ESSAY QUESTION: Statistics are routinely deployed in criminological research and in policy and program development by agencies in the criminal justice sector. The importance of this quantitative data is predicated on the assumption that it is objective and value free. Some would argue that this is not always valid given the difference sources of crime statistics such as police statistics, community surveys and victim surveys. Critically discuss the assumption that crime statistics are objective and value free. Use relevant examples to support your paper.
DO NOT USE INFORMAL LANGUAGE
Writing a university research paper involves working within its forms, to the usual expectations and to a strategy.
The university research essay is a disciplined attempt to answer a research question, or questions, in a coherent way, using paragraphs and arguing out the answer to the question using evidence and deploying rational analysis. A research paper is constituted of a number of parts, some similar and some different. There are different kinds of paragraphs for different elements of the research paper for example:
• for the introduction
• for the conclusion
• for conceptual discussions
• for discussions of methodology
Each has its own form and function, and for the research paper form follows function.
Your essay must be coherent. That is to say: –
all elements will orient to answering the question;
all major claims will be based on relevant evidence;
the sources of your evidence and your reliance on others for ideas will be acknowledged;
the structure of the paper will be ‘logical’ with each of the constituent parts linked it will be written in a fluent precise and disciplined fashion preferably mostly in the active voice
it will have gone through a number of drafts
No-one but no-one plans a project or enterprise without a strategy which specifies the ingredients and a set of steps to be taken to produce the finished product. No strategy equates with confusion! If the following strategy does not work for you replace it with one that works as well and can be as well justified as this one.
The Overall Structure
Note the connecting or transition sentence in the following class structure.
1.1 Statement of general concern defining scope of your critical discussion
1.2 Statement of central claim identifying the objective
1.3 Transition sentence
2 ARGUMENT/EXPLAINATION/CRITICAL ANALYSIS
2.1 Statement supporting the first central claim of the topic
Topic sentence ►
Referenced evidence ►
2.2 Statement supporting the second central claim
2.3 Statement supporting the third central claim
2.4 Statement supporting the fourth central claim
3.1 Review of central claim
3.2 Suggested wider significance of your conclusions ►
4.1 Primary sources (Which of your references are primary sources?)
4.2 Secondary sources (Which of your references are secondary sources?)
The key elements in an introduction that help to specify its function is the need to introduce in a disciplined and focused way the body of the essay. It needs
• an opener that sets up time, space and topic
• clear specification of the research question/s
• a rationale for why the questions are being addressed
• a specification of the steps to be taken
• the thesis or main claim -optional
In what follows the model is bare-boned and reduced to one paragraph with one sentence per function
1. Opening sentence
You need a good opening sentence that sets up time, space and topic and helps to engage the reader that sets up boundaries that already help to delimit what goes in and what stays out of the essay.
Many Australians have been increasingly agitated by the failure of national governments to make any progress with the reconciliation program first announced by the Keating Labor government in 1994.
Please do not begin your paper with lines like ‘Since the beginning of human history…’
2. All research papers need a clear specification of the research question/s.
The research question provides the constant point of reference for everything that follows. If it is relevant to the question it goes in. If it is not, it does not! Such a sentence should begin with one of the old fashioned question words.
‘what’ ‘why’ ‘how’ ‘why does’ ‘where is’ … [etc] and always has a clear [?] so that its status is clear
In this paper I begin by asking what progress has been made with Aboriginal reconciliation since 2000 and what factors best explain the kind of progress made to date with the project.
It is always useful to get in the habit of establishing why the research question is worth addressing. This can take the form initially of appeals to the public interest political or ethical issues at stake or the intrinsic interest of the problem.
The issue of reconciliation seems to be an important measure of the extent to which the dominant white community is able to both recognize the history of black white relations and make some progress with what has long been identified as ‘a major blot on public policy making’ (Reynolds 2004:2)
3. A specification of the steps to be taken
The steps need to spell out the sequence of what you will do in your paper. This is vital as the clarity with which you outline the steps you will take, indicates to the reader the extent to which you have grasped the point of the question.
If you cannot spell out what you intend do and the order you intend to it the chances are you have not done enough thinking or design work.
I will begin by outlining the nature of the initial commitment to Aboriginal reconciliation as specified by the Keating government in 1994. I will then discuss the various political ideas that seem to have been at issue in the very idea of reconciliation and put this discussion in a wider context of parallel international exercises. I then turn to a narrative account of Aboriginal reconciliation since 2000 and then suggest that three factors appear to have most powerfully shaped what little progress to date has been made.
4. The thesis or main claim – Here I stand…..
If you have done the job well no reader can escape noticing what your position or main claim is throughout the body of the paper.
I argue that there has been limited progress made with Aboriginal reconciliation since 2000 largely because of a combination of entrenched racist attitudes, failed Aboriginal governance mechanisms and a lack of political will on the part of the Howard government. I begin by turning to the historical antecedents of Reconciliation in 1990-94. (LINK SENTENCE!)
Many Australians have been increasingly agitated by the failure of national governments to make any progress with the reconciliation program first announced by the Keating Labor government in 1994. In this paper I begin by ask what progress has been made with Aboriginal reconciliation since 2000 and what factors best explain the kind of progress made to date with the project. The issue of reconciliation seems to be an important measure of the extent to which the dominant white community is able to both recognize the history of black white relations and make some progress with what has long been identified as ‘a major blot on public policy making’ (Reynolds 2004:2). I will begin by outlining the nature of the initial commitment to Aboriginal reconciliation as specified by the Keating government in 1994. I will then discuss the various political ideas that seem to have been at issue in the very idea of reconciliation and put this discussion in a wider context of parallel international exercises. I then turn to a narrative account of Aboriginal reconciliation since 2000 and then suggest that three factors appear to have most powerfully shaped what little progress to date has been made. I argue that there has been limited progress made with Aboriginal reconciliation since 2000 largely because of a combination of entrenched racist attitudes, failed Aboriginal governance mechanisms and a lack of political will on the part of the Howard government. I begin by turning to the historical antecedents of Reconciliation in 1990-94.
Now let us consider two additional kinds of paragraphs.
At the heart of most research papers are important issues to do with words and their meanings. When we use the word ‘concept’ we mean to point to the meanings attached to a given word and to the way we understand key ideas that seem to address things happening in the world – like ‘crime’, ‘poverty’, ‘justice’, ‘punishment’, ‘substance abuse’, ‘police and policing’, or ‘security’, or else raise issues of knowledge or ethics which happens when we use words like ‘objectivity’, ‘experience’, ‘interpreted’, ‘scientific method’, ‘measurement’, or ‘justice’, ‘respect’, or ‘equity’.
Normally this kind of discussion comes up close to the beginning of the essay.
We have no choice but to think with words but we only begin to think well when we start to think against them reflexively.
It is a basic assumption that the words such as those mentioned above do not refer to anything real (like rocks or bus stops). The basic assumption is that they are loaded up with all kinds of meanings and controversies and that there is history and a lot of controversy attached to these ideas.
Therefore, you must never use these words as if you do not understand this or as if you can ignore all of this. Rather you must use these words as if you do understand all of this background. Show the reader how you propose to manage the use of key words in your research essay by showing that there is history, controversy and debate about such key terms as crime.
A good conceptual discussion should have:
a clear topic sentence that identifies the key concept at issue
a brief yet sufficiently detailed treatment of the word i.e. its history, its controversies and/or key protagonists
a short account of how you will use it yourself throughout the essay
a link sentence to the next paragraph.
SAMPLE CONCEPTUAL PARAGRAPH
Because the idea of the ‘suicide rate’ is critical to this essay, we need some clarity about its meaning. The idea of ‘suicide rate’ first became a prominent part of the movement for social scientific statistics in the nineteenth century. It was accepted then without much demonstration says Hacking (1994), that the suicide rate was akin to a natural phenomenon like rain-fall. Quetelet and other pioneers of statistics developed the standard idea that the number of suicides be represented proportionately eg as a rate of 24 suicides per 100,000 of population. Durkheim (1894) added a lot of gloss to this concept of the ‘suicide rate’ understood as both an objective and scientific matter amenable to precise measurement. This idea was accepted as ‘true’ or reasonable until the 1960s when a number of important writers (e.g. Ciccourel 1968; Douglas 1978; Giddens 1984; Bjorn 1994) demonstrated that the ‘objectivity’ of all official suicide statistics was largely quite spurious. These writers pointed to the problem of demonstrating intentionality in cases suspected to be suicide as well as the significant discretion exercised in recording a death as suicide -or not. Modern social statisticians like Mukkerjhee (1999) accept that there are always social definitions, interpretations, judgments and social practices that lie behind the smooth surface of statistics and that this needs always to be borne in mind. In this paper I will refer to the ‘suicide rate’ as an official measure of the rate at which persons kill themselves dependent on a wide array of forensic legal and moral practices that mean that we can always assume they are either objective or precise measures. Let me now turn to a brief overview of the suicide statistics for young men and women.
The major kind of paragraph is what we’ll call the substantive paragraph.
This paragraph carries the burden of arguing out the claims you want to make and does so on the back of the evidence you have researched. It is the main exponent of the evidenced claims you want to make that answer or address some aspect of the research question.
A key idea here is that you can think what you like, that is to say have any opinion or belief, but this does not get taken seriously until you have evidenced it and reflected on the value of the evidence for the claims you are making.
The basic substantive paragraph makes one large claim or point does so on the back of relevant and sufficient evidence and has a link sentence to the next paragraph.
SAMPLE SUBSTANTIVE PARAGRAPH
Many single parent families in Australia have experienced a significant increase in the degree of income inadequacy since the early 1990s. In one large study run across 1993-2003, Jones (2004:34-450) shows that in her sample of 550 female headed single families the number below the BSL: poverty line increased from 312 in 1995 to over 417 in early 2003. Likewise an AIFS (2003:12-19) study of female headed single families shows that over 40 percent of the 150 families fell further under the BSL poverty line after 1998. In interviews carried out by Quinn (2002:23-45) single mothers reported since 2000 they have had more trouble meeting all of their family’s needs for clothing and food. As one of them said, ‘Paying bills and feeding the kids has got really tough, well actually really impossible … over the past three years’. As I have already suggested there are real problems about using poverty line methods of any kind when trying to assess the degree and movement in income inadequacy. However on balance there seems to be strong evidence there that ‘poverty’ has got worse for single female headed families. If this point is allowed we should turn then to the experience of low income dual income families.
REFERENCING AND EVIDENCE
Referencing is not evidencing. Evidence is the material taken from the world that enables us to say what is going on in the world. Referencing tells the reader where you got ideas; phrases; data; illustrations; dates and details from, and where the reader can locate them.
Having different kinds of relevant evidence will always advance your argument. In the paragraph above, there are three types of evidence of two kinds, survey and interviews.
Explore writing in the ‘active voice’ rather than the ‘passive voice’. In active voice writing the sentences are short, qualifications are few and the key verb (doing word) is up close to the start of the sentence. Here are examples of both voices, first the active voice and then the passive voice.
1. The Active voice
“Connell (1984;13) says that masculinity is a lifelong project rather than something made in the first three years of life”.
Note the economy of words and the location of the principal verb ‘syas’ close to the commencement of the sentence.
2. The Passive voice
“In thinking through the many complex issues that are raised by the many debates about the nature of gender socialisation in general and the construction of masculine identity in particular, we may want to turn to writers like Connell (1984:13) who suggests that it is arguable that masculinity is a lifelong project”.
Note the protracted length of this sentence, which carries the same meaning as the first much shorter sentence. Writing in the active voice means also deleting words that do not mean or add anything to the discussion.