1. Start by identifying your interest in the topic. What is your relationship to it? Why did you choose this topic? What question(s) do you have about it?
2. Describe what you see before you. How is this issue commonly understood by a lay audience? How have you understood the issue? What are your initial assumptions about it?
3. Next, challenge yourself to question these assumptions. What do you think you might be overlooking? What new questions do you have about the issue?
4. How do the people involved define/describe/understand the issue? Pursue your research by following your natural curiosity about the topic. Stay focused on questions. What was your initial question? How does it grow and change throughout your research process?
*Your exploratory paper should be written as a narrative. That is, you should use your own voice and tell the story of your research process. As you go through your process, please explain your rationale for the choices you make, why you pursued a particular source, what you thought of it, etc.
Key Components: Your paper should include the following components:
1. Show why your topic/question is important (i.e. something that is worth arguing about).
2. Explain what is at stake. (Note: Your understanding of the stake[s] may change throughout the writing of the paper. It is likely that the stakes will be slightly different for each stakeholder.)
3. Identify the stakeholders and their opinions (i.e. the various key positions on the issue). Keep in mind that there may be more than two sides to the issue.
4. Identify the assumptions and biases that influence the opinions on each side.
5. Consider, too, the varying ways that stakeholders define key terms. Do different people define or see things differently?
6. Also be sure to address any common ground(s) that exist and consider what possible outcomes might realistically occur.
*By the end of your paper, try to answer the question: What are these people really arguing about? Where is the real difference? Is it a problem of definition? a problem of assumptions or values? or of physical needs? What do they agree on?
There are a huge variety of possible topics for this project. As you work towards choosing one, consider both the scope (local, state, national, international, etc.) and the type (causal, policy, evaluation, application, etc.) of your research question:
*What kind of controversy do you want to explore? something here at the OSU? something at the federal level? some cross-cultural?
*Also, what focus do you want to take? Do you want to look at competing theories of why something happens (e.g. causes of teen drop-out rates)? Or do you want to evaluate something (e.g. the effectiveness of Oregon’s green energy measures)?
There are many kinds of arguments, so think carefully about the angle that you want to take, as well as the particular topic that interests you.
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