Learning how to write a research paper is one of the rites of passage in grade school. With its precise form and specific requirements, the research paper asks kids to think in a structured, linear way while arguing a position on a topic. Some students sense that the research paper is a very “grown up” way of presenting information and find it exciting. Other students will look at a sample paper and be daunted at the prospect of creating such a long and complex document. To ease such fears, introduce students first to what research is and how it’s conducted.

  • Tell your students that research is about asking questions about the world in which we live and finding out what people have said about these questions. Give your students some examples of research questions, such as: “Why is the sky blue?” or “Can some fish fly?” Ask them to write down three or four of their own research questions.
  • Ask your students to suggest places they can look for answers to their questions. If their suggestions don’t include libraries, books, magazines, newspapers, and websites, mention these. Take them to a library and show them how to use the Dewey Decimal System so they can independently search for items.
  • Explain to your students that the most reliable information is the primary source — where the information first appeared. Show students articles and other information and ask them if it’s a primary source or not.
  • Tell students that some research papers ask you to take a particular side on a topic and argue why your position is right and the opposite position is wrong. Give them some examples of position papers, e.g., “Do beauty pageants serve a useful purpose?” or “How have cell phones changed us socially?” Ask your students to think of some topic questions of their own.
  • Explain that the position you take on a topic is called your “thesis.” Show your students some examples of theses and explain how they are constructed. Ask them to write a thesis of their own.
  • Tell your students that research papers are written in a particular format. Show them a research paper and let them examine how it’s written. Walk them through the research paper’s various parts, explaining each one.

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