The largest component of your grade will be determined by your final research paper. There will be no assigned topic for this assignment. It is supposed to be an independent and creative research project on a subject related to the course that you find particularly interesting. This is also your opportunity to contribute to the development of the course. Your research should make use of both primary and secondary literature. The final paper should be 12-18 pages long, Times New Roman, 1” margins, double spaced, and is due Nov 21.


Some topics worth considering include: humor, religion, awe & beauty, gender, wisdom, social relationships, novelty, altruism, politics, religion, work, commuting, income inequality, economic freedom, income mobility, higher education, and culture. If you wish, you can pick up any topic discussed in class and do a much thorough literature review (however, this may be much more difficult to do.)


What you will/should be doing in this paper is writing an explanatory synthesis.

What is a synthesis? A Synthesis is a written description that draws on two or more sources, inferring relationships among the main ideas in each source. You want to determine how the sources relate to each other, explaining how the authors view an important subtopic and how they try to support their viewpoints with evidence and reasoning. Thus, understanding the sources is crucial. In other words, it is important to read carefully, annotate and be able to summarize each source.

Why explanatory? An explanatory synthesis helps the readers understand a topic. Writers explain when they divide a subject into its component parts and present them to the reader in a clear and orderly fashion. Your job in writing an explanatory paper is not to argue a particular point, but rather to present facts in a reasonably objective manner.

To write the synthesis, consider the following suggestions:

1. Carefully read and annotate each article. Underline important parts. Write comments in the margins. Take notes in your notebook as you read – create brief one- or two-sentence summaries of the key points of each source.

2. Identify several of the most important subtopics to which both authors refer.

3. In each section of the body of your paper, paraphrase both authors’ perspectives on one of these important topics, first explaining one author’s view, and then explaining the other author’s view.

4. In each section of the body of your paper, also explain what evidence and reasoning both authors use to support their perspectives.

5. After drafting the paragraphs in the body of your paper, write an introduction. If it works better for you – write the introduction first and then proceed to drafting the body. In the introduction, review the controversy over the topic – mention what your topic is and summarize the authors’ divergent approaches to the topic. Then, include an essay map that mentions the important subtopics around which you will objectively synthesize the authors’ approaches.


  • Introduce the topic (thesis statement).
  • Establish the controversy by introducing the two articles and pointing out how each article treats the topic.
  • Briefly summarize the competing views in the two articles. These are the views that you plan to center your paper on (essay map).

6. After drafting the introduction, write a summary of the topic, drawing from at least one of the articles. This way, the reader will know what the topic is about and have a better understanding of the general controversy between the sources.

7. After drafting the intro and the body, write a conclusion that explains the significance of the topic. You might also try to end the conclusion with a provoking quotation or question.

8. Include parenthetical citations after all summarized, paraphrased, and quoted material within your essay.


Here is an excellent discussion of what constitutes a well/poorly written paper by Professor Reynold:


You will have to submit your paper through safeassign on Blackboard. Plagiarism can result in a failing grade for the course.


You are required to use at least 4 primary sources and 4 secondary sources. More is welcome.

Books and/or textbooks are an excellent place to start your research, get ideas, or gain some rudimentary understanding about a topic. If you decide to use a textbook as a reference I would only encourage you to do so if it is a higher level one. For example, don’t cite your Principles of Microeconomics textbook, but do cite your advanced (graduate level) Public Choice text.

Often, however, books and textbooks present one-sided arguments, or the information in them is outdated, or too much. This is why it is good to supplement your research with other more current, diverse, and manageable sources such as journal articles. A good place to find them is Google scholar. If you are using it from home you may not be able to download the articles directly, so you will have to go the website of the Oxford College library, log in to your account, search for the journal article there (since the website is currently under construction, I can’t give you more detailed information, but I will  show you how to do it in class).

When citing your sources you should follow the Chicago Style.

Good luck.