Course Readings
Related Links and Resources
Site Map/Index

Problem Definition (Project 1)

For policy making purposes, problem definition has three components: description of influential conditions and interests, history of prior governmental action or inaction, and persuasion.

In Project # 1, problem definition, you will develop the necessary description, legislative history, and persuasive argument and will make interim reports of each. Then, you will comunicate your definition of a public problem in two finished documents, a problem statement and a related communication in a chosen genre.

Communication products:

- Three interim reports (in professional brief report format) on problem description, legislative history research, and argument organization.

- Two final products (a comprehensive problem definition in professional extended report format, and a related communication in letter format using one of these genres--a briefing memo, a petition or proposal for action, a written public comment.

These final products are connected. They both present the policy problem that you have defined, and they address related, although different, purposes and audiences in the policy making process. You will select the purpose and audience for each by from within your intended policy communication situation.

Assignments (below) take you through making the choices, developing the information, and producing the documents.


Description of the problem

Week 2 (1/10)

- read CQ publications to see how professional political commentators describe policy problems

- read Example 4 "Military Pay" to see how professional government researchers describe policy problems

- to identify the problem you will work on throughout the semester, consider 'wrongs' that interest you, then choose one on which to focus your work

- select your purpose for defining the problem, purpose A or B (A is the default; choose it unless you have professional or other preparation for choosing B)

- do Task #1 (for your chosen purpose)

- post a 200-word preliminary description that acknowledges minimum expectations for problem descriptions--for each question on the list, state what you know or what you must find out (200 words) (deadline 5 pm 1/13)


Week 3 ( 1/17)

- finish information-gathering

- use the general method task outline worksheet to specify your intended communication situation for your problem description

- first interim report: 300-word problem description that satisfies minimum expectations in brief report format (deadline 5 pm 1/21)


Government Action or Inaction on the Problem

Week 4 (1/24)

- do Task #1 to review the legislative process (essential to know before beginning research!)

- do the following warm-up exericise to get familiar with our primary research tools:

  • from your problem description, choose subject terms (topical names and concepts to search for in legislative records)
  • in the Library of Congress's database Thomas and the Lexis-Nexis database Congressional, search for your subject terms in all the following record types:
    a. Statutes (public laws)
    b. Committee reports (and joint conference report, if there is one) on relevant statutes
    c. Remarks, debates, summaries in the Congressional Record especially by principal sponsors of relevant bills
    d. Bills in various proposed versions (House, Senate, in different Congresses) to see significant differences among versions
    e. Witness statements in relevant committee hearings

Week 5 (1/31)

- decide your research strategy by referring to the general method worksheet you created for your problem description--in other words, decide whether you will research a single law's history or an issue's history (multiple bills and laws) and determine (from within your intended policy communication situation) the specific audience and purpose for your legislative history report, or for whom you are conducting the research and why they need (or you want them to know) the information

- conduct research using databases Thomas and Lexis-Nexis Congressional (essential to start soon and allow for a steep learning curve; after you get comfortable with the tools, manage your time--like solving a mystery, government records research has many unexpected developments and tantalizing distractions).

- don't work in isolation; get help when needed in any or several of these ways:

  • ask your small group to help you resolve glitches in using the databases (they've probably experienced the glitch, too, and they might have worked it out)
  • ask Joyner librarians for help by email to government documents librarian Dave Durant or to the virtual reference desk (see access information at Library Research for ENGL 7765, Helpful Hints)
  • contact the instructor during virtual office hours (TBA) about research strategy, scope, or reporting
  • to get the best help, always provide sufficient details (your problem's topic and your purpose and audience for the research) as background for your specific request

Week 6 (2/7)

-continue research and get help as needed

Week 7 (2/14)

- draft your legislative history (including all text and citations)

- review citation instruction and examples [use the links on the right sidebar]. Clear, accurate citation in legislative history reporting is very important!

- get group and instructor feedback (procedure TBA) on the draft's logical organization (overview and elaboration) and citation style

- second interim report: 1000-word legislative history in brief report format (deadline 5 pm 2/17)


Argument regarding the problem

Week 8 (2/21)

- using subject terms from your legislative research, search for policy arguments (position statements) in major media editorials or in official sources such as Congressional committee reports on legislation, remarks and debates in the Congressional Record, and witness testimony in committee hearings (found through Thomas or Congressional)

- for a particularly interesting position statement, apply the argument outline to analyze the position's logical and persuasive structure

- to outline your position on the problem of focus, do Task #1 in Knowing the Arguments: Tasks for writing a position paper

- third interim report: your position on the problem in brief report format (deadline 5 pm 2/24)


Writing to communicate the problem

Week 9 (2/28)

- in anticipation of writing two, connected documents--a problem report with related communication--choose the genre for the related communication by reading about these alternatives: briefing memo, petition or proposal for action, or written public comment

- having decided on the documents that will constitute your set of communications, draft the comprehensive problem description in extended report format

- get group and instructor feedback on the drafts

  • get group feedback on fit between a draft and the checklists of standard criteria, and revise draft to meet standards
  • get instructor feedback on conciseness

- do the assigned exercise in concise sentence structure, then do targeted revision for concise sentences

- do a final check of the product against standard criteria

- finished report: 1200-word comprehensive problem definition in extended report format (deadline 5 pm 3/10)


Week 10 (3/7)

- draft related document (finished product)

- self-edit (apply what you learned from previous feedback to revise this draft, using the standards worksheet)

- finished product: 300-500 word related document (deadline 5 pm 3/10)


Spring Break Week (3/14)


[Return to Top]