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In “Consider the Lobster,” David Foster Wallace was supposed to be writing about his experience at the Maine Lobster Festival; instead, the essay turned into an argument for the consideration of the apparent suffering or, at least, the apparent preference of the lobster to not be boiled alive, which is the standard method of lobster preparation. There are three things that I think are extremely relevant to our recent discussions regarding how to write Argumentative Essays and how to conduct research.  First, Wallace seems to have started his shift from the main focus of the essay for which he was assigned when he asked himself a simple, moral question: “Is it alright for us to boil a sentient creature alive just for our gustatory pleasure?” (503).  Second, the essay implies that he then conducted un-biased research without having a clear answer to the question in order to inform his position; apparently, in order to form his position, he researched biological and neurological information regarding lobsters, theories from philosophers and ethicists, opinions of others, and other relevant information.  Third, even after conducting the research, it is clear that Wallace considered all of the evidence with his own reasoning to arrive at his own position/conclusion regarding the moral question.

You have two options for this essay; both will include the need to do unbiased research to inform your decision:

Option 1: You can conduct further research related to the moral question related to boiling lobsters alive. After conducting the research, you will then either extend (not repeat) or challenge Wallace’s position in an Argumentative/Persuasive essay.  

Option 2: You can ask a moral question for which you do not yet have an answer. Then, you will conduct research to help inform your position, and then you will write an Argumentative/Persuasive essay to support your (original) position. 

For both options, it is important to conduct relevant, unbiased research and write an Argumentative/Persuasive essay that addresses a specific moral question.

Assignment Guidelines:

  • Your essay must take a stand and make a specific argument regarding the moral question that your paper addresses.
  • If you address the same moral question that Wallace addresses, then you will need to use Wallace as support and/or positioning for your paper. If you come up with your own moral question, you do not need to use Wallace, but Wallace’s essay should serve as a guide or inspiration to your own essay. (Take note of some of his research and persuasive strategies).
  • Use 1-2 outside sources (or 2-3 total sources) for information, support, concepts, or positioning that are directly related to the assignment. All of your outside sources should be academic sources found in the campus library or the online library tools discussed in class. Note that you might use one or two examples found in your sources, but please remember to also use concepts, arguments, theories, opinions, or criticism from your sources. If you choose your own moral question, you will need 2-3 sources.

Procedures and Format:

  • Since this assignment requires you to take a position on the topic, you do need to develop a thesis and supporting ideas.
  • The final draft of the essay needs to be between 1000 and 1300 words. The First Draft should be at least 900 words. 
  • All papers should conform to proper MLA style.

Criteria for Essay Evaluation

  • A focused thesis statement that indicates the purpose of your essay, and fully addresses the main tasks in the prompt.
  • Paper should analyze and support the main idea, providing explanation and evidence.
  • Engagement with one essay from our readings (Wallace) and 1-2 outside sources for support (for option 1), or engagement with 2-3 outside sources (for option 2).
  • Focused argument about the assigned or chosen moral question: your ideas should “drive” the essay and be the focus of each paragraph.
  • Accurate and effective use of quotes: Remember that quotations and paraphrases should always be used to support your ideas, not substitute for them. The longer the quote, the more you need to say about it. Avoid using long quotes and respond fully to each quote you use.
  • Clear and logical organization of ideas that progresses your argument.
  • Appropriate use of academic voice and anticipation of audience.
  • Effective style and grammar choices.
  • Use of MLA formatting and citation guidelines. 


  • Spend plenty of time at each step of the writing process (including those not listed above such as outlining); realize that sometimes you have to go back and revise earlier steps as you are exposed to new ideas that may influence your own.
  • Have someone you know – someone who will be honest with you – read your paper, and its individual parts, to let you know if your ideas are clear.       (But revise and edit yourself).
  • Be very careful to follow the assignment. Reread the prompt frequently while you work.
  • Find the most relevant and interesting quotes from the reading and research to use in your paper.
  • Do not hesitate to discuss the assignment with other students in the class.
  • If you are struggling, try one of these: email me, make an appointment to speak with me during office hours, make an appointment at the University Center for Excellence in Writing (UCEW). 
  • Read or reread both my “Keys” handout and the Grading Criteria.

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