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Assignment for “Technological Stagnation” and “Giant Quantum Computer”

Instructor: Jared Berezin

Assignment 5: Investigative Research Article


“We’ve become a point-and-click society, rarely considering what goes on behind the screen. One school of thought says you don’t need to know how a car’s transmission works to make it go. True, of course, but this kind of limited thinking, when magnified to encompass larger issues, leaves individuals more bewildered and less powerful in shaping the course of their own lives. If, by habit, we come to prefer—and demand—simple constructions to complex questions, eventually we are bound to get incomplete and ultimately incorrect answers.”

— Jim Hartz and Rick Chappell, Worlds Apart: How the Distance Between Science and Journalism Threatens America’s Future


“In the academy you will often be asked to situate your thoughts about a text or an issue in relation to what others have written about it. Indeed, I’d argue that this interplay of ideas defines academic writing—that whatever else they may do, intellectuals almost always write in response to the work of others… But to respond is to do more than to recite or ventriloquize; we expect a respondent to add something to what is being talked about. The question for an academic writer, then, is how to come up with this something else, to add to what is already been said.”
— Joseph Harris, Rewriting


Throughout the course, we explore the ways in which we communicate effectively, meaningfully, and persuasively. We discuss the ways in which specific rhetorical elements—purpose, audience, context, and form—play a role in the production and reception of written communication. As you craft your final essay, refer back to your notes, and think about the issues related to writing that stick out in your mind from our class discussions and writing experiments. This is your opportunity to demonstrate the rhetorical knowledge and awareness that you have gained throughout the semester.


Context: Your investigative-research article will be published in a widely read science magazine, such as New Scientist or Discover. Accordingly, your article should be lay-friendly, in-depth, visually appealing, and communicate the context and meaning of the information that you share.


Purpose: Thoroughly investigate and educate your audience about a complex issue involving science, medicine, and/or technology. Choose a topic that you are very curious about, perhaps something you find “awesome” or even awesomely confusing. The article should be driven by a central research question that motivates the project. For example, rather than merely trying to answer the question, “how does “hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) work?”, the article could be driven by a more thoughtful and nuanced question, such as, “Does there exist consensus among scientists regarding the environmental impacts of fracking? If not, why not? If so, how have scientific findings shaped the debate over fracking?” In answering this complex central question, the article would need to briefly explain how fracking works, and then delve into deeper issues involving scientific data (published research) and the role of scientific information in shaping the adoption, resistance, and regulation of fracking.

Importantly, be sure to describe any uncertainty or areas of conflict that you uncover within the sources you read. Rather than striving for consensus among your sources, identifying multiple perspectives of an issue will supply the reader with a comprehensive understanding of the issue. Amidst all of the outside sources you introduce, remember that your perspective matters too! Your audience will want to know what you think after conducting your research. By acknowledging and countering opposing viewpoints, you will demonstrate your confidence and ability to support your own position with evidence.

Your article should have a thesis—an answer to your central research question. Keep in mind that your thesis, or central claim, does not need to be a “yes” or “no,” “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” type of position. Oftentimes, researching a topic reveals more nuance and loose ends about the issue. As a result of the reading, writing, and contemplating you will do, your thesis could re-frame the issue, and pose new questions as a way of moving the discussion forward.


Audience: You are writing for a segment of the general population that has a general interest in science, though not necessarily a strong interest or understanding of your specific topic. Remember that your audience does not need to read your article. Indeed, they have many other articles, events, and distractions to choose from. You must try to capture and sustain the attention of the audience while accurately educating them. Why should they read your article? Why does the information you are sharing matter?

Since your readers are unfamiliar with the complex subject area under discussion, be as precise and specific as possible. Readers will also expect to hear your own thoughts on your chosen topic, which you can do, in part, by the way you arrange your discussion, including what you emphasize, and how you link ideas in transitions (e.g. “While this poses a challenge, most researchers seem to believe that the challenge is well worth solving.) Clear description, consistent terminology, and logical organization are necessary.


Form: The essay should be 2000 words maximum. Additional requirements include:

  • The project must contain at least five sources, one of which should be a peer-reviewed journal article.
  • The article must contain at least three graphics, one of which is original.
  • The final page should include a Works Cited list in APA format.
  • When you submit your final essay, you should also submit a written summary (250 word abstract) as a separate document. You will not be able to include all of the information you have gathered throughout this project in this limited abstract. Instead, try to share only the most critical information in this shortened form of communication.


Due Dates:

  1. Upload your project proposal (see template) in Stellar before class on Wednesday 11/12.
  2. Upload a rhetorical analysis of one secondary source before class on Wednesday 11/19.
  3. Email a complete draft of your article (including Works Cited page) to your group partners and berezin@mit.edu by 7PM on Tuesday 11/25.
  4. Upload your revised essay and one-paragraph abstract (250 words maximum) to Stellar before class on Wednesday 12/3.
  5. Deliver a 5min presentation of your essay with Powerpoint slides on Monday 12/8. Before class, email berezin@mit.edu your Powerpoint slides (one slide should include a key original image from your essay). Come prepared to present your project, and field questions about your research from your classmates.