Documented Argument: Preliminary Work
1. Choose a topic. You are looking for a focused, manageable topic that is of general interest to your audience. Begin with topics that are familiar to you. Consider the areas below and begin listing possible subjects.
a. Discipline-based topics
1) List issues debated in your discipline or field of study.
2) Talk with professors in your discipline.
3) Review magazines and journals related to your field.
4) What career do you expect to enter or wish you could enter?
b. Topics of general interest
1) Assess topics used for your other essays. Do any of them have potential for expansion through research? Which have you enjoyed most?
2) List places you have traveled. Are there issues or controversies connected to those places?
3) List jobs you have had. Did you encounter a skill, an issue, or a problem that could be researched?
4) What is the best book you have ever read? What did you like about it? What do you know or not know about its context or its issues?
5) What hobbies do you have? Is there a controversy related to that subject?
6) If you had some extra money, to which charitable organization would you give it?
7) What was the most significant news event of this last year?
8) What was the most controversial issue on campus within the last year?
9) What was the focus of the most controversial issue discussed most recently among your friends?
2. Evaluate your topic:
a. Does the topic contain a problem or controversy?
b. Do you care about this subject? What is your opinion on the controversy or issue involved?
c. Do you know the topic well or can you research it adequately in the time that you have?
d. Is there an audience that would be interested in this topic?
a. Explore your preconceptions:
1) What do you already know about your subject? How would you describe it? How does it compare with other subjects?
2) What is your attitude toward your subject? Do you consider it intriguing?
3) What do you expect to discover about your subject? Do you anticipate anything surprising, troubling, or amusing?
b. Plan your research strategy.
1) Do a broad research review to establish general knowledge about the field (encyclopedias, reference books, reputable sites).
2) Assess the information available and develop a preliminary bibliography (review databases). If you can’t find enough information, change your topic.
3) Formulate a tentative thesis; you may end up disproving your own thesis, but it provides an essential focus for your reading.
c. Collect information and take careful notes.
d. Assess your information and re-evaluate your thesis.
e. Outline your basic argument without the aid of any notes.
1) Review your notes for evidence and place them in your outline as support (a coding system is more helpful than a complete rewriting of every note).
2) Assess your outline for balance, logic, coherence, and gaps in information. Repeat any of the above steps to correct any weaknesses in your paper.
4. Write and cite.
5. Peer review (class review, Writing Center, etc.), revise, and polish.
Developed by Beth Martin Birky and the Goshen College English department.