Max Malini

We’re coming very close to the end of the course and Inquiry Project construction is underway!  As mentioned in the assignment details, the project itself will be the fruits of your labor during this course: your argument weighing in on the inquiry you’ve engaged in so much this summer and existing in a published form on the Web.  I use “published” here rather than something like “final draft” to keep pointing out that your work on this project does not need to end when the class does and you submit the work for final assessment.  (This is also why I refer to your draft of the project as being in “beta.”)   However, your published submission must be a polished, sustained argument based in the research and analyses you’ve conducted on your topic (see “Core Requirements” section).

Similarly, though this is not a traditional research paper, it still has the same necessary components to distinguish your academic work for this class from other kinds of writing course products.  As Dr. Coats recently mentioned in his post regarding the kinds of arguments we make and the way we structure them, it’s fruitful to think of claims we wish to posit going beyond mere binary thought: x is right or wrong, black or white.  This kind of thinking gives short shrift to the rhetorical work you’re doing for the Inquiry Project: going beyond  “pick a side” arguing to demonstrate something conceptually compelling. Much of this is due to the complexities of situations and ideas in and of our topics that can’t afford strict prescriptions.    Though, this does not mean that we should think of claims as always existing in grey area.  Thinking of arguments in such territory can quickly lead to subjectivity or ambivalence—nogoodniks in argumentation.  We should always be attuned to alternative views; however, this does not mean that all claims are equal and all arguments are sound.  Rather, it means that we need to properly tailor our argument to support a precise thesis that is significant to particular field of study and interesting to an intended research audience.  Such theses (or, main claims) should be new contributions to how we understand the world and that provoke audience interests and questions.  (At the very least, your main claims needs to be debatable, supportable, and significant to your audience.)  If you succeed in making a strong thesis with equally strong support, people will still disagree with you.  Though, disagreement, rather than mere dismissal, is a mark of success.  It means that you are contributing to this ongoing conversation thing all us instructors keep gabbing about.

The best way to set up your argument and demonstrate why your thesis is compelling—and that it’s worth it for the reader to continue reading to find out why he/she should believe it—is to first establish a framework in the introduction of your project for the problem you wish to explore and that your argument (in a sense) will go on to solve.   A prime goal for your Inquiry Project is to convince your research audience that they need to embrace your way of thinking on your focus of inquiry.  Thus, it’s prudent to establish these three components up front:

  1. A statement regarding what is typically understood about your topic, including necessary background and context (the status quo).
  2. A statement regarding what you have come to believe is problematic with this. typical understanding (the problem), including why this problem is significant to the reader.
  3. Your thesis, encapsulating what you think people should embrace instead of the status quo.

Consider this paragraph (Note: I made most of this stuff up):

Most scholars have agreed that, prior to the late 19th century, throwing playing cards (often referred to as “scaling”) was a low-form spectacle: generally limited to tricks used by amateur magicians and intoxicated gamblers.  It was only until French magician Alexander Herrmman’s “flying card” act in 1890 that card throwing was accepted as a veritable skill. [1]  However, this reading of history undermines the significance of the work of conjurer Holtz Bellini to the art of card throwing. [2]  Though not well known in popular circles of performers, his card routines incorporated insurmountable speed and accuracy.   Further journal evidence was found in an 1846 issue of The Monthly Ruse which revealed a promotion of Bellini’s work, indicating that he would be “the first conjurer ever to successfully saw a woman in half with playing cards alone” (33).  Moreover, in “52 Reasons to Reconsider Messing with a Magician,”Calvin Tinks and Laverne Copp report that Bellini’s throwing abilities were reminiscent of 17th century martial arts, with particular similarities to the Dragon Scale Dance technique of instrument manipulation (803). [3]  If we overlook Bellini’s career, particularly his work touring in antebellum America, we jeopardize our understanding of the lineage of card throwing and how this history has influenced contemporary performers. [4]   By looking deeper into his methods and acts during the mid-ninetieth century, we can see that Bellini’s work serves an as integral link between old forms of object manipulation and new forms of scaling. [5]

1. Here is the status quo, establishing the general context of the issue and typical understanding of the history.
2. This begins the turn with the problem, where the common understanding of the the history is destabilized by pointing to what is missing given the common conception leaving out the importance of Bellini.
3. This serves as further evidence to bolster support for the problem actually existing.
4. Here is the significance of the problem, urging what is at stake for the reader by accepting the common conception of the issue.
5. The thesis.  This is what the rest of the paper goes on to show is true to replace the current status quo.  Notice that this is not a claim picking a side of an issue, but one that calls for a different and better understanding of it.

For longer projects like your Inquiry Project, it takes longer to establish these major parts of the introduction (~500 words).  No matter how you structure your Inquiry Project, take the time to develop these parts in the beginning to establish to situate your reader.  By the end of your introduction, your audience should have a clear understanding of the problem at hand, why it’s necessary to care about this problem, and the precise and significant thesis you will support and that responds to the problem at hand.


3 thoughts on “Introducing

  1. I hope all the students see this Ryan, you very cleverly made clear not only the arc of the argument (as much as the arc of a story) but also how to make it more than a casting of facts.

    What I also like to find as I read the student blogs narrating their process, is some sense as to why the topic is important to them. Without a personal drive, motivation, burning curiosity, then they sound more like topics that are trying to sound like topics.

    I for one am glad that FINALLY someone is going to dig dipper into the mystical art of card throwing. What is your stake in this? 😉

    • Thanks, Alan. I really appreciate it.

      I’m with you–it’s great to see students caring about their topics and having personal investment, going beyond just doing the assignment. Hopefully this will help students explain to their audience why they should care (as I suspect it will). It also helps frame the kinds of work students want to create based on various intentions, which Jason wrote awesomely on the other day.

      Also, here is the card throwing bible (or something close):

  2. For the record, I have pursued card throwing with my kids. So you’re changing the world one blog post at a time.

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