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The Inquiry Essay

The inquiry essay starts--but only starts--with the idea of a summary/response. It goes beyond a simple summary/response, though, by asking you to analyze the article as well as simply summarize and respond, basing your response on your analysis. Here are some of the main purposes for doing such an essay:

--To practice techniques that will allow you to analyze any written argument more deeply than you have before.

--To learn to listen to and understand individual arguments--not only in terms of what the argument basically says (that CO150 material), but also in terms of exactly how the argument is made and how that construction helps or hinders the argument's purpose.

--To respond to an argument based on more than just your basic agreement or disagreement with the point. This time, you'll learn to respond based on the logic, structure, and use of appeals in an argument.

We'll work through the essay step-by-step, starting with analysis and moving to summary and then analytical inquiry. When we get to the Inquiry chapter in Aims, we'll use the information in that chapter to generate the requirements and criteria for the essay as a class.

Here are the important dates for the whole first portfolio:

--Workshop One (analysis part of inquiry): Mon, Feb. 5

--Workshop Two (response part of inquiry): Friday, Feb. 9

--Inquiry Intervention Draft Due: Mon, Feb. 12

--Exploratory Workshop One: Mon, Feb 19

--Exploratory Workshop Two: Wed, Feb. 21

--Exploratory Intervention Due: Friday, Feb. 23

--We'll spend the week of Feb. 26 moving on to the preliminaries for the second portfolio while you revise both essays behind-the-scenes, conferencing with me as necessary. The homework load during this week will be fairly light.

--Portfolio One Due: Monday, March 4

Assignment Specifics for the Inquiry Essay

Here are the guidelines we discussed in class last time:


The ultimate purpose of this essay, we decided, is to try to determine as best we can the truth of a particular essay (in this case, the Postrel argument). In other words, the purpose is to determine the value of Postrel's argument--where does it hold up, where does it break down, and how?


The audience, we said, is a group of people who are looking for the same thing--in this case, other members of the class. We touched on several assumptions you can make about this audience:

--They've been working with and understand the same subject matter as you.

--They've read the Postrel article.

--They'll understand the basic concepts and terminology (from Toulmin analysis, for example) that we've discussed in class.


We determined that the focus of the essay should be your ultimate evaluation of the value of the argument, i.e. "Postrel's argument does raise some issues well, but her logic breaks down in several areas." Having made such a statement of your focus, your job for the essay will be to substantiate that statement. What issues does Postrel raise well and how and why do they hold up? Exactly where does the argument break down and how does that happen?


We talked about development in two ways: structure and supporting evidence. For support, we discussed several types of evidence that would be valid (though there are probably more that will work, too--so don't limit yourself to this list):

--Evidence from the text itself (i.e., analyzing a passage to show us where the logic holds up or breaks down)

--other outside cases

--personal experience

--analysis of the author's analogies/comparisons

--analysis of the author's answers to potential refutations

--information about the author or the rhetorical context of the article

--other print sources

For structure, we suggested an outline that looks like this (though, again, there may be other valid options here):

--Start with an overall statement of your purpose for the essay.

--Your objective summary/analysis of the article

--A restatement of your claim (about the value of the article), followed by each of your main supporting reasons for that statement (with sufficient explanation of how each reason supports your main claim)

--Following each reason, your evidence to support that reason--with sufficient explanation so the reader can see exactly how that evidence supports your reasons

--A conclusion which brings it all together

Remember: If you're feeling frustrated or confused, don't worry. There's nothing wrong with that (if you weren't feeling at least a little stretched, you wouldn't be learning anything which, since you're paying over $900 for this class, would be something of a rip-off). However, don't let yourself stay frustrated--come talk to me during office hours, visit the Writing Center, show your draft to a trusted friend, or whatever.

Intervention Draft due Monday, Feb. 5!