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Critical thinking is "purposeful, reasoned, and goal directed" (Halpern, 2003, p.6). To make the traditional research paper more engaging, give students a more engaged, real-world goal to achieve with their writing. This assignment requires students to think and write beyond simply reporting what they have learned--it asks them to use what they have learned to make a convincing argument to a real person or group outside the classroom.
Beyond doing the necessary research to support their argument, students have to identify the audience they want to convince, and frame their research with a "problem statement" that will be compelling to that audience. This assignment format can be motivating for students because it lets them answer the question "Why do we have to do this?" in a way that is personally meaningful to them.
The following assignment description was provided by UT instructor Michelle Neely. It clearly describes for students the process of identifying their audience, developing their problem statement, and putting it all together. Adapted from Charney, D.H., Neuwirth, C.M., Kaufer, D.S., and Geisler, C.A. (2005). Having your say: Reading and writing public arguments. New York, NY: Longman.
Step one: Select the right audience
Selecting the appropriate audience for your paper is important. This is because you will be writing directly to an individual or committee who: (1) will listen to what you, an anonymous college student, has to say, and (2) has the power to do something about your proposal. As you work to identify the problem that your proposal will address, think also about the audience for your argument. Who would be able to change, or shift, the policy or behavior that you are proposing? It might be helpful to do some research about who is "in charge" of the policy or issues that your proposal addresses.
You'll likely have to do some research to figure out who has the "power" to do what you are asking. Some possible audience options include:
Step two: Develop an argument by finding the "rub"
A. Convince your audience that a problem exists by creating a problem statement.
Problems occur when we need something that we don't have or when we want to do something that we can't do. It involves a clash between what we want and what we have. A clash is a conflict or inconsistency involving tension and frustration; it creates a feeling of lacking or exigency. (Charney and Neuwirth, p. 259)
Begin by drafting a problem statement that outlines goals, values, or desired states that you and your audience SHARE. You should be able to draw on Paper 2 to help you do this. Then describe how the realization of these goals/values/desired states is being prevented by the condition you want to change. Here are some examples:
Having trouble finding the "rub?" Try this:
Problem Statement Template
Statement A: Describe important goal(s), desired state(s), or a value(s). The goal is often something that we take for granted, but it is what is ultimately at stake or risk.
BUT: Connect Statement A and Statement B with a conflict term such as "but," "however," "unfortunately."
Statement B:Describe something that prevents the goal, state, or value in Statement A from being achieved or realized at this time. It may be another feature of the situation. Or, it may be a competing goal, desired state, or value.
(From: Charney, D.H., Neuwirth, C.M., Kaufer, D.S., and Geisler, C.A. (2005). Having your say: Reading and writing public arguments. New York, NY: Longman.)
B. Propose a solution that will help solve the problem you've just described.
Doing this involves creating an enthymeme consisting of a claim and reason(s). Note here that the reasons match up with the shared values that you identify in the problem statement. Here are some examples that correspond with the sample problem statements:
The key here lies in the details. A bad proposal is vague and full of pie-in-the-sky ideas about how to solve the world's problems. A good proposal details specific, step-by-step instructions that an audience could follow without having to fill in the gaps. Even more important, your proposal must be FEASIBLE, i.e., reasonably capable of being enacted. Time, money, and labor are your foremost considerations here.
You'll need to show your audience that your proposed solution will address the problem reflected in your problem statement. You will have already demonstrated that it is POSSIBLE to enact your proposal. Now you must prove beyond doubt that doing so will help solve the problems described in the first section of your argument. How is your solution the best fit for the problem?
Step three: Put it all together
Since you'll be targeting a very specific audience for your argument, I urge you to use a letter or memo-type format for your paper. Also, since proposal arguments strive for maximum practicality, they are often arranged under subheadings; I encourage you to present your argument in such a way.
Write a description of the audience you're targeting and your rationale for selecting that audience. What makes you think that this person/group of people can initiate the change(s) you're proposing?
Once you describe your audience, you'll present your proposal. Here are some suggested subheadings for your proposal:
Your most important stylistic concern, as always, is with crafting unified paragraphs, which consist of two things: (1) a topic sentence that clearly states the main idea of the paragraph and (2) supporting sentences that cluster around the main idea without detours.
Beyond the paragraph level, your paper should adhere to the conventions of academic/ professional/ public writing. Proofread carefully, and avoid errors in grammar, spelling, punctuation, and mechanics. Use your Little Penguin Handbook as a reference guide for questions about style.
Your second most important stylistic concern should be with adhering to MLA conventions for the documentation of sources. Chapter 22 in Everything's an Argument and the Little Penguin Handbook will help you follow MLA guidelines. For your Works Cited page, make things easy on yourself by using NoodleBib.