Writing a good research paper is useful for all students, but is especially important for the homeschooled student who is generally more responsible for his education. The research paper allows the student to learn about many different personally chosen topics as well as to practice his formal writing. A collection of good research papers can contribute to the homeschooler’s portfolio to be examined by prospective colleges and to prepare him for the standards of college academic life.
Size and Frequency of Papers
As the parent of a homeschooler, you can a establish regular researching and writing regimen. You may want to assign one research paper every one, two, or six months, depending on your schedule and needs. You can also determine the size of the paper, from three to ten pages, depending on the topic, the child’s age or ability, and your goals. Trust your judgment about the schedule, but be ready to adjust it if it doesn’t work or if the needs change over time, which they probably will as your child matures.
What Topic Do We Choose?
The topic may be chosen by both parent and child together. The parent can choose the general topic, such as Discoveries of Civilization or Historical People. The child then can narrow the topic down to something he is interested such as The Development of Antibiotics or Abraham Lincoln. Since these topics are still too general to write a high school research paper, the parent and child together can narrow it down further to The Discovery of Penicillin or Lincoln as President. The final narrowing of the topic occurs after the student has done some preliminary reading to see what materials are available on the topic as well as what is his interest. This cooperative method assures that the child has some control over his topic choice and guards against always choosing the same topic. You as the parent may also want to guide the topic choice to accompany any required studies in other subjects.
Scheduling the Parts of the Paper
Your most important job is setting a schedule to work on the research paper. Your student will follow a prescribed pattern for the paper. The parent can be there to hold him accountable to his schedule as well as to give advice on where and how to find information. You can also proofread the paper, looking for errors and continuity.
I recommend breaking the schedule into components that have specific deadlines. This is a suggested list and order: choosing a topic, searching for first books and materials and making a bibliographic list, narrowing topic, taking notes on index cards, writing a thesis statement or topic sentence, writing an outline, continued reading for more information, revising thesis statement and outline, writing a rough draft, submitting it for pre-approval and critique, final draft.
Citation of Sources
The citation is giving credit for information collected and used in a research paper. There are several citation methods to choose from, according to the area of discipline the paper is in. There are many good books and websites that allow you to cite correctly. Make sure you encourage your child in the honest citing of sources.
Finishing the Project
When you and your child are satisfied with the end result of the paper, the rest of the family can be invited to hear the child’s presentation of the paper. He can prepare a short lecture on his paper, containing the main points of the paper without actually reading it for his audience. It may also be useful to both the audience and the student for him to describe what he most liked about the project and what he learned that was the most surprising. An oral presentation like this one can be helpful for the student to see the value in sharing his knowledge as well as to practice public speaking. He can also suggest further reading for the others, if they are interested in the topic, taking into consideration their ages or interests. Family members can enjoy hearing him as well as to learn something new. The student may even want to invite an authority to listen, such as a prospective employer or college official, depending on the situation.
What About a Co-Op?
It’s not a bad idea to form a Co-Op with other homeschooling families to do a research paper according to a common schedule, followed by a group presentation of the salient points from the paper. One parent could supply an outline of the basic parts of the paper with deadlines and a rubric, and could arrange the time and place for final presentation.
Continue to challenge your child in this pursuit of knowledge and excellence! He will benefit from regular research and writing. A good, solid portfolio contains many samples of well-written, well-chosen, and well-rounded papers.