English research paper

I’m attaching my question and what the topic of the paper should  be


By now, you should have begun to formulate a research question, or perhaps more than one question. By research question, I mean a question in which something is at stake, a question about which people can argue. You wouldnt waste your time asking whether the earth is flat, or whether the moon is made of green cheese. Were pretty sure of the answers to those questions. The kind of question we want admits several possible answers. Its the kind of question about which people can disagree.  

The current assignment, the Dissoi Logoi, asks you to think through a question like this in a systematic way. But before I explain precisely what I mean by dissoi logoi, I want to explain what this assignment is NOT. It is not a standard argument paper for which you formulate a thesis (e.g., abortion should be legal, vegetarianism should be mandated by government; Nickelback should be sent into intergalactic exile, etc.). Nor is this assignment asking you to support those theses with three main points. In fact, you will be penalized if you produce a main thesis statement or claim. The idea of this assignment is not to come to a single conclusion, but to think through various possible conclusions as rigorously as possible. 

So, how do we do this? Our chosen method is the dissoi logoi, which is an ancient Greek phrase that means something like contrasting arguments. Around 400 BCE, an unknown author penned the Dissoi Logoi, which assumes that rhetoric begins with the ability to see an issue, question, or problem from many perspectives. To illustrate its point, the DL offers several examples. The author writes that its bad if your shoe falls apart, but its good for the cobbler. In war, victory is good for the winners, bad for the losers. In a real tongue-in-cheek moment, the author writes that death is bad for the one who dies, but good for the undertaker. Students of rhetoricnot unlike yourselveswere regularly asked to think along these divergent lines. Like law students, rhetoric students were asked to argue for the prosecution and for the defense. (Thats why, by the way, rhetoricians have sometimes had the same unsavory reputations as lawyers do today.) They were asked to do this for a few reasons: 

  1. There was the basic practical idea that arguing opposing sides makes you learn your own arguments better. If you can anticipate objections to your ideas, you might figure out ways to articulate your ideas more forcefully. Youve done this already, at least informally. Perhaps youve had an argument like this: I want to borrow the car. Now look, I know what youre going to say. The last time I borrowed your car, I didnt return it for two days, and when I did it stank of cheese fries and wet denim. But heres why you should give me another chance. If youve had an argument like this, youve practiced a kind of dissoi logoi. You know what your own arguments are, but youre also imagining what the opposing arguments might be (i.e., since I left the car in such a state last time, there are good reasons that my roommate might not want to lend it to me). The idea here is that looking at opposing sides (or many sides) makes you a better arguer. It may well be that your position is too simplistic, un-nuanced, untested. Arguing a dissoi logoi affords you the opportunity to observe your own idea from the perspective of other people who have their own ideas about whats important and valuable.
  2. But there is a more important (though related) reason for practicing the Dissoi Logoi, which is to acknowledge that there are arguments, or differences, in the first place. Let me explain: rhetoric deals with issues that do admit of one answer or a single conclusion. For example, lets say I ask, should SLU students take 9 hours of English, or only 6, or none at all? Thats not the kind of question that can be answered in a single way that is sure to convince everyone. There might be very good reasons for saying 9, 6, or none. People of intelligence and goodwill can disagree on the answer to that question (even in the English department), and they can all marshal evidence and claims to support their positions. There is no cosmic rule book to which we can determine to answer the question. Thus, we might call this a matter of uncertainty, by which I mean that, however we answer the question, we cannot be absolutely certain we are right. Theres no referee waiting to decide the answer for us, nor can we get on to Google and double-click our way to the right response. Given these conditions of uncertainty, it makes a lot of sense to think through a question from as many perspectives as possible. The idea here is that looking at both sides (or many sides) makes you a better thinker. Once again, it may well be that your position is too simplistic, un-nuanced, untested, and so you need to think through it more carefully.
  3. Finally, another reason, which seems more important than ever: thinking through multiple sides develops your moral imagination. It develops your ability to see an issue from another persons perspective, even whenespecially whenits a position with which you disagree. 

Bottom line: the point of this assignment is to dwell in uncertainty. That is, the idea is simply to live with the possibility that there can be diverse responses to a complex issue, all of which can be argued with vigor and honesty. 

The Assignment

This assignment should run about 2,500-3000 words (including works cited and any endnotes). Though it wont do the usual things, its format is not entirely new. It should have the following things: 

  1. Introduction: In an introduction (which should run no more than a page [approx. 350 words] and include a couple of paragraphs), you should outline the question(s) you want to start asking in response to the reading youve been doing. Articulate the question(s), explain how you came to them or what prompted them, and discuss its importance. Unlike the introduction of a traditional essay, this one should not conclude in a thesis statement. But the reader should be able to see clearly what question youre trying to answer. 
  2. This section can be approached in a couple of different ways. Perhaps you want to write (at least) two sections, one that takes at one side on a given question and then a second that takes some other perspective that challenges the one that you just took. Perhaps you want to write a single essay that toggles back and forth between 2 perspectives, without finally endorsing either. Perhaps neither of these will work because you feel that the simple pro-con structure is too simple for what youre trying to do. Thats fine. Bring in multiple perspectives. In addition, you should be bringing in your sources. All the quoting, paraphrasing, and summarizing youve been doing in your notes and short assignments should make their way into this piece. 
  3. Finally, in a page or so or a couple of paragraphs, discuss what you still need to know, reflect upon, and investigate to come to some conclusion about the question youre asking (somewhere down the road). The idea here is to ask yourself what further research you need to do. However, you may also approach this in a different way: if you feel that your reading and writing has led you to a conclusionthat is, led you to decide on a given perspectivethen you should discuss and explain this in your final section. In other words, if, at the end of the essay, you decide on what you yourself think, you should describe this on the final section.

Of course it is not required, nor would it be practical in many cases, to present every possible stance on your question. But you must present at least two; otherwise, it wouldnt be an argument. To be a controversy, an argument does not need to have a mirror, opposite side. Rather, a controversy is simply a case that case that can be challenged with a different perspective that is somehow incompatible. And heres the fun part: to earn highest marks on this assignment, I should not be able to tell which side you favor. You should be able to argue both/multiple sides of the case, with equal vigor and eloquence. In other words, dont tip your hand. 

Some Requirements/Formatting Issues, etc. 

  1. 2,500-3,000 words; 7-8 double-spaced pages
  2. Works Cited Page, formatted in MLA, 8th edition: https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/747/22/ (Links to an external site.)
  3. The document should be designed: title, headings, contrast in typefaces, images where appropriate. Something more than 12-pt. Times New Roman, please. 
  4. These essays must use sources youve found in your research, cited according to MLA formatting (Last Name ##). 

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I recycle and reuse some of the short writing assignments text I wrote earlier in the semester? 

Yes! Thats the idea. 

How many sources total do I need in the essays? 

As many as you need to make the arguments. If you want to impress me, youll decide on the appropriate number, based on the needs of the argument. I think 3 would be too few and 10 too many, if that helps. 

 And I probably shouldnt be strip-mining a source for a single line, right?

Right. You need to able to summarize the source in addition to quoting it, so that we get a fuller context for what the source is trying to say.