to guide your research. A strong research question requires you not only to find information but also to put together different pieces of information, interpret and analyze them, and figure out what you think. As you consider potential research questions, ask yourself whether they would be too hard or too easy to answer.

To determine your research question, review the freewriting you completed earlier. Skim through books, articles, and websites and list the questions you have. (You may wish to use the 5WH strategy to help you formulate questions.) Include simple, factual questions and more complex questions that require analysis and interpretation. Determine your main question—the primary focus of your paper—and several subquestions that you will need to research to answer that main question.

Here are the research questions Jorge will use to focus his research. Notice that his main research question has no obvious, straightforward answer. Jorge will need to research his subquestions, which address narrower topics, to answer his main question.

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Exercise 11.2

Using the ideas you came up with in Exercise 11.1create a research question you would like to find the answer to through your research and persuasive paper development. This is something you will use to help guide you in your writing and to check back with to make sure you are answering that question along the way.

_________________________________________________________________________

Collaborate with a partner and share your questions. Describe your topic and point of view and ask your partner if that question connects to that topic and point of view.

Exercise 11.3

Working with the topic you have identified, use the research skills you learned in previous chapters to locate approximately five potentially useful print or electronic sources of information about the topic.

Create a list that includes the following:

One subject-specific periodicals database likely to include relevant articles on your topic

Two articles about your topic written for an educated general audience

At least one article about your topic written for an audience with specialized knowledge

Organize your list of resources into primary and secondary sources. What makes them either primary or secondary? Pick one primary source and one secondary source and write a sentence or two summarizing the information that each provides.

Then answer these questions:

What type of primary source did you choose? Who wrote it, and why? Do you think this source provides accurate information, or is it biased in some way?

Where did the information in the secondary source come from? Was the author citing an initial study, piece of literature, or work of art? Where could you find the primary source?

Exercise 11.4

With the topic from Exercise 11.1 and the preliminary research you conducted in Exercise 11.3 and referring to Section 10.2develop a working thesis and scratch outline.

Note that after reading Section 11.2, you will most likely revise your outline.

How to Be Really Convincing 

Sometimes it can be very challenging to convince someone of your ideas and that your point of view is valid. If your reader has strong contrary views or has had emotional experiences in the past connected to that topic, your job in persuading will be more challenging. However, if you consider your audience and tone (as discussed in Section 10.3) and think about the answers to the following questions in Checklist 11.1, Who Is My Audience?, you will be better able to predict possible objections your reader may have to your argument and address those accordingly. It will also help you make recognize how much and what kind of background information you need to provide your reader with context for your discussion. 

Checklist 11.1: Who Is My Audience?

Who are my readers?

What do they already know on the subject?

What are they likely to be interested in?

How impartial or biased are they?

Is the subject one that may challenge their ethical or moral beliefs?

What values do we share?

What types of evidence will be most effective?

Exercise 11.5

Look back at the two persuasive essay examples in Section 10.4With a partner, discuss the strengths and weaknesses of each example. Look at the credibility, tone, appropriateness to audience, and completeness of the ideas presented.

Example 1
Strengths Weaknesses
   
   
   
   
Example 2
Strengths Weaknesses
   
   
   
   
   

Collaboration: With your partner, discuss how you could make each of these arguments stronger.

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