Independently, students will work on a paper that examines the role of language in any socio-cultural context

Research Paper Guidelines

Directions: Independently, students will work on a paper that examines the role of language in any socio-cultural context. This assignment usually consists of out-of-class reading and writing a paper.

Parts and Features of a Successful Research Paper

The research paper (250 words per page, for a total of 2,000 words, Times New Roman 12-point font, one inch margins) is turned in on time.

• The paper contains an introduction with a thesis statement, discussion of the main points, and conclusion plus additional pages for references, charts, maps, and tables.

• The references include a variety of sources (primary, secondary, books, journal articles) and follow MLA Style.

• The paper has been proofread to correct mistakes.

The Research Topic Proposal

The proposal for your research paper should be one page in length and clearly written. Every statement must mean something to your readers. You are not held to any specific order in presenting your proposal. However, you will find that it is helpful to check if you discussed the following in some logical sequence:

  • Topic and Purpose

What topic will I choose?

Why did I choose this topic?

What is my purpose?

  • Research questions or problems I intend to solve

What do I really need to know – for my major, for my career goals?

What would I really like to know – based on my interests, based on my family history, or

based on a problem in society?

How can I combine the research paper writing with a genuine interest on my part to find something out?

  • Research methodology: quantitative, qualitative, plans for data collection, sources

What do I already know about this topic?

What sources do I intend to use?

e.g., books, articles, documents, comments of mass media, charts, graphs, photos.

  • Anticipated results: will you create more problems than you solve?

Have I answered all the questions raised?

Should I use this paper as a foundation for my future research?



You may either (1) conduct a research study with real human subjects (surveys or interviews), supported by references to publications on a similar topic or (2) conduct a brief literature review, critiquing several publications, and articulating your own thoughts and ideas on the topic.

Materials in the following categories will assist you with completing your research and writing the paper:

  • Books (in English and foreign languages)
  • Articles (from academic journals)
  • Published and unpublished papers
  • Translated works
  • Selected published and unpublished documents
  • Selected private papers
  • Doctoral dissertations and master’s theses
  • Selected newspaper and magazine articles
  • Special reports
  • Audiovisual materials: television programs, radio programs, video tapes, audio tapes, films
  • News releases, pamphlets
  • Internet resources: web sites, email messages, blogs

More reference sources can be employed:

  • Statistical resources
  • Indexes, gazetteers, maps
  • Handbooks, guidebooks, yearbooks
  • Minutes and proceedings
  • Archives and manuscripts
  • Government publications: federal, state, local, and international
  • Legal sources: federal, state, international, and private
  • Congressional and parliamentary speeches
  • Statutes
  • Personal memoirs, correspondence, speeches
  • Dictionaries, encyclopedias, grammars, and readers
  • Literary works: anthologies and collected works
  • Oral interviews and written transcripts

What is the purpose of research assignments?

The following are points made in A Writer’s Reference (pp. 317, 358, 359) that you might find important as you begin working on your research assignment:

            “College research assignments ask you to pose a question worth exploring, to read widely in search of possible answers, to interpret what you read, to draw reasoned conclusions, and to support those conclusions with valid and well-documented evidence.”

            “Your research paper is a collaboration between you and your sources. To be fair and ethical, you must acknowledge your debt to the writers of those sources.”

            “You must of course cite all direct quotations. You must also cite any ideas borrowed from a source: summaries and paraphrases; statistics and other specific facts; and visuals such as cartoons, graphs, and diagrams.

The only exception [to citing information] is common knowledge – information your readers could easily find in any number of general sources. For example, it is well known that Toni Morrison won the Nobel Prize in literature in 1993 and that Emily Dickinson published only a handful of her many poems during her lifetime.”

Suggested Topics for Research Paper Writing

Do you have to speak English to be an American?

Speaking English with an accent – This is my topic

British English vs. American English

American slang

Diversity of languages and cultures around the world

Language use in advertisements

Sexism in popular music lyrics

Sexism in TV commercials

The influence of Hollywood/Disney movies on perceptions of gender in society

Acquisition of gender-differentiated language across cultures

Language, gender, and ethnicity in the United States

Cross-cultural difference in communication styles

Women’s and men’s storytelling (or joke telling)

Gender differences in conversational styles (gossip, interruptions, tags)

Developmental patterns in child language acquisition

Southeast Asian languages and cultures (Cambodian, Hmong, Laotian, or Vietnamese)

Native American languages and cultures

Language and culture in Mexican-American communities

Language and culture in African American communities

Music and language

Language use in the military

Woman as a presidential candidate: Her treatment by the press

The impact of computers or social media on interpersonal communication

The importance of nonverbal communication

Coordination of gestures and verbal communication

Note: You may choose your own topic. If you do so, please consult with your instructor about the topic you have in mind.

Following are additional suggestions for the papers that involve data collection and analysis: 

  1. Study the language and communication in a TV program or a film that portrays a particular subculture. It can be a drama like The Sopranos or a comedy like My Big Fat Greek Wedding. It can portray an ethnic subculture like that of The Babel or Spanglish. In your analysis focus on the content of conversations (what do they consider appropriate and important to communicate about). What conclusions can you draw about the use of language as a group marker and a means of maintaining group identity? Give specific examples citing specific scenes or sections of dialogue.
  • Pick a fictional character that is identified with a particular part of the English-speaking world. For example, you might pick Tony Soprano, James Bond, or Crocodile Dundee. (If you speak another language and would like to write about a fictional character with a regional accent in that language, please speak to me about it.) Pick a characteristic phrase that identifies him or her as coming from that region. What is the social meaning of the dialect? What does the screenwriter want you to believe about the character? What stereotype does the character represent? In your analysis focus on one of the following: the vocabulary and voice tone (give examples of words that the character says in the film that identify him or her as from that region) or the content of conversations (what do they consider appropriate and important to communicate about, give examples from the film) or nonverbal communication clues like body posture, arm movements, body position, eye contact, and give examples from the film.
  • Interview someone who has lived in the United States for less than five years, and whose native language is not English. Ask your informant to tell you a folk tale, legend, or myth from their native country. Analyze the relationship of language and culture in the experience of the person you have interviewed. What is the theme of the story? What is the message that the story intends to communicate to the listener (perhaps the children who would hear it)? What does the story tell you about the culture that it comes from? What does it tell you about their religious beliefs, their games, their livelihood, and their family structure? Include a copy of the folktale in the attachment to your paper. In addition to your interview with your primary informant, you should research the culture and folklore in the library, on the Internet or with an additional informant. The additional informant can be someone from that culture who has lived in the U.S. longer or an American-born person with ancestors in that culture. Do those resources agree or disagree with the answers from your primary informant? In what way? How do you account for the disagreement? What other insights did you get from the additional resources?
  • Examine dialogs in novels, children’s books, films, or comic books and see if they use stereotypical male and female speech patterns that we discussed in class. If they do, analyze how those speech patterns, or linguistic features, are used (e.g., what kinds of features are used by male and female characters and how many times a particular feature is used). For novels or children’s books, a sample of four should suffice – two by female and two by male writers of an equivalent genre (e.g., spy, science fiction, romance). Compare your findings with some of those reported in the research on literary style.
  • As discussed by Romaine (1999), English has many sexist expressions, or expressions that reflect gender inequality in the society – e.g., different connotations of male and female terms such as bachelor/spinster, master/mistress, and wizard/witch; many expressions that describe women negatively or treat them as sexual commodities, such as bitch, hussy, and slut. Choose one language other than English and investigate if it also has sexist expressions. Collect such expressions. Examine their characteristics and explain why you think they are sexist expressions.
  • Consider the effect of gender in television commercials. Examine the language used in commercials (at least 30 of them) for products aimed at women/girls and men/boys (see (4) above) as well as the voice quality and the manner of delivery of linguistic expressions.  
  • Examine the linguistic expressions used in birthday cards or other greeting cards for men/boys and women/girls.         

If you choose to investigate the speech of women and men (or girls and boys) in a “naturally occurring” setting, you may wish to record conversations on audio or video and analyze differences between speech styles used by same-sex and/or mixed sex dyads or groups. You are encouraged to enlist the help of a friend or relative of the opposite sex to collect half of the data. You can investigate any language you are familiar with. Always ask permission to tape conversations. Set up the tape recorder and leave it running for as long as you can. Keep quick notes about the setting, considering as many variables as possible: the situation, the sex of the interviewer, the age of the informants, and their social background. 

Transcribe a full ten minutes of the conversation about half-way into the recording. Pick a section that sounds especially natural to you. Write down every single word that you hear and show when the speaker changes. You will need to transcribe discourse markers and fillers like um, well, yeah, and so forth. Note laughter, pauses, gasps, sighs, or other sharp intakes of breath. (Follow the transcription conventions attached to these guidelines or use your own conventions for transcribing, with an explanation of what you have done.)

Formulate a hypothesis about the interaction: What is going on? How does this show up in the language used? Focus on one of the following: topic, topic control, interruption patterns, use of questions, special in-group vocabulary, instances of what appears to be “dominance” or power play, politeness, tag questions, hedges, humor. Use the specific examples from the transcribed section to illustrate the points that you wish to make. What conclusions can be made about the different ways these two people speak? Could the differences have been as a result of their gender, age, or their relationship? Who spoke the most or the least? Who had the most turns? Who took the longest turns? Who interrupted whom the most often? What did they do when they interrupted? How did gender, age, or other factors affect this? What type of “speech acts” did they perform? How did they open and close their conversation? Did they use any social rituals?

Organize your paper as follows:

  1. Introduction: state what you are going to discuss in the paper
  2. Literature review: give credit to previous researchers and enter into a dialog with them
  3. Methodology:
  4. how you collected your data
  5. where you collected the data (the setting)
  6. who your informants/participants were and what their relation was to each other
  7. what was going on at the time they were talking
  8. problems you encountered
  9. Discussion of data:
    1. findings: include definitions (if necessary) and procedures for analysis
    1. include specific examples from your data to illustrate your findings
  10. Interpretation of data and conclusions
  11. Appendix: a transcript of all (or some parts) of conversations with a copy of your recording (if possible), endnotes (if any), references (if any), tables, charts, and/or graphs, word lists, advertisements (if appropriate), or an electronic copy of video clips. (This is not part of your paper, which should be about 2,000 words).

Write a draft of the paper first, and then read it carefully with regard to its content, clarity, organization, grammar, and spelling. Revise the first draft. Read the second draft and edit it again, if necessary.

Avoiding Plagiarism

Keep in mind that plagiarism and ghost writing is a serious breach of academic standards (see University Policy). No long quotations. Write in your own words. Be sure to place all borrowed material in quotation marks or indented paragraphs. Follow the MLA style for in-text citations. Give the source in parentheses with the author’s last name and the page number – e.g., MLA style (Brown 28). Avoid the use of footnotes; use numbered endnotes instead. Then list your sources in the Works Cited (MLA) section at the end of the paper. 


The first three misspellings, including personal names and geographical terms, will be forgiven. Beginning with the fourth misspelling, every three misspellings are equivalent to the deduction of one letter grade from the actual grade you earn on this assignment. 

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