English 420

E-Commerce Project

In this project, you are asked to do web-based research (and perhaps some library research) and to write an informative report on the question of electronic commerce, or "e-commerce." Is it a good idea for businesses to invest in electronic commerce—that is, to use the Internet/World Wide Web as a medium for promoting their corporate image or for selling products and services?

Before you shout "Yes, it's the web stupid!" think about the question in a serious way. First, this is a broad question, and even if you think the answer should be yes (or no), your first step is to focus thoughtfully on the issues, such as:

  • What are the advantages and disadvantages of e-commerce?
  • Why would somebody want to have a business presence on the web?
  • What are the problems involved?
  • What about costs—and are the costs of a web site worth it in terms of return on investment?

Your research will result in a short (minimum 3-5 pages) informative report on the important issues surrounding e-commerce. These types of informative reports are often called "white papers." Your white paper is not intended for one particular company or organization, but is more broadly focused to inform on the issue of e-commerce. The purpose of this project is (1) to help you gain some expertise on a particular topic of importance to business (web commerce); (2) to produce a report of interest and value to businesses that might be considering engaging in web commerce; and (3) to prepare you for the corporate web project.

Who is the audience for this project? While this report is intended for a broad audience, you still need to consider the type of person interested in this topic. For the purposes of this project, you should imagine you are part of a consulting firm that prepares reports, or white papers, for various businesses. Since these reports are for already-established businesses, you will need to consider e-commerce from that perspective.

This report cannot be about everything concerning e-commerce--that would be impossible to do in 3-5 pages. Therefore, I recommend that you direct your report toward one type of business or organization. This will allow you to narrow the focus of your research on aspects of ecommerce relevant to the type of business of organization.

Option: Rather than do this assignment as an individual project, you might consider working in pairs on an aspect of e-commerce relevant to your major. If you do this project collaboratively, make sure you review the guidelines for collaboration at http://www-honors.ucdavis.edu/vohs/index.htmlYou will also need to complete the required Collaborative Evaluation Form.


Some Options for Approaching this Project

  • Take a linear approach: What’s the process of getting your online presence up and running, beginning to end? (This might have a tendency to emphasize the how-to of the technology, rather than the how-to of the business concerns; topics will have to selected carefully to keep it from turning into software documentation.)
  • Take a business/marketing approach: Focus hard on business issues attracting readers, selling items, online ordering, security.
  • Take a single-issue approach: Focus on how non-profits can take advantage of the web, or on a single issue related to e-commerce such as law, international trade, etc.
  • Take an ethics approach: Focus on the complex web of ethical and legal issues related to e-commerce such as privacy, security, fraud, crime, intellectual property, etc.


Research questions

Your first task will be to do research and educate yourself on some of the general issues regarding e-commerce. As you read, begin to focus on a particular issue or question of interest to you that you also think is significant for businesses to consider. You might, for instance, decide to focus on business use of the web in the floral industry. Do florists tend to use the web? Does it work well as a vehicle for e-commerce? What are the particular problems they face selling their products online? Here are some specific and legitimate questions that businesses might have:

  • Are online credit card transactions secure? Do customers feel safe using credit cards online?
  • Is web advertising worth it?
  • How much does it cost to sell products via a World Wide Web site? How does a business go about creating such a site?
  • Which products and services sell well online? Which don't?
  • What types of businesses and organizations are best served by e-commerce?


Outside Resources for E-Commerce Simulation


Sample Reports on E-Commerce

As you begin to find articles like the ones above, scan them and decide on a question that strikes your interest and that seems to you to be a significant question for businesses to consider. Your goal is to come up with ten articles on a related topic pertaining to e-commerce—not just any ten articles, but ten that focus on the same general area. Scan articles for a while. Then once you have settled on a topic, begin saving or printing out those articles you plan to use in your report.

Some words of caution about reading and using online articles: (1) Consider the authority of the source. Is the source "objective" —or does the source have a self-interested reason to promote web commerce? (Warning! Some of these sources are collected by firms that make their money by promoting business use of the web.) (2) Watch out for companies that charge you to download web articles (though they prompt you if that's the case). For example, The Wall Street Journal charges $2.25 per article for downloads. (3) Some articles continue for several pages (web pages, that is). Sometimes to get the entire article, you have to print out several pages separately.

Organization, format, and design of the report

Header. Provide basic information about your report: title, author name, and date.
Are Online Transactions Secure?
A Report on E-Commerce and Credit Card Use

Roger Thorndyke
March 19, 1999

Overview paragraph. Indicate what your report is about. What question or topic does this report cover? What is the scope of coverage? And what is your overall thesis or main point?

This report examines the question of whether credit card transactions on the World Wide Web are actually secure. Though there have been many instances of online credit card frauds, the incidence of such fraud is actually no more than with regular plastic transactions. However, there are important steps a company should take to ensure that its customers' credit card transactions are handled securely.

Headed subsections. Divide your report into subsections, depending on the major topics you will cover in the report. If your report addresses the question of whether a bookstore should move online, you might divide your report into two possible major sections: Advantages of Web Book Sales, Disadvantages of Web Book Sales. You might also have sub-subsections which distinguish between various advantages and disadvantages.

1. Frequency of Online Credit Card Fraud

2. Steps Companies Should Take to Prevent Credit Card Fraud

Graphs or charts. Think about how to have visual impact in your report. A line graph could be used to show change over time—for instance, the increasing number of businesses engaged in web commerce, or the number of incidents of online credit card fraud. If you borrow a chart or graph already contained in another source, be sure to identify that source below the chart.

References. Provide a list of the references you use in the report, as a separate final page of the report. Be sure to format your individual entries according to APA format.


Formal E-Mail Proposal -- Due Monday, September 30

Annotated Bibliography -- Due Wednesday, October 9

Draft Workshop -- Friday, October 25

Visuals Workshop -- Monday, October 28

Final Report Due -- Friday, November 1



E-mail Proposal and Annotated Bibliography
Initally turned into me in a timely, complete manner and resubmitted with my comments with the final report

50 pts

Present for and participated in draft workshops on 10/25 and 10/28

25 pts

Finished Draft

125 pts


200 pts




English 420--Business Writing
Purdue University
Last Modified: 10/25/02