Major Assignments

Composing a Personal Academic Argument

<– traditional research paper –- personal academic argument –- personal essay –>

This research assignment focuses on writing a personal academic argument about some aspect of sustainability. The basic aim is for you to practice inquiry into a big idea in an engaged way to support your development as a college writer, researcher, and thinker. In brief, you’ll inquire into an issue of sustainability from a point of engagement – of interest to the writer and of value to readers. You’ll move from developing a researchable question to developing working knowledge and then focused knowledge that helps you compose your response to that question.


There are at least two major differences between a traditional research paper and a personal academic argument. First, students typically approach traditional research papers by setting out to prove something they already know or believe, and second, any use of the personal – using I, using personal experience, connecting in any way to the content material as the author – is typically not allowed.

In this assignment, you’ll be practicing inquiry – asking a research question to figure out something you didn’t already know or believe – and you’ll be asked to put the personal in dialogue with the academic to create a more engaged research experience for you as a writer and for your readers. Your final draft should be 2,000 – 3,000 words.

Guides to Invention

Invention will help you identify a topic area and develop a research question to explore with the aim of articulating an informed argument of your own on some “angle” of this expansive issue to an appropriate audience. Here are some strategies we’ll use in and out of class:

  • Engage in the Generating Ideas invention prompts in Ballenger
  • Review “Preparing for a Research Project” in Lunsford
  • Explore definitions of key terms that arise in readings and discussion
  • Begin to learn to use the library and its many electronic databases and print resources
  • Use your research log for organizing and reflecting on your research


You will receive comments rather than a grade on your research and writing process and essay. You’ll write a post write to reflect on your process, in which you’ll have a chance to speak to particular aspects of your process and direct my attention to particular texts you composed in the writing and research process. Please select one example of your invention work related to researching and one piece of drafting to hand in with your paper. You will also need to turn in copies of all the research that you cite in the paper (beyond any class articles) and your research log. This will help me help you with your research process and use of source material. The check system will also help guide my evaluation (see Information on Grading).

I will read your final draft to determine your success:

  • Answering (perhaps tentatively) a researchable question related to the broad topic of sustainability
  • Engaging the genre, which includes
    • Strategically using personal experience as evidence alongside academic evidence
    • Engaging readers stylistically through pronoun use
    • Writing with a recognition of how who you are and what you care about informs your writing
  • Developing habits and practices of an academic researcher
  • Practicing conventions for documenting source use within the text and in a works cited page
  • Practicing conventions of grammar, punctuation, spelling as appropriate to the writing situation

Reflective Essay

For this assignment, you will take stock of your learning and performance in class so far this semester as a way to engage in portfolio learning. The purpose is for you to reflect on your performance to identify:

  • Specific strengths and weaknesses as a writer and researcher,
  • Current best and worst practices as a writer and researcher in WRIT 101,
  • Course concepts and practices you’re learning about,
  • Specific goals you want/need to strive for in class.


  • Define reflection and assessment (See Portfolio Keeping in EW)
  • Revisit Ballenger’s discussion of inquiry
  • Review your working portfolio
  • Consider your work and habits in and out of class, working with others and working alone


In this genre you’ll practice self-assessment and reflection, writing about your work in class, including texts you’ve written, activities you’ve participated in, etc. You’ll be writing an essay of 500-750 words.


25% of your final grade (graded A-F). This essay receives a letter grade because you will not revise it for your portfolio (though you will want to revisit it at the end of semester).

Evaluation Criteria

Please select one example of your invention work, one piece of drafting, and one homework to hand in with your paper.

I will read your final essay to determine your success:

  • Composing an essay with a clear purpose
  • Using details and examples from your work to discuss your learning
  • Developing the ability to self-assess
  • Practicing conventions of grammar, punctuation, spelling as appropriate to the writing situation

Putting Your Oar In: Greening UM

Imagine that you enter a parlor. You come late and when you arrive, others have long preceded you, and they are engaged in a heated discussion, too heated for them to pause and tell you exactly what it is about.  In fact, the discussion had already begun long before any of them got there, so no one present is qualified to retrace for you all the steps that had gone on before. You listen for a while, until you decide that you have caught the tenor of the argument; then you put in your oar.  Someone answers; you answer him; another comes to your defense, another aligns himself against you, to either the embarrassment or gratification of your opponent, depending on the quality of your ally’s assistance. However, the discussion is interminable. The hour grows late, you must depart. And you do depart, with the discussion still vigorously in progress.

~ Kenneth Burke

The metaphor of entering a conversation at a party is a useful one for thinking about argumentation. To engage academic conversations, or even a conversation at a party, you need to (1) see what conversations are going on and find one that interests you, (2) listen to what’s being said in the conversation, (3) and join the conversation by responding to someone, building off what someone else has said, or asking a new question. In other words, to enter a conversation as an academic or engaged citizen, you need to research the history of a question or issue that interests you, do further research and thinking to determine what your contribution to that issue or question will be, and write up your contribution to the conversation.

Genre Issues

Your civic argument assignment will focus on entering a conversation that crosses both academic and civic contexts through the genre of the op-ed. The op-ed is an argument located in the context of a local newspaper or magazine (electronic or print) whose subject is an issue of civic concern. Your aim is to compose an argument that contributes to yours and your readers’ understanding about university efforts to commit to sustainability.

  • Focus explicitly on an arguable question related to sustainability and our campus community (your tentative answer is your major claim)
  • Make clear premises and claims in support of your major claim
  • Use appropriate, researched evidence to support your claims
  • Using rhetorical appeals and argumentation strategies
  • Write in the op-ed genre
  • Your final draft should be 700 – 1000 words
  • Engage in the Generating Ideas invention prompts in CW
  • Use Critical Thinking and Argument in EW as a resource
  • Explore definitions of key terms: argument, claim, assumptions, ethos, logos, pathos
  • Read samples of op-eds

Guides to Invention


You will receive comments rather than a grade on the drafting and final draft. I will look over your drafting materials to see if you complete all aspects of the assignment and understand and practice assigned activities. Please select one piece of invention work and one piece of drafting to turn in along with copies of all the research that you cite in the paper (beyond the class articles).

I will read your final draft to determine your success:

  • Focusing on a purpose
  • Doing primary and secondary research to develop your argument and evidence
  • Selecting and using evidence appropriately for your audience and purpose
  • Demonstrating an understanding of argument, fallacies, and appeals
  • Engaging the genre of the op-ed
  • Practicing conventions for documenting source use within the text and in a works cited page
  • Practicing conventions of grammar, punctuation, spelling as appropriate to the writing situation

Life Place Essay: Where I Live, and What I Live For

Somewhere in the swirl of life, each of us ponders three essential questions: ‘Who am I?’ ‘Where am I?’ and ‘What am I supposed to do?’ We often consider the first question in isolation, as if it were the true key to our existence – as if the matter of who we are could be resolved independently of the two remaining questions. But all three of these questions must be answered in [concert], as together they articulate the totality of the human condition…. Questions of our existence and action are separable neither from each other nor from place – but it is place that we have most often ignored.” (Thayer 1)

“A bioregion is literally and etymologically a ‘life-place’ – a unique region definable by natural (rather than political) boundaries with a geographic, climatic, hydrological, and ecological character capable of supporting unique human and nonhuman living communities. Bioregions can variously be defined by the geography of watersheds, similar plant and animal ecosystems, and related, identifiable landforms (e.g., particular mountain ranges, prairies, or coastal zones) and by the unique human cultures that grow from natural limits and potentials of the region.” (Thayer 3)

As college students many of you are making Missoula your home here (perhaps temporarily), and this final personal essay challenges you to consider how where you live now – your current life-place – shapes who you are and how you try to live. Your purpose here is to compose a personal essay to communicate some point about your life-place or the concept of life place more generally to readers, your peers.

Genre Issues

  • “There must be a purpose behind telling the story that speaks in some way to someone else.”
  • Your experiences and bioregional research serve as evidence
  • Analysis and reflection are critical methods to go beyond simply telling a story
  • A personal essay is not just for the sake of the writer – it’s intended to be a window on the world for readers
  • Your final draft should be 1,000 words

Guides to Invention

  • Engage in the Generating Ideas invention prompts in the text
  • Map what you know about Missoula as a place
  • Conduct research on Missoula as a bioregion
  • Consider thinking relationally or comparatively: how does Missoula as a life-place compare to the place you call home? OR how your past speaks to your present and how you envision your future.
  • Common readings and free writes about life place


You will receive comments rather than a grade on selected drafting artifacts and your final draft.

I will collect and look over your drafting materials to see if you complete all aspects of the assignment and understand and practice assigned writing process activities. Please select one piece of invention and one piece of drafting to submit with the draft.

I will read your final draft to determine your success:

  • Engaging the genre of the personal essay, including
    • Focusing on a purpose that engages readers in your study of how where you matters to who you are and what you do
    • Using personal experience and research on bioregion as evidence
    • Using narration and reflection as methods of development
    • Demonstrating an understanding of lifeplace
    • Practicing conventions for documenting source use within the text and in a works cited page as necessary
    • Practicing conventions of grammar, punctuation, spelling as appropriate

Final Portfolio Instructions

“Portfolios showcase a writer’s talent and hard work and demonstrate the ability to make thoughtful choices about content and presentation.” ~ Nedra Reynolds

Your WRIT 101 portfolio represents your work over the semester to develop your abilities as a writer and reader of texts and meet course goals and requirements to gain rhetorical knowledges; improve your critical thinking, reading and writing abilities; develop reading, writing, and research processes, and learn more about writing conventions. The final portfolio offers you a focused, organized opportunity to present the body of work you’ve collected, revised, and reflected upon over the semester.

Guidelines for Submission

The following must be included in your final portfolio:

  • Table of contents: indicate the titles (and page number of each final product if you submit a print document). Include brief annotations to identify submissions that demonstrate substantial revision
  • Reflective letter or memo: the introduction to your portfolio
  • 3 major inquiry projects: revised, edited, polished. Two submissions must demonstrate substantial revision
  • 3 invention artifacts
  • 3 drafting/revision artifacts
  • Teacher comments for the 3 major inquiry projects
  • WRIT 101 Portfolio Grading Rubric

Formatting Guidelines

  • Submit portfolio either electronically OR as a paper document
  • If you submit a print document, do not submit loose paper or a pile of pages in an envelope; do not submit a giant binder when a smaller one will do. Paginate print document continuously.
  • Follow MLA conventions for formatting and documentation, unless you’re following other genre conventions.
  • Include all required elements.
  • Title all artifacts so that it’s clear what’s what.

Choices. Your choices include which invention and drafting/revision artifacts you include, the substance of your revisions, and the organization and delivery of the whole portfolio. Make rhetorical choices that speak to the grounds for evaluation, reflect the goals of the course (see grading rubric and course syllabus), appeal to your audience, and seek to meet your goals for this class.

Reflective introduction. A coherent letter or memo will serve as your portfolio introduction. This document is a chance for you to present your portfolio to readers to provide context for a reading and evaluation of the portfolio and to demonstrate and discuss your achievements (and struggles) in this class. Essentially, the reflective introduction is the argument for what you’ve learned and achieved and the portfolio is the evidence of that argument. As such, be sure to explain choices you’ve made (from specific revisions to particular projects, to grounds for inclusions, to organization and delivery) and talk about your experiences as a learner in WRIT 101.

Evaluation. The portfolio represents a substantial portion of your work this semester; it counts for 50% of your final grade. Please refer to the portfolio grade descriptors and assessment criteria on your syllabus and published in the front of The Everyday Writer. Your work will be assessed across tasks to address the processes you’ve engaged in and the projects presented in your portfolio.

Deadline. Your final portfolio is due on the last day of class. Late portfolios will be marked down 1 grade for each day they are late. I will not give extensions or incompletes.


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