Online Guide to Writing and Research

Chapter 4: The Research Process

The Research Assignment

Writing an academic research paper can be one of your most valuable and exciting experiences during your college career. To see your ideas take shape on paper and your words join the ongoing conversations about the subject matter, to take your place in the discourse community of a subject area can be a thrilling moment of triumph. You become a junior scholar in the community of scholars and writers who discuss the issues, ideas, literature, and thinkers of the discipline.

Why do many students struggle with research assignments? For many students, the research assignment often starts with a topic their teacher or they select after long hours in the library or online, reading lots of articles or books. These students then struggle to stitch together blocks of information like a sampler patchwork quilt, each block with its own pattern and meaning. Students may wonder why they are rewriting existing information or telling the teacher what he or she already knows. They may ask whether they can add anything new to the discussion of the topic.

Your teacher assigns a research paper in hopes of teaching you how to take part in the intellectual conversations that define the ideas in that discipline. Taking part in those conversations means asking questions that arise out of your own individual curiosity and intellectual temperament and then seeking answers both through your own thinking and the thinking of others. In this way, you can contribute meaningfully to the existing scholarship in that subject area. You are then creating a research space for yourself and for other researchers who may follow you.

Perhaps understanding why the ability to write a research paper is a worthwhile addition to your academic skills will give you a new perspective on the research assignment.