All of us have been there. Even though the professor mentioned that dreaded paper the first day of class when she went over the syllabus, we seem to magically forget about it until right about now.
Those who have been given the gift of report writing – basically regurgitating what’s already been written – should consider themselves lucky. Others, however, are faced with a much more daunting task: the open-ended research essay.
Fortunately for readers who happen to pick up this issue, I have some tips for tackling the assignment from Hades. First – and this I will stress the most –start working on it now. Seventeen days remain until finals week, which is plenty of time to gather adequate – and interesting – research.
Don’t wait until the night before the paper, type random searches into Google and pray for helpful search results. Chances are, you won’t find what you need, and your professor will be able to tell.
Second, and this is a biggie, use the library. I know this concept can be scary to students in 2012, but believe me, our library is loaded with information.
You know the rows upon rows of books you pass by on your way to those comfy couches in the back of the first floor? They serve a purpose, and it’s more than to create an obstacle course to a cozy place to slumber between classes.
Finding books is quite an easy process, really. You get on your laptop, go to the Forsyth Library online catalogue and search away. If you find yourself struggling, leave it to our top-notch librarians to help you out. They’re kind, they’re courteous and, best of all, they know their stuff.
I’ll also give a shout-out to the Interlibrary Loan department, without which I don’t know how I could have managed to crank out the 26 researched eight-or-more page papers I’ve written – that’s right, the English department certainly knows how to torture its students.
Anyway, ILL serves a wonderful purpose, to track down books and articles that our library doesn’t carry. The longest I’ve ever had to wait for material to arrive is three days, so even if you procrastinate – and I’m talking about giving yourself four days, not four hours – you’ll be fine.
The final tip I have for you is about selecting the topic for the essay. To me, this is the most challenging part of an open-ended research paper.
When professors don’t specify a topic and tell me exactly what to write, I admit that I panic a bit. But, about three years ago, I made a wonderful discovery. If professors don’t specify the topic, I can choose one I love – and I mean really love – to write about.
I remember taking American Literature II with Dr. Will in Spring 2009. He assigned an open-ended, eight-page paper in which we analyzed some form of text – be it lyrics, poems, screenplays, books, etc. – that needed to reflect culture.
I thought about analyzing “To Kill a Mockingbird”; surely, I could find loads of research on that. Or Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken.” I realized I wasn’t into those topics, and I struggled to get started.
Then I had a stroke of genius. I could analyze a Stevie Nicks song, “Rhiannon,” because, well, I am totally and completely obsessed with the rock goddess. The wheels started turning, and I cranked out eight pages well before I wanted to be done researching my favorite singer.
This discovery was revolutionary to my paper-writing process. I realized I could actually write about topics I am passionate about. I completed my graduate casebook – a 30-page critical analysis of a book – on Harry Potter. And this semester, I am writing my last two papers – whew – on linguistic topics that get me almost as excited as Stevie Nicks or Harry Potter.
While I can’t guarantee this kind of excitement every time you get assigned a paper, I can encourage you to play up your strengths. Find topics that truly intrigue you, and think of the assignment more as time to expand your hobby rather than time to waste on another boring assignment.
Finding that spark of passion is the key to conquering the dreaded open-ended paper.
And when you do select that topic that grabs your gizzard, the other bits of advice will simply fall into place.
You’ll give yourself plenty of time to write the paper because, well, you won’t be able to think about anything else. Heck, you might even have trouble finding time to play your Xbox. And you’ll practically be living in the library because you’ll find research as addicting as the Starburst Jellybeans you pop between each level of Call of Duty.
You no longer have to dread the open-ended research essay; instead, use it to your advantage. Trust me, you’ll write better papers, making you, your professors and your transcript much more content.