The Final Essay Project
The final essay project for the seminar combines the well-established format of the research paper with the affordances of Web media. The final essay can be the key learning project in a graduate course, enabling you to synthesize concepts, methods, and approaches in your own way, and the essay will be used to evaluate how you can work the major topics and concepts of the seminar.
You will follow the argumentative essay structure for presenting your argument and hypotheses with the evidence, examples, research data, and cases that you can interpret and analyze to support your points and overall thesis. (Disciplines and sciences vary in the specifics of expected form, but follow the same expectations for argument and interpretation.) Unlike using a flat text, however, you will also be able to support your argument and ideas with “rich media” content for references, links, and embedded media (images, graphics, video, music).
What you are NOT Doing
You are not writing a “blog post” or a Wiki article. (WordPress is our content platform, not a blog.)
What You are Doing in the Final Essay
Like all research papers, your essay must be motivated by a research question or thesis with your own argument and interpretive framework supported by evidence, examples, cases and/or research data.
It’s always good to begin with the motive to figure something out, go deeper into the research, problems, questions, and interpretive frameworks for a topic that we began exploring in the seminar.
In your Bibliography or Works Cited / Works Consulted at the end, document all sources, references, and background on your topic, examples, and evidence. Your reference “bibliography” can include any relevant form of media that supports your argument. (Use embedded media only to support your argument or as key examples in your research.)
Using the approaches, theories, and methods in the seminar, develop a topic for an extended essay with examples or cases to interpret or apply your ideas. Your essay should present evidence and argument that draws on the research literature(s) of the relevant fields. Interdisciplinary work requires a statement of methods being used and combined.
In developing your thinking as a graduate student, it’s especially important to work out your own synthesis of theories, methods, approaches, and concepts that allow you to make discoveries and connect your work the larger conversation and questions that define the research communities you participate in.
Your essay should be about the equivalent of about 15 pages of traditional writing, and with a fully developed set of references and links to relevant sources. Be as creative as possible with the Web environment of your essay.
Required Structure for Presenting Your Argument
For the structure of your argument in a professional research essay (in any format), refer to my Writing to be Read: A Rhetoric For Writing in the Post-Digital Era. Follow the guidelines there for a successful structure to the presentation of your argument and research. This is the main required structure:
- Abstract: Most journal articles in all fields now require an abstract for a summary view of main points and findings. It’s good practice to get into the habit of writing an abstract for every paper. (Writing the abstract comes toward the end of the research and writing process for a project, and will help clarify your thinking and tighten up the written presentation.)
In 5-6 sentences, state your (1) your research question in a brief context of the field(s) you are working in; (2) your main point(s) or hypothesis, (3) key concepts, methods, and/or approaches you use; (4) the evidence, examples, and/or research data you will interpret.
- Introduction: establishing your topic and approach, stating your research question, and your main thesis [what the essay is about]. It’s good practice to summarize your main sources and methods that provide the framework for your thesis. Your thesis is a summary of your conclusion.
- Main body of the essay: paragraphs organized to support your argument with analysis, interpretation of cases, examples and/or evidence.
- Conclusion: wrap up your main point and significance of your work, how it connects to questions in the field you are working in.
- List of Web sources and links (you can combine with the whole bibliography if preferred)
- Bibliography, References, or Works Cited/Consulted List: all the relevant materials you have considered or want to reference to support your essay in a standard citation style (see below).
References and Citations
Like all research papers, you must use research sources that would be recognized in the field. This means, you cannot cite or quote Wikipedia articles or a non-specialist’s personal blog as references. (Wikipedia may be OK for basic fact checking, but it is not a primary source for research.)
Use the documentation format of either the humanities or social sciences. Refer to the following online guide for a quick summary of citation styles:
The Web Space for Your Essay
To set up your essay, simply create a new “post” and choose the “Final Essay” Category for your final project. Read other students’ essays from earlier semesters for good models: the essays that stand out will be those with a good structure to the argument and good use of research material and sources. You may also find references that you can use in your own research.
Using and Maintaining Your Essay After You Finish the Course
Your essay and the fixed URL for your page will remain available for reference, for linking (blogs, social media), and for job or academic applications in the future. You will be able to update and revise your essay for as long as you have access to the Georgetown Digital Commons with your GU NetID and password.
Whether through digital channels, print or on exhibit, the impact, influence and reach of the still image has never been greater. But with so many images fighting for our attention, how do photographers make work that most effectively stands out and connects with an audience. In this seven-part series, TIME looks back over the past 12 months to identify some of the ways of seeing—whether conceptually, aesthetically or through dissemination—that have grabbed our attention and been influential in maintaining photography's relevance in an ever shifting environment, media landscape, and culture now ruled by images.
The Contemporary Photo Essay
We live in an age where the volume of photographic output has never been greater. Yet the propensity is for images to be conceived, received digested and regurgitated in an isolated, singular form—and without further context. Against this backdrop, a generation of committed photographers are working passionately to iterate on, and further develop the traditions for long form story telling, and in so doing, draw attention to their subject matter through new powerful, innovative and resourceful ways.
On Aug. 31 this year, the New York Times Magazine published a photo essay that interweaved the images of two Magnum photographers working on each side of the Israeli, Palestinian conflict—Paolo Pellegrin (in Gaza) and Peter van Agtmael (in Israel). The essay was not only a creative and effective way of balancing a delicate and sensitive story, it was also, as Editor-in-Chief Jake Silverstein explained in a note about the project, conceived in part as a reaction to “the prevalence of cellphone cameras and social media [that had] led to many more images of Gaza than in previous iterations of this long-running conflict."
"As powerful as these photos were," he wrote, “the speed and fervor of their dissemination tended to bring them to us isolated from context.” The Times Magazine story was a considered attempt to have Pellegrin and van Agtmael slow things down and in Silversteins words “try to capture a deeper and more narrative sense of the texture of life on the ground." The resultant essay, that intentionally combines two aesthetically different bodies of work emphasizes “that the fates of average Israelis and Palestinians are intertwined.”
Photographer Matt Black has subverted the prevalent philosophy of Instagram for his project The Geography of Poverty. Although using Instagram as one of the primary platforms for the work, Black has maintained a thematic and aesthetic cohesion to produce a dedicated feed—devoid of distraction or interference—that builds image by image, to deliver an investigation on poverty that is essayistic and closer to that of a traditional photo essay. On the website—exclusively dedicated to the project—Black explores the potential of geo-tagging to extend the project and map the images (for this project, Black was selected as TIME's Instagram Photographer of the Year in 2014)
Photographers such as Diana Markosian with her work made in Beslan, Russia and Carolyn Drake in Turkistan have embraced different types of media and photographic approaches--including still life, documentary, portraiture as well as writing and drawing. They have also actively encouraged their subjects to contribute to the artistic process and tell their own stories through notated recollections narratives and artwork, which is at times directly applied to the photographic print. As Drake says of her project Wild Pigeon that documents the lives of the Uyghur people: “I started looking for meaning at the intersection of our views, and find ways to bring the people I was meeting into the creative process. Traveling with a box of prints, a pair of scissors, a container of glue, colored pencils, and a sketchbook, I asked willing collaborators to draw on, re-assemble, and use their own tools on my photographs. I hoped that the new images would bring Uyghur perspectives into the work and facilitate a new kind of dialogue with the people I met, one that was face-to-face and tactile, if mostly without words.”
In Ukraine a generation of young, predominantly European, freelance photographers including Maria Turchenkova, Ross McDonnell and Capucine Granier-Deferre committed themselves to documenting the searing violence and the disquieting consequences of the year-long conflict—building long-term photo essays that contextualize news events through more in-depth and nuanced perspectives.
One of the most important and powerful bodies of work was produced by Daniel Berehulak, who spent more than 14 weeks covering the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. His work, made on assignment for The New York Times, shows that long-term commitment to a story can reap astounding returns. And a powerful continuum of work, can raise awareness and deeply affect its audience.
In an age when we're saturated with an omnivorous barrage of distracting and singular imagery, there is still a role for subtleties embodied within the traditions of long form storytelling. Through innovative, full screen photo-centric web designs and effective digital dissemination, these photo essays are drawing our attention—in different and often more meaningful ways—to important issues that we otherwise would ignore or at best feel we had seen too many times before.
Read Part 1 - Direct to Audience.
Read Part 2 - Documentary Still Life.
Read Part 3 - The Portrait Series.
Read Part 5 - From Stills to Motion.
Phil Bicker is a Senior Photo Editor at TIME