Final Paper Guidelines


I’ve compiled this information in order to help you do research and write a solid paper. So please use it as a resource to guide you.

Assignment Overview

Your final assignment is a 8-10 page research paper (not including your bibliography) that asks you to do a critical analysis of a specific media text or texts (i.e. a comic book, an advertising campaign, a TV show, a record, etc) that makes effective use of theories, concepts and readings from our course, as well as a substantial amount of your own independent research

utilize academic resources in your paper (i.e. peer-reviewed journals and books).

  • Due on Friday, Dec 19 (the last day of finals week) by noon. Papers must be submitted via Turnitin. Late papers will NOT be accepted for any reason.
  • Papers should following standard formatting: 12 pt Times New Roman font, default margins, double-spaced, and numbered pages. The paper should meet the standards of academic style. In addition, the only information I need at the top of page one is your name and the title of your paper (don’t include course info, my name, etc). You do not need a separate title page. Finally, be sure to keep a backup copy of your paper for your records (as you should with all your assignments).
  • Papers must utilize academic resources. See the ‘Doing Research’ section below for details.
  • Papers must include a bibliography (your works cited). Papers without a bibliography will earn an automatic failing grade. Also, please note that your bibliography does not count toward your page total.
  • I am open to ideas for collaboration on a final paper or project. Please see me if you are interested in discussing an option for you and a partner (or, perhaps, a small group).

Doing a Critical Analysis and Applying Concepts in Your Paper

Here is a link to a sample ‘case study’ paper written by one of my former students (on news coverage of Hurricane Katrina). I’m giving it to you because it is a good example of how to do a critical analysis of media texts, and it is also a specific, workable topic that is not too broad in scope. In other words, it is an ideal case study. In this paper, the author examines how and why specific kinds of media (news) are meaningful, and she uses theoretical concepts to frame her argument. You should pay particular attention to the way the author does the following things:

  • She provides a clear thesis statement and develops a specific argument in the introduction.
  • She makes use of research materials from course readings and other scholarly resources.
  • She effectively utilize ideas and concepts to shape her analysis.  You can think of this as using intellectual tools to construct a theoretical framework. 

When I talk about making ‘effective’ use of people’s theories and concepts–such as Robert McChesney’s analysis of media & democracy, or Robin D.G. Kelley’s analysis of 1990s gangsta rap–I am referring to the process of using other people’s ideas and arguments to support your position…not the other way around.  Put differently, your paper is not simply a place to restate what an author already says. Instead, you need to integrate other scholars’ ideas and points into your argument; and you need to do so by paraphrasing and making use of direct quotations (both of which need to be accurately cited).

If you do not have a great deal of experience writing research papers, please make sure to get in touch with me or our fabulous research librarian, Andrew Marshall. Also, don’t hesitate to make use of the learning center on your campus.  Finally, here is some additional information about writing and constructing an academic paper.

Selecting Your Topic

I’m more than happy to help you develop your paper and/or formulate your argument. I’m also willing to help you come up with ways to shape, or direct, your topic. What I am not willing to do is to simultaneously provide you with a topic, an argument, a way to organize your paper, and a list of resources to use in your paper. In short, you need to put some effort into thinking through your topic and the things you want to say about your object of study (i.e. the actual media text/s you will examine in your paper).   Consequently, if you want to get in touch with me about your topic, make sure that you can at least answer the most basic questions that I would ask you myself. They are as follows:

  • What is your object of study (your specific case study topic) and why are you interested in writing about it?
  • Why is your object of study significant?  And what do you want to say about it, specifically?
  • What is the main question (or questions) you hope to address in your paper?
  • What readings and concept(s) from the course are going to be the most useful in framing your analysis?

If you can’t answer some of these questions then you need to spend some time trying to figure them out before we meet. From there, I can help direct you to readings and I can also help you develop some questions or points to investigate in your paper. But coming up with a topic and a theoretical framework for your paper is actually part of the assignment, and you will need to devote adequate time to the task.  This process is sometimes difficult, but that’s the work of doing a research paper.

Please remember that case study topics are supposed to be narrow – these papers are a means for taking a very specific media text and using it to discuss the process of representation and the social/cultural significance of this particular piece of media. Many of the readings I’ve assigned throughout the semester are good examples of ‘case studies’, but there are many more available in academic (peer-reviewed) journals. Please keep in mind that I do NOT expect any of your papers to be as long or developed most of those we read in class. However, I do expect you to familiarize yourself with some of the conventions that these authors use in their work, namely the ways that each author uses his or her introduction to 1) clearly define the topic, or ‘object of study’, 2) clearly make an argument that frames the paper, and 3) clearly explains the specific theoretical framework–the concepts used to frame the discussion and support the argument.


I don’t care what citation format you use in your paper, just stick with one throughout the paper (either Chicago Manual of Style or MLA are both fine).  Just make sure to include specific page numbers in your citations (unless it’s an Internet resource) and also be sure to include a formatted bibliography of the sources you used in the paper. NOTE: If you do not properly cite your sources or include a (properly formatted) bibliography in your paper, you will fail the assignment.

If you make use of materials from the Internet–i.e. articles that are only available online and not in print–make sure to include the following information in your bibliography: the author, the title of the article or post, the main website on which the article was published, the date of publication (if it’s available), and finally, the web address itself.  I do NOT care about the date on which you accessed the website, so please do not include it. Here are sample citations and a corresponding bibliography entry for an Internet resource:

  • If you are using footnotes: April Streeter, “B-Cycle Bike Sharing Has Plans for Denver…and a U.S. City Near You?,”, March 13, 2009, Online.
  • If you are using parenthetical citations(Streeter, 2009)
  • Bibliography entry: Streeter, April. “B-Cycle Bike Sharing Has Plans for Denver…and a U.S. City Near You?”, March 13, 2009.

Doing Research

I’m not going to put a quota on how many resources you are suppose to use for the case study but a good rule of thumb is to have at least one or two scholarly resources for every page of your paper (i.e. a five-page paper would have at least five to ten sources, in addition to the main article or articles that you are using to build your analysis). However, it all depends upon the quality of your sources. For example, citing three different articles in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette doesn’t count as doing scholarly research – newspapers and other reference materials are fabulous for gaining knowledge about specific topics, but they are not a replacement for doing primary research in which analysis and critique (as opposed to  reporting) are the primary objectives. In short, your research should consist largely of:

The best place to start looking for these resources is by using the Penn State library webpage (you can access it through our blog).  JSTOR and EBSCO are both great search engines, and if you have never done research before, you should ask the librarian specific questions when you are stuck…that’s what they are there for.  And, of course, I’m more than happy to help you with research as well. Our class blog also has lots of links to websites and articles online; I suggest you take a look around at some of them. As far as Internet resources go, make sure to evaluate their credibility….just because it’s online doesn’t mean that it’s not junk (obviously). And that brings me to my final point about Internet publications: Wikipedia is not a reliable resource on which to base your research.  Wikipedia is great for getting you started, but if you are wondering why it’s not the most legit resource, please click here to see what I stumbled across when I looked up Simon Bolivar on Wikipedia in 2008 (I took a screenshot).

So…take it from Mr. T:

I pity the fool who cites Wikipedia!

Doing research means that you will undoubtedly have to spend some time wading through resources that may turn out to be irrelevant to your topic, your argument, or the specific points you want to make in your paper. Unfortunately, that’s just how it goes. The right resources for your case study will not always be the most obvious ones, so make sure to give yourself plenty of time to do research. I’ve tried to offer a variety of articles on each week’s topics that should be helpful to you. Specifically, I posted “further reading & research” links to articles or book chapters that are either (1) written by folks who are influential thinkers and/or experts in their specific field of study, or (2) written in such a way that they help to explain difficult concepts and/or theorists. If nothing else, the bibliographies from some of our recommended readings will be good places to look for relevant articles and books on your topic.


Powered by WordPress.

Skip to toolbar