Think, Know, Prove: Research Papers

Think, Know, Prove is a regular Saturday feature, where a topic with both mystery and importance is posted for community discussion. The title is a shortened version of the Investigative Mantra: What do we think, what do we know, what can we prove? and everything from wild speculation to resource referencing fact is welcome here.

So, I’ve been reading a lot about reading and writing this summer, while trying to revamp the things that I do with respect to both. Along the way, I’ve seen story after essay ripping on the idea of assigning research papers (and even argumentative or analytical essays of any sort, i.e., academic forms of writing in general) as here and, again, here (there were others but I can’t seem to find them now). Over and over again, I’ve come across ideas for alternatives (does anyone assign book or album or movie reviews as papers? I thought of that as a possibility for both pre-writing reading (since examples are easy to find) and then writing assignments after reading this article by Robert Pinsky (!) on the “rules” for good book reviews and this fun to read example (sorry Kamran; I know you liked the book–hope this doesn’t ruin it for you).

And it seems like I can’t read a piece about writing without it mentioning this hunk of research from Stanford (of which,for all it’s appeal and purported influence, I can’t seem to make heads or tails in terms of concrete applications in my classroom).

Then, recently, the research paper complainer cited above had some second thoughts (published here), which has me all ambivalent about teaching academic writing all over again.

And so I ask, when it comes to teaching writing (specifically in terms of forms of writing): What do you think? What do you know? What can you Prove?

One thought on “Think, Know, Prove: Research Papers

  1. I am in agreement with these quotes I borrowed from the first link:

    “The first year “research paper” has always sent a mixed message. You’re supposed to be original, but must quote someone else to back up every point you make – while in constant fear that you’ll be accused of stealing from them.The obscure rules of citing sources only exacerbates the confusion and focuses attention on mechanics.”

    “If you want students to make an argument, start from something they know and care about, something that matters to them and about which they can hold an informed opinion. If you want them to read and understand scholarly material, focus on close reading and have the class jointly prepare an annotated edition. If you want them to write academic prose, wait until they know enough about the discipline to know what they’re talking about and how to ask a meaningful question about it.”

    Here’s my two cents:
    Think? We must ask ourselves why students are required to write a research paper. Whatever the answer, it must be shared with the students so there is transparency to the assignment.
    Know? I do not require students to write an official research paper. What I do ask is that any personal observations must be supported from the reading material. If they have completed the reading assignment, then they will be able to ‘search’ for supporting evidence and ‘re’peat it on the assignment; re-search, that’s wht it’s all about for me.
    Prove? Per Blog U’s POV, make the assignment of personal interest for the student. Perhaps they do not want to research X, but they really believe Y to be of more significance to the understanding of their world. A research paper, when assigned with the individuality of each student in mind makes for better reading. It may be more time consuming to read all the papers, but it is our responsibility to give students opportunities to learn, it is not about efficient grading.

    I’ve always wondered why students who are not going to transfer, need research paper writing skills? Every degree at our institution required English 101, however AA and AAS degrees prepare students to enter the working world upon graduation. How many of these students will need to write another research paper in their lives? We may serve them better by preparing them to write discipline-relevant documents. Resume writing anyone?

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