Alphabetical list of Handouts & Guides

Words of Wisdom

Nothing's a better cure for writer's block than to eat ice cream right out of the carton.

— Don Roff

I know what you’re thinking: “This guy is all talk.” Well partner, it’s time to get our hands dirty. I’ve written a mock assignment that models a freshman-level assignment prompt:

Assignment

Your assignment is to write a paper (700-800 words, minimum) in which you define an issue, comment on why your readers should be concerned about the issue, and present both positions on the issue. Your paper should integrate a minimum of three academic sources and one contemporary news source, following MLA guidelines for format and citations. You need to use these sources to place your issue in a context (for example, social, political, historical, intellectual, geographical) for your intended readers and provide an overview of the different perspectives on the issue.

Some prompts are that small, and give you lots of wiggle-room to express your unique creative brilliance. Mine does not:


Format and Required Documents

Your paper should:

  • be double-spaced;
  • be 700-800 words (minimum), 12 point font (Times New Roman);
  • follow MLA guidelines for the heading, pagination, internal documentation.

Required Documents. Turn in the following in a letter size file folder, with each item clearly labeled.

  1. A final paper and an edited draft of your paper.
  2. Supporting Materials, including the following:
  • Invention techniques you used
  • Your thesis statement
  • Paper copies of the four sources you used
  • Self-Assessment
  • Peer reviewed draft with your annotations
  • Peer reviewed drafts with your peers’ comments

Turn in an electronic copy of the paper to Turnitin.com.


"But I came here to just learn how to work, not actually do it!” you protest. Fine, but the next one is on you! I’ve written a sample essay responding to this cookie-cutter prompt, and I think it’s pretty good.


Arms in America: The Modern Gun Control Debate

In 1939, the Supreme Court handed down its decision in United States v. Miller, its only Second Amendment case to date. In this landmark opinion, the Court interpreted the amendment, which reads, “A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed,” as a protection of the collective right to arms. In short, the Court recognized that the amendment safeguards the right to firearms, but only for society as a whole, so that the states may form militias. Under this interpretation, the Second Amendment does not confer upon individuals the unrestricted right to carry weapons. Regardless of what the Supreme Court decided, the gun control debate has not diminished. Gun control proponents and opponents have lobbied to restrict or loosen legislation surrounding gun ownership for nearly a century, and there is no end in sight.

After the shooting at Virginia Tech on April 16, 2007, gun control was once again brought to the political forefront. Students, administrators, and the victims’ family members began to wonder if more stringent firearms regulations could have prevented the tragedy. Because the assailant, Seung-Hui Cho, had a history of mental illness, proponents of both gun control and gun liberties argued that something in the existing legislation had to change (Jost, “Gun Violence” 463). Whether the government decides to limit the access of the “mentally unstable” to firearms or curb gun ownership across the board, something is likely to change in the near future as a result of the seemingly periodic mass shootings that have taken place in the last few years. It is important, then, for the public to understand both sides of the gun debate in order to develop informed opinions about the matter that they can voice at the polls.

Gun rights activists base their convictions on research that “suggests that the availability of guns has little impact on the level of violent crime…” (Jost, “Standoff” 1107). Furthermore, they argue that crime victims commonly use guns to defend themselves, and taking away such vehicles of personal safety would be dangerous. John Lott of the University of Chicago published a report wherein he reasoned that, by confiscating guns from the general population, proponents of gun control would effectively make robbery safer for criminals. Therefore, he argues, gun-free zones are a risky solution (Jost, “Gun Violence” 466).

Additionally, opponents of stricter gun control acknowledge current case law, but they also point out the idea that the judgment in Miller v. California may not last forever: “While First Amendment jurisprudence didn’t begin until the 1920s, no one argues there were no First Amendment rights then, and no one should argue there are no Second Amendment rights now” (Jost, “Standoff” 1121). They aptly note that Supreme Court cases are often overturned, and Miller, like many precedents, may still be reinterpreted.

Nevertheless, the Supreme Court has yet to back away from its previous ruling, and proponents of gun control insist that the Court’s original interpretation of the Second Amendment is correct. In light of the current legal standards, they assert that “[g]un violence is not a constitutional issue; it is a public health and safety issue” (Jost, “Standoff” 1121). Based on the constitutional foundations in Miller, gun control activists stress the concept of addressing gun restrictions on a human basis rather than a legal one.

Furthermore, proponents of gun control rebut the gun rights advocates’ claim that guns are tools of self defense by reporting that, according to a study by Arthur L. Kellerman of the University of Tennessee, guns kept in places of living are less likely to be used in self-defense than to kill other members of the household (Worsnop 3). Moreover, they assert, it is because of “the distinctly American high level of gun ownership and gun availability” that the United States suffers a considerably higher rate of fatal crimes than its industrialized counterparts (Jost, “Standoff” 1122).

Both sides of the gun control argument rely heavily on statistics to prove the validity of either stance, and both sides use their statistics to sensationalize the issue. For instance, one article arguing against restricting the right to bear arms simply lists the major genocides in the last hundred years and attributes them to such limitations. The article dramatically insists: “Defenseless people rounded up and exterminated in the 20th century because of gun control: 56 million” (The Washington Times 1). Reasonable readers would have a hard time believing that infamous regimes such as that of the Nazis were able to murder their victims simply because of gun control laws, but the fact that this argument is made demonstrates the heated nature of the gun control debate.

Proponents and opponents of gun control can agree on certain limitations: They both believe that restrictions should be placed on mentally ill persons trying to purchase guns, and they agree that schools are no place for firearms. Aside from these concessions, however, it seems that gun rights activists and gun control advocates can find no middle ground. In fact, although these two parties can agree on the need for restrictions for the mentally ill, the NRA claims “[t]he mental health lobby and the medical lobby are…against the release of the [medical] records” (qtd. in Jost, “Gun Violence” 463). Consequently, legislation limiting gun ownership has universally been met with staunch opposition. As a result of the polar nature of the issue, gun legislation promises to be a fiery debate for years to come.


Now, I know what you’re going to say. “That’s not fair – you get to answer your own question and grade your own paper!” I know. Follow the steps.

  1. Read the paper.
  2. I SAID READ IT!
  3. Find the thesis. What’s the main point? Is it easily identifiable, clearly stated, and does it take a firm position?
  4. Is every paragraph on-topic and do they directly relate to the thesis?
  5. Are all claims well-supported?
  6. Does it satisfy the requirements of the assignment (sans the whole envelope bit)?

Arms in America: The Modern Gun Control Debate

In 1939, the Supreme Court handed down its decision in United States v. Miller, its only Second Amendment case to date. In this landmark opinion, the Court interpreted the amendment, which reads, “A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed,” as a protection of the collective right to arms. In short, the Court recognized that the amendment safeguards the right to firearms, but only for society as a whole, so that the states may form militias. Under this interpretation, the Second Amendment does not confer upon individuals the unrestricted right to carry weapons. Regardless of what the Supreme Court decided, the gun control debate has not diminished.Gun control proponents and opponents have lobbied to restrict or loosen legislation surrounding gun ownership for nearly a century, and there is no end in sight.

That last sentence is the thesis – it wraps everything up into one point. The rest of the paper is oriented around supporting this assertion.

After the shooting at Virginia Tech on April 16, 2007, gun controlwas once again brought to the political forefront. Students, administrators, and the victims’ family members began to wonder if more stringent firearms regulations could have prevented the tragedy.Because the assailant, Seung-Hui Cho, had a history of mental illness, proponents of both gun control and gun liberties argued that something in the existing legislation had to change (Jost, “Gun Violence” 463).Whether the government decides to limit the access of the “mentally unstable” to firearms or curb gun ownership across the board, something is likely to change in the near future as a result of the seemingly periodic mass shootings that have taken place in the last few years. It is important, then, for the public to understand both sides of the gun debate in order to develop informed opinions about the matter that they can voice at the polls.

Notice how the first sentence transitions from the introductory paragraph. This tranistion is mandatory because it tells the reader that the body, which are fundamentally different than the introduction in tone, style, and content, is beginning.

Gun rights activists base their convictions on research that “suggests that the availability of guns has little impact on the level of violent crime…” (Jost, “Standoff” 1107).Furthermore, they argue that crime victims commonly use guns to defend themselves, and taking away such vehicles of personal safety would be dangerous. John Lott of the University of Chicago published a report wherein he reasoned that, by confiscating guns from the general population, proponents of gun control would effectively make robbery safer for criminals. Therefore, he argues, gun-free zones are a risky solution (Jost, “Gun Violence” 466).

The first sentence in this paragraph introduces its central theme. Because the first sentence addresses crime, the rest of the paragraph should follow suit in order to maintain flow.

Additionallyopponents of stricter gun control acknowledge current case law, but they also point out the idea that the judgment in Miller v. California may not last forever:“While First Amendment jurisprudence didn’t begin until the 1920s, no one argues there were no First Amendment rights then, and no one should argue there are no Second Amendment rights now” (Jost, “Standoff” 1121). They aptly note that Supreme Court cases are often overturned, and Miller, like many precedents, may still be reinterpreted.

Remember that the thesis has two parts – the first, addressing the positions of a polarized gun control debate, and second, the perpetuation of that debate. The essay needs to support both halves using paragraphs like the one above.

Nevertheless, the Supreme Court has yet to back away from its previous ruling, and proponents of gun control insist that the Court’s original interpretation of the Second Amendment is correct. In light of the current legal standards, they assert that “[g]un violence is not a constitutional issue; it is a public health and safety issue” (Jost, “Standoff” 1121). Based on the constitutional foundations in Miller, gun control activists stress the concept of addressing gun restrictions on a human basis rather than a legal one.

Once again, notice the transitional characteristics of the first sentence, leading the reader from one side of the debate to the other with ease. However, the transition is larger than the sentence itself. Through the cunning use of the recurring Miller case, the author can pivot on something relatively familiar to the reader, switching sides without confusion.

Furthermoreproponents of gun control rebut the gun rights advocates’ claim that guns are tools of self defenseby reporting that, according to a study by Arthur L. Kellerman of the University of Tennessee, guns kept in places of living are less likely to be used in self-defense than to kill other members of the household (Worsnop 3). Moreover, they assert, it is because of “the distinctly American high level of gun ownership and gun availability” that the United States suffers a considerably higher rate of fatal crimes than its industrialized counterparts (Jost, “Standoff” 1122).

This paper juxtaposes the two sides of the gun control debate. The organization of these paragraphs should not go unnoticed. The first two body paragraphs and the second two each address different sides in the debate, giving each position equal exposure to the reader. Good organization like this is the foundation of well-formed arguments. Notice how the following paragraph addresses both sides.

Both sides of the gun control argument rely heavily on statistics to prove the validity of either stance, and both sides use their statistics to sensationalize the issue. For instance, one article arguing against restricting the right to bear arms simply lists the major genocides in the last hundred years and attributes them to such limitations. The article dramatically insists: “Defenseless people rounded up and exterminated in the 20th century because of gun control: 56 million” (The Washington Times 1). Reasonable readers would have a hard time believing that infamous regimes such as that of the Nazis were able to murder their victims simply because of gun control laws, but the fact that this argument is made demonstrates the heated nature of the gun control debate.

Diction, aka word choice, is another critical aspect of your paper. Above, the sentence “The article dramatically insists…” uses the word dramatically to contrast against the following “Reasonable” sentence in order to lead readers to the conclusion.

Proponents and opponents of gun control can agree on certain limitations: They both believe that restrictions should be placed on mentally ill persons trying to purchase guns, and they agree that schools are no place for firearms. Aside from these concessions, however, it seems that gun rights activists and gun control advocates can find no middle ground.In fact, although these two parties can agree on the need for restrictions for the mentally ill, the NRA claims “[t]he mental health lobby and the medical lobby are…against the release of the [medical] records” (qtd. in Jost, “Gun Violence” 463).Consequently, legislation limiting gun ownership has universally been met with staunch opposition. As a result of the polar nature of the issue, gun legislation promises to be a fiery debate for years to come.


Well, there you have it. That’s certainly not all of the subtle nuances that went into this essay, but hopefully it provides some insight into constructing yours. Now, proceed on to the final level – I mean step: Step 5: There is no great writing, only great re-writing.



Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. You may reproduce it for non-commercial use if you use the entire handout and attribute The University Writing Center, Texas A&M University.