Assignments and Guidance

5,000-word term paper (formal summative assignment)

There is one formal assessment on this module: a 5000-word academic essay in which you will explore one of the key themes of the module in relation to a particular case study of your choice. 

Although there is a good deal of scope for you to set your own agenda for this term paper, there are some indicative questions provided in the files. In defining your research agenda, you should make sure that you develop methodological strategies relevant to answering your questions and develop work which reflects on the research practices you employ.

You should have at least some initial idea of what you intend to write about, and we recommend that you use the “Term Paper Proposal” form (I uploaded it in files) to help structure and communicate your ideas.


The learning objectives of this assessment are:

  • to demonstrate a critical engagement with at least one of the methodological or critical approaches covered by the module
  • to demonstrate an ability to evaluate different approaches
  • to demonstrate an ability to apply these approaches appropriately to a media object, issue or text
  • to demonstrate the ability to construct, execute and present clearly a research-based interpretative project

General criteria for assessment:

  • critical evaluation of the sources used
  • clear and penetrating analysis and interpretation of different concepts, assumptions or arguments found in the secondary literature
  • ability to understand and state differences in perspectives
  • a balanced and reasoned approach to alternative perspectives
  • evidence of ability to locate and analyse relevant ideas and data
  • ability clearly and appropriately to link the issues with evidence and then to draw conclusions
  • ability to construct your own argument through material you’ve chosen
  • evidence of effort, and of having learned from the specific module to which the paper relates originality in thinking and clarity of expression

These form the basis of the criteria which we use in the assessment of the core module, but we are also looking for the following in relation to the learning objectives set out above:

  • ability to situate your work in relation to significant traditions within the media/cultural studies approach, without necessarily adopting or agreeing with any particular approach
  • a critical reflection on the methodological issues raised in your essay.

Note too, the importance of presentation and academic conventions, including referencing and bibliography. You can include illustrations in your papers, and this is certainly recommended if you are engaging in some sort of visual textual analysis.

The inclusion of an abstract and/or a list of keywords is optional, and so does not count towards your 5000 word limit. Writing an abstract can be a very useful exercise in helping you distill the key question, methods, arguments and conclusion for yourself as much as for your reader. 

Term Paper Guide to Research Questions

Here’s some advice to get you started:

  • Selecting your topic is one of the most important stages in writing an essay. Find a question or an issue that interests you and will sustain your interest over a lengthy period. Make sure, too, that you have access to the kinds of material (and appropriate conceptual frameworks) that will allow you to answer it.
  • The remit is broad, and part of the task is to set your own agenda and to define your own project into an area that intrigues and motivates you, while meeting the broad learning objectives listed above. This should be where academic work starts being fun! 
  • At this point, 5000 words might seem quite long, but if you choose your topic carefully you should find that it actually frees you up to explore an area in depth, bringing in lots of contextual material (empirical and theoretical) without having to condense it quite the same way as with the shorter pieces of work you may have been used to.
  • One piece of advice which I think follows on from this is that the best essays tend to be ones that focus on a relatively narrow or closely defined question, rather than ones that try to answer the really big, intractable questions (like ‘what is the power of the media in contemporary Western society?’) or to pretend you can condense what should be a 3 volume magnum opus into a single essay (e.g. a comparative history of the press in Europe from the eighteenth century to the present day). Relatively specific case studies always ‘open up’ to incorporate the bigger questions (like filling in the historical background, providing a rigorous theoretical framework, relating the case study to comparative developments in other places or periods etc.), whereas starting out with the big questions almost necessarily leads to generalities, vagueness and incompleteness.
  • Another piece of advice is that you need not only to define an area of interest, but to think about what question(s) you want to answer. Your essay can then be thought of as providing an answer to the question(s) you have posed, and the structuring principle of your essay should be the development of a line of argument. This will help you select and organise your material. (Note the title you choose does not have to be expressed in the form of a question, however).

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