Documented Argument Assignment



You may take a position on a campus issue (8 a.m. classes should be discontinued because sleep studies have proven that learning is more effective in later hours) or one in Goshen (the city should not build a community center with pools because the investment won’t benefit the majority of residents); issues may be of regional concern (Indiana should rescind the school “grading” system implemented by previous state superintendent of education) or of national concern (The federal government should impose stricter regulations on the sale of assault weapons). You may also have an issue that is particularly relevant to your discipline. Whatever topic you choose, you should consider this class your audience. Therefore, you will want to direct your argumentation strategies to this group of readers.

Your goal will be to learn to know the subject well, in part by drawing on the thoughts and research of others. But you should seek to be a discriminating researcher, not one who merely reports on other people’s opinions. Ultimately, you will want to inform readers about key elements of the issue and point them toward a perspective.  The essay will be structured around an argumentative thesis that reflects your stance on the subject and indicates clear reason why your thesis is true.

All of your sources (for ideas as well as most facts) will need to be clearly documented. You will be expected to report your findings clearly and vividly.



1.  The documented argument has two elements: a logical argument and documented research as evidence to support that argument.

  •  Argumentation is a skill used not only directly in a letter to the editor, for example, but also indirectly in all writing where you want to make your analysis or point of view convincing to your reader.  The skills that are essential for any argument are as follows:
  • The formulation of an informed thesis with an argumentative edge based on your accumulation and analysis of sufficient information.
  • Careful organization of your argument, whether according to a more formal, classical model such as a syllogism (A=B; B=C; therefore, A=C) or other models such as problem-solution, cause & effect, or claim-evidence.
  • Convincing support of your argument with logical reasoning, concrete examples, sufficient evidence, and documentation.

A key consideration is that the body of your essay should contain your own argument.  Your argument will be informed by your research, but it should be written in your own words.  Documentation is only used to add authority to an argument that you have already stated.

2.    Documentation is an important skill to develop in this assignment.  To make this assignment relevant to your general academic skills in a liberal arts college, I want you to learn basic research and writing skills which can be utilized in any research context (See your writing handbook).  The key skills in research writing are as follows:

  • Thorough review of both general and specialized sources.
  • Detailed research of appropriate sources, using careful note-taking and bibliographic skills, such as evaluating sources and recording relevant bibliographic information.
  • Smooth integration of research into your own writing.
    • Direct reference to authors and sources within your paragraphs through the use of signal phrases.  E.g. In her history of feminist criticism, Janet Todd refers to the “heroics of the seventies” (17).
    • Mix paraphrase, summary and direct quotation, avoiding long direct quotations.
    •  Provide a context for and explanation of each direct quotation.  Do not rely on a quotation to convey a point in your argument; utilize sources to support your clearly stated argument.
  • Accurate documentation of all borrowed material, using correct citation method for your discipline. If you are unfamiliar with a specific disciplinary citation format, please use MLA format.

Special Guidelines
Since the research process is as important as the product, you will follow a specified research and check-in schedule.  See Moodle for specific due dates.
1.            Invention activities
2.            Research proposal sheet (preliminary bibliography)
3.            Annotated bibliography of three sources.
4.            Outline of essay.
5.            Rough draft with at least ten to fifteen citations from five to ten secondary sources representing a range of sources (reference sources, periodicals, books, and interviews where appropriate).
6.            Final draft, elements 1-5 above, and memo assessing the research process.


Begin the research process with suggestions for Preliminary work.


Your work will be evaluated according to the following criteria:

  • Interest: Is the topic presented in a way that appeals to a general audience?  How well does the essay mix definition, illustration, quotation, and explanation?  Do the opening and closing paragraphs capture the reader’s attention and reinforce the thesis?
  • Purpose: Is the central thesis statement clear, wellゥresearched, and significant?  Does the thesis contain an arguable assertion about the topic?
  • Proof: Does the essay contain a logical, coherent argument that supports the thesis?  Is each reason adequately demonstrated with appropriate documentation and explanation?
  • Audience: Is the language level appropriate to the audience?  How well does the essay attract and hold audience interest?
  • Style: Is the essay polished and errorゥfree?  Is the essay organized and coherent?  Are paragraphs unified around a single topic stated clearly in a topic sentence?  Are there transitions between ideas and paragraphs?  Do clear subjects and active verbs convey ideas directly and with concrete detail?  Is citation method correct?

Developed by Beth Martin Birky and the Goshen College English Department. Updated 3/3/13.