Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Fifth blog assignment - due 11/1/11

Fairly standard blog. The reading is in the course reader - Malcolm Gladwell's "Something Borrowed." We're going to be talking about plagiarism, in a slightly more complicated way than you may be used to. In academia, we tend to treat it like it's a very simple issue, but, in a lot of cases, it's much more complex than it appears. So, the blog assignment:

First paragraph - same ol', same ol'. Try to give me a one-paragraph summary of the piece that starts with a main claim (thesis statement) that you then support. This is kind of tricky, because in a lot of ways, Gladwell asks more questions than he answers. If you get totally stuck, think about starting it with something like, "In 'Something Borrowed,' Gladwell asks whether . . ." so you can indicate that the final point is fairly open-ended.

Second paragraph - just react, again. Good, bad, weird, whatever. I think the piece shows a really interesting way to think about plagiarism. Did Gladwell's piece make you question your ideas at all? I hope you at least thought it was interesting. I think it's fairly well-written, but, in the past, I've had students become confused about the sequence of events in the essay because of how many people are involved in the thing (two original writers and one plagiarist who steals from both of them). So do, please, use this space to ask questions if you can't figure out just what the heck happened.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Fourth blog assignment - due 10/18/11

Ronson, Chapters 6 and 7

This is just like the last time I asked you to blog about the book; summarize one of the chapters in a paragraph, then spend another paragraph responding to both.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Third blog assignment - due 10/13/11

With Project One, you had an opportunity to begin thinking about how arguments and sources relate to each other. In two weeks, we'll be meeting at College Library to begin working with the University's resources and using them to find relevant and strong sources.

Because good research depends so much on good sources, generally, the best way to go about research is to begin with a research question. By starting with a question rather than a thesis, you help to make sure that you're not "cherry-picking" the evidence that goes into your argument. For example, if you start research by thinking, "I'm going to write a paper about how Wal-Mart is ruining America," you will likely only look for research that supports that conclusion, rather than also considering evidence which negates it. This is, frankly, both bad research and unethical. If, instead, you start with the question, "What has the impact been of Wal-Mart on small-town America?" you'll find yourself looking at sources that give you a variety of answers, and, probably, a more balanced final product.

This Thursday's blog assignment will have you start thinking about research questions. On any topic you like, write a question that you think you might be able to answer in about ten pages. (You can do a few, if you really can't pick just one.) Then, write a paragraph or two explaining a few things about it: Why you've chosen the question, how you think you might start looking for answers, what you think possible answers might look like, subquestions that might pop up, possible problems you might have answering, etc.


Has the death penalty been shown to be an effective deterrent to crime?

This seems like a pretty easy question to answer, because I know there's already a lot of data and research out there on the topic. It's also sort of an interesting question - there are a lot of different reasons for supporting or opposing the death penalty, and most of them are very emotional reasons, so they're hard to answer conclusively. This, though, would have a measurable answer. I would want to limit the scope of my question to just America, probably; I've only got ten pages. To start, I think I'd have to think about the kinds of crimes for which the death penalty is imposed, and then consider the rates of commission of those crimes in states that have the death penalty, vs. ones that don't. So, say, looking up the rates of murder convictions (maybe even attempted murder convictions, though that might be harder) in the different states. I'd have to think about how the rates have changed over time, too, since the legality of the death penalty in America has varied a lot over the course of the country's history.

I might not be able to answer the question conclusively - there are a lot of different factors affecting murder rates, not just the presence of capital punishment. But I think any kind of correlation I can find will be at least interesting.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Second blog assignment - due October 6

Jon Ronson, Chapter 4 ("The Psychopath Test") and Chapter 5 ("Toto")

For this assignment, I'd like you to essentially do the same thing as the last time - write a paragraph summarizing the reading, and then another paragraph responding to it. Though you have to read two chapters, I won't require that you summarize both of them. Instead, pick just one and summarize it in a strong top-down paragraph - begin with a sentence that explains the most important thing about the chapter, then back up that sentence with the rest of the paragraph. As we may have discussed in our face-to-face conference, you may or may not want to think about these as something to potentially edit for inclusion in your portfolio.

In your second paragraph - your response - you do not have to limit yourself to only the chapter you summarized. Reading them helps me, as the instructor, figure out how to structure class discussion, so that we can address major issues that you have as readers. So please do use that second paragraph as a place to respond to both chapters, in terms of any questions, comments, objections, etc. you might have.