Research Sources Expand Knowledge

Research sources should include quality books, magazines, newspapers, web articles, and an interview. These resources blended together will help your teen produce a quality research paper.

Searching for this wide range of sources will teach her how to gather information, and the task of combining them into a finished research paper will develop her thinking skills that few other tasks can.

Which Sources To Use?

My suggestion for the first research paper would be to choose five research sources to include a book, a magazine article, which will probably be from an online source, a newspaper article (also online), an encyclopedia article, and an interview. 

Your teen should go to the library to find the book. I would highly recommend trying to find an article in the Encyclopaedia Britannica, which she can find online too.

There is a technique for increasing one's success in finding good information on the internet. It's called a Boolean search. She should use this as part of her education. It will come in handy throughout her studies. 

The MLA Stylebook

Secondary and college research papers require students to use the MLA (Modern Language Association) Stylebook for all bibliography cards, notecards, in-text citations, and the           Works Cited page.  This has been the standard go-to book for decades.

Having a hard copy of this book in your teen's arsenal of research papers tools will make it easier for her to find the information and become familiar with the MLA format.

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Understanding The Research Steps

Before we continue, I want you to understand that the research paper can fry your teen's brain.

I say this based on grading more than 3,000 research papers over a 20-year period. I found that most teenagers really tried their best, but the research paper was usually first introduced during the 11th grade, and it was really too much for most of them to master. Writing smaller, limited papers earlier in their studies would have helped them succeed more often. 

I found that the students usually procrastinated, didn't fully understand instructions, couldn't find sources, and experienced a myriad of challenges that was very stressful for them.

 While I believe that homeschooling advances students' critical thinking skills, the research paper is still daunting.  It requires these tasks and skills: 

  • choosing a topic 
  • narrowing a topic
  • thinking, writing, and revising a thesis statement
  • choosing research sources from a wide range of materials
  • writing bibliography cards in correct MLA style
  • reading and evaluating those sources
  • writing complete sentence notes on those sources
  • using correct MLA format for notecards
  • creating an outline for the research paper
  • arranging notecards in correct, logical order
  • writing an engaging, compelling introductory paragraph
  • writing and revising body paragraphs in a logical, sequential order
  • inserting accurate in-text citations in MLA style
  • writing a solid conclusion
  • writing a correctly formatted Works Cited page

And let's not forget that this 1,000 word (more or less) research paper must be written with correct grammar, punctuation, and reflect some type of writing style.

Eating The Elephant Can Be Done

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You've heard the joke about how to eat an elephant -- one bite at a time.

You can take steps that will help ensure your teen's success. These include

  • setting deadlines for small, individual tasks. 
  • limiting the paper to 5 to 10 research sources and 
  • 750 to 1,250 words 
  • giving many, many grades or credit for the wide range of tasks.

For example, during the time period that she is writing the paper, you can honestly eliminate

  • grammar, vocabulary, and spelling lessons, 
  • the semester literature book, 
  • any critical thinking lessons, 
  • math word problems, and 
  • other random writing assignments.  

The research paper will cover all those areas.

Having your teen choose a research topic in the social studies or sciences will also allow you to reduce or eliminate daily work in one of those subjects as well. 

In truth, with all the research sources they will have to read to find useful information, they shouldn't miss out on learning anything.

Reading The Sources or How To Scan 100s of Pages

In order for your teen to find the information she needs, she's going to have to scan and read hundreds of pages of information. Here are some suggestions for making that process easier: 

  • Look through the Table of Contents for specific chapters to scan. 
  • Read the Index in the back of the book for specific pages to read.
  • Look at the Bibliography page of each book or source for other sources of information, especially on her topic. (This is a really good technique if she is having difficulty finding sources.) 

How To Read a Chapter:

  • Read every topic sentence FIRST.
  • Scan the paragraphs she thinks are important looking for the key words in her working thesis statement. 
  • Take a slip of paper and write a one word descriptor of the information on that page.  (Cut long slips of paper and have a pen handy.) 

Before writing ANY notecards, she may find the information she needs elaborated on better some place else in the book. 

A Final Word Of Encouragement

I have always thought it is disingenuous to tell someone that something is easy, when it's not, to casually tell them that they are so smart, it will be a piece of cake.

The research paper, done right, is NOT a piece of cake.

However, I offer this for encouragement.  

When your teen is finished reading the many research sources, creating the thesis statement, making the outline, learning MLA style, and writing and revising the many drafts needed to produce a quality research paper, she will feel darn proud of herself.

Writing the research paper is a monumental task, but the knowledge she will gain through it, will raise her self-esteem unlike any other project. 

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