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The assignment: compose a 6-7 page persuasive essay, open topic with caveat that it must relate to education and must incorporate at least seven sources (books, articles including ones from our reader, online sources, interviews, surveys, etc.). You will need to identify a question or problem concerning some aspect of education that interests you and, hopefully, your audience (your classmates and any additional audience you specify). To pick a topic, consider consulting with friends and/or reviewing the problem you identified in the First Assignment, “Education in the News” posts, and reader responses (yours and others’): perhaps an idea you only touched on in the past could be the basis for your research paper. In short, This Essay offers you an opportunity to explore some area of interest that you’ve always wished you could find out more about. Above all, pick a topic about which you feel passionate and try to convince others to feel the same.

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A tip: some students think of the research they have discovered as resources that they merely “plug into” their papers in order to answer the questions posed by the essay prompt. But our class has used the metaphor of writing as “conversation.” As in a satisfying and dynamic conversation, a successful research paper is one in which there is a give and take between the participants (the student writer and the sources she/he uses), where ideas can be analyzed, challenged, modified, and used as points of departure in the creation of new ideas.

For these reasons, your goal is not to just summarize others’ research, as you may have done in high school. Rather, it is to know what others have said on a topic and then weigh in yourself, with your own “I Say” position. Try to come up with a question that could be answered differently by different interpretations of the evidence. Avoid topics that are obvious or too broad to be treated adequately in 6-7 page essay (“Are the liberal arts important?”) and avoid above all mere reporting (presenting the facts about a situation) rather than arguing (taking a stand about the significance of those facts). Seek complications in your thesis and evidence: highlight for your readers issues that they might not have thought about before (“Critics complain that partying has become too prominent on college campuses, but this view obscures the extent to which partying has been a part of university life from its inception”).  Some sample research essays are here:

Examples of research questions (need not be specifically University related!):

  • Why, if women generally earn higher grades in college than men, do they receive job offers at a significantly lower rate?
  • What factor(s) explains why in some school districts high school graduation rates for many minorities are significantly lower than district graduation rates overall…but in other districts, minority graduation rates are barely below or even equal to overall district graduation rates?
  • To what extent would having more online instruction benefit (or harm) this university?  (or middle school science, high school history, elementary school math…)
  • What do UCSC’s development plans mean for Santa Cruz residents?
  • How might UCSC create more community?
  • To what extent is grade inflation really a problem (in general, or here at UCSC)?
  • How can the university (or UCSC in particular) achieve greater diversity? (What do we mean by “diversity” in the first place, and what are the disadvantages as well as the advantages of having a diverse institution?)

N.B.: This paper differs from previous papers you have done in this class in that I am requiring that some of your sources (you must have a minimum of seven) must be from McHenry Library and/or the online databases.  In short, the research you incorporate into this paper must include a variety of scholarly secondary sources; sources from the Web, interviews, etc. remain acceptable sources but you must integrate credible published and ideally peer-reviewed sources as well.

Evaluation criteria:

  • Interesting title and opening that engages reader and lets reader know what paper is about (see Trimble ch. 3)
  • Awareness of audience; appropriate tone, information, diction to win that audience to your perspective (Trim ch. 1).
  • Focused, precise thesis (no ambiguous words) ; thesis is analytical, goes deeper than the surface of things. Seek complication: seems to be about X but is really about Y; while some see A, this view forgets about B, etc. Do NOT restate conventional wisdom, offer merely personal conviction for basis of claim, or try to tackle too much.
  • Good essay unity (all points/paragraphs help prove the thesis) and good paragraph unity (one idea/paragraph)
  • Thorough development of ideas; no repetition of the same point in several different parts of the paper
  • No unsubstantiated claims; good claim:evidence ratio
  • Evidence that is clear, relevant, detailed, representative, accurate, and sufficient enough to compel your audience to your conclusion. Link all evidence to your claims and avoid evidence that has no explicit link to a claim.
  • No assumptions that might be problematic for your audience (or if you have some that are, you discuss them)
  • Gives a sense of the “conversation” that exists about the topic; as necessary, takes into account the opposition
  • Logical overall organization, where each new paragraph has a connection with and develops out of previous paragraph(s); paragraph order is not random
  • Concise, precise, and vigorous writing, including good sentence variety (see Trimble chs. 6-7)
  • A minimum of seven sources, at least half of which must be obtained through the library or its online databases, cited according to the conventions of your field.
  • Properly integrated quotes (see quoting guidelines handout) which are clearly tagged so that at all times it’s clear whether it’s you or your sources speaking.
  • A memorable conclusion
  • A Works Cited page or a Bibliography (properly formatted according to the conventions of your field), submitted with each draft.
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