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.

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