Questioning the Final Research Paper
16/01/2012 § 20 Comments
Before the new semester starts, I’d like to address the academic tradition of the “final paper.” I don’t understand why so many professors assign research papers as a final assignment. Research papers are difficult to execute well when under a severe time constraint, especially when most of the knowledge you’re pulling together, synthesizing, and analyzing may not be taught until a couple weeks before the paper is due — or the external research has to be performed on top of keeping up with other heavy assignments. What generally results is not great research or writing.
How can students be expected to write good research papers given that they haven’t learned all the course material yet? And if we don’t need to learn the course material to write the paper, what’s the point of writing it? The whole process is quite frustrating to me because I don’t understand the reasoning. Do professors really expect us to work on the research paper throughout the entire semester? If they do, why don’t they assign more relevant material each week that would support it? I often feel like I don’t actually write high-quality research papers, yet I still get rewarded with an A grade. It doesn’t help me in the long run if I think my research papers are great when they’re actually not.
An alternative use of our time is for professors to assign shorter research essays assigned throughout the semester that can build into a final paper. Or — honestly, I find that I learn more course material when I write mid-term/final [take home] essays that require me not to research but to think cumulatively about the entire semester. Research papers rarely reflect what I actually learned in the class.
Don’t get me wrong — I think that writing a research paper is an important, necessary skill for LIS students to develop. There have definitely been times where I’ve really enjoyed the process. I’ve just found that research papers aren’t really suited for many LIS classes. I guess the real question is if a final assignment is actually supposed to demonstrate what you learned from class. If professors don’t care about that, then research papers seem to be the default final assignment.
What do you think about the pedagogy behind final research papers? Have you found research papers to be beneficial to your LIS learning? Are there other assignments that you got more out of?