Guidelines for Preparing Scholarly Essays

First, the choice of topic is up to you.

Second, in selecting a topic, make sure that sufficient source materials exist to prepare a good substantive paper.

Third, once you have decided on a topic, you must clear it either with Professor Mindell or Professor Smith.

Fourth, the paper you write should be a footnoted scholarly essay. The text should be 9–10 pages long, double-spaced. It should be an example of your best work. Remember to proof-read and correct your paper before handing it in (simple word processing spell checks are not sufficient)! The paper should go through at least three drafts before you submit it to us.

Fifth, the paper will be graded on four criteria: (1) content, (2) organization, (3) level of perception and/or analysis, and (4) writing style.

Sixth, source materials. Whatever topic you select, you must consult at least four source materials beyond the required readings for this class. In other words, some basic research is required before you write the paper. Books, articles from scholarly journals, newspaper and magazine articles from publications like The Tech are acceptable sources. The use of primary manuscript/archival sources is also strongly encouraged. At the very least, one should check with the MIT Archives and MIT Museum to see if any sources exist on the subject being investigated. Encyclopedias like the World Book do not count, nor will special websites unless they are discussed first and approved by either Professor Mindell or Professor Smith. Your use of source materials will be taken into account by the instructors and will affect the grade assigned for the "content" portion of the essay. You are strongly encouraged to consult with Librarian Michelle Baildon, MIT archivists, and curators at the MIT Museum about finding good sources. Oftentimes the best materials are tucked away in publications that are hard to find. The TA is ready and willing to help you with your search.

Seventh, your paper should be in 12-point type.

Eighth, an A paper is one that presents a synthesis—a new idea—and supports it convincingly with evidence. A B+ paper is one that competently presents information but lacks synthesis.

Finally, footnoting. The purpose of a footnote is to indicate to the reader where you acquired the information you are using. You don't have to footnote everything. However, direct quotations must always be footnoted. So should important pieces of evidence/information that are critical to your exposition, as should anything you believe the reader might want to know more about upon reading your essay. In other words, footnotes should be used to document your essay and to point the reader to the sources you are using in case s/he wants to check your facts and/or consult them for further information. Some example footnotes follow.

Example Footnotes


  • Book by a single author, first edition:

    Mindell, David A. Between Human and Machine: Feedback, Control, and Computing Before Cybernetics. The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002, p. 43. ISBN: 9780801880575.

  • Book by a single author, later edition:

    McCloskey, Donald N. The Applied Theory of Price. 2nd ed. Macmillan Library Reference, 1985, pp. 24-29. ISBN: 9780029464007.

  • Book by two or three authors:

    Lloyd, Donald A., and Harry R. Warfel. American English and Its Cultural Setting. Alfred A. Knopf, 1965, p. 12.

    [If there is a third author, follow this example: James Smith, Donald Mare, and Jack Jones]

  • Book by more than three authors:

    Maier, Pauline, et al. Inventing America: A History of the United States. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2006, p. 103. ISBN: 9780393168143.

  • Book by an unknown author:

    College Bound Seniors. Princeton: College Board Publications, 1979, p. 3.

  • An edited volume:

    Smith, Merritt Roe, ed. Military Enterprise and Technological Change: Perspectives on the American Experience. The MIT Press, 1987, p. 83. ISBN: 9780262691185.

  • Book with both an author and an editor or translator:

    Thielicke, Helmut. Man in God's World: The Faith & Courage to Live - or Die. Translated and edited by John W. Doberstein. Lutterworth Press, 1987, p. 12. ISBN: 9780227677094.

  • An Anthology:

    Poetical Works of William Wordsworth. 2nd ed. Vol. 2. Edited by E. de Selincourt and H. Darbishire. Oxford University Press, 1952, p. 10.

  • Chapter in an edited collection:

    Kaiser, Ernest. "The Literature of Harlem." In Harlem: A Community in Transition. Edited by J. H. Clarke. Citadel Press, 1964, p. 64.


  • Article in a journal:

    Rosenblatt, Louise M. "The Transactional Theory." College English 54 (1993): 380–81.

  • Book review:

    Spitzer, Steven. "Review of "The Limits of Law Enforcement," by Hans Zeisel." American Journal of Sociology 91 (1985): 727.

  • Newspaper article:

    McQueen, Robert. "DSL To Reassess MIT Dining, Reduce Large Annual Deficits." The Tech, January 27, 2010.

Other Types Of Citations

  • Government documents:

    Congressional Record. 71st Cong., 2nd session, 1930, 72, pt. 10: 10828:30.

  • Unpublished material (dissertation or thesis):

    Hoard, James E. "On the Foundations of Phonological Theory." Ph.D. diss. University of Washington, 1967, p. 119.

  • Manuscript collection:

    James Killian to Vannevar Bush, March 16, 1946, Papers of James R. Killian Papers, MIT Archives, Box 36, file 3b.

    Col. George Bomford to James Stubblefield, January 4, 1835, Letters Sent, Records of the Office of the Chief of Ordnance [Record Group 156], National Archives, Washington, D.C.

  • Interview by writer of a research paper:

    Charles M. Vest, interview by the author, Cambridge, MA, 1 December 1992.

For other types of citations, see A Manual of Style. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, or an abbreviated version of the same by Robert Pefrin, Pocket Guide to the Chicago Manual of Style. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 2007.