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English Composition 1

Essay Assignment 4

This long assignment page is divided into the sections listed below. You can scroll down to read the page or can click on one of the links below to go directly to a particular section.

  1. Due Dates
  2. The Assignment
  3. Sample Essays
  4. Deciding on an Essay Topic
  5. Exploring Possible Topics
  6. Organizing and Developing Your Essay
  7. Understanding Your Audience and Purpose
  8. Arguing Effectively
  9. Using Credible Sources
  10. Using Library Databases
  11. Using, Citing, and Documenting Sources According to MLA Standards
  12. Preparing the Works Cited Page
  13. Avoiding Plagiarism
  14. Other Resources

1. Due Dates

Wednesday, November 6: Draft of at least 600 words due for peer critique.
Friday, November 15:
Revised draft of at least 800 words due.

2. The Assignment

Essay 4 is a persuasive essay of at least 800 words with at least three online sources in which you examine a controversial issue of your choice and argue persuasively for your position on that issue. Your goals are to help readers understand the issue and to persuade readers to agree with your point of view.

To demonstrate your understanding of the issue and to support your argument, you need to use material from at least three credible online sources. Sources must be cited and documented according to MLA standards, and you need to include a separate "Works Cited" page that properly lists the sources cited in the essay. (The minimum required length for the essay includes the "Works Cited" page.)

It is vital that you use credible sources for your essay. See the Using Credible Sources section of this page for information about the types of sources that you should use.

3. Sample Essays

The Web page linked below is an example of the type of paper that you will be writing for Essay 4: it is a persuasive essay on a controversial topic that uses online sources.

The essay linked below is considerably longer than the essay you will write, but it is similar.

4. Deciding on an Essay Topic

You must choose the controversial topic for this essay. Deciding on the issue will be your first step, and there are a few important things to consider as you determine your issue and the position you will take on that issue.

5. Exploring Possible Topics

The resources linked below may help open your mind to some of the many issues that are currently controversial. Remember that you need a specific issue to explore. Many of the issues referred to on the pages linked below are not specific, but they might help you decide on a specific issue for your paper. The first resource linked below present only titles of books on controversial issues (good for topic ideas, but not good for resources for your essay); the last two resources present lists of controversial issues and links to resources on those issues. 

6. Organizing and Developing Your Essay

The guidelines for organizing essays that we have discussed for the other essays you have written in the course also apply to Essay 4. For example, you need a total of at least five paragraphs, a clear topic sentence for each body paragraph that presents a claim for you to prove in the paragraph, and enough supporting evidence in the paragraphs to prove each claim.

You might consider the suggestions below for three major parts of your essay:

  1. Background information: What is the problem or controversy?

  2. Other solutions or positions on the issue: Why do you think other solutions or positions on the issue are not as good as your own?

  3. Your own solution or position on the topic: Why is your solution or position on the topic the best one, the one that your readers should accept?

Notice that each numbered item above includes a question, so one approach to organizing and developing Essay 4 is to try to answer an important question in each part of your paper. Each item listed above could be addressed in one or more body paragraphs in your paper. The outline above is just a suggestion. You might try experimenting with different ways to organize and develop your essay to help ensure that you are presenting the best argument that you can.

You should use material from sources to help you develop and support your own ideas. The thesis statement and topic sentences should be your own. You may need to use a lot of material from sources, but be careful not to lose your own writing voice.

7. Understanding Your Audience and Purpose

Keep your audience in mind.

We could divide your audience into three categories:

Your purpose it to persuade your readers that you are right, so what segment of your audience is the most important? Of course, the people who disagree with you are the most important because, if you want to persuade readers that you have the best position on the issue, those are the people that you need to convince (followed closely by the people who do not yet have a position on the issue).

It is important to demonstrate a good awareness of your audience in your essay. Do not insult or attack the people that you are trying to persuade. Do not assume that people who disagree with you are stupid or ignorant.

It is a good idea to assume that the people who disagree with you probably have good reasons for doing so (if they did not, then the issue is not controversial, right?). You can present a more effective argument in favor of your position on the issue if you have a good understanding of the reasons why someone might hold an opposing point of view. 

As with all of your essays for the course, you should use a formal writing voice for Essay 4.

8. Arguing Effectively

Your main purpose in this essay is to persuade readers to agree with you. You may need to include some background information regarding your topic to help readers understand it, but be careful not to allow your essay to become more informational than persuasive.

Consider techniques for effective argumentation, including

Avoid Logical Fallacies
"Logical fallacies" are flaws in reasoning that, of course, you should avoid in your essay. They come up more than you might imagine. The Web page linked below identifies and explains some common logical fallacies:

While there are many logical fallacies, and while some of them are quite subtle and not easy to catch, most of the fallacies are basically just a matter of common sense. Below is a summary of some of the most common logical fallacies:

Avoid Exaggeration
In addition to avoiding logical fallacies, you should also avoid exaggeration in your argument, as exaggeration often can lead to false statements. This occurred once when a student was arguing in her essay that prisoners in American prisons have too many privileges. As part of her argument, the student claimed that prisoners "live like kings." I said that this is not true. She insisted that it is true: "they do live like kings!" When asked why she thought that prisoners live like kings, the student said that prisoners are allowed to watch television and are allowed to take college courses. Is that a reasonable definition of what it means to live like a king? It might be a good point that prisoners have too many privileges, but it is not a good claim that prisoners live like kings. 

As you write your paper, try to develop a logical argument with plenty of good supporting evidence to help you prove the ideas that you present.   

9. Using Credible Sources

For Essay 4, you must use material from at least three credible online sources to help you develop and support your position.

It is vital that you use credible online sources for your essay. Many print sources, such as books or articles in journals, go through a rigorous review process before they are published to ensure their credibility and accuracy. The articles are reviewed by experts, who often give suggestions for revision and return the article drafts to the writers, who then revise the articles and resubmit them for publication. This is not true of most online sources, and many online sources are not credible or accurate. It is up to you to review each source and to evaluate its credibility. Using sources that lack credibility will weaken your essay.

To help you use credible sources, try to use the following types of sources for your essay:

Do not use the following types of sources for your essay:

If you type search words for your topic into a search engine, it is likely that most of the Web pages in your list of results will not be good sources. Evaluate your sources carefully.

To help you use credible sources, think about why you are using sources in your essay. You are using sources to present facts and to show readers what experts say about your subject. You are not using sources to show readers what just anybody thinks about your topic.

We might have a tendency to assume that information we read online is credible unless we have reason to think otherwise. It probably would be a good idea to reverse this thinking: assume that sources are not credible unless you can find reasons to trust their credibility. 

The web page Literacy Education Online: Accessing the Credibility of Online Sources provides information to help you determine the credibility of sources you find online.

10. Using Library Databases

You can use a search engine such as Google or Yahoo to search for sources, keeping in mind the importance of evaluating each source for credibility.

But there is a much better resource that you can use.

It used to be that Jacobs Library (IVCC's library) subscribed to many journals, magazines, and newspapers and made these resources available to students in the library. Things have changed. Nowadays, Jacobs Library provides students access to thousands of publications through its online subscription databases. Not only can you conveniently search through these sources for information on your topic, but you can do so from your home computer. 

Jacobs library provides access to several subscription databases that include many good essays and articles from newspapers, journals, and magazines. These include sources that you cannot find by searching the general Web. Most of the sources you will find in these databases are credible.

A. Library Databases such as ProQuest Direct, FirstSearch, and EBSCOhost

These databases provide access to a wide variety of magazines, journals, and newspapers that originally appear in print form.

You can access the login pages for FirstSearch, ProQuest Direct, EBSCOhost, and the other databases from the college library's Magazine and Journals page.

WebFeat is an excellent resource that searches through all of the databases for articles with your search words.

B. Gale Opposing Viewpoints in Context

Gale Opposing Viewpoints in Context is an excellent resource for Essay 4. This databases is organized into many different controversial issues. You can click on a link to a controversial issue, and you will see many articles on the issue. In a sense, Gale Opposing Viewpoints in Context has already done much of the searching of articles for you.

Just click the Gale Opposing Viewpoints in Context link to access the resource.  

The library databases require a login and password.

(If you are using the databases from a college computer, you may not have to enter a login or password.)

In your essay, you should try to use sources from the library's subscription databases. In general, the quality of the sources you will find in the library's databases is much better than the quality of sources that you will find by using Google or Yahoo to search the Web.

11. Using, Citing, and Documenting Sources according to MLA Standards

The essay assignment requires the use of information from at least three online sources. This means that you must use specific information from at least three sources in your essay and must give credit to the sources of the information within your essay.

There are three basic ways to present information from a source in your essay:

When you paraphrase or summarize, the wording must be your own. If you copy more than a couple of words in a row from a source as part of your paraphrase or summary, those copied words must go in quotation marks. (See "Avoiding Plagiarism" below for more information.)

For more information about using information from sources in your essay, see the Web page linked below:

As you use information from sources in your essay, you must cite and document your sources correctly.

Whenever you use sources in your writing, you need to give proper credit to the sources and need to be careful to distinguish your own words and ideas from those you use from the sources. There is a specific way to do this, and there is an organization that has established one of the most widely accepted standards for citing and documenting sources. This organization is the Modern Language Association, abbreviated MLA. You need to make sure that you follow MLA conventions as you cite and document your sources in your essay.

To help you use, cite, and document sources correctly according to MLA standards, see the course Web pages linked below:

Sources for your essay must be cited and documented according to MLA standards, and you need to include a separate "Works Cited" page that properly lists the sources cited in the essay.

12. Preparing the Works Cited Page

The sources that you use in your essay must be listed on a "Works Cited" page, and that page must be prepared according to MLA standards. Do not guess how to prepare the "Works Cited" page! (If you guess, it is unlikely that you will prepare the page correctly.)

See the following resources for the correct format for the "Works Cited" page:

The Citation Machine
The Citation Machine is a tool that can help you list the information for sources on the "Works Cited" page. Just click the type of electronic source on the left side of The Citation Machine home page, fill in the information you have for your source, and then click "Make Citation." You can then copy the citation from the page and paste it into your "Works Cited" page. (To copy, highlight the text, right mouse click, and choose "Copy." To paste, right mouse click and choose "Paste.") Make sure to use the MLA format, not the APA format. The Citation Machine can help you with the format of your "Works Cited" page, but look carefully at the course Web pages on the citation and documentation of sources to make sure that you have the correct format. 

I recommend not using The Citation Machine for sources from First Search, ProQuest Direct, EBSCOhost, JSTOR, and other online subscription databases. Instead, see the Documenting Sources from Online Subscription Databases for the correct format.

13. Avoiding Plagiarism

Please note that it is your responsibility to use, cite, and document sources correctly and not to plagiarize from your sources. Any essay with plagiarism, intentional or unintentional, will receive a failing grade.

For information about plagiarism, see

14. Other Resources

Copyright Randy Rambo, 2013.