CSC D03: Term Paper

The term paper proceeds in three stages:

Each stage of the term paper must be submitted through Quercus by 11:59pm on the day it is due

What a term paper is

Your term paper should be a critical analysis and discussion of a problem or issue in computing and its effects on society. It need not include any novel research of your own (but it may). The topic may be quite narrow or somewhat broad, but shouldn’t be too unfocused. The paper must not be on a technical aspect of computers (although some topics might require some technical discussion along the way).

You will first propose a topic area in which to start reading (see below); typically, the topic will become more precise as the reading progresses.

A good paper will include a description of the problem or issue and the relevant facts, a thoughtful analysis of the competing points of view with discussion of their strong and weak points, and a synthesis or conclusion. If the topic is stated as a question, the paper should give either a specific answer to the question or some indication of what additional information would be necessary in order to get a specific answer. All the facts in the paper and all the opinions of other authors must be properly attributed. It must be clear what is your own opinion and what is someone else’s.

The body of the paper should be around 4000–5000 words long. A paper shorter than that suggests insufficient work; one longer than that suggests an inability to synthesize.

The term paper proposal

Your first submission is a proposal of the topic that you want to write about. The purpose of the submission is to make sure that it is appropriate and feasible. The instructor might suggest some starting points for reading, though finding relevant publications is part of the task.

Just to propose a topic will require some thought and some work. You need to find something that is relevant to the course, that has resources available for your research, that isn’t too hard or too easy, and that you personally find interesting. (You are allowed to choose a topic that you have no interest in, but it’s not much fun.) That means that you need to do more than just think up a question: you need to do some preliminary investigation on the topic to get a feel for what will be involved in the topic, and what kind of resources are available. If what you find doesn’t seem promising, try another idea.

The scope of your topic should be feasible. For example, discussing all the problems of computers and privacy is too big a topic. But discussing the problems that RFID chips cause for privacy is reasonable.

When you submit your term paper proposal for approval, you should include at least several (related) questions that you anticipate discussing in the paper. In all, you will submit at least a page or two explaining the topic, its interest and relevance, and listing the references or material that you have already read or already intend to read. You can think of the proposal as a one-tenth-way report on the paper.

The half-way progress report

The next submission is a "half-way progress report" on your work on the term paper. The purpose of the report is for you to get some feedback on your progress, and possibly some extra suggestions, and to help make sure that you are on the right track. So you need to show what track you are on.

The progress report will include at least the following:

It’s called a half-way progress report because it represents pretty much what you would (or should) have achieved when half the work of the term paper is completed. That is, you’ve found and read a lot of relevant material, and done most of the reading that you’ll need to, but your writing will have hardly started. Probably, your view of the topic and the exact questions that you are asking will have changed or evolved.

At this point, you’ll be starting to think about how to take what you’ve read and organize it into a coherent, well-structured, and well-argued paper. As you did the reading, you will have decided on which items were and weren’t relevant to your topic (and you’ll possibly have adjusted your topic as a result of the reading). This should allow you to sketch out both the overall structure of the paper and a draft of the introduction. Notice that I keep saying "draft". You can be sure that at least some aspects of what you hand in for the half-way progress report will change in the final version.

Format of the final paper

Two-thirds of the marks for the term paper are for content and one-third of the marks are for presentation. Clarity, neatness, and linguistic well-formedness all count toward the grade of the paper.

Technical explanations should be kept to a minimum. You are discussing the social impact of information technology. Include only the technical explanations needed to clarify your points. Avoid making grandiose statements such as "the whole world is now using technology" or "computers are helping students get better marks". When editing your essay, read each sentence and ask yourself, "Is this sentence backed up by fact?"

Papers must have a title page, abstract, and bibliography. They should be divided into sections and subsections as appropriate. All assertions and quotations in the text must be supported by citations. Citations should preferably be in a consistent style—preferably the parenthetical name-year style (also known as “APA style” or “Harvard style”) but give authors' full names, not just initials. For definitions, see the UofT guide to standard documentation formats available here.

When citing a Web site, you should include not only the URL and the date on which you accessed it, but as much other information as possible: author (if known), title (if it has one), publication of which it is a part (if any) such as an on-line newspaper or journal, the organization that is responsible for it (if known), and the date of original posting (if known). For example:

Franton, Peter. “Do dogs enjoy computer games?” Dog Lovers On-Line, www.doglovers. com/dogsandgames.html. Accessed 20 November 2014.

Gyrate, Helen. “Dogs that play Doom.” The New York Times (on-line edition), 8 September 2014. Accessed 20 November 2014.

Papers must be typeset in 11pt or 12pt type, with line spacing of 1.5 or more, and margins of at least 25mm. Pages should be numbered.

Learning how to research and write a term paper

If you don’t have much experience in researching and writing a term paper, there are many resources to which you can turn for help.

The UTSC Library offers help with research for term papers. In addition, many good books are available in the library and in any bookstore that will show you how to approach the task, from searching for relevant literature through to writing the final paper. The UTSC Writing Centre in the Library offers help with writing term papers. As well as offering guides to help you with writing, you can get individual help from the Centre’s tutors through individual consultations and scheduled workshops. The instructors will work individually with you to help you learn how to structure your paper and correct and revise your writing. Workshops on topics related to academic writing are offered at the beginning of each term.

In addition, many useful Web pages on writing are available at the UofT central writing site. You should look, in particular, at advice on how to properly use ideas from research sources and to avoid plagiarism. See especially the page called “How not to plagiarize”.

How to lose marks

Here is a (not necessarily complete) list of some things to avoid in your term paper.


Theme, balance, and support of arguments: Statements and claims: Organization of thought: Report structure: Bibliography, citations, and footnotes:

Ideas for topics

You should choose a subject that is related to the content of the course. But it doesn’t have to be one of the topics that we discuss in class, as long as it is related to the course as a whole. Then think about problems and questions that arise in this subject. Note that if your topic is closely related to the discussions in class, then your term paper must go well beyond being just a recitation of what was said in class. The following are some suggestions to start you thinking. You are not limited to the ideas on this list. Some of these suggestions include many questions, from which only a selection would be necessary in order to have a good topic:

Software safety and reliability:
Are software-controlled (‘fly-by-wire’) aircraft safe? Can their safety ever be adequately proved? Consider the alleged role of software in the Air Transat incident in August 2001 and in crashes of MV-22 Osprey tilt-wing aircraft, and the hardware and software concerns in the Qantas Airbus plunge in October 2008.

Software safety and reliability:
Are there tasks that should never be automated? Are there decisions that should never be entrusted to computers?

Software safety and reliability:
What kinds of software-caused accident and failure are ‘normal’? What can be done to prevent their occurrence and ameliorate their effects?

The Y2K bug:
How did the Y2K bug get to become such a serious problem -- that is, how could such a serious mistake be made by so many people for so long? What were the serious social and economic effects of Y2K anxiety in 1999, and how long did they last? To what extent was the anxiety justified?

Professional responsibility:
Should computer programmers be licensed like physicians, engineers, and architects?

Should companies such as Facebook and Google be allowed to monitor your Web surfing, searches, and e-mail so that they can infer your interests and send you targetted advertise ments? Compare the laws and practices in Canada with those of the U.S. and of Europe.

Security and privacy problems with RFID chips:
The radio-frequency identification chips (RFID chips) that are embedded in Ontario driver’s licences and in Canadian passports have been alleged to be a problem for both security and privacy. Investigate and discuss.

Facebook and voluntary self-disclosure:
Many people are now exposing the details of their lives with tweets and on Facebook and similar social-networking sites in a way that has never been done before. Investigate and discuss this social change, including its implications for privacy.

Electronic privacy in the workplace:
More and more employers are monitoring all aspects of their employees’ use of computers. How much surveillance is there in the workplace? Discuss the legal and ethical aspects of this trend.

Computer implications of anti-terrorism laws:
Laws in Canada and the U.S. that are intended to help fight terrorism have reduced on-line privacy and extended U.S. jurisdiction over international use of the Internet. Discuss these measures, their implications for users, and the extent to which they are useful and warranted in the suppression of terrorism.

Computer-based crime:
Choose a particular kind of computer crime, and discuss in detail how such crimes are committed and typically by whom, and how they can be prevented, detected, and prosecuted. Possibilities include: the creation and use of botnets; identity theft with spyware and keystroke loggers; and vandalism with viruses and other malware.

Corporate espionage:
Discuss the role of computer hacking and computer crime in corporate espionage.

Cyber warfare:
Discuss the role of computer hacking, computer-based espionage, computer-based dirty tricks, and disruption of the enemy’s information infrastructure in current and future cyber warfare.

The effects of computer games:
Can video games be addictive for some people? What is the effect of violence in games? Do first-person shooter games “teach children to kill”?

Internet addiction:
Can people literally become addicted to the Internet? Even if it’s not an actual addiction, does a fascination with online communication degrade our real-life interaction with people? Discuss Sherry Turkel’s position in her book Alone Together.

Is the Internet making us dumber?:
The writer Nicholas Carr has suggested in his book The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to our Brains that Google, and the Internet in general, are making us stupider because we are losing the ability to think deeply. Discuss the arguments for and against his position.

Is the Internet making us smarter?:
The writer Clive Thompson has suggested in his book Smarter Than You Think that Google, and the Internet in general, are making us smarter -- both as individuals and as a society. Discuss the arguments for and against his position.

Is Facebook making us lonely?:
Starting with the paper of this title by Stephen Marche in the May 2012 issue of The Atlantic Monthly (available free online), discuss how Facebook has changed our social relationships, both for better and for worse.

Love and sex with robots:
The artificial intelligence researcher David Levy has suggested in his book Love and Sex with Robots that by perhaps the year 2050, it will not be unusual for people to fall in love with robots, have sex with them, and even marry them, and his book aims to show this idea isn’t as crazy as it might at first sound. Discuss the arguments for and against his position, especially those of Sherry Turkel in her book Alone Together. Warning: This topic will require reading (and writing) material about sex and sexual behaviour.

Is the Singularity near?
Scientist and author Ray Kurzweil has predicted that the so-called Singularity -- a merging of computer and human intelligence -- will inevitably happen by about 2050. His opponents say that he’s out to lunch. Discuss Kurzweil’s arguments and those of his critics.

Gender issues in computer science:
Why are there so few women in computer science? How can this be changed? Or should we take a laissez-faire attitude? What is the role of male nerd culture? Can women be nerds or computer geeks? Do all computer professionals or enthusiasts have to be nerds or geeks?

Gender issues in computer games:
Many people, such as the critic Anita Sarkeesian, have complained of the poor representations of women in many computer games. What are their complaints? Are they valid? Is change needed, and if so, how can it be brought about?

Regulating the Internet:
ICANN, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, the non-profit organization that took over governance of the Internet from the U.S. Government, has been highly controversial. What are the issues and why are people so upset with ICANN? Consider, for example, the opposition to the creation of the .xxx domain. How does ICANN defend itself?

Regulating the Internet:
Can the Internet be regulated by national legislation? Should it be? Is some kind of international regulation possible or desirable? Examine the effect of restrictions on use of the Internet in China, Iran, and other countries that have attempted such control.

Censoring the Internet:
Many countries censor content on the World Wide Web, some quite heavily, and restrict the sites that their residents are allowed to use. Investigate the state of political censorship of the Internet around the world and projects that aim to combat such censorship.

The battle for control of cyberspace:
In his book Black Code: Inside the Battle for Cyberspace, UofT professor Ronald Deibert suggests that there is a battle for control of cyberspace between people, criminals, and governments. Read Deibert’s book and discuss and evaluate his arguments in detail.

Net neutrality:
There have been many challenges recently to net neutrality, the idea that all packets on the Internet should be treated equally by the telecommunications companies that carry them. Examine the arguments for and against net neutrality, and discuss recent events in Canada and the U.S.

U.S. hegemony over the Internet:
The U.S. claims legal jurisdiction over many aspects of the Internet, and has tried to apply its law to Internet-related and computer-related activities in other countries. Some people have said that U.S. law is becoming de facto international law. Examine the situation and discuss the degree of validity of these claims.

Preserving records of the present:
The record of the past has been preserved on paper. But many people are worried that most electronic records of the present era will not be preserved. They are stored on disks that will eventually fail, on flash drives and optical media that degrade after a couple of decades, on superseded media (such as magnetic tapes, 12-inch laser discs, and 5.25-inch floppies) for which there are few working readers, and in formats that can no longer be interpreted. Discuss the extent of the problem and the efforts that are being made to deal with it.

Electronic voting:
There are major problems in reliability and security in electronic voting machines. Discuss the problems and the research that has been undertaken to try to fix them. In particular, consider the criticisms of voting machines by Prof Avi Rubin of the Johns Hopkins University.

Internet voting:
Some companies are promoting technologies for voting via the Web in place of regular ballot-box or voting-machine elections. Discuss the pros and cons of these proposals.

Intellectual property laws in Canada:
In 2012, the Canadian Parliament passed new laws for intellectual property in Canada. What do the new laws do? How do they compare to the provisions of the United States Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA)? Are these laws ethically justifiable? Are they good or bad for Canadians?

Intellectual property:
What rights do software and media companies have to control their products after purchase? What are the merits and shortcomings of The GNU Manifesto and the Creative Commons licence for software and other intellectual property?

Software theft:
What is the extent and cost of software ‘piracy’? Who commits it? Is it different from other kinds of crimes? Should it be a crime at all? What is the software industry doing about it?

Bias in search engines:
To what extent and in what way are search engines biased? What is “search engine optimization”, and to what extent is it ethical?

Bad interaction design:
Are user interfaces badly designed in general? What are the social and economic consequences? What causes poor interface design? What can be done about it?

Computer garbage:
The manufacturing of computers creates toxic waste as a side effect. Old computers being tossed out are also toxic waste. Investigate the problem of what has been called “toxic e-waste”, and efforts that have been made so far to recycle the materials from old computer equipment.

Computer power consumption:
Computers are energy hogs! They account for a surprisingly large percentage of electricity consumption in the world. Investigate this problem, especially in regard to large data centres, and discuss current attempts at a solution.

The hundred-dollar laptop project:
The organization named One Laptop Per Child wants to help close the so-called ‘digital divide’ by making a one-hundred-dollar laptop available to every child in developing countries. However, the project has had many problems and been criticized in many ways. Investigate and discuss the project and its critics.

Where to find information for your term paper

Ideas and events related to this course and to your term paper are reported and discussed in many books, journals, newspapers, and Web sites. One of the goals of this course is to give you some practice in finding such information. Many references that you find will contain their own references for you to follow up on.

Pay-for-access journals
Although the standard search and query engines such as Google are good starting points for searches, many useful sources are not directly accessible from the Web but are available either in the UTSC Library or elsewhere in the University of Toronto library system as electronic journals, which UofT pays lots of real money for access rights to. These pay-for-access journals cannot be accessed directly through a commercial ISP from your home computer. You have to go through either a UofT IP address -- e.g., from a workstation in the Library or the computer labs -- or through a “my.access” login to the Library: see here for details. Also note that pay-for-access academic journals are not generally indexed by Google or other search engines, but many of them are indexed by Google Scholars. NB: Understand the difference between regular Google and Google Scholar!

Computing journals
Articles relating to this course are often published in Communications of the ACM, ACM Computers and Society, IEEE Technology and Society (all of which are available for free access through the UofT Library), and in Wired.

Newspapers and magazines
Course-related events and issues are often reported in newspapers and current-events magazines, which can generally be found through Google News. Back issues of newspapers and magazines that are not available for free access online are sometimes available on paper or microfilm in the UTSC Library.

Books on paper or as e-books can be a valuable resource for your term paper. The library catalogue and Google Books are good starting points for a search, and often you’ll then be able to find the book itself in the UTSC or downtown campus library, or as a licensed e-book through the library catalogue. (Because of copyright limitations, Google Books will usually show you only a selection of pages, or even just snippets, and not the complete book.) For term-paper topics that are centred on one or two particular books, it’s usually worth buying your own copy of the book, especially if it is available as a low-cost e-book.

Wikipedia articles can often be good starting points for research, but they should not be relied on as high-quality sources of information; they are often incompetent, inaccurate, or biased. You should not use information from Wikipedia in your term paper, except perhaps for the most innocuous or straightforward facts, unless you can find (and cite!) independent verification of it.

Other Web resources
Remember that many Web sites and online discussions are not reliable sources of information. You must apply the same tests for credibility as you would to printed sources.

Last Modified: 2019 Oct 08
Copyright © 2017 Brian Harrington, Graeme Hirst, University of Toronto.