In Chapter Ten, “The Research Essay,” I describe the process for writing a conventional research essay. While research essay writing tasks vary quite a bit, there are some general guidelines that you will want to consider when you are asked by a college professor to write a “research paper” or “research essay.”
Of course, the traditional essay form (typed, double-spaced, thesis-driven, written in a linear “from beginning to end” style) is still the most common writing assignment in college classrooms, and this will probably remain the case for some time to come. Increasingly however, college teachers are considering alternatives to this form. Some of these alternatives have actually been common in composition classes for a while now-- for example, the “I-Search” research essay (which was pioneered by Ken Macrorie in the late 1980s) and portfolio-based writing projects and assessments.
Others alternatives are more recent. The increased power and availability of computer technology has played a significant role in presenting research in a way that is different from the conventional essay. For example, the World Wide Web allows (some might even say requires) writers to publish documents that include graphics and photographs, and even audio and video files.
In some ways, these alternatives to the research essay still have the same basic requirements that I’ve discussed in all the previous chapters in The Process of Research Writing. After all, you are still trying to convince and inform an audience about a particular point, and you do this with your use and interpretation of evidence.
In other ways, presenting your research in an alternative fashion and with alternative sorts of evidence change in interesting ways the role and place in research in both academic and non-academic settings. Besides that, writing about your research in a “non-traditional” way might shed a different and informative light on your topic, and it might even be fun.
Obviously, there is no limit to the number of alternatives and variations to the traditional research essay. In this chapter, I will describe three ways of approaching research writing differently: The research portfolio/narrative essay, the Web-based research project, and the poster session project. These projects could be completed either along with or instead of a more traditional research essay, and I would also encourage you to experiment and explore other alternatives and combinations of projects.