Overview As part of its General Education program, MTSU requires all ENGL 1020 students to demonstrate an ability to write an academic-level paper with a body of at least 2000 words (approximately eight double-spaced pages). Actually, we’ve been working toward that goal all semester by learning how to present the work of others. That is, academic writers are expected to do more than express their own thoughts on a problem; instead, they are expected, first, to discuss some of the research that already has been published. So, the good news is that, when you are assigned an eight-page paper, you don’t have to write eight pages of your own ideas; instead, you are expected to devote much of the paper to informing your readers about some of the published research.
There is a good example in our recent reading of two chapters from Prooijen’s The Psychology of Conspiracy Theories, where, beginning near the bottom of page 20, Prooijen begins to report on published research on the amount of belief in conspiracy theories. What is key, here, is that no reader will take our papers seriously unless we show we have some knowledge of previous research; and it’s only by knowing some of the previous research that we can suggest to our readers something else that should be pursued in order to deal with the problem we’re writing about. We have spent the semester learning about three essential aspects, or principles of academic-level writing:
1. Problem-Centered Writing – The goal of most academic writers is to develop better understanding of significant problems and to propose reasonable ways of addressing those problems. Thus, academic writers give special attention to their presentation of problems; they know that, if their readers are not convinced of the problem’s significance, “game over.” 2. Assessment of Previous Research – Academic writers know that, whatever problem they write about, other researchers have already published studies. Thus, in academic writing, it is not enough to present your own ideas; instead, you need to show readers how to consider your ideas in relation to previously published ideas, otherwise, “game over.”
3. Credibility – Academic writers know that their work will be well received only if their writing meets the readers’ standards of credibility, otherwise, “game over.” Most important, they know that their credibility will be judged on several aspects of their writing: • demonstrated knowledge of previous research; • clear and steady direction of thought; and • knowledge of conventions of formal academic writing (e.g., Turabian) and minimum number of grammatical and usage errors.
Think of your final paper, then, as an opportunity to show me how well you have learned these three principles. I don’t expect you to be experts at this (after all, you’ve only been doing it for a few weeks); but I do expect your papers to show me that you understand these principles. Final Project – 2 Minimum Requirements In order to receive a passing grade, your paper must meet some minimum requirements: 1. at least 2000 words, not including bibliography (= 8 double-spaced pages); 2. shows that you have a firm grasp of the arguments of at least 2 academic-level articles (in addition to other sources you might use, like news articles); and 3. formatted consistent with an academic style guide (e.g., APA, Chicago [Turabian], MLA). If a paper does not meet the minimum requirements, I’m afraid there’s really no good reason for me to read it in order to assign a grade.
Topic/Problem During a normal semester, I encourage students to write a final paper on a problem that interests them, ideally a problem that has been addressed by researchers in the student’s major. But since we are in the midst of one of the most disruptive and disturbing events of the last one-hundred years, I thought it best to give more guidance, especially since I imagine that the pandemic has left many of you with less time and more anxiety. So, I’ve tried to design an assignment that would give you some freedom (by selecting a conspiracy theory) but save you time by using the readings I’ve given you over the past couple of weeks.
By now, you should have let me know what conspiracy theory you’ve chosen. And within a day or two, you’ll get a response from me letting you know whether your idea fits the assignment or not. So, here is the problem your paper needs to address: Given the conspiracy theory you have selected, what research can help us understand why some people believe that theory? Also, do you find that the research you’ve read provides an adequate understanding of people’s willingness to believe the conspiracy theory or do see opportunities for further research? • Use credible sources to describe the conspiracy theory (for example, articles from reputable newspapers or magazine (print or online).
• Use the chapters from Prooijen’s The Psychology of Conspiracy Theories or similar research to show your readers how that research would apply to your chosen conspiracy theory.
• In addition to Prooijen’s chapters, find at least 1 other academic research article that deals with the problem of why people believe conspiracy theories (using Prooijen’s “References” section may be useful in selecting another academic source; and as we found out earlier this semester, Google Scholar can be helpful).
• Finally, let your readers know whether you think the research you referenced provides an adequate explanation for the belief in the conspiracy theory or whether you see opportunities for more research. Remember that you are not writing a paper on the conspiracy theory itself; instead, you are writing a paper that informs your readers about research that’s been done in an attempt to understand why some people belief the conspiracy theory.