Day 28: Learning How to Research
We’ve been talking lately about how our goal is for our students to be able to write a well-researched, solidly-argued persuasive paper. The ideal paper will have a strong organization and argument, and it will also be backed up with solid research. In the last post, I suggested that you spend a great deal of time teaching your student to write argumentative essays. I suggested that you focus on organization, logic, and rhetorical devices without worrying about research yet.
In today’s post, I suggest that you now focus on the research side of things, without worrying about doing much writing.
By now, your student is probably already familiar with using your local public library. It may still be worth spending a day at the library learning the ins and outs of the catalog system, learning to put books on hold, learning to find old newspaper articles using microfilm or microfiche (if you library has them), etc.
See if your nearest college will allow your student to get a library card. Even if not, spend some time learning about the differences between the Dewey Decimal system and the Library of Congress system. Explore the many resources in the college library, especially any reference sections, special collections, government document collections, and scholarly journal collections.
Spend some time familiarizing your student with scholarly journals–how they are published and why they are well-regarded sources.
Learn how to use advanced features on search engines and how to use boolean search terms.
Your local library or college library may even offer introductory classes or tutorials on most of these things.
Purchase the latest MLA or Turabian style manual and learn how to cite books, journal articles, magazine articles, newspaper articles, online articles, and many other sources. Have your student practice finding sources and putting together a bibliography page for them. Practicing citation and bibliographies well before writing a full research paper will make the research paper much, much less scary for your student. I suggest you have your student do at least 5-10 practice bibliographies before even beginning a research paper. You might have the student find the sources, or you might wish to provide a list of sources or a stack of books for him to cite.
The MLA and Turabian manuals both contain lots and lots of helpful tips for researching and finding quality sources.
After your student is familiar with writing regular bibliographies, have him write an annotated bibliography–a bibliography with a short paragraph analysis for each source. Writing such analyses will be simple for the student who has already done many primary source analysis essays. For information on what these are and how to write them, check out these three pages for Purdue’s Online Writing Lab: