Final Writing Assignment

Topic and Guidelines for the Final Paper

The choice of topic is up to you. In selecting a topic, make sure that sufficient source materials exist to prepare a good substantive paper.

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.

Your paper will be graded on four criteria:

  • content
  • organization
  • level of perception and/or analysis
  • writing style

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.

Sources and Resources

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 librarians, 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.

Keep in mind that doing historical research is, in many ways, like doing detective work. One source, however small, leads to another and another until you've compiled enough source materials to sit down and write about the subject in question. The research that goes into the essay is important. The more deeply researched your paper is, the better your grade. We will grade the submitted paper for content (research), organization, level of perception/analysis, and writing style.

For those of you who would like an introduction to the MIT Archives and history collections at the Institute, Michaela will be running an introduction to using the archives with Michelle Baildon. A guide to preparing the essay, using footnotes, etc. will be posted on the Stellar site for STS.050.


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.


  • Book by a single author, first edition:

David A. Mindell, Between Human and Machine: Feedback, Control, and Computing Before Cybernetics (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002), p. 43.

  • Book by a single author, later edition:

Donald N. McCloskey, The Applied Theory of Price, 2nd ed. (New York: Macmillan, 1985), pp. 24-29.

  • Book by two or three authors:

Donald A. Lloyd and Harry R. Warfel, American English and Its Cultural Setting (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1956), p. 12.

  • Book by more than three authors:

Pauline Maier, et al., Inventing America: A History of the United States (New York: W. W. Norton and Co., 2003), p. 103.

  • Book by an unknown author:

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

  • An edited volume:

Merritt Roe Smith, ed., Military Enterprise and Technological Change (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1985), p. 83.

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

Helmut Thielicke, Man in God's World, trans. and ed. John W. Doberstein (New York: Harper and Row), p. 12.

  • An Anthology:

Poetical Works of William Wordsworth, ed. E. de Selincourt and H. Darbishire, 2nd ed., vol. 2 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1952), p. 10.

  • Chapter in an edited collection:

Ernest Kaiser, "The Literature of Harlem," in Harlem: A Community in Transition, ed. J. H. Clarke (New York: Citadel Press, 1964), p. 64.

  • Article in a journal:

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

  • Book review:

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

  • Newspaper article:

Robert McQueen, "DSL to Reassess MIT Dining,"The Tech, 27 January 2010, p. 1.

  • Government documents:

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

  • Unpublished material (dissertation or thesis):

James E. Hoard, "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).