"Product Purchase Recommendation" Project
Most of you have bought something complex enough that you had to research it before buying. The need for information has produced magazines and newspaper columns evaluating products and instructing consumers about all sorts of products. The most well-known is Consumer Reports (339.4 C75 Periodicals; Buying Guide, 339.4 C75 Periodicals) Some products have their own rating magazines, including computers, cars, and sailboats. The government also provides information, especially about product safety. This project will review skills which should be familiar from English 104: including summary reporting, use of direct quotation, developing a thesis, and MLA style. If you do a good job, you also will figure out how to get the best deal on something you need.
Start researching the topic with your own experience and needs as a model for what your "best readers" might know and want. List four or five relatively expensive, complicated kinds of things you might need to buy in the next five years. Specify as nearly as you can what specific purpose you have in mind and consider carefully the likelihood that budget constraints may force you to explore economical alternatives, including used items. Also, consider what kinds of person, other than you, typically might need them. What types of people might be relevant audiences for your recommendation? What needs do they have that the products serve? Put those together to form your composite mental picture of the situation your readers are in and the kinds of things the products might do for them.
For instance, instead of the vague and hard-to-research "a car," how about "a durable, cheap-to-maintain, sunroof-equipped commuter car that will get me through five or six years" (i.e., graduate school and the first year of a job which will enable you to buy a new one)? Or, rather than assuming you will have infinite time and money to buy that new stereo system, how about "a compact stereo system I will be able to afford with money to spare after next summer's job, probably costing no more than $300"?
Then do some Internet-based research and decide which item on your list has the most possible sources of expert product reviews. Be aware that a paper relying on a single source is not persuasive, unless it has a very good reason why that is the only source worth consulting. Look up your sources and prepare a report which recommends the best buy given the constraints you've described. Write it according to the English 105 Style Sheet, including an MLA Works Cited section and in-text parenthetical documentation.
You don't have to worry about the structure of this kind of paper, because its parts will be the same in almost all cases. Your introduction should describe the kind of product you researched, the reader most likely to need the information and why they're going to need it, the kinds of product-rating information available, and your evidence and reasoning for believing the sources you chose to use. The body should explain the most important issues in making the purchase, drawing on the best readers' needs and the product's most important features. Set up your evidence and reasoning to construct a "sieve" that reduces your field of possible products, step by step, until only one is left as the best or least bad of the group. Quote sources only when necessary but cite all sources properly, especially when paraphrasing and summarizing. The conclusion should discuss the advantages and limitations of the purchase, including critical features. Your information sources' strengths and weaknesses will require discussion, either at the beginning of the paper (if they're a big problem) or at the end of the paper (if they're not much of a problem).
Commercial reviewers may not be inclined to be critical of products which may advertise in their magazine or newspaper. Some "reviews" seem more like thinly disguised advertisements, and others are too simplistic to help you decide between two similar products. You may wind up having more to say about the sources than the product--in fact, it's acceptable to report that the available sources can't support an informed decision as long as you carefully explain why not. The value of what you find depends entirely upon the quality of the source in which you found it. Where are the scholarly product reviews?