Popular descriptions and public understanding of environmental issues are often
superficial, missing key facts and arguments. This course aims to improve your ability to
think critically about issues concerning environmental conservation, which means
considering multiple, often-different perspectives on an issue.
The research essays will help you survey current sources of accurate information and form
your own knowledgeable position or argument. Being able to effectively communicate a
well reasoned, well-researched argument is a skill that will serve you well in whatever
career you pursue.
II. WRITING YOUR PAPER
During this semester, you will write two research essays. For each paper, you will:
1. Choose a specific topic related to environmental conservation.
2. Develop a thesis statement concerning that topic.
3. Provide compelling and accurate evidence that convinces the reader.
4. State the counter evidence or alternative interpretation.
5. Provide a synthesis in the conclusion.
6. Provide sources for the information presented in your paper.
Your thesis statement is the core of your paper and should be introduced in the opening
paragraph. It is the basic argument or position concerning your chosen topic. The goal is to
convince the audience that the claim is true based on the evidence provided.
Excellent: a clear statement that lets the reader know exactly what you are trying to
Good: an argument is given, but the reader must reconstruct it from the text.
Needs improvement: the argument is not specific, and thus it is not defensible.
Poor: no attempt is made to articulate an argument.
Evidence represents the facts and arguments you will use to explain and defend your
thesis. Research involves reading journal articles, newspaper and magazine articles,
recently published books, and web sites. Textbooks, encyclopedias, and lecture notes are
useful, in a limited capacity, to provide initial background information. Strive to understand
the author’s motives that might influence the source’s style and content. For example, two
overviews of New York logging practices, one written by a timber company and the other 2
by an environmental advocacy group, might present wildly contrasting pictures.
Remember too, that you can’t make current arguments with out-of-date information.
Excellent: is compelling and accurate, and convinces the reader to accept the main
Good: reader must make a few mental leaps to fully understand the main argument
Needs Improvement: is incomplete, incorrect, or over simplified.
Poor: is basically information presented in class.
You should consider arguments that counter your position, and cite evidence and argue
against them. Remember, the research papers are intended for critical thinking by you. The
higher the quality and depth of your thinking, the more impressive your paper will become.
Excellent: presents counter evidence that could refute or weaken main argument,
and responds to it thoughtfully.
Good: presents counter evidence to the main argument, but does not effectively
explain why the argument still stands.
Needs Improvement: presents obvious counter evidence with little or no response.
Poor: fails to consider opposing point of view.
The conclusion should do more than summarize the information you just presented.
Although a conclusion should not introduce new information, it can also be a place to use
critical thinking to synthesize the info you already have presented in different ways. A
Revisit your thesis statement, and perhaps provide a more nuanced and informative
version of it throughout your paper. If you presented plenty of information to
back up your point/sum up your argument, the conclusion can be even more
specific than you were in your introduction.
Remind the reader why this topic and your position on it matters.
Acknowledge the scope and limitations of your research. Critical thinking can be
displayed by recognizing the bounds of your argument/findings, and
explaining what might be missing. After recognizing these limitations, you
can go on to make thoughtful, more informed comments on broader
Comment on some broader applications or implications of your findings. For
example, a student writing about hidden drawbacks of organic farming
practices in the United States may then infer that we also need to consider
the validity of ‘organic’ farming practices in other countries that may have
even more lax environmental regulations.
Based on your findings, make some recommendations for future research or policy
Sources give credit to the research you presented in your paper. Any facts, statistics,
statements that are not common knowledge, and ideas that are not your own must be cited.
A citation occurs within the paper itself (Yavitt 2013) and should immediately follow the
use of an author’s idea. Your Literature Cited section, which occurs at the end of the paper,
includes only items you cite directly in your paper. Please use standard formats for basic 3
bibliographic information recommended by the American Psychological Association (APA).
For more information on the APA format, see http://www.apastyle.org.
Excellent: evidence from a wide range of sources, including class, websites, journals,
Good: evidence from several sources, but relies heavily on a limited set.
Needs Improvement: uses mostly web sites
Poor: relies on non-scholarly sources
Note that blogs and other information on the Internet can be a useful source of information,
but you should be aware that there are no regulations on what appears on the web
(excluding open-access, refereed journals), in contrast to scholarly journals that are
carefully checked for accuracy. Be sure to cite web pages, as described below.
Author’s name. (Date of publication). Title of article. Title of Periodical,
volume number, Retrieved month day, year, from full URL
Devitt, T. (2001, August 2). Lightning injures four at music festival. The
Why? Files. Retrieved January 23, 2002, from
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