Middle school research papers: hints and suggestions
Students in middle school are often tasked with writing the first research paper which they are largely responsible for completing independently. This marks a transition from elementary grade research assignments, which are typically focused on working side by side with an adult or older student, learning how to use library and online resources.
Completing their first paper without the help of an adult can be daunting, but it’s also exciting. Although middle school aged children should be able to do their research and writing mostly on their own, there are some hints and suggestions that can help to guide them.
Hints for Choosing a Topic
If the instructor doesn’t give much guidance for choosing a topic, some students may have difficulty choosing a suitable one. They may not yet have the experience to choose a topic for which there will be adequate source material available, because they choose something that’s too obscure. Typically, choosing a very broad topic is acceptable in middle school, but it’s good practice for high school to choose a topic that’s a bit more narrow. One way to determine whether or not the topic will provide enough source material is to see if there’s a Wikipedia entry about it. If there is, check to see that it’s well referenced and includes a wide variety of different acceptable sources. If so, it’s likely to be easily researched.
Another important tip: Students should choose a topic they enjoy. Since these are their first independent papers, it’s important to instill in them that research and learning about a topic they enjoy on their own can be satisfying and fun. A less than ideal topic otherwise may be worth the extra work if it’s something a student is very passionate about.
Suggestions for Finding Sources
While simply using a Google or other normal web-based search can help, it doesn’t always provide the most reputable sources. That’s because web searches often point to the most popular websites. But the most popular sites might not be up to the instructor’s standards for references. Wikipedia itself is generally not considered a usable source, but it can still be helpful, because students can look at the original sources used to write the article. They can write down magazine, journal, and other publication names and dates and take these to their librarian to see if they have a copy in stock or have access to an online copy.