Your course work is divided up into the various assignment categories above. The entire quarter will be devoted to a single research topic of your own choice within the social sciences (we will spend some time going through a process of picking a good, workable research topic). You will write three major essays relating to that topic, all of which will require research and documentation. Review the Research Topics page for further discussion.
Discussion Forum Postings: In addition to the three major essays, you will post informal assignments to the course's Discussion Forum (DF). These will ask you to respond to readings from our textbooks; explore concepts related to the writing process, research tools, academic argument, research methodologies, and the social sciences; brainstorm ideas related to your research topic and question; report on preliminary steps related to your major essays; respond to each other; and so on.
First Drafts and Peer Reviews: For the Background Essay and Literature Review, you will also post a first draft to the forum in order to receive a peer review from another classmate; then you will send me the final draft of that essay as an attachment via email in order to receive feedback and a grade. You will send the first draft of the Final Research Article as an attachment to me, after which you will paired with a peer partner.
Reflective Essay: Finally, at the end of the quarter, you will write a brief reflective essay, assessing what you learned in the course as a whole.
Note: You will write the major essays (first and final drafts) in third person only, not first person ("I," "me," "my," "we," etc.) or second person ("you"). However, you may use first person in your Discussion Forum (DF) postings, peer reviews, and reflective essay.
Don't be alarmed by the 12-15 page length requirement of the Final Research Article (FRA)! This essay will include revised versions of the Background Essay (BE) and the Literature Review (LR), which means that you are only expected to write 4-6 new pages (not including title page, abstract, and references) for the final major assignment. The purpose of the three essays, along with the numerous informal assignments throughout the quarter, is to guide you through the important steps in a research process to allow you to produce an original, complex, and informed analysis of a narrowed topic of your choosing (with instructor approval). As I will say on numerous occasions, the purpose is not merely to give your opinion; nor to prove a point; nor to take a position in a yes/no, for/against, pro/con, good/bad, either/or debate; nor to solve a problem; nor to predict the future. Rather, your purpose is to join the scholarly conversation on your topic and contribute original analysis based on a focused and critical examination of previously published data, research studies, and interpretations. In this class, you will see yourself as a research scholar and knowledge producer, not merely as a reporter of other people's information and analysis. More detailed assignment guidelines for each major essay will be available as separate handouts, but a brief overview follows below:
Background Essay (4-5 pages): This exploratory essay asks you to present background information relating to your proposed narrowed topic, including relevant history, laws and policies, key stakeholders, statistics, organizations and programs, debates or disagreements, problems, etc. This assignment provides you the opportunity to learn more about your narrowed topic, not only to inform your reader, but to allow you to identify what aspects of your topic you may wish to research and understand further. Of the three essays, this one requires the least explicit written analysis on your part, but it is still not a "data dump," in which you just throw together all the information you can find. You will still need to exercise and exhibit your own critical thinking and creativity in narrowing your topic, as well as selecting, organizing and presenting relevant information in a clear, concise and meaningful way. A minimum of five diverse sources are required for this essay.
Literature Review (5-6 pages): "Literature" refers to the scholarly writing, published (original) research study results, and other important analyses on a particular subject. So you are not going to write an essay on a Shakespearean play or some other literary text. A scholarly literature review is part of any final research study or report since it demonstrates that you are familiar with what other scholars have already studied and published on your subject, and allows you then to map out what new arena or question you would like to pursue. There is, after all, no point in reinventing the wheel, i.e., undertaking a study that someone else has already done or trying to answer a question that has already been adequately explored. And there's also no point in reaching your own interpretive conclusions without taking into account what others have already studied and argued. You would lack credibility and appear naive and uninformed if your analysis has already been convincingly put forth or refuted. The Literature Review consists of an introduction, summary of scholarly sources, a discussion and evaluation of the sources (including scholarly disputes and unresolved questions or issues), and a conclusion in which you put forth your own potential original research question that you intend to pursue and that you believe will contribute something new to the available understanding on the topic. A minimum of five scholarly sources (peer-reviewed academic journal articles or chapters from scholarly books) are required for this essay.
Final Research Article (12-15 pages): In this final essay, you will put all the pieces together, including sections containing the revised versions of your Background Essay and Literature Review. However, this essay is designed to showcase your original contribution to the available understanding of your narrowed research topic based on the real-world problem and research question you have identified. You will develop an interpretive argument based on the research you have done, including a thoughtful and substantial claim, reasons and evidence, acknowledgments and responses to various views and sources, and a consideration of any underlying assumptions (warrants) in your argument. A minimum of five additional sources (for a total minimum of 15) are required for the Final Research Article.
Required Sources: A minimum of 15 sources are required for the FRA, but since you will be finding sources for the earlier two essays as well, you may only need to find five new sources for the FRA (depending on whether you have discarded any earlier sources). You will be expected to gather a range of diverse and credible sources, including scholarly journal articles, book chapters, government websites or documents, mainstream and independent media representations, textbook materials, encyclopedia or dictionary entries, organizational information, online databases and discussion forums, documentaries, and/or expert interviews, etc. In order to find 15 good, usable sources, you should be prepared to browse through a substantially larger number using various research venues and tools, perhaps more than a 100! More detailed source requirements will be available in the guidelines for each major essay.
***The entire process of research and writing in this quarter should give you a good glimpse of how social science research is conducted, how information is gathered, how evidence is assembled and evaluated, the critical reasoning through which results are interpreted, and the strategies of writing and representation that persuade audiences of the significance of new questions, data and arguments. Not only will you get a chance to see and evaluate how this works in published scholarly articles relating to your topic, but you will engage yourself in all of these steps to produce your own research essay. Hopefully, you will discover the power of claiming the identity of "researcher" for yourself!