At one time the ability to use calligraphy to beautify manuscripts or a hostess’s penmanship when sending out invitations were symbols of education and prestige. While those specific ideals are less important today, how we write is still as important as what we write. If I have speling misstakes, you would find this distracting. If I jump from one topic to the next, and suddenly began speaking about sports, you would find this confusing. If I make outrageous claims like “students who take a writing course do 500% better in every aspect of life” without referencing where my information comes from, you would be rightfully skeptical. What students have to say is important, and they should be given the skills necessary so that people are not distracted, confused, or skeptical due to how the paper is written and instead focus on what is said. This is why every high school student should take a writing course.
There are many different types of writing, both in creative styles or more academic ones. A biology lab report will have different requirements from a history paper detailing the fall of Rome, and a novel written in the first person narrative will be structured differently from one written in a third person narrative. There are numerous writing courses that offer instructions in one or multiple of these genres, and students who wish to pursue a career in writing ought to search out their relevant course. However, I would argue that there is one general style of writing that will be useful to the majority of students, regardless of what they study. That is why I believe every student should take a research writing course. Now, while I will openly admit my bias in this regard (as an academic researcher myself), here is my case.
Preparation for College
As a part of the liberal arts education American universities offer, students are required to take courses outside of their degree, and many of those courses will have a research paper aspect. Even within a student’s major, many of them will have multiple assignments throughout the course of their undergraduate career that will require a research paper. Having high school students take a research writing course will better prepare them for college, giving them both the tools and the confidence to succeed in those assignments. Even beyond college, I believe these skills are useful to everyone. Research writing teaches people how to find the facts for themselves, and encourages them to evaluate the information. In this day of “postmodern truth” and “fake news” it is important that people do not simply believe what they hear, but are actually willing to search out the facts and make informed decisions.
Research Writing helps with General Writing
In order to craft a well-written research paper, students must do at least three things: find reliable and relevant studies about their topic (with referencing in order to avoid plagiarism), structure their arguments in a cohesive and logical manner, and learn how to read their own work to create a polished paper. Due to these requirements, the goals listed above in regards to a student’s academic success and development as a researcher can be achieved through research training. A generalized breakdown of a typical semester long research writing course is below in order to offer further information into how this works.
The teacher usually begins by instructing students in how to use search engines like google or library databases to find journal articles, news stories, academic books, and other relevant literature to form the backbone of their writing. Students will be taught how to evaluate these sources, learning how to tell when something is reliable or “fake news.” As a part of this, any good research writing course will teach students how to reference those sources they identified as relevant to their paper. There are a number of different accepted referencing formats, with many fields having their own standard practice (for example, Psychology uses APA while English Literature uses MLA). Referencing is important for two reasons: it strengthens a student’s argument by showing that study results agree with their theories and it prevents plagiarism. Secondly, writing courses will teach students how to create an outline. This will help students stay on topic, make sure the order of arguments makes sense, and help them not to hit “writer’s block” as they will have a clear road map to follow as they write. Finally, students will learn how to read their own work for clarity, flow, grammatical errors, etc. in order to be able to find the mistakes and submit a polished research paper. Other aspects students may learn is how to use accepted grammatical conventions (such as not using contractions) or even how to pick a topic they can be interested in enough to write a fully-fledged research paper.
The same topic could be written in many ways, depending on the personal style of the writer. However, how something is written will be far superior if these foundations of writing are learned. Regardless of what students decide to major in, most of them will need to write at least one (generally more) research paper during their college career. Whether you are a homeschooling parent or not, registering your child for a designated research writing course will better prepare them for college. Not only will it strengthen their writing skills, but it will also sharpen their critical thinking and teach them how to find (and evaluate) facts rather than relying on public opinion.