Monday, November 28, 2016

the problem with "research papers"

Composition 101, Researching and Writing, Expository Writing - whatever the class is called, there will always be freshmen coming to the writing center in a panic and asking consultants on how to help them to get "a good grade" on their paper for the class. These foundation classes are significant in building the student's writing ability and to prepare them for more papers to come at university; however, it seems to do the exact opposite in terms of "authentically" improving a student's writing abilities. I'm glad that Katherine chose to do these two articles, because I cannot stress enough how toxic formulaic writing is for students in composition classes - instead of promoting critical thinking skills, original ideas, and individualized voice in their paper, students cling to a pattern in academic writing that has preceded and is expected of them. These students are desperate to follow the formula, regurgitate ideas just to make their argument in a paper "safe," stress out over every proper citation placement, and constantly ask writing center tutors, "Is this paper good? Does it follow the requirements? Do you think the professor will be ok with this?"

Students are poisoned with that idea of writing for a grade, and thus try their best to make their paper into a scientific puzzle- "Maybe if I move this sentence here, add a citation after this part, put a quote there, it'll look like the sample paper our professor shared with us, and then I'll be ok!" They are so concerned with getting through the class with no other reason than keeping their GPA up and just not failing, and consequently have no interest in writing for themselves. Like Barbara Fister says in her article, "Why the 'Research Paper' Isn't Working," students are too afraid to express their own ideas and make the paper their own because it won't "fit" with what the professor wants, or even that there aren't enough  "sources" to back a completely original argument. Students are concerned with replication, which is why having a standard "research paper" isn't working. The concept needs to be reworked so that it encourages students to think on their own and tend to their own ideas, instead of doing incomplete, surface-level research just to support a quote for an argument they have no interest in.

Additionally, these standard research papers clash completely with the ideology of the writing center. The writing center works toward non-direct conversations that help the students think and encourage their individuality and confidence in their own writing and voice, as opposed to showing students directly how to "make their paper better." That's not what the writing center is about, and having those research papers seem to only promote that mentality of "do as I say," instead of giving them more freedom to explore their voice. Academic foundation courses in writing need to rethink their methods in teaching, as it is dangerous to the students; ultimately, they will keep repeating this behavior of formulaic writing in their other classes. That habit, consequently, is detrimental to their own learning, and definitely does not help prepare them for their other classes at university that will require original research, original thought, and original voice.

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