Not the dreaded research paper! You’ve just assigned your high school homeschooler a research paper, and you can’t understand all the drama that’s happening. Even if your child is an excellent writer, the thought of a research paper can bring on all kinds of pushback, procrastination, and ploys!
We’re going to help you with this issue! Before we get started, let’s take a step back and examine why a research paper is an issue at all. First, consider the size of the assignment. Writing a research paper takes longer than penning a paragraph or essay. This task requires different stages and can sometimes take weeks or longer to complete. Next, think about the academic skills that are required: researching, reading, writing, summarizing, paraphrasing, using technology, and the list goes on. Finally, remember that doing a research paper puts tremendous demands on your high schooler’s executive functioning, something with which many teenagers struggle and for which students are often left without good strategies. Writing a research paper requires planning and task initiation, organization, working memory, monitoring, and more. So, perhaps now you can understand some of the drama!
For the moment, let’s assume that you’ve been helping your child build the required academic skills throughout the school year. Now, you just have to support your child to make a research paper assignment less overwhelming. One of the best ways to do this is to encourage your child to divide the bigger tasks into smaller subtasks, and then schedule the subtasks on a calendar to ensure that the entire project will be done on (or preferably before) the assigned due date. By breaking down the project into bite-sized pieces and setting shorter-term goals, your child is learning important strategies while increasing confidence and motivation.
Help your child break down a research paper assignment with these eight steps.
Step 1: Choose a topic
Encourage your high schooler to choose a topic that’s of interest, a subject that your child will not mind spending many hours investigating. If there’s a list from which to choose, and your child can’t find a general topic that’s captivating, work on finding an interesting angle on a topic. Suggest that your child avoid choosing a topic because it seems easy or is about something familiar. The worst scenario is for your homeschooler to continue researching and writing on a topic that seems boring.
Step 2: Gather Information
Have your student start with a loose outline or graphic organizer to identify the information that’s needed. Encourage your child to use a framework that’s flexible. A framework that your child can easily adapt when adding new information or changing the focus of the paper is ideal. Then, help your child find credible sources from your homeschool reference materials, your local library, online databases, textbooks, or the Internet.
Step 3: Compile and Organize Information
Work with your child to choose a system of note-taking that will keep everything organized and reduce the amount of work that’s needed. For example, your child may want to take notes directly on a computer, making it easy to copy and paste when rearranging ideas; or your child may want to capture bits of information on index cards (color-coded by source) and then physically spread them out and put them in a logical order. You may even suggest that your child use a flowchart to plan, compile, and organize notes. As your student explores sources, teach effective ways to paraphrase and to choose quotations sparingly. Make sure that your child notes the reference for any piece of information that a reasonable person would not know without doing research.
Step 4: Write the Body of the Paper
Once your high schooler finishes organizing all the notes and references, it’s time to write the body paragraphs of the paper. Remind your child to include a topic sentence and concluding sentence for each paragraph, to develop each of the paragraphs with interesting details, and to add transitions between the paragraphs. Also, suggest that your child note the source of any information that’s paraphrased or quoted (i.e., by color-coding by source or writing in-text citations). Provide extra time to do this step, and help your homeschooler set goals to write a certain number of paragraphs per day.
Step 5: Write the Introduction and Conclusion
After a draft of the body paragraphs is complete, have your child try writing the introduction, starting with a general idea and providing background information to frame the research paper. Remind your student to end with a strong thesis statement that captures the plan for the paper. Then, have your child write a draft of the conclusion, being sure to summarize the key points and finish with a statement that impacts the reader.
Step 6: Document Sources and Compose the Works Cited Page
If your high school student has already included in-text citations, then only the Works Cited page will need to be created during this step. If not, your child will need to go back and document each source where it was referenced in the paper. Be sure that your student uses the correct format for both the in-text citations and the Works Cited page. Find the most recent manual for the style you require your child to use or visit a website like the Purdue Online Writing Lab (OWL), which provides guidance in using MLA format (typically used in high school English courses).
Step 7: Edit and Revise
Don’t let your child skip this step! Once a full draft of the research paper is complete, it’s tempting to just submit it. After all, your child worked so hard on it already! However, the editing and revising step is critical to ensure that your child has effectively presented the chosen topic. Help your child develop a personalized editing checklist that focuses on the areas that need to be checked, and remind your child that sentences and even paragraphs can be moved so that the writing flows logically. If your child struggles with editing, and reads what is correct rather than what is really there, suggest reading the paper backward (from the last sentence to the first) to check for individual sentence errors. You can also suggest the use of a text-to-speech program if it helps your child identify errors that would ordinarily be missed.
Step 8: Write the Final Draft
If your high-schooler has done all the above by hand, then there’s some work to do on a computer now. Most likely, however, writing a final draft simply means reading the edited and revised version one more time prior to submitting. Then, you and your homeschooler can celebrate the essay’s completion!
Writing a research paper can be a major undertaking. Using strategies like breaking down the project and scheduling these eight steps can make the process less overwhelming. When your student can focus on the individual steps rather than the entire project, a research paper can be an effective method for learning and a way to build academic and executive function skills and strategies successfully. Most importantly, your high school homeschooler will more likely be engaged, confident, and proud of the resulting research paper!