PEM Index Page
History 124
Argument Paper Assignment
Spring 2010

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In the argument paper you will take a stand on a controversial environmental issue. You must write on one of the topics listed below. The higher grades will go to papers that exhibit logical thinking, an analytical framework, specific evidence, the ability to inform and communicate, sound organization, and a concise and coherent argument. In this paper the premium will go to those who are capable of making a persuasive argument.   That argument must be backed up with specific factual information from your research, not just based on your own impressions.   I expect you to come to your own conclusion (and so you are certainly allowed to use "I"), but you may conclude that each side is partly right.

Instructions on paper format:
Your paper should be about 1000-1200 words and include a references in a standard form (MLA, Chicago, or APA).  The paper is due at the beginning of class on November 23 (it may be handed in earlier).
You must hand in the same paper two different ways.  Papers should be printed out and handed in on paper for grading, stapled in the left hand corner (no binders). You must also submit your paper via Blackboard to the Turnitin plagiarism detection system.  (This system does keep a copy of your paper--if you have a problem with that please speak to the professor.)  Late papers will be penalized two points if handed in later than noon on Nov. 23 and two additional points for each calendar day late (so a paper two days late would lose six points).

You may organize your paper either by considering both sides and then drawing your own conclusions or by making a coherent argument for one position.  However, if you write a paper that argues one side throughout you must seriously consider the objections raised by the other side (you may go on to disprove them).  I want to see an understanding of both sides demonstrated in your paper even if your argument is all for one side.

You must provide footnotes or references to your sources (not just for quotes but also for specific information and arguments) in the text of the paper and provide at the end an overall list of the sources you used to write your paper (not just the ones you cited but all sources that you read that you found useful). You may use any standard format (that is, one that is published or available from a reputable page on the web).  You can find standard formats at:  Writers Handbook .  In most cases I would expect six or more different sources on your list of sources.

Information on doing web research:
I am going to let you use the web to do research for your argument papers. Please don't get the wrong idea--historians still believe in the importance of books. But I want you to struggle with opinion in this paper, and the web is a wonderful source of opinion. And the library doesn't work very well when lots of people are trying to write papers on the same topic. You are more than welcome to use books and articles as sources for your paper if you want to, but in this special assignment I am willing to accept papers written only from research on the World Wide Web (I would not do that for a longer term-paper requiring more in-depth research, except for certain topics where primary source material is available on the Web).

Each topic page includes a brief introduction to the subject, plus links to a variety of pages dealing with that topic. You must choose one of these topics on which to write your paper, and you should use the links given to start your research. You are encouraged to search beyond our links: for information on Web searching see The Spider's Apprentice for advice..

Now, you must be careful about doing research on the World Wide Web. Before a book is published, the publisher normally sends the manuscript out to experts in the field for evaluation. That doesn't mean that books are always right, but that plus fear of lawsuit means that the information published in books is screened for accuracy. On the other hand, anyone can put anything on the World Wide Web--there is no screening at all. So you must evaluate the information for yourself.  This is one of the skills that I want you to learn.

You may want to ask yourself:

For further discussion of these issues see Evaluating Web Sites .  

Checklist for a good paper:

  1. Does your introduction focus on the assigned topic and give an overview of how you will address that topic?
  2. Is your paper organized around the assigned topic?
  3. Is your specific evidence selected to fit your particular argument rather than telling random facts?
  4. Have you found specific examples or statistics to prove your points rather than simply asserting them?  Have you pinned the events you discuss down to specific dates and places and shown how things changed over time?
  5. Have you considered both sides of the issue in detail?
  6. Are the sources of specific points acknowledged with references or endnotes, even if paraphrased rather than quoted?
  7. Do you have a bibliography or list of sources set up in a correct form that lists all sources that were useful, not just the ones you quoted?
  8. Have you proofread, looking particularly for those mistakes that a spell-checker doesn't catch?  Remember also that the best grammar checkers are right only 80% of the time.


1. Radical Environmentalists
2. Sustainability Education
3. Wetlands Protection
4. The Environmental Movement Among Evangelicals

Some thoughts on analyzing conflicting information: