Linguistics L303/L503 — Summer 2012
Introduction to Linguistic Analysis

Instructor:Jonathan North Washington
Office hours:by request
Email: jonwashi@indi...
Lecture Times:MTWR 10:20-12:10
Classroom:Ballentine (BH) 222
Course website:
Backup website:

Research Project

Over the course of this term, you will be conducting a short research project on any topic related to language that you are interested in. This is open-ended on purpose. You should choose a topic that you find interesting—e.g., something that you've always been curious about, or something that's caught your interest recently. In the course of exploring your topic, the goal is that you become familiar with accessing academic work in linguistics and thinking critically about how language is used in the world around you.

Looking ahead at the later chapters in our textbook is a good place to look for topic ideas. Here are five example ideas for the type of paper you can write. (This is not an exhaustive list! Please be creative!)


This research project will involve several milestones.

Idea write-up (due 27 June, 15% = 3 points)

Type up a document describing to me the following things:

  1. a general description of the topic you'd like to write on,
  2. what you already know (or think you know) about this topic,
  3. an explanation as to why you are interested in it, and
  4. your best guess about what sort of academic source (journal article, book chapter, etc.) you can imagine finding that would help you learn more about this topic.

Try to narrow things down as best as you can, but don't worry if your topic is a little broad at this point. I'll help you narrow your topic to something manageable. The length of the topic write-up is flexible: anything from one paragraph to a page or two (double-spaced) is fine—focus on the content. Come see me if you're having trouble chosing a topic.

Article selection (due 5 July, 15% = 3 points)

I'll read through your topics and give you personalised feedback pointing to possible places where you should look for academic sources. When you get your write-up back, you should find and read through some academic sources relating to your topic. You will need to skim through several such articles and find two that you think you will be able to understand and are short enough to deal with in the limited amount of time you have. You should have at least one article from an academic journal; beyond that, you need at least one other source, which may be a book chapter, an opinion piece (e.g., a blog post or newspaper article), a magazine article, etc. You only need two sources at this stage of the project, but you can cite as many sources as you want in the final paper.

After you find two sources you'd like to use, you'll need to type up a description of both of them that includes, for each article:

  1. a full citation for the article in APA (or equivalent) format, and
  2. a description, based on the title, abstract, figures, etc., of why you think this article will help you understand more about the topic you have chosen. Optionally, you may also include any comments about how your thinking about the topic has changed (i.e., what you are specifically interested in), or mention of the author's bias.

You should also turn in a copy of each source to me at this stage.

Article review (due 12 July, 20% = 4 points)

You will need to write up a critical review of one of your sources. Specifically, you need to chose an academic article to review.

Think of the review kind of like a movie review: you need to summarise what you read and critique it. Given this, your article review should consist of two major sections: a summary and a response. First, demonstrate that you have read the article carefully by summarizing the most important content of the work. Keep in mind that you cannot discuss every aspect of the text—after all, you need to distill a ~20-some page document into just a page or two. Instead, write about the major points of the article in a fair and balanced manner. This component of the article review should take up somewhere around a page and a half.

After the summary, you will need to include your response to the article. This section must be approximately the same length as the summary. It will consist mostly of your critique of the article, touching on the following sorts of issues:

In discussing these kinds of topics, it is highly recommended (but not strictly required) for you to draw explicit connections to potential course material. Each of your topics should fall within a topic covered by a chapter of the textbook (let me know if you need help figuring out which one)—this is where you should look for connections. Approaching your article from the perspective of what we have learned in class or could learn in class had we covered that chapter might actually help you put things together into a broader perspective, thereby helping you write your paper. If you do make such connections to the readings, cite our textbook in the same way as you would any other citation, e.g., Mihalicek and Wilson (2011) state that ... (Be advised that you typically should not be citing introductory textbooks in academic writing, but this is a special exception.)

Also, do not merely state your personal opinions in the review (e.g., I liked the article or I agree with the author(s))—what I'm looking for is a level of critical thinking deeper than that. Also, do not attack the authors directly, but rather politely and objectively comment on their ideas. Finally, at the end of the paper you may include how the study is personally relevant to you or your career, but this should not exceed 2 or 3 sentences (since this was part of the idea write-up).

Rough draft (due 19 July, 20% = 4 points)

Your rough draft is a draft of your final paper. You should put in the majority of the effort for your paper on this assignment. Completing it and getting it in on time will be half your score, and the other half will be graded by the same rubric as the final paper (though slightly more leniently). That means that if you receive a grade of 90% on the rough draft, that same draft would receive a grade of about 75% as your final draft.

The most important aspect of the review process afforded by your rough draft is that it gives you the opportunity to implement any comments and suggestions to improve your paper for the final submission. Putting in the effort on your rough draft will get you more specific comments and will probably result in a higher grade on both assignments than putting off the main effort until the final paper. In the example above, if you implement all of the revisions I suggest after grading your rough draft (and don't introduce any more significant problems), you will get much higher than a 75% on your final draft.

See the final draft assignment and grading rubric for more information on what I expect for the rough draft.

Final draft (due 25 July, 30% = 6 points)

For the final paper, I expect a well written 5-page research paper on your topic. By the time you go to write your rough draft, you will have already written a review of one of your sources and thought about how it relates to the wider field of linguistics. You need to refine your thoughts on this and choose a focus for your final paper—that is, you need to decide what the point of your paper is, beyond just the topic you're researching. A good way to choose a focus is to read your other source(s) and think about how it relates to the source you've already read. Potential types of paper include:

If you're not sure whether your focus would work well with your topic, or have any doubts about anything else, please ask.

Whichever type of paper you choose to write, you should work closely with your sources and use them to defend any position you present. About 3 to 4 pages of the content of your paper should be about what you found in your sources, and you can base this in part on your article review. At least one full page of the content of your paper should include your own thoughts.

Your paper will be graded based on the following criteria, for a total of 30 points (corresponding to 6 points of your final grade for the class):

Class presentation (24 July, 20 participation points)

During the last week of class, you will be expected to present briefly (5-10 minutes) on the findings of your paper. You may choose to make slides or a handout so that your classmates can follow your presentation better (especially if there are detailed points you want to share, like linguistic data, a short list of subtopics you want to discuss, or some points about the history of what you're researching), but it's not required.

This presentation will be fairly short, and you will then take questions from the class and/or lead a short discussion on the topic (e.g., by bringing up a question that was left unsolved, or asking how people stand on your issue, etc.)—but no more than 5 minutes.

General guidelines


Everything you submit for this project should be typed in a 12-point Times font or equivalent, with standard double-spacing and 1-inch margins on all sides.

The final paper should be approximately 5 pages long, plus a list of sources used. For every fact you cite from a source, you should immediately include a citation (including the page number the fact is from). Acceptable documentation systems include LSA, MLA, APA, and Chicago styles.

All assignments related to this project should be submitted electronically through OnCourse as an attachment. Most modern document formats (OpenOffice / LibreOffice, older and newer MS Word, PDF, plain text, etc.) should be okay.

Academic Honesty

The following constitute plagiarism:

When you use text from a source, you must either quote and cite it, or, preferably, paraphrase and summarise it. Using too much quoted material (more than about 10%) is not acceptable in any part of this project.

All the work you submit for this project will be checked for originality by This means that your work will be included as source documents in their restricted access database (solely for the purpose of detecting plagiarism in such documents). This also means that direct quotations from your sources are likely to raise flags in TurnItIn's originality detector; this is fine as long as you've cited everything appropriately, and no more than 10% of the text of your paper is from another source. You can submit a draft of any part of your project at any point, and TurnItIn's originality checker will give your paper an originality score; use this to make sure that you haven't used too much quoted material.

In the end, if you simply do your own work, cite everything properly, and don't overuse direct quotes from your sources, there should be no trouble with academic honesty.