Core 102 – Researched Argument

For this project, you will use a variety of sources to write a paper answering a research question on a complex topic. The objectives of this project are to help you develop or reinforce your ability to incorporate a variety of appropriate sources into an essay that contributes to a complex conversation,

  • write a thesis statement that attempts to distinguish your ideas from a number of perspectives,
  • find examples and other types of evidence to support a claim,
  • identify both your own and others’ biases with regard to the topic,
  • locate appropriate sources, and
  • create references correctly.

One question you may have is how the Researched Argument will differ from the Academic Essay assigned in CORE 101. As the name implies, the Researched Argument will require you to locate and incorporate multiple sources in order to respond to others’ argument and to build your own. Broadly speaking, a Researched Argument is longer and less based on personal opinion and common knowledge. In addition, it may require the use of sources that are more technical or sophisticated than the sources used in the Academic Essay. Moreover, instead of being a report on a topic, the Researched Argument is a contribution to a conversation about that topic. In other words, a Researched Argument adds something to an ongoing discussion, instead of simply repeating information that you have obtained from other sources.

Many of the skills that you will need to complete the Researched Argument have been discussed in the section on the Research Process. This overlap is deliberate; from the beginning of the research process you have to be familiar with certain concepts so that you can write about them as you go along. In some cases, therefore, you will be referred back to the Research Process to review concepts relevant for both that project and the Researched Argument. You also will be referred back to concepts and skills that you worked with in CORE 101 that continue to be relevant in CORE 102 (and will continue to be relevant in CORE 201 and 202 as well).

Objective I. Incorporate a variety of appropriate sources into an essay that contributes to a complex conversation.

At a university, you take courses in many different departments—in fact, in many different colleges, from COBE to CVPA. With courses taught in so many different departments and colleges, it may be natural to fall into the habit of looking at assignments in isolation from other assignments. It also may be natural to fall into the habit of looking at assignments as being isolated from the world at large.

In the case of the researched argument, you may find yourself unconsciously assuming that all you need to do is locate some sources that back up your opinion, document them, and turn in your report. But a well-constructed argument happens in the context of a conversation. A well-constructed argument both presents the existing discussion about a topic and asserts the writer’s opinion within the context of that discussion. It answers those who have already spoken and anticipates the responses of those who might read the argument and join in the conversation as it continues to evolve.

To help you participate in the conversation necessary for the creation of a Researched Essay, this section will answer the following questions:

  1. What is a complex conversation?
  2. How do my sources contribute to a discussion?
  3. How can I identify an author’s motives?
  4. How can I identify an author’s intended audience?
  5. How can I identify a source’s place within an ongoing conversation?
  6. How do I distinguish between sources of opinion and sources of information?

1. What is a complex conversation?

You should think of your researched argument not only as a conversation but as a complex conversation. Many people will have participated in the ongoing discussion; many people will participate in the discussion in the future. You need to consider and respond to these multiple voices, with their multiple points of view. If you are fair and open minded, you will consider all viewpoints, even those with whom you disagree at the outset. After listening to all participants in the conversation, you may back one side or another, argue for a compromise, or even contribute a new perspective that no one has yet recognized or acknowledged.

2. How do my sources contribute to a discussion?

Your sources are themselves arguments. Even if they seem to only provide information, they ‘argue’ for the value of that information by offering it within the context of an ongoing conversation. You can get at that ‘argument’ and the context in which it takes place by asking yourself two questions: What motivates the writer or speaker? Who is her audience?

3. How can I identify an author’s motives?

If your source is a written one, try to determine the author’s reasons for writing the article. You may be able to find clues from where it was published. What other articles are available at the same location? Does the mix of articles imply anything about the author’s interest in an issue or her position on it? Additionally, is information provided about the publisher or about the author that might provide clues as to the author’s motives? The answers to these questions would be considered external clues—evidence found outside the article that may shed light on the author’s interest in an issue and her position on it.

In addition to external clues, look for internal ones. The author’s language and the examples and explanations that she chooses to include in the article can hint at her motives. Be alert to an author’s stated motive for writing an article, but also try to recognize implied values and unstated assumptions.

If your source is a speech, make use of the same kinds of internal and external evidence. Where was the speech given? What does that fact tell you about the speaker’s motives for delivering the speech? What does the writer’s choice of language, examples, and explanations tell you about her interest in an issue or her position on it?

4. How can I identify an author’s intended audience?

You should likewise rely on both external and internal clues as you try to determine who the author’s intended audience is. Once again, pay attention to where the article was published. What are the characteristics of readers who likely would be interested in the articles published alongside the source? And once again pay attention to the language, examples, and explanations chosen by the author. For what audience would these choices be most appropriate? The author may identify her audience directly; if not, the external and internal clues mentioned above may allow you to deduce who she was writing for.

If your source is a speech, make use of the same kinds of internal and external evidence. Where was the speech given? What does that fact tell you about the speaker’s audience? What does the writer’s choice of language, examples, and explanations tell you about her audience?

5. How can I identify a source’s place within an ongoing conversation?

As you research a particular topic, you may soon find that sources directly refer to other sources. Start with a recent source to see what people are currently saying about an issue. Pay attention to what the source you’re reading has to say about its own sources, and look for those sources. Arrange the sources so you can read them in chronological order. That will show you how the discussion has developed over time. After you’ve read several voices in the discussion, you will start to see what you can bring to the conversation that others haven’t already said.

6. How do I distinguish between sources of opinion and sources of information?

Your textbooks may appear to focus on conveying information, and you may not have been accustomed to viewing them as persuasive or as being part of an ongoing conversation. If your textbooks have seemed to have only one purpose—to provide information—you may tend to see all your sources as having that same purpose. As a result, you may be tempted to approach your sources in only one way: as storehouses of information that you can withdraw from in order to furnish support for your argument.

However, in many sources the goal is not to provide information but to express support for a particular point of view or action. Those sources may be better used as sources of opinion rather than information. Sources of opinion shape the discussion about the topic. They help you recognize the issues, the arguments, and the positions and alert you to the various actions that people are advocating.

Because sources of opinion are by their nature biased, do not assume that the information they contain is accurate or complete. After all, the authors may have included only the information that they hope will support their point of view. But they will tell you a lot about what people think and believe about the topic and so are good places to look for arguments and for attempts at persuasion. In contrast, sources of information will present the facts that have been uncovered through research and may say very little, if anything, about how those facts should guide decision-making.

Objective II. Write a thesis statement that attempts to distinguish the student’s ideas from a number of perspectives.

One of your goals for this assignment is to consider the ideas of others and to develop your own argument in the context of those ideas. Your thesis statement can play an important role in helping you place your ideas within the context of other people’s ideas.

To begin accomplish this goal, begin by reviewing three sections of the Handbook that lay the foundation for considering multiple perspectives. You will find these earlier sections in the CORE 101 portion of the Handbook. One will be under the Approaches to Written Argument assignment, and the other two will be under the Academic Argument Essay assignment:

This section includes the advice that an effective introduction to an argument essay will generally explain the problem or topic’s significance to a community, as well as explain how the thesis contributes in some way to a conversation.

Among the strategies that are discussed here are providing information or data that draw an audience’s attention to a problem or issue, employing anecdotes that dramatize the problem or issue, and responding to a quotation that in some way addresses the problem or issue.

The section discusses how a writer or speaker can signal that she is using a source by mentioning the source or its author in at least one sentence. Such a direct mention of the source or its author is called an attribution. The section further suggests that attributions can help an audience tell the difference between sentences that summarize a source’s viewpoint and sentences that represent the viewpoint of the author who is making use of a source as he develops his own argument. See also How does a writer signal that she is finished using a source?

After you have reviewed these three sections, read the answers to the following questions:

  1. What techniques for handling sources can help me show how my ideas compare with the ideas of others?
  2. How can summarizing help me show how my ideas compare with the ideas of others?
  3. How can paraphrasing help me show how my ideas compare with the ideas of others?
  4. How can quoting help me show how my ideas compare with the ideas of others?
  5. How can attributions help me show how my ideas compare with the ideas of others?
  6. What words and phrases can I use to show how my ideas compare with another person’s ideas?
  7. How can I use adverbial clauses to show how my ideas compare with another person’s ideas?
  8. How can I position my thesis to make use of a summary, paraphrase, or quotation to show how my ideas compare with the ideas of others?
  9. How can I word my introduction and thesis to make use of words, phrases, and clauses that show how one person’s ideas compare with the ideas of others?

1. What techniques for handling sources can help me show how my ideas compare with the ideas of others?

One step in showing how your ideas compare with the ideas of someone else is to accurately represent those ideas. You have three methods that you can use to represent someone else’s ideas: summary, paraphrase, and quotation. If you use one or more of these techniques to accurately represent the ideas of others, you will be in a position to respond to those ideas: either by embracing them, rejecting them, or modifying them.

In addition to using summaries, paraphrases, and quotations, you can use attributions to signal to listeners and readers when you are using sources so that they can easily distinguish between your ideas and ideas from your sources. You also can apply words and phrases that exist just for the purpose of showing the relationships between sentences, and you can construct introductions to your sentences that signal that you are comparing a source’s ideas with your own ideas.

2. How can summarizing help me show how my ideas compare with the ideas of others?

When you summarize, you are attempting to provide your audience with an overall grasp of the content of either the source or a substantial portion of the source. What is the thesis or main claim of the selection? What are the supporting claims? What types of evidence are offered in support of the claims?

One way to think of a summary is as a global representation of an argument, one that does not attempt to capture the fine details that would be visible if you zoomed in on a ‘map’ of the source.

Use in-text citations to document summaries. If you are summarizing the entire source, include only the author’s last name and the year the source was published. If you are summarizing a portion of the source rather than a source as a whole, point your reader to the section that you are using. You may do so by using the in-text citation to point the reader to a range of pages or, more informally, by referring to a chapter title or section title within the summary.

3. How can paraphrasing help me show how my ideas compare with the ideas of others?

When you paraphrase, you have made the decision to ‘zoom in’ on a particular passage in the source. You have decided that specific paragraph(s) or sentence(s) are highly relevant to your argument, either because they support your perspective or because you want to contrast them with your own ideas.

You may have been told to ‘put it in your own words’ when you paraphrase. Keep two things in mind when you consider the meaning of the phrase ‘your own words’. First, the phrase does not mean that you must avoid using the fundamental vocabulary of a field or profession. For example, if you are paraphrasing a passage on genetic engineering, you don’t have to come up with a way around using words such as ‘nucleus’ or ‘DNA’. If you are to successfully enter into a conversation, you need to share the vocabulary used by other participants in the discussion.

Second, sentence structure falls under the heading of ‘your own words’. That is, you are not paraphrasing if you preserve the sentence structure of the original passage and simply swap out certain words. The sentence was still created by someone else, and you would in fact be plagiarizing. Even if you replaced every word in the original with synonyms, you would be plagiarizing if the structure of the original sentence still remained.

When paraphrasing, the best approach is to remind yourself that you are trying to convey your best understanding of what a passage says. Focus on ideas rather than sentences. Carefully read until you are confident of your grasp of the ideas, then close the book or the computer window and do not look at it as you write down your understanding of the passage. If you go back to compare your paraphrase with the original, do not compare wording against wording; compare idea against idea.

Since a paraphrase is based upon a specific passage, be certain to use a parenthetical citation to point your readers to the location of the original.

To make the best use of paraphrases, review the answers to these questions under the Approaches to Written Argument assignment in the CORE 101 section of the Handbook:

4. How can quoting help me show how my ideas compare with the ideas of others?

When you quote, you have decided that for some reason it is necessary to preserve some of a source’s exact wording. Perhaps the exact wording

  • helps you capture the tone of the discussion,
  • helps you capture the character or background of a participant in the discussion,
  • helps you capture the nature or significance of the issue, or
  • must be captured because the meaning of a term or phrase is what is in fact under discussion.

Below is an example of a quotation that is intended to signal to the reader that the issue being discussed is very important:

“For those of us who support the judicious use of familial DNA searching in the US, this case is the Holy Grail we’ve been searching for,” says Frederick Bieber, a medical geneticist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and associate professor of pathology at Harvard Medical School” (Cerretani, 2010, para. 3).

Since a quotation is taken from a specific passage, be certain to use parenthetical citations to point your readers to the passage’s location in the source.

Keep these guidelines in mind when you quote:

  • Have a good reason to quote.
  • Quote no more than necessary.
  • Work the quotation into a framework provided by your own sentences.
  • Properly document any quotations.

To make certain that you are quoting appropriately and effectively, review the answers to these questions under the Approaches to Written Argument assignment in the CORE 101 section of the Handbook:

5. How can attributions help me show how my ideas compare with the ideas of others?

A summary or paraphrase may be faithful to the ideas in the original, and a quotation may be well chosen, but those qualities will not be enough to guarantee that you are making good use of your sources. A summary, paraphrase, or quotation must be placed within a framework created by one of your sentences. An attribution provides one such a framework. An attribution directly references a writer or a speaker (or the title of a source, if the author is unknown). Below is an example, with a basic attribution in red:

“For those of us who support the judicious use of familial DNA searching in the US, this case is the Holy Grail we’ve been searching for,” says Frederick Bieber, a medical geneticist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and associate professor of pathology at Harvard Medical School” (Cerretani, 2010, para. 3).

Notice that Cerretani has done much more than identify the speaker by name. She has also taken the opportunity to provide background information that suggests that the speaker is a credible source. The entire attribution consists of “says Frederick Bieber,” plus the information that he is “a medical geneticist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and associate professor of pathology at Harvard Medical School.” Cerretani is strengthening the credibility of her own argument by demonstrating that it is built upon the ideas of distinguished professionals in the field.

6. What words and phrases can I use to show how my ideas compare with another person’s ideas?

Some words and phrases exist to allow writers and speakers to show how ideas are related to other ideas. In fact, I am using an example of such a phrase by beginning this sentence with “In fact.” These words and phrases may signal that a sentence introduces

  • an example (for example, for instance)
  • an additional argument in support of something (additionally, in addition, also, furthermore, moreover),
  • an idea or an example similar to one previously stated (likewise, similarly),
  • a conclusion to a line of reasoning (consequently, in conclusion, therefore, thus),
  • an idea or an example that contradicts something or calls it into question (but, however, on the other hand, nevertheless).

These and similar words and phrases can be used to signal your take on a source, including whether you agree or disagree with its ideas. In the example below, a writer differs with the comments that a political figure made about vaccination and uses the word however to signal his disagreement:

 No virus respects privacy, however, so public health is never solely personal….

(Specter, 2010, p. 62)

 7. How can I use adverbial clauses to show how my ideas compare with another person’s ideas?

An adverbial clause is built around a subject paired with a verb (= clause) and provides a sentence with background information (= adverbial). You can use an adverbial clause to introduce an idea from a source into your sentence. You can then use the remainder of the sentence to state your own idea.

In the following example, a writer refers to someone else’s idea—that it is hard to define good writing—before stating her point that it is possible to identify the qualities that detract from good writing.

 Although it is difficult to describe all the qualities that make a truly excellent piece of writing effective, it is not difficult to point to the flaws in a substandard piece of student writing.

(Needell, 2014, para. 2)

In the next example, news coverage about “teleschooling” on snow days receives a response from a writer who presents a parent’s point of view:

While we continue to find ways to keep students studying even while snowed in, we must also put muscle into legislation that forces businesses to grant parents the option to work from home when weather shuts down schools, and prohibit the penalizing of caregivers who must miss work when their kids are home on those days.

(Johnson, 2014, para. 5)

Notice the word “Although” at the beginning of one example and the word “While” at the beginning of the other example. A number of words and phrases may be used to introduce adverbial clauses into sentences. Below are some of them:

  • although
  • while
  • as long as
  • because
  • even though
  • if
  • in order that
  • provided that
  • since
  • though
  • unless
  • until
  • when
  • while

8. How can I position my thesis to make use of a summary, paraphrase, or quotation to show how my ideas compare with the ideas of others?

The introduction to an argument can provide context for the conversation into which you are about to enter. Use summary, paraphrase, or quotation—or a mix of these techniques—to let your audience know what the issues are. After surveying what has been already been said on the subject, you can position your thesis statement as the latest contribution to the discussion.

Below is an example of this strategy. The sentences in red provide background by summarizing arguments on one side of the issue of animal testing. The sentences in blue represent the response of people supporting the use of animals. The last sentence, in red, is the thesis of the article that follows.

It has been suggested that several alternative technologies, including computer modeling, micro-dosing, and MRI scanning, will eventually replace the use of animals in medical research. Strong incentives exist to develop research models that do not require animals. Animal testing is expensive, and researchers are required by law to explore alternatives. However, animal testing does provide significant benefits that are not easily replicated. While alternative technologies will reduce the reliance on animals for testing, they cannot replace animal testing altogether.

(Speaking of Research, 2013, para. 1)

9. How can I word my introduction and thesis to make use of words, phrases, and clauses that show how one person’s ideas compare with the ideas of others?

In the example below, you can see three points at which the language reminds us that an article is part of a conversation in which ideas will be compared.

It has been suggested that several alternative technologies, including computer modeling, micro-dosing, and MRI scanning, will eventually replace the use of animals in medical research. Strong incentives exist to develop research models that do not require animals. Animal testing is expensive, and researchers are required by law to explore alternatives. However, animal testing does provide significant benefits that are not easily replicated. While alternative technologies will reduce the reliance on animals for testing, they cannot replace animal testing altogether.

(Speaking of Research, 2013, para. 1)

“It has been suggested that” plays a role similar to that of an attribution. This phrase clearly signals that the ideas being summarized belong to someone other than the author.

The word “However” signals that the author has some reason to disagree with the ideas that she has just summarized.

The adverbial clause “While alternative technologies will reduce the reliance on animals for testing” signals what ideas the author will accept from her sources as she prepares to make her own contribution to the discussion: that animal testing cannot be completely replaced.

See also the examples in How does an author signal his opposition to a source’s opinion? under the Approaches to Written Argument assignment in the CORE 101 section of the Handbook.

Objective III. Find examples and other types of evidence to support a claim.

In order to achieve this objective, you need to revisit the knowledge and strengthen the skills that were first introduced for the Academic Argument assignment under CORE 101. You can do so by reviewing the answers to these questions:

The differences between CORE 101 and 102 when it comes to using examples and evidence likely will be that you are expected to

  • use more evidence and example,
  • use a different mix of the types of evidence,
  • use more sources for your evidence and examples,
  • use a different mix of sources, and
  • locate those sources on your own.

Objective IV. Identify one’s own and others’ biases with regard to the topic.

To achieve this objective begin by reviewing the answer to this question under the Academic Argument assignment in CORE 101:

  • How do I identify a stakeholder’s assumptions?

Next, return to the Research Process and review the answer to this question:

  • What is bias?

Both these sections focus on recognizing bias in a source. For the Researched Argument, however, you must take your examination of bias one step further by identifying your own biases. Consider the following questions about recognizing your own biases:

  1. Why is it important for me to identify my biases?
  2. What is confirmation bias?
  3. How do I avoid confirmation bias?

1. Why is it important for me to identify my biases?

It is important to recognize your biases because they may interfere with your ability to make the best use of your sources. You do not want to reject a credible source or overlook important arguments or evidence because they are not consistent with your biases.

2. What is confirmation bias?

To make the best use of your sources, be alert to a mental habit called confirmation bias. This phrase refers to the tendency of people to notice and accept evidence and arguments consistent with their pre-existing attitudes, beliefs, and positions. The flip side of confirmation bias is that people will overlook or reject evidence and arguments not consistent with their pre-existing attitudes, beliefs, and positions. Unfortunately, people generally are not conscious that their use of sources may be affected by confirmation bias.

3. How do I avoid confirmation bias?

There are two ways to avoid confirmation bias. One is to start your project with a question that you must answer instead of with a conclusion that you set out to support. To remind yourself of how a research question can help you keep an open mind, review the answer to What is a research question?  in the section of the Handbook devoted to the Research Process section.

The second way to combat confirmation bias is to ask questions about yourself that are similar to questions that you might ask about your sources.

  • Do I have an opinion on this issue?
  • Do I have feelings about this issue?
  • Do I have a stake in the outcome of the issue?
  • Do I have political views that influence my opinions or feelings about this issue?
  • Do I have religious views that influence my opinions or feelings about this issue?
  • Do family members or friends influence my opinions or feelings about this issue?
  • Do personal experiences influence my opinions or feelings about this issue?
  • What assumptions do I have about what is most important when it comes to this issue?
  • What assumptions do I have about whose needs should take priority when it comes to this issue?

Once you have identified the factors that may bias your approach to your sources, repeatedly remind yourself to put them aside so that you can give a fair hearing to all the arguments and evidence and not just the ones that are consistent with your pre-existing attitudes, beliefs, and positions.

Objective V. Locate appropriate sources.

Because you must document the process you follow to locate sources, you will find the information you need to meet this objective under the following questions in the Research Process section of the Handbook:

You should also review, as appropriate, the answers to these three questions under the Approaches to Written Argument assignment in the CORE 101 section of the Handbook:

Objective VI. Create references correctly.

Documentation was introduced in CORE 101 under the Approaches to Written Argument assignment, but like many skills, it should be revisited and reinforced. The following questions ask you to think about why bibliographies or lists of references are important as well as how you should go about formatting references.

  1. Why should I provide references?
  2. What format should I follow for my references?
  3. Do I need to memorize the format for my references? 

1. Why should I provide references?

When you view a document on the web, you will probably notice links embedded in it—words highlighted by color or by underlining that, when clicked, take readers to additional sites. These sites may be sources that the original document is based upon or is reacting to. They may be sources that the document’s author thought readers would be interested in visiting in order to further read up on a topic.

These links are simply a modern twist on the old practice of documenting sources by providing bibliographies or lists of references. Authors point toward their sources both as a service to their readers and as a means of strengthening their ethos by demonstrating that they are familiar with relevant information and important ideas.

2. What format should I follow for my references?

On the web, when readers click on a link, they don’t expect it to be a broken one that leads to a dead end or a “page not found” message. Similarly, you need to make certain that you provide complete and accurate information about your sources so that your readers can access them. Over the years, formats have been created for that very reason. These formats or styles guide the writer toward capturing necessary information and organizing it in a way that is clear and easy to follow. Formats may differ by field or profession, but despite differences in detail, they all try to help readers find sources.

In University Core A courses, generally you will be asked to use APA style for formatting both your in-text citations and the references in your list of sources. For a review of the APA format, read the following sections under the Approaches to Written Argument assignment in the CORE 101 section of the Handbook.

3. Do I need to memorize the format for my references?

Be able to recognize the basic requirements for a format, but do not feel as if you need to memorize every detail.

First, the most effective way to master the basic format is to use it. Apply the format repeatedly as you looking at examples. After a while, you will need to check the examples less and less.

Second, it would be impossible to memorize all the variations. Consider this scenario. You have four sources:

  • One has an editor.
  • One has a translator.
  • One is a 3rd edition.
  • One is the 2nd volume of a three-volume set.

You may be able to find and memorize separate models for each possibility. Suppose, though, that you had a source with an editor and a translator that is the second volume of a third edition. Assuming that you could find a model, are you going to memorize it and all the other possible variations of the basic pattern? A better approach would be to understand the logic behind the basic pattern and then creatively adapt it to the numerous variations that you will come across.

Finally, although you may be directed to follow APA in CORE 102, you may be instructed to follow different models in other courses or professionally. The key is not to memorize one model; the key is to develop the ability to identify a pattern, apply it, and (as the above scenario suggests) adapt it.

References for Researched Argument

Cerretani, J. (2010, October 31). Whodunit? Boston Globe.  Retrieved from http://www.boston.com/news/science/articles/2010/10/31/whodunit/

Johnson, E. (2014, February 5). Help parents work from home, too. New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2014/02/05/virtual-school-on-snow-days/on-snow-days-help-parents-work-from-home-too

Needell, C. (2014, March 10). The problem is in the grading. New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2014/03/10/can-writing-on-a-college-entrance-exam-be-properly-assessed/with-writing-the-problem-is-in-the-grading

Speaking of Research. (2013). It is not possible to completely replace animals in medical research. Retrieved March 14, 2014 from Opposing Viewpoints in Context: galegroup.com

Specter, M. (2010). Denialism: How irrational thinking harms the planet and threatens our lives. New York, NY: Penguin Books.

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