From Theory to Practice
Students will use scaffolding to research and organize information for writing a research paper. A research paper scaffold provides students with clear support for writing expository papers that include a question (problem), literature review, analysis, methodology for original research, results, conclusion, and references. Students examine informational text, use an inquiry-based approach, and practice genre-specific strategies for expository writing. Depending on the goals of the assignment, students may work collaboratively or as individuals. A student-written paper about color psychology provides an authentic model of a scaffold and the corresponding finished paper. The research paper scaffold is designed to be completed during seven or eight sessions over the course of four to six weeks.
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FROM THEORY TO PRACTICE
O'Day, S. (2006) Setting the stage for creative writing: Plot scaffolds for beginning and intermediate writers. Newark, DE: International Reading Association.
- Research paper scaffolding provides a temporary linguistic tool to assist students as they organize their expository writing. Scaffolding assists students in moving to levels of language performance they might be unable to obtain without this support.
- An instructional scaffold essentially changes the role of the teacher from that of giver of knowledge to leader in inquiry. This relationship encourages creative intelligence on the part of both teacher and student, which in turn may broaden the notion of literacy so as to include more learning styles.
- An instructional scaffold is useful for expository writing because of its basis in problem solving, ownership, appropriateness, support, collaboration, and internalization. It allows students to start where they are comfortable, and provides a genre-based structure for organizing creative ideas.
Biancarosa, G., and Snow, C. E. (2004.) Reading next-A vision for action and research in middle and high school literacy: A report from the Carnegie Corporation of New York. Washington, DC: Alliance for Excellent Education.
- In order for students to take ownership of knowledge, they must learn to rework raw information, use details and facts, and write.
- Teaching writing should involve direct, explicit comprehension instruction, effective instructional principles embedded in content, motivation and self-directed learning, and text-based collaborative learning to improve middle school and high school literacy.
- Expository writing, because its organizational structure is rooted in classical rhetoric, needs to be taught.
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Finding a Topic to Research
•Overview •Hints• Resources
The topic you choose can make or break your research paper. If it's
- too broad, you won't be able to finish your research before the quarter ends
- too narrow, you won't find enough material for a 6-8 page paper
- too boring, you won't want to work on it
- too close to your heart, you'll have a hard time being objective
You may have to explore several topics before you find one that fits your interests and the criteria of the assignment. The Hints below will help you identify possible topics.
Topics to avoid
Some topics should be avoided. For example, "How aggressively should doctors treat prostate cancer?" is a good research question. However, if the topic is painful because the disease affects someone you know, you should choose another subject.
Other topics, like abortion, are extremely difficult to narrow and to argue objectively. Your instructors may ask you to avoid certain topics because they are tired of reading about them. The authors of The Practical Writer have this advice:
You'll do yourself and your readers a real favor if you stay away from some kinds of topics. Avoid writing about contemporary politics or religion—such topics are often too personal to write a research paper about. (Bailey & Powell, 2003, p. 203)
Another reason to avoid topics that have been "done to death" is that your teacher has probably read dozens of papers on euthanasia and capital punishment; what will make your paper stand out? In addition, you will have to do in-depth research to add to what your readers already know.
Example: If your research is superficial, you won't be able to answer challenges to your argument. For example, if you argue that "Gay marriage doesn't hurt anyone," a knowledgeable reader might ask, "What about the Scandinavian study that found that allowing gay marriage reduced the marriage rate among heterosexuals?" Muttering "Uh, what Scandinavian study?" doesn't do much for your credibility. It's much more effective to explain why you believe the study is flawed or to concede the point: "You're right; that is a point to consider. However, I believe it's more important to...."
Topics like euthanasia or capital punishment are also too broad to cover in a 6–8 page paper. However, as you consider what you might write about, a general idea is all you need. You can narrow your topic as you learn what resources are available and what questions you have.
Example: As you read about familiar topics, you can
These research questions are examples of good starting points for a researched argument paper:
Hints for Finding a Topic
So how do you find a topic? You may already have a subject you want to explore. Perhaps you've always been interested in Down syndrome, so you read everything you can find about it. Just check with your instructor to see if that topic could work for your presentation and argumentative paper.
Perhaps you've been assigned a topic you don't know much about in another class. If—and only if—you have the other instructor's permission, you may read and write about that topic in Comp II.
Once you have a subject that interests you, try to find a question to explore or a problem to solve. Remember that your ideas about your topic may change. However, starting with a research question will help you narrow your search and choose the most relevant sources.
Where to find topic ideas
If you don't have a clue, you can browse until you find something that catches your interest. Here are some places to look:
Making the choice: Familiar or unfamiliar topic?
Should you pick a topic you know well or a topic you know little about? The chart below will help you weight the advantages and disadvantages.
Quick; no need to do background research
Can be difficult to distinguish between common knowledge and what needs to be documented
Chance to learn something new, different
Harder to predict difficulties you might run into, such as not finding enough material
Predictable; shouldn’t hit too many snags in research
Same old, same old
More challenging; less boring
Requires more time and mental effort
Still have questions? See the Internet Resources below and Hints for Finding Sources.
How to Find a Research Topic (UCSC)
Finding a Topic (tutorial from Webster U. library)
Finding a Topic (includes links to successful topics and a research log entry on picking a topic)
Module 2: Choosing a Topic (help with keywords from Lesley Libraries)
Choosing and Focusing a Topic (tutorial from Virginia Tech)
What Can I Write About? (suggestions from STCC Library)
The Question Is the Answer (McKenzie)
Steps Along the Research Path (Lesley Libraries)
Writing Tip # 19: Writing and Planning a Research Paper (University of Colorado at Boulder; discusses how your topic changes as you find more information)
Framing Your Research Question (OhioLINK)
Planning and Writing a Research Paper (tutorial from the University of Wisconsin-Madison)