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WRT 101S -Downtown: Controversy & Communities

Essay 3: Research Argument on a Community Controversy

What communities are you part of?  In this essay, you will have the opportunity to explore one of your communities.

Assignment: Identify a current debate or controversy.

  • What are the communities involved?
  • What is at stake? What does each community value?
  • What values are in opposition?
  • What do they agree that they have in common?
  • What do they agree that they do not?
  • How does each community talk about the issue?
  • Is the community dealing with the conflict appropriately?
  • How can these communities in opposition be healed?

Note: This is a summary of your assignment. Please refer to full assignment from your instructor.

More places to search for articles

Choose Databases by Subject

Encyclopedia articles in GVRL

  • Background and overviews

ProQuest News and Newspapers

  • Tons of newspapers

Research Library

  • All subjects

MasterFILE Premier

  • Mostly magazines

Stage 1: Brainstorm! List the various communities you belong to. Then choose one.

At the end of this stage, you will have chosen to research one of the communities that you belong to.

Get a piece of paper and brainstorm. See the examples below, and think of groups that apply to you.


"Named" groups that you belong to BBBBBB Non-named groups with a common interest or activity

Pima Community College students

Engineering majors

Mothers Against Drunk Driving

Democratic Party

Halo gaming community

Big Brothers, Big Sisters

Checker Auto Parts employee

Creative Anachronism member

St. Cyril's Catholic Church


Hanging out at the neighborhood bar

iPhone users

Kareoke singer

Soap opera fan

Book club

Extreme fighting fan


Arizona Wildcat basketball fan

Motorcycle club

Yoga class

When you've selected a community (at least tentatively), go to Stage 2.

Stage 2: Identify a controversy that involves your community, and describe the groups that are in disagreement.

By the end of this stage, you'll briefly describe a controversy and the groups that disagree.

Two kinds of controversy to consider:

  • The controversy might be external, pitting your community against another outside group.
  • The controversy might be internal, dividing one segment of your community from another one.

Controversies can differ on how public or private they are.  Likewise they can be localized or national in scope.

NOTE: If you choose a controversy that is internal, private, or localized, little may be published about it. Therefore, you will need to provide much of the descriptive information from your own knowledge of the controversy.

Example: A very internal, private, and local controversy

    • CommunityMy extended family
    • ControversyMy cousin has a substance abuse problem.  Family members disagree on whether we should hold an "intervention" for him so that he will go to rehab.

Not only is this very personal, but the description of family members could only come from me. However, I could find lots of published information on "interventions" in general and the controversies that surround them.

Example:  An external, semi-public, local controversy.

    • CommunityMy local hiking club vs. the local mountain-biking club.
    • Controversy: My hiking club wants to stop the bikers from eroding the trails and leaving too many tracks off-trail. The bikers just laugh.

I need to provide most of the local facts from my own knowledge. But each group has a web site and bylaws. I can research local laws, and I can find articles where similar controversies have been published elsewhere. I might be able to find 'best practices" for mountain bikes written up elsewhere.

Example: An external, public, semi-national controversy

    • Communities: My Facebook group "KeepTheGulp," along with many retailers and consumers in New York City  vs. Mayor Bloomberg, the mayor of New York and many public health advocates across the country
    • ControversyNew York City would like to ban the sale of "Big Gulp" sized soft drinks for health reasons. Others disagree.

The actual controversy is in NYC, but the national media have covered it, so it is quite public. Other cities are considering similar laws, so a national controversy is beginning. Almost all of my information can come from published sources, including information published on my Facebook group.

Ok, can you identity a controversy involving your community?

  • If so, write a brief description of it and the parties that disagree. Also, label it as internal/external; public/private; and local/national.
  • If you can't identify a controversy yet, you may be able to read more about your community online, depending upon how public it is.  Search for ideas.
  • Or you might consider choosing another of your communities.

When you've selected a controversy (at least tentatively), go to Stage 3.    

Stage 3: Get background information on the controversy. Which issues are at the center of it? What are the stakes? Why do people care?

By the end of this stage, you will gather information on any public aspects of your controversy and/or disagreeing parties.

Your strategy for this stage really depends upon the community and controversy you chose.  As the examples in Stage 2 showed, even when studying a private controversy, you can usually find published sources that write about similar situations:

  • Not about your cousin's intervention....but about interventions in general or elsewhere.
  • Not about the off-trail damage in your city...but about the issue of mountain bike damage in general or elsewhere.

These sources can help explain your controversy or support your argument.

Explore the library's Controversial Issues databases.  (See links below)

  • Begin by searching the Opposing Viewpoints in Context database below.
  • Search for your topic or for specific points you want to use.
  • Review the results, and email some articles to yourself. See the Tools section (at right).
  • Then explore one of the other databases, and email materials to yourself.
  • Take notes. 
    • What will your readers need to know? About the controversy?  About the people involved?
    • What are the arguments that persuade you?
    • Did you find any key definitions, facts, or timelines?

Pro/Con and Argumentative Resources

Opposing Viewpoints in Context

Points of View Reference Center

CQ Researcher


When you've gathered sources and notes, go to Stage 4.

Stage 4: Develop your provisional thesis and argument.

By the end of this stage, you'll have outlined your controversy and a provisional thesis and argument.

Work with your instructor to develop a provisional thesis and argument.  "Provisional" means that it is a "working" argument that may be revised if new information turns up.

The following is simply an example, and it may not be appropriate for your assignment.  Please consult your instructor at this stage!

Controversy:  [Can you state the disagreement in the form of a question?]

  • Example:  Should cities ban the sale of soft drinks in cups larger than 36 oz.?
  • Remember: you need to explain the controversy to your readers before they can understand your argument. You also need to characterize the parties and their stakes in the disagreement.

Thesis:  [In a persuasive paper, your thesis is usually your position on the controversial question.]

  • Example: No, cities should not regulate the size of cups that soft drinks are sold in.

Argument: [What are the main reasons for accepting your thesis?]

  • Example
    • The health benefits of these regulations are far from clear--as shown in a scientific study that I cite.
    • People have the right to buy a Big Gulp, even if it does harm their health.
    • As history has shown, stores and people find ways to evade unpopular regulations.
  • Deal with opposing arguments: What arguments has the other side made?  What objections will your readers likely raise?
    • Hold on! It is common sense that fast food sodas indeed contribute to obesity. And this has serious health consequences.
    • Hasn't the regulation of cigarettes had a positive effect on saving lives?  Isn't this worth imfringing on smokers' rights?

Once you have a provisional argument. You can search for information to support each point in your argument.

Go to Stage 5.

Stage 5: Find specialized information to explain the controversy, to describe the parties involved, and to support your conclusions about this issue.

By the end of this stage, you'll have searched for (and found) sources the support the main points in your argument.

Two kinds of things to search for:

  •  Articles that discuss your entire controversy.

Example: A news article on groups complaining about New York City's proposed big soda ban.

Often you can find lots of interesting facts from these articles, because they pull together information on your topic.

  • Articles that support individual points in your argument.

Example: Articles on what causes diabetes-- can soda consumption really be considered a cause, or not?
               If the evidence is weak that soda consumption can cause diabetes, then it helps your argument.

Example: Article on Prohibition (of alcohol in 1920s)--and all the problems that this law caused.
               If problems occurred when the U.S. banned alcohol in the 1920s, then you can suggest that similiar             (although smaller) problems could occur by banning big soda cups.

Now search for articles in MegaSearch. 

BEFORE your search, please review ALL the directions.  They give you a sample search.  Then you can adapt the sample strategy to your topic.

CLICK HERE to go to a hidden tab for MegaSearch instructions.