(original post here)

When incorporating sources into your work, you must introduce the author.  You do this by using signal phrases. Signal phrases are ways to introduce your reader to the ideas of others in a clear way. The way they look varies given particular style guides (APA, MLA, etc.), though they serve the same purpose. They are also necessary in academic writing.

Here are some examples with the signaling verb in bold.

*As economist Thomas Puddledunk suggests, “The working class will always create a cyclical and systematic rise and fall of equitable resources” (15).
*World renowned Slamball sports columnist Jack Freely states, “In any game, both teams want to win. What matters is who does” (2).
* Psuedopsychologist Robert Colbert claims, “Access to the mind only begins with the acknowledgment of the self while the self is aligned with the stars” (43).
*As postmodern philosopher Michel Mandermeer argues, “A prelapsarian reading of David Mamet’s About Last Night… both denies a Derridean ontology and negates a necessary epistemological contradiction of the body” (71).

Of course, there are many verbs you can use in phrases. The choice, though, is not arbitrary: use the verb you find best fits with how the author discusses the relevant idea.

When using signal phrases, also understand that you must cite all of the information coming from the source, paraphrased or not. This looks different given the style you use. For instance, APA privileges the year of publication as well as where as where the information comes from in the text, but is in past tense and typically does not include many direct quotations.

APA Example: Economist Thomas Puddledunk (2015) suggested that “the working class will always create a cyclical and systematic rise and fall of equitable resources” (p. 3).

No matter what, you need to include the page number (or the closest approximation, if there are no page numbers) for where you retrieved the information.

Additionally, since we are writing on the Web and can link out directly to the sources, we should!  A citation on a sheet of paper serves us by indicating where the author got the information he/she is using to support his/her argument; links do us one better by actually taking us directly to the source.


The idea is to get as much mileage out of your sources as possible. Remember, the major points you use from the sources as principles to establish your own work–you don’t always need to prove they’re true.  (Another way of putting this is that they act as conditionals for your assertions: something like, “If Shirky is right, then it seems that…”).

Here is a breakdown of using a source: taking the direct passage from a source, paraphrasing the passage (i.e. putting it into your own words), using a signal phrase with the paraphrased passage, and then finally incorporating this into a body paragraph of a paper. (Note: the final segment is an outline of each element working in the argumentative paragraph structure.)

  1. Direct Quotation from Shirky:

“In a world where a dozen editors, all belonging to the same professional class, can decide whether to run or kill a national story, information that might be of interest to the general public may not be published not because of a conspiracy but because the editors have a professional bias that is not aligned by the similar challenges they face and by the similar tools they use to approach those challenges. The mass amateurization of publishing undoes the limitations inherent in having a small number of traditional press outlets” (65).

  1. This Paraphrased by me:

The Internet allows us to both readily and easily seek out news we understand is not necessarily vetted and controlled by institutions.

  1. Incorporated with Signal Phrase:

    As Clay Shirky suggests,the Internet allows us to both readily and easily seek out news we understand is not necessarily vetted and controlled by institutions (65).

  1. This used as a Warrant in Critical Analysis:

Major network television news anchors have become archaic resources of information. As Clay Shirky suggests, the Internet allows us to both readily and easily seek out news we understand is not necessarily vetted and controlled by large companies and institutions (65). Shows such as Dateline and Meet the Press, though certainly still viewed by many, do not garner the same amount of attention they did in previous decades. We can now both select the kinds of news we would like to access from an array of like-minded individuals from various online platforms while also receiving such news with swift delivery. Now that we can access reports and data analyses at any given moment in a day, relying on delegated time slots for broadcast journalism is both unnecessary and arbitrary.

  1. This Paragraph Broken Down in Argument Elements

Major network television news anchors have become archaic resources of information.[1] As Clay Shirky suggests, the Internet allows us to both readily and easily seek out news we understand is not necessarily vetted and controlled by large companies and institutions (65).[2] Shows such asDateline and Meet the Press, though certainly still viewed by many, do not garner the same amount of attention they did in previous decades. We can now both select the kinds of news we would like to access from an array of like-minded individuals from various online platforms while also receiving such news with swift delivery.[3] Now that we can access reports and data analyses at any given moment in a day,[4] relying on delegated time slots for broadcast journalism is both unnecessary and arbitrary.[5]

[1] Sub-claim (i.e. topic sentence)

[2] Warrant

[3] Evidence

[4] Warrant

[5] Reasoning

Extending Drafts

Here are some points of advice if you are drafting your essay and feel like you do not have enough to write to get the project where you need it.

1.) Do not look at your work for this paper as something that is merely getting you to the word count.  If you are looking to this project solely as its word requirement then you are putting yourself in severe risk of failing to produce quality work.  Think about what you really wish to accomplish with your argument and then check your thesis to see whether it encapsulates the same ambition.  A more ambitious thesis will require more legwork to support, though it will also amount to a more sophisticated and robust (i.e. longer) paper.  (Note: Being ambitious does not mean being broad. Our criteria for a strong main claim are forever in play.)

2.) Use your sources. It’s often the case that sources aren’t being used enough for support.  The idea is to think of your sources going beyond direct examples of ideas to include moments where the author’s arguments can be applied for support.  Your sources have limits, though you can stretch them and apply the arguments loosely to many other ideas and primary texts for analysis.  Additionally, going beyond the eight required sources for the paper to include more source material is certainly possible, and oftentimes desirable.  As Ballenger writes in The Curious Researcher, documentation is key element distinguishing the research paper from any other kind of essay (117). You need to demonstrate to your reader that you know what you’re talking about, and that you can utilize and explain the source material in a way that bolsters your own work. Your sources are your friends, and think of them that way. Here’s how:

  • You need to introduce them.  Be sure to use a signal phrase (given the style you’re using) to introduce authors when you first mention them. 
  • You don’t want to take advantage of them.   Don’t let your sources do all of the work; don’t just quote/paraphrase without saying what you think, or how the quotations/paraphrases work within your paragraphs to support your own point.  Paragraphs should include a healthy mix of your own words and the source material.
  • You don’t block them out of the conversation.  Let them talk from time-to-time to get an actual conversation going on, rather than you just solely going on with what you think.  Your view matters, but you need to integrate your sources coherently and completely into your view.
  • You don’t want them to annoy everyone and talk forever.  Be sure to only include necessary information, either with paraphrases or with direct quotations (eliminate unnecessary parts of the passages and use ellipsis (…) to indicate information you’ve omitted).  Your reader will thank you.
  • You need to give your friends credit.  Always cite what you get from them with in-text citations including page numbers.

Consider this student example.  Note that the highlighted portions are when the sources are talking, and that it’s an even ratio between author and source (also note that the quotations are sandwiched in: it goes from author to source to author): 

Direct-to-consumer advertisements can also lead to an over prescription of medications. When commercials are not clear enough and provide only subjective symptoms for a disorder, people can easily misinterpret the information and be led to believe they have the advertised disease. Some advertisements also lead people to believe that they can successfully self-diagnose, when in reality a diagnosis takes a lot of information to confirm, and symptoms can be in different form depending on the individual.  Mary Ebeling’s article “‘Get with the Program!’: Pharmaceutical Marketing, Symptom Checklists and Self-diagnosis” asserts that advertisements cause people to feel they can properly diagnose themselves without knowing that they are actually missing an essential part of the diagnostic process. DTCA often lists the symptoms of a disorder but these symptoms are only “ signs” of certain problems in the body but do not prove the cause of the problem (826). When people view commercials they are led to believe they can diagnosis solely on those conditions. But according to Ebeling, symptoms are considered “subjective criteria” because they could signify multiple disorders; whereas “ signs-alterations in organs and biochemistry” give the doctor “ objective data… to constitute a disease” (828). This is a potential negative of DTCA because people are convinced they have a disorder before they seek medical assistance and take actual tests. When patients misdiagnose themselves it is more likely that their doctor will inaccurately diagnose them. As Mintzes asserts, “Systematic review of diagnostic accuracy in primary care estimates that 15 people are falsely diagnosed with depression for every 10 correctly diagnosed” (269). This is significant because the rate of false diagnoses has increased and advertisements are partly to blame because they have the potential to convince people they have the described illness and embody those symptoms.

3.) Check the suppressed points in your argument.  It’s often the case that we leave out full explanations of the principles we use to guide our reasoning: principles we don’t always share with others.  Look to see where these points may be unpronounced and explain them in enough detail so that someone who may not share your same values can fully understand your view.  (This is also how to consider acknowledgement and response on paragraph level: providing what others may say about your point(s) and responding to the alternative view you raise.)

4.) Consider the range of rhetorical appeals in your paper and diversify on the paragraph level, if necessary.  Look for moments where you rely heavily on a specific rhetorical strategy in the paper and see whether including others would bolster the strength of the point (ex. focusing on bringing in more data/case study material when doing more exposition, or explaining the weight of the problem for individuals involved when looking at hard research).

5.) Give your conclusion some weight.   Like introductions to longer papers, conclusions for them can be longer.  Don’t just think of the conclusion as the final paragraph of your paper.  Take some time to reiterate the significance of your thesis and explain what the reader needs to know when moving forward in life after your awesome argument.  There are various models for concluding, and I encourage you wholeheartedly to look to Dr. Coats’s post for his students on concluding essays.  Though no matter what, note that all conclusions should restate the purpose of the argument in unique language and drive home the stakes of what you have established.

Introducing & Framing Claims

(Original post here)

As I have mentioned previously, we are concerned with generating conceptual, interpretive questions and claims in this class, all of which go beyond binary pro/con, yes/no, good/bad thought.  In getting there, we need to ensure that our main claims–our theses–are doing meaningful, interpretive work. Such theses should be new contributions to how we understand the world and that provoke audience interests and questions.  (At the very least, your main claim needs to be debatable, supportable, and significant to your audience.  See Dr. Coats’spost on descriptions for the claim criteria we have discussed in class.)  If you succeed in making a strong thesis with equally strong support, people will still disagree with you.  Though, disagreement, rather than mere dismissal, is a mark of success.  It means that you are contributing to the world and making it a better place through discussing new interpretations of data.  You’re so good!

The best way to set up your argument and demonstrate why your thesis is compelling—and that it’s worth it for the reader to continue reading to find out why he/she should believe it—is to first establish a framework in the introduction of your project for the problem you wish to explore and that your argument will give response.  Thus, it’s prudent to establish these three components up front:

  1. A statement regarding what is typically understood about your topic, including necessary background and context (the status quo).
  2. A statement regarding what you have come to believe is problematic with this. typical understanding (the problem), including why this problem is significant to the reader.
  3. Your thesis, encapsulating what you think people should embrace instead of the status quo.

Consider this paragraph (Note: I made most of this stuff up):

Most scholars have agreed that, prior to the late 19th century, throwing playing cards (often referred to as “scaling”) was a low-form spectacle: generally limited to tricks used by amateur magicians and intoxicated gamblers.  It was only until French magician Alexander Herrmman’s “flying card” act in 1890 that card throwing was accepted as a veritable skill. [1]  However, this reading of history undermines the significance of the work of conjurer Holtz Bellini to the art of card throwing. [2]  Though not well known in popular circles of performers, his card routines incorporated insurmountable speed and accuracy.   Further journal evidence was found in an 1846 issue of The Monthly Ruse which revealed a promotion of Bellini’s work, indicating that he would be “the first conjurer ever to successfully saw a woman in half with playing cards alone” (33).  Moreover, in “52 Reasons to Reconsider Messing with a Magician,”Calvin Tinks and Laverne Copp report that Bellini’s throwing abilities were reminiscent of 17th century martial arts, with particular similarities to the Dragon Scale Dance technique of instrument manipulation (803). [3]  If we overlook Bellini’s career, particularly his work touring in antebellum America, we jeopardize our understanding of the lineage of card throwing and how this history has influenced contemporary performers. [4]   By looking deeper into his methods and acts during the mid-ninetieth century, we can see that Bellini’s work serves an as integral link between old forms of object manipulation and new forms of scaling. [5]

1. Here is the status quo, establishing the general context of the issue and typical understanding of the history.
2. This begins the turn with the problem, where the common understanding of the the history is destabilized by pointing to what is missing given the common conception leaving out the importance of Bellini.
3. This serves as further evidence to bolster support for the problem actually existing.
4. Here is the significance of the problem, urging what is at stake for the reader by accepting the common conception of the issue.
5. The thesis.  This is what the rest of the paper goes on to show is true to replace the current status quo.  Notice that this is not a claim picking a side of an issue, but one that calls for a different and better understanding of it.

For longer projects,  it takes longer to establish these major parts of the introduction.  But no matter what, by the end of your introduction, your audience should have a clear understanding of the problem at hand, why it’s necessary to care about this problem, and the precise and significant thesis you will support and that responds to the problem at hand.

When looking to the thesis itself, understand that you should concern yourself with something that will change the way people think about the particular problem you establish rather than something like a call to action or a policy change.  There is an important distinction between practical (i.e. tangible) problems and conceptual (i.e. interpretive) ones.  Practical problems deal with applying understandings we already have.  However, before we can do anything in the world in terms of action, we need to have grounded and sophisticated understandings of the issue.  (Otherwise we would just be running around the world like jerks asserting stuff with no tenable grasp as to why action should happen.) Providing these sophisticated understandings–supporting conceptual claims–is what we concern ourselves with when addressing our particular audiences.

Consider the differences between these two claims:

Claim 1: We need to elect more Green Party candidates into office.
Claim 2: Grassroots democracy initiatives are significantly overlooked and undervalued given their potential for community-building and prosperity.

The first is a practical claim telling us what should happen in the world; it necessarily calls for an action with voters, otherwise it won’t work.  The second is a interpretive claim telling us how we should understand a particular concept (grassroots democracy) and why it’s so significant to our lives. Although it may seems like the first claim is more desirable, it’s not nearly as sophisticated or precise as the second.  Moreover, it doesn’t really get to the significance of the issue at hand.  Of course, a paper written to support such a claim could include such justification, but it would take a great deal of work and would still run the risk of being broad and nebulous.  The second claim is specific and has the significance built in for us.  Also, it’s important to note that, in order to buy claim 1, you need to have an understanding of something like claim 2, which most people clearly don’t have.  This is not to say that the answer to your conceptual problem shouldn’t ever yield potential for practical significance—doing things in the world to better it is great!  Though, asserting and supporting conceptual claims is where our work here lies: trying to get our audiences to think of specific phenomena in the world in a different, better way.  If you suspect that your thesis is too practical, try to find a way to take the action you want to promote and move it into the background so that it becomes personal justification for your interpretation of your primary text.

Nuggeting sources

This source– I actually found when doing research for a course I am taking about the financial management of a nonprofit. I was looking for sources specifically aimed at the importance of transparency* in a nonprofit and what I found is that technology is a key factor in nonprofits being able to successfully do so.  This was another aspect of the benefits of technology that I had not yet even considered.

The Independent Sector recommends that every nonprofit include the following on its website:
Vision and mission
Code of ethics
Conflict of interest policy
Audited financial statements
Annual report
List of board members and officers and staff
List of contributors
Any accreditations (Better Business Bureau)
Rating body (CharityNavigator)
Being able to be transparent is a key factor in accountability and accountability ultimately results in the success of a nonprofit. This list of what is now suggested for every nonprofit to showcase consists of ten entirely different concepts in regards to the status of an organization. Being able to reach all this information at once is just revolutionary if you think about it. Prior to technology, how exactly would one go about finding all this information in a timely manner?

(On another note, I really need to figure out whether I want to focus on the future of nonprofits or if I’m comparing to the seems like my nuggets vary a lot on where I stand with this)


*Transparency is defined by essentially being open with the public about the financial status of an organization ( listing all documents easily assessable online the website), disclosing any errors the organization makes and informing the public in times of both good and bad.

This post from another blogger is similar in how it presents technology making people feel a certain way. Previously, I had looked at this idea in terms of social media and key words used. (I actually know Camp Kesem has certain guidelines and key words we aim to use when branding and promoting) Now, in terms of transparency, I am looking at how having the power to easily access can affect how one feels toward potentially donating.

This source is one I found that talks of the benefits and barriers of technology in nonprofits. I did not yet specifically search for transparency but I am sure there is something. I wonder if it was considered a benefit or a barrier. (perhaps it is much more work for an organization to compile all these??)

The Fault in Our Reasoning

(Kinda like this)

As I have previously gabbed on about (and here and here), warrants are imperative when making arguments because they are usually where issues arise with readers: why they would disagree and reject what you’re saying. Warrants are guiding principles for our reasoning and they often go unexplained or left suppressed–which, as we have discussed, is often problematic.  Why? Because! we aren’t all committed to the same beliefs/ideologies/views/ideas/what-have-yous. (And some people will never budge with what they believe, no matter what.) What’s important to remember is that it’s not always enough for an argument to be persuasive merely based on the claim, evidence, and reasoning connection; you need to understand your audience in order to understand how much heavy lifting you need to do with your reasoning with explaining the warrants of your work.

It’s difficult (and frustrating) to understand what warrant(s) need explaining given how many warrants can be at play given a particular discussion. Many times there are competing warrants given any argument.  Situations are complex, and people vary so much with how they understand them given their thinking and interpretations of particular issues. The Key Point: Don’t assume your reader will agree with you and your principles!

NOTE: When thinking about our specific purposes for the Inquiry Project, your methodology with your sources is meant to help your reader understand what you’re bringing to the table to analyze the particular problem you have established.  Your methodology gives the reader a framework for how you’re thinking/discussing the points throughout the paper: setting up the research and support you will draw on later in the essay to help situate concepts, context, definitions, etc.

Thinking about warrants also allows us to consider faulty ones, where the flaws in our reasoning can be identified and even categorized into general errors people make in argumentation. We call these things logical fallacies, and there are many of them. One of the biggest problems with fallacious arguments is that they’re disguised as valid ones. Consider the following:

We knew if Tommy showed up to Wednesday’s foursquare practice then he was definitely going to take home the gold in Saturday’s Jam-Off. He didn’t show up, though, so he’s not going to win.

This particular fallacy, denying the antecedent, often goes overlooked: Just because Tommy doesn’t show up to practice doesn’t mean he won’t win Saturday.  (Who knows what will happen at the Jam-Off!)  It’s easier to see the problem if we change the example but keep the same form:

We knew if Tommy became a firefighter he would save the lives of others. Unfortunately, he became a heart surgeon so he will never save anyone.

Despite being filled in with different content, both examples follow the same structure and are therefore equally fallacious. This is why fallacies have names: the structures have been used so many times to warrant an identity of type, where we can look to these types to readily pick them out when committed.

Though, merely knowing the names of fallacies and identifying them in stock examples doesn’t get us very far.  (It’s almost like a parlor trick.) It’s not hard for students to identify fallacies in examples when having time to deliberate; what’s hard is to not catch yourself committing one (or many) when it matters. This is (in part) why I suggest that, for our purposes with the Inquiry Project, we shouldn’t worry about specific fallacies over thinking of their general nature and the kinds of things they are doing: whether they are manipulating the structure of an argument, someone’s character, or the audience’s emotions.

More on Warrants

As previously mentioned, an argument is a set of reasons (we can also call them premises) working together to show why a thesis is true.   People discuss ‘argument’ differently given particular disciplines. Philosophers, for instance, typically break arguments down formally into premises and conclusions. Consider the following example:

Premise 1: If the building is burning down, then we should run like hell.
Premise 2: The building is burning down!
Therefore, we should run like hell!!!!!!!!!!!

Here is an example of a formal argument where the conclusion necessarily follows from the premises—meaning, if the premises are true, then the conclusion must be true. Though we can break arguments down this way, we typically don’t make formal arguments in common conversation and writing. Rather, we typically use informal ways of discussing arguments like enthymemes (or brief arguments). Here is the same argument as an enthymeme:

We should run like hell (claim) because the building is burning down! (reason)

From here we get to the elements of argument we have discussed so far in class:
Claim: The point you’re trying to prove true
Evidence: The data you interpret to support your reasoning
Reasoning: Your explanation of how/why the evidence supports the claim

We can think of these as the logical elements (logos) of argument. Though, as we began discussing today, it’s not always enough for an argument to be persuasive merely based on the strength of the writer’s claim, evidence, and reasoning.  Arguments are rhetorical endeavors; you must think about the specific audience you are addressing and how an argument is appropriately tailored given this audience.  Thus, it’s important to understand the moments in your argument where you need to spend time explaining your assumptions and beliefs/principles you’re invoking to frame and support your work.  Otherwise, your argument will have limited success.

From here, we get the importance of these:
Warrants: The belief/principles) connecting one’s reasoning to his/her claim.

Warrants are imperative when making arguments and are usually where issues arise with readers: why they would disagree and potentially oppose what you’re selling.  They are also, at times, tricky to understand.  Warrants involve the relevance of a reason, and the relevance is not something where everyone will necessarily agree.  They are principles that are often based in our societal commitments–and we know we all don’t share the same commitments.  Similarly, we won’t all agree on the truth of all warrants.

In certain instances, we don’t have to explain our warrants when making arguments.  Consider the brief building burning argument above. The warrant connecting the reason to the claim would be something like, we don’t want to die. You probably wouldn’t even need to go far past “The burning is building!” to convince someone to run.  However, there isn’t much work being done here.  More complex arguments–even slightly more complex arguments–need explicit warrants.  Consider my example in class today with drinking coffee. The conversation could go like this:

You: Ryan, you shouldn’t be drinking coffee right now (claim) because you’re sick (reason).
Me: Why does being sick matter with drinking coffee?
You: Coffee dehydrates you (evidence) and will deplete your body causing you to stay sick longer. Since you want to get better as quickly as possible (warrant), you should cut the coffee for now.
Me: Ah, fair enough. But I need coffee to get through the day. Have you seen me without it? No, because it’s the worst! I become this terrible monster, like a Gorg. Since no one wants to be around a terrible Gorg Ryan (warrant), I’m going to take the hit, enjoy my drink, and just suck down more Emergen-C.

(Note: It’s really not that bad. I’ve cut consumption quite a bit)

Though you may make a valuable case why I shouldn’t drink coffee while I’m sick and want to get better—and I do—it doesn’t trump my commitment to wanting to drink and be merry. This is why the logical elements of argument are not enough on their own: audience matters. The point: many warrants can be at play and compete at any given time. Because of this, you need to make sure that they are relevant, specific, and superior to other warrants.

Core concepts from readings act as warrants for your own work.  You will not use them as mere evidence for your argument (like you would reports of data, for instance).  Rather, you will take the claims/assertions of the authors we have discussed and apply them to your primary text: resting on what they have said for support.  When looking to core readings (and any source you may use ever in life) for warrants to utilize for your own work, look for argumentative moments where the authors are positing a view rather than just providing a description of something.

Digging Deep with Arguments

This post specifically addresses how to think about logically structuring your argument throughout the body of your work.  Crafting your Inquiry Project will require you to be jointly attuned to the structure of your argument itself and the rhetorical force you put behind it.  Simply put, an argument is a set of reasons (we can also call them premises) working together to show why a thesis is true.  Though, your project will (necessarily) include more than this.  It’s important to make a solid argument, but it’s equally important to situate it within a suitable framework given the purpose of the project and the audience being addressed. As mentioned, this framework is primarily established by the way you set up the problem you’re addressing, the claim you’re making, and the conversation of sources you use to inform and shape your discussion. Though, this also includes the platform you select, the media you use, and how you decide to utilize it all.  Everything you include in your Inquiry Project is a rhetorical choice you make to not only effectively express to your reader why he/she needs to care about how you represent the problem you’re addressing and the argument you’re making, but to also represent yourself and establish your own character as writer and master creator of this new contribution to the field.

(Note: There are many ways to discuss ‘argument’ and various models to consider. Everything that follows is purposefully limited and primarily derivative of the work of Wayne Booth, Gregory Colomb, and Joseph Williams and how they discuss argumentation in The Craft of Research. )

We can think of an argument as a conversation between author and audience, where one must necessarily include a claim he/she is trying to show is true, reasons for believing the claim is true, and evidence used to support those reasons.  To better ensure success and that the reader understands the relevance of these elements, one should clearly articulate the assumptions and principles used to show how the reasons rightly support the claim being posited.  One should also want to address the limitations of the argument and provide tenable responses to possible naysayers.

From here, we get this breakdown:

Claim: The point you’re trying to prove true
Evidence: The data you interpret to support your reasoning
Reasoning: Your explanation of how/why the evidence supports the claim
Warrant: The belief/principle/underlying assumption that connects your reasoning to your claim
Acknowledgment & Response: Alternative views and/or reasonable objections you should give credence

As mentioned, it’s not enough to just list these components and leave it at that: intentionally organizing your ideas and coherently transitioning between them goes a long, much needed way.  Nevertheless, these components are necessary when trying to structure paragraphs to support major points in your larger argument.  In a sense, you can think of the logical elements of argument as a math problem, where everything included after your thesis in your introduction adds up to equal the thesis.

Here is an argumentative paragraph broken down to show the function of these components:

Search engines such as Google have become tools equally for exploration of internal interests and desires as for investigation of the external world: they tell us just as much about ourselves as they do anything else. [1]  As Nicholas Carr suggests in “Is Google Making Us Stupid?”, while we learn less about the world through the internet, the internet learns the world about us. [2] When I type in the word ‘sonic’ in the search bar to look up where the closest Sonic restaurant is to my house, the auto-fill feature suggests the following top four searches: “Sonic Youth,” “Sonic Youth Dirty,” Sonic Youth Eternal,” and “Sonic the Hedgehog.”  Although not interested in finding anything about the band Sonic Youth (or the hedgehog) with my search, Google anticipates my expectations even before I can finish writing them out. [3]   As Carr explains, the frequency of terms used in searches and links clicked helps companies understand our interests so they can selectively manage what we see online. [4]  Given my previous experiences with searching, Google now “knows” that I am a Sonic Youth fan and, in turn, has adapted its functions to fit my interests accordingly.  Thus, going along with Carr, though we commonly use searches to find information and answers we don’t readily possess, the information becomes more and more tailored to what we will enjoy finding. [5]

1. Claim; the main point of the paragraph
2. Warrant; a part of Carr’s argument used to shape and support my analysis
3. Evidence; the indisputable data I am interpreting
4. Warrant; More support from Carr
5. Reasoning; my explanation of why the evidence should be understood as support for [1]

It’s important to note that the paragraph here starts and ends with my own view rather than mere evidence.  This is essential when writing argumentative paragraphs because it allows you to maintain control throughout–nothing is left open for interpretation because you’re explaining how everything provided should be understood.  A key point: Data do not always speak on their own.  When writing the body paragraphs, be sure to always end them with your own reasoning, unpacking your evidence and precisely explaining why it supports your point.

An Investigation for Outside Research

We’re now at the beginning of Phase II for the course and everyone is starting to hone where they’re headed with the Inquiry Project (hooray!)  Next week marks the beginning of journeying outward to find research useful to your inquiry projects to add to what we have already discovered with the New Media readings.  Moving forward, many activities in our class are designed to provide  you with the necessary skills for writing and researching, as well as pertinent content to use in your writing.  The New Media readings and nugget posts are meant to influence the way you think about your inquiry topics, where you can take your analyses of the nuggets and incorporate them in the larger Inquiry Project: pulling the claims and assertions the authors make–rather than just the mere data and descriptions they include–and applying them to your own arguments.  As Dr. Coats mentions,

Our expectation is that you will use as much of these five readings in your inquiry projects as possible; they’re not digressions or tangents from the main work of the course: they are the common content that allows the individuals in this course to become a learning community. Supplementing those new media readings will be some outside secondary sources that we will find and annotate (with the help of classmates in this and other sections, hopefully). We will then synthesize all of this material into a working theory that will be used to make sense of a primary digital text.

In addition to the outside research you find, will be asked to incorporate at least three of the New Media readings for your final Inquiry Project. (This is, in part, why the nugget posts have been tailored to get you thinking of how the ideas and arguments posited in the readings can apply to your primary texts given your specific topics.)  It may be the case that some of the concepts and assertions in the New Media readings do not directly  address your topic.  This is totally fine, natural, and often desirable.  The point here is not to try and find out only what has already been written directly about your topics, but to find key arguments to connect and apply to how YOU believe people should understand it.  (And they all can connect in some way.  Pinky swear.) Making ideas portable and stretching them for application is a skill, and one that ultimately helps you make novel and meaningful arguments.

Additionally, the research you find beyond the New Media readings may also not directly address your inquiry topic.  Many topics in this course are new, which means that there may not be many sources directly addressing them (like scholarly articles, for instance).  This does not mean that you should switch topics.  Rather, it may mean that your interest in the topic is original and worthy of pursuit–a huge goal for many writers.  The trick is to find things that are related to your topic and apply them to the issue at hand.

When investigating beyond the New Media readings to see what’s out there and relevant to your inquiry project, it’s important to consider the kinds of sources that may and may not be useful.  Everything has virtues and limitations, and this is especially true given the specific kind of project you are developing.  Oftentimes this deals with the credibility of a source, particularly with its author, publisher, and intended audience.  Here is a useful breakdown of secondary sources:

  1. Scholarly sources: sources written by experts in a particular discipline. The intended audience are academics within the discipline, so the language is often dense and filled with discipline-specific concepts and terminology. Authors of scholarly sources don’t typically take the time to define particular terms (unless they are arguing to embrace new definitions) because it’s assumed that the audience already understands them. This is why they can be very difficult to read and digest.  However, they are (typically) very useful because they contain arguments meant to offer new perspectives within the field. They are found in scholarly journals and are only accepted after the article passes through a vetting process refereed by other scholars within the field.  “Augmenting Human Intellect: A Conceptual Framework” is an example of a scholarly source.
  2. Substantive sources: sources that are perhaps not written by scholars in a particular field, but are nevertheless in-depth looks at an issue.  They are written for larger audiences than scholarly sources, though they (typically) include sophisticated writing (both in style and thought).  They often contain arguments, though not always. They are published in periodicals such as Harpers, The New Yorker, and The Atlantic Monthly.  “As We May Think” is a an example of a substantive source.
  3. Popular sources: sources typically written by staff writers, meant for a very large audience, and are typically written to either entertain or quickly inform.  They’re usually short and do not contain in-depth looks at an issue.  Articles ranging from Entertainment Weekly  to short news reports from The New York Times are popular sources.  These are useful to analyze, but not very useful for pulling together support for an argument.

Your Inquiry Project will include various kinds of sources–secondary and not–but it’s important to survey the first two of these kinds of sources as much and as thoroughly as possible; scholarly and substantive sources will provide the wonderful and necessary fodder for your Inquiry Project.  Remember, the point of your investigation is to discover the arguments and ideas you will apply to your own: pulling the meaningful assertions for support rather than just the facts for descriptions.  Data is important, but only insofar as to provide enough context for the reader to understand the issue at hand.

A quick and dirty rule: sources are only as useful as the arguments that are being made.  Sources providing only swift accounts of things (news reports, short articles from Psychology Today etc.) won’t be very useful to build your bank of sources for your project because not much work is being done with them.  WebMD, for instance, covers a wide array of symptoms, diagnoses, and medical treatments for various ailments.  However!  It’s function for research is very limited: the pages aren’t thorough, information often goes without citations, and it isn’t always clear who wrote the article.  Most importantly, there aren’t any arguments being made. It can be a useful resource, but not for quality support.  A similar point can be made withWikipedia.  You can find an incredible amount of information moving through it (I once spent three hours clicking on links through the Marvel Universe pages, starting here), though you can only find accounts of theories, criticisms, debates, and so on rather than the direct theories, criticisms, debates, and so on.  Wikipedia is a wonderful place to get curious and inquire (as tertiary sources tend to be), but it should always be used as a gateway to the direct sources being referenced and discussed.  So, whenever finding quality material on Wikipedia, be sure find the original source (often referenced at the bottom of the page).

As we move forward, keep trying to find the major points and premises of the arguments being made in the sources you pursue and keep applying them as robustly as possible to your topic. Additionally, continue to look to each other for what everyone is finding and how they are understanding and applying content.  Many connections in class so far have been stellar, and will be particularly valuable as we continue to build resources for information and ideas.

Here are some test case sources.  What kind of sources are they?

Example 1

Example 2

Example 3

Example 4

Generating Research Questions?

Now that we are about to start Phase II of the course (woo hoo!), we will focus on taking our interests in our Inquiry Proposals and establishing research questions (RQs) to guide our outside research. You will soon (very soon, in fact) use the scholarship from our work now support your own interpretive, debatable main claim for your Inquiry Project.  So, it is important that we hit the ground running and find open-ended RQs given our interests in particular fields.  There are many ways to enter research regarding your interests in your Inquiry Project so figuring out how to approach the process and what you wish to study is essential right now.

Many students think that they have to prove something should happen: to take a specific position (ex. we shouldn’t eat meat, we shouldn’t factory farm, etc).  However, these kinds of positions tend to be broad and miss the potential for creating an argument that is useful and more important given the particular kind of conversation one finds necessary given a particular topic.  Questions of conjecture, for instance, can be very powerful: demonstrating that something is actually a problem can be all that you need to do as a writer.  That is, you do not always need to (1) demonstrate a problem exists and then (2) pose what should be done about it.  Surely, posing solutions is wonderful.  However, a lot of the work can come from just demonstrating a problem exists, or how it should be understood—a conceptual problem!  It all depends on what the scholars are saying, and what you think is missing in the discourse.

Consider the differences between the following questions:

RQ1: How can we get more Green Party candidates into office?
RQ2: What are the potential benefits for adopting more Grassroots democracy initiatives in various levels of government?

The first is a practical question how we can get something to happen in the world, whereas the second is a interpretive question asking us how we should understand a particular concept (grassroots democracy) and what may be so significant with it.  Although it may seem like the first question is more desirable, it’s not nearly as sophisticated as the second.  Moreover, it doesn’t really get to the significance of the issue at hand.  Of course, a paper answering RQ1 would include such justification, but it would take a great deal of work and would still run the risk of being broad and nebulous.  This is not to say that the answer to your conceptual problem shouldn’t ever yield potential for practical significance—doing things in the world to better it is great!  Though, asserting and supporting conceptual claims is where our work here lies: trying to get our audiences to think of specific phenomena in the world in a different, better way.  If you suspect that your question is too practical, try to find a way to take the issue you want to pursue and move it to the background so that it becomes personal justification for your interpretation of your primary text.

When discussing what makes a good RQ, we came up with the following criteria:

  1. Answerable
  2. Open-Ended
  3. Precise (i.e. not too broad or narrow)
  4. Relevant
  5. Interesting


We can also think of our quest to develop an RQ by breaking our interests down into the following categories:

  • Field
  • Topic
  • Question

For instance, let’s take the field “Dorothy Parker’s short story ‘Arrangement in Black and White’” with the topic, “a display of racism in Parker’s ‘Arrangement in Black and White’.” We can look at the Parker short story in many different ways, though the display of racism is want I want to give focus. My research question could then be, “How is the woman in the pink velvet poppies used to demonstrate the problem of racism in affluent 1920s America?” Each is a lot more specific than the last.

Here is another example of how you can go from a primary text into a workable research question:

I’m really interested in zombie movies, so I’m going to work with the field “zombies in film.” I think through what might be interesting to explore concerning zombies in film and decide  on the topic, “Zombies as social commentary in 20th century American cinema.” This might yield the research question: “How have zombies been used differently in American cinema in the past forty years, and what is the significance of this difference?”  From here I may decide that I want to focus on one filmmaker’s use of zombies, or a comparison between several functions of zombies between films. Researching why some zombies move quickly and other zombies move slowly wouldn’t seem that substantial.  Though, noticing trends in the characteristics of zombies in movies, or one particular movie, and then arguing that the zombie is a metaphor for x would be substantial.  So, going from the original question, “How have zombies been used differently in American cinema in the past forty years and what is the significance of this difference?” may result in me watching George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead and believing that there is a connection between the zombies’ actions in the movie with historical and contemporary criticisms of capitalism.  My research question would then change to cater to this interest: something like, “How does Romero use the metaphor of the zombie as a criticism of capitalism and a materialistic society?”  This is a conceptual question that is substantial.  And note that it can still get more specific!  Also note that this is not the only way I could understand the field—there are many more things I could discuss regarding zombie films, as well as zombies as social commentary in 20th c. American cinema.

No matter where you take your research interests, understand that they must result in a researched, argumentative project with a clearly established research audience.

Here is some practice with RQs.  How can we make each of the following questions interpretive ones?

1. Should parents have the right to choose whether their children get vaccinations?
2. Should emojis be used as evidence in court cases dealing with communication via texts?
3. Should social matchmaking apps such as Tinder enforce background checks for their users?

Holistic Learning Habitats

courtesy of

I’ve been interested in how we can utilize space in different ways to enhance engagement and learning for a long time.  Some of these interests have come from trying to find tactical responses to the conditions of specific classrooms: computers or no computers, natural light or windowless, tables or chairs, crammed or open.  I hope that horror stories with room conditions aren’t frequent for instructors, but everyone seems to have at least one.  (One of mine: Years ago I taught a freshman seminar class of twenty-two students in a room that could barely fit all of us with clear windows separating the rooms next to it where, if you used the blinds to create the common boundary between classes, the windows became reflective surfaces. I imagine this room was meant to serve some observational purpose for education students, though I can’t help but still think of it as some interrogation room for Vic Mackey to use after police shakedowns). Other interests stem from my commitment to making learning enjoyable and entertaining: a desire to make it both as performative and as comfortable as possible for everyone.

The challenge of optimizing learning in any space goes beyond stifling physical conditions to include pretty much everything else involved in a class: the core requirements of the course, the expectations of the instructor, the expectations of students, the nature of the content, the structure of class time/lessons/activities/assignments/etc etc etc. These conditions are also unique in every class.  No learning habitat is the same, because they can’t be.  Of course, different sections of the same class may share common practices, assignments, and other things in between; however, even these things can’t remain static if they don’t work within the particular classroom dynamics.  In this sense, establishing a learning environment is always a rhetorical act: a negotiation between students and instructor given every salient condition for learning.   When thinking of my ideal learning environment, it’s not in a classroom with my peers.  It’s not in my office around my colleagues, or in a workshop group, or a coffee shop around people.  It’s probably by myself with all of the relevant tools around me (my books, my laptop, my coffee) listening to something like this in a room with no overhead lighting and my dog asleep next to me.  This doesn’t mean that I don’t value class time or collaboration–I love working with others and sharing ideas, and think I make this very apparent.  It also doesn’t mean that I’m always sacrificing something when trying to learn in other environments. “Optimizing learning” as I think of it excludes calcified practices and static settings because truly optimizing anything requires an attempt to understand something holistically. Because of this, we should think of learning spaces as things we construct in real time with everyone involved: what we can create together given everything present in the situation at hand.   And this will never come in one conceived “ideal” learning habitat.