HELPING YOUR STUDENTS GET A FOCUSED RESEARCH PAPER
There are several ways to help your students focus their research paper. On the reverse side of this newsletter, there is a handout you might want to give your students or adapt for your subject area.
INDEX CARDS FOR QUESTIONS OR THESIS/FOCUS
A quick strategy for assessing the quality of your students' work is to pass out index cards in class and ask students to write either their research question or their paper thesis or focus on the card. You can collect these cards and in class make a quick mark on them to indicate whether you think that focus or question will support a research project of the length you want.
ASK STUDENTS IN CLASS FOR THEIR FOCUS
One way to increase students' ability to focus a research paper is to listen to other students in class. Often students working in isolation don't know they can ask the kinds of questions that others ask. Praising the best questions is a subtle way to enforce your standards.
GRADE FOR THE FOCUS SEPARATELY
On the first version, you could create a separate grade for the focus. If it is sharp, original and well defended throughout the paper, then it might receive, for instance, a 5 out of 5 points. If it is too general, requires no explanation or does not receive adequate support, the grade might be a 3 out of 5. Grading the focus separately indicates how important a focus is.
GIVE THEM WRITING EXERCISES
One way to get to a great focus is through asking students to cultivate dissonance—or the lack of harmony. Ask them what puzzles them, makes them curious, makes them wonder about their research topic and sources. Out of that puzzlement, they should form a question that their research and reflection should answer. If you give them a separate assignment asking them to engage in this kind of wonderment, questioning, and resolution, your chances of getting a great focus increase.
SHOW STUDENTS A MODEL OF A FOCUSED RESEARCH PAPER
Your “C” writers in class may never have seen a paper that is clearly focused. If you make available a research paper from another class, then they can adjust their understanding of what a research paper looks like.
The Writing Center
Cleveland State University, MC 321, 216-687-6981
Director, Prof. Mary McDonald, email@example.com
FOCUSING YOUR RESEARCH PAPER
The key to your grade is often your focus or thesis—yet most students think it is only the huge pile of sources that matters in a research paper. In college, your professor wants to know your focus often before the list of sources you've consulted. This handout helps you pull together your ideas and your findings.
WHAT PUZZLES YOU ABOUT YOUR FINDINGS?
After you've gathered all your research, write up about a page where you ask yourself what puzzles you about all your findings. What did you expect to find, and what did you actually find? The best writers ask themselves the following question all the time: so what? Let yourself write the answer to that for as long as it takes before you figure it out.
Taking the time to think through what YOU think about your research findings is what strong writers do. Take the time and enjoy yourself writing up your paper.
BOIL IT DOWN TO ONE SENTENCE
When you are working through learning something new, you might find your language isn't pretty—that's normal. Take some time to make it sound elegant. Then you'll have a wonderful focus.
YOUR WHOLE PAPER SHOULD SUPPORT THAT FOCUS
After you have a focus, design an organizational plan that centers on developing that focus. It's not the research that counts—it's how you develop YOUR focus with that research that the professor wants.
READ ARTICLES AND RESEARCH PAPERS THAT ARE WELL WRITTEN
Ask your professor for sample research papers from other classes so you can see what a good one looks like. Ask him or her to suggest reading materials in your field—magazines and journals—that are well written so you have models of focused writing.
MAKE AN APPOINTMENT IN THE WRITING CENTER
Tutors in the CSU Writing Center will be happy to talk with you about your research and help you develop a focus and organize your paper. Our number is 687-6981.