F. Exploratory Essay

Exploratory Essay Assignment Sheet A
created by: Patricia Warman

ESSAY #2: Exploratory Writing

In A Long Line of Vendidas, writer Cherrie Moraga reflected on problems existing within her particular social and political communities in order to form an argument. Now it is your turn to take the reigns. For your second assignment, you will write an Exploratory Essay. The Exploratory Essay is a open-form, thesis-seeking essay in which you explore—deeply—a problem of your choice related to your community. Rather than arguing a particular point of view, your objective in this assignment is to “wallow in complexity:” to research and analyze, to posit thesis, antithesis, and synthesis; to challenge the common ways of looking at a problematic issue.

You’ll begin, as much good writing does, with a question. You’ll do research to come up with a (provisional, or temporary) answer. Then you will critique that answer—by reading against the grain, you will find flaws in the answer. Then you’ll ask another question—a more complex question, based on your research and your rejection of your previous answer. You will attempt to answer that question, debunk that answer, and so on. The purpose is not to find answers, but to ask really good questions—and as a result, to probe a topic more deeply than you’ve ever done before. The work you complete in this assignment will be further utilized in your final essay of the semester, the Proposing a Solution essay.

The Exploratory Essay documents the evolution of your thinking on the subject; in other words, the essay tells the story of your research process. As the Allyn & Bacon chapter states, the essay is “easy to organize because it follows a chronological structure—but you will have nothing to say—no process to report—unless you discover and examine your problem’s complexity”(472). So research, reflection, and good note-taking are crucial.

An important component of the Exploratory Essay is conducting secondary research. The sources you collect for this assignment must be cited, summarized, and reflected on through an online research log. We will use a variation of the Allyn & Bacon double-entry research log, detailed on pages 475-477. Later, for your final essay, you will be asked to complete primary research, such as conducting an interview, survey, or direct observation. The lessons for conducting primary research will begin in this unit to allow you more time for planning and execution.

In total, you should use no fewer than four secondary sources when writing this paper. To enhance your appeal of ethos, use only credible resources. You are required to reference the following: one popular media resource like a podcast or documentary; one extended academic text such as a thesis, dissertation, or academic paper (15+ pages); and one article from well-respected periodical. Search FIU Library’s databases and access media links via Moodle to locate appropriate sources. Avoid encyclopedic or “about all” resources. Any questions about appropriate resources should be submitted to both Sarah and me via email, or posted to the Instructor’s Q&A.

Your essay should accomplish the following:
Wallow in complexity, using dialectic thinking to fully explore the topic
Explore the topic in an evenhanded way
Use sufficient research to adequately explore the topic
Clearly and fairly summarize the research
Synthesize the ideas of others into your own writing
Show how the problem/question is interesting, problematic, and important
Explain why your questions are not easily answered
Use language and style appropriate to the subject and audience
Document sources according to MLA or APA format

Essay Length: 5 pages + Works Cited/ References Page

Exploratory Assignment Sheet B
created by: Jeff Wehr

Exploratory Essay Instructions

First Draft Due to turnitin.com Monday, February 27th (30 points)
Final Draft Due to turnitin.com Monday, March 5th (170 points)

This essay assignment is designed to isolate and focus on the truth-seeking stage while composing a research paper, allowing you to decelerate and concentrate on the process of “wallowing in complexity”—educating yourself through research, and then forming more in-depth and original ideas about a topic through questioning and re-questioning. In other words, critical thinking.

Per Guide to Writing, “An exploratory essay narrates a writer’s research process” (469). And so this essay is a form of narrative, which leans towards open-form in structure, but the writing is still research-based and the style is still appropriate to an academic research paper. The purpose is to seek a thesis—to narrate your journey of research and critical thinking as your views evolve towards a final belief, but never arriving at one.

Choose a question, problem, or issue that genuinely perplexes you, and then write a minimum 1200 word first person, chronologically organized narrative account of your research and thinking process as you investigate your problematic questions about the topic.

You’ll begin with a question. You’ll do research to come up with a provisional, or temporary answer (thesis), and then critique that answer by reading against the grain and looking for flaws in the answer (antithesis). The result of this against the grain thinking may revise your beliefs, as you may find that your evolving view incorporates some features of both these sides (synthesis).

Regardless, the thought and research process involved in investigating the opening question should lead you to another question, and thus you will repeat the process by building from the new ideas in a cause and effect fashion. In other words, you’ll ask another question, a more complex one, based on your research and the rejection of your previous answer. You will attempt to answer the new question, and then you’ll question and reject that answer, and so on.

The purpose is not necessarily to find final answers, but to ask really good questions—and as a result, to probe a topic more deeply than you’ve ever done before.

A minimum of four research sources are required for this essay.
At least two sources must be taken from the library or the library’s database system. I know your research and critical thinking might take you to web sources, but this requirements is necessary to keep the essay credible and to help foster the continuation of practicing library research.
You may supplement any secondary source with a primary source if you wish, such as interview, observation, or questionnaires.

We will be doing a topic invention exercise in the first lesson to help give you ideas for a subject that you can explore. While not required, I also encourage you to keep in mind as a possibility the topic discussed in the piece you analyzed for the rhetorical analysis.

While not closed-form, your exploratory essay must still include the correct MLA heading format, the correct MLA format for in-text citations, and a proper MLA Works Cited page listing your research sources. As per your syllabus, the paper should be double spaced and 12pt Times New Roman font.


Issue Established as Interesting, Problematic & Significant 20
Clear Summary of Each Source 20
Proper Pacing and Balance of Summary and Response 20
Depth & Even Handedness of Responses 30
Evolution of Dialectic Thinking 30
Unified & Coherent Writing 20
Style/tone 15
MLA formatted 15
Total 170
When evaluating your essay, I will consider the following:

Has the writer shown the problem to be interesting, problematic, and significant?
Has the writer shown that his/her objective is to explore a question, rather than state a thesis?
Has the writer done enough research?
Does the essay clearly summarize the argument in each piece of research?
Does the essay employ dialectic thinking? Is there evidence the author is open to adjusting his or her beliefs as he or she uncovers new information?
Does the writer treat the material evenhandedly, or is the writer clearly biased?
To what extent does the essay “wallow in complexity”—that is, really postpone closure on the issue, so the writer can deeply explore the topic?

Does the essay clearly show the evolution of the writer’s thinking, recounting the research process and showing how the writer’s thinking changed through research and analysis?
Does each paragraph develop one supporting point?
Does the organization reveal a clear line of reasoning and emphasize what is important?
Does the ending sum up the evolution of the writer’s thinking and clarify why the writer hasn’t solved the problem?

Can each sentence be understood the first time it is read?
Are points made in fewest words possible?
Is the voice likeable; does it sound like a real person speaking?
Is the tone appropriate for the stated audience?
Is the essay formatted correctly to MLA?
Spelling, grammar, and mechanics issues?

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