The Process of Research Writing

Steven D. Krause, Eastern Michigan University

Version 1.0,Spring 2007



Preface for Teachers:

The Process of Research Writing is based on the way that I have taught and continue to teach research writing to my first-year writing students. Before I developed this approach, I had used a number of other textbooks for this “second semester” first year writing course, but I was never completely satisfied with any of them. Most of the other books that I had used or considered had what I thought was an overly static and “product-oriented” take on the process of research writing. Typically, these books ask students in the course of a semester to write one “research paper,” and, unlike so many of the books available for the first-semester composition course, they spend almost no time discussing the process of developing a research paper.

I see two major problems with this approach. First, everything that we know about writing suggests that writing is best taught as a “process,” not merely as a “product.” We can and should debate what we mean when we say “writing is a process,” and I agree with those post-process theorists who argue that we don’t have a general process theory that explains all writing situations. Nonetheless, it is clear to me that presenting writing as a series of processes that writers must claim and experience is much more enlightened than presenting writing as merely a paper assignment that must be turned in.

My second problem with the “write a major research paper” approach is that this doesn’t account for the diverse ways that students actually use research in their college classes. There are courses where students are expected to write “research papers,” but there are many more situations in which students are expected to incorporate research into their writing. Given this, it seems to me that teaching students to write one form of “research paper” is of little use.

So, as a result of the training in my Ph.D. program, my own research in the teaching of writing, my discussions with colleagues, and my own experiences, I developed the approach I present here. Instead of focusing on one research paper, I focus on the process of research writing through a series of shorter writing exercises. Students begin by having to carefully think about a topic of research for the semester and by developing a working thesis. They then write a series of shorter essays that explore that topic. All along the way, students are continuing to research and revise their working thesis so that by the end of the term, their thinking about their original topic of research has evolved. As a result, they are not only prepared to write a “traditional” research paper; they better understand what it means to conduct academic research, which I believe is the real goal of an introductory writing course.


An Innovative Series of Assignments. As I mentioned earlier, the process-oriented approach to writing is at the heart of this textbook. Part II of the book presents a series of assignments that can be treated as individual essay exercises or combined to create a semester-long study of researching as a process. For example, instead of reading about or listening to a lecture about critiquing, evaluation, or antithesis, the assignments in Part II encourage students to actively engage with these concepts. Assignments include:

Integration of Technology. As someone who specializes in his scholarship and teaching on the relationship between technology and writing, I’ve never been satisfied with the approach most textbooks have to the use of computers in the writing process. For one thing, most research writing textbooks see technology as an “add-on,” something to be discussed in one or two chapters and in isolation from everything else. For another, I think much of the advice on using the Internet to conduct research is frankly not accurate. In contrast, I began writing The Process of Research Writing with the assumption that current academic researchers—students and teachers—use computers to write and the Internet to conduct all sorts of research. I discuss using computers and the Internet throughout The Process of Research Writing, from “The Challenge of Researching on the Internet” (Chapter 1) to “Collaborative Writing with Computers and the Internet” (Chapter 4) to “The Web-Based Research Project” option (Chapter 11).

Student Models. I’ve provided model student essays for each of the exercises in Part II, and also for the research writing projects in Part III. These are “real world” examples that have come from my own students and experiences in teaching introductory research writing.


Even if you and your students do follow through the book more or less in the order it is written, I’d encourage your students to occasionally “read ahead” to see where this book is leading. For example, my hope is that Part One of this book, “The Elements of Research,” can be both a good starting point for your students’ research process and a helpful place to return as your students work through their projects.

Here is what you and your students will encounter in the coming pages:

Part One, “The Elements of Research,” introduces the basic parts of what academics tend to mean by research and the research writing process. Chapter One, “Thinking Critically about Research,” explains what is (and isn’t) research, the differences between primary and secondary sources, scholarly and non-scholarly sources, and the role of the Internet, and also how to evaluate the credibility of your evidence.

Chapter Two, “”Understanding and Using the Library and the Internet for Research” provides basic information about your two most likely sources for research and evidence, your school’s library and the Internet. Chapter Three, “Quoting and Paraphrasing Your Research” explains how to properly use research in your writing to make your points. Chapter Four, “How to Collaborate and Write with Others,” offers ideas and strategies for collaborating at different parts of the research writing process.

Part Two, “Exercises in the Process of Research,” introduces a series of writing exercises designed to help your students to think about and write effective research projects. Instead of explaining how to write a single “research paper,” The Process of Research Writing breaks down the process of research into five smaller and easier-to-manage parts: the Topic Proposal, the Annotated Bibliography, the Antithesis, the Critique, and the Categorization and Evaluation essay.

Part Three, “The Research Project,” presents several different options for presenting your research project to your audience. Chapter Ten presents strategies for writing research essays. Chapter Eleven discusses three alternatives to the traditional research essay. The first is the “research writing portfolio,” which allows your students to assemble a variety of different materials (including the exercises you write from Part Two of this book) in order to describe and examine your research in a more dynamic and interesting way. The second alternative is “The Web-Based Research Project. ” In this section, I explain the pros and cons of web-based research projects and offer some introductory advice on how your students can make their work available to an international audience via the World Wide Web. The third alternative, “The Poster Session Project,” describes an activity where students present their research to others with the use of images, video, audio, and other alternative media.

Chapter 12, “Citing your Research Using MLA or APA Style” explains the basics of rules of style from the Modern Language Association and from the American Psychological Association and how to properly cite research.