Instructions for Required Essay

Who must write the essay?
What form must the essay take?
How long must these "brief" essays be?
What is the topic for analysis?
How do you narrow the topic?
How do you develop a question for the narrowed topic?
What format/style must you use?
Where do you get your information?
How do you submit your work in this paperless course?
When is it due?

Who must write the essay?

As stated in the course syllabus, the essay requirement will be waived in the case of students who consistently write very good to excellent critical comments and responses and who maintain acceptable participation in the online seminars. Students who are not granted the waiver and must therefore write the essay, will be so notified in Week 9. These instructions provide specifics about the essay writng requirement.

What form must the essay take?

Actually, you will be writing two very brief essays--one "Yes" and one "No"--on a narrow question.  As with the seminar topics, your question should have a plausible “yes” and a plausible “no” answer.  It will make your task impossible if you try to work with a broad, general question or with one that clearly has only one plausible answer, in your judgment.  Your task is to develop a question and write a brief essay that answers the question in the affirmative and a brief essay that answers the question in the negative.  You should be able to support both answers with persuasive arguments.

How long must these "brief" essays be?

The combined length of the two essays must be about 6 pages.  This means that your "Yes" and "No" essays each will be about 3 pages (excluding the title page and the endnotes).

What is the topic for analysis?

You should choose a topic that is not covered in seminar (as the central question).  All of the topics that we will study will have been identified and listed in the appropriate place on the course web site by Week 8.  Your topic must be a question about a problem or controversy that the American criminal justice system has been struggling with.

If you don't have a topic in mind and must do some searching to come up with one, one way to start is to do some fishing on the Internet.  Using a search engine like, look up such terms as "Criminal Justice resources," "Crime in America," "Crime and Punishment," "Controversies in Crime," "Law enforcement problems," "Police and Crime," etc.  The following are just a few of the many rich resources on crime, law and the criminal justice system that I found through a quick Google search:

FSU School of Criminology Criminal Justice Links
Google Directory on Criminal Law
Law and Politics - Criminal Justice
MSU Libraries - Criminal Justice Resources Guide
Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice
Vera Institute of Justice
National Criminal Justice Reference Service
ABA Criminal Justice Section
Buffalo Criminal Law Center
JURIST: Criminal Law Research
Nolo's Criminal Law Encyclopedia
ACLU's Criminal Justice Issues Page
Office for Victims of Crime
Internet Resources for Criminal Justice
Criminal Justice Initiative of the Open Society Institute

If you would like to bounce your topic idea off me, just e-mail me:

How do you narrow the topic?

After you identify a topic, your first task is to narrow it as much as possible so that it will be appropriate for a short essay.  For example, let's say that you are interested in writing about gun control.  Clearly that topic is monstrously broad, broad enough for at least 100 books!  With that topic you could write about purposes, methods, successes, failures, bureaucratic obstacles, constitutional problems, etc.  So, you would think hard about something about gun control that you want to write about.  "Aha!" you say, "background checks!"  You have identified a topic that is appropriate for a brief essay, but you are not finished.  It is still too broad.  Go on to the next step.

How do you develop a question for the narrowed topic?

You have great latitude to choose the question you want, but your question must be appropriately narrow for a short essay.  In most cases, you will be able to develop your question by merely asking something about the narrow topic you have identified.  However, you should ask your question in such a manner that it can be answered as either "yes" or "no."  If your question does not lend itself to such an answer, restate it.  Questions that begin with Who, What, Where, When, Why or How are all inappropriate.  The question must begin with a "helping" verb: Will... Do... Does... Should... Would... Is... Has... Have...?

Consider again the question:  "Should Background Checks be Required of All Persons Seeking to Buy a Gun?" Clearly, that question can be answered "yes" or "no" and is appropriately narrow for 12-page essays.  However, it is too broad for our short essays.  That means that we must think of some sub-question under that broader one.  "Aha!" you say, "at gun shows!"  You have identified a question that is appropriate for a brief essay:  "Should Background Checks be Required of All Persons Seeking to Buy Guns at Gun Shows ?"  Perhaps a narrower questions would be "Would Background Checks on All Persons Seeking to Buy Guns at Gun Shows Reduce Violence?" You can see that there can be many, many appropriately narrow questions.  If you find that you can answer the questions in a short paragraph, you probably have narrowed your question too much.  Too narrow a topic is seldom a problem for short essays, but when it is, it is the opposite problem from a topic or question that is too broad.

Different topics are narrowed in different ways.  Some lend themselves to easy narrowing.  Some seemingly can't be narrowed enough to do justice in a brief essay.  If you find that to be the case, analyze one major issue of contention within the narrow topic/question.  Probably you will then be surprised to find that you can re-write your question even more narrowly to fit that major issue of contention.  You can then write your yes/no essays.  “Reducing violence through gun control” can be narrowed, for example, through an analysis of what the term “violence” encompasses, from gang banging to gun accidents.

Feel free to have me take a look at your question as you have framed it before you launch into your essay.

What format/style must you use?

In our readings you have encountered a variety of formats and styles.  Some are congressional testimony by politicians or political advocacy organizations.  Some are written by think tanks on the right and on the left.  Some are written by journalists and others are written by professors.  Some are based on solid empirical research.  Some are heavily laden with opinion. Some have endnotes; others do not, etc.  For your essays, you should:

1) Write in the third person.  This means that you should not use the first-person words I, we, me, us, our, ours, my, mine or the second person words you or your.

2) Not state your personal view.  Your personal opinion is irrelevant for this exercise.  The ban on the use of the first or second persons will make it virtually impossible for you to express your personal opinion about your issue

3) Use MLA-style endnotes (rather than footnotes) to reference your sources of information, to identify other sources that support a point, or to provide an explanation or comment that is subordinate to the main argument in your text.  You should use a set of endnotes for each essay: one for the "Yes" essay and one for the "No" essay.  Each set of endnotes should be placed at the end of the appropriate essay. It is likely that you will have only a few endnotes. [In case you are not sure what an endnote is: An endnote serves the same function as a footnote.  Both are placed in numerical order--the footnote at the foot of the page, and the endnote at the end of an essay, chapter or book.]  Please note that an endnote is not a bibliography.  A bibliography is "a list of the works referred to in a text or consulted by the author in its production" (Webster's Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary).  Works included in a bibliography are listed alphabetically.  Because your essays are brief, a bibliography is not required.  For further explanation about how to write MLA-style endnotes, and to see examples of endnotes and sample endnote pages, click here.

4) Type your essays double-spaced, use Times or Times Roman font, 11 or 12 point, and use standard margins.

5) Clearly label one essay "NO" and the other one "YES".

6) Compose your entire work in one document (file).  The document should be organized in the following order:

a. a "cover" page on which you type, in the following order:
 i. your name
 ii. your e-mail address
 iii. the question you are writing on
 iv. a 1-3 sentence synopsis of your thesis for the  YES essay
 v. a 1-3 sentence synopsis of your thesis for  the NO essay
b. the "Yes" essay

c. the endnotes to the "Yes" essay

d. the "No" essay

e. the endnotes to the "No" essay

7) Paginate with "1" beginning on the first page of the "Yes" or "No" essay, depending on which one you place first after the cover page.
Please note that any work that does not follow these guidelines will be returned to you for correction.

Where do you get your information?

You are not expected to read books for your research.  You can get all the information you need from relatively short articles in newspapers, in periodicals and on the Internet.

How do you submit your work in this paperless course?

You must submit your work by e-mail. A hard copy will not be accepted. Please submit your work as an attached document (preferably Word).  Please do not submit your work pasted or typed into the main body of an e-mail message.  You must submit it as a file attached to your e-mail message.  Please e-mail your work to Jose (  Please do not insist that your e-mail service does not have a feature that allows you to send attached files.  In the highly unlikely event that this is true, please open up a Hotmail or Yahoo or some such free e-mail account.  These allow you to send attached files with ease.  If you still don't know how to do it, please learn!  Learning to use the essential tools of the Internet is part of what this course is about.

When is it due?

The deadline for submitting the essay is 5 p.m. on Wednesay, September 3, with a five-day grace period ending at 5 p.m. on the following Monday (September 8).