How to Fall in Love with a Research Paper
Published: Wednesday, October 16, 2013
Updated: Wednesday, October 16, 2013 15:10
There is a seven-word statement that makes almost any school student—high school or college—shiver with fear: “It’s time to begin our research paper.” They’re long. They’re hard. And they take hours of yawn-worthy reading. But what if I told you it didn’t have to be that way?
There isn’t some kind of sorcery to a good and interesting research paper and I’m writing this article not to preach about the obvious, one “secret” to write great papers that instructors have been telling their students about. “Dawn of time is to choose an interesting topic, and it makes research more fun,” they’ll always say.
Every time these advices are brought up, students roll their eyes. They have heard them too many times to count, and they have never once been beneficial to their papers. I have a bit of different advice, I’ll tell you even though and it’ll sound absolutely nuts.
First, brainstorm every topic you can think of...and I mean everything: dogs, “Star Wars” and hip surgery. Sure, but none of those are very creative. Try something more elaborate, like “Why Chihuahuas are a national icon for spoiled rich women,” or “How ‘Star Wars’ is a metaphor for making a sandwich,” or “Hip replacements are contributing to a socialistic government.” Eventually you’ll come up with an idea that will catch everyone’s eye, but your instructor will surely reject it.
Great! Then you finally have the perfect topic to write about. When it comes to writing papers, I have noticed a huge misconception among students. They seem to think that because it’s something they’re handing in, its topic needs to be as dry as the Sahara desert and as boring as a Sunday sermon.
So often, people write what they think their teacher wants to hear. This is a great approach if you have no personality and/or soul. If you break out of that shell, though, and prove to your instructor that you can make a great and unusual paper, I’d be willing to bet he or she will give it the green light.
In high school, I wrote two research papers (one my junior year and another as a senior) and it was the first time I had used the strategy above. We spent several weeks researching our topics, filling over 250 note cards with facts and sources and finally writing an eight-page-long (single-spaced!) paper. It was tough, but I actually enjoyed doing it.
The topic for my junior year was a little unorthodox. How do you think my teacher responded when I came up and told him, “Mr. Teacher, my topic is ‘Why a zombie apocalypse is plausible in today’s society’? I’ll tell you how he responded: He loved it.
Research was tough (the library sadly lists all zombie books under fiction) but in the end, I found everything I needed to write the paper. But more importantly, I learned mounds of undead trivia I could now dump on my friends. When all was said and done, Mr. Teacher handed me back a perfect paper.
Honestly, though, it was just a one-off thing, right? It would be tough to top that topic when I started my senior paper. But I went up to Mr. Teacher the next year and told him my topic was going to be, “Why ‘South Park’ is a prime example of American satire,” He couldn’t say no.
For those unfamiliar with the show, “South Park” is an adult cartoon riddled with profanity, crude humor, racism, sexism and just about everything else that people could find offensive. I sought to defend the finer points of the show, praising its criticisms of topical issues and creative use of four-letter words.
In hindsight, it was a brilliant topic for a research paper. While everyone else was reading old, dusty books, which were
four-feet thick and filled with boring information on tuberculosis, horses and the study of Mexican delicacies, I was watching a cartoon about 10-year-olds swearing at each other.
After three weeks of this, guess who was universally hated by his English classmates?
Granted, it did require some legitimate research on studies, topical events and popular opinions. As time went on, though, I genuinely started to see how valuable South Park is as a satire. While doing a peer review, one of my classmates who hated South Park with a passion, came up to me and explained how I opened his eyes to the show’s satirical efforts.
By the time grades rolled out, as you’ve probably already guessed, I proudly gloated over another A+. In high school, I was that weird kid who liked writing papers. I enjoyed the research. I enjoyed taking notes. I enjoyed writing it. But most of all, I enjoyed the first few days, when we’d do nothing but brainstorm topics.
I’ve retained a ton of the information from these papers. The topic was something I actually wanted to learn about, and not just a formality. Maybe the real secret to writing well is to take a step back from the assignment, consider your options and then choose the most ridiculous choice possible. It worked for me, did it not?
Nolan is a freshman majoring in English.