Discourse 300 Research Essay



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Discourse 300

Research Essay

This semester we’re reading part of a conversation between Joseph Campbell and Bill Moyers. On the surface, what this conversation represents is a discussion of the myths that are part of the human narrative. There is a lot to be said for the value in studying comparative mythology as Campbell does. However, underlying his work are the various mythologies that tie us together as a human society: How do we live together? What are our values/value systems? How do we create meaning and do meaningful work? All of these questions come together when we address the importance of civic engagement, which is the general theme of this course and all Discourse 300 courses.

For your research paper, I want you to take on a topic that you find meaningful. You might start with a person or organization that you think is doing (or has done) good work in the world. What is his/her/their contribution? How does this individual (or organization) achieve this work? Why is this work important? In other words, how does that individual (or organization) fulfill its role in society as an entity that helps people who need it?

For example, take a look at organizations like Water.org, Doctors Without Borders, and the Red Cross. Each of these organizations is considered a humanitarian organization, but each has different goals, strategies, and outcomes. The Red Cross presents an interesting case study, especially since it’s undergoing additional scrutiny in light of donations with respect to Haiti. You might start with a research question that asks whether the organization is doing demonstrable good. If so, explain how the good outweighs the negative.

Conversely, you might look at an individual like Bill Gates/Bono/Richard Branson/Angelina Jolie. All of these individuals are wealthy due to their business acumen/talent, but each does a large amount of philanthropic work as well. How do we (as a society) view the relationship between wealth and philanthropy? Between celebrity and charity?

Additionally, you don’t need to choose an obviously philanthropic/humanitarian individual or organization. You could choose someone like Jonas Salk who is a hero to the medical community or like Alvin Ailey who had demonstrable influence on modern dance.

You should choose an individual or organization that relates to your field of study, and most importantly, that interests you. This research project will be ongoing for the duration of our semester. So find someone/something you’re interested in and can engage with over the course of several weeks.

The research paper will be built on the assumption that every good academic research essay draws from rhetorical strategies of logos/ethos/pathos. To that end, each part will address those concerns:



  1. Part one (RE1): This is where the research comes in. What is your research question? What is the argument you’re trying to put forth?

  2. Part two (RE2): This is the reception component. What’s the historical context? How was/is this issue received?

  3. Part three (RE3): This is the call to action. What do you want your audience to come away with? How can they get involved/care about this topic? What needs to happen for there to be civic engagement?

  4. Synthesis: This is how you’ll bring all these sections together. This part of the assignment might not involve a lot of new content, but you will need to demonstrate your organizational skills when you tie your three parts together into one document. You might achieve this with an introduction/3 sections (comprised of your three parts)/conclusion.

Some thoughts:

  • What does it mean to be a superhero/antihero?

  • What pressures does society place on these individuals/organizations?

  • How is our perception of how people should act shaped by these societal expectations?

These are the basic requirements:

  • 5-6 pages for each section (15-18 pages when final), double-spaced, using 12 point font

  • Incorporate scholarly sources—for a paper of this length you should use at least 10-12; you should use a variety of print and electronic texts.

  • Cite using MLA/APA/Chicago

Above all, your essay should be persuasive in addition to providing information. The research you use is there to support and give evidence to your argument (i.e. your thesis).

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