Who is driving?

How do you write a research essay?  Well?  How do you?

I am sure the way you write a research essay is not the same as the way I write one, or Joe writes one or Mickey.  We all have our own style, or own goals, and our own writing processes.  Thank goodness.  Students struggle enough with writing essays in college.  It would be far worse if we told them how to do it our way, or my way, or another teacher’s way.   Although, I know from experience that some of you would love it if I wrote you a step by step how-to guide for research essays.  Remember the five paragraph essays?  Well, these would be just as horrible, just as boring and, unfortunately, a failing endeavor.

Research writing is personal.  I know, I know, teachers have said research writing is not personal, that it should be written in third person, that there should be none of you in the essay whatsoever.  Do you buy this?  Is it even possible to write a research essay in this way?  How is research writing not personal when I am the one writing it?  Not only am I writing the research essay, but I am also selecting the research for it.  Hopefully, I have researched beyond the first O in Google, but nonetheless, I am selecting, or not selecting, the research.

No first person I, you say?  Why not?  I am writing it not one, or he, or she, or it.  Right?  Who made that rule?  Second and third person is always so, well, academic or, really, what we might think is academic.   As you (second person) have read through the reading this semester, I am sure you (second person) have noticed that there is plenty of the authors in the writing.  One (third person) should.

I have also heard that students are no allowed to put their opinions in their research writing.   Can a writer do that?  How is this possible?  If we type the words, compose the thoughts, and choose the research to use, or not use, our opinion is there whether we like it or not.  I think there are two far bigger challenges here.  The first is that students have to be brave and write what they mean.  Students have good thoughts that need to be put down on paper.  Your opinion and your thoughts matter, count, and mean something.  Really.  I would not lie to you.  After you are brave enough to do this, then you must go out and find the research that backs up what you say.  Be fearless and write with conviction.

The trick will be to acknowledge the other research you reject.  You must become an expert, as much as you can in a period of a few weeks, in your topic.  This means, there will be more of your words in your research writing than the words of others.  Strive to write source supported essays not merely source driven essays.  If you gather research and use only that research in your essay, creating a source driven document, it will simply not be your work.  Also, being an expert means knowing all sides of your topic or issue.  Sharing this with your audience builds your credibility as a writer and a researcher.

Why do we write research essays in college?  Torture?  Dues?  Boredom? No, these types of writings are not assigned to torture or bore you.  Nor, are they filler in the class curriculum.  You spend weeks writing these essays, we spend the same time evaluating.  This kind of assignment must mean something.   We write research essays in college to show what we know, to practice building knowledge and credibility, to learn to look for what we need, what is important.  Most importantly, we write research to create new knowledge.  We write research to create new knowledge.  We write research to create new knowledge.

The best strategy in writing a research essay in college  is to write what you know, write what you want to know, creating questions for research, then go find what you need to know.  You take what you know and add to what others know in order to create new knowledge.   And, why do we write research essays?  We write research essays to create new knowledge.  We write research essays to create new knowledge.  We write research essays to create new knowledge.

Does writing in college matter?  Yes, if you make it matter.  Will it matter to you after college?  I don’t know.  I am sure it is easy to take what you learn today, throw down on paper tomorrow and forget it the day you turn it in.  That is a whole lot of work wasted if that is the process.  Why go to college, if you are going to binge and purge the material day in and day out?  Choose topics that make a difference in your life and that matter to you.  It is your responsibility to make it all count, not your teachers’ responsibility.

You have control.  I challenge you to find something of interest in every topic you study.  Find some thing that matters.  It will change your college experience and you will become educated.  When you are at graduation and you look left then right to the students sitting next to you, you might realize you are the only one in the row truly educated.  Your piece of paper will matter.  And, when you get promoted before others, you will know why.  The uneducated, with the piece of paper, get the jobs too, but they don’t improve or move up in their fields, because they don’t know how to make it matter.

Disclaimer: I am merely your college writing instructor.  I did attend college for more than six years to earned the right to be here.  It may sometimes appear that others do not think I know what I am talking about.  This is college and the teacher is always right in some classrooms.  Be open and aware to the possibility that teachers might have their own ways of doing things.  That MLA might look one way in our text and another way in the instructor’s instructions.  We all have to learn to be flexible and adapt at times.  I always say there is my way, the right way, and the way to get the grade in so-and-so’s class.  This is just life.

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One Response

  1. I did not like English before. It was a series of memorized rules. There were certain lengths of paragraphs and certain lengths of sentences. There was an opening line that had to mean something and an ending something and I got lost in it all. I have gained confidence. I’m still struggling of course. I get the idea and forget the research. I get the research and forget the idea. The thing is….I have the tools now or at least the place to go get the tools.

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