Teaching Research- 2011 Workshop

Presenter: Kristin Thomas

Definition:  Our students research all the time; they research new purchases such as computers, cell phones, and even clothes.  They research movies, and each other.  Research is the act of finding information from credible sources to support an idea.  Sometimes that idea is unformed until initial research is done; sometimes—ideally, in the case of academic research—the idea is already there, and the research clarifies and strengthens the idea.  The research is then synthesized into a format appropriate to audience and purpose.

Typical Problems with Student Research

1. Students become overwhelmed with the enormity of the research task and opt to not turn in a paper rather than face the struggle.

2.  The paper they turn in is plagiarized because students don’t know what to do and, unlike the first group of students, they don’t want to accept a zero outright.  They panic and plagiarize.

3. The paper they end up turning in is all summary because either students don’t know how to synthesize or their thesis has problems or both.

Teaching research

Research should ultimately be student driven; however, as students rarely want to engage themselves academically, it is the role of the instructor to provide the guidelines that will push the students to achieve a desired result.

Selecting a Topic:  Topic selection, if not teacher driven, can be challenging for students.  One strategy to get them thinking is to use the opening activity with any subject you want them to consider.  After selecting a topic, students should be guided to narrow that topic.  Often topic narrowing necessitates students doing some preliminary research in order to fully grasp the complexities of their topic.

Why you shouldn’t hate Wikipedia:  Students need to learn something about their topic.  For most research topics, Wikipedia is a good place for students to begin reading in order to learn enough about their topics to craft a thesis of suitable complexity.

Source credibility:  Students need to be taught how to evaluate a source for appropriateness.  Remind them of their audience, and that they must match their source material to impress that audience.  Wikipedia is never an impressive source for any academic research.

Activity:  Discuss the guidelines set by procon.org for establishing the credibility of an informational text.  Then, brainstorm similar guidelines for establishing source credibility for literary texts.


Locating credible sources:  A reliable place for students to look for good sources is through databases; however, they require a subscription to use.  Many libraries, including Nacogdoches Public Library, have subscription services to databases such as EBSCO and Facts on File.  If your school library does not have a subscription to these services, it is worth inquiring about them.

There are several benefits to using databases as a go-to for sources.  Primarily, students will have practice using a resource they will be expected to use at the university level.  Additionally, most databases will provide accurate MLA or APA citations to students, a feature that helps students be less overwhelmed by the research process.  As a teacher, I always feel better about my students using the databases knowing that they are reading source material that is likely better than what pops up on a Google search.

If your school does not have access to databases, Google scholar is a good choice.  Remember to tell your students to search for full-text documents in all cases.  And, of course, your library’s print resources are a good choice as well; they always have been.

Organization:  One of the biggest challenges students have with research is staying organized throughout the process.  Many of us used note cards and bibliography cards to combat disorganization when we were in school.  Although the use of note cards and bib. cards has become unpopular and impractical, their function in the process is still necessary.

Activity:  In groups of three or four, brainstorm alternatives to the bibliography/note cards, either using technology or not.  Work together for 5-10 minutes and then discuss with the whole group after the break.

Annotated bibliography:  The annotated bibliography is an excellent way for students to organize their research.  An annotated bibliography is made up of the following parts:

  1. Citation
  2. Summary
  3. Relevance
  4. Source Credibility

Student Example:

MLA:  The Modern Language Association changed the MLA style guide in 2009.  Link to a handout outlining the primary changes:






Peer Editing


Read Aloud

How Does Research Differ from Synthesis?

Really, synthesis is the biggest part of research.  If students do not understand how to synthesize sources, they will struggle with research at the collegiate level.  Research writing encompasses all of the types of writing that we have gone over:  summary is essential for the annotated bibliography and as a component of most papers, explication is necessary for conveying complex ideas to an ignorant audience, elements of argument are used for all but the most elementary of research assignments, and even personal narrative has a place in research—it is an effective tool for engaging the audience.  The biggest difference between synthesis and research is that in a pure synthesis essay the instructor provides the material to be synthesized; often the academic exercise is to push the student to read complex material and make connections.  If students are required to find the material to synthesize, they are doing research.


Purpose and Uses of Research Across The Disciplines

Research is arguably one of the most critical skills for future student success in college and beyond.  Students will be expected to know how to conduct research, how to properly cite sources, and how to write a researched paper in all disciplines.  Frequent, in-depth instruction in the process and product of research is imperative so that our students may participate in the kinds of thinking and writing that will be expected of them after high school.