Engaging in Exploratory Research
Assignment: Write a 6+ page researched essay that identifies and explored an important question related to a contemporary social controversy. Your paper should be followed by a Works Cited page in correct MLA style.
Purpose: In Unit 1 we looked at contrasting ideas on a given topic from a group of pre-selected texts. Now, you will select your own question to pursue through careful academic research. Your goal in this assignment is to explore and describe a controversy in order to find out what is really going on. There’s more to an argument than the final opinion stated by two (or more) contrasting parties. So you’ll need to think about where these opinions come from: What are these people’s value systems? How do these systems affect the ways that they define key terms in the argument? What is really at stake? And how do people’s experiences and/or positions in life affect the ways that they view these stakes?
1. Start by identifying your interest in the topic. What is your relationship to it? Why did you choose this topic? What question(s) do you have about it?
2. Describe what you see before you. How is this issue commonly understood by a lay audience? How have you understood the issue? What are your initial assumptions about it?
3. Next, challenge yourself to question these assumptions. What do you think you might be overlooking? What new questions do you have about the issue?
4. How do the people involved define/describe/understand the issue? Pursue your research by following your natural curiosity about the topic. Stay focused on questions. What was your initial question? How does it grow and change throughout your research process?
*Your exploratory paper should be written as a narrative. That is, you should use your own voice and tell the “story” of your research process. Although I’ve given you some conceptual guidelines, the nuts and bolts of where you go to get your information and what new avenues you explore is up to you. As you go through your process, please explain your rationale for the choices you make, why you pursued a particular source, what you thought of it, etc.
Key Components: Your paper should include the following components:
1. Show why your topic/question is important (i.e. something that is worth arguing about).
2. Explain what is at stake. (Note: Your understanding of the stake[s] may change throughout the writing of the paper. It is likely that the stakes will be slightly different for each stakeholder.)
3. Identify the stakeholders and their opinions (i.e. the various key positions on the issue). Keep in mind that there may be more than “two sides” to the issue.
4. Identify the assumptions and biases that influence the opinions on each “side.”
5. Consider, too, the varying ways that stakeholders define key terms. Do different people define or “see” things differently?
6. Also be sure to address any common ground(s) that exist and consider what possible outcomes might realistically occur.
*By the end of your paper, try to answer the question: What are these people really arguing about? Where is the real difference? Is it a problem of definition? a problem of assumptions or values? or of physical needs? What do they agree on?
There are a huge variety of possible topics for this project. As you work towards choosing one, consider both the scope (local, state, national, international, etc.) and the type (causal, policy, evaluation, application, etc.) of your research question:
*What kind of controversy do you want to explore? something here at the OSU? something at
the federal level? some cross-cultural?
*Also, what focus do you want to take? Do you want to look at competing theories of why
something happens (e.g. causes of teen drop-out rates)? Or do you want to evaluate
something (e.g. the effectiveness of Oregon’s green energy measures)?
There are many kinds of arguments, so think carefully about the angle that you want to take, as well as the particular topic that interests you.
1. Your paper should include at least one source from each of the groups we discuss in class: scholarly text, scholarly journal, popular source (i.e. magazine or newspaper), and a credible internet source.
2. You should include no less that eight (8) sources in your paper.
3. Your sources should be cited according to the MLA format (see guidelines in Easy Writer).
4. Your paper should be grammatically correct and free of mechanical errors.
Evaluation: Your paper will be evaluated based on the following key components:
1. Clear and convincing statement of the importance of the issue and your investment in it.
2. Thorough consideration of the stakes and stakeholders.
3. Analysis of the assumptions and value/definitional differences among the parties.
4. Identification of the “real conflict” and any common ground that exists.
5. Careful and effective use of sources to trace your natural curiosity in the topic.
6. Mechanical correctness of grammar and citations.
Outline for Essay Two
? Introduce the topic and get the reader interested by pointing out why this topic is important. Show the reader how this might affect them/ their lives. What is going on in the world that makes you want to write about it right now?
? How will you narrow this topic in? What will be your more specific focus?
? Summarize the different stakeholders and what stake they might have in this issue. Who does this issue affect and what are they concerned about when thinking about this issue?
? What do regular people typically think about/ how do they feel when they think about this topic? What are some common assumptions that they make?
? Explain why YOU are interested in this topic. What is your connection to/ interest in this topic? Before doing all this research, what assumptions do you have about this issue?
? What is your initial research question? (It should be a question of evaluation, policy, or cause/effect.)
*Note: You should cover all this information, but you might put it in a different order. You might also end up breaking this information into more than one paragraph.
II. Body Paragraphs
? What is the source? (Title, type of source)
? Who is the author? (Full name first time used, last name thereafter)
? How current is this source? How relevant is it to the issue at this moment?
? What qualifications does this author have? How are they involved in the issue? What bias might they have?
? Evaluate the source. How can you tell it is trustworthy?
? What information from the source is relevant to your research question? Brief summary.
? What is the significance of the source in terms of your research?
? What question did you want this source to answer?
? What did you learn that you didn’t know before?
? How does the information relate to your initial assumptions?
? What new questions come to mind after reading the source?
? How does this source relate to other sources you’ve read?
? Note: You will NOT talk about how this supports your argument, because you should not have a specific argument yet. You should just have a question and some initial thoughts on the topic.
*Tip: Your topic sentence could answer the question, “What question did you want this source to answer?” For example, you could write, “I was curious about the history of animal testing so I found this source by…”
*Try your best to use transitions to show how you got from one source to the next by describing your process. Help us see your train of thought.
*You might separate your paragraphs by source. You can also think about talking about more than one source at once if they are closely related (the same kind of stakeholder or if they discuss a similar aspect of the topic). For instance, maybe you wanted the opinion of researchers that are in support of animal testing, and found more than one. You could talk about them at the same time, but be sure to include all the body paragraph elements for each source.
? What are all these people really arguing about? What is really at stake here? Think back to what the regular population thinks about this topic and their assumptions. Now that you’ve done research, what do these people not consider? What do they overlook?
? What do all the stakeholders have in common? Where do they agree?
? What is the real difference between all of them? Is it a problem of definition? a problem of assumptions or values? or of physical needs?
? Think back to your original assumptions and summarize how your thoughts on the issue have changed.
? Think back to your original research question. Will your question change now that you have read so much about the issue?