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Short Research Essay Instructions: Overview & Format
Title: Assumptions vs. Facts. Be sure to put your name, student ID, date, and the word count at the top as well. No title page; just put these at the top of your first page, single spaced, Arial 12 pt font.
Topic: In this 6 paragraph essay, you will explore assumptions vs facts regarding two chosen issues (from a list of four below) regarding capital punishment, based on some careful web research, and you will use what you have learned to analyze the results and reflect upon assumptions, bias, and fact-finding. This essay is NOT about whether you are in favor of or opposed to the death penalty. See below for detailed, paragraph by paragraph instructions.
Sources: At least two factual, unbiased, detailed internet sources for each of the two issues (so 2 x 2 = 4 sources total). Don’t use the same 2 sources for both issues. Take great pains to make sure that you are not just looking for things that prove that you are right. If you look hard enough, you can always find someone who agrees with you; however, the point is not that but rather to find out what the preponderance of the best research says on the subject. Your sources should be high quality, reasonably current and reflect the research of leading scholars. Be sure to use quotation marks when taking more than 3 words in a row from the text or any source, even for definitions. Work on putting things in your own words to demonstrate your understanding of the material, using no more than about 10% quotations for the paper.
Length: Approximately 1000-1200 words, not including quotes or the list of sources. Think of your word count as your budget; it’s good to make the most of it, but not to go over by much. Stay within 10% of the maximum. If you paste in charts or other numerical data, this would not be included in the word count. No more than 10% quotations. If your paper is well below the minimum word count, that’s an indication that you haven’t gone into enough detail to do well.
Format: Single spaced, 12 pt Arial font, 1″ margins all around, no extra space between paragraphs, no separate title page. At the top, list the title of the paper (which has been given to you), your name, student ID, date, and the word count.
Style: APA or MLA style are not needed. You should use the 1st person (I, me), in your first two paragraphs at least, since you are asked to talk about your assumptions, and in a later paragraph you’re asked to talk about your reactions, so the 1st person is also appropriate there.
Citations: When you are paraphrasing or quoting a source, in parentheses, simply note which source it is. For example, if your sentence or paragraph has been discussing information taken from The Innocence Project website, at the end of that passage of your paper, put it in parentheses like this (Innocence Project). URLs are not used in citations; if the webpage doesn’t have a name, give it one. The URL will go in your reference list, instead.
References list: At the bottom of your paper, write the word References, and then list the exact URL for all of your sources. This should not be a homepage such as www.innocenceproject.org, but rather the exact URLs within the sites that you used. When I click on your links, I should be taken straight to your source data without any further searching. The references page does not need to be fancy; it does not have to follow APA or MLA style, although it could if you prefer.
Detailed paragraph-by-paragraph writing instructions
What are your assumptions about capital punishment, and how do they compare to the facts? Do some web research regarding capital punishment: You will choose 2 of 4 issues to research & report your findings (mostly in your own words, although you can use quotes or lists of data as needed). Try to find web sources that are as factual, authoritative & unbiased as possible.
A. the cost of capital punishment compared to life in prison
B. the history of how many innocent people have been put to death
C. the deterrent effect of capital punishment
D. racial bias in the death penalty
Again, you will choose 2 of these 4 issues to research. Here is the exact structure for your paper:
1st paragraph: First, look up and explain in your own words the concept of Socratic wisdom. Then, in about 4-6 sentences, briefly explain your initial assumptions about the first issue you have chosen (of the four listed), and the reasoning behind your assumptions. Simply be honest in your statement of your initial assumptions; you are not being graded on how accurate your assumptions were. However, I will expect to see some thoughtful reasoning to explain your assumptions. Place your assumptions within the context of typical American assumptions about the issue; you can do a little quick research to check that, if needed.
2nd paragraph: In about 4-6 sentences, briefly explain your initial assumptions about the second issue you have chosen (of the four listed), and the reasoning behind your assumptions. Place your assumptions within the context of typical American assumptions about the issue; you can do a little quick research to check that, if needed.
3rd paragraph: In a longer paragraph, explain the facts you have discovered in your research regarding the first issue you have chosen (the same issue you discussed in the first paragraph). Just the facts—at this point, I don’t want to hear any reactions or comparisons to your initial assumptions. Work on putting things in your own words to demonstrate your understanding of the material. Use no more than about 10% quotes in the entire essay. Be sure to use quotation marks when taking more than 3 words in a row from the text or any source (unless it’s the name of something, such as The United States Supreme Court).
4th paragraph: In another longer paragraph, explain the facts you have discovered in your research regarding the second issue you have chosen (the same issue you discussed in the second paragraph). Again, work on putting things in your own words.
5th paragraph: Give your personal reaction to your research and compare the facts to your initial assumptions. Discuss any surprises and the reason why any facts turned out to be different than what you expected. You may also discuss whether the results reflect typical American assumptions regarding the controversy. Explain the importance of checking for facts and avoiding assumptions and bias; for example, what is at stake if individuals and policy-makers vote or make laws based on their unresearched personal biases, or if they only look for data that supports their own pre-conceptions?
6th paragraph: In your longer final paragraph, move away from the capital punishment debate. Discuss the importance of checking the facts in an unbiased way when it comes to moral, social and political controversies in general. Discuss this in the context of a single current controversy that is NOT related to capital punishment, such as the handling of the covid-19 crisis, the climate crisis, racial justice (apart from the death penalty), economic justice, or gun control. The end of this paragraph will wrap up your findings in the paper regarding assumptions, bias and fact-checking. Use a strong closing sentence, perhaps relating your findings back to the concept of Socratic wisdom.
List of references: See instructions for references on page 1. References can be a separate page within the same document, or can just be at the bottom of the last page.
Stay focused on the purpose of the essay. This essay is NOT about whether you are in favor of or opposed to the death penalty, and it is NOT about your reading of the text. The essay is about comparing your assumptions to carefully researched facts, and drawing some general conclusions about the importance of checking the facts in discussing controversial moral and social issues. You can earn an A on this essay without ever stating whether you are in favor of, or opposed to, capital punishment. You can do poorly on this essay by turning it into a pro or con opinion paper. Your essay should have exactly 6 paragraphs, exactly as described above; no more, and no less. Don’t change the order of the paragraphs.
Your essay must be submitted in .doc, docx or .rtf format. You can accomplish this using any word processor by going up to file, then save as, then select either .doc, docx or .rtf and type in your last name as part of the document name. Please submit your paper as a single document. It must be an attachment; do not paste into the comments box. If you submit any file type other than .doc, docx, or .rtf and you don’t fix it before the assignment deadline, the grade will be zero and you will not be able to resubmit. You’re responsible for making sure to use one of the accepted file formats. Do not use special characters such as & in your file name, or the document may not be openable. I do not accept Google docs, pdf files, links to files within your Dropbox or other cloud storage account, or documents that are password protected. Any word processor including Google docs will have a way to “save as” .rtf or .doc or .docx.
If you try to submit your paper and eCampus is down, email me a temporary copy (to stop the late clock ticking) and then post it when eCampus comes back up.
“Wups I submitted the wrong document/blank document/rough draft” is not a valid excuse for resubmitting a paper after the deadline, and neither is “I swear I submitted it but it’s not there—Blackboard ate my homework!” Double check your submission before the deadline by clicking on the green exclamation point in the eCampus gradebook.
Academic Honesty, Plagiarism, and Cheating
In this course, any instance of academic dishonesty would typically earn an automatic failing grade for the course. In minor instances of plagiarism, it may earn a 0 for the assignment, or a 0 for the assignment and a whole grade reduction of the final course grade (such as C to B). Cheating and flagrant or repeated plagiarism can also result in academic suspension or other institutional sanctions. Flagrant plagiarism includes using an essay for sale or free essays site, having someone else write your essay, or turning in someone else’s paper as your own. If you have questions about what constitutes academic dishonesty, see the information on academic honesty in the syllabus, or ask me for clarification.
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