Debate Paper

This paper asks you to map the conversation surrounding a specific controversy or debate. Through your paper, we should get a sense for the main positions that people take in response to this issue and how they fit together to form a larger conversation. You should substantially incorporate at least three sources (although you will likely include more), and your paper should be formatted as a formal report (see Moodle). Imagine yourself writing this report for colleagues or members of your community who are invested in this topic.

The handout on formal reports outlines several different possible sections; for our purposes, your report should include the following:

  • Front Matter: Title Page, Table of Contents
  • Body: Executive Summary (handout on Moodle), Introduction, Text, Conclusions, Recommendations, References/Works Cited

The main part of the paper (which includes the introduction, text, conclusions, and recommendations) should be 1800-2500 words. You should begin with an introduction that introduces the debate, offers an overview of the paper overall, and includes a thesis statement articulating the larger argument or conclusion you will arrive at through your analysis. (Remember our discussion of introduction strategies here: you might begin with a focusing incident, an exemplary source, a historical overview, or a conceptual overview.) The rest of your paper should include three main parts: an analysis of specific arguments (“Text”), an analysis of the conversation overall (“Conclusions”), and your argument in response to it (“Recommendations”). Here are prompts for these main sections.

Your analysis of specific arguments should address the same prompts as our Research Analyses: identify the main claims, reasons, evidence, and counter-arguments; use Toulmin’s concepts (warrants, data) to identify the assumptions underlying the argument. You can organize this section in a few ways depending on your understanding of the debate: you can focus on individual arguments, in which case you would look at one source at a time; you could organize the debate using stasis theory, in which case you would have different sections for different questions or types of arguments (you might have multiple sources in a given section); or you can organize your debate around stakeholders, helping us see how different types of people invested in the debate take different positions.

Here we want to get a sense for the similarities and differences between arguments, points of intersection and divergence, core dividing issues, gaps or impasses, etc. The main question here is, what do we learn by looking at the conversation overall? Here are further questions for analysis:

  • Drawing on stasis theory, do these articles make the same or different types of arguments? For those people making the same type of argument, how are their arguments similar or different?
  • Are there certain things that everyone agrees on? Are there certain things that people tend to disagree about?
  • What sort of assumptions or beliefs are leading people to make different sorts of arguments?
  • How would you characterize the reasons and evidence that people draw on? Is there any correlation between the type of reasons and evidence people offer and the arguments they make?
  • How does context shape the arguments that people make?
  • Do people seem to be talking to one another or talking past one another?

In this final section, make an argument that offers your own perspective on the conversation. Imagine that you and your colleagues or fellow community members need to make a decision about how to address this situation; your argument should help to resolve the conversation, to help us determine which position is most reasonable or helpful, or something else along these lines. Stasis theory can be helpful here as well: you can make a causal argument, a definition argument, an evaluation argument, or a policy argument.

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