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Consultation on Research Notes

Students writing research papers sometimes come to the Writing Center looking for ways to turn a mound of data or a mountain of note cards into a paper. These students generally need help organizing and focusing their material, and discovering what it is they want to say about all the information they’ve amassed. A good place to begin such a conference is to encourage the student to articulate what his research is about, what he wants his paper to accomplish, and what ideas he has for his thesis.

For the student who has become engrossed in collecting data, reading, and note-taking, the chance to set those materials aside and talk about what interests him in his topic, his findings, and his reactions to his readings, allows him to enter into his subject area’s scholarly dialogue. It is common for students to feel overwhelmed and silenced by what they have been reading and researching, so part of your goal is to help the student find his voice and what he has to say about all that he has learned. Additionally, you are helping the student find a specific thesis and an argument for his paper. Following some discussion with you, a variety of pre-draft writing? exercises can help the student begin to synthesize ideas, sketch out and organize an argument, determine what material is not relevant, and decide where he needs to gather more information. In some cases, just the act of writing what he thinks about his topic in a free-writing exercise can allow him to feel in control of his research material and ready to work through what he wants to say and the best way to present his ideas.

You will also see students who feel unready to begin writing from their notes, either because they don’t understand their assignment (these students tend to take few or highly arbitrary notes and will eventually need to do more focused reading and note-taking?) or because they feel unsure about how to incorporate their secondary reading and research into a paper. In both cases, a clear sense of the assignment, including the role of researched material in the final paper, will help the student understand how to turn notes into a draft. Especially if a student has done little or no significant research writing in high school, a discussion with you about the purposes of such papers in general—and his assignment in particular—as well as the logistics of research writing? can go far in enabling a student to write thoughtfully and confidently.

Some Additional Resources for Research Writing