Real Teens Read: Research Papers

Writing Research Papers

Our Real Teens Read literature discussion group has been learning how to write a research paper.

Getting Started

The teens have been learning the stages of the research process and have recently completed their first papers. They were allowed to choose their own topics for the first go-round, and I ended up with a diverse array of essays to read:

  • Is it inhumane to train dogs to work for the service of humans?
  • How has movie censorship has changed over the years and do filmmakers today have more freedom than ever?
  • What is 3D printing and what impact will it have on society?
  • What were the tragic events surrounding the USS Indianapolis?
  • An analysis of mythology in the Percy Jackson book series.
  • How does the ministry of Christian metal music affect the lives of Christians?

The teens are using the MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers, 7th Edition as a formatting guide. We’ve been meeting twice a month as a group, and the teens do independent work on their papers between meetings. We are getting ready to start round two, so I thought I’d share some of what we’re doing.

Conducting Research

One thing I learned from this process is that most of the teens had never written from research before and had to learn the difference between this type of writing and the creative writing they were more experienced with.

They also had to learn that research papers are not book reports.

In the beginning, the teens all chose a topic they were interested in, and we met at the library for a field trip. Upon request, the librarian spoke with our group and presented a power point on what services are available at the library and how they are accessed. This was very helpful, and we ended up spending an additional hour at the library while the teens searched for materials. After spending two weeks searching through the resources they found, the teens were able to narrow down their topics and begin to formulate their thesis statements.

Then, we scheduled another field trip to the library for more research, and the teens accessed articles online as well.
The biggest hurdle to overcome was getting the teens to understand that the research stage was going to be the bulk of the work.

Many of them wanted to start writing immediately, but they had to be reined in and taught that the main point of this project is conducting, analyzing, and synthesizing research to support their thesis statements.

Once the teens had several strong resources to work from, they began taking notes on index cards.

The note cards help keep them on-track and organized, and when they started writing their rough drafts, the teens had all the information they needed in a nice little stack.

Formatting Note Cards

Each teen used the same format for preparing their note cards:

First they made a source card (see example on bottom) with the source’s citation written in MLA format.

Then the source was given a number.

At this stage, we didn’t worry about alphabetical order; the source cards were simply numbered in the order they were prepared.

Doing the MLA citation on the cards at this stage saved having to format them when preparing the works cited page.

All the teens had to do later was put these cards in alphabetical order and copy the citations on the works cited list.

Some of the teens chose to color-code their cards using different colors of ink or different colored cards, while some simply circled the source number on the citation card to distinguish these cards from the quote/idea cards.

Writing Research Papers
When the teens found information in a source they thought they might use in their papers, they made note cards for each quote or idea (see example on top).

They included the source number that corresponded to the source card, plus added the topic and page number, along with the quoted information.

Generally, I encourage the teens to write direct quotes on the card and paraphrase later to avoid the possibility of plagiarism. If they paraphrase on the cards, and then change them during the writing and revising stages, they might inadvertently plagiarize, so having the direct quote to work from helps them avoid this.

The topic on the card is not the same as the topic of the paper itself, but rather a category or subtopic.

Cards are all stored in either index boxes, on binder rings, or rubber-banded together.

For their second paper, the teens have a list of broad topics related to our literature group. They have to refine their choices until they have something more narrowed down:

  • WWI
  • The Great Depression
  • WWII
  • The Cold War
  • The Social Revolution of the 1960s
  • The Advent of the Personal Computer and Biotechnology

Some of the teens are balking at being “so limited” in their choices, but one of my goals is to teach them how vast these topics are. It would be impossible to cover one of these broad topics in a 5- to 7-page paper. Hopefully, once the teens start entering these topics into a search, they’ll see how many things they really have to choose from!

We will be following 7 Steps to Writing a Research Paper:

  1. Choose a topic that interests you. We have read or will be reading books related to all of these broad topics and discussing them in Real Teens Read, so they have a little background already.
  2. Refine your topic and come up with a working thesis.
  3. Conduct research and take notes.
  4. Refine thesis and formulate your argument.
  5. Write an outline.
  6. Write a draft.
  7. Revise and polish.

The final draft is just one of many aspects of this project, and we’ll spend several weeks working through the process.

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