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The final paper for the course will be a research paper that applies our theoretical toolbox to a case study of your choosing. Your specific topic may be any facet of popular culture – current or historical, any medium, technology, text, etc. Your topic should be specific enough to focus on in depth instead of using broad generalities – thus instead of a broad topic like “fashion,” consider a specific fashion trend or style to focus your analysis. The goal of the assignment is to provide an in-depth account of how this cultural form works in its cultural context, making an argument about how your case study matters within its historical moment. While you may explore a topic you have studied in another essay for this course, this essay must represent new work that goes beyond previous writings and does not duplicate previous papers. Essays may not reproduce or overlap work done for other courses unless cleared with Professor Mittell.

The specific issues and questions explored by your paper are up to you, but you should use various analyses of popular culture read throughout the semester as models for what you might explore. Depending on the specific angle you take on the topic, you can use any of the theoretical approaches and research methods explored in this class. Your research methods must correspond with the particular issues and questions you are looking to explore – for instance, if you want to understand media consumption, you need to use an appropriate method (ethnography, discursive analysis, etc.). Successful papers must apply ideas and theories explored in this course, demonstrating how the ideas we’ve explored together have impacted your understanding of popular culture. It is expected that you work with Professor Mittell to devise appropriate scope and methods of analysis.

  • Your paper must be research-driven, meaning you must draw upon sources to back up your claims. Papers that just analyze a text will not be accepted – you must go beyond textual analysis to tie a film or TV program to its broader cultural context.
  • Papers must be driven by a central argument that is backed by a combination of well-documented research and logical writing, leading to an essay that is analytical rather than descriptive in focus. An argument must be original, not self-evident, and supportable through research and analysis rather than merely opinion and evaluation.
  • You should situate your topic in relation to the relevant issues raised in this course. This may mean directly citing course readings – if you do draw upon course readings, you must still cite the sources in your Bibliography.
  • Writing must be formal in tone, working to establish an authoritative critical and analytical voice. The more sophisticated your ideas, the more sophisticated your writing should be – think carefully about how you express your ideas for maximum impact and success in conveying your argument.

Professor Mittell will assist you in developing this project throughout the rest of semester – feel free to discuss your ideas or problems with him at any point in the process. We will write these papers using a number of stages, as detailed below.

Proposal:
The proposal is a one-page proposal in which you lay out what you will do in your full research paper, posted to the class blog by April 9th. The ideal proposal should present your plan for writing your paper so clearly that if you were to give it to another member of the class, they would be able to use it as a blueprint for researching and writing the paper. The proposal will not be given a letter grade. However, if it is not completed on time or does not meet the stated requirements, the grade for your final paper will be affected. All students must post a completed proposal in order to pass the course. It is highly recommended that you email or talk to Professor Mittell about topic ideas prior to completing the proposal.

The core aspect of the proposal is an argument – you need to center your proposal on a central research question and propose a tentative thesis statement that will fulfill the paper assignment in looking at an aspect of popular culture within its context. A proposal that does not propose a central research question or offer a tentative thesis is an ineffective proposal. While certainly your thesis will evolve through your research process, you should be able to offer a hypothesis at the time of writing your proposal, which will be revised and updated throughout the writing process.

Your proposal should indicate some sources that you will use to research your paper. As such, it is important that you begin researching in the library. Your proposal must identify at least 3 sources (not course readings) that you will use in your research paper – these may be either primary or secondary sources (or both). You must also provide a brief research plan for how you will find your other sources and a consideration of what each type of source will offer your paper. Please include a partial bibliography to your proposal, with full citations of all sources that you have gathered so far – citations should be in either MLA or Chicago style.

Your proposal should do the following:
•    clearly explain what your topic is and what specific aspects you will examine
•    give some relevant background information on your topic
•    identify what basic research question is driving your paper
•    offer a preliminary thesis statement and argument for your paper
•    provide some of the sources you will use to back up your thesis
•    suggest a plan explaining how you will gather and use additional sources
•    demonstrate how this project will clearly fulfill the requirements of the assignment

First Draft of Research Paper:
Students may opt to submit a draft for feedback by May 1st. The draft should be as completed as possible to get the most valuable feedback. The draft must follow the format for the final paper.

Final Draft of Research Paper:
You must submit your final draft via email by noon on May 15th. Late papers will be penalized (per the syllabus) unless arranged ahead of time with Professor Mittell. Graduating seniors absolutely must submit their papers by this deadline in order to pass the course.

This paper must meet the requirements of the assignment, including the research requirement, a central thesis driving your paper, ties to course materials, strong writing style, and clear organization. Research must be clearly cited following either MLA or Chicago citation styles. This paper must be 2,800-3,500 words—papers less than the minimum length will be automatically and severely downgraded; papers may exceed the maximum, but not excessively without grade penalties.

Your grade will be based on writing quality, a clear and well-supported argument, effective organization, integration and proper use of research material, original and insightful analysis, and fulfilling the requirements of this assignment. While you may analyze media texts to support your argument as appropriate, textual analysis cannot be the main evidence you use to present your thesis. Rather your argument must be supported by research as explained below. Remember all sources must be cited properly; instances of plagiarism, whether intentional or not, will not be tolerated and students will face academic discipline.

In writing your paper, here are some important guidelines to follow:

  • Titles of television programs, films, or CDs should always be italicized (Dragnet) or underlined (Dragnet). Song or episode titles (“Hey Ya”) are in quotations.
  • Always number pages of your document.
  • Introductions should include a clear and direct statement of your paper’s thesis and argument.
  • Paragraphs should generally not exceed one page in length, but should be longer than 2 sentences – each paragraph should offer a point, expand on it in depth, provide supporting evidence and analysis, and tie your point into your main thesis.
  • A bibliography on a separate page is required (but does not count toward length requirements).

Research Requirement:
Research for this paper will vary depending on the topic and methods used. As a minimum, you must use 4 secondary sources that provide scholarly background on your particular topic. Readings assigned for class may be used, but do not count toward the minimum source requirement. Sources may be scholarly books, chapters in books, or journal articles – they may not be essays generally posted on the web, unless reproduced online from a scholarly journal or contained in an online scholarly journal. Scholarly sources should be fairly recent, especially when exploring a contemporary topic. No more than two sources toward the minimum requirement may come from the same journal, edited book, or author. To determine whether an essay or book is scholarly or not, look if it has endnotes and/or a bibliography – if it doesn’t, it probably is not scholarly. To find relevant sources, you should search databases through the library homepage, such as MidCat, Expanded Academic, America History & Life, JSTOR or Project Muse, and use online engines like GoogleScholar.

Papers must also include primary research – depending on the topic explored, this can be in the form of press articles and reviews that evidence the context of your topic, evidence of the cultural reception and circulation surrounding your topic, or primary audience research that addresses your research questions. In general, Professor Mittell will evaluate the research component of the paper based on the appropriate discovery and use of sources as appropriate to your individual topic & methods.

All sources should be cited if used, whether they meet the requirements or not, listed in alphabetical order in a bibliography, following either MLA or Chicago format. If you have any questions about research, ask Professor Mittell – failing to meet research requirements will ensure that you get no higher than a C on this assignment! It is highly suggested that you consult with Professor Mittell to be sure your research fits the assignment, either by email or in person.

Encyclopedia articles are not valid scholarly sources, although they may be useful for background material. Wikipedia is particularly helpful for providing background information about contemporary popular culture, however students should be aware of how the open source nature of its writing cannot guarantee accuracy or stability. While Wikipedia is an extraordinarily convenient and often useful source to read, merely drawing information from the site does not take advantage of its unique opportunities for education and disseminating knowledge. Students are encouraged to begin any research project on Wikipedia, acquiring hopefully useful background information and avenues for future research via primary and secondary sources that are appropriate to the assignment. After doing the required research for a paper, students should return to Wikipedia, consult the guidelines for editing the site, and then improve the entries that pertain to their research, citing appropriate sources throughout. Students are encouraged to email Professor Mittell with links to any Wikipedia pages that they edit in conjunction with the assignment.

In using sources, you should keep direct quotations to a minimum. Only quote from a source if it is important how the source says the point, not if you only are referencing the content. Thus it would appropriate to quote Theodor Adorno’s phrase of “social cement,” but you shouldn’t quote a source that explains his position on popular culture. Rather you should always paraphrase your sources into your own words, tying their ideas into your argument and clearly citing your source. Block quotations (pulled out of the text of the paper) should only be used in exceptional circumstances where both the content and phrasing of the material is crucial to your argument. Lengthy quotations do not count toward the length requirement, so trying to “pad” your paper with generous quotes will reap no rewards.

Your paper must include the signed Honor Code Pledge. At all times, feel free to discuss the paper with Professor Mittell in person or via email. Good luck!

One Response to “Research Paper Assignment”

  1. […] read through the research paper assignment and then use this thread as a place to post ideas for your paper topics, and provide feedback for […]

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