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Inquiry Essay (“they say”) Simply put, you’ll use your own questions to learn about a subject, then show your

Inquiry Essay (“they say”)

Simply put, you’ll use your own questions to learn about a subject, then show your readers what the current state of that subject is (what other writers are “saying” about it).

We live our lives surrounded by important issues that we never even recognize as issues: underfunding of agricultural colleges, sexism among the gamer community, the cultural divide between Baltimore City and Baltimore County. Thus a key task of the writer—and a key task that you will perform throughout your careers as student writers—is to ask questions and then inform readers about the important issues around them.

But to “inform” is actually a complex task that includes identifying situations that were previously invisible, exploring what that situation entails, and convincing readers that they should care as much as you do about the issue.

This will be your task in this paper, then: to identify, inquire into, and assert the importance of a topic of your choosing. It may even relate to our course theme (mass incarceration, policing, abolition, etc.), but this isn’t required. However, do not simply choose one of the examples above; your topic must be substantially your own according to my estimation.


For this paper, you’ll research an issue that interests you. Here, take “issue” to mean a subject around which there is some debate. This might mean a current, “real world” problem that people are actively in conflict over. But you could also take “issue” to mean “abstract” debates around a topic that has no material “solution.”

Once you identify your issue, you’ll ask “research questions” of yourself, which is to say, questions that lead to further knowledge about your issue. This is what we mean by “inquire.”

Using your subsequent research, you will write an essay that makes three moves:

1) Identify: Give your readers a sense of what the issue is. Think of this as where you define the topic and its limits: what counts as part of your issue? What are the terms or concepts or factual information that readers need to know about it?

2) Explore: Show your reader the history and complexity of your issue. Where did the topic originate and how? Why are we in this situation today? What are the various positions that people take regarding the subject? Imagine that you are mapping out the issue’s “terrain” for readers, or that you’re showing us a “they say” about the issue.

3) Persuade Why It Matters: No matter how important your issue is, it’s not the case that your readers will readily understand (or agree!) why they should care. So part of your task will be to argue convincingly for why your chosen issue really is so crucial to read and think about.


Your essay must be submitted on Canvas by the due date. The essay must be 4 full pages, double-spaced, with 1 inch margins on all sides, and in a professional 12 point font such as Times New Roman. Title your paper in a way that engages your reader and hints at what you say in the paper (not just “Inquiry Essay,” etc.). For example, your paper might be titled

“We Gon’ Be Alright”: Kendrick Lamar, Protest, and #BlackLivesMatter


For this paper, you’ll perform research into your chosen issue. The final paper should draw on at least three sources, incorporating them in in-text citations and a Works Cited page according to MLA style. Refer to Purdue OWL as a resource in preparing your citations. Because we will be covering research, citation, and quotation later in the semester, simply use this paper as practice for the future.

Writing the essay

Keep the focus here on your issue itself. In a sense, this is a “They Say” paper: you’re giving your readers a sense of the conversation surrounding a topic. Don’t worry so much, then, about telling readers what you think we should do or agreeing/disagreeing with particular views within the debate. Rather, the paper itself is your view on why this is an issue worth considering and exploring.

This is not to say that you’re not allowed to inject your opinion, insight, “I Say,” etc. But these things are not your primary task. Stay focused on the three moves listed above.