Course Project:

ESSAY GUIDELINES: You are to write a 1000--1200 word Arguing a Position essay on some controversial aspects of folklore.  Assuming there are about 250-300 words per double spaced page with margins, we are talking about a 4-5 page paper. You are to select a topic, take a clear position by way of a developed thesis, provide plausible reasons and convincing support for each claim made, and either acknowledge or refute common objections against your position. In order to provide adequate support for your claims, you are expected to make use of MLA in-text citations and provide a Works Cited page. Your essay should also be free of common grammar and spelling errors, and you should avoid the common problems listed below.

Image of student working of project and text: Your course project should be an excellent example of college level research and presentation.

PURPOSE:   Arguing for a position offers valuable experience in critical thinking, essay organization, and establishing a tone within an essay. The writer is forced to take a position on a controversial issue, adequately support her position, and refute or accept common arguments against her position. The aware writer soon learns that reasonable people have conflicting assumptions about our world, that certainty is as elusive as a black cat in a dark room, and that one must have thought deeply about a position to support it beyond a superficial level. This assignment asks you to develop an argumentative strategy that both supports your position and considers your specific audience. Instead of simply rushing to defend a position you presently hold, try to approach a controversial topic with an open mind. Only after careful research and analysis can you hope to arrive at a position based on solid reasoning. Note that "The foolish and the dead alone never change their opinion."

COMMON PROBLEMS WITH THE ASSIGNMENT:  There are always a few students that have a difficult time taking a position on a controversial issue. Rather than simply seeing this as a weakness, it might well indicate the student is truly beginning to see the complex nature of the specific topic. Still, a position must be taken, and there are ways that can help you arrive at a reasonable position. One method involves dividing a sheet of paper into two columns, placing arguments "for" and "against" in respective columns, and weighing the relative worth of each column. Don't be upset if the other side has a couple of very strong arguments--these can either be countered or accepted in the refutation section.

Failing to adequately support one's position is the most common problem I have encountered with the assignment. Don't simply assert a position or make generalizations--your position can be supported by facts, appeals to human needs/values, statistics, and even personal narrative/personal anecdote. Be sure your refutation section addresses the tough questions likely to be raised against your position. You also risk failing to support your position when you use common logical fallacies as evidence, use sources that are biased or outdated, and offer evidence supported more by belief than fact.

A few students will also have problems with tone. You should try to seem reasonable; you don't want to come across as dogmatic. Work hard to appear as someone who has considered both sides of the issue, and don't be afraid to concede a point to the opposing side--ignoring evidence against your position will only make you appear one-sided or simplistic. If you can refute common arguments against your position, please do so. If you can't refute such arguments, acknowledge their relative value to the entire issue and move on.

Lastly, there are always a few students that miss the word "controversial" in the essay guidelines. I am not interested in reading the obvious, the trite, the already agreed upon truth. Look for a topic that has significance, where taking the right position is clearly important, and let the reader know what consequences are associated with taking the wrong position on the topic. Simplistic sermons, as well as simplistic approaches to complex problems, risks making even a thinking reader numb to any value in your essay.

USING SOURCES: You will need to use in-text citations (MLA) and provide a Works Cited page. I tend to take off quite a few points for MLA cite problems, as the COS Writing Lab in the Academic Skills Center is available for assistance.

SELECTING A TOPIC: This assignment will require time and research, so please think carefully before selecting a topic. Consider selecting a topic you honestly want to know more about, a topic you will not mind researching, and a topic on which you are likely to easily find needed research material. I have created a small list of possible topics, but you will have adequate time and opportunity to create your own topic should you prefer. The bibliographic section that follows each chapter in the Brunvand text also provides hundreds of possibilities, and his short overview of student research in folklore (pp471-475) might help point you in the right direction. Lastly, there is the Journal of American Folklore (as well as other sources ) available at the local libraries.

GRADING OF THE COURSE PROJECT:  I will generally grade the Course Project according to the following--60% content, 20% organization, and 20% mechanics. Writing assistance, including help with thesis, organization, and mechanics is available from the COS Writing Lab staff in person, by telephone, or by email.