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Research writing is a contribution to academia. It should not be mere regurgitation of the facts and ideas of scholars and specialists. As educators, we must teach students to realize that they are required to have their own insights into source materials. They must engage in a dialogue with the sources they consult. Without this dialogue their research is meaningless and becomes a mere exercise of collecting and organizing. We must make the distinction between reporting and researching. Writing a report is objective writing; writing a research paper is subjective writing. Research is not simply finding information: it is processing information. Researching a topic requires a filtering of sources through a unique point of view. Research is a dynamic cerebral activity; reporting is a mechanical one. Reporting is a retelling of ideas found; it is not an analysis of ideas found. Although reporting involves the gathering of information.
Students need to break down the texts for details, recognize them as relevant to their focus on a particular topic, and then pull them together under the all-encompassing thesis idea. The paper itself is a balancing act of interpretation and evidence. We are not asking for opinion separate from evidence. We are not asking for evidence separate from what we no longer call opinion, but interpretation. An academic argument is an interweaving of both evidence and interpretation. Many student essays are heavy on one side or the other: that is, they are either largely opinion without any grounding in sources of information, or they are merely literal, factual restatement of source material without any insight. These imbalanced essays need to be discussed with students so they recognize the favoring of one over the other in their own writings.
Students should be encouraged to overcome the temptation to simply copy information from secondary sources, because comprehension is more likely to be accomplished if they paraphrase and summarize. If they can put information into their own words (paraphrasing and summarizing), they are demonstrating understanding of that information. Paraphrasing and summarizing require more engagement than quoting. Copying is easy. Students often copy entire pages (which they could have photocopied and pasted into their note journals more easily and with the same amount of success in terms of increasing their understanding of content). Obviously, in this electronic age, cutting and pasting is a simple task. If, in haste, a student forgets to cite the source of the quotes (cut and pasted materials), they are plagiarizing.
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