Paper Assignment
Rumor Collection and Analysis


The assignment is to collect and analyze a collection of tellings of a rumor circulating around campus. You should collect no fewer than 20 tellings of the same basic story. What constitutes the "same" story is a matter of judgment. If a telling is so different from the others as to hardly be recognizable, it's probably a different story and should not be included in the study.

You should pick a story that people regard as true or at least plausible. I would skip ghost stories, and also the story about the bronze eagle. It is also helpful to pick a story that shows a lot of promise in terms of analysis. For example, stories about Father Monan or Father Leahy are good because it's easy to think about the motivations that people might have for telling and retelling stories about authority figures. Stories that awaken emotions, such as fear, are also good. Rumors about boring things like the new course registration system that Project Delta is designing should be avoided. In general, stories/legends about individuals are better than stories about things.


The paper should include an accurate, nearly verbatim transcription of each telling of the story. For each telling, you should identify the teller, and key information about the teller, such as their sex, age, etc., and their relationship to the events in the story. It would be unusual for the paper to be less than 10 pages (or 12 pages including transcripts). You can include an Excel spreadsheet with the information about each telling, if you like.

The paper should analyze the story and in particular the variations. Why are certain details kept the same, why do others vary? What do the variations tell you about the significance or function of the story. Why is the story circulating? Who is circulating it and why? Do characteristics of the teller correlate with characteristics of the story? For example, do boys tend to tell one variant, while girls tell the other?

Copyright 1997-2000 Stephen P. Borgatti Revised: 23 February, 2000 Home Page