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21W.035 Investigative Article


Jared Berezin

Investigative Research Article and Presentation

“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


In 21W.035, we explore ways to communicate accurately, meaningfully, and persuasively to the public. We discuss how elements of a rhetorical situation—purpose, audience, context, and form—play a role in the production and reception of written communication. As you craft your final story, refer back to your notes, the prior readings, and the issues that stick out in your mind from our class discussions and communication experiments. This is your opportunity to demonstrate the rhetorical knowledge and awareness that you have gained throughout the semester.


Due Dates:

  1. Monday 11/19: Upload your project proposal (see template) in Stellar before class.
  2. Monday 12/3: Email berezin@mit.edu 2-3 Powerpoint slides, one of which should an original image.
  3. Monday 12/3, Wednesday 12/5: Deliver a 3-5min presentation to share the key aspects of your project, and field questions about your research.
  4. Monday 12/10: Upload your final article before class.


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 andmeaning of the information that you share.

Purpose: Thoroughly investigate and educate your audience about a complex issue. 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, “What is the U.S. immigration policy involving family separation?”, the article should be driven by a more nuanced question, such as, “What are the psychological and physical impacts of family-separation on children, and how have experts and researchers identified these impacts?”

Another example of a thoughtful central question could be: “Does there exist consensus among scientists regarding the environmental impacts of hydraulic fracturing, more commonly known as ‘fracking’? If not, why not? If so, how have scientific findings shaped the debate over fracking?” This is a much more complex question than the question, “How does fracking work?” In answering the more complex central question, the investigative article would need to briefly explain how fracking works, explore the scientific data (i.e. published research), and examine the role of scientific evidence in shaping support for and opposition to fracking.

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” type of answer. Oftentimes, researching a topic reveals more complexity and loose ends about an 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.

Working with Outside Sources: 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, providing multiple perspectives of an issue will supply the reader with a more comprehensive understanding. Amongst 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.

Audience: You are writing for a segment of the general population that has a general interest in science, though not necessarily a strong interest, understanding, or even awareness 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 your story matter?

Since your readers are unfamiliar with the complex subject area under discussion, be as precise and accessible 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 (e.g. “While this poses a challenge, many researchers seem to believe that the challenge is well worth solving.”). Clear descriptions, accessible terminology, and logical organization are critical.


Format Guidelines:

  • 2200 words maximum
  • At least five outside sources, one of which should be an interview
  • At least two images, one of which must be original
  • In-text citations (APA format) with a Works Cited list
  • Submit as a PDF to preserve formatting


Presentation:Before submitting a written article, you will deliver a 3-5min oral presentation of your research with only 2-3 Powerpoint slides. This presentation will serve as your “first draft.” The purpose of the presentation is to get quality feedbackfrom your classmates and teacher that you can use to improve the final draft of your article. Since the presentation is 3-5min maximum, you cannot share all of the information you learn with the audience—that would be too overwhelming—so consider what you would need to know in order to grasp the topic andits importance. You are encouraged to test the effectiveness of your introduction, translations, images, and metaphors, in order to get as much feedback as possible.


Additional presentation tips include:

  • Although you’ll be presenting 2-3 slides only, each image must be explained for your audience, which takes time.
  • You may read from a full document, brief notes, or present from an outline—choose whichever form you are most comfortable with at this point in the term. Or, as a challenge, you can choose whichever form you find least J
  • Craft an engaging introduction that immediately engages the audience.
  • Prior to your presentation, rehearsing out loud and in front of an audiencewill be critical to ensure that you communicate clearly and remain within the time limit without rushing through too much material when you present to the class.