Many college students dread the research paper: the time involved, researching topics and material, writing coherently, and being tempted by plagiarism. In your curriculum, when assigning the first paper of the course, it’s important to explain the goal of the paper, describe the research paper format, offer viable research paper topics, and provide an example of research paper technique that meets their requirements.

Place the research in the context of the course

Instructors know the value in the research paper, which teaches academic research, library navigation, organizational thought processes, and presentation. Teachers should be aware of the challenges students face in writing papers. Therefore, the first paper assigned should have a carefully described goal and parameters, and be positioned within the context of the course.

In the article “How do I assign research?” under the header “Outlining Objectives,” posted in Writing@CSU on the Colorado State University website, the author advised: “In a research assignment, it is important that we communicate to students our research objectives, as well as objectives for more general writing and academic skills. For example, would we like students to learn to frame a research question? Would we like them to acquire library research skills, using online databases and other Internet sources?”

Set expectations for research papers

Decide what type of research paper is best to begin your course with. According to Randall VanderMey in the book The College Writer: A Guide to Thinking, Writing, and Researching, Fifth Edition: “Each college instructor has a way of personalizing a writing assignment, but most assignments will spell out (1) the objective, (2) the task, (3) the formal requirements, and (4) suggested approaches and topics” (VanderMey, 32).

VanderMey went on to recommend that students read the assignment carefully—so instructors should be sure to put all the information students will need into the assignment’s description.

Determine your supporting role

The goals of research papers includes critical thinking, developing writing skills, summarizing ideas, creating a narrative, comparing and contrasting different viewpoints, debating, and analyzing arguments.

In assigning research papers, many instructors also help students relieve their anxiety of writing a paper, focus on a topic, establish research questions, conduct library and web research, outline and plan the paper, and refrain from plagiarism.

Students often become anxious when told to write research papers. An option at the beginning of the year is to assign several essays or short research papers, or even small-group assignments, to give students more practice, rather than assign one large end of the semester paper.

Explain the elements of a research paper

Back to basics is always a good idea, so instructors should provide students with the general elements and structure of the research paper: title, abstract, keywords, introduction, methodology, results and discussion, conclusion, and bibliography/references.

Explain parameters of the assignment

When assigning a paper, there are several parameters the instructor should make the students aware of: write the paper to the appropriate length, narrow their focus of research topic, use proven research from reputable sources, use required sources such as newspapers or academic journals, present objective research and arguments, read the paper through then revise into a second draft, adhere to the deadline, and do not plagiarize.

How do you plan to introduce the first research paper assignment of the year?

Reference: VanderMey, Randall. 2015. The College Writer: A Guide to Thinking, Writing, and Researching, 5th ed. Boston: Cengage Learning.