Tip: Research paper alternatives
To successfully complete a traditional research paper, students must learn how to do both the rhetorical bits and the research bits. That’s a fairly tall order.
The research paper is a genre. It has specific formal features (what it looks like); thematic structure (what topics are addressed); situation of address and tone (what tone/style choices the author makes); and rhetorical function (why the author is writing). This is why, if I tell you that I read 50 student research paper drafts over the weekend, you can understand roughly the quantity and quality of work that I had to undertake, without even knowing what subject or level I teach. Our expectations of what I mean by a research paper more or less match, because the research paper is, more or less, an established genre.
A genre is a typified communicative act that is characterized by an agreed-upon substance and form. As typical rhetorical practices, genres satisfy an objectified communicative need. The patterns of substance (i.e., purpose, rationale and content) and form (i.e., structure, medium and language system) evolve over time in a process that adapts these genre attributes to the needs of the communicating parties.
From Alternative genres in information systems research
The research paper assignment also has goals not bound to the genre: When we ask students to write a research paper, we are asking them to demonstrate critical thinking and communication skills, yes, but we are also asking them to apply foundational research skills to address a research question.
To successfully complete a traditional research paper, then, students must learn how to do both the rhetorical bits and the research bits. That’s a fairly tall order, particularly for students who have never done research before. It’s also a challenge for instructors, who are faced with both responding to the genre aspects of the paper, and critiquing the research components.
As much as I truly am a proponent of writing across the curriculum as a method for enriching students’ writing abilities in different disciplines - and I really am! - I think there is value in looking at alternatives for how students will demonstrate their application of foundational research skills. To that end, I’ve collected some interesting ideas for what we can ask students to do with their research instead of writing a research paper (pictures below will also link to the presentation).
The research paper alternatives I have compiled here are from a variety of sources - some of my own creation, some from the sites below (and some of the ideas appeared on multiple sites). Thanks for reading!
Tomorrow’s Professor - Genre: A Different Approach to Academic Writing (Standford)
More Alternatives to Research Papers (Univ. of Connecticut)
Alternative Research Assignments (Lonestar College)
Alternatives to Traditional Testing (Texas Women’s University)