White Paper (A Preview)

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.

As such, White Papers tend to be informal and of uneven quality. Instead of demonstrating a careful, organized, persuasive pattern of thinking, they show the chaos of research as it develops—chaos that dissipates like morning fog as your work proceeds to reveal a beautiful day. But murky at first.

If yours looks like mine (Why We Still Have Polio), it will be loosely organized into sections you will further develop with additional research and composition. For example:

1. Content Descriptions

  • The 2014 Syrian Polio Outbreak
  • The Resurgent Measles Threat
  • Thanks to the Anti-Vaxxers
  • Dangers of Measles
  • The How and Why of Polio
  • The Effectiveness of Vaccination
  • Counterintuitivity of Vaccination
  • Historic Eradication Efforts
  • The Eradicability of Polio
    • Impediments to Eradication
    • Single-Day Efforts
  • Counterintuitive Setbacks
  • The Nagging Autism Case


2. Working Hypothesis

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

2a. Working Hypotheses 2, 3, 4 . . . .

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

3. Topics for Smaller Papers

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.

Definition/Classification Argument

Explain How a Term or Category is Understood or Misunderstood, Used or Misused, how Related things differ, or how Unrelated things are similar.

  • For example, I might need to explain the analogy between the eradication of smallpox and the eradication of polio in a Definition/Classification paper, demonstrating their similarity to advance the argument that if one was accomplished the other is likely.

Cause/Effect Argument

Explore a Causal Relationship Essential to your research

  • For example, I might need to demonstrate by research that when intravenous injections are required for vaccination, the compliance rate drops sharply, while the compliance for oral vaccination remains high. This would demonstrate that we need to use the cheaper but more dangerous oral vaccine if we ever hope to accomplish eradication.

Rebuttal Argument

Reveal a Counterargument to be flawed

  • 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.

4. 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.

13 thoughts on “White Paper (A Preview)”

    1. Sure, Yoshi. Let’s take a look at your Thesis.

      I see you haven’t clearly articulated one. That’s the beginning of a problem and will make difficult the job of writing short arguments.

      You say race and police brutality “go hand in hand,” which sounds meaningful but is actually too vague to amount to a thesis. Poverty and hunger go hand in hand too, but until I tell you the entire population of Venezuela has lost on average 19 pounds since the recent political turmoil there, you wouldn’t know what to make of that observation. Even after, we’ll need some details.


  1. I have this one down for my white paper, “Police officers display a racial bias when shooting suspects.” Is that any better for a thesis?


  2. I offered you this advice earlier:

    First, examine our preconceptions. We’ve been hearing a lot about cops brutalizing suspects. We want them all to wear body cameras so we can observe their behavior in arrests, in traffic stops, in stop-and-frisks. Our thought process is that if cops wear cameras, they’ll be less likely to act on their prejudices for fear that their behavior will chronicle the patterns of their interactions.

    You said the common narrative is that prejudiced white cops brutalize black suspects.
    And I replied:

    Agreed. That’s the common narrative. Now suppose you could document that the common narrative doesn’t reflect the facts accurately? It’s risky to consider and will take some nerve on your part. But what if black cops are just as likely as white cops to brutalize black suspects? It wouldn’t mean white cops aren’t racist. It might mean cops of every color are racist. Or it might mean that something about the race of the suspect, regardless of the race of the cop, makes brutalization (or, to put it another way, overreaction, or an overly physical, or a more-likely-violent response) more likely for black suspects than for white suspects.

    You have some obvious choices here, Yoshi.
    1) You can adopt the thesis that the common knowledge is correct: white cops brutalize black suspects often enough to be statistically relevant. OR
    2) You can suggest that black cops are just as likely to brutalize black suspects (or to arrest them), (or to fire warning shots at them), (or to escalate conflicts with them), or anything you can document.
    3) You could suggest that the numbers don’t actually show what the anecdotal evidence suggests.
    4) You could argue that cops in general are threatened by, fired at, or killed by black suspects more than by any other race. So the overenthusiastic policing of black suspects is not racism; it’s simple deductive logic anyone would use to protect himself.

    Rebuttal Arguments to those Thesis samples might look like this, for example:
    1) Sure, the black suspects are brutalized more often, but because of their own criminality or the locations where they are apprehended, or their non-cooperation when accosted.
    2) A rebuttal to this line of reasoning is: That’s irrelevant! I didn’t say White Cops discriminated against black suspects and persons of interest, I said COPS discriminate and brutalize black suspects. It’s cops who are racist, not just white cops.
    3) A refutation to this statistical argument would likely be better or more pertinent statistics. You say there isn’t actually good proof that black suspects ARE more often brutalized, and the refutation is to offer the best available numbers that show they are.
    4) A refutation for that argument would be that it’s backwards reasoning. Black suspects defend themselves out of a fear of being brutalized. They flee, they resist, they attack, sometimes they kill the uniform because of past experiences of injustice from cops.

    The best I can offer are examples without knowing your thesis, Yoshi. You don’t have to make an absolutely final decision on what you intend to prove, but you have to have an hypothesis at all times, subject to change.

    So, what’s your thesis?


  3. Our Replies crossed each other. Your thesis, “Police officers display a racial bias when shooting suspects,” seems clear, but it could still be well represented by either Choice 1 or Choice 2 above.


  4. I like the first thesis you have suggested. I like the refutation arguments. My favorite is the ” A refutation for that argument would be that it’s backwards reasoning. Black suspects defend themselves out of a fear of being brutalized. They flee, they resist, they attack, sometimes they kill the uniform because of past experiences of injustice from cops.” I think thta one fights my purpose the most.


    1. The White Paper will be difficult for half the class since their arguments are still sketchy and preliminary, MyrtleView. That doesn’t mean you can’t gather sources that appear to have something to offer a deeper investigation of the theory you want to test. Describing their contents and potential contribution to AN argument—not necessarily the VERY SPECIFIC argument you wish you were ready to make—is an important part of the process of crafting your thesis.

      The more you create language to describe the ideas you’re wrestling with, the more the pattern of your thinking will emerge. A strong thesis will evolve out of your research instead of trying to force research to serve a preconceived idea you want to “prove.”


  5. I still have to revise and edit my original hypothesis for it turns out my number 6 could really be my number 1. I am excited to start our first paper!


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