Pulling The Trigger On The Research Paper

You can add me to the list of those who have serious doubts about the utility of the traditional research paper. For the vast majority of undergraduates, writing a research paper does not involve retrieval practice, spaced repetition, interleaving, or other processes that have been shown to be beneficial for learning. We typically don’t test students on the factual content that their research papers contain (or are supposed to contain) after the paper has been completed. At best, the research paper is an indirect means of assessing domain knowledge. These are all reasons I have migrated away from the lengthy term paper to shorter but more frequent writing assignments that give them repeated opportunities to practice constructing evidence-based arguments and force them to read more.

We believe that twenty page term papers are the best way for students to learn how to conduct research, synthesize information, and develop complex ideas. I don’t think this hype is reflected by reality. Certainly employers don’t see very many recent college graduates who possess these talents, and those that do aren’t required to display them at work in twenty-page documents formatted according to MLA or APA standards.