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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, October 18, 2007

Writing a research paper is a skill to learn

By Shirley Lum

At some point in your child's educational career he or she will be asked to write a research paper.

Whether it's on the Spanish Civil War, space exploration, or William Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet," being able to craft a research paper is something every child needs to know. Your child will need to learn how to research a topic, and how to write a clear and concise essay based on that research.

Here are a few tips on how you can help guide your child through the process:

  • Create an outline. It doesn't matter if the essay is two pages or 50, every composition will benefit from a well-thought-out outline. Have your child identify bullet points that should be discussed, and then refer to these when writing the essay.

    An outline should help your child clearly think through both a thesis and a conclusion the two most important points in an essay with supporting points to back up their position.

  • Conduct research efficiently. Thanks to the Internet, there is a wealth of resource material available. But your child will need to learn how to conduct "smart" research, determining what information is critical to support his or her argument, and what is superfluous. Challenge your child to use good judgment when researching.

  • Remind your child to cite his or her sources. Most schools follow the Modern Language Association's format for research papers, but check with your child's teacher to find out. The MLA format calls for inserting an "in-line citation" directly into the text of the paper whenever using a direct quote or paraphrasing another person's thoughts or ideas. Challenge your child to refer to several sources to back up the arguments. And remind her or him that failing to cite a source for an idea that was not their own is plagiarism and in some situations is also illegal.

  • Remember grammar and punctuation. No matter how well a paper is written, the quality of the essay can easily be marred by poor grammar and incorrect punctuation. While today's spell-check and other grammar-correcting programs make this process somewhat easier, remind your child that no program is foolproof. Have your child write his or her first draft and then edit the paper without the aid of an online grammar program, using whichever reference book is recommended by the teacher.

  • Once your child has successfully completed two or three research papers, the process will become second nature. Feel free to quickly check over his work, but don't make drastic changes. Your child will benefit from your involvement and encouragement and, over time, will become secure in her own abilities to write an excellent paper.

    Shirley Lum is a McKinley High School teacher and a member of the Hawai'i State Teachers Association.