White Paper—First 5 Sources

A White Paper is a work in progress. It’s a snapshot of where your research project stands at a particular moment. It’s also a useful repository for all your notes about the topic as your gather them.

Your Developing Hypothesis

By now, most of you have had a chance to pitch a Hypothesis and get preliminary approval to proceed to your first search for academic sources. As you proceed, continue to refine your approach, your hypothesis, your research technique until you can argue and demonstrate SOMETHING, however far removed that may be from your original intention.

Specific. Arguable. Researchable. Verifiable.

While reading on your topic, develop a counterintuitive hypothesis share the first five sources you’ve found relevant to your hypothesis. Choose a field of study that interests you so that the next several weeks will be pleasurable and rewarding instead of drudgery. But beyond enjoyable, the hypothesis you propose must also be specific, arguable, researchable, verifiable.

Following is an example from an earlier semester. Username explains the relevance of her first five sources to her nascent hypothesis.

Username‘s Proposal

For my research essay I will be examining America’s judicial flaw of false convictions. A study conducted by The University of Virginia in 2007 investigated the court cases of 200 death row inmates and found that a majority of them were innocent people being held in prison for a average of 12 years despite substantial evidence of their innocence that the court system failed to notice. As a nation that takes its law and justice system extremely seriously, America should not tolerate so catastrophic a failure. However, this problem is shockingly common and each year more than 10,000 innocent people go to prison for crimes that they did not commit.

While the most common reason for false convictions is eyewitness misidentification; another problem is the failure to consider DNA evidence that could potentially free the innocent person and place the guilty one behind bars. This problem is mind-blowing considering we live in a country that is so focused on justice and placing the guilty in prison. It is inexcusable how so many innocent people get sent to jail because prosecutors and crime scene investigators choose to dismiss extremely important evidence.

Is the Hypothesis Specific?

—AVOID: Naming a topic instead of a hypothesis.
“False convictions” is a topic, not a thesis. It would not be specific enough for a thesis. Username has avoided that pitfall.

—AVOID: Survey proposals.
“Suspects are falsely convicted for many different reasons” promises nothing but a survey of somewhat related material. It has no argument value and does not result in a proposal. Username has avoided that pitfall.

—CREATE: Controversial premise.
“False convictions are deliberate attempts to get convictions whether or not the suspect is guilty” is a valid, specific proposition that invites argument and that, if true, would demand a remedy. Username hasn’t specifically named this premise, but she could.

Is the Hypothesis Arguable?

—AVOID: Too Broad an argument.
“Many convicts are wrongfully incarcerated.” The premise can be interpreted to mean, among other things, 1) sentences are too long for misdemeanors, 2) laws are inconsistent across jurisdictions, 3) people who commit worse crimes are free, 4) youthful offenders should get probation, 5) thousands of defendants take “plea deals” for jail time to avoid more serious charges, or 6) poor defendants get weak legal defense. The argument is too broad to be meaningful.

—AVOID: Too Vague an argument.
“Convicts are jailed because of problems with evidence.” The premise might mean that police don’t gather enough evidence, that forensic technology is not sophisticated, that evidence can be corrupted or mishandled, that juries don’t know how to interpret evidence, that prosecutors suppress evidence, that evidence can be planted to frame suspects, that eyewitness evidence is unreliable, and on, and on.

—CREATE: A narrow framework for argument.
“Prosecutors unmask their true intentions when they attempt to suppress new exculpatory evidence.” This premise can certainly be argued. Username is already citing sources that identify death row inmates who have sought (and been denied) new trials when DNA evidence proves their innocence. The question: “Why would a prosecutor attempt to thwart justice by refusing to examine evidence that could free a wrongly convicted prisoner and put the real criminal in jail?” creates an opportunity for a narrow and controversial argument.

Is the Hypothesis Researchable?

—AVOID: Arguments about people’s feelings or beliefs.
That “prosecutors ignore new exculpatory evidence because they’re embarrassed to have convicted the wrong suspect” may very well be true, but it can’t be researched. Prosecutors are very unlikely to admit they made mistakes at all in gaining convictions. They’re much less likely to express embarrassment. Where would you look for the evidence?

—AVOID: Arguments that won’t be settled in your lifetime.
It would be pointless to argue that in fifty or sixty years every human will be DNA-coded at birth and that the failure to find a particular suspect’s DNA at the scene of a crime will automatically exonerate that suspect. No evidence of that future condition can be researched.

—CHOOSE: Researchable evidence.
On the other hand, you could argue that “since eye-witness testimony is proved unreliable by DNA evidence a staggering percentage of the time, no more suspects should ever be convicted of capital offenses without at least some physical evidence.” Numbers on faulty eye witnesses, wrongful convictions, and DNA reversals can all be researched.

Is the Hypothesis Verifiable?

—AVOID: Hypotheses with vague terms.
“Most of today’s death row inmates would be free if the court system was fairer.” The premise might be tempting for Username, but it’s too vague to verify. For example, a system that demanded stronger proof might exonerate a convict for his capital crime, but it might for different reasons have convicted him of related crimes committed at the same time or earlier. A “fairer” system might actually convict a larger, not a smaller, percentage of suspects.

—AVOID: Hypotheses with unverifiable conclusions.
Username might be tempted to claim that “Prosecutors and police do more harm than good by coercing eye witnesses to identify suspects.” When those witnesses err, and convictions result, the system may be to blame. But it’s also surely true that many witnesses who assist in rightful convictions would not have done so if not pressured to testify. The proportion of “coerced correct” to “coerced false” convictions is almost certainly unverifiable.

—CHOOSE: Hypotheses that can be quantified.
“Hundreds of death row inmates were convicted on the basis of eye witness testimony alone, evidence that has been clearly demonstrated to be too fallible for capital convictions,” for example. If that proves to be true, it provides the factual basis for a strong thesis, that no suspect should be convicted of a capital crime on the basis of eye witness testimony alone, AND that anyone currently on death row for such convictions deserves a new trial when new physical evidence is available.

Username‘s Sources

1. “Wrongful Convictions: The American Experience

Background: This article discusses the depth of wrongful convictions in the United States as well as other nations such as Canada. It focuses on how wrongful convictions occur and organizations that are working to try and prevent them.

How I Intend to Use It: This article will help me discover the most common reasons why innocent people end up in prison. It lists at least seven possible reasons as to how wrongful convictions happen which will all help me eventually find ways to prevent this problem from occurring.

2. “Study Suspects Thousands of False Convictions

Background: This article from The New York Times focuses on a study conducted by The University of Michigan about 328 criminal cases in which the convicted person was released from prison. Upon finding this evidence, the University believed that thousands of innocent people are in prison for crimes they did not commit. While the article does not fixate on DNA exonerations, there is a large portion of it that suggests new DNA evidence can easily overturn wrongful convictions.

How I Intend to Use It: The information about DNA exonerations will be extremely useful to me as a major aspect of my argument will be DNA evidence that gets ignored. The study also highlights exactly how large of a problem false convictions are in the United States by using a small group of convicted inmates and discovering exactly how many of them are actually innocent, something I will be trying to prove in my essay on a larger scale.

3. 250 Exonerated, Too Many Wrongly Convicted

Background: This extraordinary document from “The Innocence Project”details the cases of 250 convicts falsely imprisoned, many for 20 years or more, on the basis of misidentification, false testimony, questionable evidence, or flawed test results. The Innocence Project is dedicated to helping free innocent victims that were falsely convicted. It uses DNA evidence to exclude convicts who have consistently and loudly protested their innocence of the crimes they’ve been convicted of.

How I Intend to Use It: I plan on using the information found in this document to provide concrete examples of people that were helped by the discovery or reopening of DNA or other evidence. This will further prove my point that so many innocent people go to prison for crimes they do not commit because law enforcement did not take the time to intensely go over every detail in a case.

4. “Prosecutors Block Access to DNA Testing for Inmates

Background: This article focuses on two men, one of which is in prison for a rape he insists he did not commit, and the other who says DNA evidence would prove he was falsely convicted of a double murder. The article states that prosecutors often resist reopening cases despite the fact that the reinstitution of a closed case could potentially free an innocent person from prison.

How I Intend to Use It: This article is entirely focused on the lengths that prosecutors go in order to step around the idea of reopening a case to do further DNA testing. Quite often, law enforcers are content with placing a person in prison and to them, a person in jail is a win whether they are innocent or not. This obviously is a major flaw in the justice system and I intend to expose this flaw with the help of this article as it offers a backstage pass into the world of criminology.

5. “Criminology” Beirne, Piers, and Messerschmidt, James. Criminology. Fort Worth, Texas. Harcourt Brace College Publishers, 1991.

Background: This book provides background on all things related to Criminology. There is an entire chapter dedicated to false convictions that discusses all matters related to the problem.

How I Intend to Use It: This book will be very helpful to me when I am looking for background information and trying to become educated on the topic of criminology for the purposes of this essay. When I am looking for definitions and important things to know, I will reference this book.

Assignment Specifics

Working Hypothesis 1

Here you’ll detail in precise language an argument you believe could be supported by material you have already found or expect to find.

Working Hypothesis 2 (Optional)

To demonstrate that you haven’t hardened your position and are willing to consider alternate findings, declare a second hypothesis the research might support.

Five Academic Sources

Provide a link to your first 5 sources, a brief Summary of the essential content of each, and a preview of how you think you’ll be able to use the sources to support an argument.

Wrongful Convictions: The American Experience

Background: This article discusses the depth of wrongful convictions in the United States as well as other nations such as Canada. It focuses on how wrongful convictions occur and organizations that are working to try and prevent them.

How I Intend to Use It: This article will help me discover the most common reasons why innocent people end up in prison. It lists at least seven possible reasons as to how wrongful convictions happen which will all help me eventually find ways to prevent this problem from occurring.

Topics for Smaller Papers (Very Preliminary)

Since as part of the semester’s work, you’ll produce short arguments that stand on their own but contribute to your overall research, begin to identify what those papers might look like. You may be unable to nail down these details so early in the process, but provide a good guess if you can.

Explain How a Term or Category is Understood or Misunderstood, Used or Misused, how Related things differ, or how Unrelated things are similar
(Definition/Classification Argument)
See the Model for an example of an argument of this type.

Explore a Causal Relationship Essential to your research
(Cause/Effect Argument)
Again, see the Model for an example.

Reveal a Counterargument to be flawed
(Rebuttal Argument)
There’s no example of this argument type in the Model. If there were, it would be, for example, a stinging attack on the argument that personal freedom to opt out of vaccination trumps the public health necessity of virtually universal vaccination.

Current State of the Research Paper

Describe in a brief paragraph how you’re feeling so far about the progress you’ve made, how your opinions have changed (or solidified), and what you anticipate will be your eventual outcome.


  • DUE: TUE FEB 07 (11:59 am MON FEB 06).
  • Publish your assignment in two categories: White Paper and the category for Your Username.
  • Give your post the title White Paper–Username, substituting your own username, of course.
  • Read the Model White Paper as a guide.
  • You will receive a preliminary grade for this assignment, but you’ll be required to continue to expand and improve it for the rest of the semester, as it will always reflect the current state of your research. It will be, in fact, an open window onto your paper, the place where you collect and analyze your research and draft your paper.
  • Customary late penalties. (0-24 hours 10%) (24-48 hours 20%) (48+ hours, 0 grade)
  • Minor (Non-Portfolio) Assignment