Introduction to Academic Discourse

This college freshman course prepares students for library research and introduces them to the conventions of academic writing

Course Description

Enrolling in college means joining the academic community and the goal of this course is to teach students how to participate in this community. Academia exists to conduct research, expand human knowledge, and share that knowledge with others. Participation in this community takes place mainly through a formal process of debate and conversation known as academic discourse.


Academic discourse takes place largely through reading and writing, so students will read dissertations and journal articles, become familiar with academic publishing, practice library research, map a decade of academic debate as it appeared in print, and compose three papers across three genres of undergraduate academic writing.


In addition to introducing them to the genres of academic writing, students will consult with librarians, meet graduate students, learn how to participate in research as an undergraduate, attend symposiums, and watch conference presentations.

Educational Goals

In this course students will learn:

  • the differences between academic and public discourse
  • three common undergraduate assignments: the annotated bibliography, the bibliographic essay, and the term paper, i.e. the thesis-driven research paper
  • the conventions of the journal article
  • how to conduct library research
  • how to evaluate sources according to their contexts, usefulness, credibility, and relevance
  • how to summarize sources through note-taking, annotation, quotation, paraphrasing, and citation
  • how academic debates change over time in response to new information and ideas
  • how to ask a research question without value judgments
  • how to craft an arguable academic thesis
  • how to argue a claim using evidence alone, not values
  • the “they say, I say” pattern of argumentation 


Required Texts

Additional Readings

overview of Assignments

Short Assignments & Quizzes

 -  quizzes

 -  topic proposals

 -  bibliography of 20 sources

 -  annotated bibliography first draft

 -  bibliographic essay first draft

 -  thesis statement draft

 -  research paper outline

 -  research paper first draft


Paper 1:  Intellectual Autobiography

From kindergarten until twelfth grade, students took the same classes in the same order as their peers. Schools created their schedule with little input from them, except for maybe the ability to choose a few high school electives. However in college a student's course of study is their choice. For this assignment, students write an autobiography that reflects upon their intellectual growth and interests — the story of their intellectual self, from beginning to end. This is an opportunity to explore their professional, creative, and intellectual goals and to take inventory of themselves. The style should be professional but not academic.


Paper 2:  Annotated Bibliography

Students assemble twelve relevant monographs or peer-reviewed journal articles from the previous 15 years. For each of the ten sources students compose a paragraph of no more than 250 words that has two parts: description and evaluation. Each annotation should first summarize the source’s argument then evaluate its accuracy, quality, relevance to the student’s research project and how they might or might not use it. Each paragraph should be a coherent entity that includes topic and concluding sentences, details, and support (but no quotes).


Paper 3:  Bibliographic Essay

To deepen their understanding and to prevent cherry-picking of sources later, students map how debate surrounding their topic has changed over the past decade or so. Students compose an expository essay describing a decade of scholarly conversation as it unfolded in journal articles and books. This essay is not a description of the topic or encyclopedia-style overview of the topic. Instead, the subject of this paper is the conversation that took place via articles and books — who argued what, when, and in response to who or what?


Paper 4:  Undergraduate Term Paper

In a culmination of the previous two assignments, students compose an essay that asserts an arguable thesis supported by relevant published research. This essay is the traditional undergraduate term paper and prepares students for future courses.