Max Hailperin's FT01 Research Assignment (Fall 1998)


You are to explore a topic related to the course, but not directly drawn from the assigned readings. You will present your findings on this topic to the class in a 20-minute oral presentation, and in the form of an approximately 5-10 page paper. The audience will in each case consist of the other students in the course. They have the same general background you do, but have not investigated your topic at all. The due dates for the oral and written presentations are in the syllabus.

Our readings focus on two topics: private communications and sexually explicit material. There are many aspects of these two topics our readings do not cover. For example, our readings don't say much about wiretapping or cryptography debates in other countries. Nor do our readings say much about attempts to deny federal funding to schools that don't try to filter out sexually explicit material.

However, keep in mind that private communications and sexually explicit material are just two specific example areas where values conflicts are being played out in the legal arena under pressure from rapid internetworking. There are other areas as well, which our readings don't cover at all. For example, there are a number of controversies concerning copyright in the internet context. For another example, there is the question of "spam" (unsolicited commercial email). Is it free speech that should be protected from governmental interference, or a menace that government should defend citizens against?

Any of the topics listed above, or others like them, would be fair game. That is, you can either research some aspect of one of our two primary topics that is omitted by our readings, or you can research a different issue, but which raises similar values questions in the legal and internet contexts.

You should use a variety of sources, whether from the library or on-line, to make your paper substantial rather than superficial. In particular, it is desirable if you can go beyond journalistic sources (such as newspaper or magazine articles) to primary sources (such as court opinions, the text of bills and amendments, or records of legislative debate) and more substantial commentary (such as articles by specialists). The number of sources you consult need not be large, but should be more than just one or two and should provide some depth and diversity.

As mentioned earlier, you are to schedule a brief appointment soon with the Writing Associate, Michelle Beissel, at which you'll go over a work plan (time table) for this project, showing what intermediate stages you'll have done by what dates. In particular, you'll agree with her on one particular intermediate stage at which you and she will again confer, and will make an appointment for that. You are expected to meet with her as arranged. If you need to contact her by email, her address is mbeissel. She may convey additional information to the class regarding how and when she will be available; this would be sent out by email to the class mailing list.

Your oral presentation will need to be focused to fit the 20-minute format. It need not cover all the material in the same detail as your written report does.

Evaluation guidelines

Please rewrite your paper until you are convinced that the answer to each of the following questions is "yes." (Note that these are slightly different from those for the essays and those for the letter.) When I grade your paper, I will again use these questions, both to give you feedback and to come up with your letter grade. Specifically, I will start with an A and take off one grade "notch" (e.g., from A to A-, or from A- to B+) for each question where the answer is "no". Be warned that some of the questions are so critical that if the answer is "no," then one or more additional answers are necessarily also "no." For example, if the answer to question 1a is "no," you are doomed for 1b through 1e as well.
  1. Topic
    1. Does the paper cover a focussed topical area?
    2. Is that topic related to the course but not covered by our readings?
    3. Does the paper stick to material relevant to that topic?
    4. Is it immediately clear to the reader what topic the paper is going to survey, and what stance it is going to take towards that area, without needing to read beyond the first paragraph?
    5. Is the language used to define the topic clear and straightforward?
  2. Audience
    1. Is the paper consistent in the assumptions it makes about the audience's background knowledge and vocabulary?
    2. Are those assumptions within the parameters specified by the assignment?
    3. Is the general style, tone, or voice of the paper appropriate to an academic audience?
  3. Organization
    1. Does the paper have an introduction that lets the reader know what to expect?
    2. Does the paper have a conclusion that leaves the reader with a satisfied feeling that the matter has been neatly wrapped up?
    3. Does the body of the paper (between the introduction and conclusion) have a discernible organizing principle?
    4. Does each paragraph and each larger organization unit start with a clear statement of topic, except where there is a good reason to do otherwise?
    5. Are there smooth, sensible transitions from each topic to the next?
  4. Supporting evidence
    1. Is each claim you make backed up by specific supporting evidence?
    2. Have you properly documented the sources of all your evidence, even when that evidence is not directly quoted?
    3. Do you comment upon each quotation or other piece of evidence and work it into the flow of your paper?
    4. Do you provide a balanced, diverse collection of evidence?
  5. Mechanics
    1. Is the grammar, spelling, diction (word choice), and typography all good enough to not distract the reader?
    2. Is the writing clear, crisp and direct?