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Assignment | Argument Proposal (Pena): Getting Started

ENGL 1301 | Prof. E. Pena (Spring 2023)


Your Goals:

The documentary you chose to write about dealt with an important social issue in our current time.  Continue the conversation that was started.  Think of a problem facing your school or community that is important to you and propose a solution.

Benefits of Background Research

Take a little time to formally develop your ideas.

You can't really speak coherently about the impact of the automobile on society if you aren't also aware of what the horse-drawn carriage society was like, what the state of manufacturing was like, the purchasing power of the auto's target demographic, and so on.

Scholarly articles are written by experts, for experts. They don't usually take the time to remind their readers what a term or process means, since the assumption is the readers already know. This can also present a barrier to finding those articles, as well. What's a non-expert to do? You've got to learn to speak the language of the field.

Let your research help you do research. As you're learning about the context and picking up on new terminology, you'll also be noticing key people, places, and events that relate to your topic... all of which will help you delve into your deeper research more effectively.

Where to Start

You can also just start by searching the web for ideas relating to your topic. (Yes, really.) Google is good at natural language, so you can type in questions and misspell things while you're getting a handle on your idea.

Just remember: your starting points are not your end goals.

Google Web Search

Organize Your Ideas

Breaking Down Your Topic

Organize Your Thoughts With a Mind Map

Mind maps are useful for capturing the connections between your ideas and revealing where you might have discovered more layers of information. You can record ideas going from broad to specific, or vice versa. As you do your background research, continue to take notes on your mind map to help flesh it out.

Start off with your overall central topic: in this example, we're starting with flooding. What comes to mind? Major storms that have created flooding here (Allison, Harvey, Imelda), the recovery efforts (FEMA, flood insurance, mold remediation), the possible causes (climate change, land development)...

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 construction practices affect natural drainage systems and how this could improve Houston's drainage. 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).