Research Project

Summary: Working in small teams, you will write a seven- to ten-page paper about a technology not discussed significantly in class and present your findings to the class.



You have now studied a number of technologies and, as importantly, a variety of perspectives on the role and purposes of technology. It is time to apply your knowledge to a new technology. You will apply this knowledge in two ways: You will write a paper about the technology and you will present the technology to the class.

Your paper will have at least three parts:

By "foundational texts," I mean those texts read during "reading weeks" in which we did not have guest lecturers.


Milestone 1: Team and topic selection

You should begin by forming a team of 3 students (not 2, not 4) to work together on the project.  

The team should then work together to identify a topic of interest.  Your initial topics may be fairly broad.  You might study recent technologies (e.g., cell phones or PCR), 20th century technologies (e.g., container shipping or television), industrial-age technologies (e.g., the telegraph or the Jacquard loom), or even older technologies (e.g., the development of writing). You might instead begin from a context of use (e.g., the kitchen or the aerospace industry). If you found Petroski interesting, you might look at his other books for ideas (for example, he has written a whole book on the evolution of the pencil).

If you have taken Professor Case's class, Bridges, Towers, and Skyscrapers, you may not write about topics from that class. If you are in Professor Robertson's class, Biotechnology, you may not write about topics from that class. If you have a technology you use regularly in other courses, you may certainly write about that technology.

By Friday, March 16, you should inform me of the members of your team and the topic you have selected. If you have trouble finding a team, let me know by Wednesday, March 14, and I will do my best to assign you to a team.

Note that this is the day before spring break starts! I will provide feedback upon your return so you can get off and running.

Milestone 2: Annotated bibliography

Once you have selected a topic, you should gather sources that will help you study the topic. I recommend that you make an appointment with a reference librarian for help identifying sources.

I will provide feedback on your selected topic; you should also narrow your topic down to a single technology (or a small group of closely related technologies) as you begin your research.

At least three of your sources should describe the history or evolution of the technology: What problem did the technology solve? What approaches did people take? Think about Petroski's reflections on the paperclip as an example of the kind of information you might gather.

At least three of your sources should be more critical papers that reflect carefully on the benefits or drawbacks of the technology.

If you already have a sense of which two (or more) foundational texts speak to your topic, include these in your annotated bibliography as well.

Read each of these sources carefully and compile an annotated bibliography using the following guidelines.

Your annotated bibliography is due Monday, April 16.

Milestone 3: Thesis

As you read and reflect upon your sources, think carefully about claims you can make about the technology. Your claims will likely synthesize positive and negative aspects of the technology. You may want to reflect on Erik Simpson's Developing a Thesis, available on the web at

Turn in a draft thesis by Monday, April 16. You need only turn in the thesis, but you may find it more helpful to situate the thesis in an introductory paragraph or section.

Milestone 4: Smooth draft

As you have probably heard many times at Grinnell, experience shows that papers are significantly better when they are written in multiple phases, with at least one draft before the final version. To remind you of the importance of drafting, I require a "smooth draft" for this paper.

By "smooth draft," I mean a draft that has most of the problems worked out. Smooth drafts are spelled correctly and use standard grammar. Smooth drafts include most or all of the expected content of the paper, although perhaps not stated as well as you might like. Smooth drafts can also include a few lacunae (e.g., "need to fill in more detail here") or other annotations (e.g., "need to refine this argument"). Except for a few gaps and annotations, a smooth draft should be something you would hope to get at least a C on.

I will distribute copies of your drafts to other members of the class for review.

Turn in four (4) copies of your smooth draft by Monday, April 23.

Milestone 5: Peer review

Each team will be responsible for preparing brief comments on one other team's draft paper. Those comments are due Monday, April 30. Please send your comments in the BODY of an email to me and to the three members of the other team. (I will provide you with their email addresses.)

As you read, you should consider questions such as the following: 

At a minimum, you should report back what you thought was the thesis and identify any parts you found unclear or unconvincing.

You are not required to proofread the paper. However, if you are a compulsive proofreader like me, you are welcome to give your marked-up copy of the paper back to the authors.

Milestone 6: Presentation

Your team will present its findings in class during the final week of the semester.  I will assign the day and order of presentations. You should plan to present for 15-20 minutes on your thesis and allow five minutes for questions and answers.

Presentations will be given during the final week of class.

Here are the guidelines for your presentation:

The following rubric will be used to evaluate your presentation:

Here are some further suggestions for preparing and delivering your presentation:

Milestone 7: Final paper

Eeach team will have a number of resources with which to prepare the final paper: The smooth draft, comments on the smooth draft from another team and from Professor Davis, notes for the presentation, and comments on the presentation. Using these resources, the team will produce a final paper.

Your final papers are due Friday, May 11, the last day of class.

Important deadlines, summarized

Friday, March 16 Team and topic selection
Monday, April 16 Annotated bibliography
Monday, April 23 Draft
Monday, April 30 Peer review
Monday, May 7 and
Wednesday, May 9
Friday, May 11 Final paper


Your final paper should be seven to ten pages long, double-spaced, ten- to eleven-point font, one inch margins.


This page is adapted from

Rebelsky, S. A. (2004).  TEC 154 2004S: Final Paper and Presentation. Retrieved January 9, 2007 from

Other references:

Engle, M., Blumenthal, A., and Cosgrave, T. (undated).  How to Prepare an Annotated Bibliography. Olin and Uris Libraries, Cornell University.  Retrieved January 9, 2007 from

Owens, W. (undated). Writing an Annotated Bibliography. Crookston Library, University of Minnesota, Crookston. Retrieved January 9, 2007 from

Rebelsky, S.A. (2004). TEC 154 2004S: Stewardship: Annotated Bibliographies. Retrieved January 9, 2007 from

Simpson, E. (undated). Developing a Thesis. Retrieved January 9, 2007 from

Sources: Their Use and Acknowledgement (1998). Dartmouth College. Retrieved January 9, 2007 from

Janet Davis (

Created January 9, 2007
Last revised May 4, 2007