ASL UniversityLessons |


American Sign Language Research Paper Instructions:

The goal of this assignment is to give you the opportunity to explore a topic related to ASL or Deaf Culture.  The following checklist of questions will help you How to write an ASL research paper that gets an "A" grade:

"Is my paper ready to submit?"

 Is my topic an ASL or Deaf Culture topic? 
(Please do NOT submit a paper on "Fixing Deaf People Via Cochlear Implants" or a paper on famous people who are physically "deaf" but never had anything to do with American Sign Language or the Deaf community.)  Read that again folks: I'm asking you to NOT do Cochlear Implants as a topic.*

_____  Did I do a research paper rather than a “book report?”  (Research papers utilize multiple, credible references, not just one book.)

_____  Did I document where I got my information?  Did I cite at least 3 enduring, traceable sources of information in my references? (Blogs don't count.  Find REAL books or journal articles either online or hard copy with authors and publication dates, etc. that can be traced.)

_____  Even if I have changed "every word" in the sentence-- if I've borrowed someone else's idea--did I provide a reference?

_____  Did I use parenthetical expressions (citations) at the end of ideas that I've gotten from other people? Do these citations correspond to full references at the end of the paper?  Citations in the body of my paper use an opening parenthesis, author's last name, comma, year of publication and a closing parenthesis.  For example (Vicars, 2001).

_____  Is my paper 500 words or more?

_____  At the end of my research paper have I provided a list of references that include the author's last name and first initial, the publication date, the name of the article, book, or journal, the publisher and the place of publication?

_____  If I have quoted directly out of a book or article did I make sure to cite the exact page number in my reference entry at the end of my research paper?

_____  Any time I used another author’s ideas word for word--did I put those words in quote marks?
_____  Did I limit the length of direct quotes from other sources in my paper?

_____  Have I used online references only if I've been able to ascertain the actual author's name, date of publication, title of the document, and name of the publisher? Have I provided at least three references that are relatively enduring? (Can those references be easily located later by readers of my paper?)

_____  Have I checked my paper for spelling and grammar errors?

_____  Have I asked a friend or colleague to read my paper and give me feedback?

_____  Do I know when this paper is due? Am I submitting it on time?

_____  Did I submit my paper in electronic format to the right email address prior to the due date? Did I cc myself and a local proctor so as to have a witness that I turned it in on time (in case of technical difficulties or dropped emails)?

_____  I know that this paper might be posted / published by Lifeprint and I give them permission.

When you write about Deaf and hard of hearing people it is okay and you are even encouraged to use the full phrase "Deaf and hard of hearing people" at least once during your paper or article near the beginning -- but afterward for efficiency sake just use the term "Deaf." After you've used the full phrase you do not need to add the "hard of hearing" phrase each time. You can instead just use the word "Deaf."   When referring to culturally Deaf people your teacher recommends that you capitalize the word Deaf, (even though capitalization of "Deaf" may not yet be common in the mainstream media).  It is also recommended that you reduce and to the maximum extent possible eliminate the use of the phrase "hearing impaired."  Most culturally Deaf people shun that phrase.  When directly quoting a source -- yes you need to use the words that the source used -- but if writing your own words then you should use the terminology preferred by the Deaf community. 

Student Research Paper Rubric:


Needs improvement



500 words or more

Fewer than 500 words.

 500 words that for the most part make sense and sort of flow well.

500 or more words that make sense and flow well.

3 or more citations in the body of the article.

No mention in your article of where you got your ideas from.

Less than 3 citations included or incorrect format.

3 or more citations, in correct format.

3 or more references at the bottom that go with the citations.

No reference list at the bottom of your article telling people how to find the material from which you got your ideas.

Less than 3 references included, incorrect format,  or can't backtrack to the actual information.

3 or more complete and traceable references to credible sources.

Instructions for how to write a paper that gets you an "F" for the course:
1.  Browse the internet and cut and paste until you have 500 words worth of plagiarized information.  
2.  Change a word here and there. Rearrange the information a bit so it looks like you are writing it.
3.  Format it really nice.
4.  Put your name on it and send it in.  
Note: the way to avoid plagiarizing is to document your sources and give credit (via citing) where credit is due.

Instructions on how to write a "D-" paper that could drag your grade down:
1. Pick an ASL topic that looks easy.
2. Get a few lame references from some blog off the net that are hard to trace.
3. Write 500 words the night before it is due.

Acceptable references::
In the main section of your paper when you use another author’s idea or words you can give them credit by putting the last name of the author and the year the author wrote or documented the idea -- for example, (Vicars, 2001). Then at the end of your document you put the word "References" followed by a list of the books and articles which influenced your writing. 

If reference is a book:
Author's last name, first initial. (year). Title of book--underline it. Place of publication: Name of publisher.  

Vicars, W. (1998). Sign Me Up! Salt Lake City, Utah: Lifeprint Institute.

If reference is a Journal:
Author's last name, first name. (year). Title of journal article only capitalize the first letter. Name of journal underline it. Volume number, starting page number-ending page number.

Below is a "made up" example.  Make sure to use REAL journals in your paper:

Smith, John. (1999). Teaching ASL online. Journal of ASL. 7, 139-156.
If you find an online source that specifies the actual author's name, date of publication, title of the document, and name of the publisher.  If you can’t find all of that information you can still use the source but it is not as good of a source as a source that provides all of that information.  Remember, your goal is to use an original source document (even if it is just web-based).  Avoid just quoting some other student’s research paper leads to watered down research. Instead find true experts in the area you are researching.

If reference is a web page:
Author's last name, first name. (Year, Mo. day). Title of the article or web page goes here, underline it and only capitalize the first letter and words that are always capitalized.  Title of the journal, general website, or book goes here. Name of the publisher or the sponsoring organization goes here. Retrieved day, Mo. Year: <full web address>. 

Vicars, William. (2001, Jan. 4). Nonlinguistic communication. Lifeprint Library. ASL University. Retrieved 12, Feb. 2001: <>.
Hawk, Lori. (2007, Aug. 22). Hearts and Hands: ASL Poetry. Lifeprint Library. ASL University. Retrieved 06, Sept. 2007:

Below is a list of topics you might want to consider researching -- or come up with a topic of your own:

American Society for Deaf Children
Artistic Signing
ASL as a World Language (The worldwide spread of ASL)
Deaf Smith
Drug usage and Deaf people
Facial Expression and Non-Manual Cues
Formal vs. Informal Signing
Furniture Vocabulary
Gender and ASL
Historical Change and ASL
Iconicity of Signs
Idioms (ASL)
Incorporation of Intensity
Incorporation of Time
Indexing on the Non-Dominant Hand
Inflections: Regularity and Duration
Interpreters in the Educational Setting
Juncture Markers
Kinds of Sentences
Laurent Clerc
Law and the Deaf
Law and the Deaf
Loan Signs
Mental Illness and the Deaf
Miss Deaf America Pageant
Name Signs
National Captioning Institute
National Fraternal Society of the Deaf
National Technical Institute for the Deaf
National Theater for the Deaf
Non-manual Cues
Non-Manual Cues in Expressing Time
Noun-Verb Pairs
Numbering in ASL
Ordinal Numbers
Passive Voice in ASL
Person Marker
Regional Signing
Role Taking
Samuel Heinicke
Simultaneous Communication using ASL and Spoken English (Is it effective?)
Speechreading: "Why it isn't enough."
Technology and the Deaf
Technology and the Deaf
Telecommunication Relay Services
Temporal Adverbs in American Sign Language
Time Line
Total Communication
Video Phones and the Deaf


Most typical ASL topics have been "well researched" and thus you should be able to find some decent references that include the author, date, and publisher. Strive to use authoritative sources; otherwise you will likely be using inaccurate secondhand information.

There are a number of style guides you can follow.  You may wish to use the “APA style guide" to help you format your paper.  For more information do an online search for: "APA style guide" and you will find quite a few resources and guides for how to format your paper.

The formatting of your paper for this class is not meant to be a source of stress.  If taking an English class or writing class then yes—definitely make sure that you follow whatever specific formatting requirements have been provided to you by your instructor. However, for this ASL class formatting is not a concern—as long as the formatting of your paper is consistent, your information sources are cited, and your references are verifiable.   Remember: Provide enough information for the reader of your paper to find and read the original articles from which you got your ideas or information.

Your paper can be about any aspect of American Sign Language or Deaf Culture.  However -- rather your instructor is not interested in papers that focus on attempting to “fix” Deaf people.  That means a paper on cochlear implants is NOT an acceptable paper for an ASL class. Your instructor is not interested in you studying how to "fix" Deaf people.  The goal is for you to learn more about ASL and/or the main users of ASL: “Deaf people.”

You are encouraged to focus on a topic that has personal meaning for you in terms of cultural impact.  For example many "Hearing" people are teaching their "Hearing" babies to use sign language but there are still organizations such as the Alexander G. Bell foundation that discourage the use of signing with "deaf" infants.  How can that be justified? Or is it "unjustifiable?" Is it a form of child abuse to withhold signing from a Deaf child?  Is this a form of "audism?" (Yes that is a word and it is spelled correctly.) In any case, please do strive to find three authoritative sources that can be cited with confidence

* Discussion:

Question: Why do many ASL teachers prefer that you do "not" choose cochlear implants as a topic?

Answer: Consider the fact that this is an ASL class and that cochlear implantation is basically an attempt to physically alter people in such a way as that they will not need to use ASL as a way of communication.  Thus an ASL student doing a paper on CI's is sort of like a student taking a French class and doing a paper on the continued globalization of English.  While the globalization of English is a significant topic, it doesn't lead one to have a greater understanding of nor appreciation of French.  

While cochlear implants are a significant topic (and easy to find information on) they do not lead one to have a greater understanding of nor appreciation of American Sign Language

A student asks: 
QUESTION:  "In my paper should I use the term "Deafness," or would "Deafhood" be better? Or another term altogether?"

ANSWER:  Wherever possible it is recommended that you look for a way to get your point across other than the term "deafness."  For example you use the phrase "Deaf people." While some “political correctness” experts may disagree with the term “Deaf people” – it is important to realize that most of them are not directly involved in the Deaf Community where the term “Deaf” is considered a positive term.  In your paper at least once near the beginning you may want to use the full phrase "Deaf and hard of hearing people." Then later you can shorten that to "Deaf people" and still later you can shorten it to "the Deaf" or "Many Deaf people feel...," or "being deaf," or some similar method. 

The term "deafness" is occasionally appropriate for use in particular situations when you want to specifically refer to the condition of "not being able to hear sufficiently for typical speech-based communication situations" but the term should not be overused.
The term "Deafhood" refers more to a Deaf person's personal journey through life and thus is not suitable as a general term referring to "Deaf people." Sure, Deafhood can refer to a "state or experience of being Deaf" but the Deafhood "journey" varies from person to person.

It is recommended that you visit and look over their front page and "recent" postings to see how one of the world's leading Deaf organizations refers to Deaf people. Also check out:  (which contains some older information but is still quite informative).