CMPT 320
Spring Term 2009

Simon Fraser University
Oliver Schulte

Term Paper Assignment: Requirements, Guidelines, and Deadlines


Contents of this page



Guidelines/specifications for the paper
Reminders and warnings
Requirements for submitting your topic description
Tips for interviews

Grading criteria
References on writing

Sample topics
See Topic suggestions for a list of possible topics.

Guidelines/specifications for the paper

Investigate the topic. Use articles and/or books, etc., for background. Your paper may be based on a project, for example, it may include some background research and some activity, e.g., an interview or a physical site visit.

Don't just report. Discuss pros and cons. Evaluate. Use your own words. Quote where appropriate. Give citations for facts and quotes. Discuss how your topic relates to material covered in the text and/or in class discussions.

The paper length should be approximately 3000 words for the full paper, 1500 for the presentation + paper option.

Outline for the paper (roughly)

Cover page with title and your name
Introduction/overview of topic and issues to be discussed
Background, description, and/or history of the issue
Issues, various points of view
If appicable: Results of interviews, observations, background research, etc.
Your comments or evaluation
List of references

The project is to be done during this course. Do not turn in a paper done earlier for another course or for your job. Submit a hardcopy in class.

Return to top of page

Reminders and warnings

Remember what this course is about. A few students have handed in papers that are purely factual or historic (e.g., a history of the Internet, a summary of computer technology used in the military). Such papers will not get high scores. You must include discussion of issues.

One of the most common problems with papers is poor organization. Write an outline. Organize your thoughts. You may use section headings to indicate the topic or purpose of sections of the paper.

A few students have waited until late in the semester to get started, then discovered that they didn't like their topic, or information on their topic was unavailable or their activity was infeasible. Start early in case you have to change topics or find a new activity.

If you use articles from the Web, give the URL and the organization sponsoring the site. There's a lot of junk and unsupported opinion on the Web. Pay attention to quality of your sources.

Now and then, a student hands in a paper he or she did not write at all or in which large segments are copied from other sources. Please don't do this. It is dishonest, unfair to your fellow students, and unpleasant for both you and the instructor. Plagiarism is usually reported to the appropriate university discipline office. Write in your own words. Start early; talk to the instructor if you have problems.

Return to top of page

Tips for interviews (if you do one)

Use ingenuity in choosing and finding interviewees. Choose someone in a position to have special knowledge of the topic. Don't be afraid of asking well-known people, but be prepared for refusals.

Start early. It may take time to find someone, to schedule the interviews, and to do follow-up.

Plan. Write up your questions in advance. Start with easy questions, getting general information. Ask about positive things before asking about problems. Take notes so you get details right.

Be polite. Identify yourself and your project. Thank the person.

Return to top of page

What to hand in. Please hand in hardcopies of the following.

Grading criteria

See also the syllabus (syllabus wins in case of contradiction with webpage). The full-length paper is worth 25% of the course grade. The shorter paper to go with the presentation is worth 12.5% of the course grade. The critique of your fellow student's paper is worth 5% of the course grade.

Things we look for include: background or history, presentation of issues and various points of view, quality of argument and analysis (principles, examples, counterexamples), structure/organization, clarity of writing, sufficient references, sufficient length, originality, and taking into account the comments you received from your fellow student. You should define terms where necessary. Be sure to read and edit your final copy before handing it in. Watch out for these common grammatical mistakes. To give you feedback, we will include the following evaluation sheet.
For a mark of "outstanding" (A), your paper must develop some ideas of your own, such as a new argument for the issue you are considering, or a criticism of an argument in the readings. In the paper you should also consider objections to your argument. Another approach to original work is an activity, such as an interview with an expert or a site visit. A mere summary will earn a mark of at most 70%. You must turn in your paper to To protect the class password, instructions will be sent by e-mail.

Additional References on writing and research

Joseph Williams, Style: Ten Lessons on Clarity and Grace.
Gordon Harvey,
Writing With Sources: A Guide for Students (Hacket, 1998).
SFU library assists you with doing research and citing online sources. The textbook author recommends San Diego State's site.




  • Week 9, March 10.
  • Saturday, March 14.
  • Week 10, March 17.

Paper due (both long and short), to be read and critiqued by another student.
Comments on Paper due
Final paper version due. Also hand in the comments you gave and the comments you received.

If you want more time for revisions in light of the critique, I suggest you complete the draft earlier. Your partner should be ready to provide comments any time after March 3, Week 8.

Return to top of page

Return to A Gift of Fire home page.