Sample Research Paper Assignment on Abstract & Project Outline Collaboration

The Guide to Writing Successful Semester Projects — “The Guide”
The following is a list of rules and advice that you may use to avoid common criticisms on Semester
Projects that often cost students points. I have also included details as to why these criticisms are valid.
Please read them closely so as to not make the same mistakes.
Part A: Sources
1. Invalid Sources – Significant points are lost most often because students chose invalid sources.
This is a Social Science class, so we will only consider scientific research valid; not news,
entertainment, or opinions. The best way to find valid sources is to search for scientific journal
articles through TTC Library’s scientific research databases like Academic Search Premier and
ERIC. If you do not know how to search these databases, you should review the Library Guide
and, if necessary, make a virtual appointment with a librarian and s/he will be happy to help
you. The list of INVALID sources for this project includes (but is not limited to):
a. News Outlets – News articles are not valid because they only tell of AN incident, and
depending on the source the reporting may be biased in favor of certain opinions about
the incident. The most common offenders include: The New York Times, CNN, Fox News,
Brietbart, Huffington Post, etc. If a news source cites a scientific research article, go to
the original research article and look that up.
i. News outlets also often publish Editorials, which in news means “Opinion,” so it
is best to avoid News Outlets entirely.
ii. Even scientific news sources like Psychology Today and Scientific American are
inappropriate for this project, though they are usually discussing legitimate
scientific research articles. If you like an article mentioned in Scientific American,
go find the original article on a library research database and evaluate that
source’s validity.
b. Biased or Flawed Sources – government think tanks (e.g. The Heritage Foundation),
Political Action Committees (or PACs, like ThinkProgress or MoveOn), The “History”
Channel, and anything whose website ends in “.org,” are NOT appropriate for this
c. Other “Googled” Sources – Many “Googled” sources will claim to be scientific or
unbiased when they are neither because anyone can say anything on the internet, so
remember: Googled sources are not appropriate for this project!
d. “Exceptional Cases” refer to singular incidents that people often point to as evidence of
a trend or growing problem. They are not trends, hence the term “Exceptional Case.”
The statistical term that you have probably heard that is a synonym for “exceptional
case” is “outlier,” meaning that it is not representative of the majority. Stick to scientific
sources to make claims, and do not use “exceptional cases” to “prove” your point.
e. “Old” Sources – When you are searching through the research journal databases, be
sure to use the most recent sources on your topic possible. New discoveries are being
made in science all the time. Therefore data on peoples’ opinions or attitudes, data on
social phenomena like crime or poverty, and trend-related data are all out-of-date if it is
more than ten years old. Sources older than 10 years are okay for theory and
definitional purposes (like my definition of “Confirmation Bias” in section #4), but not
for data-related analyses. Any sources that you use data from to support your paper
must have been published within the last 10 years.
Continued on Page 2
The Guide to Writing Successful Semester Projects — “The Guide”
2. Valid Sources – In contrast, examples of good sources include:
a. Sociological Research Articles in Scientific Journals published within the last 10 y ears –
These are your best bet. Journal examples include The American Journal of Sociology
(AJS), American Sociological Review (ASR), Social Psychology Quarterly (SPQ), Social
Problems (the journal), and dozens of others. This is a sociology class and sociological
journal articles should be the majority of your sources.
b. E-Books — You may use a maximum of ONE (1) e-book. This book must be written by a
sociologist. All other sources must be appropriate scientific research articles.
c. Other Scientific Research Articles – While the majority of your sources should be by
sociologists, Social Problems and their solutions can be informed by other scientific
research as well. Psychology articles can give us insights into their effects on individuals
and Anthropology can provide cultural context for the problem. Political Science can
offer insight into legislative and voting issues, and Economics can inform us about the
monetary issues at play. Physical sciences like Biology, Oceanography, Meteorology, etc.
can help us understand natural phenomena affecting Social Problems. It is okay to use 1-
2 non-sociological sources, but the majority of your sources should be by sociologists.
Part B: Content, Structure, & Writing
3. Defining Your Problem – Most of you will chose social problems that have been accurately
defined in the scientific literature (e.g. Racism, Police Brutality, Rape Culture, etc.). Find a valid,
scientific source to define your problem and cite it. Do not make up your own definition of the
problem or cite a dictionary or encyclopedia for your definition (or ever in a research paper).
4. Confirmation Bias refers to “the tendency to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information
in a way that confirms one’s preexisting beliefs or hypotheses, while giving disproportionately
less consideration to alternative possibilities” (Plough 233). Confirmation Bias tends to run
rampant in these papers. Please do not fall victim to this and if you see information that
contradicts your preconceived ideas about the problem and how to solve it, please address it
and/or integrate it into your paper. Do NOT set out to “prove” your beliefs about your topic.
5. Avoid “moral” arguments — Your morality is not the same as mine, your neighbor’s, your
politician’s, your spiritual advisor’s, or even your mother’s. Stick to science, and avoid words like
“morality, good, evil,” etc. in your papers. These types of arguments are unscientific.
6. Hyperbole has no place in science. Do not say things like “____ has been a social problem since
the beginning of time/founding of America/etc.” unless you have a scientifically valid source that
can prove such a hyperbolic claim.
7. Hypothetical situations & speculation should be avoided in scientific discourse.
Continued on Page 3
8. Solutions to the Problem – Here are a few guidelines for devising your solutions:
The Guide to Writing Successful Semester Projects — “The Guide”
a. Solutions, implementation, paying for them, etc. should be at least 40% (4 pages) of
your paper, not an afterthought tacked on at the end.
b. Under no circumstances should a proposed solution be UNCONSTITUTIONAL, nor
should it violate long-standing judicial, executive, or congressional procedure/position
on the issue. Similarly, amending the Constitution is not a realistic solution either. If you
have a question about the constitutionality of your solution or whether it violates
governmental “standard operating procedure” I will be happy to discuss it with you.
c. Solutions should be original and unique, not “more of the same.” If you like how the
problem is being addressed currently, don’t recommend“more of the same” as a
solution. If “more of the same” was working, your paper wouldn’t be about a social
problem. Devise “next steps” to take instead.
d. Solutions should also be realistic. Some common examples of “bad” solutions include:
i. “More Training” — I often see “more training” as a solution for police, military,
education, social work, or medical –related problems. People working in these
fields in the US are among the most highly trained in the world for their specific
positions, and “more training” is not a viable solution to any social problems in
these fields (believe me, we’ve tried). More training will yield few results,
wasting money, time, and resources.
ii. “Introduce an educational program in schools” — Another common idea is
“introduce education plans for students in schools.” This, too, is a bad solution.
Schools are already stretched thin on budget and time. First it would need to be
paid for, then we’d have to cut other essential education to fit it in. Proper
nutrition training in schools, for example, may help me live longer; but will it get
me into college? Solutions need to function in the real world.
iii. “Three Strikes”/Mandatory Minimum Sentences— Another “bad” solution is
mandatory sentencing. Data show that mandatory minimums are a terrible
idea. If your problem is a legal/criminal problem, find or devisebetter solutions.
e. Do NOT alienate possible allies to your plan with your solutions. If your solution to end
poverty is to give free healthcare, childcare, and/or education to the poor, for example;
you’d better just nationalize them all because the middle class is struggling to pay for
them as well and they will be furious if the poor get these for free and they do not.
9. Opposition to your Plan – You MUST discuss opposition to your plan. Many people will likely
oppose your plan for various reasons. You need to anticipate such opposition and demonstrate
how you will address it.
a. The most common opposition criticism tends to be about funding your solution. Funding
your solutions should be part of your project, but opposition to funding your solutions
will be real and fierce. You MUST address HOW you will pay for a solution, as well as
how you will appease those who will oppose funding your plan.
b. Discussing opposition to your solutions is a critical factor in your project, as opposition
to most solutions will be very real and fierce. Dedicate enough time and discussion to
opposition to your plan and how you will address it.
Part C: Style
10. APA Style – You will be required to use APA style to write your paper. This includes both
parenthetical citations in the internal part of the paper and a properly formatted works cited list
The Guide to Writing Successful Semester Projects — “The Guide”
at the end. If you do not know how to use APA style, an English professor, Librarian, or Learning
Center instructor will be happy to help you. If you have trouble doing a works cited page, try
using for assistance. You may also find excellent notes for
style here:
a. Bad grammar, proofreading, etc. are the banes of these papers. Please read and re-read
your paper thoroughly, then have someone else read it just to make sure it is correctly
worded and makes sense. Try reading it aloud to see if it sounds right when it hits the
ear as well.
b. Quotes should never be standalone sentences, but well-integrated into the narrative
and should be used very sparingly. Paraphrasing your source’s point in your own words
and citing the source should be your first choice.
c. We make no assumptions in science, so if you are going to claim something as fact, you
need to cite a source to back it up. Do not let the “5 source minimum” serve as a
d. Parenthetical citations must also be used inside the paper identifying what you have just
said as an idea from one of your sources. An example of how to do a parenthetical
citation inside your paper is demonstrated in point #4 Confirmation Bias
11. Should you use rhetorical questions? No.
12. Do not refer to the reader (e.g. “you”) as you (see what I did there?) have no idea who the
reader will be.
These are the most common pieces of advice I give on these papers. If you can follow these
rules it is unlikely that you will do poorly on this assignment. Best of luck!
Prof. Fish
Works Cited
Plous, Scott. The Psychology of Judgment and Decision Making. Philadelphia: Temple UP, 1993.