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Assignment | Controversial Topic Research Essay (Pentecost): Getting Started

ENGL 1302 | Prof. R. Pentecost (Spring 2022)

Overview & Starting Points

Switch tabs to learn about your first steps.

Skills to Flex:

  • Identifying appropriate sources and distinguishing between academic and nonacademic sources
  • Locating articles in the databases
  • Synthesizing information from multiple sources to develop an organized argument


Your Goals:

  • 6 sources
    • 4 credible, nonacademic sources
    • 2 academic sources
    • You may not use the same source (publication) more than once (i.e. you can't use 2 articles from the Wall Street Journal).
    • Sources must be written in the past 10 years.
  • MLA style (document and citations)
  • Clear thesis statement
  • 1,250 words minimum (not counting the Works Cited) (roughly 5 full, double-spaced pages minimum)

Topic Introductions

First things first: get to know your topic! OR start checking out some topics while you decide which sounds most interesting.

Follow the links below to the topic overview articles in acces requires loginOpposing Viewpoints and acces requires loginCQ Researcher (where available). These overview articles won't be part of your final citations since they're meant to be just brief introductions.

Mind Maps: Organize What You Know

Click the images to view full-size, or download the attached PowerPoint file to read in the original format.

  1. Start off by popping the topic you pick in the middle of a piece of paper.
    Vaccination is the starting point in this example.
  2. What comes to mind when you think of this topic (off the top of your head)? Start adding branches. It may help you to start by thinking of the ol' standbys: Who? What? When? Where? Why/How?
    Adding ideas around 'vaccination' Adding who/what/when/how onto the center
  3. Flesh out your ideas further by doing some searches online with Google or Wikipedia. (Remember, you're just trying to discover keywords at this point, not doing actual research yet, so this is fine!)
    1. The library resources Credo Reference and Gale Ebooks's Topic Finder both have topic exploration tools, as well.
  4. Be sure to look for connections across branches, too!
    Cross-connections between pharma companies and vaccine ingredients; religious exemptions and school enrollment requirements
  5. Once you've got the bird's eye view of the different aspects of your topic, identify which area(s) are of most interest to you that you think you can build an argument around.
    Mind map with stars placed beside the concepts for public health, religious exemption, and bodily autonomy

Now, onto to developing your search strategy! It's time to move into the real research!


For each idea you need to research, brainstorm (or jot down as you do your exploratory research) synonyms or close-related terms for each keyword.

You're effectively circling around the main argument you want to present. In other words: describe your argument without saying what your argument is. It's kind of like a quilt -- you're going to take snippets from all over the place and stitch them together into a coherent whole. (If you weren't doing that, it wouldn't be a quilt, we'd just say it was a regular blanket.)

For example,

If my argument (based on the example mind map on the previous tab) is going to be that vaccination should be mandatory with no religious exemptions...

Bigger ideas: public health   1st amendment, religious freedom
Main idea: vaccination mandatory religious exemption
Narrower or synonymous ideas: immunization requir* = required, requirement which religions claim and why?
  childhood vaccines herd immunity exceptions, accommodations
  herd immunity   how many claim who aren't religious?
  virus mutations    
  community spread    

I'm not likely to find articles that I can use that are making my argument exactly for me. This is again where mind-mapping comes in handy! What do I think my supporting evidence will be?

  • Well, for one, the more people who are vulnerable to a virus, the more it can infect and potentially mutate until the existing vaccine isn't as effective.
  • Perhaps I suspect/fear a lot of people claim religious exemption. The next angle of my research would be to find out how many there are and whether that's trending up or down. I can apply my previous research about the threat of community spread to these numbers myself to make my argument.
  • I want to acknowledge the opposing view to strengthen my argument, so I'll dip into some research about religious freedom or bodily autonomy to explore the problematic side to my argument.


Where am I searching?

Multidisciplinary databases like JSTOR and Academic Search Complete and Opposing Viewpoints are easy choices. In my vaccine example, there's a health & medicine component, clearly, as well as legal components (as I'm arguing for a change in the law and examining legal precedent). There's socio-cultural aspects, too, so maybe I'd need to check some social science databases, as well.

Central topic (from mind map) to possible questions about the top to, after research, a thesis statement in answer to the question you pursue.

Move quickly to a topic focus, develop your research question, then develop a working thesis. Note: The thesis statement may change over time. Remember to continually check back with your thesis to be sure it is still the statement you are supporting with evidence. 
  1. First, you develop and narrow down your topic -- the general idea of what you're going to be researching. This is the mind mapping process discussed on the second tab, Topics & Starting Points.
  2. From that, you need to develop your research question, i.e. what is the question you are attempting to answer by doing your research?
    1. This may change as you get deeper into your research, or the answer may not be what you hoped for! And that's okay. Go where the research takes you.
  3. This, in turn, will form the basis for your paper's thesis (your claim/argument/answer) which you'll explicitly state in your introduction.

Accessing the Databases

Access online library materials through the library databases!

Student ID BadgeBrowse by subject area

To access the databases locked icon (same icon that displays by the LSC-limited access resources) from off-campus, you will be prompted to enter your 14-digit library barcode.

Don't have one yet? Request a barcode number online.