Writing 109SS: Writing for the Social Sciences

Course Description

Computers can accommodate or even inspire a variety of styles and methods of presenting information. As such, they have dramatically changed the nature of research and information-presentation ... and perhaps the very fabric of American and global culture in the new "age of information." This upper-division social science writing course will examine the rhetorical and cultural effects of technology - especially Web-based writing using Hypertext links. The class will combine traditional, text-based research essay writing with computer-aided presentation, the latter using Web pages as alternative (and increasingly accepted in academic circles) means of presenting concepts, theses, and supporting materials.

Each student will choose a technology-related social science topic that genuinely interests her/him and will present information on that topic, using two different formats: (1) a research essay and; (2) a World Wide Web site. Through engaging in these two very different styles of writing, you will learn to appreciate the strengths and limitations of traditional academic discourse, and will therefore become better equipped to produce research in a range of styles and formats. You will also become a bit more computer-literate in the process, which can't hurt as we move into the second decade of the twenty-first century and this so-called age of information.

Focus, Structure and Overview

This is not a course in Web design; such activity is the province of the Computer Science department. However, Web-based rhetoric and the evolving internet community will be considerations as you read and research for this course, and you will learn at the rudiments of Web page construction, using a basic HTML (HyperText Markup Language) editing program called Dreamweaver. As all courses in the Writing Program, this course will provide you with increased sophistication in expository writing - particularly researching and developing arguments through the selective incorporation of source material - since all courses in the 109 series have research writing as their goal.

Additionally, the course will increase your competence in identifying and critically evaluating information found on the Web, and in establishing criteria for effective communication, both on the Web and on paper. In the process, you will undoubtedly refine argumentative writing skills. Ideally, your paper will demonstrate these skills: it will not merely report on the results of literature searches, but it will also take a persuasive position on the topic under consideration. That position will form the basis of your essay's thesis.

For the text-based portion of the course, each student will produce a research paper that has a minimum of ten double-spaced pages, i.e. 2500 words using the Word Count function in MS Word. The course will lead you through a series of prewriting stages, including topic selection, website review report, written prospectus, and annotated bibliography. The final draft of the essay is due on the Friday of the last week of classes (a.k.a. Dead Week) and should contain citations and bibliography in APA style: the documentation format favored by most social science-based disciplines.

Sometime during the quarter, each student will make an oral presentation of approximately twenty minutes, either presenting research findings to the class or conducting class discussion on the topic. Our weekly time in the Instructional Computing Lab will be spent working on Web-based research activities or developing your individual multimedia projects: World Wide Web pages, using very friendly Web authoring programs ... or using actual HTML code, if you're inclined to take on a programming challenge. The Web project will be graded pass/not-pass, so please don't be intimidated if you're starting at "ground zero" as a maker of Web pages.


Your final grade for the course will break down approximately as follows:

• 30% text-based research project: an essay of at least ten pages (2500 words) on an internet- or technology-related social science topic to be chosen early in the quarter;

• 30% journal responses to assigned readings: completed thoroughly and on time;

• 30% classwork including class participation*, regular attendance at the Microcomputer lab, and a passing Web project at the end of the quarter. *Important note on class participation grade: each day we have discussion, led either by me or by students doing their oral presentations, you start with a B-. You can easily and painlessly raise that grade to an A by volunteering opinions and insights one or several times per class session - nothing excessive; just throw in your "two cents" occasionally. If you say nothing but appear reasonably interested during the session, your grade will remain a B-. If you say nothing and appear unreasonably disinterested during the session (e.g. head on desk, snoring out loud, chatting with neighbors while other folks are talking, talking on celly, reading and highlighting physics notes, listening to iPod, etc.), your grade drops to C or lower. At the end of each class session, I record your participation grade for that day in my little green book, and I average out those grades at the end of the quarter.

• 10% final exam.

Disabled students

If you are a student with a documented disability and would like to discuss special accommodations or needs, please contact me during office hours or via e-mail. I'm always happy to help!