Science project

How Do The Presence Of TV Mysteries Change Our Expectations Of Mystery Stories?

Difficulty of Project

Medium.  The write-up of this project could be published in a journal of Narratology or Narrative Study.


$10-$100 for copies (depending on number of participants)

Safety Issues


Material Availability

Materials can be found at your local Xeroxing store and your library.  For further background information, please contact Sharon Cooper ([email protected])

Approximate Time Required to Complete the Project

About an hour (if submitting for publication, allow for about a month for the approval to test on human subjects)


  • To determine how many people are familiar with the formula of mystery stories from TV and how many from reading books/stories.
  • To understand how TV mysteries change expectations of mystery stories. 

Materials and Equipment / Ingredients

  • A rarely read mystery story (such as the Mysterious Case of Mrs. Dickinson)
  • Pens/pencils
  • Questionnaires
  • Approval to experiment on human subjects 


A thesis by Sharon Cooper, published at Brandeis University, required participants to read a mystery story. The thesis found that although many participants claimed they were not familiar with reading mystery stories or mystery novels, these same participants still gave highly specific answers about what they expected to occur in the mystery genre. Why was this the case? Is it because these participants have been watching mysteries on TV, instead of reading mystery stories? 

Research Questions
  • Do readers have different expectations of mystery stories based on whether they have read mystery stories or watched them on TV?
  • How did participants become aware of the conventions of the mystery genre? 
Terms, Concepts and Questions to Start Background Research
  • What are the different kinds of mystery stories?
  • How do readers predict what will happen in a mystery story?
  • How do mysteries on television compare to mystery stories that one would read on paper?
  • What are the genre conventions that people generally associate with mystery stories? 

Experimental Procedure

  1. Find a mystery story that few people have ever read (such as The Mysterious Case of Mrs. Dickinson)
  2. Apply for approval for experimentation with human subjects.
  3. Create a questionnaire about general demographics. Include questions about primary methods of watching/reading mysteries.
  4. Other questions you might want to consider: Age, gender/Sex, whether participant is an avid reader, whether they have read the story before, what genre of literature or film they most enjoy
  5. Create questionnaires which the reader can answer either within the story or after they have read the story. a. These questions will be your way of understanding how your subjects understand the mystery genre. b. Possible questions to ask: What do you think will happen next? Why? Who do you believe is guilty? What clues have you identified? Were you surprised by the ending? Etc.
  6. Make sure you have a way to link the questionnaires together (such as an ID number or a name).
  7. Analyze the results a. For quantitative data: Tally up the answers to the different questions (using Excel or by hand), Tally up the answers to different questions as categorized by different demographic categories. Does any one demographic category drastically change the results? b. For categorical data: Read through the answers given. How are readers reading this story? Does their analysis match any of the theorists you have read? c. What is the answer to your question? What does the data show? d. Examine demographic data for potential biases (for example, note whether most participants were of a certain age or gender).


Cooper, Sharon. Undergraduate Thesis: The Mysterious Case of Reader Anticipation: An Empirical Study on How Readers Predict Plot. Brandeis University, 2009. Waltham, MA: 2009.

Todorov, Tsvetan. “The Typology of Detective Fiction.” The Narrative Reader, ed. Martin McQuillan.  Routledge Taylor and Francis Group. New York: 2000. Pp 120-127.

Carter, Nick. “The Mysterious Case of Mrs. Dickinson.” Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine. May, 1942: 3-16. Print.

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