Argumentative Essay


In this final written assignment, students will build on their previous written work to develop a sustained, thesis-driven argument about their contemporary poetry collection. The emphasis here will be not only on how a given poem works, but how a book of poems work together to create patterns, develop particular themes and effects, and advance a particular aesthetic, voice, or sensibility. In addition to the argumentative essay, students will also complete a 500-word reflection on the process of completing the assignment.

The paper will be 7–8 pages (double spaced, standard font size and margins) in length and is due in class along with the reflection on Monday, December 7th. In addition to the hard copy submitted in class, students must also hand in a digital copy via email. Please submit the assignment as one document, titled “last name_first name_argumentative essay”.


The argumentative essay represents the capstone project for the course, and is meant to be the culminating result of your semester-long engagement with your chosen collection of contemporary poetry. Whereas the close reading assignment encouraged you to focus your attention on a single poem, the argumentative essay is your chance to make a broader set of claims about your book as a whole. It is also an opportunity to advance a particular thesis about your collection. As the name of the assignment suggests, the paper should be driven by a particular argumentyou would like to make about the book, supported by evidence from at least 3 of the poems in the collection and (if you wish) secondary materials.

Completing the Assignment

The assignment has four key steps: identifying a topic you would like to write on, and sketching a program of writing and research; consulting with the instructor on your topic and program; drafting the essay; and completing your reflection.

Essay Topic and Writing Program

Any essay begins with deciding on a topic you’d like to pursue, what rhetoricians call invention. While this can be the trickiest part of any writing project, here is the good news: the work you’ve already done on your chosen collection means you’re well on your way to identifying a topic for your essay. Review your annotation and close reading. Are there ideas or arguments mentioned in either assignment that you’d like to explore further? Is there a nagging question that continues to bother you, and about which you’d like to think further? Is there a through-line—thematic, formal, or otherwise—that seems to thread its way across your collection, and whose dots are just waiting to be connected? These are some questions you can ask yourself in deciding on a topic.

When considering your options, try to keep the following in mind: Will this topic be manageable in 7–8 pages, and will it give you the opportunity to work across the collection as a whole? Remember, you need to address yourself to at least 3 poems in the book, so be sure your topic is one that has the potential for a breadth of engagement. At the same time, however, the topic cannot be so broad that you couldn’t possibly cover it in the space allotted. When in doubt, lean toward the specific and the concrete in your choice of topic. Most of all, remember that your argument should be about the collection at hand, and not about poetry in general. While your essay may engage with concerns beyond the book itself, your focus should first and foremost be on the poems and poet in front of you.

Once you’ve narrowed down your topic, you’ll have to decide how you want to go about investigating it. This will likely involve selecting poems to focus on, deciding what secondary sources (if any) you’ll need to consult to write your paper, and what key points you’d like to make in fleshing out your response to the prompt you’ve set for yourself. While you need not stick to this program precisely, it is useful to draft such a list of tasks at the outset of the project. At the very least, it will help me get a sense of your plans and thus give better feedback at our consultation. Speaking of…

One-on-One Consultation

As you may have noticed, there will be no classes on Week 14 of our course, the week of November 23rd. Instead, each of you will meet with me one-on-one for 20 minute sessions to discuss your plans for your papers. The sessions will take place at the Pete’s Coffee on the first floor of Woodruff Library. Students may sign up for sessions using the Google Doc available here.

The point of these sessions is to allow me to see where you’re headed with your research, and to offer you feedback and guidance on your plans. To ensure that you are able to get the most out of these sessions—and to make sure you’re on track to complete the assignment on deadline—please come to the meeting with the following in hand:

  • An essay topic, formulated as a question.
  • A program for your writing, indicating the steps you have already taken to complete the assignment, and the steps you’ll be taking in the future.
  • A tentative hypothesis in response to your essay question. That is, you needn’t have arrived at the central thesis of your paper, but it would be helpful to have a sense, at least provisionally, about your answer to the question you’ve posed for yourself.

Please take the time to type these out, and bring a copy for me to look over at the meeting. Again, the more detail you’re able to provide at this stage in the process, the more helpful I can be in our meeting.

Drafting the Essay

Now the fun part: actually writing the essay. How you go about doing this up to you, although we’ll have a chance to chat about your process during our consultation based on the program you’ve sketched. As with the close reading assignment, the essay should be organized into formal sentences and paragraphs, complete with an introduction that lays out your essay’s central concerns and a conclusion that summarizes the paper and drives home your key ideas and arguments. The only other criteria is that you must substantively address at least three poems over the course of the paper. While you may choose to focus on on poem more than the others, I expect you to engage significantly with at least three. Exceptions may be made in the case of very long poems or poem sequences. This is something we can discuss one-on-one in our consultations.

One more thing. You may reuse ideas, arguments, insights, and even sentences from the annotation and close reading assignments, so long as they help support the argument you are making in your essay. Remember that these previous assignments were steps along the way to this final essay. While it is unlikely that all the material you drafted in earlier work will be of use here, I encourage you to think about ways in which successful ideas from your previous work can be incorporated into this assignment.

The Reflection

As with all your previous assignments, the reflection is a chance for you to think aloud about the process of completing the assignment, what aspects you consider to be the most successful, and what parts of the essay you found difficult or didn’t turn out as you would have liked. I’d like to hear about each phase of your process, from deciding on a topic on, and how your sense of your argument shifted and developed during the process of writing. As always, please be as specific as you can in describing the different parts of your process. Remember that I use your reflection, in part, to guide my evaluation of the finished product. The clearer an idea I have of the intentions behind the essay and the steps you took to achieve your goals, the easier it will be for me to evaluate your essay on its own terms.

A note on sources: You are free to explore secondary sources in completing this assignment. If you do so, please provide in-line citations and attach a works cited page to your essay, both formatted in MLA style. The Purdue Owl is a great resource for all things MLA, so do check it out first if you have any questions regarding citation and/or the works cited page.


I will evaluate the argumentative essay on the following criteria:

  • Does the essay clearly propose a coherent and productive question for analysis? Does the question allow for a focused discussion of the collection of poems?
  • Does the essay propose a convincing and well-supported argument in response to its central question? Is there close engagement with particular poems as well as attention to features of the collection as a whole?
  • Is the essay organized in a persuasive and effective manner? Do the key claims proceed one to the next as the essay develops? Is there a compelling introduction that introduces the reader to the key questions, ideas, and claims developed in the essay? Is there a strong and convincing conclusion that summarizes—and, ideally, complements—the key points of the essay’s argument?
  • Is the student able to write clearly and specifically about the choices they made in preparing their essay in the reflection? Does the student address in detail their process, from start to finish, as well as the successes and challenges they encountered in completing the assignment?
  • Does the essay meet the requirements of the assignment, including the 7–8 page length and engaging with at least 3 poems from the collection?

Note that the argumentative essay assignment is worth 25% of your overall grade. A full grade breakdown can be found on the Assignments page.