Writing a research paper is a complex task, and we often forget all the basic skills that are needed to write a successful paper. This is why breaking down, or scaffolding an assignment into its smaller components is essential for student success. A scaffolded assignment permits us put emphasis on its components, and to teach our students those basic skills.
One of those basic skills is the location of appropriate research sources. In my experience, students find it rather difficult to determine what an appropriate source is, how to find it, and how to cite it. How often have you asked students to conduct a literature review, and your students cited a Wikipedia page, a New York Times article, or some random blog article? The use of WAC practices can help students to tackle this challenge. In my own teaching, I break down my research essay in smaller single tasks one of which is an annotated bibliography. I ask students to locate three academic articles, to create a bibliography in ASA style (I am a sociologist), and to write a short summary of each article. I give students time (about 3 – 4 weeks) to produce their annotated bibliography, and I then allow them to submit it as a draft for feedback. They have to submit their bibliography one or two weeks after they received my feedback.
What seems like a long time for a relatively short and easy assignment has proven to be a rather challenging assignment for my students. Many of them have never done a “real” literature research, and almost none of them has ever been asked to produce a bibliography that is error free. But focusing on only one component of the research essay allows me to give extensive feedback on those basic skills, and to really teach the fundamentals of my research discipline. Finally, having appropriate research sources is almost a guarantee for an interesting, and strong research essay.