By the end of this section, you will be able to:
- Identify characteristics of and formulate a strong thesis.
- Evaluate sources to decide what to include in a research essay.
- Synthesize information from outside sources with your own ideas in research writing while retaining a writerly voice.
- Distinguish between a quotation, summary, and paraphrase and use each appropriately.
- Draft an argumentative research essay.
- Experience the collaborative and social aspects of writing processes.
- Give and act on productive feedback to works in progress.
With a clearer understanding of how to work with sources to support and develop your position, you are just about ready to join the conversation and begin a research writing project of your own. The rest of this chapter will guide you through the process.
Summary of Assignment
For this assignment, you will write an argumentative research essay in which you take a position on a food-based topic. The objective in developing this essay is to explore a topic, concept, or question with which you may be unfamiliar or about which you want to know more. As a first step, creating a list of possible topics will allow you to consider the range of possibilities. Consider the following, for example:
- Health aspects of caffeine or alcohol
- Vegetarian diets
- Eating disorders
- Food shortages
- School lunches
Next, formulating a research question will help you consider the scope of your essay by providing guidelines to follow in your research. Consider the following, for example:
- Is the long-term but limited consumption of caffeine or alcohol (red wine, for example) healthy or unhealthy for the body? Why?
- What are the environmental benefits of a vegetarian diet?
- What are the causes of eating disorders, and how can they be circumvented?
- What can be done to alleviate food shortages in a particular country?
- What is the school’s responsibility in providing students with nutrition?
As you explore possible topics and develop your focus for the paper, consider significant points of contention—that is, their debatable nature: perhaps an important viewpoint that has not been widely addressed or a perspective that has not adequately been explored. Your thesis-driven essay should follow these criteria:
- 10–12 pages, double-spaced, 12-point font (standard one-inch margins)
- 8–10 sources (reflecting a range of primary and secondary sources, both print and digital)
- MLA or APA documentation (in-text and end-of-text citation) as assigned by your instructor
You will synthesize the information you discover during your research to make connections about the potential significance of your topic for your audience and for further inquiry. You will develop your essay on the basis of thorough research of multiple sources and full analysis of your findings. Use sources as evidence to support, contradict, or expand your original ideas or thinking. Be sure to include extensive analysis or evaluation regarding your research question.
To collaborate, form a small group, and list five possible topics on a sheet of paper or your laptop. Leave space under each topic for comments, ideas, and questions. After everyone has completed their list of topics, either move the paper or rotate seats every 10 minutes to allow group members to provide comments, ideas, and questions for all topic lists. If four people are in your group, you would provide comments, ideas, and question for three other group members, as you too will receive the same.
Quick Launch: Thesis Frames
As you are composing your essay, the thesis serves as a touchstone to help you determine what material is pertinent. Keeping your thesis in mind as you draft is important to ensure that your reasoning and supporting evidence are focused and relevant. A strong thesis also provides a way to measure how successful you have been in achieving your purpose—in travel terms again, it lets you judge whether you have reached your destination and explained the journey’s meaning. See Writing Process: Thinking Critically About Rhetoric for more information about thesis statements.
Review the Annotated Student Sample to follow the way Lily Tran presents her thesis: “The human race must turn to sustainable food systems that provide healthy diets with minimal environmental impact, starting now.” What works? What doesn’t? What can you learn from her for your own writing?
Remember that as your topic and ideas develop, you may need to revisit your thesis statement. One good practice in writing is to revisit the thesis after completing your draft to ensure the thesis reflects the content and focus of your paper. If it does not align with the content, readers may think that you set yourself one task but completed another. If this disconnect occurs, it’s time to revise the thesis or content accordingly.
To develop a working thesis for your argumentative research paper, try using one of these frames. You may change the phrasing as needed to support your ideas.
- Because ________, [someone] should ________.
- ________ saves ________, reduces ________, and saves ________.
- The lack of ________ shows ________.
- ________ influences ________ and by extension ________.
- ________ accurately (inaccurately) portrays ________ because ________.
- ________ is a result of ________, ________, and ________.
- Although some argue that ________, a close examination shows ________.
- ________ and ________ prove that ________.
Drafting: Working with Sources
When writing an argumentative research essay, you will need to draw on other people’s research to support your original thinking. Such a proposition may seem complicated and even contradictory.
|Your argumentative research essay writing assignment may require that you …||While also …|
|develop a topic based on what has already been said and written||writing something new and original.|
|rely on experts’ and authorities’ opinions and facts to support your ideas||engaging with the borrowed materials by improving upon or disagreeing with those same opinions.|
|attribute credit meticulously to previous researchers||finding a way to develop your own significant contribution.|
|adapt your language to fit the discipline of your topic by building upon what you hear and read||finding a way to incorporate your own words and your own voice.|
You can meet these writing requirements through planning and organization. The following information is designed to help you simplify the steps.
Don’t Skip the Outline
|Working Thesis: The human race must turn to sustainable food systems that provide healthy diets with minimal environmental impact, starting now.|
|Topic Sentence||Reasoning Strategy||Supporting Researched Evidence|
|Global food systems are threatened by climate change because farmers depend on relatively stable climate systems to plan for production and harvest.||Cause and effect||Yet food production is responsible for up to 30 percent of greenhouse gas emissions (Barnard).|
Summary vs. Synthesis
Table 12.3 shows some key differences between summary and synthesis:
|Demonstrates comprehension/understanding||Demonstrates critical/creative thinking and insight|
|Collects information||Compares/contrasts information|
|Restates key points||Interprets key points to make new meaning|
|Looks within a text||Looks for connections/relationships between texts|
|Treats sources as distinct entities||Combines bits and pieces of sources for specific purpose|
|Provides overview of content||Interprets content|
|Requires basic reading and thinking skills||Requires complex reading and thinking skills|
Notice how Lily Tran synthesizes information in her work, combining sources to respond to a claim and adding her own views in the second paragraph:
student sample textIn response to claims that a vegetarian diet is a necessary component of sustainable food production and consumption, Lusk and Norwood determined the importance of meat in a consumer’s diet. Their study indicated that meat is the most valuable food category to consumers, and “humans derive great pleasure from consuming beef, pork, and poultry” (120). Currently only 4 percent of Americans are vegetarians, and it would be difficult to convince consumers to change their eating habits. Purdy adds “there’s the issue of philosophy. A lot of vegans aren’t in the business of avoiding animal products for the sake of land sustainability. Many would prefer to just leave animal husbandry out of food altogether.”end student sample text
student sample textAt the same time, consumers expect ready availability of the foods they desire, regardless of health implications or sustainability of sources. Unhealthy and unsustainable foods are heavily marketed. Out-of-season produce is imported year-round, increasing carbon emissions from air transportation. Highly processed and packaged convenience foods are nutritionally inferior and waste both energy and packaging materials. Serving sizes are larger than necessary, contributing to overconsumption and obesity. Snack food vending machines are ubiquitous in schools and public buildings. What is needed is a widespread attitude shift toward reducing waste, choosing local fruits and vegetables that are in season, and paying attention to how foods are grown and transported.end student sample text
Quoting vs. Paraphrasing
For example, Lily Tran does this kind of analysis in the following paragraph. In the first three sentences, she paraphrases and quotes from the source. In the final sentence, she looks at the implications and relates the evidence to her thesis.
student sample textAmong their findings, they singled out, in particular, the practice of using human-edible crops to produce meat, dairy, and fish for the human table. Currently 34 percent of human-edible crops are fed to animals, a practice that reduces calorie and protein supplies. They state in their report, “If society continues on a ‘business-as-usual’ dietary trajectory, a 119% increase in edible crops grown will be required by 2050” (1). Future food production and distribution must be transformed into systems that are nutritionally adequate, environmentally sound, and economically affordable.end student sample text
A crucial skill you will develop as you practice writing is the ability to judge when to quote directly and when to paraphrase. You have no doubt used direct quotations in your writing, repeating someone else’s words verbatim within your paper and placing them within quotation marks, “like this.” Another way to incorporate borrowed ideas into your writing is to paraphrase them, or restate them in your own words. If the ideas you want to borrow are particularly long, complicated, or filled with jargon, consider paraphrasing for brevity or clarity. Paraphrasing also allows you to maintain your own voice, keeping the writing style and language as consistent as possible—a benefit especially when you draw on multiple sources at once.
Table 12.4 reviews the differences between quoting and paraphrasing and when to use each.
|The borrowing must be identical to the original, comprising a narrow segment of the source. The quoted material must match the source document word for word and must be attributed to the original author.||The idea or concept borrowed from a passage is rephrased in your own words. A paraphrase must be attributed to the original source. Paraphrased material may (or may not) be shorter than the original passage, depending on the text. If any language used is the same as the language of the original source, then you are quoting, not paraphrasing. It is sometimes necessary in a paraphrase to use words directly from the borrowed material to account for technical or discipline-specific language. In such instances, place the directly quoted words within quotation marks.|
Use a quotation …
Use a paraphrase …
Although quoting can be more straightforward, consider these suggestions when paraphrasing:
- Focus on ideas and on understanding the paper or passage as a whole rather than skimming for specific phrases.
- Put the original text aside when you write so that it doesn’t overly influence you.
- Restructure the idea to reflect the way your brain works.
- Change the words so that the paraphrase reflects your language and tone. Think about how you would explain the idea to someone unfamiliar with your subject (your mother, your roommate, your sister).
Here is an example of how Lily Tran combines paraphrase and quotation:
student sample textGlobal food systems are threatened by climate change because farmers depend on relatively stable climate systems to plan for production and harvest. Yet food production is responsible for up to 30 percent of greenhouse gas emissions (Barnard). While soil can be a highly effective means of carbon sequestration, agricultural soils have lost much of their effectiveness from overgrazing, erosion, overuse of chemical fertilizer, and excess tilling. Hamilton reports that the world’s cultivated and grazed soils have lost 50 to 70 percent of their ability to accumulate and store carbon. As a result, “billions of tons of carbon have been released into the atmosphere.”end student sample text
For more information on quoting, summarizing, and paraphrasing, visit Purdue University’s Online Writing Lab (OWL).
Opening and Closing
|Opening Strategies||Closing Strategies|
Describe a related conflict.
Explain the evolution of your thesis.
Provide a related anecdote.
Start with a sensory detail.
Introduce a related quotation.
Shock readers with a statistic.
Ask a rhetorical question.
Present the chronology of the issue.
End with your thesis.
Provide the answer to your research question.
Return to the scene set by the opening.
Resolve the problem you have explored.
Make a recommendation or a call to action.
Speculate about the future with regard to the issue.
Revisit your thesis.
Leave readers with an insightful thought to ponder.
Look again at the way Lily Tran begins her essay by explaining the evolution of her thesis. Is it effective in grabbing your attention? Why or why not? What are some other strategies that she might have used?
student sample textFor the human race to have a sustainable future, massive changes in the way food is produced, processed, and distributed are necessary on a global scale. The required changes will affect nearly all aspects of life, including not only world hunger but also health and welfare, land use and habitats, water quality and availability, energy use and production, greenhouse gas emissions and climate change, economics, and even cultural and social values. These changes may not be popular, but they are imperative. The human race must turn to sustainable food systems that provide healthy diets with minimal environmental impact, starting now.end student sample text
Now look again at the way Lily Tran ends her essay by revisiting her thesis. Is it effective in leaving you with something to think about? Why or why not? What are some other strategies that she might have used?
student sample textFor the human race to have a sustainable future, massive changes in the way food is produced, processed, and distributed are necessary on a global scale. The required changes will affect nearly all aspects of life, including not only world hunger but also health and welfare, land use and habitats, water quality and availability, energy use and production, greenhouse gas emissions and climate change, economics, and even cultural and social values. These changes may not be popular, but they are imperative. They are also achievable. The human race must turn to sustainable food systems that provide healthy diets with minimal environmental impact, starting now.end student sample text
Responding to Counterarguments
student sample textA second objection addresses the claim that land use for animal-based food production contributes to pollution and greenhouse gas emissions and is inefficient in terms of nutrient delivery. Berners-Lee et al. point out that animal nutrition from grass, pasture, and silage comes partially from land that cannot be used for other purposes, such as producing food directly edible by humans or for other ecosystem services such as biofuel production. Consequently, nutritional losses from such land use do not fully translate into losses of human-available nutrients.end student sample text
(What do critics claim?)
However, But, Despite …
(What do you say in response?)
While some may claim …
Although critics argue …
Those opposed suggest …
Some opponents claim …
Those critical of the idea argue …
|Some opponents claim …||that nutritional losses from such land use do not fully translate into losses of human-available nutrients.||While this objection may be correct, it does not address the fact that natural carbon sinks are being destroyed to increase agricultural land and, therefore, increase greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere.|
Peer Review: Switch Sides
One way to gain a new perspective for revision is to switch sides in arguing a position. Your peer conference partner can help you with this exercise. Rewrite a paragraph of your draft from an alternative viewpoint. Ask your partner to read both versions. Discuss the similarities and differences regarding the rhetorical situation. In what ways might you revise your original paragraph to better address the issues of the alternative paragraph?
For example, Issa, a mountain bike enthusiast, wrote his draft in favor of opening up more wilderness trails for mountain bikers to use. However, before writing his final draft, he researched the arguments against his position and wrote from that viewpoint:
student sample textHikers and other passive trail users argue against allowing mountain bikes onto narrow trails traditionally traveled only by foot and horse. They point out that the wide, deeply treaded tires of mountain bikes cause erosion and that the high speeds of the bikers startle and upset both hikers and horses. According to hiker Donald Meserlain, the bikes “ruin the tranquility of the woodlands and drive out hikers, bird watchers, and strollers” (Hanley 4).end student sample text
For the writer, the main advantage of switching sides for a draft may be a better understanding of the opposition’s viewpoint, making for a more effective argument against it in the final draft. In fact, for his final draft, Issa argues his original position in favor of mountain bikes, but he does so with more understanding, empathy, and effectiveness because he spent some time with the opposition. His final draft makes it clear where he stands on the issue. The tone of the mountain bike essay is now less strident and more thoughtful.
student sample textEducated mountain biking, like hiking and horseback riding, respects the environment and promotes peace and conservation, not noise and destruction. Making this case has begun to pay off, and the battle over who walks and who rides the trails should now shift in favor of peaceful coexistence. Buoyed by studies showing that bicycle tires cause no more erosion or trail damage than the boots of hikers, and far less than horses’ hooves, mountain bike advocates are starting to find receptive ears among environmental organizations (Schwartz 78).end student sample text
Another switch that pays good dividends for the writer is changing the audience. In college writing situations, the final audience always includes the instructor, so such a change may simply be a temporary but useful fiction. Had a draft of the mountain bike essay been aimed at the different constituencies mentioned in the essay—the Sierra Club, mountain bicycle manufacturers, property owners, or local newspapers—the writer might have gained a useful perspective in attempting to switch language and arguments to best address this more limited readership. Likewise, drafts of various papers written to young children, sympathetic classmates, skeptical professors, or sarcastic friends may also provide useful variations in the writing perspective.
In addition to working with a partner on this activity, take some extra time to check the essential elements of the argumentative research essay. Note whether the paper you are reviewing has these elements:
- a strong thesis
- sufficient and accurate support for claims
- a combination of summary, paraphrase, quotation, and synthesis
- strong counterclaims
- complete and correct citations
- a strong closing