Math 114Q - Quantitative Reasoning

Term Paper

One of the important parts of this course is the term paper. Yes, you didn't expect a term paper in a math course. But this one is about quantititative reasoning about things that matter in the real world. Your paper will give you a chance to practice that.

You will choose a topic, find some data and quantitative information about it, perhaps form a hypothesis, explore "what-if" questions, make estimates, analyze data, and draw conclusions. In other words, you will use many of the techniques and ideas of this course to make a quantitative analysis of a topic that interests to you.

You may work with a classmate and submit a joint paper.

If there's a topic that would work well in another course you are taking you can consider writing about it if you clear that in advance with me and the other instructor.

What should I write about?

The best way to do well in this assignment is to write about something that really matters to you. Here are some ideas suggested by classmates from previous semesters. (This is not a list for you to choose from, it's a guide as to the kinds of topics that might - or might not - work.)

Two tips

Along the way

The paper is due at the last class of the semester. But there are deadlines along the way that you must meet. Watch the homework assignments for due dates.

How will I grade your paper?

Here is what I will look for:

How long should the paper be?

The correct answer is simply "as long as it needs to be to make your argument, not longer." So the actual length depends on the complexity of the questions you are asking.

I expect about 5 pages, double spaced (but not big type and large margins and almost all graphs). Your paper may include some graphs or tables, but most of it will consist of the words you choose to explain your questions and conclusions.

Here are some suggestions for structure (not topics)

Don't just go out and grab some numbers from the internet and paste them into a document. Your paper should tell a story - one you care about. It doesn't need to be long, but it does need to be interesting - I hope compelling. I would like to find out things I didn't know before - things that aren't generally accepted as common knowledge. So if you write a paper that says there are more poor people than rich people or that smoking causes cancer I won't be very impressed.

Be sure to acknowledge your sources. I will NOT be happy if pretty much everything comes from wikipedia, or from the first hit in your google search. Data you find on the web that comes from a real publication (rather than existing just on the internet) is generally more reliable. So you should acknowledge your sources' sources too: instead of "I found this at such-and-such-a-website" you should be able to say "The data at such-and-such-a-website comes from such-and-such a government publication(or scholarly study, or industry propaganda organization)" Use a standard style for citing references and see the suggested link in the section about grading for more information.

From: Ethan Bolker 
Subject: Question about Term Paper
Date: Thu, 16 Apr 2009 07:51:13 -0400 (EDT)


Good question, so I'm ccing the answer to the whole class.

When you use a quote (or even just an idea) from a book you put the
reference in a footnote. You should probably do the same for each
table or graph you have included in your qr paper. If there are lots
of numbers in one paragraph, one footnote will probably do. The
important idea is that you make it possible for the reader to check
that you have quoted things correctly.,

Remember too that when you get stuff from the web you need to think
and write about where the web site got its data, since you can't
believe everything you read on the web. A paper that just copies a lot
of stuff from wikipedia (even if you tell me that's where it's from)
won't do.

Ethan Bolker

 > From:
 > To:
 > Subject: Question about Term Paper
 > Date: Wed, 15 Apr 2009 21:45:59 -0400
 > Hi professor, I was jsut getting to work on my term paper the last
 > few days and I am so used to writing papers for Enlighs classes
 > that I find myself being crazy....Do we have to cite things if we
 > are getting our information from websites and numbers
 > and percentages....Or can we just tell you at the end of the paper
 > what websites we used? 

How can I get help?

  • Ask me! I am happy to read drafts, answer questions, guide you in choosing your topic, and help you work through the process of writing this paper.
  • Go to Academic Support Services. This office (located on the 1st floor of the Campus Center) is there to help you succeed. They offer free writing workshops and free individual writing tutoring.