Alternatives To Research Papers

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Alternative to the Traditional Research Paper

Research comes in all shapes and sizes. Sometimes a break from the usual can make class more exciting – for both student and teacher. The librarians urge you to consider using library resources for something different. Any project which requires students to find and evaluate information helps them hone critical thinking and information literacy skills. Try one of the projects listed below. Contact a librarian if you want help structuring your new project.  
  • Use the library and online resources to create a topical flyer or brochure.

  • Create a presentation using Photo Story 3 (free Microsoft download) that allows for voice and music.

  • Conduct a SWOT analyses (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) comparing two companies.

  • Prepare a CD describing a person, place, historical period, or event. Include music, cultural history, quotations, and a timeline.

  • Create a thesaurus of terms for a broad topic. Create a picture or chart to depict the subject.

  • Find two peer-reviewed articles on the same topic. Compare the bibliographies. What do they have in common? Crossover?  Which is better? Why?

  • Compare an article in a scholarly journal with an article on the same topic in a popular magazine. Make a table or chart identifying your comparison points.

  • Use research to write a policy for your field. Describe the steps you used for research.

  • Create an assignment guide for your topic similar to the library guides. Include a short introductory paragraph; add three useful books, two databases, and at least three Internet sites appropriate for a college paper. Annotate each resource.

  • Select $1000 worth of books to purchase on your topic. Each book should be appropriate for a college library.

  • The instructor has given you five articles on a single topic. Locate each article in the library’s databases and describe your search strategies. List the resources you used.

  • Prepare a list of handouts for a topic or chapter. Include resources.

  • Write an "ignorance paper." Given a disease or contemporary issue, find out and report on what is not known about this topic.  Prove your points through your research.

  • Identify three experts on a contemporary issue. Make a chart comparing viewpoints and qualifications.

  • Create a visual thesaurus for a topic and one or two subtopics within it. Use Venn diagrams or mind maps. Write a thesis sentence for your refined topic.

  • Compare information found in two journals on the same subject. Include a short paragraph describing the topic. Think about point of view where applicable, bibliography used, conservative and liberal comparison, timeliness of information, and other points.

  • Have students consult a variety of biographical resources, scholarly articles, and subject encyclopedias to identify significant people in your discipline. Make a short descriptive list.

  • Create a timeline that describes a person, event, or invention.

  • Create a pop culture webpage or paper covering a certain time period. Introduce a historical or literary period. Include people, music, art, literature, inventions.

  • Compare readings selected from both a primary and secondary source.

  • Compare information in three databases on a given topic. 

  • Examine the journals in your discipline. Annotate five articles found in different subject related journals. Discuss the scope of the discipline.

  • Research a topic and present it using visuals in a slideshow or webpage.

  • Create a chart to compare/contrast presidential candidates and their platforms.

  • Compare how a topic is treated in several various print and electronic reference sources. Note any apparent standards in layout of the various sources, including textbook chapters, research articles, newspaper articles, news releases, factsheets, handbooks, and/or government reports.

  • Analyze a subject using opinion polls and compare findings.

  • Analyze the content, tone, style and audience of two journals and/or websites central to your discipline. Examine the instructions for authors for each journal. Instructions for authors are frequently available on the Web and in journals.

  • Read the articles cited in a research paper. Explain how each is related to the paper. When is it appropriate to cite other papers? What different purposes do the citations serve?

  • Examine an event closely. Find newspaper articles written at the time of the event. Find out more about the people who were involved and why. 

  • Review a book or film. Discuss the author's credentials. Contrast the book or film to similar works in the field. Compare the film to its source book or play. 

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Creative alternatives to traditional research papers: Undergrads and Scholarly Communication

The ability to write a finely crafted, well documented, and thought provoking research paper is a hallmark of a fine liberal arts education. Understanding how knowledge is created, how thoughts build upon previous thoughts, how the written language has given rise and perpetuates cultures, how all of these can be found in the scholarly communication housed in their fine research libraries, these are a few of the noble ends of undergraduate education and are the building blocks of information literacy.

Putting thoughts to paper, supporting them with evidence, or contradicting them without bias, push students to new intellectual levels. The skills needed to get to that point are myriad. By sequencing research assignments, faculty can provide feedback throughout the writing process prior to the final assessment. Students appreciate this. In courses where research papers are not appropriate or applicable, assigning one or two gems from Indra’s “research” net allows students to practice the craft in small developmental increments. Students will need to actively engage in and ultimately master those individual skills or thought processes thereby building their confidence. Future faculty will be in receipt of these gifts.

Here are some ideas which provide practice in segments of the research process. They require students to become familiar with scholarly research tools and techniques. Please contact your liaison librarian for library instruction sessions, if desired.

All but the paper Research Paper

  • Assignment: Conduct the research for a term paper. Do everything except write it. At various points, students may submit:
    • Topic with several good questions to explore
    • Annotated bibliography of useful sources which explore those questions
    • Outline of paper
    • Thesis statement
    • Opening paragraph and summary
  • Objective: Focuses on the process of research and the elements of a paper

Research Log

  • Assignment: While doing topic research, students keep a record of their actions: methodology, resources consulted (books, databases, Web searches), keywords or subject headings searched, noting both successes and failures.
  • Objective: Provides a good introduction to how information and scholarly communication are organized. Encourages reflection on the decisions researchers must make. Focuses on the importance of terminology.

Literature Review

  • Assignment: Review the literature on a specific topic for a given time period.
  • Objective: Reveals the purpose of a literature review. Provides students with opportunities to engage in the discipline’s printed matter.

Review Update

  • Assignment: Using a non-current review article, update the topic with current sources
  • Objective: Introduces students to literature reviews, subject indexes, and reference sources. Demonstrates the evolution of a particular topic and the scholarly communication surrounding it. Also requires students to analyze, synthesize, and integrate the ideas they find. Students will utilize printed and electronic resources to identify pertinent information

Poster Session

  • Assignment: Research a topic and present it as a poster which other students will use to learn about the topic.
  • Objective: Requires use of scholarly resources, research skills, concise communication, and synthesis of ideas.

Track a “Classic” Paper through a Citation Index

  • Assignment: Choose a classic article by well-respected scholar and follow its trail into future publications. Trace the paper through the SCOPUS database : back through the article’s references and forward in time to the works which cite the article.
  • Objective: Teaches the mechanics of using a citation index and introduces students to the web of scholarly communication. Shows how ideas are introduced, distributed, integrated, refined, and developed over time.

Trace a Scholar’s Career

  • Assignment: Explore a scholar/researcher’s career and ideas by locating biographical information, preparing a bibliography of his/her writings, analyzing the reaction of the scholarly community to the researcher’s work, and examining the scholarly network in which s/he works.
  • Objective: Introduces students to the use of biographical and bibliographical tools, and exposes them to examples of scholarly dialogue.

Identify a Discipline’s Journals

  • Assignment: How many journals are published in a given field? Identify journals “basic” to the discipline. Locate those held locally in print and online. Compare and contrast peer reviewed and popular or trade publications in the field. Analyze their subject focus, tone, audience, and impact.
  • Objective: Encourages intellectual exploration, widens the range of possible resources, and demonstrates the importance of journal literature within disciplines. Students differentiate between similar journals.

Understand Primary Sources

  • Assignment: Compare primary and secondary sources on the same topic. Have the students find a study in a popular or trade publication and then have them find the actual study. How well did the information transfer between sources? What was left out? How well did the popular/trade publication writer capture the essence of the primary source?
  • Objective: Students differentiate between primary and secondary sources in a discipline. Shows when and why to use each.

Read the References

  • Assignment: Acquire and read the articles cited in a research paper. Explain how each is related to the paper. In what circumstances is it appropriate to cite other papers? What different purposes do the citations serve?
  • Objective: Shows when it is appropriate to recognize the contributions of previous authors in the development of new work.

Simulations of Real-Life Projects

  • Assignment: Prepare a grant or research proposal, marketing or business plan, or solution to a tax, accounting or financial problem. State the specific problem to be solved or task to be accomplished. Provide background on the problem. How have these issues been dealt with in the past? What is the current thinking on this issue? How do you propose to solve the problem or what are the questions you need to ask to solve the problem? What support can you offer for your solution?
  • Objective: Simulates for students how they will apply their information skills in the context of problems they will encounter in their discipline or career.

Narrowing a topic

  • Assignment: Given a topic that is much too broad to handle in a short paper, find several sources (magazine, newspaper, or journal articles, chapters in books or reference books) to assist in refining the focus. For example, refine the topic Ethics in Sports down to Drug use in Track and Field and further down to doping in the 2004 Olympics Track and Field events.
  • Objective: Teach students how to narrow a topic as well as what types of sources they might find useful in doing so.

Other ideas

  • Annotate an article for a novice reader.
  • Write or create a piece of music, art, or creative writing in a particular style or genre
  • Put on a conference complete with poster sessions, panels, papers, etc.
  • Create an anthology of readings complete with an introduction and reading summaries
  • Create a pathfinder or website of different types of information sources on a topic

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