The research paper that thwarts plagiarism
I teach research-based Composition II classes every semester. My students learn information literacy, research peer-reviewed academic journals, correctly create and structure cited pages of works, annotate bibliographies, learn rhetorical writing strategies, read various authors, watch various films, and discover the audience’s goal. Their main mission: Building the research essay – that oft-dreaded part of the work that students might as well leave until the last moment.
And this is where the potentially plagiarism problem lies: waiting until the last minute. When students wait until the last minute, they find that finding research papers isn’t as easy or as fast as they thought it was. At this point, panic mode presents itself. This usually gets them stuck with several options: don’t do it, recycle an old essay, plagiarize pieces, or buy an essay online.
This often happens to struggling students, and all of a sudden you receive an almost impeccably written essay with more sophisticated graduate student vocabulary. Or they did some MLA work cited, and you get an essay written in Chicago style. By refining my curriculum, I found a surefire way to help students not only learn how to write a research paper, but how to write their own. own research paper. How? ‘Or’ What? It’s not that hard.
We start building the research paper at the start of the semester, and we build it in stages throughout the semester. It starts with giving them the first week to think about a topic they will truly enjoy, a topic they want to learn about, a topic that is personal to them, a topic that becomes an experiential and meaningful process for them. Once this has been narrowed down, I assign three works cited about a week apart each and each with five citations / academic sources. The beauty of this is that they are looking for quotes on their topic, not just random sources. Thus, by the time their third cited work is completed, they have at least 15 peer-reviewed journals from which to draw six to eight sources required for their research paper. At this point, they have just invested 50% in their research paper and are well on their way to becoming nascent researchers.
Because we know that students often don’t want to navigate their way through dense scholarly articles, I assure them that scholarly articles are dense read for everyone. I don’t want them to think they are not up to the task as they have to proofread, search for unfamiliar words, and often have to recontextualize the material to understand it better. This leads to assigning two annotated summary bibliography assignments, with three reviews each of their works cited. At this point, we are at least a good month into the semester, while also filling other course spaces with selected and varied readings, films, discussions and other resources to improve and complement the course and establish unconventional literary links with their subjects. Thus, the research paper becomes an organic part of a cohesive semester course.
The annotated bibliography moves them deeply into their articles. I keep it at three sources by annotated bibliography. I found the students to be overwhelmed by having to mark up six sources, so I just broke it in half. Thus, these assignments and the cited assignments become large assignments with low stakes. Once they have completed the annotated bibliographies, it is time to build the paper paragraph by paragraph. It removes the monstrous aspect of abstract thinking from a long, unmanageable research essay. And we do it in class, usually two paragraphs a week. Students work independently and review other people’s paragraphs by their peers. It also allows them to earn participation points. I also jot down those first handfuls of paragraphs along the way, which count as low-stakes homework. At this point, each student writes and reviews a lot, which is essential to the writing process. I am also involved in their article every step of the way. It’s a pleasant and slow process, carefully dosed, while helping to develop skills and relieve stress. It also helps me assess those who are struggling and get extra help when and where they need to be successful.
Once they’ve built half of the paper, they put it in finished form and turn it over. I then write down this first half. It gives me the opportunity to share their strengths and weaknesses. In the meantime, they are starting to sketch out the paragraphs for the second part of the document, but I am not writing down this second half by itself. What happens is that when they have finished drafting the second half, I give them the opportunity to revise the first half marked. It encourages them to watch the second half with more criticism after my comments on the first half. They often make common editing errors in their own writing, such as omitting a direct quote or forgetting an opening sentence or logical discussion resulting in an undeveloped paragraph.
Feedback from students over the past two years has strongly indicated that they enjoy this process. This allows for a manageable research writing process, where the process is divided into several parts, it is not long and tedious as we multitask along with other reading, viewing and discussing activities, and they do not fit together. never feel rushed. As a result of this writing process, my students have become more confident in their writing skills and understand that the same process can be applied successfully throughout their curriculum for any rhetorical / persuasive essay.
Carmen Noel Eichman-Door is currently an Assistant Professor of English and First Year Writing Specialist at Delaware Valley University in Doylestown, Pennsylvania. Eichman-Door is also the author of When the ugly arrives, a historical novel about diversity, inclusion and social justice.