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Sample Assignment Requiring a Written Analysis of an Argument: A Critique of the Science

Module by: The Cain Project in Engineering and Professional Communication. E-mail the author

Summary: This assignment was given in Rice University’s ESCI 102: Evolution of the Earth. The assignment requires freshmen (non-major) students to analyze the science presented in an article and discuss the article’s argument with a student who has read a second article. The assessment form is attached.

Due (date): __________

You should continue to develop your skills for thinking and writing scientifically when completing this assignment. Remember that the scientific method consists of gathering and analyzing facts, formulating hypotheses to explain the facts, testing the hypotheses, and then proposing a theory. Your essay should be less than 500 words. Please use a standard font (Times, Times New Roman, Helvetica, Geneva) and size the text at 12 points.

Two readings are assigned for this project. They are both by the famous naturalist and author Stephen J. Gould and are from the collection Dinosaur in a Haystack. The class will be broken into two halves, each half reading one paper. The essay you write should be only on the paper you read. After turning in the essays, the class will break into small discussion groups and you will explain the papers to each other.

The assigned readings rely on many data sets; they are not scientific papers demonstrating a single experiment. However, your essay should build a critique of the science that is presented. Therefore, you should follow the format below. No bibliography is necessary since the paper is assigned, but you should be sure to state which paper you have read.

The grading for this paper is similar to the last one, as follows:

Example 1

Paper Format (1 pt): paper must be typed with 1-inch margins; name, date, ESCI 102, and assignment name must be at top of paper. Include the honor pledge text (On my honor, I have neither given nor received any unauthorized aid on this assignment), signed on the bottom of your paper.

What are the data presented? (2 pts): Gould may present data throughout his paper; you should present a summary of the data at the beginning of your essay.

Hypotheses (2 pts): What are the hypotheses that Gould is testing?

Summary and Analysis (3 pts): Summarize the arguments that Gould makes for or against the hypotheses. Is your conclusion the same as, or different from Gould’s? Why?

Organization, clarity and style (2 pts): make sure that the paper has logical organization.

Late assignments will have a 30% penalty. If something prevents you from turning in the paper by the due date, please let us know ahead of time and we’ll try to accommodate.


Plagiarism is the undocumented inclusion of someone else’s work within your work. In the context of this assignment, plagiarism means using someone else’s ideas without citation or reproducing someone else’s sentence structure and word choices without using quotes and citation. Accepting proofreading help from your Cain mentor or anyone else does NOT count as plagiarism or an honor code violation – in fact, we encourage you to have your work proofread by your colleagues! This only becomes a violation if someone else writes sections of your paper for you. You can assume that your writing mentor’s advice does not violate the honor code. Proofreading by your colleagues will not violate the honor code as long as they do not add text to your work.
Table 1: Grading Rubric
Criteria Excellent: full points Average: mid-points Poor: low points
Format_______ All criteria met: typed, 1 inch margin, name, date, ESCI 102, assignment name at top of paper; honor pledge (1) One missing criterion (0.5) >1 missing (0)
Overall theme of paper_______ Included (1) Not included (0) Not included (0)
Scientific examples_______ Includes all examples and summarizes supporting data (2) Missing an example and/or missing supporting data (1) Missing more than 2 examples and supporting data (0)
Analysis________ a)Thoughtful job summarizing how the data support examples given, and b)connection between examples and Gould’s theme, and c)well-thought out personal statement (4) Misses one of the previous 3 items (3)Misses 2 of the previous 3 items (2)etc No analysis (0)
Organization, clarity, and style________ Organizes discussion logically. Paragraphs have topic sentences. Easy for reader to access. Correct use of grammar. (2) Some errors in organization, clarity, and style (1) Extensive errors in organization, clarity, and style (0)

Strengths of paper:

Areas for improvement:

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