Teaching Research PapersI'm new here and teach a class of 17 homeschoolers age 13-16. I'll be teaching my co-op students how to write a research paper. The topics are to prepare them to become more...

Teaching Research Papers

I'm new here and teach a class of 17 homeschoolers age 13-16. I'll be teaching my co-op students how to write a research paper. The topics are to prepare them to become more familiar with the middle ages so they'll get the context they need before they read the books.

My question is, some of the topics don't lend themselves to thesis questions. Topics like....
Hunting in the Middle Ages
Falconry in the Middle Ages
What is feudalism and how does it work?

If a paper requires the student to do research and sources must be documented, but the topics is more explanatory, than what kind of paper is this?

I want the papers to be 3-4 pages long.

I don't want to teach this as "How to write a research paper," if it isn't truly a research paper.

Expert Answers
Lorraine Caplan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Even as students are learning to write a research paper, I think the paper needs to be inquiry-driven, rather than topic-driven.  Can any of the topics be framed as inquiries that would allow the student to do some research and be able to formulate a thesis?  For example, what if a student had to find out why falconry was important?  The answer would be the thesis. 

Are you bound by these topics, or are you permitted to provide alternatives?  I think students are more engaged by everyday life in a historical period than they are by the big picture.  What is they had to find out what people ate or wore?  Feudalism might be explored by asking what people grew and if they made any money growing crops.   And then there is war, the favorite of many boys.  What kinds of weapons did people use?  What kinds of buildings did they build to defend themselves? 

This seems to me to be a kind of scaffolding assignment, with research skills being almost a byproduct.  That is probably the best way to learn research skills, since they are difficult to learn in a vacuum.  This is also a wonderful opportunity for learning about what resources are credible, or not. 

Good luck! 

asorrell eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Some people think that we need to "dumb down" research papers for middle schoolers.  I have taught lots of middle school students how to write research papers and although the topics may not be as complex as what my seniors write, middle school students are definitely capable of writing a traditional research paper.  When I teach kids how to write research papers I tell them that I am also grading them on the process of writing a research paper.  They get points for everything...choosing a topic, writing a thesis statement, notes, outline, and even just using all the time available to them in class. 

When I use historical topics like you mentioned, I usually steer students to showing how the event etc. was influential. 

Letting them do dumbed down verions and calling it a research paper is detrimental to them in high school.  They are definitely old enough to do real research papers and they'll have a much easier time in their classes in high school and college if they learn how to do right when they're younger.  This includes using proper citation.  Some kids think it's okay to plagiarize because no one has ever taught them the right way to cite their sources.

ask996 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

My suggestion would be that you consider teaching them how to create a multi-genre paper. The multi-genre paper is a genre in itself. It requires that the teacher teach students different genres (which is what we should be doing anyway), and then it empowers the student to find his or her own voice through the genres he or she chooses to complete the requirements of the project. This makes the assignment more of a learning experience for the student as he or she is considering and reflecting on personal interests and learning styles.

I could go on and on, but I'll just refer you to an expert in the field--Tom Romano. Google him--he's there; Youtube him--he's there. You will not be sorry for taking the time to further investigate this liberating topic.

ksduncan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

It seems to me that your focus here is on the steps for writing a research paper. It is a research paper if students are requied to research a topic and present their findings with documentation. You are looking at expository writing, which is a valid form of writing. Their thesis can be something simple such as "Hunting in the Middle Ages was..." Then they must prove this statement with their findings. Ths may seem simplisitic, but for the age group and the task at hand, especially a 3-4 page paper, I think it is very appropriate. I don't understand why you would not consider it a research paper if they are following the appropriate format, documenting their sources, and proving a thesis.

accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Agreeing with all of the above posts, I think that this is an excellent opportunity for your students to learn one of the most important aspects of writing a research paper: formulating an appropriate question or thesis statement. For me, this is a skill that a number of adults with degrees still struggle to do. They make their research question too broad and vague. Helping and working with your students to encourage them to come up with their own research question on the Middle Ages gives them autonomy and ownership of this project and allows you to instruct them on how to create a "doable" research question that is specific enough to be completed.

Susan Hurn eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I agree with Post #2. A paper is which research is limited and focused is more valuable than a general report. Any topic can turn into a thesis by asking and answering a question of interest. For instance, instead of "What is feudalism and how did it work?" consider "Was feudalism an effective economic system?" or "Did feudalism create a weak or strong society?"

In researching either question to find the answer and develop a thesis, students would learn a lot about feudalism and how it worked, but their research also would require analysis and critical thinking, leading to a conclusion they could support in a developed and documented paper.

Lori Steinbach eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I'll bet your students will be thoughtful and inspired enough to write their own thesis statement on something they would like to explore.  Yours are quite interesting, but sometimes students would rather do some exploring on their own and that's part of the process, too.  Before you approve a topic, it's important that you do some preliminary work to ensure there's enough research to support the topic.  Thanks for offering these students a chance to fall in love with research. 

drmonica eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I suggest that you consider teaching an I-Search paper. You can do a web search and find several great I-Search resources that explain exactly how the process works. The cool thing is that students are able to focus their efforts on researching and documentation in a way that makes sense to them. They do write the paper in first person, so it’s not a substitute for a traditional research paper, but it’s a great way to start learning the concept.

Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Perhaps this is something towards which you can drive to achieve.  If you have your students for a year, perhaps you can build towards writing a full fledged research paper.  You might find it to be within your students' grasp to start out with an elemental paper, where research is a part and not the sum.  Then, gradually building up to a research paper will help both students' writing and researching skills.

jacobadam01 | Student

Students always want to consult with their professors about the appropriateness of a topic for the specific assignment given. They are meant to generate ideas for additional topics. Students, you should remember that select a topic which you care about enough to invest the necessary time and energy for thought, research, and development of the ideas. Develop your argument based upon your findings.

Some of good topics for writing research papers:

  • Should academic freedom for teachers and students be limited by law?
  • Does society has an obligation to protect privacy as a basic individual right?
iminalabama | Student

Thanks everyone for the great tips.  I can now formulate some thesis statements that could go along with these general topics, such as "How was hunting different in the Middle Ages then today?"

What was the significance of falconry in the Middle Ages and so on.

Other topics they have to choose from more easily lend themselves to formulating thesis statements, such as "Who was Merlin?"  (We're studying the legends of King Arthur).

"Who was Robin Hood and did he really exist?"

Am I on the right track here?  My plan is that hopefully, after instruction, they will be able to come up with their own thesis statement from these questions.

Thanks again,  I'm excited to get started,



krishna-agrawala | Student

Thesis question, or more appropriately thesis statement, as applicable to research papers I am familiar with - that is, thesis written in as a part of higher education at the level of post-graduation and PhD, is usually a statement, the validity of which is examined in the thesis. I am not sure, what kind of thesis or research paper you are referring to me. However. as I see from your post, you are talking about something that need to be done by 13 year old students also. Keeping that in mind I would like to make a few suggestion.

The topic of the paper could be just investigating some specific subject to be investigated. If you like you can put it in the form of a question - for example, what was the nature of hunting practices adopted by people in the middle ages. But examining the validity of a thesis statement or question is definitely not suitable for such young students.

Suitable sources to be used for the research should be specified by the teacher. It is not necessary to indicate which chapter in a book to be referred, but it may be appropriate to suggest a few books. Students may or may not uses all the recommended sources. Also, students can, if they wish, use additional sources.