Extending Drafts

Here are some points of advice if you are drafting your essay and feel like you do not have enough to write to get the project where you need it.

1.) Do not look at your work for this paper as something that is merely getting you to the word count.  If you are looking to this project solely as its word requirement then you are putting yourself in severe risk of failing to produce quality work.  Think about what you really wish to accomplish with your argument and then check your thesis to see whether it encapsulates the same ambition.  A more ambitious thesis will require more legwork to support, though it will also amount to a more sophisticated and robust (i.e. longer) paper.  (Note: Being ambitious does not mean being broad. Our criteria for a strong main claim are forever in play.)

2.) Use your sources. It’s often the case that sources aren’t being used enough for support.  The idea is to think of your sources going beyond direct examples of ideas to include moments where the author’s arguments can be applied for support.  Your sources have limits, though you can stretch them and apply the arguments loosely to many other ideas and primary texts for analysis.  Additionally, going beyond the eight required sources for the paper to include more source material is certainly possible, and oftentimes desirable.  As Ballenger writes in The Curious Researcher, documentation is key element distinguishing the research paper from any other kind of essay (117). You need to demonstrate to your reader that you know what you’re talking about, and that you can utilize and explain the source material in a way that bolsters your own work. Your sources are your friends, and think of them that way. Here’s how:

  • You need to introduce them.  Be sure to use a signal phrase (given the style you’re using) to introduce authors when you first mention them. 
  • You don’t want to take advantage of them.   Don’t let your sources do all of the work; don’t just quote/paraphrase without saying what you think, or how the quotations/paraphrases work within your paragraphs to support your own point.  Paragraphs should include a healthy mix of your own words and the source material.
  • You don’t block them out of the conversation.  Let them talk from time-to-time to get an actual conversation going on, rather than you just solely going on with what you think.  Your view matters, but you need to integrate your sources coherently and completely into your view.
  • You don’t want them to annoy everyone and talk forever.  Be sure to only include necessary information, either with paraphrases or with direct quotations (eliminate unnecessary parts of the passages and use ellipsis (…) to indicate information you’ve omitted).  Your reader will thank you.
  • You need to give your friends credit.  Always cite what you get from them with in-text citations including page numbers.

Consider this student example.  Note that the highlighted portions are when the sources are talking, and that it’s an even ratio between author and source (also note that the quotations are sandwiched in: it goes from author to source to author): 

Direct-to-consumer advertisements can also lead to an over prescription of medications. When commercials are not clear enough and provide only subjective symptoms for a disorder, people can easily misinterpret the information and be led to believe they have the advertised disease. Some advertisements also lead people to believe that they can successfully self-diagnose, when in reality a diagnosis takes a lot of information to confirm, and symptoms can be in different form depending on the individual.  Mary Ebeling’s article “‘Get with the Program!’: Pharmaceutical Marketing, Symptom Checklists and Self-diagnosis” asserts that advertisements cause people to feel they can properly diagnose themselves without knowing that they are actually missing an essential part of the diagnostic process. DTCA often lists the symptoms of a disorder but these symptoms are only “ signs” of certain problems in the body but do not prove the cause of the problem (826). When people view commercials they are led to believe they can diagnosis solely on those conditions. But according to Ebeling, symptoms are considered “subjective criteria” because they could signify multiple disorders; whereas “ signs-alterations in organs and biochemistry” give the doctor “ objective data… to constitute a disease” (828). This is a potential negative of DTCA because people are convinced they have a disorder before they seek medical assistance and take actual tests. When patients misdiagnose themselves it is more likely that their doctor will inaccurately diagnose them. As Mintzes asserts, “Systematic review of diagnostic accuracy in primary care estimates that 15 people are falsely diagnosed with depression for every 10 correctly diagnosed” (269). This is significant because the rate of false diagnoses has increased and advertisements are partly to blame because they have the potential to convince people they have the described illness and embody those symptoms.

3.) Check the suppressed points in your argument.  It’s often the case that we leave out full explanations of the principles we use to guide our reasoning: principles we don’t always share with others.  Look to see where these points may be unpronounced and explain them in enough detail so that someone who may not share your same values can fully understand your view.  (This is also how to consider acknowledgement and response on paragraph level: providing what others may say about your point(s) and responding to the alternative view you raise.)

4.) Consider the range of rhetorical appeals in your paper and diversify on the paragraph level, if necessary.  Look for moments where you rely heavily on a specific rhetorical strategy in the paper and see whether including others would bolster the strength of the point (ex. focusing on bringing in more data/case study material when doing more exposition, or explaining the weight of the problem for individuals involved when looking at hard research).

5.) Give your conclusion some weight.   Like introductions to longer papers, conclusions for them can be longer.  Don’t just think of the conclusion as the final paragraph of your paper.  Take some time to reiterate the significance of your thesis and explain what the reader needs to know when moving forward in life after your awesome argument.  There are various models for concluding, and I encourage you wholeheartedly to look to Dr. Coats’s post for his students on concluding essays.  Though no matter what, note that all conclusions should restate the purpose of the argument in unique language and drive home the stakes of what you have established.

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Acknowledgment & Response

Now that we’ve discussed the importance of explaining warrants when necessary, it’s important to discuss acknowledging the opposition to your argument (or portions of it) and responding appropriately. We can think of this task as tackling charges of problems with the logical structure of our arguments (i.e. claims, reasons, evidence. We can refer to this as as “intrinsic soundness”). Though, much of the task with acknowledgment is spent addressing various alternatives to framing the problem the way you do, or considerations of evidence you may have overlooked (we can refer to this as “extrinsic soundness”). It’s not necessarily the case that there will be stark objections that you have to entertain—issues are very rarely black/white, yes/no. This is why it’s important to understand the nuances of your argument so you can anticipate reasonable counterarguments and respond to them. It’s not that you just pull something out of the air that someone could say in response to what you’re saying and then beat it down (this is a Straw Man fallacy). The considerations must be reasonable insofar as someone who is actually invested in the issue may actually have a problem with what you’re asserting and have good reason to take such a problem.

When imagining these kinds of considerations, it’s necessary to have your audience in mind—the stakeholders in what you’re arguing.  Thus, it’s key to think of the actual stakes they have in what you’re saying and what they will say to push back.  And research audiences are not pushovers.  It is helpful to try and put yourselves in their shoes when thinking about possible objections to you portions of your argument: What would people interested in your project say in response to what you present?  More specifically, what would the authors of your sourcework say?

Consider the following dialogue:

Kelly: Sally, you should stop eating soy because it is bad for your health.
Narrator: Sally is making the claim backed up by the one reason—soy is bad for you.
Sally: Wait, what? How is soy bad for me? What about Silken tofu smoothies? Soybean salads? I thought that soy was the health food of choice!
Kelly: Uh, yeah Sally…maybe in the 90s. But recent studies have shown that frequent soy intake can lead to an increase in risk of breast cancer because of high estrogen levels. In fact, Smirkens and Willis (2012) showed that soybeans are the most concentrated source of isoflavones in our diet, and that since isoflavones bind to estrogen receptors, they can have similar effects as estrogen. You don’t want to take this risk so you shouldn’t eat soy. Think about the isoflavones!
Narrator: Here, Kelly is using research to support her assertion that soy is bad for one’s health because of the increased risk of breast cancer.
Sally: Wait a minute… aren’t isoflavones good things? I remember reading a study conducted by Tompkins and White (2013) that showed isoflavones’ positive effects on regulating cell growth, which actually protects us against some cancers. Additionally, Blanch and Phillips (2011) showed that isoflavones have shown to moderately help cholesterol levels. So, I don’t know about all this isoflavone talk.
Narrator: Sally, not too keen on what Kelly is proposing, responds to the point by explaining other evidence supporting an alternative position on isoflavones.
Kelly: Okay, you may be right that Smirkens and Willis’s study may have been too limited—isoflavones may not be all that bad.
Narrator: Kelly is now necessarily conceding a bit given the evidence presented and the limitations of the study she references.
Kelly: Though, there are other reasons why soy is bad for you. For instance, look at processed foods like soy burgers and soy energy bars. When items such as these include the words “soy protein” on the package, it means that they are processed. As Terry and Calvin (2013) showed in their comprehensive study of the Boca “Chik’n” patty, this means that many of the original essential nutrients are stripped from the food. Eating these products only seems healthy given the soy hype–they are just empty nutrients.
Narrator: Kelly is now offering and supporting another reason that soy should not be consumed—certain soy products are bankrupt of nutrients.
Sally: Ugh! I hate empty nutrients!
Kelly: Don’t we all?

The major points here:
*You must make acknowledgements to rebuttals when making claims–nothing is perfect.
*These rebuttals come from your research–you don’t just make them up.
*Conceding to certain points does not mean that your argument is bad–it just means that you need to continue to support your point with additional reasons/evidence.

 The major major point: it’s your job to establish relevant and real acknowledgments you must make given your argument.  This demonstrates your credibility to the reader and helps establish trust, which is essential.

To help illustrate this major major point, previous wonderful UTAs wrote this sample paragraph using the language of A&R. Pay attention to the choices they made with verbs and adverbs when signaling—you will need to make the same kinds of moves when making such points.

Vegetarianism contributes to a healthier diet by eliminating from the diet the saturated fat and cholesterol found in many meat products. However, author Keegan Vegan (2013) noted that many vegetarians consume eggs for added protein, in which case they are not significantly cutting cholesterol out of their diets due to the high cholesterol content in eggs. “In just two eggs,” Vegan points out, “a vegetarian can already exceed his or her recommended daily cholesterol intake” (p. 53). While it is true that vegetarians need to watch how much egg product they are consuming, cholesterol in eggs can be eliminated rather simply. Consumers can separate the egg yolks, which contain the most cholesterol, from the egg whites and use only the egg whites. On the other hand, eliminating meat from the diet also raises the issue of losing other nutrients provided by meat. Author Laura Carnivora (2012) asserted that removing meats from the diet cuts out valuable sources of nutrients like iron and vitamin B12, of which eggs and dairy products contribute significantly less (p. 102). While meats are rich sources of many essential vitamins and nutrients, the vegetarian can obtain these nutrients through a well-researched combination of other fruits, vegetables, and dairy products. Substitutions of fruits and vegetables also provide additional necessary nutrients that meat does not contain, while reducing intake of cholesterol and saturated fat at the same time. Through diligence and well-researched choices, vegetarians can make positive substitutions for protein and the vitamins and minerals found in meat while cutting out the negative components in many meat products.

The Fault in Our Reasoning

(Kinda like this)

As I have previously gabbed on about (and here and here), warrants are imperative when making arguments because they are usually where issues arise with readers: why they would disagree and reject what you’re saying. Warrants are guiding principles for our reasoning and they often go unexplained or left suppressed–which, as we have discussed, is often problematic.  Why? Because! we aren’t all committed to the same beliefs/ideologies/views/ideas/what-have-yous. (And some people will never budge with what they believe, no matter what.) What’s important to remember is that it’s not always enough for an argument to be persuasive merely based on the claim, evidence, and reasoning connection; you need to understand your audience in order to understand how much heavy lifting you need to do with your reasoning with explaining the warrants of your work.

It’s difficult (and frustrating) to understand what warrant(s) need explaining given how many warrants can be at play given a particular discussion. Many times there are competing warrants given any argument.  Situations are complex, and people vary so much with how they understand them given their thinking and interpretations of particular issues. The Key Point: Don’t assume your reader will agree with you and your principles!

NOTE: When thinking about our specific purposes for the Inquiry Project, your methodology with your sources is meant to help your reader understand what you’re bringing to the table to analyze the particular problem you have established.  Your methodology gives the reader a framework for how you’re thinking/discussing the points throughout the paper: setting up the research and support you will draw on later in the essay to help situate concepts, context, definitions, etc.

Thinking about warrants also allows us to consider faulty ones, where the flaws in our reasoning can be identified and even categorized into general errors people make in argumentation. We call these things logical fallacies, and there are many of them. One of the biggest problems with fallacious arguments is that they’re disguised as valid ones. Consider the following:

We knew if Tommy showed up to Wednesday’s foursquare practice then he was definitely going to take home the gold in Saturday’s Jam-Off. He didn’t show up, though, so he’s not going to win.

This particular fallacy, denying the antecedent, often goes overlooked: Just because Tommy doesn’t show up to practice doesn’t mean he won’t win Saturday.  (Who knows what will happen at the Jam-Off!)  It’s easier to see the problem if we change the example but keep the same form:

We knew if Tommy became a firefighter he would save the lives of others. Unfortunately, he became a heart surgeon so he will never save anyone.

Despite being filled in with different content, both examples follow the same structure and are therefore equally fallacious. This is why fallacies have names: the structures have been used so many times to warrant an identity of type, where we can look to these types to readily pick them out when committed.

Though, merely knowing the names of fallacies and identifying them in stock examples doesn’t get us very far.  (It’s almost like a parlor trick.) It’s not hard for students to identify fallacies in examples when having time to deliberate; what’s hard is to not catch yourself committing one (or many) when it matters. This is (in part) why I suggest that, for our purposes with the Inquiry Project, we shouldn’t worry about specific fallacies over thinking of their general nature and the kinds of things they are doing: whether they are manipulating the structure of an argument, someone’s character, or the audience’s emotions.

Exploring Demands #OLE-F15

The range of courses surveyed similar in nature to the core classes offered in the Department of Focused Inquiry (particularly Focused Inquiry I & II and Inquiry & the Craft of Argument) all put emphasis on specific skill development within the course and express expected learning outcomes after successful completion.  Many of these skills and expectations are fairly uniform: written communication, research, critical thinking, and some descriptor for collaboration (sometimes identified simply as “teamwork“).  Moreover, several syllabi indicate the importance of process when researching and writing, where the the student’s research persists over several weeks and is documented by journal entries on the articles compiled and read, ultimately culminating in the foundation of the research paper capstone assignment for the course. To help in skill development, the courses include readings from composition textbooks–some made by the specific departments themselves–and have names that include either something like “First Year-Writing,” “A Guide to Writing,” or “Essays on Writing.”  Some even included the full schedule for the semester (though not many).

Of course, these things seem normal for any syllabus in any discipline for any course.  A standard syllabus highlights the course description, the objectives of the course, what one needs to buy for the course, how grades are break down for assignments, etc.  They also include a lot of policies, both for the specific classes and for the university at large.  What’s interesting to note, though, is that these details at times come in ways that go beyond mere prescriptions and veer towards ostensible scare tactics.  First, there is a lot of a bold throughout many syllabi.  I understand the intention to punctuate important parts of a syllabus or a schedule (I do it frequently); however, not all highlighting is equal.  I understand the importance of prescriptions, but it doesn’t seem like they should parallel the importance of the goals and design of a course.  Consider the following  from Indiana University Bloomington:

ATTENDANCE POLICY:
Students are required to attend all classes, arrive on time, and be prepared to work: you will earn one point for each class you do so. Points available during a missed class cannot be made up. Remember: this is not a correspondence class; if you are interested in doing the work, but not in showing up to class, you should register for the online version of ENGL 111. If there is an appropriate reason for a student’s absence or late arrival, the student must let the instructor know
(in advance if possible), and it is the student’s responsibility to find out what was covered and to make sure you are prepared for the next class (check Class Sessions on Blackboard).

STUDENT BEHAVIOR STATEMENT: Students should always conduct themselves in a
respectful manner. No conduct will be tolerated that might endanger or threaten anyone in the class. Disruptive behavior, substance abuse, downgrading or disparaging remarks, and any other behavior that shows a lack of respect for the instructor or other students will not be tolerated. This includes use of mobile phones and laptops. We are in class for a reason: to improve your writing. Playing on laptops and phones not only wastes your time and mine, but it distracts others in the class. Neither should be used during class. At the instructor’s discretion, a student causing problems may be asked to leave the class for the session. If a student persists n causing problems, further disciplinary action may be taken, up to and including dismissal from class and/or the College.

These points come immediately after the introductory list of course goals in the beginning of the syllabus–coming way before the details of course content–suggesting that they are high priority issues regarding course identity.  If so, the syllabus suggests a class ethos that is built more around what not to do rather than what the course will offer pedagogically.  (And introductory comp classes can’t afford to frustrate or scare students, especially off the bat.)  Here is a similar point in the grade breakdown from a syllabus from University of Texas Arlington:

The Z grade is reserved for students who attend class regularly, participate actively, and complete all the assigned work on time but simply fail to write well enough to earn a passing grade. This judgment is made by the instructor and not necessarily based upon a number average. The Z grade is intended to reward students for good effort. While students who receive a Z will not get credit for the course, the Z grade will not affect their grade point average. They may repeat the course for credit until they do earn a passing grade.

Although I find it compelling to offer students a do-over without grade point average penalty, the creation of a new category of grade only seems to feed into a punitive system where performance is reduced to a letter while also adding to the criticism that grade marks themselves are arbitrary. What’s the point in making up new grades for students that are necessarily juxtaposed with standard letters of evaluation?

I see the merit in these moves, though I can only help but think they’re small attempts at covering up systemic problems.  No syllabus will be so dazzling that it will convince all students to always come to class and turn in their work on time or so motivating that it will enhance student performance.  But, they also don’t have to foreground the alternatives.