International Student Community
Your Community Study Paper will follow a basic research paper format with an introduction
with a clear thesis statement, body and conclusion; however, it will not be a formal,
argumentative essay. Many Community Studies read like highly descriptive novels. Think of
Jane Jacob’s urban ballet, or the stark picture Eliot Liebow painted of the day-to-day lives of
homeless women, or Elijah Anderson’s stories of young black men’s everyday encounters on the
In each of these community studies, the author connected their observations to a particular theme
or purpose. Jacobs used the story of the everyday happenings on her block to demonstrate the
value of mixed-use, dense urban neighborhoods, while Liebow related how homeless women
survive by staying hiding their homelessness and staying invisible in public spaces. You will
need to find the thread or theme that ties some of your observations together.
Possible themes include:
? Unique aspects of your community that differ from society at large or most other
? Impact of social forces or structures on your community
? Stratification within your community
? Changes you’ve noticed in your community
You’ll have an opportunity to work with your peers to identify a theme and thesis for your
community study paper.
Once you have a clear theme or thesis, how will you organize your paper? Your “evidence” is
your observations, the other primary data you collected (like from interviews), and any relevant
secondary sources you found. In the community studies we’ve read, authors often tell a brief
story to supports their idea or thesis. Anderson used vignettes to illustrate his analysis. Jacobs
told a longer story to make her point, and Engels used vivid description.
You don’t have to include all of your observations or primary data you collected in the body of
the paper. Just choose those that are connected to your theme and prioritize the observations and
data that provide the strongest evidence, those that really capture community life or those that are
controversial or contradictory. The body of your paper should not just be a rewriting of your
field notes. It needs to incorporate your voice and analysis. Weave your ideas throughout your
observations and let readers know how these observations are connected to one another and to
your overall theme. Feel free to include diagrams, photos, maps, sketches or any other materials
you think are relevant.
You should also support and frame your paper with the secondary data you collected. For
example, if you are writing about your neighborhood, you may want to refer to some of the ideas
or terms Jane Jacobs coined like the notion of “eyes on the street.” You can weave this secondary data through your narrative and even use it to help organize your paper by having each
discreet paragraph/sub-theme be linked to theoretical concepts or research findings.
You’ll need to start your paper with an introductory paragraph that captures your readers
attention and clearly states you thesis. By the end of the first paragraph, the reader should know
which community you studied and what you main theme or thesis is. However, the reader will
need some more background information or context about your community to be able to fully
understand your thesis or theme.
The next logical paragraph would be one that fully introduces your community. Remember,
your reader most likely knows nothing about this group. In your next paragraph(s), outline the
defining features or your community—Who is in it? What makes them unique? What
values/commonalities do you all share? You might want to include a brief history of your
community or some demographic data here. You could also supplement this section with some
photographs, artifacts and/or your social network map.
The introductory sections will be followed by the body of your paper. This is where you tell
your story and flesh out your theme. Your observational, primary and secondary supportive data
should be organized in a logical, easy-to-follow fashion. You may need to include additional
background information here to explain some of your observations. For example, if you
interviewed a community member, you might want to briefly describe why or how they are
significant to your community before quoting or paraphrasing them. The body of your paper
should be at least 4-6 paragraphs long.
Finally, you’ll end with a conclusion. In your conclusion, restate your thesis and consider what
the implications of your research are. What questions are you left with? What should the reader
learn from this? What broader lessons are there?
There is no required page length for this paper. I’m looking for a clear argument or theme that
has ample evidence (at least 4-5 distinct paragraphs, each elaborating on a sub-theme or building
your argument) to support it. I doubt you can make your claim in just two or three pages, but it
shouldn’t take twenty or thirty either. I’m estimating that most papers will be between 6-10
pages. I will not deduct points for not falling within a certain page length.
Please follow basic writing conventions. Be sure to cite any ideas, thoughts, or quotes that are
not your own. Please use MLA format for citations.
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