Integrating Research and Argument Across the Major

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As Director of the Georgetown University Writing Program, I get to spend a lot of time talking with faculty across campus about their students’ writing and how their programs help students learn to write and think like experts in the field. In most disciplines, we want students to learn to make arguments, often using sources and eventually their own research, whether in a lab, in the field, or in the library. Students also need to learn particular forms and conventions of argument. Psychology majors need to learn how to position a problem in the context of prior research and how to distinguish their findings from their conclusions, while students in the humanities need to learn how to integrate close reading of texts with discussions of theory and a sense of the context. All of this is central to writing, and that’s why research and argument appear in many Georgetown programs’ Integrated Writing plans.

Research and argument are complex processes, and students learn how to do them over time, with models, practice, and feedback. How can programs build that kind of learning into the major? A new resource on the Writing website offers a model.

In the American Studies Program, Professor Erika Seamon has an opportunity that few of us get: she teaches both the first two courses in the major, which introduce core concepts and analytical strategies, and the last two, in which students research and write a senior thesis. This bookended structure lets her build continuity into the major. She introduces a few key ideas about how to make and support an argument from the beginning, and students have multiple opportunities to practice crafting research questions, framing thesis statements, and identifying the reasons and evidence that support the claims made in course readings and in their own arguments.  Seamon reinforces these strategies with tools that scaffold the process, from the research questions they pose in response to daily readings to the analysis maps they create as they plan their papers. With such a strong foundation, students come into their senior thesis work well-prepared to take on the larger and more complex challenge of doing original research.

The models Seamon has developed could help many students learn how to approach research and argument. For faculty, her attention to integrating these themes across her sophomore- and senior-level courses provides a model for programs that are looking for ways to make their expectations for and practices of writing more visible and consistent across the major. Check out Seamon’s discussion of Integrating Writing Across Courses: The American Studies Model.

–Sherry Linkon