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The Conference Paper Prompt

Your Situation

You’ve been invited to attend an undergraduate student research conference titled “The Problem with Progress: Living in the 21st Century.” Students from U.S. colleges will gather in the Marriott Convention Center in downtown Salt Lake City to stand and give 12-minute presentations on research topics related to the theme as indicated by the conference title. Such conferences are exciting opportunities to hear various ideas, thoughts, and arguments from students from all walks of life.


The conference organizers want this conference to function as a think tank: How can undergraduate college students, even first-year college students, address contemporary social problems in fresh and interesting ways? They believe that bringing all of you together will help strengthen society by creating aware citizens who can communicate with each other peacefully and effectively.


Possible Topics

The conference organizers decided this year on a topic broad enough to encompass all kinds of ideas and interests. For example, on the call for papers, they’ve listed the following topics as possibilities for panels of four presenters giving papers on similar topics:


[instructor and librarian fill in 5-10 potential topics related to topics reader or other common topic]


Your Purpose

Your purpose is to convince your audience that you have done your homework on the topic and that your argument is credible and compelling. In other words, you’ll use rhetorical strategies to connect with your audience and make allies of them. Consider this, too: You’ll also be representing BYU, if unofficially, by presenting at this conference.


Your Audience

Imagine around 100 college students seated in a conference center ballroom, ready to hear your presentation. The audience is relatively young (the average age is 24) but certainly diverse: The only thing bringing you together is your interest in interpersonal interactions between diverse peoples and communities in today’s globalized world. and a desire to hear exciting new ideas about how to understand or address its social challenges.


Assume that your audience will be interested in, but does not necessarily share, your values or experience. In fact, assume some degree of skepticism in the audience as you write your paper. It will be useful, then, to address counterarguments and alternative opinions seriously and respectfully in your paper.


Your Genre

You will prepare a script for your presentation (around 2500-3000 words). Your script should be engaging, considering your live audience, but it should also include credible and timely sources (8-10—at least half of which should come from peer reviewed academic sources—cited in MLA format) for anyone who wants a copy of it afterwards.


The genre of an academic presentation varies by discipline, but since you’re writing to a general audience of college students interested in your topic, you will make several moves in your paper. You will


  • capture your audience’s attention with an anecdote, news event, personal story, question, problem, paradox, or common (but interesting) human experience;
  • review several perspectives from credible people who have researched or written about your topic to create a research space;
  • make an argument about the issue—a claim supported by reasons and audience-acceptable assumptions;
  • support your thesis with evidence your audience will accept;
  • review alternative opinions or counterarguments; and,
  • conclude by suggesting how your research matters to your audience (its implications, the “so what?” of your presentation).


For this genre, you will write in a comfortable but intelligent style suited to the college students in the audience. Think about the kind of presentation you’d like to hear about this topic and give that presentation.


You will also include at least one slide in your presentation (that you’ll include at the end of your paper in the printed version). Your slide can be an image, graphic, quote, or other form of visual rhetoric to enhance your argument.


What is Meant by “Research”

The word research means different things to different people. A physicist might imagine shooting electrons through a cathode ray tube to study the way particles behave. An economist might gather census data and perform statistical analysis. An anthropologist would think of research as collecting data from careful observations of human behavior. Historians or literary scholars will hit the archives for their research.


For this conference, however, research means finding effective sources to support your argument. As you prepare your conference script, you will read deeply and widely on your topic and find a handful of key sources that are credible, timely, and convincing. You’ll present these sources as evidence that your argument is acceptable.

Last Updated on June 17, 2021

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