Basic Description: In the final Critical Thinking assignment to be completed for this course, you will undertake to analyze (and perhaps answer) a particular question of both personal and current public interest. That is, from among the many different topics now being discussed in the news, you will select one that is of personal or professional interest for you. Having identified the topic, you will then use the five stases to precisely define a question to research and then attempt to answer in a final report of 2000 to 3000 words, written in a standard essay format. This essay is worth 20% of your course grade.
In most cases, on most issues of interest, public opinion will be divided or diverse. Your focus should be on the debate between different sources of information and opinion on this topic. Your first task is to accurately represent the different perspectives on the issue: what different people are saying and why they are saying it. Using the framework of the five stases will help you to isolate the precise points of agreement and conflict in the debate, so that the real problem and question can be stately with focus and clarity.
Your next task is then to try to interpret these different sources and their messages, in order to draw some conclusion about the issue. You may decide in the end that the answer is clear, and that you have ample evidence to demonstrate that it is so; in such a case, you should then clearly state your claim, and also state the reasons why you have drawn this conclusion. However, it may also be the case that, as a result of your analysis of the sources, you do not feel that any source of information on your issue is credible; if so, you should draw your conclusion accordingly.
Choosing your Issue and Question:
Your first concern will be to choose a general topic for your paper, and then to narrow your focus to a specific problem or question. This process of choosing an issue and focusing on a particular aspect of it is important, and will largely determine the success of the rest of the paper.
Keep the conceptual framework of the Five Stases in mind as you try to identify an appropriate topic and question. The five stases direct us to analyze arguments and debates in terms of questions of conjecture (or fact), questions of definition, questions of cause and consequence, questions of value, and questions of procedure or proposal. While the option of choosing a question of value or proposal will not be disallowed, you should be aware that in order to focus on these “higher” or later questions you need to provide at least provisional answers for the “lower” or earlier questions of conjecture, definition, and cause. Therefore, you are encouraged to direct your inquiry to a question of conjecture or fact, a question of definition, or a question of cause and consequence. Below, by way of example, are some issues we’ve addressed in our guidebook discussions, framed as questions of conjecture, definition, and cause and consequence:
Questions of Conjecture or Fact:
- Has there been a dramatic exodus of doctors from PA or the profession?
- Has there been a dramatic increase in the number of malpractice lawsuits?
- Has there been a dramatic increase in the amounts awarded in these lawsuits?
Questions of Definition:
- Does the current state of med. malpractice insurance in PA constitute a “crisis”?
- What is an “excessive” settlement?
Questions of Cause and Consequence:
- Was the recent rise in medical malpractice insurance premiums in PA caused by an increase in the number and severity of medical malpractice lawsuits?
- Or was the recent sudden rise in medical malpractice insurance premiums in PA caused by the recent dramatic downturn in the stock market?
Anthony Weston’s A Rulebook for Arguments (especially Chapters 7, 8 and 9) will be a valuable resource for you as you begin to research and write your paper. And the first chapter of David Skwire’s Writing with a Thesis (available on electronic reserve) also offers great guidance on how to formulate a proper, clear thesis for an essay.
Whatever topic you end up choosing (and note that it does not have to be one of those you identified at the end of the Self-Analysis in Lesson 2, if you come upon something that interests you more), you should keep in mind that the best papers are written about focused questions or problems that can be feasibly addressed in the space of 10 pages. There is a tendency for students to choose "grand" issues and to thereby bite off more than they can chew – that is, they ask very broad, general questions, and this is okay for a beginning, but it can be a problem later on. When it comes time to write your issue analysis, don't try to tackle too much. Pick a topic that is well-defined, quite focused, and concrete. Big, hairy, value-laden issues like “Should the Roe vs. Wade decision be reversed?” or "Should we pull out of Iraq?" are probably not appropriate or feasible, unless you do not try to answer the question, and instead try to say something interesting about the rhetoric of the public debate over the issue. As you follow an issue in the media, try to get a sense of a single, clear question or problem that sits at the core of the controversy, and then try to focus on that.
Developing your Analysis:
Once you have chosen your specific thesis-question, your next concern will be to analyze the question using the skills and concepts you have studied in this course. Your analysis should have five basic elements:
STEP ONE – THE OVERVIEW:
Once you have defined your question, your first task is to canvass a wide variety of sources in order to establish the range of the current answers to your question. Who is saying what on the issue?
STEP TWO – SOURCE ANALYSIS:
Your next step is to ask why the different parties are saying what they are saying on the issue, to scrutinize your sources for possible biases and shortcomings. Do they have an incentive for viewing this issue in the particular way they’ve presented it? Are there some facts or considerations of which they seem unaware? Can you think of reasons this might be the case?
STEP THREE – GAUGING YOUR SOURCES:
Once you have analyzed your sources you should create a system to rank or map those sources in relationship to their biases and their own sources of information. Whether or not you physically draw such a map, or otherwise chart your sources, you should have some way of explaining which sources are more reliable on which aspects of the problem. Here you will also want to note any differences between your sources regarding the other stases: Are different facts employed by the different sources? Different definitions? Different causal explanations? In short, you are trying to identify what you consider to be the best information on the topic, and then to explain why you have arrived at this conclusion.
STEP FOUR – INTERPRETATION:
Once you have analyzed and ranked your sources, you can return to your original question. Using your overview, analysis, and evaluation of your sources, you should be able to explain the discrepancies observed between the positions publicly expressed by the opposing parties. And having explained these discrepancies, you will then offer what you regard as the most plausible answer to your question.
STEP FIVE – CONCLUSION:
In your conclusion, you will clearly and concisely restate your answer to the question you posed at the beginning of your paper. Then you will briefly summarize the principal reasons that you arrived at this answer. You will still want to qualify this answer with probabilistic language (“almost certainly,” “probable, “most likely,” etc.), and you may want to leave open the possibility that further information on a particular aspect of the topic may lead you to change your answer, but your reader should finish your paper without any doubts as to your present conclusion.
Criteria for Evaluation
The breadth and depth of your research
Have you clearly defined and expressed your question? (That’s something you should have worked out in advance of your paper, but if you change your topic, be sure to pose your new question carefully.) Have you identified all the interested parties? Have your found the sources behind the sources?
Acuity of analysis
Do you understand the nature of the interests that are contending on/in this issue? Have you made good use of the stases in defining the points of opposition between your sources? Have you used this analysis to effectively evaluate the credibility of your sources on specific aspects of the issue?
Quality of argument
Have you constructed an effective argument for your answer, one that provides plausible, and tested, links between the different pieces of evidence and the lines of analysis you have assembled? Have you anticipated and addressed the likely counterarguments?
Grammar, Style, and Citation
Is the paper clearly written, in college English w/appropriate citations? Is there anything distinctive or engaging about the writing?
|Due By (Pacific Time)||08/28/2014 12:00 am|
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