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Updating the Research Paper (Part II)

By Tricia Ebarvia

      Last week I explained how I help students discover an inquiry question through independent research.  Below, read on to lean more about our drafting process and the final products.


      At the core of the inquiry paper is Kenneth Burke’s contention that writing is like “entering a conversation.”  No doubt others have written about music and feminism, for example, but I encourage students to think of their final paper as their way of adding their voice to the ongoing conversation about their topic.


      After completing the anthology, students reflect on their research:  What most interested you in the research you collected? What surprised you? What conflicts or issues did you discover? We work through these questions in our writer’s notebooks and share in class.

       Next, students write about their topic in a variety of rhetorical modes (informational, persuasive, narrative) and strategies (description, process analysis, classification/division, cause/effect).  For example, a student who is exploring how music reveals cultural values may explore their ideas in the following ways:

  • Informational – Describe the 1920s by listing the important events that shaped the decade.
  • Narrative – Tell the story of the first time he heard a Beatles’ song.
  • Classification/Division – Describe the different ways that we experience music (radio, videos, iPod).
  • Cause/Effect – Show how changes in technologies affect the way we listen to music.

 Students explore these modes and strategies by reflecting in their notebooks, by typing a short essay, or even by writing a blog post.  Many of these shorter writing tasks eventually find their way into the final product.  This makes the writing of the final essay far less daunting.

       Some other key elements during this drafting stage:

  • Continued research. Although students have completed their initial research, they may find that their inquiry question has changed, sometimes becoming broader and other times, becoming narrower.  As such, students often do additional research for their final draft.
  • Reading.We read and analyze several texts that illustrate the type of essay students will eventually produce (these include essays like “Getting In” by Malcolm Gladwell, “The Upside of Being an Introvert” by Bryan Walsh, “The Case Against High School Sports” by Amanda Ripley and “Is Google Making Us Stoopid?” by Nicholas Carr).
  • Conferring and Peer Response. I meet with students regularly to check in on their drafts, but I also place students in peer response groups for workshop time.


       Once student complete the final copy, they lay out the essay in “magazine form.”  To do this, students must consider what publication—and thus, what audience—would most likely be interested in their essay.  They study the publication’s layout and reformat the essay according to the magazine’s design.  Students are excited and gratified to see their essay in this format, and they develop a better appreciation for the way writing can have a more “real world” application, especially for a “school” assignment.  Seeing their essays in this way makes the writing more appealing as well (after all, would you rather read—and grade—this traditional essay or this magazine article?).

       Some examples of students’ final essays:

       This year, I plan to also have students adapt their essays into two additional formats: editorial and infographic.  Reducing a 2500+ word essay down to a 800-word editorial column requires that students to narrow down their argument to its core elements.  Creating an infographic—using online tools like Infogram and Easly—asks students to imagine their essay in a visual manner.  As another extension, students could also present their essays as a TED Talk presentation.

       My hope is that through this process, students will develop a better appreciation for the way research and writing are organic, recursive, and personally meaningful experiences.  If you have any questions, feel free to let me know or pose a comment below.  I would love to hear what strategies you use to make the research process more effective for your students.

Tricia EbarviaTricia Ebarvia is a teacher at Conestoga High School in the Tredyffrin-Easttown School District.  She is also a PAWLP fellow, completing the Reading & Literature Institute in 2009 and the Writing Institute in 2011.  Her teacher webpage can be found at

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