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Assignment | Composition One: Social Problem & Solutions (Moore): Getting Started

ENGL 1301 | Prof. M. Moore (Fall 2019)


Your Goals:

  • 4-6 pages, 7 paragraphs
  • MLA format
  • 2 sources minimum

Choosing a Topic

Organize Your Thoughts with a Mind Map

Mind maps are a great tool to help you organize your thoughts and see new information or connections that you might not have previously been aware of.  As you develop your mind map, narrow your topic down from a broad topic to a specific research question. You will use this research question, and the keywords you've identified on your mind map, to search the library databases for resources.  As you utilize the research databases, continue to fill in information on your mind map to help you see if there are gaps in your research that you need to address.

Start off with your overall central topic: in this example, we're starting with racism. What does racism impact? Education, law enforcement, voting... And what does it look like? White supremacism (though not just that, of course)...

You're trying to accumulate lots of ideas at this point! Big picture. Make connections, and write whatever comes to mind. When you start getting stuck, turn to Google, Credo Reference, and Wikipedia to get more ideas.

Once you've filled out the map of your topic a bit, look at where you have the most ideas: this is probably the strongest aspect of your topic, and what you should focus your research on.

All those other ideas? We're not going to use them. We want to deeply explore one narrow aspect of the big topic, not try to talk about everything to do with the big topic ever. (That's the job of probably a multi-volume book, not a short essay!)

It's important to still go through this process, though, even if we aren't using most of the ideas, because a) we have to see all this to figure out which thing we're targeting, and b) it still gives us context for how we actually understand the overall topic -- everything is connected! Plus, if we decide we hate our chosen topic, we can come back to drawing board and go another direction easily.

This end result of our mind map is the research topic we'd look into further for the paper: how racial gerrymandering affects representation of voters. This is what we research! Based on these ideas, and a bit on our research, we'll figure out questions to ask in that vein (which our research will provide answers for).


Organize Your Thoughts With an Outline

If you're not into scrawling lines and bubbles all over your page, you can work within a more linear outline. (If you DO like the lines and shapes of a mind map, you can still outline, too! It builds the structure of your paper.) This is most useful after you've already figured out your topic and what you need to say about it.

You'll put things in an order that makes sense (and you can always rearrange as needed), but you can also note the specific pieces of evidence you have for each point. Even better, start noting which sources are giving you those pieces of info! It'll make writing the paper itself so much easier. This will give you an overview so you can see where maybe you need to do some more research, or add an explanation of something.