Racial Research Paper

from ENGL110: The Rhetoric of Racial Identity -- Honors – Fall 2020 -- Brett Seekford -- see full syllabus here 


Now that we have a solid foundation for using and analyzing sources after drafting the Close (Racial) Reading, this paper asks that you extensively research a topic that interests you and adheres to the course theme of racial identity. There is an endless array of topics that you can choose, but your selection must focus on an issue that affects a specific racial population in a unique way. After developing a topic and conducting meaningful research on it, you will need to form an argument about the nature of the issue under analysis and its consequences for the associated community. In other words, you should try to address several questions: Why does (or did) this issue exist? In what way does it either influence the way people of a certain racial status are seen in society or affect how these people see themselves? Put differently, how does your topic shape the American consciousness when it comes to a specific form of racial identity?

To successfully complete this assignment, it is again essential that you narrow the scope of your project and adopt a particular focus rather than writing on broad topics. For instance, if you are interested in music as it relates to the Black community, you would not want to talk about every single musical genre and the connections between them and Black people. Rather, you might study the relationship between African Americans and one musical genre. Even more effectively, you could think about that genre’s connection to Black women or Black people from a specific region of the country. Above all, you are encouraged to bring your unique interests to this paper and put them in conversation with the course themes of race, identity, and rhetoric. Just as was the case with the first paper: If you can offer justification for studying any community that you want to know more about, use your proposal to defend your choice.


Since your topic will be largely unfamiliar to you, extensive research will be necessary. For this paper, you need at least four scholarly, peer-reviewed academic sources, although you will likely want to incorporate a few more texts as well. In that vein, after you’ve satisfied the scholarly research requirement, feel free to consult an array of nonscholarly sources, ranging from newspaper articles to credible blogposts or tweets. In order to meaningfully engage with your sources, though, you should avoid using more than ten sources in this paper since an extensive bibliography of outside voices can be difficult to incorporate without distracting from your original argument. 

Other than the change in prompt and number of required sources, the other major requirement for this paper is that you use secondary sources more strategically and synthesize them throughout your writing, a practice we will explore at length in class. Therefore, academic synthesis—in addition to argumentation, organization, and source use—will be the fourth major component of your grade with this paper. As you will see, it is incredibly important to show your intervention in a larger conversation by using a range of sources that support, complicate, and even expand your main idea. 

As always, while your sources should inform your argument, they should not dominate. It can be difficult to strike the balance between asserting your voice and allowing your sources to take over, and for that reason, your papers will undergo a broad-based writing process featuring three drafts, peer workshops, instructor conferences, and even a week of in-class revision stations. As always, you will need to complete all aspects of the writing process to receive a passing grade, but I hope you find a topic that motivates you and inspires a sense of passion. By the time you submit this paper, my hope is that you will discover an opportunity for building your scholarly identity while improving your approach to writing.

The following is a checklist of basic requirements that must be met to earn a passing grade on this assignment:

  • A paper proposal and three drafts (including the final draft)
  • Participation in peer workshops and submission of peer letters 
  • Attendance during student-instructor conference
  • 8-10 full pages in length
  • Paper topic relevant to the course theme of racial identity and rhetoric
  • A narrowly framed argument pertaining to an issue or concern affecting a specific racial population
  • At least four scholarly, peer-reviewed secondary sources
    • Additional scholarly or nonscholarly sources will likely be needed in addition to this basic requirement. (No more than ten sources.)
  • Meaningful synthesis of sources throughout the paper

Length: 8-10 full pages

Proposal Due: Friday, October 16th (via Canvas as Journal Entry)

Draft #1 Due: Sunday, October 25th (via Canvas) 

Minimum requirement: Five pages with at least two scholarly sources

Peer Letters Due: Monday, November 2nd (via Canvas)

Draft #2 Due: Sunday, November 8th (via Canvas)

Requirements: 8-10 full pages with at least four scholarly sources

Student Conferences: Tuesday, Nov. 10th – Friday, Nov. 13th (via Zoom)

Arrive at your scheduled via the Zoom link sent out on Canvas.

Final Draft Due: Sunday, November 22nd (via Canvas)


Below, you can find the breakdown of your grade for this paper, which encompasses your final draft and peer letters just like the Close (Racial) Reading. All other assignments (i.e., first and second drafts, peer workshops, instructor conferences) will be graded on a pass/fail basis. Again, you must complete all parts of the assignment to receive a passing grade.

Final Draft 30 points

Peer Letters 10 points

40 points

A loose rubric with guidelines for achieving specific grades can be found on the next page, although the hope is that you focus less on the grade and more on effectively researching your topic and using sources to support your eventual argument.

Grading Criteria

“A” Paper

  • Features an original and focused central argument adhering to the prompt
  • Intervenes productively in an existing scholarly conversation about the chosen topic
  • Organized creatively and effectively with seamless transitions
  • Incorporates and responds to a range of sources
  • Enacts academic synthesis meaningfully and routinely so sources speak to each other without impeding the writer’s voice
  • Clear demonstration of intensive revision between drafts
  • Polished, concise, and engaging style

“B” Paper

  • Features a focused central argument adhering to the prompt
  • Contributes to an existing scholarly conversation about the chosen topic
  • Organized sensibly and deliberately with transitions
  • Uses sources purposefully in service of main argument
  • Enacts academic synthesis occasionally with sources frequently speaking to each other while rarely overshadowing the writer’s voice
  • Revised according to class comments
  • Occasional mechanical errors but consistent voice

“C” Paper

  • Features a loose argument that partially adheres to the prompt
  • Lacks a clear intervention in an existing scholarly conversation about the chosen topic
  • Organized in a disjointed manner
  • Occasionally engages meaningfully with sources
  • Demonstrates a weak attempt at academic synthesis with sources failing to speak to each other regularly
  • Halfhearted attempt at revision
  • Prevalent and careless mechanical errors and inconsistent voice

“D” Paper

  • Features no discernible argument and fails to address the course theme
  • Exhibits no attempt to articulate a scholarly intervention
  • Organized incoherently and incompletely  
  • Fails to meet required number of sources or engages little with the ones chosen
  • No coherent level of synthesis
  • Little to no revision
  • Ridden with senseless errors and lacking in any distinctive voice