Guidelines for Paper 3: Cause of a Trend
TOPIC: Your topic needs to be a trend: an increase or decrease in something, defined over a specific time frame. (“In the last few years” is NOT a specific time frame.) Your trend can be something current, or something that took place long ago.
No fashion trends, clothing styles, music styles, tattoos, or video games. Be sure to get my OK before investing too much time in a topic.
Do not pick a trend whose cause is too obvious; you need legitimate controversy, meaning that experts are arguing with each other about what caused your trend.
You will need to find academic sources regarding the cause(s) of your trend. If you are unsure about your topic, look for academic sources; if they are not available, then choose another topic.
Do pick a trend that genuinely interests you! You will be spending a fair amount of time on this assignment, and I want it to be as meaningful for you as possible. If you’re bored writing, I’ll likely be bored reading, and neither one of us wants that—right? So give your topic careful thought. Consult with me as necessary.
CAUSES: Your paper (see syllabus and class policies for important details) should consider at least two (preferably three or four) potentially reasonable causes for your trend. Explain clearly and logically which of these causes is the most important. It’s OK if more than one cause contributed to your trend, but you need to argue persuasively in favor of one particular cause as being the most important.
Remember: a constant cannot cause a trend. In other words, something that has always been present cannot suddenly cause something new to happen. Here is an example of unacceptable reasoning: “the rising popularity of Snapchat has been caused by people’s desire to interact socially.” People (for thousands of years) have desired social interaction; this basic component of human nature has not changed recently in such a way as to cause the increasing popularity of any particular internet platform.
Note, however, the distinction between initiating causes and sustaining causes. An initiating cause gets the trend started; a sustaining cause then feeds it and keeps it going. So it might be possible that once something new started the trend, something different then kicked in and caused the trend to take off. A sustaining cause can be a constant (like the human desire for social interaction). But an initiating cause can never be a constant. We are looking primarily for initiating causes in this paper. You may discuss sustaining causes, but only if you have first identified the initiating cause, which can never be something that’s always been there (otherwise how could it suddenly cause something new?). The number one error on this assignment occurs when the student proposes an initiating cause that turns out to be a constant. Be vigilant for this logic error; our first instinct when looking for causes often points us toward something familiar that turns out to have been present all along. Only something new can cause something new.
Avoid referring to this assignment as “the cause and effect paper.” Your mission is to discuss causes—not effects. (Your trend IS the effect.) Of course, in your introduction, you may refer to the significance of your trend—its “effects” on society—but don’t get bogged down with that discussion. The bulk of the paper will be analyzing the various possibilities for what caused the trend (not what it, in turn, caused).
If your topic involves science or engineering, please be as technically specific as possible. Explain key terms, but don’t “dumb it down” too much. You may assume that your audience has the equivalent of a bachelor’s degree in your topic area.
Whatever your topic: it is your responsibility to go beyond common knowledge. Teach us something that we didn’t already know!
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