The Informational Essay: A Mini-RP

Exploring a Social Trend

Intro and Standards

In 6th grade, you wrote a cause & effect essay; in 7th grade, one on history; and in 8th grade, the essay was a comparison and contrast: these were all informational-style essays.

So now, while our upcoming Research Project is a warm-up for the sophomore Personal Project, this informational essay is practice for the Research Project. In it you will demonstrate not only your thoughtful analysis of a social issue, but you will do it through a variety of sources and have the option of presenting your data in different ways. Note how each approach hits different standards and that the essay will receive several scores, depending on what you do.


 

 

Producing TextOrganizing TextUsing LanguageAcademic EssayPresentationPrimary ResearchSecondary ResearchPresenting Data
For the writing itself and your understanding and exploration of the trend.For the application of the research you do.For style and control of language: diction, syntax, etc.If you compose an essay or publish online.If you present to the class “live” or via video.If your work successfully uses valid original research.If your work successfully uses valid research done by others.If your work creates a graphic or other summary figure of your original data.

Essay Directions

Purpose: To explore the motivations for, causes of, or consequences of a current social trend,
Audience:Americans who do not understand your interpretation.
Form:One of the following:

  1. An essay of 3+ pages (MLA format) exemplifies the layout and organization techniques discussed in class around presenting information.
  2. A web page or blog of 600-1000 words that exemplifies the layout and organization techniques and employs hyperlinks along with MLA citations.
  3. A live or video presentation of 5-7 minutes which employs visual aides that support your position as evidence or examples, citing appropriately.
Deadlines
  • Topic Chosen: Feb. 8
  • Research Completed: Feb. 17
  • Rough Draft Completed: Feb 28
  • Final Draft: March 7

The most conventional but solid approach to this essay is the written form. As always, it should be:

  1. Properly labeled (Name, Date, Hour, etc.) in MLA format
  2. Typed, double-spaced, with an appropriate font
  3. An original essay title relevant to the topic
  4. Use a Header to count the page numbers
  5. Include correct in-text citations and a Works Cited list of sources used
  6. Placed in your Google Drive Folder by the due date with a file name that identifies it as the Informational Essay

Here are some additional points:

Research

There is no specific number or type of resources you should use for this essay. You could get away with a single source, though this is highly unlikely (see the Organizing Text rubric!), but you must have some research, because it’s a research essay!

In general, find evidence and support for arguments/interpretations/claims you make in your essay. It is not important, for instance, that you cite an article to tell me that “Crocs exist,” but it may be important to cite a study that claims that they are “fashionable again” or that they “cause headaches to Dalmatians.” Quotations from sources are always a good choice, but paraphrasing or summarizing sources is also possible (and still must be cited!).

The research may be primary, secondary, or a combination.

For the written essay, in-text citations mean that you put the (Author Last Name or “Article TItle”, page number) in parentheses. A Works Cited is a listing only of sources you actually cite/use in the essay. It should be in MLA format. EasyBib does this for you (get the GoogleDocs add-on!), but you need to tell it to give the full URL of the website instead of just the word “Web.”

Layout:

Unlike traditional academic essays, I challenge you to use the techniques and formats we have noted in class that make the most sense to you in delivering information in this essay. This is not an exclusive list, but they might include:

Section LabelsFor various parts of an essay that differ by topic or function, usually more than 2 paragraphs long
ImagesThese should be important to understanding the topic, not just a photo of crocs “to help us visualize” or to take up space! Photos should be original or in public domain, else they should be cited like sources.
Tables, Graphs, Charts, etc.As for photos, these should be original or cited as sources. Ideally, they are labeled by where they belong in the argument (i.e. Figure 1, Table C, etc.).
Color or bold typeIn a limited way, color or boldface can help highlight key sections or terms, sidebars, etc.
Sidebars, call-outs, or text boxesFor terms, key ideas, lists, or other special uses, these can offset the paragraphs and help center readers on important concepts without interrupting the reading.
Questions, Signposts, summariesThese highlighted or off-set sections on longer papers can help readers review an old set of ideas and set up new ones.
 GlossaryFor essays with many specialized terms, a short glossary can be helpful. Cite sources used. If only a few terms, try sidebars or footnotes.
 Table of ContentsIf the essay is long, a quick Table of Contents helps readers reach the sections they need to read. GoogleDocs will create this automatically if you use Header formats for section labels.

 

The digital version of the essay relies upon visuals and formatting more than the traditional essay. In addition:

  1. A byline or author box to give details on the writer
  2. Typed, single-spaced, but double-spaced between paragraphs.
  3. An original, perhaps catchy, title relevant to the topic
  4. Include in-text citations that are also hyperlinks to the research done, and a Works Cited list of sources used
  5. Placed on your personal blog or on chisnell.com when you have a Username and password.
Research

There is no specific number or type of resources you should use for this essay. You could get away with a single source, though this is highly unlikely (see the Organizing Text rubric!), but you must have some research, because it’s a research essay!

In general, find evidence and support for arguments/interpretations/claims you make in your essay. It is not important, for instance, that you cite an article to tell me that “Crocs exist,” but it may be important to cite a study that claims that they are “fashionable again” or that they “cause headaches to Dalmatians.” Quotations from sources are always a good choice, but paraphrasing or summarizing sources is also possible (and still must be cited!).

The research may be primary, secondary, or a combination.

For the digital essay, in-text citations mean that you put the (Author Last Name or “Article TItle”, page number) in parentheses, but you should also directly hyperlink that citation to the page itself where it can be found.  A Works Cited is often not provided in such essays, but we will do so, anyway. It is a listing only of sources you actually cite/use in the essay. It should be in MLA format. EasyBib does this for you (get the GoogleDocs add-on!), but you need to tell it to give the full URL of the website instead of just the word “Web.”

Layout:

Unlike traditional academic essays, I challenge you to use the techniques and formats we have noted in class that make the most sense to you in delivering information in this essay. This is not an exclusive list, but they might include:

Section LabelsFor various parts of an essay that differ by topic or function, usually more than 2 paragraphs long
ImagesThese should be important to understanding the topic, not just a photo of crocs “to help us visualize” or to take up space! Photos should be original or in public domain, else they should be cited like sources.
Tables, Graphs, Charts, etc.As for photos, these should be original or cited as sources. Ideally, they are labeled by where they belong in the argument (i.e. Figure 1, Table C, etc.).
VideoRelevant embeds of YouTube or Vimeo videos may help dramatize the essay or explain a concept in a dynamic way.
Color or bold typeIn a limited way, color or boldface can help highlight key sections or terms, sidebars, etc.
Sidebars, call-outs, or text boxesFor terms, key ideas, lists, or other special uses, these can offset the paragraphs and help center readers on important concepts without interrupting the reading.
Questions, Signposts, summariesThese highlighted or off-set sections on longer papers can help readers review an old set of ideas and set up new ones.
 GlossaryFor essays with many specialized terms, a short glossary can be helpful. Cite sources used. If only a few terms, try sidebars or footnotes.
 Table of ContentsIf the essay is long, a quick Table of Contents helps readers reach the sections they need to read. GoogleDocs will create this automatically if you use Header formats for section labels. For a website, this is done with anchors or bookmarks.
A Comments sectionOffering readers the opportunity to ask (and have you respond to!) comments is a great way to get your ideas out there!
Sharing ButtonsGiving readers the chance to share your writing on social media is a bonus to pulling in new readers!

 

The presentation can feel like it has the fewest requirements, but it can be the most challenging to deliver information through, especially as it must have some sort of audio or visual aide.  For presentations:

  1. Schedule your presentation for the class one week or less before the due date or up to one week after. Be sure to let Mr. Chisnell know what technology you might need and be sure to practice with it before the presentation to be sure it works!
  2. A title image of the visual should have your Name, Date, Hour, etc, If a video instead of a live presentation, this should be on the title image or clearly in the Notes section of the YouTube or other service you upload it to.
  3. An original title relevant to the topic
  4. Sources in the visual aide can be cited by traditional ( ), footnote or end note (an asterisk or a superscipt number next to it) that references a list at the end of the visual aide or to a sheet provided separately.
  5. Supplemental information and the visual aide should be placed in your Google Drive Folder by the due date with a file name that identifies it as the Informational Essay. Video essays should be on YouTube, Vimeo, and/or in your Drive folder as well.

Here are some additional points:

Research

There is no specific number or type of resources you should use for this essay. You could get away with a single source, though this is highly unlikely (see the Organizing Text rubric!), but you must have some research, because it’s a research essay!

In general, find evidence and support for arguments/interpretations/claims you make in your essay. It is not important, for instance, that you cite an article to tell me that “Crocs exist,” but it may be important to cite a study that claims that they are “fashionable again” or that they “cause headaches to Dalmatians.” Quotations from sources are always a good choice, but paraphrasing or summarizing sources is also possible (and still must be cited!).

The research may be primary, secondary, or a combination.

For the presentation, you can mark sources with the traditional in-text citation–put the (Author Last Name or “Article Title”, page number) in parentheses–or an asterisk. If you speak the quotation or source orally, then your sentence should indicated where it came from. “In fact, a 2012 report by Walter Gruber suggested that ‘blah blah blah.'”  A separate page of sources should accompany the presentation or be listed in the visual aide as a Works Cited: a listing only of sources you actually cite/use in the essay. It should be in MLA format. EasyBib does this for you (get the GoogleDocs add-on!), but you need to tell it to give the full URL of the website instead of just the word “Web.”

Points for the Live Presentation:

If you are speaking to us “live,” relax. We are more interested in you speaking to us like a real human being than having you read a script that is awkward and monotone. Neither should you try to memorize a speech (or read it off a Powerpoint!).  You can use a lectern to hold notes, and there is nothing wrong with moving those notes about to keep your place clear.

The best bet is to work from an outline that has the key points you want to make. Write out or memorize the exact words you will open and close with so no matter how scattered you get, the beginning and ending are strong. Write out and feel free to read exact quotations, because you want to get these right. Talk about the slides or visuals as they are important, use a laser pointer if it helps (I have one!), an automatic slide advance for Powerpoint, Prezi, etc., and slow down when there are graphs or charts that require some reading. So much as possible, try to avoid letting the audience see any of the “behind the scenes” stuff as you set up your slides or video, etc.

Points for a Video Presentation:

While this sounds safer, it can be more challenging in several areas. First, use a tripod for your camera, and make sure your setting is clean, relatively distraction-free, and well-lit. (See YouTube vloggers for tons of positive and negative examples!) Be sure, too, that your volume is clear: use a good microphone (ideally a lavaliere that pins to a shirt or collar) or a boom mic (not a condenser microphone). Practice a few combinations of these and look at the results before you try recording the final version.

As with a live presentation, talk to us. No reading of scripts or monotone boring stuff. Videos tend to be more interesting if they are a bit faster in pace than live presentations. For this reason, editing of your video is a must:

  • Cut out silences, stumbles, and the like. Try delivering the same line a few times and choose the best “take.” You can even add little bits of music in the intro or close or very quietly behind you, if instrumental.
  • Add additional images, charts, etc. in place of the camera shot of you for some variety. These should not dominate or hide you at length, but they should supplement your points and be large and clear enough for us to read and understand.
  • If you decide to have a non-standard set or have a camera with you while walking, etc., be certain that the conditions of the outdoors (wind, bouncing microphones, traffic noise, etc.) don’t distract.
Role of the Visual Aide:

In brief, visual aides can help or ruin a presentation. Whether a physical object, a handout, a digital slide show, a video, demonstration, etc., the aide is exactly that: an assistance to you as an oral presenter. You should neither really need the aide nor rely upon it during your talk. Instead, it is a background element that supports or emphasizes your ideas. Students who type speeches onto Powerpoint slides and read them to classes forget that idea–the PPT replaces them and they become some kind of ventriloquist doll. There might be only a few brief slides or a quick aside with the aide to accompany your work, but the audience wants to hear you, not see slides, however cool or cute.

No matter what aide you use, it should be:

  • Neat and professional, free or errors
  • Clear in sound, image, font size, etc, for the size room you are using
  • Consistent in color, style, font, etc. so as not to distract
  • Supportive of the claims or points you will make, not merely decoration
  • If parts are borrowed from another source (music, images, charts, etc.), cite them!

Unlike traditional academic essays, I challenge you to use the techniques and formats we have noted in class that make the most sense to you in delivering information in this essay. This is not an exclusive list, but they might include:

Section LabelsFor various parts of an essay that differ by topic or function, usually more than 2 paragraphs long
ImagesThese should be important to understanding the topic, not just a photo of crocs “to help us visualize” or to take up space! Photos should be original or in public domain, else they should be cited like sources.
Tables, Graphs, Charts, etc.As for photos, these should be original or cited as sources. Ideally, they are labeled by where they belong in the argument (i.e. Figure 1, Table C, etc.).
Color or bold typeIn a limited way, color or boldface can help highlight key sections or terms, sidebars, etc.
Sidebars, call-outs, or text boxesFor terms, key ideas, lists, or other special uses, these can offset the paragraphs and help center readers on important concepts without interrupting the reading.
Questions, Signposts, summariesThese highlighted or off-set sections on longer papers can help readers review an old set of ideas and set up new ones.
 GlossaryFor essays with many specialized terms, a short glossary can be helpful. Cite sources used. If only a few terms, try sidebars or footnotes.
 Table of ContentsIf the essay is long, a quick Table of Contents helps readers reach the sections they need to read. GoogleDocs will create this automatically if you use Header formats for section labels.

 

Is Your Research Valuable?

  1. Does it answer the questions you need it to for your topic?
  2. Is it written in a vocabulary that people (and you!) can understand?
  3. Does it pass the C.R.A.P. test?
CurrencyIs the information up to date?
Reliability & ConsistencyIs the information verifiable, researched, well-documented, and similar to other sources?
AuthorityIs the author/publisher/site of decent reputation? Are they qualified in the topic area?
PurposeWhat is the purpose of the site? Is it designed to deliver information or does it have a bias or purpose to persuade?

Secondary Research

Research that is done by others that you find and use is called secondary research. Most everything on the internet counts here, but so do books, magazines, newspapers, and anything we might call “traditional research.” Of course secondary research should pass the above test.

How much research should you have? The answer is always, As much as you need to support your points persuasively.

Where possible, quote the source directly in your paper. But you can also paraphrase or summarize information, especially if your source can’t make the point you need quickly or in words that work for your paper:

  • Quotation – Using the exact words of the source in quotation marks:  ”   “
  • Paraphrase – Writing the ideas in your own words, but roughly the same amount of words.
  • Summary – Reducing the main point(s) of a source to a few words

Primary Research

Research that you do yourself, using the original documents or authorities, etc. is considered primary research: it’s first-hand info. It should also pass the C.R.A.P. test. Here are a couple of quick notes on approaches:

Interviews – When you need an authority’s ideas and want to quote her/him at length, interviews are the way to go. These can be done in person, over Skype or phone, by email or letter, but record the words accurately. (And always ask before you record anything!) Best for qualitative information.

Surveys – When you need a general sense of how people think, conduct a survey of mostly multiple-choice or limited response questions that you can report in percentages. Word your questions carefully, choose a wide and diverse audience for best results, and ask a sample size of perhaps 5-10% of the community you want to understand.

Studies/Experiments – For larger research projects with time, you might set up genuine experiments and record the results to better understand the topic you are studying. These could be psychological, sociological, or anthropological questions to address. Plan carefully! More information on these later.

For this paper, you can do primary research, secondary research, or both.

Hitting the Standards in Research

Primary Research Standard
  • Conducting one or more interviews or surveys
  • Surveys gather relevant and valid information from an effective and reliable sample
  • Information is reported fairly, thoughtfully, and honestly
  • Source is cited correctly
Secondary Research Standard
  • Employing two or more credible and valid sources (CRAP test)
  • Quoting, paraphrasing, or summarizing properly with citations
  • Thoughtful and valid explanation/analysis of material used
  • Ideas from multiple sources are brought together through the writing/presentation, revealing their connections
Data Presentation
  • Original data is presented in graphic or chart/table form
  • Data is clean, digitally-constructed (not hand-drawn), and easily understandable
  • Data is properly labeled, accurate, and meaningful
  • Graphic presentation complements or supplements written or oral explanation

Some notes from our class discussions:

Introductions

  • All sentences should be relevant and lead to the specific thesis of the paper, not generic statements.
  • Approaches that grab attention, provoke our thinking, ask interesting questions, offer quotations to make a point, etc. are all good. Histories, background info, explanations of the trend, etc. also work.
  • Regardless, every introduction should end with a thesis sentence that is a direct answer to the prompt.

Middle Section

  • Organize the paper in a logical, coherent way. Ideally, the ideas from one section build from the ideas offered in the previous section. An order of increasing complexity works well. An order based on sub-topics or differing explanations also works. 
  • Think of essays in sections rather than just in paragraphs. Perhaps one topic or argument or interpretation will require two or more paragraphs.
  • Organize paragraphs and sections with topic sentences that begin the point you will make. 
  • Evidence, examples, and explanations are all important for middle sections
  • Be sure it’s clear how each paragraph or section supports your original thesis from the introduction.
  • If in doubt, one way to organize paragraphs might be:
    • Topic sentence about your reason/cause/consequence.
    • An explanation and/or example of what you mean by that.
    • Quotation or other supporting evidence that proves your explanation is correct.
    • An explanation for that evidence and its significance or importance
    • Add other evidence as needed with explanations
    • A connection made back to the original thesis idea so readers understand what is proven.

Closing Section

  • Re-state or revise the original thesis from the introduction based on what you’ve written in the middle sections
  • Consider the larger significance or importance of what you’ve demonstrated. You might predict consequences, ask additional questions that arise from the topic, or reflect on where the research is still incomplete. In any event, one way to think about what to put here is to answer the question, “So what?”