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
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
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:
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
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
If you have an idea for a term paper that doesn't fit
into the format suggested here, feel free to check it out
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
G O O D L U C K !
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- The biggest mistakes you can
(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.
- 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."
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Omitting any required element (i.e. bibliography, footnoting/endnoting,
page numbering) will cost you a letter grade.
- 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
- 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.
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