THE RESEARCH ESSAY: A GUIDE TO PAPERS, ESSAYS, PROJECTS
Volume 19 Number 4
In 1985, Hugh Robertson, head of the Social Science Department at Ashbury College in Ottawa, published The Research Essay: A Briefing for Students. The revised edition of the earlier work shows what happens when someone takes a good product and improves it.
Research papers are usually assigned with the expectation that students will learn a number of skills important to academic writing: effective and efficient use of a library and its resources, critical reading and noting of researched sources, and the conventions of properly citing materials used. However, as a classroom teacher and as a teacher-librarian, I am painfully aware of the haphazard manner in which much of this learning goes on, and of the lack of teaching resources intended for high school students.
Robertson's book is a long overdue response to the need for a single, readily understandable, up-to-date source of information. Although the example that he uses to illustrate the research and presentation of a major paper is drawn from social studies, the process is applicable to virtually any paper demanding library research.
The book is divided into two main sections: research and presentation. Awareness of writing process methodology is shown in his discussion of how students formulate a research question from a general topic, and Robertson provides a clear and useful system by which students can simultaneously keep track of their preliminary reading and continue to ask new questions about their topic and to assess the value of the information that they have uncovered in their research. Furthermore, the appendix provides a thorough guide to various bibliographic sources, which are of immense aid and value during the information-gathering stage of the project.
The section entitled "Presentation" focuses on the actual writing of the paper: how to form a preliminary structure or outline, the process of drafting, use of quotations, and, most importantly, how to document properly the information that has been used. The proper format of footnotes, bibliographies and reference lists is provided, along with comprehensive lists of examples using the three major citation procedures used at present by academic writers: Chicago Manual of StyleTurabian), MLA and APA.
Teachers who have not done much academic writing since their university days stand to learn a great deal from this section of the book. Citation styles have changed, and students going on to post-secondary institutions have a right to expect accurate and up-to-date instruction in this area. However, the examples Robertson provides make it very easy to learn new styles and formats for sources previously unused in most papers (works of art, maps, etc.).
The Research Essay: A Guide to Papers, Essays, Projectsnexpensive enough to justify a department's purchasing a class set for instructional use when research papers are assigned. Teachers should have their own copies for quick reference, and libraries should own at least one copy for ready reference use. And when the teacher's guide (available at the end of 1991) is published, buy one of those, as well.
Joanne K.A. Peters, Sisler High School, Winnipeg, Man.
1971-1979 | 1980-1985 | 1986-1990 | 1991-1995
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