A Culture of Problems
Research Essay Guidelines
Due Dates: Final Research Essay (400 points) due during finals week; see “Assignments” tab on
Canvas for the due dates for Draft 1 and Draft 2 (200 points each).
Okay, so we’ve learned a little about various social “problems” or issues, and we’ve talked about
them, thought about them, and written about them in an informal way—but how to get from this
point to an argumentative academic research essay?
Write an argumentative, claim(s)-based essay
11 – 12 pages with an additional, separate Works Cited page that lists . . .
11 – 12 academic sources . . .
– Which can include at most two films
– Which can include at most one personal interview or podcast interview
– All other secondary sources should be academic, meaning peer-reviewed and
published in a reputable forum (major newspapers, journals, etc.), and authored by
those with verifiable expertise in the subject matter
MLA formatted, 12 point Times New Roman font, double-spaced, 1-inch margins, stapled.
Step 1: Developing a Research Topic
Think about our class discussions and the issues and ideas raised. What interests you? What
would you like to read more about, and ultimately write about?You should develop a working thesis, meaning a general idea to guide your
initial research, as
soon as possible. This working thesis is a tool to get the ball rolling; it is not a contract you are
tied down to. Edit, expand, shrink, discard, morph this working thesis as you see fit, as you
follow the research and writing process.
Step 2: Research
Performing proper academic research is the most time-consuming step—by far—so it’s
important to start sooner rather than later. Use databases available through the EvCC library
online, such as Academic Search, JSTOR, etc.
– Books and journal articles and newspaper articles are examples of acceptable sources.
– Wikipedia and anonymous webpages and blogs are examples of unacceptable sources
(unless the blog is authored by a verifiable expert, of course).
– Avoid Google searches until you’ve first used the academic databases. Why? Because
Google searches are public (i.e., not peer-reviewed), and therefore will return
everything: the bad, the good, the false, and the utterly nonsensical—you haven’t the
time to wade through all that.
As you research, it is natural that your research topic and / or working thesis will change. Don’t
fight this. Let the sources guide your thinking and writing. Also, actively seek out sources that
conflict with your thesis, and consider how you can use them to argue opposing viewpoints, and
thereby strengthen your ethos, or academic credibility.
Advice! Let the research guide the writing, not vice-versa: don’t put the cart before the horse or
the pen before the book . . . or, more modernly, Microsoft Word before JSTOR.
Repeat after me: I will research before I write . . . I will not try to write and then research
. . . While my research and writing will inevitably lead to more and different research (and more
and different writing), I will not write an essay without researching and then go back and try to
find sources to plug into what I’ve already written . . . I simply will not do this . . . I won’t . . . I
will not . . . It’s bad and it doesn’t work and I simply won’t, won’t, won’t, WON’T do this.If you are researching properly and thoroughly,
and still finding insufficient information to write
an argument, you may have to scrap your proposed topic / thesis and start fresh. So, again, start
researching as soon as possible, in case you encounter a false start.
Keep in mind that as you write your argument, you will / should think about new topics that need
considered, and hence more research opportunities. Therefore, you should be doing research
throughout the remainder of the process.
Step 3: The Rough Drafts
An initial rough draft (Rough Draft #1) of at least six pages with at least six sources will be due
approximately halfway through the quarter (see “Assignments” tab for specific date).
This gives you time to revise and seek feedback from both classmates and your instructor
prior to the due date for the second rough draft (Rough Draft #2), which will be at least nine
pages with at least nine sources and will be due a few weeks later (again see the “Assignments
tab for the specific date).
Don’t worry about grammar or style too much while drafting—although it should be
readable—but instead focus on getting your ideas on paper in an organized fashion and
incorporating suitable academic sources. Build a good, solid skeleton (rough draft), and then add
flesh to the bones (while seeking feedback and refining your argument), and finally polish it all
up and make it as perfect as you possibly can before finals week.
A good rough draft would show the following:
– An introduction which engages the reader and gives enough background information
for the argument to be understood, ending in a . . .
– Solid thesis statement (CLAIM + REASON[S]) that acts as a roadmap for the
argument to come. Thesis statements are arguments in a nutshell. They are very
Example: The plight of the Native Americans in the Pacific Northwest owes to a
combination of the loss of traditional ways of life and the encroachment oftechnology (the CLAIM), as evidenced by the decimation of the
salmon runs that
were the center of commerce, sustenance, and community spirit (the REASON[S]).
– The intro should be followed by a body of argument that uses logical statements and
sources as evidence to support the thesis statement. These sources should include
both primary texts (books) and secondary sources (journal articles, films, newspaper
– Opposing viewpoints should be considered, if and where appropriate.
– Transition sentences should by employed between all major points and sections; i.e.,
transition from the introduction to the body of the essay, transition between main
points in the body itself, and transition from the body to the conclusion.
– End with a solid conclusion that summarizes the main argument in a satisfying way,
but does not introduce any new lines of inquiry (because the essay is now complete).
Step 4: Revision
Rough drafts 1 and 2 will be peer-reviewed and you will use this feedback to improve your essay
before the next step in the process. Certain later class periods will also include exercises to revise
and polish the Final Research Essay.
Important! On the days Rough Draft 1 and 2 are due, you must bring two (2) printed
copies of your draft to class. One for me, one for peer-review. Needless to say, if you do not
produce a rough draft, or fail to bring printed copies to class, you will not get the benefit of
– Electronic copies are not substitutable for printed copies.
Caveat: While I understand we all fret over grades and deadlines, try not to stress. Stress is the
enemy of good thinking. Stress causes anxiety, which leads to fear, which results (paradoxically)
in procrastination, which leads to more stress and more anxiety and more procrastination. A
downward spiral, in other words. Do a little bit of work every day. Read one article, write a few
sentences. Choose a topic that genuinely interests you, have fun, and take your time.