Professor Writer

Research Papers and an Existential Crisis: Can’t Have One Without the Other

I’m on the cusp of the research paper. This is usually where I rethink my entire pedagogy, and my life’s direction in general.

It’s important to focus on the positive. I have this problem every semester because we are coming from writing styles that are always so much better.

When my students write for a general audience, they are so good. They know how to inform, persuade, and entertain the audience. They’re lively and engaging.

Then, we whip out the academic research paper, and I watch them wilt right before my eyes.

I wish I could change this requirement. I’ve tried different methods- problem-solution arguments about local and relevant issues, ethnography of cultural niches, an informative portfolio project, and more.

The variety helps, but the real tricky part is the audience. It’s almost always a miss. Students need more time to learn about a specific, expert audience and their expectations. A couple of weeks and an annotated bibliography- never enough.

If only we could save the research papers for when students have had a chance to dive into a subject. Maybe after they’ve declared a major and taken some classes in it. Maybe after they’ve had a prerequisite of a certain number of classes in any subject, so they would already be somewhat informed and ready to write on a topic with a hint of authority.    

There are plenty of other writing strategies and methods to work on in the meantime. While we wait for the student to learn about their subject enough to write some semblance of academic research, the composition classroom could carry on just fine.

The epitome of writing prowess is not necessarily the research paper.

I think I will go reread some of my students’ op-ed assignments. I will need some good medicine to get me through research paper drafts. And snacks. I will need fattening, fattening snacks.  

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