Final Paper (30%)

Your final assignment for this course is a substantive research paper (roughly 3,000 words) that applies the theories and methods we have studied this semester to a specific research site. In most cases, these research sites will be Internet-based, though I am open to alternative ideas if you would like to propose another venue. The research paper assignment is the most complex project you will complete in this course, so it will require you to pace yourself for the last eight weeks of the semester as you develop a research plan, conduct both primary and secondary research, compile an annotated bibliography, and — finally — write the actual research paper. I will meet with you individually to discuss your progress on this assignment, and we will conduct multiple in-class peer critique sessions for you to share your ideas and polish your prose.

The Research and Writing Process

By this point in your academic careers, it’s likely that you have developed an arsenal of tricks to generate fairly successful prose without much forethought. This project, however, simply cannot be completed using those tricks. Because your paper must present the results of original research (a.k.a. primary research), it cannot magically emerge from the deep recesses of your brain the night before it’s due. At minimum, a successful research project needs the following components, which we will discuss in greater detail over the coming weeks:

  • A theoretical foundation
  • A research site
  • A research question (or questions)
  • A data set
  • A methodology for analyzing the data

The order of those components is debatable, but perhaps the most important thing a project like this needs is time — time for you to think and analyze and mess up and start over and think some more. I will provide several checkpoints to help you stay on track, and it is absolutely essential that you don’t miss any of the key dates listed below.

Key Dates

  • Final Paper Proposal: Due on March 22.
  • Annotated Bibliography: Due on April 10.
  • Data Collection Deadline: April 19.
  • Rough Draft for Peer Critique: Due on April 26.
  • Final Paper: Due on May 8, no later than 1:15 p.m.

Document Specifications

  • Target length: roughly 3,000 words (Papers shorter than 2,500 words or longer than 3,500 words will be viewed as unfinished.)
  • Formatting: Double-spacing, one-inch margins, a non-ridiculous 11-12 pt. typeface
  • Engaging, precise title
  • Short abstract (no more than 150 words) that encapsulates the paper’s major ideas
  • Useful, purposeful, precise headings
  • In-text citations for every instance of borrowed ideas, words, or information
  • Works Cited page in 2009 MLA format

Advice for this Project

As you write your research paper, keep the following ideas in mind:

  • This is a project about inquiry (about finding out the answer to a question) rather than about gathering ammunition to support a preexisting opinion. There is an ocean of difference between the two tasks.
  • Refining your broad interest into a narrowed slice of a huge topic is a major key to success in this—or any—real research project. This project will help you develop your skills in posing substantive, manageable questions.
  • You will hone your ability to read sources actively and fairly, reading them as what they are: artifacts of human beings’ efforts to persuade audiences within contexts, and not as mummified bricks of transcendent Truth. You will argue about and with your sources; you won’t simply transport their words from books or articles into your paper.
  • Substantive research projects and writing require you to be curious (students should be driven by a desire to find something out), tenacious (students need to be like detectives, following clues, digging in), and humble (students have to ask for help; nobody is born knowing how to do research).
  • Remember that your focus might shift as you dig into your sources. That’s OK. That’s what inquiry involves. You can always change your plan, but only if you have one.

Evaluation Criteria

I will evaluate your research paper using the following criteria:

  • Does the document meet the minimum requirements for length and formatting? (Approximately 3,000 words, double-spaced, MLA formatting, headings, abstract of 150 words, Works Cited page, etc.)
  • Does the paper draw the reader in with an engaging, precise title, then lead the reader through the argument using clear, purposeful headings?
  • How well does the paper’s introduction work like the trailer for a movie? That is, how well does it promise a clear payoff for the reader’s time and attention and give a roadmap to the rest of the paper?
  • Does the paper make a sustained argument that extends throughout the paper? Does the paper support that argument using logical claims and sound evidence?
  • How well does the paper situate itself within the ongoing academic conversation on this subject? Does the paper draw upon at least eight (preferably more) substantive, authoritative sources? How fully and fairly does the paper deal with sources’ arguments? Does the writer avoid simplistic hero/punching-bag dichotomies?
  • Does the paper show evidence of careful and ethical primary research? Does the paper explain the author’s research methodology, present the findings of that research, and acknowledge the limitations of the research? Does the author draw connections between his or her primary research and the published sources cited in the paper?
  • How well does the paper follow the conventions of scholarly writing modeled in our readings this semester?
  • Does the paper adhere to the conventions of standard written English (i.e., spelling, punctuation, grammar)?

Contributions to the Wiki (15%)

Your grade in this category will be determined by the quantity and quality of your contributions to our class wiki, RhetorClick. With the exception of a few special pages (like the homepage), anything on the wiki can be edited by any member of the class. If you notice errors in a page created by someone else, you should correct them. If you find an interesting website that might be valuable to other members of the class, you should add it to the Resources page. If you see a need for a new page, create one! If something is broken, fix it!

If you haven’t contributed to a wiki before, working on a site like this might take some getting used to. In order to become a productive wiki contributor, you must accept the fact that this is not your site; it is our site. As the site warns you each time you edit a page, “If you do not want your writing to be edited mercilessly and redistributed at will, then do not submit it here.” I recognize that distributed authorship and lack of ownership might make some of you uncomfortable, but trust me: if everyone takes this assignment seriously, the end result will be something amazing — a living, breathing site that none of us could have created on our own.

The overarching requirement for this assignment is that each student in the class should make substantive contributions to the site before the end of the semester. Given your varied interests and skills, each student’s contributions to the site will be unique. The following tasks are a brief sample of what I consider to be valuable work on the wiki:

  • Creating new pages
  • Collaborating with a classmate to write content for a page
  • Establishing and refining policies to promote consistency of style and voice throughout the site
  • Rearranging content on a page to improve clarity and to ensure consistency among similar pages
  • Organizing pages, adding pages to the site Directory, creating “landing pages” for subsections of the site, adding links from individual pages to other related pages, etc…
  • Adding links to other websites on the Resources page
  • Copyediting and proofreading pages to ensure conformity with wiki guidelines

Please note that “housekeeping work” is an essential part of creating a successful wiki, and I will view it as such when I evaluate your contributions to the site.

I know that some of you may be worried about the freeform nature of this assignment and how it might affect your grade. Hence, I am asking you to do three things to help me evaluate your work fairly:

  1. Before the start of Week 7, send me a short email (no more than two or three paragraphs) outlining your individual goals for the wiki assignment. What type of contributions do you plan to make to the wiki between Week 7 and Week 13? Do you plan to collaborate with another student (or students), or will you work alone? What do you hope to accomplish with your work on the site?
  2. Maintain a list of your significant contributions to the site on your user page. This doesn’t need to be a formal persuasive essay, nor does it need to be a “time card” that tracks every minute you spent working on the site. Rather, think of it as a résumé of your accomplishments, a confident explanation of what you’ve done and why it matters.
  3. At the end of the semester, you may send me another short email with any additional information you would like me to consider before I assign your grade for this portion of the course. For some of you, this email will be short and/or nonexistent, given that your user page should speak for itself. However, I realize there may be extenuating circumstances or private information that doesn’t belong on your user page, and this email provides a chance to communicate with me privately.

Because this assignment is something of an experiment, I am open to revising the particulars as we move through the second half of the semester. Every week or two, we will take some time in class to make sure that the wiki is on track and moving forward.

Short Paper (10%)

The first formal paper for this course is designed to help you synthesize the various ideas we have discussed during the first few weeks of the semester. In terms of structure, the paper should be roughly 1,000 words long, use standard formatting (e.g., double-spacing, 1-inch margins, a non-ridiculous font), and contain proper citations and a Works Cited page in MLA format. Far more important than the structure, however, is the content of the paper, which should show (1) that you have been reading our texts carefully, and (2) that you are able to construct a focused argument about the ideas in one or more of these texts.

This paper could take several different forms; for instance, you might:

  • compare and contrast the ideas of two or more authors we have read.
  • analyze one of the arguments we have read to evaluate its rhetorical efficacy.
  • research in greater detail a theoretical concept discussed in one of our course readings.
  • argue against the ideas contained in one of our course readings, proposing an alternate theory or approach.
  • examine a rhetorical artifact using one of the theories we have studied.

I am willing to entertain other ideas for short papers; please see me if you would like to write a “nontraditional” essay for one of your short papers. Whatever approach you take, your paper should make an argument, not just summarize the ideas of others. (For example, if you compare the ideas of two theorists, you might argue that the field would have rejected the work of one theorist had it not accepted the work of the other theorist twenty years earlier.) The short paper is due at the beginning of class on February 14.

Reading Responses (15%)

Many of the articles we will read this semester are incredibly complex, so you’ll need to do some careful thinking about the ideas in each article before you come to class. Otherwise, our discussions will be scattered and unproductive. To help you focus your thinking about each article and make connections among various authors, you will write a short reading response before you come to each class session. These responses don’t need to be long (aim for 300 words), but they should show clear evidence that you have completed the readings. Each response should consist of two sections: (1) a summary of the article assigned for that day (if we read two articles, you can choose to focus on just one of them), and (2) a discussion of connections with other course readings or an exploration of an unanswered question or unresolved problem in the text.

To submit your reading responses, you will create a single document in Google Docs and share it with me. (Please be sure to make me an “editor” of your document.) Each new reading response should be added to the bottom of your document, and I will evaluate each response on scale of 1-10 points. Because of the volume of responses, I cannot offer lengthy feedback, nor is writing pages of feedback appropriate for short, time-sensitive assignments like this. However, my comments on your early responses should help you know whether or not you are on the right track.

You need to submit at least 10 reading responses over the course of the semester, and there are approximately 20 reading days, which means you can skip several days without hurting your grade. You may submit responses on more than 10 reading days; if you do so, I will count your 10 best scores when I calculate your grade for this category. Please note that reading responses are due before you come to class. You may not write responses about readings we have already discussed in class.

Class Presentation / Leading Discussion (10%)

To prevent me from dominating class discussions, each of you will lead the class discussion for a portion of one class session. A schedule of topics and dates will be drawn up the first week of class. When you are responsible for leading the discussion, you will begin with a short presentation (approximately 10 minutes) that shares the findings of your outside research into one of the topics or issues discussed in that day’s readings. Your presentation should not summarize the article; it should contextualize or complicate it. Your presentation should be accompanied by a one-page handout that distills your research and points your classmates to additional sources on your topic. At the conclusion of your presentation, you should transition into a discussion (approximately 15 minutes) of that day’s readings and take the lead in moderating the conversation among your classmates. However you decide to present your ideas and lead the discussion, the end result should be an interesting conversation between you and your peers that extends the themes and ideas from that day’s readings.

After your class presentation, you should create or improve entries on the RhetorClick wiki that summarize your research and/or link to valuable resources on your topic.

Taking Notes (10%)

Twice during the semester (on days when you are not presenting), you will be responsible for taking detailed notes of our class discussion and sharing them with the class. On the day you take notes, you should think of yourself as a court reporter — try to capture as much of the conversation as possible. Participating in the class discussion yourself is optional on this day; however, if you do participate, make sure you are able to keep up with your note-taking duties. You can take notes by hand, type on a laptop, audio-record the class session, take pictures of the chalkboard, etc.; whatever method works best for you is fine with me.

After class (and no later than the next class session), you should type up your notes and organize them into a coherent report of the day’s discussion. This report should not be an exact transcript of every word that was spoken during class; it should summarize the key issues and comments in such a way that your classmates can refer to your notes to refresh their memories when writing papers, working on the wiki, or making connections with future reading assignments. When your report is ready, email it to me and I will add it to the Class Notes section of the class website.

Finally, after you have submitted your individual notes, you should contact the other person who took notes on that day and work with him/her to create or improve the entries on the RhetorClick wiki that relate to the topics we discussed that day.

Contributions to Class Discussions (10%)

Most of our class sessions will be conducted in a discussion format, and you are expected to contribute actively to our discussions and to interact courteously with your peers at all times. To earn a good grade in this category, it is not enough to attend class regularly (though that is important, too) — you need to ask questions, engage your peers (not just me) in conversation, and show evidence that you have completed the reading assignments. Simply put, you should make a valuable contribution to every class discussion. I will give you a midterm grade in this category to let you know how you’re doing.