an example term paper
A major part of your grade is based on a term paper. It should focus on a topic appropriate to this course. My preference is for you to pick a country, other than the 10 or so we talk about explicitly. Take one or more problems that country is experiencing, describe how it came to be, what the current situation is, and what if any solutions appear possible. In Africa, for instance, you could write about the new Congo Democratic Republic and its struggles to become a "real" nation rather than a collection of self-conscious ethnic/tribal groups. Or about Angola and the role that its resources of diamonds and oil have played in its ongoing civil conflict. But unless you have special expertise through residence or travel there, don't write about Nigeria or South Africa. Ditto for Israel, Ireland, Germany and so on.
I do not want papers written for two or more courses unless there is an exceptional reason why that would be appropriate. Do not plagiarize -- when you use material from someone else's work, cite it and paraphrase it except for brief quotes. I expect to see at least one map in the paper; sketch maps are acceptable. For basic rules and hints about writing, look at Joe Schall's Web site (he is our EMS college writing tutor). That's at "http://www.ems.psu.edu/~schall/Schall.html". There is a specific site that tells you how to cite material you obtain from the Internet (and World Wide Web); it is at "http://clever.net/quinion/words/citation.htm".
I want you to turn in a brief (one or two pages at most) description of your proposed paper by the end of the second week ; earlier if possible. It should have a title, tentative perhaps, a summary of the problem or area you intend to write about, and a possibly brief list of potential sources. You can use LIAS and the various journal indexes for a first cut at this. I will give you feedback and the earlier you turn the proposal in the better.
To give me time to read your papers thoroughly, I want them tuned in to me no later than 9 April, three weeks before the last day of class. Length should be no more than 12 pages (without special permission) including illustrations and bibliography. Let's agree on a minimum of 9 pages.
Unless there is a compelling reason not to, I will expect to see one or more maps illustrating your paper. Even though I may know the area and not need a map, you should assume you are writing for a general audience which is only as knowledgeable as, say, an average college student.
Guidelines for writing
Your paper will be taken seriously. I will read it carefully and grade closely. Papers will be judged on both content and form. It will pay handsomely to do the best job you can.
1. Content: High marks go to papers deriving intelligent generalizations from accurate and appropriate facts. Note the combination. Description along is dull and pointless. Generalizations without supporting evidence are worthless.
2. Organization: From the beginning, make sure your reader knows what you intend to do and how you intend to do it. The biggest help here is to think of a meaningful title and write a cogent introduction. Then lead the reader through your argument step by step, making sure there are no breaks in your logic. DO use subheadings where necessary to remind the reader where your argument is going. Finally, your conclusion should be written so that your reader is in no doubt as to where you stand and why.
3. Documentation: When you borrow facts or ideas from someone else, you must acknowledge the borrowing. Failure to do so is plagiarism, an unforgivable academic sin. Papers must include a bibliography or list of references which cites all your sources, and must include citations within the paper for each time you borrow ideas or facts.
The easiest way to cite a source is in line with the text rather than with footnotes. This approach uses the author(s) name(s), followed by a year if there is more than one piece by the same person(s) in one year, followed by a page number. See an issue of Political Geography for examples. If documentation is seriously flawed or absent I will return your paper without grade or comment and you will be asked to supply missing documentation.
4. English: English is not my mother tongue and it may not be yours. Regardless, I have a high regard for it and have no patience with its abuse. Careful attention to formal English will pay dividends. Carless or bad writing will be penalized.
Style: If you have doubts about style, write plain straightforward English. If you still have questions, get a copy of Strunk and White's marvelous little handbook, The Elements of Style, available in paperback at bookstores in town and on campus. It is an excellent investment for your writing now and later. Read it carefully and pay attention to it.
Mechanics. Your writing should be grammatical and correctly punctuated. Use a dictionary to check doubtful spelling and a thesaurus to select the best word in case you have any doubts. I expect you to do your own proofreading. Failing to correct typographical errors is like expecting me to be your mother and clean up your mess. It is sloppy, rude, and annoys me. If you use a word processor, there are tools for spell-checking and grammar and you should use them.
NOTE: You can avoid a lot of trouble by making a careful outline. Revise the outline as needed, well before you begin writing. Then, when you do write, expect to make a first draft, a second draft and as many successive ones as you need, before you finally site down to put together the polished finished paper. Computer word processors are wonderful for this! There is no such thing as a good first draft paper. The university writing center at Boucke, Gareth John, and I are available to help and will be happy to give comments and advice as you are going along. I find it useful to take the "last" draft and let it sit for several days. Just before the final typing, I do a careful editing job. The little bit of time between these steps makes it easier to find errors and awkwardnesses in my prose. To do this, you should plan to start work early and not let things wait until the last week!
5. Illustrations: Geographic writing is often clarified by using photographs, sketches or maps. Three things: A. Use illustrations because you need them, not for window dressing. B. Illustrations are seldom self explanatory. You will almost always need captions to tell the reader what to look for, notice, and learn. Take care with them as with any other kind of writing. C. When you use illustrations, you are trying to get across an idea. Anything that helps is good, anything that interferes is bad. [See The Economist for examples of the sort of thing I mean.]
6. The Final Paper should be typed or printed, double spaced with ample margins. Do not use "corrasable" bond; it makes messy copy. Laserwriter or letter-quality copy is a lot easier to read and makes a better impression than dot matrix copy. Again, Start early. This will let you think and reflect on what you want to do. It will also allow you to make the one or two drafts that are the difference between bad, acceptable, and good results. You will also avoid the stomach churning anxiety of trying to do things in the rushed period at the end of term. I have put papers written in previous terms of this course on the WWWeb site. You will see the reference(s) when you check on "library resources"; more will be added from last term when they are ready.