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Writing a First Draft

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For the remainder of the course, we will focus on drafting and refining your paper; that effort begins with the draft you’ll write this week. By now you’ve conducted library and Internet research for information to support your topic. You’ve read a variety of sources of research. You’ve also written assignments over the past few weeks that contain material that you can incorporate into the draft. Now you will combine the components into the paragraphs and pages of your project. This week, you’ll plan your Course Project and write the first two sections.

How do you get there? It’s not as difficult as you might think.

If you’ve ever watched a courtroom scene, you’re familiar with the basic organization that is used to persuade an audience using an argument. One side introduces an issue, usually with background information. The opposing argument is stated and then taken apart point by point to create reasonable doubt. The audience is then presented with the main argument. The main argument is presented logically so that the audience can easily follow. This means that one section is presented at a time, each one supported by reasonable evidence from experts, witnesses, or personal testimony. The argument ends with a conclusion asserting the final persuasive points that are left to the audience to make a conclusion about. 

Similarly the Course Project will have a recognizable structure.

The Course Project consists of the following sections.

    1. Introduction
      1. Attention-getting hook
      2. Topic, purpose, and thesis
      3. Background
      4. Relevance to reader

 

    1. Body
      Logically presented, point-by-point argument with evidence
      (the number of sections may differ by paper, but you should plan to have at least two sections)
      1. Section 1 (2–5 paragraphs)
      2. Section 2 (2–5 paragraphs)
      3. Section 3 (2–5 paragraphs)
      4. Section 4 (2–5 paragraphs)
      5. Section 5 (2–5 paragraphs)

 

  1. Conclusion

Each section has a distinct focus. 

Introduction and Background

Engages the audience; identifies the topic, purpose, and thesis, and previews for the reader how the papers will be organized. 

Body  

Divides into sections that logically present the point-by-point argument with evidence; developed with two to five major sections with two to five paragraphs each. 

Conclusion

Summarizes without repeating information and includes a call for action that outlines how the reader might think or act differently. 

The first draft, due this week, will provide the introduction and one section of the body of the paper.

The introduction contains the following elements.

    1. Attention-getting hook
    2. Topic, purpose, and thesis
    3. Background
    4. Relevance to reader

Use an attention grabber, also known as a hook, to gain the attention of your reader. You’ve written paragraphs of introduction in prior assignments for this course. Take a look at one and see if you can strengthen the way it starts. A good hook will present an idea that effectively draws your reader into wanting to know more about your topic. For examples, pay close attention to how your sources use hooks for their articles. Otherwise, any of the below are examples of attention-getting openers.

Pose a thought-provoking question.
Present a short anecdote.
Cite a surprising statistic.
Assert a challenging statement.
Use a quotation.
Incorporate dialogue.

Here is a sample hook:

Brittany, an honors student in Atlanta, Georgia, had worked hard her entire academic career to celebrate what would be her proudest moment in high school: commencement. She wanted to walk across the stage to the flash of cameras and smiles of her family just like her classmates, and then journey off to a college in South Carolina where she had already been accepted. So she gathered her proud family members from Chicago and Washington, D.C., to come to share in her joy. Brittany watched as her classmates put on their caps and gowns and walked across the stage to receive their diplomas. But she did not, and waited all during the day to get a last-minute waiver signed. She continued to wait through the night, but it never came. She began to realize that if she graduated, it would not be quick or easy.

Once you’ve drawn your reader in, continue developing the introductory section with background that the reader will need to place your ideas into a context by presenting the topic, purpose, and thesis; a background; and a justification of the relevance of the topic to the reader. The background section details how the topic became an issue of discussion or concern. It may include a summary of the opposing view, or the history, causes, and effects that support the argument you are making.

Here is an example:

The purpose of this argument on replacing standardized tests with end-of-year subject tests is to convince readers that changing assessments in education will improve education, and a strong educational system will result in several positive outcomes. The problems and their outcomes as well as the solution are the result of thorough research on these tests. Though I am a novice scholar, I will include several sources that will establish my credibility regarding standardized tests. The ideas of Hillocks (2002), McNeil and Valenzuela (2001), and Ravitch (2011), who are all experts on this topic, will help to establish my credibility. 

Everyone is affected by the strength of our educational system, from the students themselves and their ability to succeed in college and in the workplace to the employers who hire them—and everyone in between. Every taxpayer is a stakeholder in education, because these tests are paid for by tax dollars, and the return on investment in education is not where it should be. Standardized tests should be abolished and replaced with end-of-year subject tests because they will save time and money, lead to increased mastery of core subjects, and diminish dropout rates.

 

The assignments over the past few weeks have given you a start on the introduction, but at the draft phase, you will need to develop the body of your project, the main ideas that support your thesis, using your gathered sources. Remember, you’ve done some of this information processing and summarizing in prior assignments, such as your Annotated Bibliography. Review statements that you’ve written and determine whether additional support is needed to support your claim. For example, the idea below is too general, vague, and unsupported. It cannot stand on its own because it may reflect the personal judgment of the author but is not persuasive until it is supported.

This problem resulted from national concern with global competition and poorly designed tests that don’t measure what they should.

To support the example above, the writer would review marked or highlighted passages to find evidence for the idea that standardized tests are a problem. Ravitch’s 2011 article on this topic fills in the support. Here is the word-for-word text from the source. Direct quotation is used sparingly, and only when the source’s original wording states the information in such a memorable way that it could not be paraphrased better.

“Once this regime is well established, we can expect more attention to basic skills and less time for history, science, the arts, geography, civics, foreign language, even physical education. We can expect to see students who master test-taking skills without necessarily becoming better at reading and mathematics. After eight years of NCLB, remediation rates in college have not declined. Some districts and states are producing higher test scores but no better education because students are learning to pass tests but not to comprehend complex material—that requires background knowledge—nor have they mastered the mathematics required for entry-level courses in college.”

The step to incorporate the passage above into the section involves adding this information into the paragraph.

The paragraph below demonstrates how source material is transformed without introducing additional opinion or distorting the stated idea. The writer is faithful to Ravitch’s wording, substituting synonyms and changing the sentence structure.

Standardized tests will continue to decrease the class time spent on history and science and increase the number of skilled test-takers who aren’t any better at math and reading, despite No Child Left Behind legislation and its promise of improvement through standardized tests. If these tests improved complex skills in math and reading, students would not have to take remediation courses in college at the same rates, but this is not the case: improved scores on standardized tests does not translate into the kind of proficiency needed even for first year college courses.

There’s one more step:  in-text citations.

The idea must be cited because it comes from a source other than the student and because it is not common knowledge. Even when you summarize or paraphrase, you are still borrowing someone’s idea, so you must give credit for his or her idea. In-text citations are added for these two sentences.

Standardized tests will continue to decrease the class time spent on history and science and increase the number of skilled test-takers who aren’t any better at math and reading, despite No Child Left Behind legislation and its promise of improvement through standardized tests (Ravitch, 2011). If these tests improved complex skills in math and reading, students would not have to take remediation courses in college at the same rates, but this is not the case, according to Ravitch (2011): improved scores on standardized tests do not translate into the kind of proficiency needed even for first year college courses.

Add qualification for any claim you make by using a source to support general or vague statements. 

Remember what you learned in the APA module regarding quoting. When you quote, you are using a source’s exact words to help support your argument.

You will summarize and paraphrase source material for your research essay much more often than you will use direct quotes. Paraphrasing your sources, while being certain also to cite properly both in the text and the References page, signals to your reader that you have good understanding of your source’s argument and have synthesized the author’s argument for support of your argument.

If you’re unsure, access the presentation again in Doc Sharing and look through the four criteria for quotations to determine whether or not your idea adheres to one of them. If it does, quote; if it does not, summarize or paraphrase.

Toward the start of your paper, in the first body section, you can also apply the strategy of acknowledging the opposing viewpoint. This example shows the opposing view by explaining how the current issue of national standardized tests originates from a reasonable claim.

Recognizing the opposing view shows a reader that you’re informed on viewpoints other than the one you believe to be the strongest. In college and in your career, you are seldom contemplating issues that only have one “right” answer. Good communicators can acknowledge that there is more than one way to look at an issue. Further, these communicators can even concede a point to someone with whom they disagree. In the process of acknowledging the opposing view, a writer or speaker can convey a sense of fairness to an audience. A fair-minded writer is more likely to have an influence on the audience because he or she cannot be dismissed as overly biased. 

On the sample topic on standardized tests and the No Child Left Behind/Race to the Top educational initiatives, the writer can represent the opposition, as shown here in green:

It is true that accountability measures in schools are essential. School boards, administrators, parents, teachers, and children should bear equal responsibility for improving the learning outcomes of students. The question is whether the accountability measures should be federally dictated and controlled, or locally controlled through end-of-year subject tests. 

The sentence that begins “It is true” concedes the purpose of the standardized testing initiatives. The sentence also anticipates questions that a reader would have. The first half of the paragraph objectively presents the issue. The writer could continue to acknowledge a few more of the points that both sides might share.

The draft can also connect the opposing view with the next section, which is the point-by-point presentation of the main argument. 

It is true that accountability measures in schools are essential. School boards, administrators, parents, teachers, and children should bear equal responsibility for improving the learning outcomes of students. The question is whether the accountability measures should be federally dictated and controlled, or locally controlled through end-of-year subject tests. Instead, standardized tests should be abolished and replaced with end-of-year subject tests because they will save time and money, lead to increased mastery of core subjects, and diminish dropout rates. End-of-year subject tests will be successful in raising the standards and expectations of our students while decentralizing control of students’ learning away from the government and politicians to teachers who know their students best.

Writing that incorporates research isn’t so much about filling a page with words, but about carefully backing up the statements you make in order to build a strong argument. 

Research Tip

Do an Internet search to test the quality of your paraphrase or summary.
Open up an Internet browser and paste your paraphrased or summarized sentence into the search box.

Enclose the idea in beginning and ending quotation marks like the following example: “When Irish eyes are smiling, they will steal your heart away, followed by your wallet.”

Then click on the search key.

You should have zero results, meaning that your summary or paraphrase has been done correctly, because you have arrived at your uniquely worded idea.

If you get even one result, then change the wording or the sentence structure and try again with the sentence enclosed in quotation marks. Continue this procedure until you get zero results. When you get zero results, you know that your sentence has been paraphrased or summarized correctly—at least the same words written in the same order do not exist on the Internet.

Note that the probability of having the same exact 16 words in the same order as someone else, excluding a, an, the, and of, is almost 1 in 1 trillion (as cited in Phelps, 2010).

If your sentence gets results, it cannot be merely coincidental that it matches up with someone else’s idea.

 

Using American Psychological Association (APA) Documentation Style

Back to Top

APA in-text and reference citations are required for this assignment. See Chapter 28, pp. 532–542 for samples of APA style for in-text parenthetical references and the reference list. This week, you should be able to demonstrate proficiency with use of in-text citation by arranging citation components into correct APA format on your annotated bibliography.

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