COM 454




Communication Contexts

Honor Students

Research Projects

Last updated January 6, 2001




Class meets:  1:00 - 2:15 p.m. Monday/Wednesday    EGJ 225 

Instructor:     Dr. Derek R. Lane;
                        238 Grehan Building; 257-4651 

Office Hours: Monday and Wednesday 2:00 p.m. -- 3:00 p.m. 
                       Tuesday and Thursday   1:00 p.m. -- 2:00 p.m. 
                                        (And by appointment) 

Course Description: 
Communication 454 is designed as the capstone course for communication majors. It is aimed at providing students with the opportunity to integrate the knowledge and skills they have acquired as communication majors as well as provide experiences for students to exhibit competent communication skills learned during their program of study in order to prepare for a career in communication. By working on a capstone project that draws on prior course work and that culminates in a speech and senior capstone paper, students utilize their critical thinking skills in synthesizing previous course work and extend and develop their own original ideas. By integrating their knowledge and skills students will also demonstrate that they possess them. 

Thus, the major objective of the course is to integrate the student's college course work through developing a project. The course also has a secondary objective of evaluating, for the purposes of a departmental assessment of student outcomes, the student's written and oral communication skills and the students' knowledge of the subject matter, theories, and methods of the communication discipline. 


1. Students are expected to take primary responsibility for the development of their capstone projects and to be active participants in the learning process. Students should come to class prepared to participate in discussions of assigned readings and topics presented in class. As is the case with a job, attendance in mandatory. A student's final grade will be affected by absences, lateness, and/or by lack of class participation--each absence (after two) will be penalized 20 points. You must be present at the time that roll is called to receive full credit for being present. Late arrivals before 2:30 will be penalized only 10 points if they check with the instructor after class.

2. All written assignments for this class must be done on a computer or word processor. Use the same word processing program for all your work so that earlier steps of your paper can easily be incorporated into later steps.

3. The University code for classroom behavior and academic misconduct will be upheld in this course. Special attention will be paid to the proper and improper use of source materials so as to avoid plagiarism.

4. Students with special academic or physical needs are asked to notify the instructor during the first week of class so that any necessary accommodations can be made promptly.

Required Course Materials 

There are no required texts in this course. There are, however, several supplemental readings that will be provided throughout the course. Required reading material will be available in the Communication Reading Room on the first floor of EGJ, or handed out in class. 

Recommended Course Materials 

      American Psychological Association. (1994). Publication manual (4th ed.). Washington, DC: Author. 

     Camenson, B. (1995).  Great jobs for communications majors.  Lincolnwood, IL: VGM Career Horizons.

      Noronha, S. F. R. (1997).  Careers in communications. (3rd ed.). Lincolnwood, IL: VGM Career Horizons.

    Resumes for communication careers: With sample cover letters.  Lincolnwood, IL: VGM Career Horizons.

     Rubin, R. B., Rubin, A. M., & Piele, L. J. (2000). Communication research: Strategies and sources (5th. ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.


The Capstone Paper

The paper, which is something like a brief senior thesis, should provide evidence of the student's ability to conduct research independently and to synthesize various pieces of information, ideas, and concepts into a coherent text. The paper will be a primary research paper based on data collected by the student, although it may also employ data that the student already has in hand (as one might from a study done in other communication courses). The paper may be an exhaustive review of the literature on a selected question, hypothesis, issue, problem, or controversy or it may be a critical paper. Critical papers take a number of forms, including those that concern findings; those that concern theoretical or conceptual disputes; and those that examine the history, fate, and utility of a selected concept or theory. See Rubin, Rubin, & Piele, pp. 232-245 for a description of these types of papers.

Topics for the capstone paper: 

Choosing one's topic is a critical step in writing the capstone paper. It is impossible to write a successful paper with a poorly chosen topic. While it is hard to say how a good topic should be chosen or developed, we can notice that choosing a topic that you already know something about helps a lot. The best topics are likely to be derived from topics treated in a class you have had. If you have not had organizational communication or small group communication, do not write a paper on small group communication in organizational contexts. You may begin with a paper that you wrote for another course, but if you do, bring that fact to your instructor's attention and turn in a copy of your earlier paper--failure to do this will result in no credit for your capstone paper. Another thing to consider in inventing or selecting a topic is that a majority of the scientific and scholarly writings that you employ as sources for your paper should be in communication and/or written by communication scholars. Part of the aim of your work on the project is to further familiarize you with resources in the discipline of communication.

You should expect to identify several possible topics, do some reading on each of those topics, select one of the topics, refine the topic, do some more reading, and then cycle through the reading to refine the topic several more times. Start thinking about topics now. 

The capstone paper's basic style and type:

The student may choose to conduct library research which begins with either a "basic" or an "applied" interest. "Basic research" is motivated by concerns intrinsic to the discipline of communication. "Basic research" is aimed at a selected question, problem, issue, or controversy in communication, most likely some problem or issue already identified in the communication literature. Papers presented at conferences of communication scholars and published in communication journals are characteristically "basic research," although they often consist of primary as well as secondary research. 

Alternatively, the student may develop a piece of "applied research" that is motivated by more practical concerns--in this case, those located within the student's intended occupation. On the basis of what the student already knows (or can quickly find out) about the occupation and/or its organizational setting, he or she will select or develop some issue, hypothesis, topic, problem, or analysis in communication that is relevant to the occupation. That issue, hypothesis, topic, problem, or analysis in communication will then be treated in an exhaustive literature review or in the style of a critical paper. in the "applied" option paper, a description of the occupation and its organizational setting would appear either in the body of the paper or in an appendix.

Other aspects of the capstone paper:

Whether one chooses the "basic" or "applied option," the student should avoid writing a paper that emphasizes the giving of good advice. Giving good advice tends to be incompatible with and interferes with having a strong academic argument. Your speech might apply the results of your paper to an applied problem and you might have chosen your topic because it could have implications for practice n your field, but emphasizing the application in your paper usually does not work well. 

Topics for the papers will be developed through a series of brief proposals and must be approved by the professor. 

Work on the paper will include at least eight S/U graded assignments and at least six letter graded assignments. The letter graded assignments will include (a) an extended proposal, (b) three annotated bibliographies each containing 3 sources relevant to the paper's topic# (c) a 3-to-4 page full sentence outline describing and organizing the project, an argument extract
and (d) the final paper. 

Except for the first and last two weeks, one or more brief writing assignments will be given each week. 

All written assignments must be produced on a computer or word-processor and must follow APA style guidelines. Turn in two copies- of all written work. Late assignments must be turned in at the next class session and will result in a 40% grade reduction. Work turned in after the next class session will receive no credit. 

Papers should be 20-25 pages in length, excluding title page, table of contents, references, tables, etc. 

The Capstone Speech

In the last two weeks of the semester, students will give an 8-10 minute speech related to the final paper. The speech will be graded for content, organization, and other appropriate speech-making skills. Absence on the assigned speaking day will result in a 20% reduction of the final speech grade. 

Other Oral Presentations.

In late February, each student will give a 4 minute speech on the provisional thesis of his or her paper and support for it. There will be other informal presentations throughout the semester. 

Class Participation

Credit will be given for participation in various in-class activities. These will include participation in several assessment procedures-students must satisfactorily complete all assessment activities in order to pass this course. 


Capstone Paper (combined parts)
350 pts
    Annotated Bibliography 
50 pts
    Full Sentence outline
50 pts
    Elaborated (3rd) Proposal
50 pts
    Final Paper
200 pts
Capstone Speech 
150 pts
     Brief Speech
50 pts
    Argument Extract
50 pts
Employment Materials
50 pts
     Cover Letter
25 pts
     Biographical Sketch
25 pts
     Professional Interview
50 pts
     Communication Portfolio
150 pts
Context/Theory Web Page
100 pts
Less 20 points for each absence (above 2)
XX pts
Less points for missing, late, or unsatisfactory S/U graded work
XX pts
1000 pts

Grade Distribution:

900-1000=A 800-899=B 700-799=C; 600-699=D 


Since this course is meant to function primarily as a place and occasion where each student develops his or her own integration of what he or she has learned as a communication major, the course has no topic in the usual sense. The instructor will mostly provide resources for the capstone project (the speech and paper). Sometimes this will be through lectures, but sometimes it will take other forms such as seminar-style discussions and exercises aimed at facilitating the students' own integration of what they, for the most part, already know. 

From time to time there will be lectures on topics that will facilitate work on the capstone project. Some of these will be aimed at giving assistance in further developing and refining those writing and library-research competencies which each graduating senior should have.

The active participation of each student in class discussion is vital. We urge each student to volunteer suggestions and comments for the projects of others. Active engagement in a discussion of someone else's project is one of the "Integrative" activities that this course provides. Furthermore, you may see something or know something that no one else in the class sees or knows, including your instructor.

Assignment 1,Brief Proposal, Two Copies

Reflect upon your project

Consider topics that are especially interesting or meaningful to you. Read! Read! Read Rubin, Rubin, & Piele, chapter 2 (especially pp. 17-19, pp. 261-267). Be prepared to discuss this reading and possible topics for your paper early in the semester.

You should already know something about the topics you develop. First consider the topics and subtopics that were dealt with in your prior courses--perhaps there was something you came across that you would really like to explore further. Use the background that you developed in your prior coursework. in any case, do come up with three possible tentative and preliminary topics for your capstone project, and describe each of these topics in three to five sentences each. Within your description of each topic, mention prior work that you have done on the topic (e.g. your wrote a short paper, reading and/or lectures on this topic was included in one of your courses, or you have done reading on your own on this topic). 

You may begin with a paper that you wrote for another course, but if you do, bring that fact to your instructor's attention and turn in a copy of your earlier paper--failure to do this instructor's in no credit for your capstone paper. Also, in considering possible topics, do bear in mind that the communication literature must play a central role in your paper.

Capstone Paper Specifications

Turn in two copies, twenty-to-twenty five pages of text. This does not include references, title page, or table of contents, but does include endnotes and appendices. Staple only, please do not bind.

Do use APA Publication Manual, 4th edition. Do double-space everything including block quotes and endnotes Do left Justify (not "full" justification) with ragged right margin. And, do use fonts or typo faces that are not san serif (Times Roman, Courier, and American Typewriter preferred, see APA p. 237), that do not do proportionate spacing or compress the type and that are 10 characters per inch (also called 12 point).

Exceptions to APA style for this paper:

1) Do use two spaces between sentences. That is, period, space, space, capital letter. 

2) Include a secondary reference list. Because of time constraints, you will have a few more un-read references than is usually the case. APA style calls for you referring to un-read citations in the text by saying, for example, "Franklin, 1977 [un-read by you) as cited by Wiggens, 1982." or " Then you are to have only Wiggens, 1962 on your reference list, leaving Franklin, 1977 out. Instead of doing that, put Franklin, 1977 on a separate page with other unread references, calling that page "Secondary References." In the text your citation should follow APA style, except that you should say "quoted by..." if the author you actually read did quote the point of interest, and you can say "as discussed by..." if the author you read discussed the person or idea of interest at some length--more than mention. 

3) You must use headings with at least three levels of subordination. Besides using these in your paper, use your headings in assignments 15 & 16 where they will serve as the ingredients of an outline/table of contents.