Candy corn and Peeps. My precious mangoes. The World Series. Santa Clause and twinkle lights. Porter Peach Festival. Candles on a cake. Bath and Body Works Big Sale.
They only come around once a year. And we fall in love.
They are not the ordinary, everyday, humdrum treadmill of our existence. They’re the prize in the cereal box. The reason we have calendars. Sublime happiness!
And on my list of seasonal favorites, you, research paper, are at the top. Above the other writing assignments, you reign supreme. With all of the book reports and short stories and poetry finally finished for the year, it’s time to unveil you in all your glory! You are the paper I wait all year for my students to experience!
How can I put this in practical terms for the “normal” folks to understand?
Like Hallmark and Mother’s Day.
Like big screen TV’s and the Superbowl.
Like tornado chasers and Oklahoma summers.
Like H&R Block and April.
It’s research paper time, and I’m like a coach before the big game. I open my lesson plan book—just as complex and mysterious as a playbook—and see today’s objective: Write Research Paper. (If the box were any bigger, I’d describe you more accurately: Learn how to write the one document that will change life forever.) I begin the warm-up, making copies of the handouts and checking off the necessary supplies. Note cards, check. Highlighters, check. Rubrics, check.
A sense of purpose comes over me. This is what I was born to teach.
We go back a long way. Fourth grade. Mrs. Griggs. The Pioneer unit. (She must have noticed how Oregon Trail had completely consumed our computer time each day.) Each student could sign up for one project: sew a pioneer quilt, make original pioneer food, construct a covered wagon, make a pioneer board game, or research pioneers. Nearly every girl chose the quilt and every boy the covered wagon. A few oddballs chose the other tasks, although I hope today they’re not blogging about their passion for pioneer food or board games.
I alone chose research. We’ve been best friends ever since.
And now as a teacher I get to grade piles and piles of you! Some may find it tiring, monotonous. What? How else can one learn about topics like knights, the Great Blue Turaco, the Danish Resistance, poverty, the death penalty, and NASCAR in one sitting? I’m an instant expert (on the middle-high school level) on all of these subjects, thanks to you, beloved research paper.
What’s not to love about you? The Purdue Online Writing Lab describes you as “a living thing, which grows and changes as the student explores, interprets, and evaluates sources related to a specific topic” (Hamid and Baker). Like ice cream, you come in different flavors: argumentative, analytical, compare/contrast. Like fine wine, you take time to develop (Nine 45-minute class periods). Like a good book, you tell a story. Unlike sports, one doesn’t have to have a natural ability, you can be learned. And your strongest appeal: as opposed to life, you are controllable.
I’m sorry for the groans of my students on Day 1 of Research Paper Unit. They don’t have the fond college memories of late nights with you, writing red-eyed and face buried in the MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers. They don’t know the fulfillment of a perfectly placed paraphrase or a flawless Works Cited page. No, they don’t smile when they say Thesis Statement.
But they will learn. I will teach them of your power, your beauty. I hope they will never again see you as my own personal torture device, a dreaded assignment that is the inevitable means to an end (read—passing my class).
If after my 12 Steps for Writing the Perfect Research Paper they still hate you, well, it’s not your fault. Your presence in their lives will only heighten as the years go by. And maybe by the time they pen their doctoral thesis, you’ll finally be the twinkle in their eye, instead of the twitch.
Your biggest super-nerd fan,
Hamid, Sarah, and Baker, Jack Raymond. “Genre and the Research Paper.” 29 November 2007. OWL at Purdue. 21 May 2008. <http://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/658/02>.