This week we read Why the Research Paper is Not Working by Barbara Fister and The Popularity of Formulaic Writing by Mark Wiley
Barbara Fister has been an outspoken critic of the research paper. She describes that “mixed messages” are sent to students by the typical “research paper” assignments. For Fister, the form is an “artificial genre” that “works at cross-purposes to actually developing respect for evidence-based reasoning, a measured appreciation for negotiating ideas that are in conflict, or original thought.” Yes the research paper teaches students how to research a subject and provide evidence in their writing to support their topic/thesis. But this doesn’t allow the student a lot of room for creativity or original thought.
The artificiality of the research-process and experience of writing the traditional research paper interferes with the students’ desire to engage with the course material. It prevents them from thinking through why the ethics of source usage really do matter in the real world. Due to the unoriginality of the topics used for research papers it prevents the students from caring much about the subjects they chose to write about. Foster writes that “If you want students to make an argument, start from something they know and care about, something that matters to them and about which they can hold an informed opinion.”
I agree with her ideas. It is great for a student to learn something new and to research it in detail but it seems that the research paper is extinct and that instructors need to cultivate a new way of assigning the research paper.
Mark Wiley begins to describe the affects that formulaic writing have on our students (the formula meaning the five paragraph rule, an introduction paragraph with a topic sentence, three supporting paragraphs with evidence and detail, and lastly a conclusion paragraph that restates your argument). He notes that students who are taught to only write to a formula have difficulty writing other texts outside of using the formula. Initially the formula was created to provide structure for beginning writers. The formula was made with the intent that it would be a template for beginning writers. Once you know how to write a standard essay and organize your thoughts, you are free to be as fun and creative as your mind desires. However, teachers have expanded the use of formulaic writing because it is easy to teach and easy to grade. I think in the beginning this is a good tool to give students. If students are not given a model showing how to write an essay properly then they will never be able to move away from the formula and start bending some of the rules. I believe that the formula is helpful to a point. Once a writer is more comfortable they should be motivated to step away from the formula.
Mark Wiley suggests that future teachers should be taught how to teach writing effectively. Teachers should be prepared and encourage their students to express their arguments through a way in which makes sense to them. This allows them to creatively set up their essay anyway they want, as long as the essay is an intellectual piece of writing and is written that way. Ultimately, Wiley recommends that teachers should use formats for writing as strategies but resist limiting students to only writing formulas.