Writing@CSU: Composition Teaching Resources

Portfolio 2: Analyzing the Conversation Surrounding a Publicly Debated Issue

Overview: This portfolio prepares you to write an argument about a publicly debated issue by analyzing the discourse shaping that issue. As you work on this portfolio, you will select a publicly debated issue—one that has been in the news over the past month of class. You will then research what is being written about the issue to identify the positions and general perspectives writers take when writing about it. This process will help you learn about the issue and prepare you to create your own carefully considered contribution to the conversation, which will constitute your work in the third portfolio.

The News and Issue Analysis, which is the final product of Portfolio 2, intends to bring together your growing sense of current texts—both the news and analysis in other text forms--as both a reflection and a creator of cultural context. As you read the NYT during this portfolio, your focus should be on analyzing the larger contexts of the news—the trends in which debates occur, the cultural and social cross currents that cause such debates. Two of the indicators of a newsworthy story are that it is timely and captures a central conflict in the society. Our job will be, in part, to examine the forces that influence such conflicts—the values, beliefs, attitudes, affiliations, and loyalties that inform people’s opinions—and to recognize that in a pluralistic society “contact zones” where these differences collide are inevitable.

Essentially, this portfolio helps you become an accountable member of the conversation you hope to contribute to in your third portfolio. In the same way that you would listen carefully to what is being said before adding your voice to a conversation at a party, you’ll learn what has been written about an issue before adding your contribution to the debate about it.

In this portfolio, you will work on a sequence of four related activities, each of which will prepare you for the third portfolio:

  • Topic Proposal
  • Personal Position Analysis
  • Annotated Bibliography
  • News and Issue Analysis

The majority of your grade for this portfolio will be based on the quality of your News and Issue Analysis. Your success on the News and Issue Analysis, however, will be determined largely by the work you do on the three preceding activities, and in particular on the Annotated Bibliography. It might be helpful, as a result, to imagine each activity as prewriting for the next. Taken as a whole, all four parts of this portfolio are designed to help you understand the conversation surrounding your issue.

As you think critically about that conversation, you will look at both individual writers and groups of writers who hold a similar perspective on an issue. Although each writer will have his or her own individual position on an issue, you’ll find that groups of writers will typically share a common perspective or approach to the issue. For instance, you might notice that several writers agree that the government should enact legislation to reduce the emission of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses from automobiles and electric power generation plants. Despite differences in their individual positions about the type and scope of that legislation, these authors would share a common approach to the issue. You might label that approach the “legislative solution” or the “government intervention perspective.” Similarly, another group of authors might argue that the government should take no role in solving the problem, arguing instead that free-market forces will bring about solutions. This approach might be called the “free market” or “laissez-faire” approach/perspective. Thinking about three or four approaches to an issue, as opposed to a dozen or more individual positions, makes it easier to understand and write about a complex issue.

As you analyze your issue, you’ll move from defining the positions of individual authors to understanding the shared perspectives or approaches taken by groups of authors. Eventually, you’ll begin to analyze the reasons that groups of authors adopt particular points of view. Your analysis of your issue will involve understanding the writing situation in which the debate about your issue takes place. That writing situation involves the purposes of individual authors, the needs and interests of their readers, and the social and cultural factors that shape the attitudes, beliefs, and values of people concerned about the issue. Your efforts at making this analysis will be aided by a Personal Context Analysis for which you will analyze your own perspective and the values, beliefs, history, and context that contribute to your approach to the issue. You will then extend this personal context analysis and apply the methodology to your sources, first as individual sources and later as groups. In general, the literature you collect, while not exhaustive, will characterize a representative sample of varying perspectives on the issue.

By reading the NYT during this portfolio, your sensitivity to issues and their relationship to national questions should become heightened. Collect clippings (10) during this portfolio that suggest those “conflict zones” where people’s values come in opposition to each other. As you collect articles during this portfolio, make notes to yourself in the margins about the values, beliefs, etc. that are in question and in conflict.

One of the goals of this portfolio is to help you understand that most important issues involve more than a simple pro/con debate. Indeed, most issues are complex and involve several, fundamentally different or conflicting, approaches to defining, explaining or solving the problem recognized by the debate. By recognizing the many lenses, perspectives, or approaches that writers take on an issue and the various reasons they take them, you will gain a more thorough understanding of the conversation. This, in turn, will prepare you to write a knowledgeable and insightful argument in your third portfolio.

Due Dates: See descriptions of the four activities.*

Worth: 30% of the course grade

Purposes for this Portfolio: To learn more about a current, debatable issue; to discover why your issue is important to write about for a public audience of college-age readers; to think critically about writing situations; to understand the complexity of your issue by analyzing the various positions people take.

Audience: The work you do for Portfolio 2 will be directed toward an audience of your peers and your instructor. You might think of this as a “state-of-the-art” essay in which you clarify for your audience of colleagues what the issue is, why it’s important to them, who is involved in the discussion, how the discussion participants (and their views) might be grouped or characterized, and what/who the individual positions are within the larger perspectives. Think conceptually and thematically here, and then support the discussion of the differing perspectives with evidence and specific examples from each source to amply demonstrate the points of view. Evaluate the expectations and knowledge base of your audience and inform them accordingly. Remember that among other things you will need to capture their attention at the beginning and clarify why an enhanced understanding of your issue is worth their time. Since your audience is comprised of your peers and instructor in CO150, please conform to MLA in-text citation and Works Cited documentation methods.

Portfolio Content: Each of the four parts of this portfolio will be submitted at various points in the portfolio. You will find due dates and a detailed list of portfolio contents on separate assignment sheets. Be sure to keep all draft work in your portfolio (even after it’s been evaluated). These will be re-collected with each new section.