Research Snags

My high school teacher always said students in high school tend to be graded on content, but once they get to college, they’re graded with regard to content and structure. The days of using SparkNotes to get by without proper citation are gone. The rubrics have changed. Professors not only want to know what you have to say but what led you to say it.

The Huffington Post recently reported on a study by Project Information Literacy that college students do not know how to research correctly, supporting the notion that requirements for collegiate research can overwhelm students.

According to the Huffington Post, PIL polled 8,353 students from 25 different colleges for its study, “How College Students Evaluate and Use Information in the Digital Age,” and established that 66 percent struggled to define a topic, 62 percent could not narrow down a topic and 61 percent found sorting through results strenuous.

“I don’t mind doing the research for papers, but it’s annoying if anything,” junior psychology major Avinashi Ramadhin said.
The annoyance some students feel toward writing research papers could be reflected as using improper research methods.

“Students feel overwhelmed, and they’re developing a strategy for not drowning in all information out there,” Project Information Literacy’s Co-Principal Investigator Alison J. Head told the Chronicle of Higher Education. “They’re basically taking how they learned to research in high school with them to college, since it’s worked for them in the past.”

The unsmooth transition between high school and college may be because students lack confidence.

MLA and APA formats were intimidating when I first learned them. While writing my first paper, I remember thinking, “This is too hard,” and “I’m probably not doing this right.”

The process was difficult and having to remember each style’s requirement for quote, comma, quotation mark, name, author and page number usage was a challenge. Research paper writing can get tedious since you have to constantly find and sort relevant information, which can lead students to use shortcut websites like Wikipedia.

According to the study, students engage in “risk-averse” research, in which they “use an information-seeking and research strategy driven by efficiency and predictability for managing and controlling all of the information available to them on college campuses.”

Educating students about the tools available to help them do research can be a solution to the poor statistics found by PIL. Workshops at both the high school and college levels can be set up to introduce and familiarize students with various approaches to writing research papers, emphasizing that this type of paper writing will not end after high school.

Students should talk to their professors to let them know they need assistance. Students pay colleges to educate themselves – why not utilize their professors?
The task of writing a research paper can make my eye twitch involuntarily and cause a headache so massive it’s as if Paul Bunyan delivered it. However, I feel as though it is necessary during a student’s college career.

The methods behind research papers teach structure and discipline. With some efforts made by both students and teachers, students will see the benefits in the long run.

Jillian Weir-Reeves can be reached at

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