For this project, I want to compare the organization of a food section of Walmart vs. Kroger.

Project overview

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In this project, you will write a paper to explain and compare, in detail, how a set of things is presented in two or three organizing systems in the real world. These should be systems that are available to the public (that is, not your own private library, or your own spice racks). They can organize physical or digital items. Your explanation will have several parts:

• An explanation of the category structure in each organizing system and the kinds of items placed in each category.

• An interpretation of each category structure that attempts to understand the ideas it communicates about the entity set.

• A comparison of the different ideas presented in each organizing system.

Your goal in this paper is to understand how each organizing system interprets the entity set: how it gives the entity set a particular meaning. Your goal is not to assess the effectiveness of the organizing system for retrieval. It doesn’t matter if it’s easy or difficult for you to find items in the entity set.

As with defining an entity set to organize with your schema, you will need to identify a set of things that is specific enough to analyze in depth but broad enough to enable you to say something interesting about it. So the entire supermarket would be too broad, but just the Cheerios would be too narrow. The cereal at the supermarket might be just right.

Also, try to make sure that you are comparing two organizing systems that are sufficiently different; your assignment will lose points if you don’t—after all, your your paper won’t be very interesting if you can’t expand upon some interesting differences.

Explanation of category structure

Your paper will need to explain each category structure that you’re investigating. Let’s say you’re looking at the cereal in a supermarket. Here are the kinds of questions you might ask:

• What different kinds of organizing principles are at play in arranging the cereal? Are the cereals arranged by size, price, brand, primary ingredients, level of sugar? How are these principles deployed—are the most expensive items on the top shelves or the bottom shelves?

• What principles inform the selection of items within the category? How many different kinds of cereal are there? What kinds are represented the most, and what kinds the least?

• Can you define central and peripheral members of the set of “cereal” each supermarket, and on what basis can you make that determination?

• How is cereal related to other entities? What is next to it?

Note that your set of things might be split up into multiple locations within the organizing system: for cereal, there might be cereal in the bulk section, or in the International section. You’ll need to investigate these as well. Also, what are you counting is “cereal”? This might not be a significant question, but it just might be for some sets.

When you describe the category structure in your paper, focus on explaining it, not documenting it. There is no need to map out or transcribe each item in the cereal section! Your goal is to explain how the cereal section works, not to merely copy it down.

In creating your explanation, make use of the readings and class activities from throughout the semester.

Interpretation of category structure

This is the fun part. What does the category structure that you’ve explained tell us about the set of things?

Here’s an example (and don’t just re-use this example, please):

Let’s say my entity set is Noodles, and I’m looking at the Kroger. Most of the noodles are in a section labeled Pasta that is near the tomato sauce. Indeed, based on the selection and arrangement of pasta varieties, the central idea of “noodle” is oriented around the notion of spaghetti and tomato sauce as a common meal. However, not all the noodles are in the Pasta section. Rice noodles are with other “Asian” foods in the International section. These noodles are not near the tomato sauce. Rice noodles might be similarly shaped to spaghetti, but in the organizing system of the supermarket, they are far away from spaghetti. They are, in a sense, more Asian than noodle in this structure. What does that mean? They certainly do not appear to be interchangeable, based on their placement within the organizing system of the supermarket. There are implications to this: the supermarket is saying, in a way, that if you invited a friend over for pasta and served pad see ew, your friend might be surprised. And yet, aren’t rice noodles also noodles? (If you were defining “noodles” as an entity set for your descriptive schema, would you have excluded them? Probably not. Or would you have? This would have sparked an interesting discussion in your paper.)

While I encourage you to think deeply about the category structures that you’re investigating, make sure to ground your interpretation within the evidence provided by your explanation. You need to show how your interpretation arises from that evidence.

Comparison of different organizing systems

In comparing the two organizing systems that you are investigating, you might consider the following kinds of questions:

• What are the different ideas presented by each organizing system about the entity set? Are these ideas compatible or incompatible? (For example, vitamin supplements at Walmart might make you think it’s a significant part of a Walmart shopper’s lifestyle—it’s in its own section and rather extensive. But such products are more limited at another store, I imagine. And perhaps more “mainstream” with its vitamin options.)

• Would items from one organizing system take on a different character in the other organizing system? (For example, sugary cereal might be common at Kroger but uncommon at Walmart? Are comics on classified to a more granular degree?)

• Would any items from one organizing system be excluded from the other system? Why might that be the case?

Paper writing details

Your explanations, interpretations, and comparisons should take the form of a cohesive essay of about 2750- 3,000 words (about 8- 10 or so pages). Your essay should have a clearly identified argument and structure. For example, your argument might be “noodles are defined by culture, not physical properties” or “cereal has two identities: convenience food and healthy food” or “green salad is not actually salad” (based on evidence from supermarket buffets). You may include pictures, but (1) please only include them if they are poignant in some way (in other words, no need to include a picture merely to do so, it will not help your grade in that case. Chances are this is not needed); (2) if you do add an image, add it at the end of your paper and, (3) it cannot be part of the page count.

Although your paper needs to include your explanation of category structure, your interpretation of category structure, and your comparison of organizing systems, it does NOT need to put these into separate sections. You should structure your paper in the way that makes the most sense for your argument. Integrate all of these things to make a persuasive argument structured like a traditional paper. I don’t need charts or notes, your job here is to synthesize it all together.

Grading criteria

A successful organizing system explanation will exhibit these characteristics:

• The paper has a clearly identified argument.

• The explanations of each organizing system are adequate and cogent.

• The interpretations of each organizing system are insightful and well supported by evidence.

• The comparison of organizing systems is insightful and well supported by evidence.

• Material from course readings and activities is usefully employed to extend the argument.

• The paper follows a logical document structure, is clearly written, and uses correct grammar and punctuation.

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