06 April 2013


I am hitting the home stretch on research essays in my senior classes. It is a long haul for my seniors, writing that 4th research masterpiece in as many years. They drag their feet, hoping against hope that I will tell them what to do: and I do, really. We discuss the process, plan deadlines together and then even practice research (not googling) for a couple of days in the Tech Lab. But it always seems that it comes down to at least half of the class attempting to write a significant essay overnight. So this is my first attempt at voicing what leads up to an A paper.

So how do you get an "A" from me?

Pass it in on time.
Do the easy stuff right--MLA, cite your sources appropriately, include the pieces I request in
         your final submission, follow directions on the original assignment sheet.
Don't distract me with typos, mechanical errors, format inconsistencies.
Don't discuss any text you have not read. I can tell, and it dries up your style.

Write TO me: so what did you really think about everything you have learned about your topic? Think about what you need to say before you write.
You have a job to do: stay on course. Readers like being told where to go.
Aim for full paragraphs with real topic sentences, illustrate with example, use your
         resources in a logical fashion. Mostly I want to hear what YOU think, not what your
         sources told you. You give me the picture. The research is just a caption.
Strategize your writing. Give me some variety in your paragraphing and sentence structure, try
         to interest me. Are you using appropriate diction for the assignment? Will I want to
         read what's next?
Don't worry about how many paragraphs it is. Worry about telling me the story of your topic.

Pique my interest. Set me up in the intro. Vie for my attention.
Consider me, the reader. In a better world,  I would not be the only reader, but for now, regard your essay as words, not flying aimlessly into the ozone, but TO ME.
Make me want to read it. You know how many people are in your class, and how many essays I am reading, right?

I'm sorry that this is not a concrete list of the steps to writing nirvana. There is no such thing. It is not even close to my own best writing when I am inspired. Actually, I am already thinking that I could do this post better in a Facebook-style post. But...that will be the next draft!
Remember, you have never written a more informed, sophisticated piece of prose. You have been doing the school thing for 12 years: you are in charge.

1 comment:

Gary Anderson said...

After many years of thinking I knew exactly how to "do" research papers with my students, I now find myself questioning numerous aspects of this process. I'm going through it right now with seniors who are less than two months from graduation and less than enthusiastic about the literary research paper that is revered by our school's culture as some kind of holy grail.

I'm trying to zap the apathy by infusing this project with choice, choice, choice, and I'm having trouble balancing that with solid parameters and expectations. Your wise words here are helping.

Thanks, Leslie.