Discipline Awareness Project: Tracing the Path of Scholarship

Academics often talk in terms of how studying your field means you become part of a discourse community or join in an ongoing conversation focused on a set of intertwined questions and concerns. The reality, though, is that feeling as if you are a part of any community takes time and practice. For example, if you move to a different country, even if you had a working knowledge of the language you do not instantly feel at home. You think in your own language first and then translate, which both slows you down and makes you self-conscious. Even though you have memorized words and phrases you expected would prove useful, you soon realize that you are missing some of the nuances of the way people around you communicate. When you join in a conversation, you hope the native speakers will be patient, but even when they are not just tolerant but generous, you struggle at first to convey your point in an effective way. Worse yet, you find yourself limiting what you try to convey to whatever you feel confident you can say correctly, which makes you less interesting to those around you. You might well have something worthwhile to contribute to a conversation, but if the phrases that come most naturally to mind translate to “Where is the library?” and “My sister Jean is a pharmacist, and she lives in Los Angeles,” you may decide staying silent is the wisest course.

The goal of this assignment is to make you aware of how a particular discourse community — presumably one you are in the process of joining — operates in a way you have not been until now, and what that supposed ongoing conversation sounds like. To do that, you are going to trace an argument back through a series of scholarly sources. Along the way, you will take note of how each source makes use of its predecessor. Then, you will reverse your direction and consider how each source contributes to the next, before finally considering how the most recent source may prove useful to you.


Step One
At this point, you should have decided on an issue you want to explore for your research project and begun to find scholarly sources you may use for research. If you have not done that yet, it is time.

Pick one of your sources — a journal article, an essay published in an anthology, a chapter in a book — and read it thoroughly. We’ll call this Source A. Look specifically for places where the author (or authors) quotes or paraphrases another scholarly work. Copy the sentence before the quotation or paraphrase, the quotation or paraphrase itself, and then any comments that the author makes directly in response to or by using that quotation or paraphrase.

Note: a quotation or paraphrase will have a specific citation, complete with a page number. If you see a citation that merely includes a name and a date or a name and a title, it is a citation of an entire source, and it will not be useful for this assignment.

Once you have copied the quotation or paraphrase and the sentences around it, write an explanation of how you think your source uses its source material. What function does the quotation serve? How does this quotation help the author make a point, and how does that point contribute to the source’s overall argument? (You need to identify what the overall argument is, of course.)

Step Two
Find the earlier source, which we will call Source B, then find the passage your initial source quoted or paraphrased. This should not be difficult, presuming the quotation or paraphrase was properly cited. Read enough of Source B so that you understand the quotation or paraphrase in context, and understand the argument Source B is making. Identify Source B’s thesis or main argument. Then, repeat the procedure for Step One for this source: find a place where the author quotes or paraphrases another scholarly work, which we will call Source C, and copy the sentence before the quotation or paraphrase, the quotation or paraphrase itself, and then any comments that the author makes. Then write an explanation of how this source uses its source material. Start by offering a brief explanation of this source’s focus and argument. Then, consider the same questions as in Step One: What function does the quotation from Source C serve? How would the specific argument be different, or would it even be possible, if that earlier source did not exist?

For Source C, do not find a quotation of another source. Instead, simply write a paragraph in which you briefly explain its focus and overall argument.

Step Three
Now that you have examined how each source made use of its predecessor, change your perspective. Starting on a new page, introduce the topic, then write an explanation of how each source contributed to your understanding of it and what the connections are between them, starting with source C and then going forward in time. Some of the questions you might want to consider:

How much do the sources agree or conflict? Sometimes a source becomes a kind of established wisdom on a topic, and later authors work within the parameters the earlier source has sketched out, building on them rather than conflicting with them. At other times, a later source disputes the ideas or findings of an earlier source, or an author even writes in opposition to a predecessor. Finally, quite often a later source takes the an idea from an earlier source and goes in a different direction with it.

When you consider all three sources, how widely do they range? Sometimes, you will find sources have focused on the same relatively narrow research question, with each scholar offering a new contribution to or a different take on the field’s understanding of it. At other times, the connections from one source to the next are less extensive, or are even tangential.

How much time elapsed between sources overall? In some fields, scholarship passes its use-by date quite quickly, while in others a source may remain influential for decades.

Do you see any indication of a source having ongoing influence? The most obvious example is when you find that Source A quoted not just Source B but Source C, too. But often the influence is less direct, though still discernible.

To support your points, paraphrase and quote (with citations) from the three articles and comment on the paraphrases and quotations as necessary. Always set up a quotation substantively, then comment on it to make your point, and cite it parenthetically. Never expect a quotation to make your point for you: you cannot assume your readers will see everything in it that you see, let alone see it the same way. Note that you are submitting only this section to your peers, so it must make sense on its own. Include a works cited or references page containing all of the sources.

Once you have completed Step Three, go back and put an appropriate title at the top of the page where it begins.


Much of your success in this assignment depends on your thoughtful selection of sources and quotations. Not all quotations will be equally fruitful. Some may even be dead ends. Do not merely select a quotation at random for the purpose of tracing influence. Make sure the quotation makes a point you find interesting, and that it leads to a source that will allow you to continue. Be patient. Look up several quotations from each source before deciding which one to use.

The explanations you write for Steps One and Two are relatively informal. You do not need to write a separate introduction or conclusion for them. Begin with the quotation, provide the information you are copying from the source as instructed, and then answer the questions below in a single paragraph per quotation.

For the narrative in Step Three, I expect something more like an essay. It should be properly paragraphed. The writing should be clear, grammatical, and concise. You should have an introduction and a conclusion. Given the task, using first-person is appropriate at times, but you should still not overuse it.

Of course, I expect the writing to be grammatically correct, and you must again follow the Format Rules.

The essay draft for Step 3 should be at least 650 words of your own writing. That does not include quotations from the article, citations, or your title and header information. Because you will need to revise this essay and submit it for evaluation, you would be wise to make the draft 10-20% longer, depending on where you are on the free-writing to self-censoring spectrum, but no more than 800 words of your own writing in any case.

Prior to class on the day marked on the calendar, you must submit the entire project to me by e-mail at rnanian@gmu.edu. Name the document [Last Name]-dap plus the doc or docx extension. For example, if your name is Jones, you would name it Jones-dap.docx. Then, you must bring three hard-copies of Part III (just Part III) with you to class.

If you are not in class when it begins, fail to submit the essay by e-mail prior to class, or do not have three hard-copies with you when class begins, the essay is late, which will mean you lose some of the credit for the peer responses.


After receiving feedback from your peers in the peer response session, you will revise this project and submit it to me for evaluation.

The revision’s required length is slightly shorter — 600-750 words.

Submit the document directly to me by e-mail. Along with the essay you must submit a reflective commentary. Attach both the essay and the reflective commentary to the same e-mail.

I will comment on Part III by using the Comment function in MS Word. Then, I will complete a rubric that scores the essay in multiple areas of both content and style. These scores are averaged to create overall content and style scores, and then these scores are multiplied together. The resulting percentage is then multiplied by 16, which is the number of points of your final grade this assignment is worth.
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