Teaching Research Writing

Back in the saddle again. Or make that the same language arts classroom.

And I’m not surprised that this group of students isn’t embracing the teacher’s lesson plan to “read the textbook.” After all, the class is called Research Writing for a reason.

Lucky for them, this isn’t a boring textbook (and my experience as a college student and teacher qualifies me to say so). This is The Curious Researcher by Bruce Ballenger, an English professor at Boise State. This book is a five-week guide to writing a research paper that he wouldn’t be yawning while he graded.

Since this is the last class of the day, I used the work time in the other class periods to peruse the textbook. It’s another block schedule day. That means nearly 90 minutes of class time, and no one wants to read a textbook for that long.

Not even one as moderately engaging as Ballenger’s.


So I planned to hit a few conversation starters and get the students thinking about the mindset of inquiry this text claims to teach.

Spirit of Inquiry

In the preface of the book, Ballenger states the purpose of his text is to teach students the spirit of inquiry. What does that even mean?
Inquiry is asking questions for the purpose of learning truth.

Inquiry is not Googling a subject so you can “set Jane straight” about the function of the electoral college. Or shut Tim up about the difference between undocumented workers and illegal aliens (if there is a difference).

Inquiry is driven by curiosity. It is the “need to know” for the sake of knowing. And in life, this is a positive trait (unlike in the military where a private lacked the need to know. The soldier needed to follow orders, end of story).

The spirit of inquiry then means using a different mindset in order to research out a topic. Rather than “proving” a point, this spirit says it wants to know more because what is learned keeps bringing up more questions.

Purpose of Research

The syllabus for this class lists two different research projects. It appears these are supposed to be about current topics of interest. Does this mean how to draw anime? I don’t know, but I can tell you based on the drawings in an early class, this is a subject of interest to high school students.

Since the teacher has things like controversial American issues, race and ethnicity and politics on the activity list for the course, anime is probably not an approved topic. Although I did proofread a proposal for an article that seemed to insist some anime was misogynistic, so maybe it would fit.

In any case the purpose of research according to Ballenger is to find the facts. In order to do this, a researcher must forget biases and preconceived notions and enter the world of information with an open mind.

I mentioned how I wished more people entered a conversation with that mindset. Too often we’re not even listening to learn because we’re busy formulating our “comeback” to what is being said.

In the Introduction, Ballenger has a sample research essay about theories of intelligence that read more like a personal narrative. If I was the teacher of this course, I would consider it a win if a student could produce such writing at the end of the sixteen-week class.

With decades of experience and a degree in English, I suppose the author is uniquely qualified to display such a gift. I doubt I could do as well.

What do you think? Is a spirit of inquiry essential for effective research?

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