How to Write a Research Paper in Six (Really Five) Weeks

For a syllabus for the course and notes about the process, see the Research Paper Class page.

We’re done.  It’s been a grueling six (okay, really five) weeks since a writing-savvy friend and I launched eight homeschooled high schoolers on their research papers — the first for all but one.  Aged fourteen though seventeen, they muddled their way through topic selection, research and note taking, outline creation, two drafts, and one final copy about a subject of their choosing.  They worked hard, and they learned writing skills, MLA style, and perseverance.

Both aged a wee bit older, my comrade in torture patient instruction and I worked kids through crises, wielded pencils with moderate restraint (red ink was just too harsh), and bit our lips through it all.  We fielded phone calls and emails.  Sometimes we cringed; sometimes we cheered. We spent a long Saturday night hunched over eight first drafts, sandwiches, and a bit of wine followed by two more weekends of reading second and final drafts solo.  We worked hard, too.

Everyone improved over the five weeks. The kids entered and exited the class at markedly different skill levels, but everyone moved at least a notch up in writing ability, and several made enormous leaps. Most left feeling rather accomplished (for good reason) and ready to tackle another research paper. If parental rumors are to be trusted, some may have even enjoyed the process.

The take home message?  Five weeks is a short time for writing a first research paper, but it can be done. In retrospect, two weeks for research and two for the first draft with oversight along the way would have likely helped many of the kids (a seven week class). On the other hand, the duration of pain on our tight schedule was relatively brief.  Teaching the class took more time than I had planned, although the time was well invested, both in class and out. With such diverse abilities, we had to adjust expectations and goals with each student. That’s a benefit to homeschooling I’m delighted we could import to the (small) classroom.  I enjoyed the process but admit to a hearty exhalation as we reached the end of a valuable experience and productive endeavor.  Write on!


8 thoughts on “How to Write a Research Paper in Six (Really Five) Weeks

  1. Man, do I admire you! I want to homeschool so bad, but I just don’t know if I have it in me. It seems so hard. Good for you for doing it – and it sounds like you’re really doing it well.

    • Thanks, but I do have to say that school was so miserable for my older and I that homeschooling was a huge relief. For the most part, it’s an enjoyable way to live punctuated with brief, powerful moments of self-doubt, panic, and claustrophobia. It is hard work. It’s also the best hard work I’ve ever done.

    • Robin, I’d closed the page but I’ll open it for a look. I’ve been teaching writing online privately for four years and through Online G3 for two, and I’ve refined a good deal since then and would not again assign a straight research paper. (There’s a blog post for a blog that’s gone silent.)

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