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Argument Essay Writing: Guidelines, Topics, and Tips

Topic Selection and Guidelines

In your best academic prose, write a 1250-1500 word argument essay on one of the following topics. Research the topic and use at least three secondary sources, at least one of which is from a peer-reviewed (refereed) journal. You may use a source from the course readings manual, but that does not count toward your three secondary sources. Use the MLA format for parenthetical citations and include a works cited page. You are also to write an annotated bibliography with four secondary sources in it; this is to be a preview of the sources that you use in your paper, though obviously one may not make the cut, and in fact the works you cite in your essay may change as the essay takes its final form (Note that the final paper will include a works cited page, not an annotated bibliography). The outline and annotated bibliography is due October 20th and is worth 5%. Please also have a Word file with your introductory paragraph ready for class on October 27th for a brief peer editing session. Have a Word file with your rough draft ready to share for class on November 3rd for the peer editing session. The rough draft must be at least 750 words long; missing this session or attending with a draft of fewer than 750 words will result in a deduction of 5% from your research essay mark. The paper is due November 10th and is worth 20% of your final mark.  Choose one of the following topics, narrow it down to a manageable scope, identify competing views on the topic, and then make and defend a claim about this topic. Going through the focused freewriting exercise with one of these topics would be a good step, once you have selected a topic. The topics available are the ways education influences individuals, the social influence of cognitive bias, the relationship between citizenship and consumerism, or our relationship to food. Remember that a topic is not a thesis, and that you are not simply cataloging the positions of some experts; position yourself amongst these experts and argue for the merits of your position. Your voice must be central, so be sure to carefully integrate quotations.

Outline and Annotated Bibliography

The outline and annotated bibliography is a single exercise with two parts, as follows:


Step One (Preparation; do not hand this in): Choose one of the above topics and do a focused freewriting exercise, creating a tentative thesis statement and some key points you will want to make. Do some initial research to identify some materials related to your thesis; look for a controversy or debate related to the idea you would like to pursue. Pick four promising sources (at least one of them must be peer-reviewed). Identify the thesis and supporting arguments (see notes in this handout) and consider the article’s strengths and weaknesses, and its relevance to your thesis.

Writing – you will be submitting the results of steps 2 and 3, followed by with the annotated bibliography, in a single document.

Step Two:  Write a paragraph that might serve as the opening paragraph of your essay. It should announce clearly what topic you intend to study, what issue you will explore in that topic, and should also make some argument about the importance of that issue. You need to show how this issue is crucial to the reader. (Consider the question: how do you present your argument so that a reader who is reasonably intelligent, curious, open-minded, and willing to be persuaded can see that there is legitimacy to your position? That is the audience for your essay. Note, therefore, that you are not trying to write just for the person who is marking your essay, but an imagined audience who has the qualities mentioned.) The result you have developed from topic+issue+importance will be your tentative thesis, and it should be the last sentence of your opening paragraph. Note that what you devise for a thesis at the beginning of your writing process and what you ultimately argue might not be the same. Your ideas may develop in a different direction, and that is perfectly fine; it indicates that you are learning and thinking critically. Thus, be sure to leave yourself enough time so that you can write the essay, see that your argument has changed, then return to the beginning paragraph of your essay to modify your thesis. 

Step Three:  Write an outline for the rest your essay, along with the annotated bibliography. Break down your essay into logical pieces and ideas that you need to prove – each of those pieces will eventually be a paragraph. In step two, you will have already written your opening paragraph, and now you need to write an outline for the rest of the essay. For each paragraph, write a topic sentence which clearly expresses what point you will prove in that paragraph. Below the topic sentence, write a quotation from the article to support or illustrate your idea in that paragraph. Finish off the outline with a short draft of the concluding paragraph for your essay; it should summarize, include a “hook” or parting thought, and leave the reader with a final thought on the subject. After your concluding paragraph, start a new page for your annotated bibliography.

After the citation information for an entry you should include a three or four sentence annotation which should:
• Describe the thesis of the source and give a quick sense of the evidence.
• Evaluate why the source will be useful to your essay – be specific. 
• Indicate any strengths or weaknesses of the source.  To do this you might consider:
The author's conclusions and how he or she arrived at them—what do you think of the logic? 
The references consulted by the author—are they reliable?  Are there a sufficient number?
The credentials of the author—academic or professional affiliation?
Do other sources support and corroborate the information in this source?

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