composition; chronicle of higher education; term paper; research paper

Term(inal) Papers

One of the topics of conversation around here has been “The Research Paper”; in particular, the question of whether FE instructors are required to assign a research paper.  (You are definitely missing out on some productive conversations if you don’t hang around the FE Triangle [163, 126, and 125]). Many composition instructors are accustomed to assigning a final or penultimate paper that requires substantial research (usually for secondary sources).  You know the drill:  students are to find, evaluate, and use something on the order of five sources as evidence in the service of a cogent argument.  You’re probably also accustomed to the range and overall quality of sources that students include in that “Works Cited.”  While the practice of assigning a research paper is a familiar one, it’s also a practice that comes with a number of problems, not the least of which is the time we would need to spend to teach students how to find useful sources.  In my experience, it takes students more than a couple of “library days” to acquire the wherewithal to root out the best options for their work among the many texts they will find through the library portal and “out there” on the open Internet.  I’d rather spend the time working with students on what’s inside shared texts so that they consider how they might position themselves in relation to the words of others, how to work on the other writers’ words rather than use those words to reiterate their own claims, and how to fashion and follow through on their own lines of thought.  (See my first “Thesis” post on my thoughts about the Law & Order style of essay.) That’s critical thinking to my mind. Continue reading