Weekly Response: Fister’s "Why the Research Paper is Not Working"

I agree and disagree with Fister. She is right that the research paper doesn't work. In HUM 101 we just finished doing a research paper, and the results are somewhat disappointing and just as Fister says: no one can cite sources correctly, and students skim the surface of the sources they read anyway, picking quotes out after the paper is written. Further, the students seem to be able to do "everyday research" much better than academic research. She suggests that we should scrap the formal research paper in freshman year because the students don't like it and aren't successful with it. Hmmm, maybe we should also scrap first year sports, as many students are uncoordinated and not star athletes when they first try a new athletic endeavor. Ridiculous, of course, but the comparison makes sense. 

While I agree that the results of the FYW research paper assignment are not stellar, I do not agree that it is a reason to scrap it. Her advise that we should assign topics the students are interested in of course makes sense. I think most institutions do that by now, no? We did at NJIT. In my class, the students were allowed to chose a brand, product, or issue of interest. We walked through all the steps of the research paper from brainstorming and idea generation, to preliminary research, proposal, annotated bibliography, drafts, writing center visits, revisions, presentations, and final drafts. (Linear in some cases, I know, and recursive in others. But how to teach to 27 freshmen at a time? My best advise: get the administration to cap the class at 18. I digress....)

I agree with Fister about the sillyness of worrying about the details of the citations. It is daunting for them. I review how to do in-text citations, and I explain that there is only one way to do them correctly in MLA format, i.e. parenthesis, name, page, parenthesis, period. When it comes to citing the actual sources in the annotated bibliography and the works cited page of the report, I tell the students to use easybib.com and not worry about trying to write the citation themselves. That seems to take the fear out of it for them, and they do fine.

The papers I received were, for the most part, not as awful as Fister suggests. We talked about the research and how it was similar to looking for a dress or a car online. The most difficult task of the project seemed to be the annotated bibliography, as no one had ever heard of such a thing. We used a template and samples, and just about everyone got it right on the second try. Will they ever have to write an annotated bibliography again? Probably not. Will they have to struggle with a new format and new genre and figure out how to do it properly for a professor or boss? Most definitely. It didn't kill them to complete the exercise.

The research presentations were much better than the actual papers, and gave them each a chance to be the experts in the room, talking about something they not only care about, but also know about. I like the whole project. They are far from expert researchers and writers after their first try, but I wouldn't take this first try away from them.

P.S. Fister's article looked like it was 3 pages, but after following all the links (some of which didn't work) it was much longer and more in-depth. I appreciate the thoroughness of her article which, at first glance, looked flimsy.