Essay Assignment

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Lunsford, GWRTC 103H
Fall 2009

The Research Project: Overview

We’ve read about, written about, and discussed three concepts studied by the field of rhetoric and writing studies: discourse community, intertextuality, and rhetorical situation. This project will give you a chance to explore some of these notions as a framework for your own purpose and research.


This research project has many purposes:

  • To introduce you to one of the genres written by the field, that of the research article;
  • To provide you a forum through which to make arguments about a topic situated within rhetoric and writing studies; and
  • To help you enter an academic discourse community.


The research and writing process will help you to choose an object of study, explore it, and write about it through inquiry-based research: that is, you will develop research questions that guide you to choose appropriate methods of research in order to answer those questions. There are several ways to conduct research: for example, textual, interviews, surveys, observations, experiments.

This is not a take-a-stance-and-find-support-for-what-you already-believe paper. My own purpose for this project is to encourage you to research and write about something you don’t know much about. Through the process of researching and writing, you’ll come to some conclusion. But you shouldn’t start with a conclusion and find evidence that supports it.


Your topic must be situated in rhetoric and writing studies. That means your object of study must comprise written discourse or some other symbolic action. If, for example, you wanted to write about President Obama’s speech on health care reform, you’d have to ask yourself, “How can the concepts we’ve studies help inform my understanding of his speech?” You might think about his speech as a response to a rhetorical situation (Bitzer); or as a way to create new reality (Vatz); or as an intertext that borrows and refashions previous texts or that responds to the audience’s presuppositions (Porter).

You must use at least two of the readings we discussed this semester. Telling you this assumes at least one thing: that your object of study can be examined through at least two concepts we’ve read; but I’d argue that you can discuss, for example, rhetorical situation and intertextuality about any topic.

You must use at least two other sources from rhetoric and writing studies. This will give you experience in researching articles and authors that we might not have read yet. Or, you may like the work of one of the authors and would want to read more from that author. You can access a database called CompPile, devoted to collecting bibliographic information on articles and book chapters from rhetoric and writing studies: Though you will not have full access to many articles listed here, you can cross-reference them through the JMU library databases.

Requirements. Following are specific requirements (in no particular order) for your final paper:

  • Position. Let your research questions guide you to some position and defend that position using evidence from your research.
  • Methods. You might bring in a revised discussion of research methods from your proposal.
  • Sources. You must critically use appropriate secondary sources from your research.
  • Citations.Use appropriate MLA in-text citations and a works cited page.

Assessment criteria. Following are the criteria by which I will assess your paper:

  • An engaging argumentative purpose, explicitly stated or implied
  • Cohesive organization that enhances content and overall purpose
  • Specific and thorough development, support, and analysis
  • Critical use of credible sources
  • Exceptional writing style that reflects sophisticated rhetorical choices
  • Deliberate control of conventions such as grammar and punctuation

Format. Here’s the format for the research article: 7-10 typed, double-spaced pages, plus works cited page. Times New Roman, 11-12 pt type. MLA documentation.

Things to Consider while Researching

  1. Time. How much time can you devote to the research needed to answer your questions? If you have to conduct interviews, you must consider your interviewee’s schedule as well.
  2. Permissions. If you interview people, you must get their permission to do so. 


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