Research Essay Prompt

This is your persuasive paper. Your goal is to get your audience to want to agree with your perspective on how media coverage of a current event impacts the manner in which an individual understands and values that event. To accomplish this you must:

-- get your audience to relate to you as the author – create a sense of trust and/or common ground between yourself and your readers
-- get them invested in the idea of your investigation as affecting them
-- give them a context for your argument and then make your case
-- present them with your evaluation of the media impact
-- persuade your readers to agree with your conclusion regarding how to deal with this media impact

To accomplish these goals, you must:
-- use appeals to manipulate and attempt to control your readers’ responses to what you write
-- use evidence to convince them of your authoritative ethos
-- organize your essay to achieve the maximum effective impact upon your audience (deductive v. inductive reasoning, to delay or not to delay your thesis, etc.), much of which depends upon your accurate conception of your audience as sympathetic or hostile to your ideas

You must use sources to help create that authoritative ethos
-- a minimum of 7 sources must be cited in this essay, while the maximum is 10 sources
-- sources should be used by you to help bolster your ideas – as evidence of your knowledge of the manipulations and their potential problematic nature(s) (the creation of common ground / trust between you and your readers), to support your argument for the viability of your conclusion (statistics, reports, etc.), etc.
You need to keep in mind that everything about the paper affects how your readers perceive both you as the author and your ideas. To that end, you must
-- follow exactly MLA specifications for research papers (double spacing, parenthetical citations, annotated works cited entries organized and formatted properly, 1” margins on all sides, correct first page information, correct headers, useful and informative title for the essay, correct title for works cited, etc.). If the submitted essay is not fully compliant with all aspects of MLA formatting and citation standards, it will receive an automatic zero for its grade and the author will absolutely not have the opportunity to resubmit a revised essay for a potentially higher grade.
-- proofread extremely effectively – get help from someone if you need it, as mechanics impact your ethos as the author.

We’ve been over each aspect of this assignment with the previous assignments for the course
– organizing an argument means that you use Toulmin strategies (claims, warrants, evidence, counterarguments/rebuttals, etc.)
– connecting with your audience means that you use both Rogerian strategies and appeals to manipulate and control the reader’s response to your ideas
– you’ve already turned in an annotated bibliography, and you’ve been given handouts about how to do these assignments properly; here, you’re using an annotated bibliographic entry for each source you cite in your essay, so you need to follow the instructions given for the annotated bibliography assignment (refer to the handout you were given at that time), but your “conclusion” should be an evaluation of how this specific source was actually valuable in and useful to your research paper

Limitations regarding events allowed for this project:
1. it must be an event that occurred no earlier than 19 August 2014 and has received media coverage
2. it may not be an “issue” (gun control, abortion, death penalty, etc.) – you can’t persuade anyone about an issue, and you’ll only be distracted from the purpose of the assignment (analyzing media coverage and manipulation)
3. it might be useful to you to pick something you’re interested in, but not too invested in, as being able to keep a semi-objective (even if it’s illusory) distance will help you concentrate on the topic at hand

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The Demise of Rhetoric as Persuasion

The police shooting of Michael Brown and the ensuing story of the town where the tragic incident occurred, Ferguson, MO, captivated the country’s and the world’s attention and, even if to a lessened degree, continues to do so. In the very broadest of brush strokes, the story is one of a young man being shot and killed by a police officer – but, of course, the details, of both the incident and its context, paint an altogether infinitely more complicated picture. It is a picture and story in which ‘the truth’, ‘facts’, and ‘perception’ have come together to form the frothy, dizzying brew that has led to coverage, commentary, and reaction of all sorts, not to mention the (arguably righteous and justified) riots, demonstrations and protests now synonymous with the St. Louis suburb. The undisputed facts are simple yet stark: Michael Brown was young and black; the police officer is white. And, arguably, these few facts have been the fuel at the heart of the fire in Ferguson. But these facts exist in a haze of disputed contentions about ‘what happened’ and opposing historical perceptions of ‘how things were and are’ in Ferguson and in America.

At this juncture, you might wonder – why are straightforward things such as facts and perceptions being treated here as if they are technical, unknown terms in quotation marks, to be kept at the arm’s length caused by uncertainty? Because that’s precisely what they are, particularly in stories like that of Michael Brown and Ferguson, and especially when there are whole choruses of voices clamoring and claiming to know what the facts are – even when these ‘facts’ often contradict each other mercilessly! Brown assaulted the officer to the extent of causing considerable injury, thus justifying the shooting. No, that did not happen, and even if it did, the shooting was unjustified and horrifyingly disproportionate. Brown had just stolen something, and the police officer responded in a way appropriate to such an incident. No, there is absolutely nothing to support this contention – and, again, unjustified and horrifyingly disproportionate! The attempted arrest was dangerous to the police officer. No, witnesses adamantly claim otherwise. Ferguson’s police force is highly competent and effective, even in dealing with peaceful assembly and protests or even riots and looting. A militaristic response to the gathering of members of one’s community does not constitute reasonable, effective, competence. Ferguson is a lovely suburb of St. Louis – the police treats everyone equitably regardless of race, and there are certainly no underlying, simmering, racial tensions that form an undercurrent to so much that affects the lives of black communities. Only someone from a community not affected in such ways would be so oblivious, think again!

A disclaimer that I think is warranted here: my sympathies and, crucially, my belief and assent, are with the responding voices in each of those pairs of disputing contentions (i.e. with the second statement in each pair). But, championing any particular brand...

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