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Guidelines for the Position Paper

Page history last edited by Nancy Proctor 14 years, 5 months ago

Mobile Interpretation in Museums: from Web 2.0 to 3.0

Instructor: Nancy Proctor



Guidelines for the Position Paper

Your ‘position paper’ on a critical aspect of cultural interpretation of interest to you is due in week 4. Choose a ‘Vox Op’ from those available on the Wiki and respond to it in your paper, which should include an abstract (up to 250 words), keywords, your written text (about 750-1250 words in English) and bibliography. You are encouraged to bring in other references and your experiences of cultural interpretation. Please publish your position paper and bibliography on the course Wiki. The following structure is suggested but not mandatory: 


  1. Statement of your position: The first section should clearly state the issue you are confronting and the position you are taking. That does not mean that every piece starts with simple declarative sentences to that effect, but the message should come across clearly.
  2. Defense of your position: Through a reasoned approach, which may be based on a combination of readings, additional research, your independently-developed thoughts, and anecdotal and empirical evidence, help us understand your position and why the reader should agree with your conclusion. Anticipating, acknowledging and answering the bases for contrary opinions frequently strengthens a persuasive case. Be sure to convey facts and/or examples that prove your point, and footnote your sources, or you will lose points.
  3. Bringing it home: Summarize why your position is the best one and why alternative positions are inferior. Your summary, while perhaps bringing new emphasis to your points, should not introduce new concepts or issues.  Write your summary/conclusion in a way that any reader would have to see the world your way.
  4. Good Writing Counts: All writing should be of the quality expected of a museum professional, not to mention a thoughtful, intelligent, and literate graduate student at one of the world’s great universities. Please let me know if you are concerned that English is your second language, which may have implications for your writing ability.
  5. Spell check and proofread your paper before submitting it: Your instructor is notoriously picky about good grammar and punctuation. You may have a unique or national style of using commas, semi-colons, etc. and that is fine, but be consistent. If in doubt, refer to a standard grammar and style guide, such as the MLA Style Manual http://www.mla.org/style or the Chicago Manual of Style http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org
  6. Header, footer and signature: Be sure to include your name, the name of your paper, the date, and the page number in the header or footer of each page of your paper.


Some hints for good writing:

  1. Keep the language clear and simple, and be sure that your points are unambiguous.
  2. Although this is  considered formal writing, it is okay to take a conversational tone. However, it is rarely appropriate to write in first person...e.g. write "I think..." etc.
  3. Humor and irony are effective approaches to making an argument while keeping the reader interested and thinking (not to mention awake!).
  4. Have a friend who is not especially knowledgeable in this field read and verbally respond to it.  Was what he or she got out of it what you had in mind?  Did that person find it cogent and persuasive, even if he/she still has a different opinion? Did it raise any questions worth answering?
  5. Read the paper out loud while looking at a mirror. If you feel comfortable speaking it, your paper is probably in good shape. If you would never speak sentences so long, or use language so cumbersome in a conversation with colleagues or your boss… .back to the word processor. When in doubt, take it out!
  6. Avoid hyperbole, e.g. "if museums lose their non-profit status they will all have to close and their artifacts may become landfill." Most hyperbolic statements are difficult to support and are more likely to diminish than bolster your case.
  7. “It takes a long time to write a short letter.” Less is more. Take time to cull redundancy and repetition from your paper. Hone your statements to their essential meaning. A shorter, more direct paper will have greater impact (and receive higher marks) than an unfocussed, meandering one which seems to have as its main goal to reach the required number of words.


This document is used with the kind permission of Leonard Steinbach, and is an adaptation of guidelines created by him for his courses in the Online Masters Degree Program at Johns Hopkins University, Maryland.

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