Building and Organizing Academic Arguments
Presented July 11, 2017
Last updated 8/1/2017
Visual: The webinar begins with a PowerPoint title slide in the large central panel. A captioning pod, Q&A pod, and files pod are stacked on the right side.
The slide show the title of the webinar, “Building & Organizing Academic Arguments” and the speaker’s name and information: Beth Nastachowski, Manager of Multimedia Writing Instruction, Writing Center
Audio: Beth: All right. Hello, everyone, and welcome. Thank you so much for joining us today. We're going to go ahead and get started. And I want to start out by introducing myself. My name is Beth Nastachowski, I'm the manager of multimedia writing instruction, here at the Writing Center. And what that means is I do a lot of what I'm doing today, presenting webinars and attending and teaching at residencies. I also help manage our self-paced modules and our videos in the Writing Center and kind of help out in other areas. So, I'm really excited to be presenting today. Usually I'm facilitating webinars, but it's always a treat to be able to present and teach students. So, I'm really excited to dive into our topic today, building and organizing academic arguments. And I promise we will do that in just a minute.
Visual: Slide changes to the following: “Housekeeping”
Audio: But before we get started, I do want to go over a couple of quick housekeeping notes just for everyone to keep in mind. And the first thing to note is that I have started the recording for this webinar. So, if you have to leave early for any reason or if you'd like to come back and review the session, you're more than welcome to do so. I'll be posting that recording in our webinar archive by tomorrow evening. So, feel free to access that. And I always like to note here that we record all of the webinars at the Writing Center, so, if you're ever looking for help on a particular topic or if you see a webinar that's being presented live but you can't attend live, you're more than welcome to find that recording and those are always accessible in the webinar archive any time.
Additionally, note that there are lots of ways for you to interact with your fellow Walden classmates, as well as me throughout the session today. So, I have a couple of polls I'm going to be using, as well as the chat. So, I encourage you to engage with those. But also note that you can download the PowerPoint slides I'm displaying here in the bottom right-hand corner of your screen. It's available via the slides label under the files pod and there's a couple of other things you can download there, too, including a handout. So, feel free to do that. That way you have access to these slides after the webinar and you can look at them on your own time. Additionally, a great reason to download those slides is that I have links to further information throughout the presentation, so then you have access to those links. So, feel free to do that as well. But I also like to note that those links I have throughout the slides are also live as I'm presenting. So, feel free to click on those links and they'll open up in a new tab on your computer. And you can take a look at them after the webinar.
Additionally, I want to note that we have a Q & A box on the right side of this screen, and my wonderful colleagues, Casey and Melissa, are going to be monitoring that Q & A box. So, if you have any questions or comments throughout the webinar, do let them know. They're happy to help and give you more information, answer questions, point you to other resources, all that kind of stuff. So, do let us know in the Q & A box how we can help. But also note that sometimes at the very end of the webinar we get lots of questions and we're not able to respond to them all before we end the session, or maybe you'll think of a question or something you need help with after the webinar, do make sure to e-mail us if that's the case, we have our e-mail address of email@example.com and I'll make sure to display that at the end of the session as well so you can have it if you don't have it already.
Alright. And then the final note here, is that if you have any technical issues, do let Melissa know in the Q & A box, she'd be happy to help, and she has a couple of tips she can give you. But, also note that there's a help button at the top right-hand corner of your screen, and that's the best place to go if you have any significant technical issues, okay. All right.
Visual: Slide changes to the following: Today’s Agenda
Audio: So, with that, we are going to jump right in. We have a lot to cover in the next hour. And what we're going to do today is, as the title of this webinar suggests, focus on the arguments that you build and that you organize in your academic writing. And we're going to focus on really the best ways to do that in your academic writing. Now, arguments in academic writing can seem sort of vague, it can include a lot of different things and maybe, you know, you're thinking of certain things that are included when we think about arguments and I'm thinking of certain things. So, we want to really kind of drill down and kind of focus on four specific areas of building your argument. Now, this isn't necessarily all of the things you need to consider, but these are some of the most important things that will help you develop a strong academic argument.
So, we're going to talk about four areas. The first is your argument itself, how you sort of establish and articulate that argument via your thesis statement. Then we're going to talk about how you support and build that argument through your evidence. Then we're going talk a little bit about organizing your argument and some tips and tricks for that. And then we're going to finish by talking about some revision strategies to help you make sure that you are, you know, presenting a really clearly organized and well-developed argument as well. So those are our four sections today. We're going to spend probably most of our time on the first two sections. But then we'll make sure to address the last two sections as well.
Visual: Slide changes to the following: Arguments
APA section 3.07: arguments should be presented “in a professional, noncombative manner” (p.66).
[Slide includes an image of the outline of a man and woman. They are facing each other and their body language indicates that they’re having an argument.]
Audio: So, to start us off, what do we mean by argument? First, just to make sure we're all on the same page here because when we're talking about building and organizing arguments in this webinar, we're not talking about arguing with your significant other, we're not talking about having a disagreement with someone at work, we're not talking about the sort of emotional and opinionated discussions that we sometimes can have. Right? And academic arguments, we're talking about a specific kind of argument.
So, this is a couple of different definitions or ways we can think about this. Our arguments mean that a reason given in proof or rebuttal, discourse intended to persuade, or a coherent series of statements supported by evidence leading from a premise to a conclusion. Those are the kinds of arguments we're talking about. And these arguments are held to a higher standard than we might have in more informal areas. So that's what we mean specifically about academic arguments. We need to make sure that we are presenting a particular idea, stance, perspective, on a topic, but that we're also supporting that topic with evidence and that we're presenting it in an academic way with formal phrasing, not with emotion, or opinion, as well. So those are all the things that we mean when we talk about academic arguments.
Additionally, you'll note here that I have APA section 3.07, so that's section 3.7 -- 3.07, I'm sorry, in the APA manual. APA says arguments should also be presented in a professional, noncombative manner. So that's also important to keep in mind. We're not talking about yelling at each other or talking over each other. We're talking about presenting an argument in a formal sort of academic way, basically. Yeah.
Visual: Slide changes to the following: Poll:
Which is argumentative?
[The webinar layout changes to open up a poll box for students to answer the poll question.]
Audio: So, let's think about this a little bit more. I'm going to open up a poll. And this is just to kind of get us started here thinking about this. In these descriptions, and I'm going to say them aloud, which is the most argumentative? In the sense of what we're thinking about today, academic arguments. “A paper describing to readers what happened psychologically to a person's brain when that person eats chocolate?” Or a person “persuading readers that chocolate in moderation has health benefits?” You'll notice that when I'm bringing up ideas and examples, I like to use chocolate as my example because that makes it a little bit more fun. So, take a look at this. Think about it for just a minute here. And then I'll show the results once we have the majority of people responding.
[Pause as students respond to poll question.]
Beth: All right. You guys are doing great. So, I'm going to show the results here. If you haven't responded, feel free to continue to do so. I see a couple are still trickling in there, which is great. So far, we have about 50% of you -- 75% of you going with the second option and about 25% with the first option. And this is tricky because we haven't quite talked about this yet. But the first option, a paper describing to readers what happens psychologically, is not the most argumentative. And the reason that is true is because the keyword here is describing. When we're talking about academic arguments, we really want to emphasize here that we're moving away from summarizing or describing things that happen. Summarizing or describing could be part of our argument, but it's not the main focus of our paper. Instead, the second option, which has that keyword of persuading readers, is really the key thing here. We want to persuade readers that our perspective or our idea on a particular topic is true. So that persuading part is really important. And that's important to keep in mind. And we're going to talk more about what that looks like going next.
Visual: Slide changes to the following: Establishing the Argument for a Paper: Thesis Statement
[Slide includes a picture of someone holding a roadmap.]
Audio: Because that gets into our idea of the thesis statement here. So, thank you, everyone, for responding to that. Keep that in mind. Keep that sort of idea of argumentation in mind as we talk about the thesis statement, because the thesis statement is really the representation of the argument in your paper.
So, if our papers and our writing in academic writing should be argumentative, that means we need to tell the reader what our argument is in some way, and generally in most of your writing, the thesis statement is the way that you'll do that. Now, the thesis statement isn't the only way that you can represent your argument. There are other kinds of statements you can also include. But it is the most effective, the most common, and the one that I encourage students to use the most. Or that we really ask students to use the most. So that's what we're going for focus on today, is the thesis statement.
So, it encompasses the main points of your paper, but not just that, it's the argument of your paper, it's the representation of your argument. So, if my paper is going to argue about and show to the reader, persuade the reader that, let's say, dark chocolate has positive health benefits, I need to make sure to explain to the reader that, represent that argument in my thesis statement. Another way to think of a thesis statement, is that it acts as a road map or it kind of tells the reader the destination for where you're going to go. In your paper if you're going to be persuading the reader of something, the reader needs to know where they're going. And so, the thesis statement is kind of saying, you know, you're at point A, I'm going to get you to this point B, and that's the thesis statement. The thesis statement will also kind of preview a little bit about how you'll get to them -- to that destination. But, essentially, the thesis statement is that destination, the place where you want them to be at the end of the paper, of believing your argument.
The thesis statement is also located in the introduction. And usually it's at the very end of the introduction. If you're not sure where your thesis statement should go, the last sentence of the introduction is a great place to put it. It doesn't always have to be there 100%, but that's usually where I suggest students put it, and that's usually where the reader is going to look for it in your paper. And, of course, your thesis statement, since it's a representation of the argument in your paper, should be supported by your evidence. Now, we're going talk about evidence more, but it's really important when we get to that evidence part that we keep in mind that the evidence in your argument, in your paper, is not separate from your thesis statement. It should all be related together.
Visual: Slide changes to the following: Tips for Your Thesis
Learn more: Writing Strong Thesis Statements webinar
[Slide includes an image of a question mark.]
Audio: So, a couple of things to think about when you think about your thesis statement. And I'm going to show you an example of a thesis statement in a minute here. But there are a couple of things to keep in mind about whether your statement or your thesis statement really sort of fulfills the expectations of a thesis statement. So, the first thing is that your thesis statement should represent your argument. So, you need to be able to agree or disagree with it. It's something that someone should be able to disagree with and argue the opposite, right? It should be arguable. So, if I take my example before, again, that dark chocolate has health benefits, I might say that, you know, dark chocolate has health benefits because it has less sugar than milk chocolate. I can't guarantee that that's true really, but let's say it is. Someone could disagree with that and argue the opposite, actually, you know, maybe dark chocolate has less sugar but it has more fat so that negates the health benefits, right? So, your thesis statement needs to be arguable.
Your thesis statement also needs to be based on scholarly evidence. It can't just be something that is proven or shown through your own opinion or your own sort of explanation or even usually your own experiences at work. Although to a certain extent, your own experiences as someone in the field can be used, it depends a little bit on the assignment so that's used more or less in different kinds of assignments. But generally, you need to make sure that there's scholarly evidence out there to help you support and build that argument that your thesis statement is representing.
And then you also need to make sure that the thesis statement is either narrow or broad enough for the paper that you're writing. So, it's really important to keep in mind that as your papers get longer and longer, your thesis statement will need to cover a broader and broader topic, right? Because you have more room. And then, of course, the inverse is also true. The shorter your papers get, the narrower your thesis statements need to be because you don't have enough room to cover everything quite. So, that's also important to keep in mind.
Visual: Slide changes to the following: Topics versus Theses
The subject of your paper
My paper will discuss childhood obesity and how childhood obesity is affecting children.
The argument of your paper
Childhood obesity negatively affects children’s overall health as well as their academic achievement.
Audio: So, we have a couple of other things I want to help you keep in mind. And here we have an example for you. The first is that it's really important to differentiate between the topic of your paper and the thesis of your paper. Sometimes as students will sort of think that the topic of their paper is actually their thesis, and that's often just because maybe in the past you focused more on papers where you were summarizing a topic or you were researching everything about a topic and just sort of presenting it to show your knowledge on that topic. That is a perfectly fine way to approach it for certain assignments, but in academic writing, we really want to focus on the argument part so you need to kind of shift your focus or shift your perspective or framework to this thesis and argument perspective.
So, on the left, we have a topic, which, of course, is the subject of your paper. And usually the topic is determined by the assignment prompt, right? When you open up the assignment for a particular week and you see the directions or the prompts that's telling you what to do in that assignment, it often sort of establishes the general topic of your paper. Of course, maybe you can make that topic more specific or choose aspects of that topic you discuss, but, generally, right, that assignment might say, discuss three strategies of classroom management so, your topic is classroom management strategies, and that's determined for you. But the thesis is really where you get to make things more specific to you. That's the great part about argument and thesis statements, is that each of us as authors are going to bring a different perspective and we're going to make a different argument. So that thesis is specific and unique to you.
So, I have an example topic here. And this is a statement of a topic. Let's say I had this in my paper. “My paper will discuss childhood obesity and how childhood obesity is affecting children.” That's a fine topic, right? The paper is going to talk about childhood obesity and its effect on children. But what we don't know from the statement is actually what the author is going to argue about childhood obesity. Are they going to say, you know, that childhood obesity can be prevented, are they going to talk about strategies that could be prevented, are they going to talk about specific ways it's affecting children, we're not really sure, right?
So, a more specific statement, and a better representation of an argument, then, is this thesis. “Childhood obesity negatively affects children's overall health as well as their academic achievement.” This is a thesis because we're making an argument about childhood obesity's effects, which are negative, and specifically that affect health and academic achievement. So, throughout the paper, I'm going to have to use evidence to show that this is true, to build an argument that this destination for my reader is true. Right? So, it's really important to distinguish between a topic and a thesis. And what I encourage you to do is think about your own writing and think about your past papers that you've done in the past week or month, and think about whether you represented sort of the focus of your paper as more of a topic or a thesis in this argument. If you focused more on a topic, then that's, you know, a really great starting point. You just want to start shifting your framework and shifting your perspective to making that into a thesis statement.
Visual: Slide changes to the following: When should you have a thesis statement?
Audio: Another thing to keep in mind, and it looks like -- sorry about that -- I don't have any content -- must have disappeared on this particular slide. But I have my title here, so that's good. So when should you have a thesis statement? What I wanted to talk about on this slide, really, was just the idea that a thesis statement should represent your argument, but you may not know for sure what that argument is at the very, you know, start of your writing process. The thesis statement is something that you should start having a draft of after you've started doing your research, you should start thinking about it, you know, as you're reading through learning resources and as you're looking at the assignment prompt, you should start having an idea of what your thesis statement should be. And then once you go to start writing the first draft of your paper, you should have a first draft of your thesis statement, but that thesis statement might change as you find new evidence or as you start writing and you realize you have a lot to say about claim A and claim B, but not so much about claim C, so you're going to adjust your thesis statement to focus on claim A and B, right? So, you may discover things about your argument as you write, that's okay to have, too. Your thesis statement should make sure to be flexible and should be revised as you write and as you need to because as you write, your argument might change, so, thus, your thesis statement might need to be changed as well.
So, just keep that in mind. I think sometimes students are sort of unsure or concerned that their thesis statement has to be set in stone before they write, and that's not necessarily true. You do want to have a thesis statement because that helps you know where you want to go when you're writing, but that thesis statement should shift as your writing shifts as well.
Visual: Slide changes to the following: Poll:
Which is the strongest thesis?
Audio: Okay. Before I open up this poll, I actually want to stop and check with Melissa and see if there are any questions that would be helpful to address about thesis statements. Melissa, is there any questions that would be helpful to address? I'm not sure -- I just want to make sure that everyone can hear me. Oh, it looks like Casey can hear me. It sounds like Melissa is probably busy in the Q & A box, so that is perfectly fine. No worries. We're going to -- let's see. Oh, okay, here. I see a question, I see a question come in, but I think Melissa also can hear me now. Melissa, was there anything specifically you thought I should address? I just saw a question come in the Q & A box, and I can address that, too, either way.
Melissa: Yeah, I'm sorry about that. I thought my microphone was connected and it was not.
Beth: No worries.
Melissa: One of the questions that came in is about problem statements and if they are the same thing as a thesis statement or what is similar or different, between those?
Beth: That is a fantastic question. So, a problem statement is one of those other kinds of statements that represent sort of the argument of your paper to a certain extent. The other kinds of statements we can think of are purpose statements, those are also kind of a representation of your argument but in a different way and with a different approach. Problem statements, if you're not sure what those are, those are statements that you'll include if you're a doctoral student as part of your final project study or dissertation. If you are not at that stage yet or if you are not a doctoral student, don't worry about it too much. But problem statements are very specific statements that are used, I like to think of them kind of as used instead of thesis statements as part of your doctoral study. So, they certainly are similar in that problem statements help represent sort of the problem that you're attempting to address as part of your research that you're doing. But they're not exactly the same as a thesis statement. And that's because thesis statements are used for argumentative papers where you're not necessarily, you know, gathering your own data but you're presenting an argument. And your final project study or your dissertation for doctoral students is a different kind of paper. It's just a different kind of genre because you're doing your own original research. I hope that makes sense. And clarifies. Would you add anything to that, Melissa?
Melissa: No, that makes sense. I think another resource to keep in mind as you get farther into the doctoral capstone writing process that the editors have a lot of resources to help with the problem statements as well.
Beth: Yes. Fantastic. And your faculty and your chair, for sure.
Melissa: Yes, yes. And then there's one other question that might be good to look at, which is, how can you start writing if you don't have a thesis?
Beth: Yeah, that's a great question. So, what you want to do is you want to have a tentative thesis before you start writing. So, as you are researching, as you're reading the learning resources, as you're reading the research you get from the Library, you should start thinking about what your thesis might be. And before you start writing, you should write a tentative thesis statement. I wouldn't suggest writing without a thesis statement because then you're going to be writing without a destination in mind. You're just writing -- you're writing and you won't be sure if what you're writing really fits in the paper or where you're trying to go and where you're going to end up. So, again, if that thesis statement is the representation of your argument, which is the destination, you want to have a tentative destination before you start. Then as you write, refer back to that thesis statement and use it to kind of keep you on track but also know that that thesis statement can be flexible and can be revised and adjusted if you decide you need to as you write. So, that would be my suggestion. Melissa, do you have anything to add to that or suggestions?
Melissa: No, that all sounded great. I think it's important to remember that a thesis can change and adapt as you write.
Melissa: I think those are all of the questions we have for thesis statements right now.
Beth: Fantastic. Thank you so much, Melissa. And that makes me think, too, we're going to talk about this in the end, sort of when we're talking about revising a little bit, but one of the revising strategies I recommend to really help strengthen your argument is to make sure before, you know, you submit your paper, and once you have a first draft, is really look at your thesis statement and assess whether it still fits the content of your paper. Look at your main points in your paper that you actually did write and say, do these actually fit under my thesis statement or do I need to either revise my main points or revise my thesis statement so that they match together as well.
Visual: The webinar layout changes to open up a poll box for students to answer the poll question.
Audio: Okay. We have a poll here where we're going to talk about thesis statements a little bit. And let me open this up here. Sorry about that. All right. Oh, that was our previous poll. That's why. Here we go. Here's the strongest thesis statement poll. Okay. Go ahead and read through these statements. I know that there are five of them, so it might take you a minute or two. And I want you to read through them, though, and really pay close attention to some of those keywords about arguments and persuading and making sure that these are statements that you could argue for or against and that you could use evidence for. And identify which one is the strongest thesis statement based on what we've talked about thus far. All right. I will go on mute while you all are looking at this and give you a couple of minutes to respond and then we'll talk together.
[Pause as students respond to the poll question.]
Beth: All right. So, really nice job, guys. We have a little bit of a difference in response here, but not too much. Just one second. All right. Here's the responses for you all. And you can see that we have about 50% with the last option, 25% with the fourth option, and then another 25% with the third and then a couple on the first two. So, great job with everyone who picked the last option. Yes. That is so far, the strongest. It's not the, I would say, maybe that would be a good really first draft thesis statement. I think we could probably combine a few to make it even stronger, revise it to make it even stronger and that's okay. But what's really helpful about this last one, “leadership techniques have several benefits to employers and employees.” We could make it more specific to talk about those techniques specifically, probably, but what's good about this is this is an arguable thesis statement, right? It's a statement that we could say, actually, you know, these leadership techniques aren't helpful to employers or employees, someone could argue the opposite way and say, actually, these other leadership techniques are helpful or something like that.
The fourth thesis statement, “this paper will explore the question of how companies are using leadership techniques to benefit employers and employees” isn't really an argument, right? It's exploring a topic, but what about that topic are we going to argue? We aren't sure yet, right? So, this sentence is a great start, it could be revised to be arguable or maybe followed up with an arguable statement. The third sentence, “this paper will discuss how companies are using leadership techniques to benefit employers and employees,” again, isn't arguable. So that probably also could be revised to be stronger. And then the first one, “many companies are using leadership techniques,” isn't really arguable, leadership techniques is pretty general. We probably couldn't argue against that. And then the second one, “how are companies using leadership techniques to increase the benefit to employers and employees,” is a question, and that could be useful in leading your writing or sort of as a way of thinking about what your thesis statement could be but isn't a thesis statement itself. I hope that this was useful for you all in thinking about this.
Visual: Slide changes to the following: Evidence
[The following appear as balls in a funnel, the sentence in bold is the output below the funnel.]
Use evidence to persuade your readers.
Learn more: Using Evidence
Audio: Thesis statements are really important and we've really just scratched the surface. So, if you'd like to learn more about developing your own thesis statement, revising a thesis statement, all those things, do make sure to take a look at our other resources which we've linked on the thesis statement pages -- or the slide that I was showing. We have a great webinar that focuses specifically on thesis statements and I'd highly recommend it. Okay.
So, the next part of developing our argument, we've established where we want to go, our destination for our reader, which is our argument and our thesis statement, right? Well, we need to tell the reader how we're going to get to that argument. To that destination. And we do that through evidence as well as analysis paired together. This is how we show that our argument is true, that we persuade the reader because we show all the reasons why we believe that this argument is true. And we do that through peer-reviewed journals, books, scholarly websites, those sorts of things. We also have more resources about using evidence online, so take note that there's also links throughout here.
Visual: Slide changes to the following: When Writing an Argument:
Ground ideas in evidence from scholarly sources
Support your thesis with facts, statistics, and evidence
Analyze your evidence with logic and reason
Address the opposing side(s)
Refute the opposing side(s) with fairness and respect
Ground ideas in belief or opinion
Use phrases like “I think” or “I believe”
Support your thesis with moral claims
Assume readers will understand your points without analysis
Belittle the opposing side(s)
Audio: But what I want to do to talk about using evidence is talk about how to use evidence, dos and don'ts a little bit and then also ways that you can incorporate evidence.
So, do make sure you've drawn your ideas from these scholarly sources, we've talked about that. Academic writing is also what I like to call evidence-based writing, so you want to include your own ideas, but those ideas should be grounded in the research, right? You should show why you believe something is true. You want to support your thesis with these facts, statistics and evidence. And, so, your evidence and the paragraphs that you form out of your evidence and analysis and discussion should all lead back to that thesis statement. Like I was saying before, you need to make sure that your thesis statement is appropriate for the paper and the argument that you've been writing. You also need to pair your evidence with analysis. You can't just, you know, include evidence and expect the reader to connect that evidence to your argument. You also need to talk to the reader about why that evidence supports your argument and your thesis statement. You need to analyze it and explain it for your reader.
And then you can also, if you'd like and if it's appropriate, address the opposing sides or refute the opposing side, and I say you can, if it's appropriate, because it really depends on your own style, the topic that you're writing, the paper that you're writing, whether it's appropriate, or whether it's even required. I know some papers and some assignments will require students to address the opposing side in some point in your argument because the instructor wants you to practice that. It's a really helpful technique to do so, addressing an opposing side and addressing why that opposing side is wrong or inaccurate or doesn't apply is helpful in sort of addressing concerns or questions your reader might have before they have them. And can help strengthen your argument. But it certainly isn't required either. So that's something helpful to keep in mind.
Don't ground ideas in belief or opinion. And along with that, avoid phrases like “I think” or “I believe.” In my hypothetical example of dark chocolate if I said that I think dark chocolate is healthier than milk chocolate, I could just as easily say that dark chocolate is healthier than milk chocolate and that's a statement of my own idea there. But I'm avoiding the more informal phrasing of I think or I believe. And then, of course, I’d want to back that up with research.
Avoid supporting your research with moral claims or opinions, of course. You want to, again, ground the ideas that you have in the argument in the research. And then also don't assume your readers will understand your points without that analysis. Like I said, make sure that you're leading your reader through your evidence and how that evidence sort of relates back to your thesis statement and your argument with analysis and explanation. And then also make sure that if you are addressing opposing sides, you're doing so by addressing their ideas but not by belittling them, of course, we don't want to call people names, we want to focus on people's ideas and why those are wrong, not on personal things or other sort of characteristics.
Visual: Slide changes to the following: Sources of Evidence: Judging Quality
Not the best sources
Learn more: Evaluating Resources
Audio: So, when we're thinking about sources and using our evidence, there are some sources that are better than others. Not all sources are created equal. And before I kind of talk about this generally, I want to note here that this also depends on the kind of paper you're writing. If you're writing a discussion post where your assignment asks you to look at a website and to just refer or analyze that website in your discussion post, then, of course, you're going to focus just on that website. On the flip side, if you're writing, you know, a master's thesis or a dissertation, you will probably rely much less on websites and more on peer-reviewed sources than, you know, in that discussion post that I was just describing and that's because the sort of threshold for what kind of sources you're using is different based on the different assignment. So, if you're ever unsure about what sources are appropriate for particular assignment, just kind of think about the assignment's purpose a little bit and always make sure to ask your faculty if you're not sure.
But, in general, statistics and data, studies and experiments and facts supported by the research, peer-reviewed sources, like journal articles, those are the things you'll want to privilege and use more of than anecdotes, analogies, personal experiences, popular magazines and opinion pieces, those sorts of things. In general, if you can find information or ideas or a fact from a peer-reviewed source like a journal article, then you will want to use that, even if you can find the same information from a "New York Times" article. "New York Times" is great, right? But peer-reviewed sources from, like, journal articles are more scholarly and privileged over a magazine or a newspaper in academic writing. So that's important to keep in mind as well.
Visual: Slide changes to the following: Opinion versus Evidence
Today, many students have said that high school curricula are boring, unimaginative, and based on rote memorization.
Because high school history curricula are based on rote memorization, visual and kinetic learners often do not get the support they need (Smith, 2011).
Audio: So, a couple of examples for you here. We have a sentence that says, “today, many students have said that high school curricula are boring, unimaginative and based on rote memorization.” This sentence is fine, it's a good first draft, but it's a little too opinion based and by that I actually mean that, A, it doesn't include any research. I don't know where this author's getting this information. But it's also generalizing these ideas as well. It talks about many students. Well, how many students have said this? And what high school curricula are they talking about? What do they mean by boring and unimaginative and based on rote memorization, what do we mean by these things? So, we can be more specific in this sentence or this revision.
“Because high school history curricula are based on rote memorization, visual and kinetic learners often do not get the support they need.” This is a much more specific sentence. It talks about specific high school history curricula, it focuses just on rote memorization and because it does that, it's more specific, it's able to talk specifically about visual and kinetic learners and we can also see the source that we're getting this from. I would then want to sort of pair this with other evidence and analysis to continue to develop my ideas. But that's also something helpful to keep in mind. All right.
Visual: Slide changes to the following: Evidence + Analysis
According to recent data, 88% of online learners report high satisfaction with the flexibility of their courses (Roland, Guthrie, & Thome, 2012).
Write 1 sentence of analysis for this sentence.
[The webinar layout changes to open a chat box for students to type into in response to the chat question.]
Audio: So, we've talked a lot about evidence and analysis here, but I want to now talk about sort of how you can pair the two together and do a little practice with this. So, I'd like to you take a look at this sentence of evidence, I'm going to read it aloud. “According to recent data, 88% of online learners report high satisfaction with the flexibility of their courses.” And this is the source, “Roland, Guthrie and Thome, 2012”. Go ahead and pair this evidence with analysis, frame this for the reader a little bit and put these two things together so that you can pair this evidence and interpret it for your reader. We'll practice that. I'm going to pull some sentences up into our notepad so we can take a look at that. So, I'll give you a few minutes to respond here. And then we'll take a look.
[Pause as students type.]
I'm seeing a couple people who seem to be paraphrasing this piece of evidence, that is a great practice. That's a great practice to do. But, remember, too, that we're adding analysis here. So, we're adding on to this evidence to help sort of build a hypothetical argument to a certain extent. Okay? I know this is hypothetical. But it's helpful practice just to kind of think through this hypothetical situation.
[Pause as students type.]
All right. Feel free to keep typing, keep submitting, if you like. I'm going to go ahead and talk about this a little bit. I have a couple of submissions that you all submitted in the chat box, I wanted to go over these. So, the first one that I pulled says, “however, how the Department of Education stands on the survey data can be researched further,” so, what this particular authority said was, you know, we have this research on satisfaction from Roland, et al, but the Department of Education actually could research this and give us more information. Maybe this paper is talking about the lack of research on online education and flexibility and this analysis would lead toward that, right? So that could be really helpful.
The second example I have here is “flexibility in courses lends to the high rate of satisfaction of online learners.” So, we're connecting here this idea of flexibility and satisfaction, kind of reiterating it for the reader as well. That could be really useful, depending on your purpose here.
And then the third example I pulled says,” this suggests that course flexibility is an important factor that should be considered.” Really helpful in thinking about maybe this paper is about administration in online programs and the need to focus on flexibility is one important point here that the author is mentioning should be considered.
And then the last -- not the last one, the fourth one I pulled here, says, “online learning is slowly growing and soon can be the norm.” I found this helpful in thinking about how flexibility might contribute to this online learning. I would probably say that this sentence should be connected to the evidence more clearly, for example, maybe saying, this satisfaction with flexibility might be one reason online learning is slowly growing and soon could be the norm. So, we could add, you know, a bit of a connection between this flexibility idea and the idea that online learning is becoming more of the norm.
And then the last example here says, “this shows that online learning has significant benefits.” Just really simple, right, but showing exactly why this evidence could be useful. So, I hope this was helpful in thinking through.
Visual: Slide changes to the following: Evidence + Analysis: Different Interpretations
According to recent data, 88% of online learners report high satisfaction with the flexibility of their courses (Roland, Guthrie, & Thome, 2012). Clearly, the vast majority of online learners have chosen to get their education online because of the flexibility it provides.
According to recent data, 88% of online learners report high satisfaction with the flexibility of their courses (Roland, Guthrie, & Thome, 2012). In other words, online higher education is meeting the flexibility needs of online learners.
Audio: I'm going to actually pull us away here and I want to show you a couple of the pieces of analysis that I put together. So, I said, “clearly, the vast majority of online learners have chosen to get their education online because of the flexibility it provides.” So, saying that people are choosing online learning because of this flexibility, kind of similar to something that one of you all said, too. And then another example here is, “in other words, online education is meeting the flexibility needs of online learners.”
What I want to point out here is that, really, your evidence should be there to support your thesis statement and support your own ideas, but that you need to provide that second piece of analysis after your evidence to make sure that the reader understands why you're using this evidence or how you're incorporating it into your argument. That's really important to keep in mind as well. As you all saw, many of you came up with different pieces of analysis, and that's the whole point here, because your argument, your thesis and your analysis is going to be unique to you, we're all going to be using it differently. But you need to make sure to incorporate it so that your reader gets what that analysis is and how you’re using that evidence in your argument.
Visual: Slide changes to the following: Ways to Use Evidence: Quoting
Captures information from a source word for word
Kubista (2014) noted that “adult learners often are more motivated than traditional students” (p. 6).
Learn more: Using and Integrating Quotes
Audio: So, what I also want to talk about, when we’re talking about using evidence, is touching quickly on ways to use evidence, and that’s through quoting and paraphrasing. Now, again, we have lots of more information on our other webinars and on our website about both using paraphrasing and quoting and about citing them. So, do make sure to take a look at those or let Melissa or Casey know if you have questions. I'm going to go over this pretty briefly here. But what I want to emphasize is that you can both quote and paraphrase your evidence, but that both quoting and paraphrasing are not necessarily equal ways to include evidence.
So, quoting, of course, is when you use the source's wording word for word in your own writing. So, you're copying and pasting from a source, putting in quotation marks and a citation around it to show that. And here's an example here. We have Kubista, 2014, noted that adult learners often are more motivated than student learners, end quote, and then the page number. Quoting is, you know, just one way to incorporate sources in your writing but it's not necessarily the best way. And that's because quoting really is more of a passive way of incorporating sources in your writing.
Visual: Slide changes to the following: Ways to Use Evidence: Quoting Effectively
Avoid: A “dropped” quote:
“Patients trusted their providers and believed that their healthcare was safe and of high quality” (Hyman & Silver, 2012, p. 417).
Use: An integrated quote:
Hyman and Silver (2012) observed that “patients trusted their providers and believed that their healthcare was safe and of high quality” (p. 417).
Audio: If you are going to quote, you do want to make sure that you quote effectively, which means avoiding what we call a dropped quote. So, a dropped quote is kind of just taking a quote, putting it into your paragraph, but not really integrating it or connecting it with your own writing. You can see here that I have a quote that's both the start and the end of the sentence within quotation marks with none of my own voice or my own wording. Instead, I want to avoid that and integrate the quote, so I could say something like, “Hyman and Silver observed that, quote, patients trusted their providers and believed that their health care was safe and of high quality”, end quote, and then my page number. This integrated quote is more effective than the dropped quote because it integrates the quote into my own voice, it helps connect it to the other sentences around the quote and helps avoid sort of choppiness but also shows that I'm engaging with that quote a little bit more thoroughly. So, if you do decide to quote to use your evidence, make sure you're using an integrated quote.
Visual: Slides changes to the following: Ways to Use Evidence: Paraphrasing
Captures information from a source in your own words
Adults, more often than younger students, are motivated to learn (Kubista, 2014).
Learn more: Paraphrasing Source Information
Audio: However, I strongly encourage you to avoid quoting and focus more on paraphrasing in your writing. Paraphrasing, of course, is where you put a source's phrasing or ideas, information, stats, figures, into your own voice, so you're using your own word choice, your own vocabulary, but also your own sentence structure to create that own voice that you're representing that source's ideas in. So, you must use your own phrasing and wording, but you also should include a citation. And I have an example here of that quote that I've paraphrased. “Adults, more often than younger students, are motivated to learn. Kubista, 2014.” So, I've used my own sentence structure and my own word choice, I've included a citation here.
Visual: Slide changes to the following: Why do we paraphrase?
Audio: Now, why do I say that paraphrasing is better than quoting? Well, a couple of things. First, paraphrasing is a really active process. Quoting can become very passive where you're just kind of copying and pasting from a source and putting it in your writing without really thinking about the source too much or engaging with it or really seeing how it relates to your own ideas. With paraphrasing, you really have to understand that source's ideas and phrasing to be able to put it in your own words. So, it really helps you work through your own ideas and engage with that source more fully. It also helps show the reader that you understand the source. And when I say shows your reader, I also mean that it helps show your faculty member, right? Your faculty can see when you're paraphrasing a source that you really understood the focus for that week and what you're learning as well.
And then, it also helps keep readers, helps them to see your academic voice, it helps keep your academic voice in your writing. When I see paragraphs with lots of quotes throughout the paragraphs, it really kind of feels very choppy because you're going back and forth between a different source and then than the author and then the source, then the author, and it's a lot of back and forth. But using your own voice really helps establish your own voice in that paragraph and really establishes your authority and that you're guiding this discussion, right? So, I do highly encourage that you paraphrase. Paraphrasing can be a difficult skill so, if you don't paraphrase very much right now, I just encourage you to start working on it, start working towards paraphrasing more and more and eventually it will just become more second nature.
The other thing, just to note, is that paraphrasing is more difficult when you're new to a field or to a topic. Maybe you're learning a new theory or maybe you haven't read journal articles for a while and you're just starting to read them again and you're finding them a bit hard to understand or to get through. Paraphrasing can be more difficult in those situations, and it really does just take practice and time for you to get better at. But just know that it will get better and easier.
Visual: Slide changes to the following: Organizing Arguments
Learn more: Structure of an Argument
Audio: All right. So, like I said, we're going to spend most of our time on those first two sections and we have. Before I move on to our last two sections, in the last 15 minutes here, Melissa, do we have questions about paraphrasing that would be helpful to touch on or address?
Melissa: No questions have come in about paraphrasing. So, I think we are okay.
Beth: Okay, awesome. Well, if you have questions, about paraphrasing, quoting, citing, all those things, do make sure to let Melissa and Casey know, that's what they're there for. All right.
I'm going to move on to talking about organizing arguments and then revising your arguments as well. Because it's really important to develop an effective argument to organize it clearly as well. You don't want to be too scattered in your organization, or the reader won't be able to follow your argument and, thus, won't really get to that destination with you, right, they won't be persuaded by your arguments.
Visual: Slide changes to the following: Essential Elements: 5 Paragraph Essay
HOWEVER, the number and order of body paragraphs depend on the paper’s length and thesis.
Audio: Okay. So, I want to start by talking about a five-paragraph essay and I'm going to preface this by saying that a five-paragraph essay is both really helpful but also can be really limiting. So, I use it just as a starting point. But you might be familiar with the five-paragraph essay, it's often an assignment in, you know, sort of composition classrooms and it's just a really simple format for developing an argument for probably a three to five-page paper. And all of your arguments, you're always going to want to start with the introduction, which includes the introduction to the topic, as well as your thesis statement, of course. But you'll also want to kind of book end your paper with a conclusion at the very end, a conclusion paragraph, to kind of wrap up the paper. And in the five-paragraph essay, you kind of stop, have in the middle three main claims, which each claim having one paragraph and that's a helpful way to kind of think about organizing your paper. You might decide that your topic or your thesis -- I'm sorry, not your topic -- but your thesis, your argument has three main claims. And, so, you have a paragraph for each claim. And then you want to organize that paragraph sort of from broad -- whoop, that's my next slide -- from broad to narrow. I'm going to talk a bit more about that in just a second.
But, essentially, this is a great way, if you're not sure how to start organizing your paragraph, five-paragraph essay is a great start. However, I always want to say, you should not limit yourself to five paragraphs. Having a thesis with three main claims and three main paragraphs can work for really sort of starting out, however, the number and order of these body paragraphs will really depend on your paper's length and your thesis. So, if you're not sure where to start, start here, but then make sure that you go beyond this. Once you get to a seven to ten-page paper, you're going to have a lot more body paragraphs. And that's okay and that's helpful. You would not want to limit a ten-page paper to only five paragraphs. Similarly, when you have a discussion post or something, you're going to want to get much shorter, right? So that would depend on the length that you have.
Visual: Slide changes to the following: Organizing Claims from Broad to Specific
Audio: Now, when we think about organizing your ideas and what order they should come in, generally you're going to want to start with the broad general background first. So, you want to make sure and think about, okay, what does my reader need to know before I get into my specific claims. Maybe if I'm talking about my hypothetical paper of dark chocolate versus milk chocolate and how dark chocolate has better health benefits, then in my first paragraph I might just talk about the history of dark and milk chocolate and how they were developed and what they're made of and maybe the research thus far on them, just a general overview, right? And then in my subsequent paragraphs, I'm going get more specific and I'm going to talk about my specific claims about dark chocolate, I'm going to go 1, 2, 3, 4, maybe have four paragraphs because I have four different claims. And as I go along, I want to make sure that I'm ordering those claims in an order that makes sense for the reader. I don't want to include something too early, if they need other information first to understand it. Okay?
So, go broad first, general, and then get more specific. And how you do that will really depend on your thesis and your paper. But just keep that kind of general idea in mind.
Visual: Slide changes to the following: Organizing Claims Example
Audio: And then here's an example for you to think about this a little bit. So, let's say my thesis is childhood obesity negatively affects children's overall health as well as their academic achievement. My first claim is childhood obesity is prevalent. So, this is maybe my background a bit more, right? It's really important to show that childhood obesity is prevalent to really even think about the negative effects because, who cares about whether it negatively affects children if, you know, it only happens, you know, really sporadically or not very often, right? So, I need to establish sort of the context for my discussion. And then I have maybe three main claims. Childhood obesity causes diabetes. Childhood obesity causes heart disease. And then childhood obesity causes lower grades and I'm going to talk about those in order. And then, of course, I would end with a conclusion. But the main thing, the claims start broad and they get more specific.
Visual: Slide changes to the following: Revising Arguments
Audio: All right. So, when we're thinking about revising our arguments, it's also important to remember that our first draft of developing and presenting our argument may not be the best way that we do so, just like when I was talking about our thesis statement and having a tentative thesis statement to start with before you start writing that thesis statement might change as you write. Writing is thinking. That's what I like to say. As you write, you think and you develop your ideas and, so, those ideas might shift and change as you write. Or you might find that you have more to say on a topic than you thought and, so, you might need to cut back a bit, because as you're writing, you're realizing that. Or as you're writing, maybe you realize that you wrote a first draft with a particular order of your ideas, but then actually a different order makes more sense. That is particularly important when you get to longer papers. So, if you're working on a 10, 15, 30, 50-page paper, right, it becomes really important to go back and revise and consider the order of your information.
Visual: Slide changes to the following: Tips for Revising Arguments
Audio: So, a couple of things or tips for revising arguments, a couple of strategies you can use. Keep your thesis statement in mind and ask, does this point or evidence relate to or support my thesis statement? What you can do is think about that tentative thesis. You could have it at the top of your paper, if you're writing a really long paper, you could even print it out, have it next to you so as you're writing, you can refer to it really easily. Anything you can do to kind of look at that thesis and say, okay, I'm writing about this topic for this paragraph, does that relate, does that help, is it beyond or outside of the scope of my thesis statement, that sort of thing.
Also, don't be afraid to find new evidence or tweak your thesis if they don't match. I've already talked about adjusting your thesis statement, but maybe you even find that as you're writing, you don't have enough evidence to support some of your ideas. So, you need to go back to that research phase. And that's okay, too. Your research doesn't have to stay the same and your thesis doesn't have to stay the same as soon as you begin writing. You're not sort of done and set with what you're writing with.
And then also make sure you check that you're pairing evidence with analysis, you can try using the MEAL plan, the MEAL plan is sort of a way of conceptualizing paragraphs and we haven't talked about that a whole lot today, but we have a lot of information about paragraph development that could be really helpful and that's important to keep in mind, too, so take a look at that as well.
Visual: Slide changes to the following: Outlining Arguments
Outlining: Sketching out the structure and order of your paper before you write it à Useful for planning
Reverse Outlining: Sketching out the structure and order of your paper after you write it à Useful for revising
Audio: And then the last strategy I have to recommend for you is outlining your arguments. Now, I didn't talk about this at the beginning, but it's really helpful once you have a tentative thesis statement to outline your paper. Kind of decide, is this going to be a five-paragraph paper, is this going to be a seven-paragraph paper, and start outlining your main points that you need to develop for your argument and have those in a list for you. That will give you direction so that you know you're going to get to your destination of a thesis statement. It will give you a way to sort of focus your writing. So, outlining is really helpful for planning and to start and do before you start writing.
But you can also think about reverse outlining as a way to analyze your argument and make sure that you've organized it in the most effective way. So, once you have a first draft, what you'll do is you'll create an outline of your draft in reverse. So, you'll pull out your thesis statement and then you'll go through each of your paragraphs and write sort of a summary sentence or a summary phrase for each paragraph in order. And then you'll talk a look at that list and say, okay, have I covered everything I need to to develop my thesis? Have I missed anything? Is anything outside of the scope of my thesis? Is it in the correct order? All those questions are things you should consider and then you can make adjustments if needed so that's really helpful, too, both outlining before you write and then reverse outlining after you have a draft.
Visual: Slide changes to the following: Questions:
Now: Let us know!
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Audio: Whoo, all right. So, we have covered a lot, a lot in the last 55 minutes here. And I want to stop and see if we have any other questions in the last couple minutes here that would be helpful to address. Melissa, what have you and Casey been seeing in the Q & A box?
Melissa: Hi, no, in the Q & A box, we -- I don't think we have anything that you didn't already cover. So, I think we are all set.
Beth: Awesome. I actually just saw a question that came in about dissertations, do you mind if I address that just verbally, that might be useful? Yeah.
Melissa: Yes, please do, thank you for catching that.
Beth: Yeah. No, no worries. So, the question was, can this material be used for dissertations? And I'm actually going to broaden that question a little bit and ask, can this be used for discussion posts or course papers or master's thesis or any kind of paper? And the answer is yes, to a certain extent. So, if you're thinking about a dissertation or a project study as a doctoral student, keep in mind that, like I said before, a thesis statement isn't really part of a dissertation or a project study. Instead, you'll focus more on a problem and a purpose statement. But my suggestions here for thinking about evidence and organizing, those strategies for outlining and reverse outlining, those will still be totally appropriate for your dissertation and your project study. In particular, if you're a doctoral student, thinking about your literature review, these are really helpful there. Your literature review will be a really large section or chapter of your final study, and the organization of that is really, really important because it's not sort of outlined for you by the program. It's all up to you. So, these strategies can be really helpful in those cases.
But, also keep in mind that all of this can be useful for anything from a discussion post up. I always recommend that students develop a thesis statement even for discussion post because it's really good practice. You may not be absolutely required to have one, depending on the assignment, and depending on your faculty member, but it's really helpful to have one because it's good practice and it helps focus you as well. So, I like to suggest that students treat discussion posts as mini papers as a practice or as a way to practice their writing process. All right. Anything else, Melissa, that came in as I was talking? I feel like that's kind of how it goes sometimes.
Melissa: Yeah. We had one more question about using the third person point of view in writing assignments and in writing arguments. The difference between using third person and first person to create those.
Beth: Yeah, yeah. So, when you're thinking about point of view within your arguments, the first thing I want you to keep in mind is that you can go ahead and use first person, like I, to talk about things that you actually do, not necessarily in the paper itself, but in your own personal experience or in the research process. So, if you're talking about maybe part of your paper is I'm talking about applying a specific theory into your workplace, then you might talk about your own hospital and say, in my hospital, you know, X, Y and Z. And in those cases, first person is appropriate. However, try to avoid first person when you're thinking about I think or I believe statements or you can even usually eliminate it in your thesis statement. Sometimes it's okay to use first person in, like, a first draft of a thesis statement, like in this paper, I will, X, Y and Z, but often, instead, you can just eliminate that and talk about just your argument in that first person.
When we're thinking about the other points of view, like using we or you, I do recommend in your arguments that you avoid addressing the reader specifically, like saying, you should know, X, Y and Z, instead, you want to make you more specific and refer to specific population or something like that. And also avoid we or our, unless you're writing with another author. Or if you're talking about maybe we in our hospital and you're talking about the nurses in your hospital, something like that.
So. All right. We are at the top of the hour. So, I'm going to have to go ahead and wrap us up here. If you have any other questions that we didn't get to, please do make sure to let us know via our e-mail here, I have it up here at firstname.lastname@example.org and I also want to note that we have a couple of other webinars listed here that would be helpful next steps, and we have other webinars coming up in, July, so I hope to see you there, live. And I also want to thank Melissa and Casey for all of their help in the Q & A box and addressing your questions. We're going to wrap up for the day but thank you so much, everyone, and we hope to see you at another webinar coming up soon. Thanks, all.