The final research paper is a chance to synthesize ideas, and research a topic you care about in the context of Free Speech and Responsibility. Your task is to employ a theoretical lens from our readings to analyze a concrete instance (i.e., evidence, data, artifact, text, case study). You are welcome to either start with data and study it from a theoretical lens OR start with a theory and employ it to analyze data. Furthermore, you may test a chosen theory and/or hypothesis (a working thesis), and/or strive to answer a research question.

The paper is an entry and contribution to the scholarly community. Find connections between the course readings and the real world. This is creative, analytic work. Ask questions: Why are things as they are? What’s there? What’s missing? How does it work? What’s the broader context (political, economic, ideological, cultural, geographic, historical, etc)? What’s the study’s significance? What are the possible future implications?

Cite course readings and support all claims with evidence. As a friendly reminder, grading standards are high (this is the culmination of our course). A-level work moves beyond description and opinion to analysis. The aim is to craft a theoretically grounded, and evidence based argument/narrative. Finally, seek nuance: draw connections across readings, and meditate on complexity and diverse perspectives.


· Papers should be approx. 3,000 words, double-spaced, with 1-inch margins, in 12pt. font

· Directly engage our course readings (cite specific pages and/or paragraphs), and at least two additional scholarly sources

· All quotations and assertions must be cited in MLA, APA, or Chicago format (any is fine –pick one and stay with it). Include a Works Cited-a guide is available here:


· Be rigorous about grammar and write in full sentences. This is a communication class, and your grade will partially depend on your ability to communicate in standard English academic language.

· Aesthetics and formatting matter. Use appropriate paragraphing. Remove all FULL CAPS (including at bibliography). And alphabetize your Works Cited

· Sketch a structure before you start writing

· Start early and ask questions. Read course materials carefully and take strong notes. Include direct quotes as appropriate

· Feel free to talk with me about ideas and outlines

· Note that oral presentations are due before the final papers. The process of translating a formal research paper into oral presentation format offers a valuable chance to clarify your paper’s thesis and significance. After the oral presentation, revise your paper once more.

· Finally, I encourage you to use the tutoring services available through CSUMB.


Proceed in 6 steps (steps 3 & 4 are reversible):

1: choose a TOPIC that you wish to learn more about

A real-world event, observation, problem, paradox, pattern, etc. Draw from your experiences, current events, and/or history

2: READ broadly (popular media + articles)

Have fun, and learn the landscape – this will help you identify an idea and engage in depth

3/4: read scholarly works & select a THEORETICAL LENS

Theories are:

· Stories about how the world works

· Explanatory + predictive frameworks that identify patterns within systems

· Lenses and framework for thinking about the world

· Passports to others’ ideas

Identify 1-2 theoretical frameworks from our class readings-justify your choice. You are welcome to browse book indexes to find ideas of precise interest. This is the most important part of your paper – whatever your case study, remember that case studies are the evidence that allows you to thoughtfully engage one or more theories.

Explain how others have employed this theoretical framework and your topic more broadly (they say/ I say: think big). Check the communication and mass media complete database and see what other scholars have written on: 1) your theory, and 2) your case study. Why use this idea (or ideas) as opposed to others? Why does it strike you as a useful or productive way to think about your topic? The world is almost always complex-our aim is to take nothing for granted. Throughout our analysis, stay focused on your theoretical lens. At the paper’s end, reflect on what the case study (data/evidence) teach us about the theory’s merits, relevance and limits.

3/4: select EVIDENCE (data, primary text, artifact, case study)

How do you answer your research question? This course be an interview, a speech, a comic, a movie, a haircut, a museum, a song lyric, etc. Put bluntly, what supports your argument? Choose a concrete instance related to the topic – justify your choice. For instance, if you interview someone, why did you choose this person? If you are interested in a concrete artifact in and of itself, what can it teach us about a theoretical framework from our class readings?

5: outline a METHOD

This includes the selection of empirical data , and also the means of studying that data. In brief, what did you did and why? What do you look for – and how do you employ the theoretical lens to analyze the concrete instance? Again, justify this choice. For instance, if you interview someone, what questions do you ask and why? If you are researching gender representation in the mainstream contemporary US films, what movies do you select and how do you engage them? Reflect on your resources and challenges.

6: state a tentative THESIS

The thesis answers the research question (if applicable). It should explain a relationship (if existing) between the case study + theoretical lens (and thus our course themes). Think of these as contingent works in progress that should be revised + refined as your research progresses.


FOCUS: who, what, when, where, why, how?

Craft a research question, one that is open-ended + feasible, that cannot be answered yes or no, or be easily confirmed/disconfirmed via an empirical test

Define all key terms and ideas

Set context. What other factors are involved (e.g. history, geography, ideologies, economics, politics, etc)?

PAGES 1 & 2


Start the story & draw the reader in


This is the preview or roadmap (it reads like an abstract/thesis statement). There are several core elements (in no specific order): theory, empirical data, method, & thesis. Write in active, present tense.


Directly following the preview, include a brief paragraph that explains the paper’s structure (e.g., “the following proceeds in three step…”). After this, offer the study’s necessary background context (history, geography, definitions, etc, as applicable). Above all, clarify the structure and approach before diving into the details.


Introduction (approx. 3 pages)

· Hook (story, moment, paradox)

· Preview (abstract)

-research question

-By studying (EVIDENCE), I argue (THESIS), and this teaches us (THEORY)

-method (what, when, where, how, why)

-structure (subheadings)

· Context



-literature review (what have others said? THEORY)

· Analysis (approx 5 pages)

– 2 or 3 major points supported by EVIDENCE

CONCLUSIONS (approx. 2 pages)

– Summary

– Broader significance (theory AND real-world)

– Limitations + future directions (counterarguments, practicalities + complexity)

-what has your case study taught us about your theoretical lens. Is it productive to think about your case study from this perspective? If so, why? Are there limits to doing so, or other ways one could analyze your case study?

Works cited

– Course texts

– Additional secondary sources

– Primary evidence


If you’re interested in articles from the disciplines of communication and media studies, you may search the Communication & Mass Media Complete:

JSTOR is another good source:

For an excellent background on a range of issues, I suggest CQ Researcher:

For theoretical background on a range of ideas, see:

For statistics and some geography:

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