Reading to Argue: Helping Students Transform Source Texts
College students are often asked to develop arguments that address the questions and problems raised in their courses. In assessing student papers, however, instructors often remark that students seem to be indiscriminately reporting on or responding to source texts rather than using them to argue a position. This chapter explores some of the difficulties students face as they attempt to transform source texts into written arguments, and it demonstrates how instructors can model and support the interpretive strategies that underlie written argument.
Process tracing studies of college writers and studies of high school writing can give us some insight into the writing strategies and experiences that students bring to college assignments. This research suggests that when students enter college, they may have little, if any, experience with formal written argument; moreover, while valuable for some purposes, the general writing preparation many students have had may not be relevant for the purpose of organizing sources around an argument, one of the most highly rated college writing skills identified by university faculty ( Bridgeman & Carlson, 1984).