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This guide was created to help you with your English1C I-search paper. See the tabs above for different areas of help. The complete assignment is available below:

English 1C I-Search Paper on The Shallows:

 Technology and Shaping of the Human Mind

What is an I-Search paper? It is a research project where you are an active participant in teaching yourself and your reader something valuable about your chosen topic, as well as about the nature of research, reading, writing, and discovery. Your general topic is technology and the human mind, but you will look more closely at a key issues raised in Nicholas Carr’s The Shallows. Unlike a traditional “research paper” where the writer usually is expected to assume a detached, “objective” stance, the I-search paper requires you to take a more personal approach by focusing on your experience of the hunt for facts and truths by providing a narrative of your process of discovery.  Your final draft will describe the process you went through in researching and answering your main question or questions.

Since your essay will be a narrative, you will write – at least in part – in the first person. The use of “I” is not always appropriate in other college courses. However, the I-search paper requires you to reflect on and analyze using “I.” Therefore, such phrases such as “I think” and “I feel” must be used. This form of writing belongs to the genre of the personal narrative essay, but you will also provide premises from scholarly, documented sources similar to the style used by Nicolas Carr in The Shallows.

An I-Search paper requires you to tell the story about key steps in your search that lead you to the answer to your question, including your failures and frustrations. Therefore, you can begin drafting your essay as you proceed with the search instead of waiting to the “end” of your research to begin writing. Even if you never adequately answer your question, you can still write your essay by explaining to your reader why you came up short, or what you did learn that was worthwhile, or how you would conduct your research differently in the future.

Outline of your I-Search paper: The Lead (1-2 pages, 10 points), What I Want to Find Out (1-2 pages, 10 points), The Story of My Search (6-8 pages, 100 points), What I Learned (2-3 pages, 10 points), Annotated Works Cited, with copies of sources (40 points).

Things to keep in mind when writing an I-Search paper

  • This is a personal assignment, but be careful not to over personalize it by avoiding a careful analysis of your topic and issue. For example, your disastrous experience with standardized testing might predispose you to dismiss the need for them, but your writing needs to examine in detail all the problems with such testing and what others have written about it, NOT simply evoke your own negative test-taking experiences.
  • The antidote to over personalizing is critical thinking: in other words, be more self conscious about the basis of your opinions and experiences (premises), as well as the implications of your opinions and experiences. Ask yourself such questions as, is this what I really believe? Why? What are some of the historical precedents that might have led to my point of view? What are the cultural forces that might be influencing my beliefs? What have others said about my topic/issue?
  • Follow MLA format and observe academic citation guidelines (attribution of sources, in-text citations, works cited list, etc.)
  • Your topic/issue and essay must be appropriate for a general academic audience. 

Your I-Search Question: The focus of this paper will be a technology issue you have read about in The Shallows by Nicholas Carr. Do some brainstorming to come up with a list of several possible questions, or better yet, pay attention to the issues being raised in our class readings on technology. You must choose one of the following unless you check with me immediately about an alternative:

  • To what extent does computer usage affect human memory? What is at stake?
  • To what extent does computer usage affect human creativity? What is at stake?
  • To what extent does computer usage affect human intelligence? What is at stake?

Organizing your I-Search Paper:

Part 1 – The Lead: Where my question came from, why it is important, what I already know (1.5 - 2 pages)

Like any good piece of academic writing, the I-Search paper must begin with an interesting beginning that orients your reader and makes him or her want to keep reading. The best way to do that in an academic setting is to provide some context or some explanation about where your question came from, why you think it is important, and why others should care about it too. You could tell a short anecdote about where in your life or your reading that your question came from. You must also discuss what you already assume about or know about your topic/issue.

Part 2 – What I Want to Find Out (1.5 -2 pages)

Discuss one or two main research questions that will guide your research. What makes them good questions? Why do you want to find out more about them? Where did your questions come from? Why should other readers care?

Your questions will guide you through your journey, which will include reading as widely as possible, noting key connections among sources, and making connections between what you find and class discussions, readings, etc.

Part 3 – The Story of My Search (6-8 pages)

This is the “body” of your paper, the section that your write up the findings of your search in a narrative or storytelling form, explaining your research activities, what answers you came up with, what you learned in the process, and why the reader should care. Not only do you need to clearly report on what “They Say” about your topic and research question (Who are the experts? What is at issue? What ideas need explanation? What evidence is offered? What conclusions are drawn?), but also analyze your reactions and reflections on their perspectives - the “I Say” portion. You cannot tell your reader everything, so it is your responsibility to highlight the issues and ideas that were most important to your research and that most contributed to your understanding and answering of your question.

What part 3 must include:

  • An answer to your key question and a clear explanation of your premises related to issues raised in part 2.
  • Clear, detailed discussion of at least 2 reliable, relevant, and current college-level books (one must include Nicholas Carr’s The Shallows) and 3 reliable, relevant, and current college-level essays, two of which must be from a scholarly journal. (To locate these, you can use a database such as EbscoHost available at the Gavilan Library Homepage.) Please note: you must print or photo copy these sources to turn in with your final draft. In addition to (not in place of) these sources, you are welcome to include relevant, reliable website information and essays we have read in class.
  • Ample and appropriate in-text and parenthetical citations.
  • Ample and appropriate discussion of key ideas and issues relevant to your topic/issue.

Part 4 – Reflection: Implications and Conclusions (2-3 pages)

After you have finished your search and written your story, compare what you thought you knew, assumed, or imagined in part 1 to what you actually learned. What changed, and why? What values, beliefs, or attitudes about technology and your topic have changed or stayed the same? Why?

In this section, you may also access your overall learning experience and draw conclusions about the value of your discoveries. You are free to express your feelings of satisfaction with your research and what you have learned, but you might also want to express your disappointment and frustration. What does your experience tell you about yourself as a reader, writer, or thinker? Overall, what was the main value of this entire process?

Part 5 – Annotated Works Cited page with sources

After each source that you have listed according to M.L.A. format, include a short, detailed paragraph explaining the pitch (what does the source want you to believe?) the complaint (what is the source responding to? Look for language that reveals the writer’s starting point) and the moment (what is the historical context within which the source exists? When/where was it written? What else was going on at the time?).

For each book other than The Shallows, please photocopy the title page (the one with publication information) and the first two pages of the most relevant chapter to your research.

Please include an annotated copy of each essay used in your works cited.

Suggestions for conducting and completing your search

Keep a journal. It is impossible to complete an I-Search paper without keeping a journal, however informal. Carry a notebook with you or index cards that are dedicated to recording your experiences. Keep a note of dates and times of everything you do, along with the following details:

  • Every visit to the library, including the search method you used, titles of books or articles you looked at, along with their call numbers, the names of helpful library staff, etc.
  • Each use of the computer, including URL’s of websites visited. Be sure to always include the dates of access in case the source is cited in your essay.
  • Brief notes on your reactions to events, situations, and information you come across.
  • How do you react to what you find most interesting or important?
  • What patterns of repetition, contrast, and anomaly do you notice in your research?
  • What important similarities or differences do you find between sources? 

You might also consider keeping a double-entry journal. Just draw a line down the center of your journal or index card. On the left of the line, write down notes and quotes from a source. On the right side of the line, write your reactions to, questions about, and reflections on these notes and quotes.  Later, you can incorporate these details and experiences in your actual paper.

For more information on writing, using quotes, citing sources, etc., please refer to this guide, the library website, our class home page, the current MLA Handbook, and They Say, I Say.




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