Prompt: Engaging in Inquiry



Assignment: Write a 5-7 page researched essay that identifies and explores an important question related to a contemporary social controversy. Your paper should be followed by a Works Cited page in correct MLA style.

In Unit 1 we looked at contrasting ideas (they Say / I Say) on a given topic from a group of pre-selected texts. Now, you will select your own question to pursue through careful academic research. Your goal in this assignment is to explore and describe a controversy in order to find out what is really going on. There’s more to an argument than the final opinion stated by two (or more) contrasting parties. So you’ll need to think critically about where these opinions come from: What are these people’s value systems? How do these systems affect the ways that they define key terms in the argument? What is really at stake? And how do people’s experiences and/or positions in life affect the ways that they view these stakes?


  1. Start by identifying your interest in the topic (I Say). What is your relationship to it? Why did you choose this topic? What question(s) do you have about it?
  2. Describe what you see before you. How is this issue commonly understood by a lay audience? How have you understood the issue? What are your initial assumptions about it?
  3. Next, challenge yourself to question these assumptions. What do you think you might be overlooking? What new questions do you have about the issue?
  4. How do the people involved define/describe/understand the issue (they Say)? Pursue your research by following your natural curiosity about the topic. Stay focused on questions. What was your initial question? How does it grow and change throughout your research process?

*Your exploratory paper should be writren as a narrative. That is, you should use your own voice and tell the “story” of your research process. Our in-class work during this unit will help you identify and evaluate appropriate sources for using academic research, and your own paper should explain your rationale for the choices you make, why you pursued a particular source, what you thought of it, etc.

Key Components: Your paper should include the following components:

  1. Show why your topic/ question is important (i.e. something that is worth arguing about).
  2. Explain what is at stake. (Note: Your understanding of the stake[s] may change throughout the writing of the paper. It’s likely that the stakes will be slightly different for each stakeholder.)
  3. Identify the stakeholders and their opinions (i.e. the various key positions-or “They Say” opinions – on the issue). Keep in mind that there may be more than “two sides” to the issue.
  4. Identify the assumptions and biases that influence the opinions on each “side.”
  5. Consider, too, the varying ways that stakeholders define key terms. Do different people define or “see” things differently?
  6. Also be sure to address any common ground(s) that exist and consider what possible outcomes might realistically occur.

*By the end of your paper, you should be better able to answer the following questions: What are these people really arguing about? Where is the difference? Is it a problem of definition? A problem of assumptions or values? Or of physical needs? What do they agree on?

Possible Topics:
There are a huge variety of possible topics for this project. As you work towards choosing one, consider both the scope (local, state, national, international, etc.) and the type (causal, policy, evaluation, application, etc.) of your research question:

  • What kind of controversy do you want to explore? something here at the UAF? something at the federal level? something cross-cultural?
  • Also, what focus do you want to take? Do you want to look at competing theories of why something happens (e.g. causes of teen drop-out rates)? Or do you want to evaluate something (e.g. the effectiveness of Alaska’s energy measures)?

There are many kinds of arguments, so think carefully about the angle that you want to take, as well as the particular topic that interests you.


  1. Your paper should include at least one source from each of the groups we discuss in class: a scholarly book from the UAF library, a scholarly journal, a popular source (i.e. magazine or newspaper), and a credible internet source.
  2. You should include no fewer than eight (8) sources in your paper.
  3. Your sources should be cited according to the MLA format (see guidelines in Academic Writing).
  4. Your paper should be grammatically correct and free of mechanical errors.

Evaluation: Your paper will be evaluated based on the following key components:

  1. Clear and convincing statement of the importance of the issue and your investment in it.
  2. Thorough consideration of the stakes and stakeholders.
  3. Critical thinking and analysis of the assumptions and value/definitional differences among the parties.
  4. Identification of the “real conflict” and any common ground that exists.
  5. Careful and effective use of sources to trace your natural curiosity in the topic.
  6. Mechanical correctness of grammar and citations.



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