teaching inquiry and Meaning-making practices

A central aspect of teaching English 131 involves supporting students as they navigate lines of inquiry and explore questions and conversations important to them and to communities they are part of. For a long time, writing in college composition classes has emphasized introducing students to various forms of academic argument and disciplinary forms of writing, but more recently, conversations have turned to highlighting students’ rhetorical capacities with genre, situated writing, and audience. One throughline in composition’s history has been attention to notions of argument and what it means to make arguments as part of an ongoing intellectual inquiry and textual conversation. This chapter will take up argument, but also urge us to think more broadly about how we use texts to make meaning and build knowledge within communities.

Making meaning and building knowledge involves taking responsibility for making ethical claims and understanding the different stakes that these claims will have for different communities and audiences. This kind of knowledge-building also requires us to attend to the myriad and uneven consequences of arguments for diverse contexts, people, and communities, and is grounded in the PWR Statement on Antiracist Writing Pedagogy and Program Praxis in the introduction of this manual, and within the PWR 100-Level Course Outcomes. Consider, in particular, Outcome Three below:

Outcome Three

To craft persuasive, complex, inquiry-driven arguments that matter by

  • considering, incorporating, and responding to different points of view while developing one’s own position;
  • engaging in analysis—the close scrutiny and examination of evidence, claims, and assumptions—to explore and support a line of inquiry;
  • understanding and accounting for the stakes and consequences of various arguments for diverse audiences and within ongoing conversations and contexts; and
  • designing/organizing with respect to the demands of the genre, situation, audience, and purpose.
  • Drawing on invitational, deliberative, and feminist rhetorical theories, PWR approaches the teaching of argument as something we should engage in not only to forward our own positions but also to better understand others with whom we may disagree and to navigate and cooperate across radical differences.

Alongside this manual, we will point you to sections of Writer/Thinker/Maker, notably chapters 7 and 10-13, which each touch on and offer you and your students resources for talking about and deepening our practices of meaning-making. We find particularly valuable feminist rhetorician Krista Ratcliffe’s concept of “rhetorical listening” which emphasizes what it means not only to put forward claims, but to indicate understanding and engagement with others’ ideas — in other words, a capacity not only for persuading others, but for being persuaded ourselves, a necessary skill for ethical participation within our diverse, complex, and globalized world.

inquiry and Meaning-Making in Academic Argumentation

Perhaps one of the most common approaches to “academic” writing (which we put in quotation marks to recognize that what “academic” means has a long, complex, fraught history and relationship to dominant standardized language practices often problematically associated with whiteness) is to teach students to write claim-based arguments that emerge from and explore a line of inquiry based in reading, research, and critical analysis of evidence and assumptions. Often, instructors will encourage students to approach these lines of inquiry by turning to published academic scholarship within particular disciplines or within particular scholarly conversations.

While academic writing has vast disciplinary differences, scholars studying what it means to write in academic contexts have found that one way to broadly describe academic writing is through its practice of inquiry. This is why the PWR puts so much emphasis on developing arguments from inquiry as a key transferable thinking and writing skill. However, because the specifics of inquiry differ from discipline to discipline, this chapter cannot capture all the nuances, types of questioning, types of critical analyses of evidence, and types of argument that take place on college campuses. Instead, in this chapter, we will focus broadly on describing how inquiry emerges from research, reading, and participating in various communities; how to help students develop claims based on analysis rooted in ongoing conversations, rather than personal opinion; and how to think about meaning-making more broadly, including moving within and among genres traditionally and not-traditionally represented in scholarly conversations.

What is a line of inquiry? This is a question your students will certainly ask when presented with part 2 of Outcome 3: “engaging in analysis—the close scrutiny and examination of evidence, claims, and assumptions—to explore and support a line of inquiry.” Students may struggle with understanding what this outcome asks them to do for a number of reasons. In PWR and in many academic contexts, we often find ourselves wrestling with ideas and questions that are difficult to summarize or boil down to a straightforward claim, notwithstanding the many kinds of messages we get in our daily lives that suggest that everything can be reduced to a mantra or slogan. We also find ourselves needing to openly unearth and examine assumptions we might be making as well as conscious and unconscious biases that lead us to embrace or avoid questioning some ideas and not others.

Suffice to say, writing and engaging lines of inquiry with an openness to persuasion and genuine questioning is a really hard thing to do–not just for our students but for all of us. We’ve observed a number of challenges students have with navigating lines of inquiry and engaging in meaning-making practices as they develop complex claims. One challenge is that students–like many of us–sometimes struggle with the ambiguity of many complex arguments. As we update this chapter in Summer 2023, we notice this discomfort with ambiguity in many of our everyday spaces, and the many questions that we have about the future of our world and our place in it can make ambiguity and uncertainty feel scary.

A second challenge students face has to do with identifying evidence and analyzing it to show relationships to claims and their complexities. Many times, we’ve observed students begin a project by starting with an idea or stance or claim that they would like to “prove” or forward and then focus their explorations on finding evidence to support this initial idea/stance/claim rather than testing or asking genuine questions about it. You may notice that some of your students are comfortable with presenting a relatively straightforward demonstration of evidence through the five-paragraph essay or a compare-and-contrast piece; these types of organizational patterns fit nicely with the “search for evidence to fit the thesis” model.

A third challenge has to do with the fact that writing is a developmental skill, connected to growth and brain development and continued practice. Students who are early in their college careers or who have come directly out of high school are still learning how to work with broader and newer forms of evidence and to organize their composing in ways that build on and complicate ideas. Those of you who are coming to graduate school will find yourselves on similar trajectories as your students, as your graduate seminars ask you to practice new and even-more-complex forms of inquiry and engagement.

Integral to successfully engaging with practices of academic inquiry is a reorientation of thinking about how knowledge is made in the college context. Inquiry encourages an exploratory attitude towards reading, research, and writing. It’s important to remember that the same aspects that are exciting about such a process—discovering new ideas, questioning assumptions, and becoming comfortable with ambiguity—are sometimes the same things that make some students uncomfortable. There is no set method for how to question and analyze evidence on the way to making a claim, as each discipline takes a different approach to handling its artifacts and objects of analysis, there are certain habits of mind and habits of practice that students might find helpful. Below are some that you might explicitly build in and engage in your assignments, syllabi, and course materials:

  • Be mindful of the stances, points of view, and ideological and cultural contexts that inform the reading and analysis of evidence.
  • Pay close attention to detail, and keep track of how the parts relate to the whole. Students are often quick to make sweeping generalizations without closely scrutinizing and examining the object of analysis.
  • Be flexible when investigating your evidence or phenomena, and be willing to reformulate your findings and rethink connections and patterns. Students often balk at having to rework or reconsider parts of their emerging argument because it seems like the work they’ve done has been a waste of time. The key here is that students understand that they only got to that new and more interesting point in the analysis as the result of having asked the earlier questions and making the previous assertions.
  • Move beyond binaries. Because of how argument is presented in popular discourse, students often assume that the “natural” and “right” finding must present clear oppositions. At first, students may not spot certain nuances and subtleties in the evidence they are analyzing simply because they haven’t been trained in this type of reading practice. Once students develop new habits of approaching evidence, their overly simplified arguments begin to take on an appropriate level of academic complexity.
  • Learn how to ask and answer questions. Part of developing the mindset that reading and research opens up avenues for further exploration is having the ability to ask questions and push against the material. “How” and “why” questions, for example, often produce much more complex arguments than “what” questions, which tend to be overly descriptive.
  • Work collaboratively, with your peers and your instructor, to develop questions, hypotheses, and theories about texts you are analyzing. Often students are trapped in the individual creative genius paradigm. Organizing classroom activities that put students in dialogue with one another promotes a more diverse treatment of the evidence, and teaches students that partnerships often produce ideas and further lines of inquiry that they could never have come up with on their own.
  • Related to the previous point, have students consider how the text they are reading has itself emerged from and is engaged in a process of inquiry.
  • Use exploratory writing through the inquiry process in order to expand, complicate, amend, and process your ideas. Some students may be used to this practice, but others may think of writing as a means to present the end results of, rather than as a tool for thinking through, ideas. Getting students to understand that both reading and research is a generative act can be successfully taught by always attaching reading with writing assignments. These writing assignments could range from in-text annotation to a focused close reading of a passage to an application of a key term to an everyday practice. But by consistently having students write about the reading and other kinds of research, they begin to experience how active and engaged reading encourages thinking, raises questions, and leads to arguments that matter in academic contexts.
  • Propel inquiry forward by asking the “so what?” question. Students are often at a loss for why what they are doing matters beyond the grade for your class. Therefore, in order to cultivate student motivation, as well as getting students used to crafting arguments that matter in academic contexts, we recommend pushing students to continually ask why their analyses, their questions, or their arguments matter.

Developing effective inquiry-based Assignment prompts

In this section we’ll work to help you think through some effective ways to design assignment prompts that support your students to engage in inquiry in meaningful ways. We see these suggestions as also essential for helping you navigate a composing environment where generative AI tools are part of the composing terrain (regardless of whether we want students to use AI or not, it is now out there for them to use): effective writing pedagogy is as much about how you create opportunities and contexts for students’ writing beyond generic “identify a question you’d like to write about” nudges.

In the late 1990s, Gail Stygall, then-director of the Program in Writing and Rhetoric, did a small study done with a group of new first-year students enrolled in English 131 to learn more about how they responded to writing. On the first day of class as a practice writing activity aimed at helping the instructor learn a bit about where students were with their writing, the class was given a paragraph from an essay by historian Patricia Limerick titled “Empire of Innocence.” Students were asked to read the paragraph carefully and respond by explaining what Limerick is saying “about the white American settlement of the West.” Students were further instructed to “include at least one example, drawn from your own knowledge, that would illustrate, complicate, or argue against Limerick’s position.” Below we replicate the prompt, Limerick’s paragraph, and some examples of students’ responses. Part of what we want you to notice as you read through these examples is the kind of moves that students make and how those moves are in many ways a direct response to the questions asked of them in the directions/prompt. We will build on this chapter explicitly during our orientation session to help you think about how to devise assignment prompts that encourage and sponsor the kind of inquiry-based moves we want our students to be making in our classes.



Read the following paragraph below, drawn from Patricia Limerick’s essay “Empire of Innocence,” a paragraph appearing early in the essay. Then write a paragraph, using a close, careful reading, explaining what the paragraph says about the white American settlement of the West. In that paragraph, include at least one example, drawn from your own knowledge, that would illustrate, complicate, or argue against Limerick’s position.


Among those persistent values, few have more power than the idea of innocence. The dominant motive for moving West was improvement and opportunity, not injury to others. Few White Americans went West intending to ruin the natives and despoil the continent. Even when they were trespassers, westering Americans were hardly, in their own eyes, criminals; rather, they were pioneers. The ends abundantly justified the means; personal interest in the acquisition of property coincided with national interest in the acquisition of territory, and those interests overlapped in turn with the mission to extend the domain of Christian civilization. Innocence of intention placed the course of events in a bright and positive light; only over time would the shadows compete for our attention.

“Empire of Innocence,” Legacy of Conquest: The Unbroken Past of the American West. New York: Norton, 1987.

Student Responses

Student 1: The paragraph explains how Americans who traveled west were misunderstood. In no way were the pioneers attempting to trespass. Their goal was not to kill or destroy but rather to reach a place of opportunity. Americans traveling west did not see themselves as if they were violating anyones spaces. They were on a conquest for their own personnel happiness. In the end, Limerick states, that the killing and exploitation was worth it. It was in countries best interests. Limericks opinion is very arrogant. He sees the Americans doing no wrong. He believes the American was not at fault and that anyone who was in the America’s pursuit for possession was not at fault.

Student 2: Limerick believes that Americans moving west were innocent. Americans were victims of the circumstances. Greed, which is a natural instinct, overlapped with the government’s desires. Americans also though they “were not criminals, but pioneers,” and what they were doing was okay. However, the innocence of mind does not make the action right. This is similar to the punishment African Americans had to endure in the South. Many white folks honestly believed prejudice was acceptable, but their innocence doesn’t make the outcome justified.

Student 3: Limerick states that the expansion west and colonization of Native American land was motivated by “innocent” values. Western pioneers did not intentionally kill and conquer the natives with evil intent; rather they believed that western colonization was a saintly act. Pioneers were creating better lives for “pagan savages” and saving lives with Christianity. Acts of violence were justified by the pioneers in their own minds for their intentions were good.

Joseph Conrad also believed all colonization led to death and destruction. When oppressors began to claim an area, things began to fall apart, and societies began to collapse. He believed man was inherently evil and though innocence may have been the conscious motive, eventually human nature won over.

Student 4: I believe that this paragraph says that the whites weren’t exactly welcome to the west. They thought they were pioneers, making a new home for themselves when they were actually taking away from the Indians. The white settlers thought of themselves as innocent and had no clue when they were trespassing. It is almost as if they thought everything was for their taking. It was all good and innocent for so long and only recently has anyone protested it. Now people are of mixed feelings as to whether it actually was innocent or not.

I disagree with what the author is saying because I believe the white man did just as much good as anything else for the Indians. When the settlers came out west, they brought luxuries that the Indians had never known. But, on the other hand, the Indians led a life of simplicity and when the white people came, they made everything complicated.

Student 5: In the passage above, Limerick portrays the idealistic frontiersman who is an entrepeneur, rugged, rugged, and freespirited. She defends these new “westerners” and their actions claiming that they are naïve and blinded from reality. In the quote “the ends abundantly justify the means” Limerick shows her own blindness to the past. Whether the authors sarcasm continues through the rest of the novel is unknown, however this passage serves as a starting point to unraveling the injustices of the Americans heading west.

Student 6: Limerick’s claim is that the motivation of white American to settle the west was innocent; that they were spurred to move west by the desire for “improvement and opportunity.” This motivation being so pure, the white American’s actions seem almost chivalrous when recounted by Limerick. Racism does not enter into Limerick’s pretty picture. I am not sure how any convincing argument could be made to show that the white American’s view of Native Americans was not racist. Nor could I see how the withdrawal by the U.S. government from honorable treaties with Native Americans could be seen as anything short of manipulative and sometimes evil. The manipulation of the Native Americans for their ancient lands and the subsequent rape of those lands by prospectors and entrepeneurs was in no way innocent or commendable. It is more along the lines of shameful.

Before we talk about the responses more generally, it’s also important to situate this prompt and activity within a particular moment of composition teaching in the late 1990s and early 2000s. At this time, a particular approach to textual analysis and argumentation was commonly taught at many US public universities with large composition programs. That approach built from the work of philosopher Stephen Toulmin and prioritized close-reading and unpacking texts to identify the assumptions and beliefs that were not often explicitly named within claims and arguments being put forward. While this is not the approach we currently encourage in PWR, we nevertheless find that this small study still usefully helps us understand some things about how students navigate close-reading short excerpts of texts as well as how they respond to assignment prompts.

In the examples above, most of the students did not point to the key contrast Limerick makes between “a bright and positive light” and “the shadows,” something that is important for interpreting Limerick’s probable position. The responses also show students treating this writing activity as an opportunity to offer personal opinions about the primary rights of their ancestors or the good that Christianity brought to the West. Others offered their opinions about the relative merits of Native American and Western European cultures. (Later in this manual we take up ways of responding to and engaging students’ writing

Note too how common it is for students to use language such as “Limerick believes” or “Limerick feels,” terms that suggest they locate the argument in the writer’s personal belief system rather than as emerging from deep expertise or knowledge. Perhaps relatedly, students did not notice or comment on the fact that this passage was from a book; some students used male-gendered pronouns (suggesting they assumed Limerick to be a man); and no one pointed to Limerick’s professional expertise. Overall, students readily drew from their knowledge of Washington state history or the larger history of the United States for other examples. In these responses, we can really see students bringing with them their previous experiences in writing and responding to texts as they worked to understand what this first-day-of-class prompt was asking them to do in English 131.

Here, we can start seeing some of what we want students to be able to do when they respond to texts: we want them to notice features of texts’ genres and contexts to make sense of what those texts and composers are trying to do and how those texts make meaning within a complex web of texts and communicators. In the college context, students will be encountering a lot of new and different kinds of texts from a wide range of academic disciplines as well as other knowledge-making traditions and practices, and we want to create productive conditions to support them in building their own claims and arguments as they read and engage a wide range of texts in English 131.

Evidence & Disciplinarity

To understand how texts are situated as they follow different lines of inquiry will require students take a rhetorical, contextual, and situated understanding of what counts as evidence. In general, first-year students have only a vague understanding of what an academic discipline is and the differences in different forms of knowledge-making within dsiciplines. Too, they haven’t always had a lot of contact with academic research genres, and usually don’t know much about what it means to publish an academic article or book. Engaging with library resources or working with our terrific partners in the UW libraries can be a really useful resource for you and your students as you work to help students understand the ways that knowledge is made through writing and composing in academic contexts. Bringing in a scholarly journal with which you are familiar can be a means for showing how publication takes place. What organization or group of scholars publish a particular journal? Who are the people on the editorial board? Who are the peer readers? What topics does the journal take up? What other kinds of articles appear in the journal?

It will also be important to differentiate personal from professional opinion. When students begin to read academic texts, they will often have no framework for understanding what a professional opinion is. Does the author have credentials? Does the author have a degree and training in the area about which he or she writes? Does the author hold an academic appointment? Has the author written and published other work? Is this author cited by others? Have there been published reviews of the author’s work? All of these questions can assist students in understanding that they can evaluate and sort evidence on their own. Students have had to assume that whatever they were given in the classroom is authoritative and they have had no reason to think otherwise. Without the knowledge of how to evaluate the quality of what they read, it should not be surprising that they assume it is just opinion.

Thesis Statements v. Arguable Claims

Nice people don’t argue . . . but academics do.

In addition to teaching students how to explore and develop lines of inquiry through reading and other kinds of research (observations of phenomena, interviews, surveys, etc.— Writer/Thinker/Maker has several chapters aimed at helping students navigate argumentation, notably chapters 10-13. One of the difficulties of teaching argument in writing to first-year students arises from a widely-held convention that nice people don’t argue, or that arguments are connected to strong emotions or even violence. So when we ask our students to stop writing thesis statements and to start making claims and arguments, we must, at the same time, ask them to redefine their understanding of the word argument.

In contrast to thinking of argument in terms of polar oppositions or binary pro/con positions, academic arguments are something different—often more complex, specific, interested in inquiry, and detailed—and the translation from one type of argument to another is not always easy for our students. Most academic argument is bounded by what is considered debatable within a discipline, acknowledging that some questions are already settled, though they, too, may end up being debatable. What our students will find disconcerting is that the “rules” of academic argument exclude the following, which they have likely been able to “use” in the past:

“Because my parents say so” (or my friends, or my community)

“Because I read it on XYZ site on the internet”

“Because that’s what I think”

“Because it’s morally right” (or in some cases, religiously right)

In addition to needing to learn new ways of making arguments within academic contexts, students also benefit from exploring and playing around with what different kinds of arguments can do. In English 131 you have the chance to teach your students to understand argument, both their own and those made by others, as both emerging from and contributing to a process of inquiry; indeed, as generative and opening up rather than closing down.

To show you some differences in the kinds of writing students may already be familiar with and the kinds of writing we hope they will produce by following lines of inquiry in English 131, let’s take a look at some AP English Language and Composition papers posted on the College Board website [note: these are likely from the early 2000s].

To be a writer, one must have an elite understanding of diction, syntax and tone. These literary devices are utilized by writers, including Eudora Welty, as a method for expressing the message that they wish to convey to readers.

In the excerpt from One Writer’s Beginnings, Eudora Welty conveys a positive tone toward her childhood experience. She accomplishes this through the use of descriptive diction, impressionable images, and unusual syntax.

The language she employs to relate anecdotes of her childhood love affair with reading is invested with the same passion and value that she applied to books.

The author’s response to nature is strong and vivid.

Oliver recognizes the overwhelming power and mystery of nature visible in this passage about the great horned owl. This concept is carried over to the reader by the effective use of detail and syntax.

Kincaid, instead of openly displaying her ideas, uses a clever mix of syntax and rhetorical structure to let us gradually realize that something is wrong is such a seeming paradise.

The two passages given describe the swamp in very different lights. Although they are in some ways similar, the styles of the authors of these paragraphs are very different.

Keeping in mind that these are essays drafted as a response to a timed writing prompt and which necessarily require the writer to write quickly and for a particular audience of test-scorers, we can still see some big differences in the complexity and nuance offered in these introductory statements and what we might hope to see in an English 131 inquiry-driven composition. In the AP English test context, rather than offering strong argumentative claims that set out to explore a line of inquiry, students are more often taking the strategy of creating a thesis statement that describes what the reader will find in the essay. These are maps to the text. These are static and demonstrative statements that list in really conventional ways the obvious content of their object of analysis. As readers, it is quite difficult to find a motivation to read what’s here because none of these thesis statements make connections to anything beyond the text itself. In addition, these thesis statements make no relationships that build, complicate, or intersect with other ideas in complex or interesting ways. In other words, the writers of these thesis statements aren’t investigating anything beyond the text(s) itself. Another aspect important to notice here is the formula for describing writing: tone, diction, syntax, and rhetorical strategies. While the application of an idea—tone, diction, syntax—to a text is a step in the right direction, there is no sense of the communication of complex ideas that matter to an academic audience.

Now, let’s take a look at some arguable claims produced for English 131. While the sentences listed above constitute, for the most part, the entire opening paragraphs of the essays, in the arguable claims below, students have created a context for their argument (which articulate the stakes), explained important concepts from an essay, and then, after either a lengthy paragraph or paragraphs, declared their claims:

Thus, I argue that any time a literary work is being retold by images, the story loses nothing from the original and can only give rise to a more diverse interpretation of the original story. Furthermore, the notion that a story can be tainted because it is a “reproduction” is a fallacy.

I claim that the constant training to conform into a disciplined society to avoid danger is the first step to individuals becoming more automated or compliant. Furthermore, it is this disciplinary society that is responsible for producing our robotic behavior.

Both instances, leper colony and plague town, institute processes to solve the issue of the sick, the leper through separation and the town through its meticulous segmentation. These processes are applicable to our experiences, and our public education is a modern example of Foucault’s processes of panopticism, drawing eerie parallels with Stephen King’s short story, “Quitter’s, Inc.”

While these personal accounts give people’s opinions on how contact zones are formed and supported, the Articles of Confederation was a document that actually created contact zones, instead of merely describing them. These contact zones are worthy to note because they are important in shaping early American history.

Here, readers get a sense of the different kinds of source material students are responding to: articles by John Berger, Michel Foucault, and Mary Louise Pratt. In each case, the student presents an interaction between a theoretical concept and an object or objects of analysis. What makes these claims more than mere descriptions of what the student “saw” in relation to their own personal points of view is how they complicate and expand our understanding of one text through the lens of another. These claims are also rich in stakes, which the previous thesis statements lacked entirely. Here, we can see students questioning assumptions and challenging conventionally-held beliefs in order to take a stand that is at once based in close scrutiny of evidence and takes risks with that analysis. The first student’s paper compares a book and a movie, using Berger’s quarrel with the notion of reproduction decreasing the value of the original work. The second student applies Foucault to the compliant nature of contemporary behavior, while the third uses Foucault to focus on public education and a story. The fourth student draws from Mary Louise Pratt’s concept of the contact zone and applies it to a moment in U.S. history. In each case, the student either complicates, applies, or expands on concepts from one to other instances. Providing students with similar such examples can be very useful in helping them clarify what’s different about argument in college writing; check the PWR website files for examples, ask your colleagues for examples, or write some of your own.

In addition to providing examples, working to identify the difference between an opinion and an argument will likely be a theme in your course. You may want to distribute something like the following assignment in the first week of English 131. Though students sometimes mock the assignment for its simplicity at the start, it usually ends up starting a complicated conversation about what qualifies as an argument:

Example 1: Argument v. Opinion (Vidali)

OPINION: A recognizable type of statement is the opinion or personal opinion—a statement or personal taste that is intended to apply only to the person who makes it and which cannot be disputed for that reason. For example:

I like disco music.

I think Virginia Woolf is a better writer than Charles Dickens.

ARGUMENT/ARGUABLE CLAIM: The type of statement we will spend the most time and attention on in this class is the argument or arguable claim. This is a statement which intends to persuade, convince, argue, prove, or suggest something to a reader or to someone who does not necessarily agree with you initially. The basis for all of your formal academic writing will be just this type of a claim (also called a thesis, among other things). For example:

Disco music began a dance craze because its rhythms and beats are readily apparent, especially compared to some of its folk and guitar rock predecessors.

Woolf is a more effective writer than Dickens because she takes more chances in her writing, as revealed by her stream-of-consciousness style.

Notice that in each of these statements, the underlying motive is to get you to agree with the point of view behind the statement to some extent. For example, the writer of the first example is not just trying to tell you that disco music is better than all music, just that it is easier to dance to. Note that while in some respect these are opinions, there is evidence that could be used to support what the author is saying.

This is the difference between an opinion and an argument; an argument can be supported by evidence (in our case, academic evidence) while an opinion can usually only be supported by more opinion. However, realize that an argument paper does not need to be a research paper. A research paper usually picks a “safe” topic and the thesis it presents is not disputable. A research paper proves that something is a certain way. An argument paper usually has another side to it, which is what makes it both interesting and original. Rather than simply making a statement and supporting it with factual information, an arguable claim goes on to address: So what? What are the implications? At the university level, you’ll move more toward crafting your own arguments and away from safe research papers that reiterate what others have said.

Note below whether the following topics would result in a “factual” research paper, an opinion paper, or an arguable paper, as described above. Some don’t have easy answers!

___________ 1. Seattle gets more rain each year than Los Angeles.

___________ 2. Cloudy weather makes people more productive.

___________ 3. I like sunshine better than rain.

___________ 4. Playing sports is good for women’s self esteem.

___________ 5. I enjoyed “Air Force One’ more than any other Harrison Ford movie.

___________ 6. Malcolm X was in prison when he learned to read.

___________ 7. Diversity and equality don’t have to be seen as opposites.

___________ 8. I hope we will commit to giving more money to education.

___________ 9. Mental and physical ability should be the goals of primary education.

___________ 10. Traditional education helps to maintain social classes in America.

___________ 11. Human beings are basically evil.


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2023 English 131 Instructors Manual Copyright © 2022 by kersch is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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