COGS001: Term Paper or Project

The term paper is an individual effort; joint papers are not allowed.
Your paper or project should be done in three phases:

Due date
1. Title, abstract and "seed reference"
2. Outline and annotated bibliography
(or project description)
3. Meet with TA/Instructor
(with project description)
4. Final paper or project report


Phases 1 and 2 will be submitted as a BlackBoard assignment. The final report should be submitted on paper (though electronic submission may be appropriate in some cases, by special arrangement).

Most students should choose to do a "term paper", which is a research paper on a topic relevant to the course.  Some students may choose to do a "term project", which

is a piece of original research, an aspect of a larger research effort, or an individual exploration of a research problem. This will usually be connected to some larger project that you are involved in, since it will be hard to design, carry out and report on a meaningful piece of research as roughly 1/5 of your effort in a single course in a single term. If you think you want to do a term project, you should come talk with us about it (if you haven't already done so).

Title, abstract and "seed reference". By 11/4/2008 you should submit a proposed title and a paragraph-long description of your paper or project.  This should include a single citation (of a published paper, book chapter or the like) that is representative of the type of research you will be focusing on.  If this is a proposal for a term project, you should still include such a representative citation, and you should explain how your project is connected to a larger effort (if any).

We will attempt to respond to your title and abstract within a week at worst. Our response may be "fine, go ahead"; or we may recommend that you narrow or broaden your focus; or in some cases we might reject the proposed topic as inconsistent with the subject matter of the course, and ask you to try again.

Annotated bibliography. By 11/18/2008, you should submit an annotated bibliography. To accomplish this, you'll need to do some additional research (in the library and on the web), and find a set of references that cover the area you'll be writing about. We don't have hard and fast rules for the number of references that are appropriate, but for a term paper, half a dozen would be a sensible number. For each reference, you should provide a few sentences that describe its content and its relevance to your topic. If you're doing a term project, you should still submit an annotated bibiliography, but you should also describe the work you will carry out and its relationship to the topic.

Final paper or project report. This is due on Thurs. 12/11/2008.

As usual, late penalties will apply.

Term Paper

We expect your paper to be about 4200 words long, or about ten pages with a reasonable point size and inter-line spacing.  This expectation is not absolute -- we might give an excellent grade to a shorter paper, if it provides a clear and cogent summary of a coherent topic and of course we would give a poor grade to a longer paper whose content is not relevant, or is full of careless mistakes.

The topic can be anything that is within the broad but nevertheless bounded range of ideas covered in this course.

One obvious source of topics is the large set of  ideas, problems, research areas, methods etc. that are touched on in the course. Perhaps something that was mentioned in one of the lectures or readings was interesting to you (we hope that many things were!), and you'd like to learn more about it.

You can also choose a topic based on your own experience or interests: you might start from a previous interest in musical cognition, or reading disabilities, or hominid evolution.  In this case, you'll need to find a way to connect the topic to a coherent area of published research in cognitive science that you can read, understand and describe in your paper. The term "cognitive science" might cover work in disciplines such as psychology, computer science, neurology or neurophysiology, linguistics, philosophy, mathematics, anthropology, and so on -- though of course not all work in those disciplines will be relevant!

We'll also be happy to approve relevant topics in intellectual history.

Sources of information.  Your choice of topic should be the result of a process of research, on the web or in the library or both. You should expect to spend several hours doing this research before you start to write your title and abstract. You should not view the process as consisting of the steps
(1) think of a topic, (2) write a title and abstract, (3) look for a reference.
Instead, the process should be something like
(1) think of a specific problem or a broad area that interests you, (2) spend an hour or two searching for articles, skimming them and taking notes, (3) draft a title and abstract, (4) do some more focused research, (5) pick your representative citation, and (6) write the final title and abstract.
This will leave you with a rough draft of your annotated bibliography as well -- though you will need to spend more research time in selecting your final list of references.

In researching topics, you should combine general Google (or try googleScholar) searching with the use of more specialized literature search mechanisms such as, or PsychINFO, CogNet, LLBA and so on (available through the Penn Library's web site), as appropriate for your topic.

You can also use reference works such as the MIT Encyclopedia of Cognitive Science. And for topics suggested by course lectures and readings, there are likely to be some citations in the materials elsewhere on the web site.

If you experience difficulty finding things relevant to a topic of interest to you, the library offers help with reference services, as well as an excellent on-line research tutorial, which you should read even if you don't (think you) need to!

A few sample topics. Here are six examples of topic titles in areas that we have not featured in the course so far, with a "seed paper" or two for each of them -- where the "seed papers" happen to have been written by Penn faculty members:

"Grammar": information theory and language structure

"Memetics": Evolutionary approaches to culture

"Consciousness": Neural-cognitive  basis of conscious experience

"Discourse": models of textual coherence

"Color": models of color perception in context

"Brain Localization": modern phrenology?