Writing the Issue Paper

An issue paper is one type of essay — an essay about an issue. Of course! What does this mean and what should you do?


Of course, the first thing to do is learn about your topic. You might want to work through the Information Skills Tutorial at http://subjectguides.esc.edu/researchskillstutorial to help you learn to find good quality sources of information for your paper.

From Topic to Research Question

The next task determines the success of your paper. You need a focus. What is a focus? For this assignment, it is a controversy. At this point, you will need to develop a research question. Let’s look at what are some useful questions vs. some not-so-useful questions

Should the Internet include sexually explicit postings?
This works because you can argue both sides of the question. On the one hand, you may not want to read this stuff (I certainly don’t); however, on the other hand, if we censor sex, what will we censor next?
Sex on the Internet
This is a topic but you do not yet have a research question. You would end up with a collection of facts, but no organizing framework or argument.
Everyone should have access to the Internet
Again, this works because you can compare arguments from several different positions.
Security on the Internet
Compared to what? What does it take to make my data secure? What do I lose by doing so? Maybe I need to add something to this title.

Does this help? If you’re at all confused, please send me your topic and research question and let me discuss it with you.


Now it’s time to organize your paper. You might begin by looking at all the material that you found which you don’t agree with. Try to summarize the arguments fairly. Why do these authors believe what they do? Are their starting points different from yours? Do they have different values? What makes their argument difficult for you to accept? You may find that, because you didn’t agree with them, you didn’t get as much of this material as you needed. You may need to go back and get more!

Now that you have the arguments of other authors organized, read through all of the material that you agreed with. Are there several different positions? How would you summarize them? Do you have evidence? Or is your argument just opinion?

Putting it all together

The key to writing a successful essay is to not start at the beginning. Instead, start in the middle. Look at each of the opposition arguments. Do you have good arguments to compare with them? Try to write a section of the paper which narrows in on one part of the problem. What are the arguments on their side? On your side? Can you show, using evidence, that your argument prevails?

Write a series of these sections. This, by the way, is what we refer to as compare and contrast — you are comparing the arguments of different authors, showing where they are similar and where they are different.

Now you’re ready to write the conclusion. This is a summary of the various ways in which you showed the superiority of your arguments. It should not introduce any new material; rather, it should draw from the various sections you wrote in the middle.

Now that the first draft of your paper is done — oh! It isn’t done? You don’t have an introduction?? Well, as I was saying, now that the first draft of your paper is almost done, you can write the introduction. Since the purpose of the introduction is to show the reader where you’re going in this paper, you can’t write it (successfully) until you know where you’ve been! So, I always write the introduction last.

You’ll notice that I said first draft. At this point, assuming the paper isn’t due in an hour, you should put it aside while you do something else. You need to think about something else for a while to get some distance from what you wrote. When you’re ready to revise your draft, think about your audience. Will the reader be able to follow your arguments? Will the reader be able to clearly distinguish your ideas from the ideas of the authors you read? Does the narrative flow, or will the reader have to go back to the previous section to figure out what you are talking about??