Keep your topic as narrow as possible: “Eliminate art as a GE for engineers” rather than “Abolish GEs altogether.” In short, you want an issue you can discuss fairly thoroughly in five short pages. Next, brainstorm evidence and assumptions typically relied on by each “side” in the debate. Take a side, and write to people (skeptical members of the opposition) to convince them to do or believe as you say or to acknowledge that your way of understanding the situation is correct. To do this, you’ll first need to indicate that you understand the various perspectives and what they depend on as evidence and assumptions. I don’t expect (or even want) you to do formal (library) research, but I do expect you to talk to people. Include their voices in your paper (be sure to identify who they are as you do so) and then situate your own voice and views (as refuting, elaborating on, or extending theirs). You may wish to write on the topic you first identified in the informal two-page paper, or you may wish to save that topic for a future paper. Ideally, your position (thesis) should appear in your first paragraph, so your readers know what’s at stake (unless you think you may offend your audience, in which case it might be better to introduce your views “through the back door,” leading up to them slowly but not revealing until the end).
Find a peer or a campus organization that says something you disagree with, and write an essay (a letter if you wish) to them indicating (gently) where they are mistaken and why they should see things your way or do what you’d like to see done. As Graff puts it in CiA, “Find someone out there you can disagree with [or expose the limitations of], restate his or her point, then put in your own oar” (202). Make sure that it’s clear to your audience why this issue matters.
Note that this last option will be available for every paper. Indeed your research essay or proposal will strongly encourage you to identify a problem on campus and suggest a change.
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