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Assignment | Social Issue Essay (Pena): Writing

ENGL 1302 | Prof. E. Pena | Spring 2020

Parts of Your Paper

  1. Introduction Paragraph
    1. Introduce your topic
    2. Last sentence is your thesis statement
  2. "Big idea" paragraph
  3. Next "big idea" paragraph
  4. Repeat big idea paragraphs as needed, depending on your topic
  5. Conclusion: bring it all together
    1. Don't just think of this as a summary: how does everything above come together? What's the point? What's the big take-away?


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Develop Your Thesis

Your thesis is where you put forward your argument in a concise, declarative way. It is typically one sentence long and comes at the end of your introduction paragraph. You should only develop your thesis after you've started doing your research. You can have a thesis in mind as you start your research, of course, but be prepared to change it if you find it's unsupportable with the information available to you.

Thesis statements should be:

  • Specific - lay out exactly the arguments/reasons you're using in your thesis
  • Contestable - if you can find a definitive yes/no answer within a few minutes of Google searching, it's not arguable enough
  • Narrow - not about all of privacy ever, but this little sliver of a privacy issue in this particular time and society
  • Provable - or at least something you can persuasively argue.

Your thesis statement should essentially give your reader a preview of what arguments you'll be presenting over the course of your paper.

  • Use this formula: A should do B because of C.
  • Sample thesis: “Our student government should endorse the Academic Bill of Rights because students should not be punished in their courses for their personal political views.”

"Big Idea" Paragraphs

These are your body paragraphs: generally speaking, you want one main (big) idea per paragraph. When you change topics, it's time to change paragraphs. This is where you'll apply your research and use in-text citations that connect to your Works Cited page. Introduce each paragraph with a topic sentence to give your reader a sense of what this paragraph will be about.

Where's Your Evidence?

You are not an astronomer. Nearly everything you write in this paper should be backed up by credible evidence.

Give Credit to Your Sources

Credit comes in 2 parts: in-text citations + your Works Cited page. Your Works Cited page comes at the end of your paper and has all the nitty-gritty details about your sources. In-text or parenthetical citation are like abbreviated versions of those long citations: just enough info that someone can figure out which Works Cited source that info goes with.

Avoid Direct Quotes/Copy-Pasting

When you're using someone else's words, you're also using someone else's thoughts.

The purpose of a research paper is to gather all these disparate sources of information together and weave them into a new article that makes a new point. No, this isn't a new point like you've discovered a new planet, but this should be your very own unique presentation of the significance of your topic.

This is a very short paper: you should not have numerous and/or long "word for word direct quotes from a source" in your paper. You don't have the time or page count to waste repeating what someone else has already written. You need to get your analysis, your synthesis of this information, written out instead!

Writing Better

Avoid the First Person (I, me, my, us, etc)

As the author of your paper, it's implied that everything you're suggesting is your opinion or conclusion: you don't need to insert yourself even more! For example,

  • Avoid: I find this idea to be really interesting because reasons.
  • Also avoid: One finds this idea to be interesting.
  • Instead: This idea is interesting because reasons.

Active Voice (Not Passive)

You can write a sentence in passive voice and be totally correct grammatically. However, it's a weak sentence. It's...well...passive. How do you know you have passive voice? Add "by zombies" to the end. Does your sentence make sense and sound good? You've got passive voice.

  • Passive: Students were eaten (by zombies).

The person/entity/creature actually doing the action is buried way off in the sentence, if you bother to include it at all!

  • Active: Zombies ate the students.

This is more likely to creep into your writing in a more subtle way.

  • Also passive: It's believed that zombies originated in Haiti.

Well, believed by whom?

  • Active: Folklorists believe that zombies originated in Haiti.