TERM PAPER MASS COMM 103

The paper counts for 30 percent of the course grade. It will be between 8 and 10 typewritten, double-spaced pages of text (not counting title page, endnotes and bibliography, tables or figures, photocopied articles, etc.).  It is due on Tuesday, April 25 at the beginning of class.  Any papers turned in after that time will not be accepted and you will receive a zero on the assignment. 

You will e-mail in a one-page term paper topic proposal February 23 (or earlier).  This needs to be nothing more than a couple of paragraphs about the topic you've chosen to write about, but can include any information on sources or other details you may have in mind.  The topic can change later, but this gives you a chance to get some early feedback.  There is no need to print a copy e-mailing it to me allows me to respond easily.  

The easy way to do this is just to click this link and then either type in your proposal or attach it as a Word document to the message.  If this doesn't work, please e-mail your proposal with the subject line "MC103 Paper Topic Proposal" so I can easily keep them all together.  You may copy and paste that subject line into your e-mail client.

The assignment is to examine how one historical person, event or issue influenced today's technology, media or everyday life.  This can be handled in any number of ways, but here are some pointers:

  1. Please don't forget that this is a media history class, so your subject should relate to media (news, entertainment, advertising, PR, etc.).  Examples could include people who used the media available in their time to spread a message, events that received a great deal of media attention, or issues that either involved the media, were heavily discussed in the media during their time, or influenced today's media. Generally, I define this rather broadly, so if you feel you have a good explanation for something that might not initially seem to fit the assignment, run it by me in your proposal. 
  2. Be sure to show you have reasonably detailed knowledge of the historical person/event/issue, not just of the facets you're focusing on for your analysis.  It's appropriate to spend a page or two on an overview, then to focus on the elements that you deem influential. 
    • If you're focusing on a person, there's no need for a full biography ("John Doe was born on Friday, March 82nd...").  Focus on the person's accomplishments and influence within his/her own time, and the use of the media by that person. When you get to the traits that made the person's influence extend to the present day, don't forget to consider the context of his/her own times as opposed to those of today.  Was taking certain positions or stances that would come to be influential dangerous at the time?  Was this person seen in his/her time as a visionary, an oddball, a threat or something else?  Did this person have a significant following, or was he/she relatively unknown at the time?  
    • When examining an event, please provide any necessary context (particularly in terms of the media available during the time) to make sure the reader understands its impact at the time it happened.  Events don't occur in a vacuum -- be sure to discuss any factors that led to the event or made its effects unique to its time period.  Discuss individuals who were involved, but don't spend too much time profiling them unless they're vitally important.  Be sure to show how the event's effects were felt at the time -- was it seen as more important in hindsight than when it happened?   
    • If you've focused on an issue, as with an event, make sure to give the reader a sense of the environment in which the issue arose long ago, both in terms of the available media and society as a whole.  Political parties often shift sides on issues over time -- for example, Republicans pushed abolition of slavery in the mid-1800s, while Democrats pushed civil rights in the mid-1900s -- so don't just assume one party favored something then as it might now.  Try to identify key people, events and/or media coverage that carried the effects of that issue forward to the present day.  
  3. When discussing the influence of your chosen subject in today's technology, media or everyday life, be as specific as you can about the type of influence and the areas affected by it. 
    • If focusing on a person's influence, be sure to explain whether he/she is well known to today's citizens, or whether his/her effects are largely known by those within a particular industry or sphere.  Is it acknowledged by consensus, or is it a subject of controversy?  What role do today's media have in publicizing this individual as a significant figure, or has this person significantly influenced the media themselves? 
    • When examining the current impact of an issue or event, be as clear as possible about the elements that connect the historical example to today, including the role of the media in perpetuating the issue/event as something that still resonates today.  Be careful not to assume too much -- something isn't influential just because you say it is.  Please provide examples of articles or books that independently verify the impact of the event or issue. 
  4. The best papers usually integrate both information you gather through research with concepts and examples found in readings and lecture. Show you know how some of the ideas from the readings and our class discussions relate to the subject you've chosen. This shouldn't necessarily dominate the paper, but is encouraged if a class concept strikes you as appropriate to the topic.

You can choose a person/event/issue from a time period we haven't covered by the time the paper is due, but I would ask that you choose a subject that is from a minimum of 50 years ago.  Picking a topic that's too recent can lessen the impact of the paper -- saying Barack Obama has been influential, for example, misses the point of the assignment.  If you desperately want to write about something more recent, talk to me ahead of time. 

If you have an idea for a term paper that doesn't fit into the format suggested here, feel free to check it out with me.

One more thing: This may not be a writing class, but if your writing, grammar or spelling are so bad as to make your paper hard to understand, it will hurt your grade.  Papers that are well written and easy to understand almost always get better grades than ones that are full of bad spelling and grammar. 

All Papers:

  1. Papers will be typed or word-processed, double-spaced, on 8½ x 11" paper, and don't enlarge the margins or bump up the type size. The instructor takes a very dim view of such efforts. Please proofread and/or spell-check your final version. There is no need to place your paper in a binder; a staple in the upper left corner is fine.
  2. Any photos, graphics or illustrations you choose to include should be placed at the end of the paper as appendices. You may refer to them in the text (i.e. "See Appendix 1"). These do not count toward the final number of pages.
  3. This is a research paper.  That means that you need to go out and find information about the topic and report your findings in the paper.  It means you look at a significant body of material usually 25-50 articles or 10-15 books, depending on the topic and analyze what you find.  It does not mean you read a couple of articles and write the paper off the top of your head.  Papers that demonstrate the author's hard work receive better grades than those that reflect minimal effort.
  4. The biggest mistakes you can make are: 
        (1) Jumping to conclusions without backing them up with research.  
        (2) Getting facts wrong misspelling names, misstating dates or making any other factual errors. 
        (3) Relying too heavily on one source your paper ends up replicating another author and reflecting all the same points of view (and the same flaws).  
        (4) Plagiarizing representing someone else's words as your own.  When in doubt, cite the source.
  5. Do not use Wikipedia as a source for your paper.  It's not that all the information there is wrong it just contains too many user-submitted mistakes to have true credibility for a research paper.  Students also sometimes use it as a crutch, listing multiple entries as though they are different sources.  If you can't help it, use the site to help lead you to more credible sources.  It's a great jumping-off point, but not a credible source by itself. Also do not use any of the offshoots of Wikipedia many sites these days simply repost Wikipedia's material.  Be wary of any site whose name ends with "pedia."
  6. Use credible sources.  Since anyone can publish on the Internet, there's all kinds of unverified information (a.k.a. crap) floating around.  Please be sure you use reliable sources ones you'd be willing to defend as valid.  Just because something appears on someone's blog doesn't mean it's true.
  7. I do require both a bibliography and footnoting/endnoting in my papers. Any standard citation/footnote/endnote system is fine (i.e. Chicago Manual of Style, Strunk & White, etc.), but stick to the one style throughout. If you're quoting someone directly, please attribute the quote in the text in addition to footnoting. (As in, "In his 2006 State of the Union message, President Bush said, 'We need to pull together...'") Don't just place the quote in with a footnote at the end. If you're simply alluding to information from a source, without directly quoting it, a footnote is generally fine, although it's usually helpful to give the reader some idea of who the source is and if they have a political ax to grind on the topic in question.
  8. Regardless of your chosen style, please inset and single-space all quoted material that's more than three lines in length.  Occasionally you'll want to make a point by using an excerpt from one of your sources, and that's fine, but you need to single-space it so that (1) it sets that material apart from your own writing, and (2) it doesn't artificially pad the length of the paper.
  9. You are required to number your pages. If you can't figure out how to make your word processor do this, number them by hand before you turn your paper in.
  10. You are required to keep a photocopy or electronic copy of your paper. If the paper did not print clearly enough to read easily, make a clear photocopy and turn that in. You are also required to keep all your notes, research materials and rough drafts until the papers are returned. Both of these are to protect you in case of any question about plagiarism, duplication, fabrication or missing work. See the course syllabus supplement if you are unclear on what constitutes plagiarism and/or fabrication.
  11. Omitting any required element (i.e. bibliography, footnoting/endnoting, page numbering) will cost you a letter grade.  
  12. Extensions will be granted only with an urgent and well-documented reason (i.e. extreme emergency explained to Prof. Craig before the due date). Any unexcused papers turned in after class on the due date will not be accepted.
  13. Most importantly, if you have any questions or problems involving paper topics, research materials or methods, or anything else, please ask me before or after class or during office hours.
G O O D   L U C K !



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