Op-ed Problem Space

In this assignment, students researched and discussed the issues their argumentative essays aimed to solve. This step, between initial research and thesis drafting, helped them articulate key concerns foundational to their arguments.

Author: Mark Bauer, Lecturer in Fung Institute for Engineering Leadership
Course Number & Title: E295: Communications for Engineering Leaders
Grant Type: Lecturer Teaching Fellows Program (LTF)

This work is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0

Assignment Title
Op-ed Problem Space
Delivery Format In-person

High Impact Practices (HIPs)

(Review definitions for each category(link is external).)

  • Undergraduate Research
  • Writing-Intensive Courses
Learning Objectives
  • Students will be able to gather and synthesize information from reputable sources

  • Students will be able to describe a key issue in their field

  • Students will be able to synthesize information in a well structured and cohesive essay format

Brief Summary of Assignment

Before they dive into writing an argumentative essay, this short paper asks students to research and discuss the problem or issue for which that essay offers a solution. As one step in a larger writing process that culminates in a 1,000-word op-ed, this paper falls just after students have selected a topic and completed some preliminary research, but before they have begun drafting a thesis statement or the op-ed itself. The purpose of this paper is to help students articulate the set of concerns that ultimately give rise to their argument, a background that is key in convincing audiences that whatever solutions their op-eds ultimately propose are worth their attention and action.

Innovative Teaching Reflection

Students often are able to present an argument, but they are less able to articulate why that argument is important or what larger effect it might have on readers.  This assignment helps students think more deeply about that bigger-picture importance from the outset of their writing process.

Assignment Length

One week for writing, plus another week to select and research a topic of students’ choosing (in my classes, this research is done ahead of time, but it could easily be bundled into this assignment as a process step.)

Step-by-Step Instructions

[Student-facing instructions]

1. Offer a one-page (double-spaced: ~300 words) overview of the issue about which your op-ed will eventually state a position. Possible questions to address include:

  • What’s the problem to which you’re proposing a solution, or the opportunity that you’re advocating readers to seize?

  • What’s the current state of the industry or field that you propose improving or changing?

  • What are the current approaches to meeting a need that you think might be better addressed through different means?  

  • Who is affected by this issue? Why should readers be concerned?

2. Whichever questions you choose to focus on, the paper should give readers the background they need to understand the importance of your eventual argument and the need for your solution or proposal. Ultimately, this information is likely to make its way into the introduction and early paragraphs of your op-ed, but at this point, you do not need to offer an argument—you’ll flesh that out over the next couple of weeks in subsequent assignments.  

3. Your discussion will be aided by incorporating at least one specific quote or piece of information taken from the sources you have read so far. In many cases, bringing together a few sources can be the most effective way to create a foundation for your eventual argument, so feel free to include more than one. You are also welcome to draw this information from sources that are not listed in your annotated bibliography. Include a Chicago-formatted references page at the end of the document to cite any specific information you’ve quoted in the paper.

4. Finally, don’t forget that even though this is a very short paper, it should have some kind of introduction and conclusion that gesture toward the paper’s main points and their larger meanings.