I-Search Research Paper Examples

When the words "research paper" are uttered to a class full of students, a noticable fear ripples through the room. It is understandable. The task of tackling, understanding and mastering the art of writing a good, really good research paper, is no easy one and, to be honest, can be downright boring and tedious, but the elments that make up the process are quite essential to a student and their ability to conduct research, sort through information and present it in an organized and cited fashion.

But what if I told you that we would be doing a different kind of research paper, a paper in fact that you might actually enjoy taking on and writing.

I want you to be curious again. I want you be like a "two-year old grabbing books off a shelf, seeing how they open, ripping pages, finding out how they taste" (Marione 1988). All metaphorically speaking. The I-Search Paper allows you to become that 2-year old again eager to discover what you want to find out about.

Chances are the last time you were asked to write a research paper you were given a list of topics to choose from, and chances are most of the topics were ones that you found boring and dull. Well, the I-Search Paper allows you to choose from the things you are interested in, something you have a personal connection with, and what to learn more about.

Writing an I-Search Paper is not different that a traditional research paper in that there are certain steps that need to be followed in order to produce a comprehensive and cohesive paper.

1. "What I Knew" (and didn't know about my topic before I started out)
2. "Why I am Writing This Paper" (here is where the real need should show up: the writer demonstrates that the search may make a difference in his/her life.)
3. "The Search" (story of the hunt)
4. "What I Learned" (or didn't learn. A search that failed can be as exciting and valuable as one that succeeded.)

1. Even though an I-Search paper is usually less formal and more personal than a traditional research paper, its purpose is still the same - to find out information, to conduct research. The difference is that the topic of an I-Search Paper is one the writer has a personal connection with.
It is very important you choose a topic you are truly interested in and want to investigate.
Here are a few ways to generate ideas if you are at a stalemate:
                   *Use trigger phrases (i.e. "I always wanted to know how to ______." "I need help with ______."
                   *Take an inventory of places you'd like to travel.
                   *Make a list of priorities (Include the factors that have the greatest impact on your life, including health,       
                      family, economics, education, law, and so forth.)
Remember your goal is to find a topic you want to know somethign about - one that is driven by a real desire or need in your life. For example, one student who had asthma felt he needed to know everything he could about the disease and its possible effects on his life.
Brainstorm as many possible topics you are interested before you choose!

When you select a topic, be sure that it is a suitable one. It should not only be interesting and informative, but also lend itself to research. In other words, you should be able to locate adequate sources and find appropriate experts to interview. If the information on your topic only comes from your knowledge and experience, then there is no need for a search.

2. Form a research question: To avoid gathering information that you cannot use in your I-Search Paper, you must focus as tightly as you can on one key aspect of your topic. The best way to achieve a tight focus is to form a research question - a question that asks exactly what you want to find out from your research.
Keep in mind that you should not be able to answer your question with a single word. Ideally, it should be a question that gives rise to several more detailed questions.
To get started , ask yourself the following questions. One writer's response are shown in the example below:
                               - What is my topic?    My topic is asthma.
                               - Why am I interested in this topic?     I have asthma, but I want to live a full and active life.
                               - What do I hope to learn from my research?    Basically, I want to learn whether I can keep my
                                     asthma from interferring with my life. If I can, I need to know how.
                               -Research Question: Can I manage my asthma so I can lead a full and active life?
Once you develop a research question, you then need to divide your initial question into several more detailed questions, all having a direct bearing on your initial research question. For our example, the studend developed the following detailed questions relating to his asthma research question.
                                -What can I do to keep playing sports and other physically demanding activities?
                                - Are there certain foods or plants that I should avoid?
                                - How do different environmental conditions affect my asthma?
                                - What are the effects of pets on asthma?
                                - What kinds of medications are available for people suffering from asthma?
                                - Is there some kind of physical conditioning I could do to lessen the effects of asthma?
After forming you research question and subdividing it, you now have a specific goal in mind. Focusing your questioning allows you to gather relevant information and dismiss any information that has nothing to do with your topic.

Once you begin to search for answers to your research question, step back from the question every so often and ask yourself if you need to revise your question slightly or come up with a completely new one. Such changes are a natural part of the research process.

3. Find sources: As you conduct research, you will be looking for two main types of sources of information - primary and secondary. Primary sources include legal documents, letters, diaries, eyewitness accounts and surveys. Secondary sources include interpretations of primary sources written by other authors.
For example, if a historian studied diaries, letters, official military records, and eyewitness accounts to write a biography of a famous military general, he would be using primary sources. If that same historian consulted material from other biographies of the same general from history books that included material about the general, he would be using secondary sources.
The first place you should begin your search is your school library, but you also need to use your interview as a substaintial source of information for your paper.

4. Evaluate your sources: Just as members of a jury have to decide which witness is credible, or believable, and which are not, you have to determine the extent to which you can trust sources of information. Here are some questions you can use to put your sources to the test.
                               a. Is the information up-to-date? Information is generated so quickly now that it is easy to find
                                     current material. If information on your topic is constantly changing, be sure you are as up-to-date
                                     as possible.
                               b. Does the information seem factual? Check the information against your own knowledge and 
                                      other sources. If you find an inconsistency between two sources, check it against a third source
                                      to determine if the information is accurate.
                                c. Does the source seem objective and logical? Some sourcs may be biased, or slanted toward
                                        one point of view. Others may use poor logic. You would not, for example, expect an     
                                        objective assessment of one political party's platform from the leader of the opposing 
                                        political party.

5. Prepare source cards: Since you will be using more than one source for your paper, you will need a way to keep track of all your information. One method is by using 3x5 index cards and number the source. The information you write on your source cards will be written in the same format as it will appear on your Works Cited page at the end of your paper.

6. Take notes from your sources: Unless you are one of those fortunate people with a photographic memory, good notes are invaluable. If you take good notes, you will have a record of important information you will need when you sit down to write your paper. When you take notes you can quote directly, summarize or paraphrase.
                                 a. Direct Quotation: If the author of a source has a particularly effective or memorable way of saying something, you may want to quote him or her. Be sure to copy the passage you intend to use exactly as it appears in your source. To avoid accidently plagarism, put clearly visible quotation marks at the beginning and end of the quoted passage.
                                  b. Summary: A sumamry note includes only the main idea and the most important supporting details of the passage. It allows you to save space because it is shorter than the original material. Write the note using your own words and sentence structure. 
                                  c. Paraphrase: A paraphrase note includes most of the author's ideas, not just the main ones. Like the summary note, it is written in your own words. You paraphrase to simplify the material you have read.

7. Write your thesis statement: Your thesis is the main idea for your report. It is the answer to your research question. The writer who began the research question: Can I manage my asthma so I can lead a full and active life? found through research that the answer to his question was "yes." He could lead a full and active life if he carefully managed certain factors that had a direct bearing on his asthma.
To frame his thesis, he turned his research question into a statement and added the factors he would have to consider in order to manage his asthma. By adding these factors, he developed a short summary of his search results.
                        I can manage my asthma so that I can lead a full, active life by following my doctor's instructions on
                        medication, by avoiding pets, by sticking to an exercise program, and by minimizing the effects of allergens
                        that can trigger asthmatic episodes.

8. Develop an outline: An outline for a writing project is like a road map to a traveler. Good outlines and good maps give guidance and keep people going in the right direction but leave them free to change their plans. Outlines also guide the organization of your ideas.
: Remember, voice is the sound and rhythm of the writer's language. You should allow your own voice to show through your words.

9. Document your sources: In an I-Search Paper, you use information and ideas that you obtained from outside sources. It is very important that you give credit to these sources by citing them in the body of your paper and by listing them at the end of your finished paper.
         Citing Sources in the Body: When you are writing the body of your paper, you must decide what to give credit 
         and how to give it.
                           *What to Credit: If the same information can be found in several sources, it is considered
                              common knowledge. You DO NOT have to document it. For example, it is common knowledge that
                              Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his "I Have a Dream" speech in Washington D.C. in 1963. However,
                               any information that you obtain from outside sources that is not common knowledge must be documented.
                            *How to Credit: There are several ways to give credit. The two most widely used methods are footnotes
                              and parenthetical citations. We will be using the latter. 

10. Works Cited Page: At the end of your I-Search Paper, you need to include a Works Cited list that includes all the sources you have used in your paper. A Works Cited list my include both print and nonprint sources, such as films, interview or electronic sources.
11. Evaluate and Revise Your Draft: Did you know that many famous writers revise their works several times? Very few writers get it right the first time. To refine your writing, read through your paper at least TWICE! First evaluate the content and organization and for the second reading, look at style.

12. Publishing: (Proofread Your Paper) Before you prepare a final copy of your I-Search Paper, make sure it is free of grammar, spelling and punctuation errors. Check your format of parenthetical citations, Works Cited and headers and headings.

Below are the two main documents we will be working with to complete your I-Search paper.
Be sure you are constantly checking and rechecking the directions, steps, suggestions and tips in both packets throughout the process.
Don't get FRUSTRATED! I know it will be difficult. Research, of any kind, is never easy, so be sure to stop every once and a while and take a breath. And REMEMBER, I am always here for help and to answer any questions or concerns you have!

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The Write Way Packet

Use the following handouts as guides and aids throughout your process of researching, writing, revising, editing, and glossing your I-Search paper.

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The I-Search Paper

based on Ken Macrorie 's book Searching Writing


I. The Traditional Research Paper

In most cases, research papers have been a bad experience for both the student/writer and the teacher/audience. Most students think of them as a game, written with the fewest possible errors, using "Teacher-Words" for a good grade.


1-"most writing they do in school doesn't count in their lives and reaches no public..."
2-"school is often a place for sitters and receivers, not searchers and learners..."
3-"in school, they are taught by the "Erros A~proach," red ink in margins and exercises in drill books...' (p. 212)
What are the results?
A paper written WITHOUT ENTHUSIASM, without a person behind the search; a paper whose writer has swallowed the findings of "experts," reguritated them as truth, strung them together WITHOUT COHERENCE, PERSONALITY, OR FUN.
II. Ken Macrorie's I-Search Paper: a welcome change

The I-Search Paper:

A. Assumes the writer/student and the experts and teacher are all equal human beings.
B. Assumes they are all experts at something, are all learning--alone and from each other.
C. Assumes they all make mistakes; therefore, the student must sift out the truth from what he reads and hears, and write as he discovers it.
The job of the teacher and expert is to countenance--favour, sanction, encourage, support...the student.

No longer the Closed Circle--with the teacher on one side. dispensing knowledge, and the student on the other, receiving it.

Now the Moebius Loop or Strip--with knowledge and learning flowing back and forth between teacher and student and expert.

"We learn alone; and we learn from others--most powerfully when they are learning from us." (p. 150)

III. The First Step--finding our own voice--get rid of teacher-words--ban Engfish


One day when I was five I was staying at my grandma's house and the phone rang. It was my mom. She was in the Borgess Hospital and said that she had a boy and they named it lonnie. I was so excited I kept asking what color of eyes does he have? What color of hair? Then she had to get ready to come home. I kept begging my grandma, "Come on, get ready, and finally we went. We had left early that day so my grandma said, "Why don' t we stop at Kindleberger Park?" I played on the slide and swings and then I wanted to go to my house and so we did. When we got there we saw my brother. He was cute and I got to hold him, but now I am ten and he is five and I wish in a way he wasn't my brother because he is a little snot. (p. 11)

A. GET RID OF ENGFISH (try the following and other exercises)
1. Convert the following passage into simple, precise English:
Objective consideration of contemporary phenomena compels the conclusion that success or failure in competitive activities exhibits no tendency to commensurate with innate capacity, but that a considerable element of the unpredictable must invariably be taken into account.
            from "Politics and the English Language" by George Orwell.

Once upon a point in time, a small person named...initiated plans for the preparation, delivery and transportation of food stuffs to her older relative, a senior citizen, residing at a place of residence in a forest of indeterminate dimension.
from...by Russell Baker

2. Remember a nursery rhyme and rewrite it in the most complicated, pretentious language imaginable. Ask another student to identify the nursery rhyme.
3. Find examples of stuffy, pretentious language and share them with the class.

IV. Finding a topic: letting a topic find you

A. From free writings, from walks in the woods, from conversations with friends, from reading, from watching, from doing--
B. Find something you want intensely to know about or possess--
"maybe it's a stereo record or tape player that's right for your desires and pocketbook. Maybe it's a motorcycle. Or the name of an occupation or technical school best for your nees. Or a spot in the U.S. or a foreign country you'd enjoy visiting this summer." (p. 62)
C. Answer some of the following questions in your journal: (1-3 minutes each)
What place would you like to visit? (some place where you've never been)
What would you like to own?
What would you like to know that you've never had a chance to learn?


What if...
I've always wondered...
I've always wanted to...
If I had the money, I would...
The fantasy vacation I've dreamed of is...
I would like to train...
I would like to be...
I would like to make...
I would like to operate...


D. Make a list of FIVE topics that you are curious about researching.
E. Choose two of these and do a free writing about each. (10-12 mm. each)
F. Develop 3 QUESTIONS from your free writing -- make sure you write the question in first person - "I."

V. ORGANIZATION of paper: four parts (ten pages; bibliography; endnotes)
A. What I knew (and didn't know about my topic when I started.)
B. Why I'm writing this paper. (Here's where a real need should show up; the writer demonstrates that the search may make a difference in his life.)
C. The search (the STORY of the hunt): a detective story
D. What I learned (or didn't learn. A search that failed can be as exciting and valuable as one that succeeded). (p.64)
VI Writing the paper
A. Write a tentative opening to your I-Search Pap telling what you knew and didn't know when you began and what you want to find out and why. It is the beginning of your story, your quest. (1-1/2 to 2 pages, approx.)
B. Source Day - Work in groups; question the writer; suggest sources; criticize the opening
C. The Search
1. Interview an expert first. An expert is a person who knows the topic well. The topic need not be his occupation.
a. An expert can give you the most practical, workable information.
b. An expert is right there to answer questions as they come to you.
c. An expert can help you choose the best sources
2. Interviewing - use open-ended questions, not ones that can be Answered with a "Yes" or "No"
EX. 1. How did you get started in--?
2. Tell me about your first day.
3. If you were allowed to tell a beginner only one thing about how to do what you're so good at, what would it be?--the thing that counts the most. (p. 138)
3. For 10 to 15 minutes, interview another member of your group and then let that person interview you. Find out something she or he likes to do, and get the waterfall of words flowing. Take notes. Write up the interview. (p. 149)
4. Library: Chapters 18-20
VII. Revising and Editing
A. Cutting - cut your free writing exercise or tentative opening in half; cut it in half again.
B. Cut out meaningless words - try omitting all of the following words from your opening:


a little bit 
concerned with
in fact
involved with


1. Beginning - 
has personality and is interestingcontains personal experiences and is detailed 
contains specific question (with limitations) is written in first person - I 
contains previous knowledge and experiences
2. Search itself - 
tells exactly where the writer went for information tells what she/he found out

is written in the order of the discovery or search
gives the writer's reaction to the researched information as it is discovered
3. Conclusion - 
answers the question asked in the beginning:
a. completely
b. not at all and then tells why not
c. with reservations, also including what needs to be found out yet and where this information might be obtained
STYLE:(comment on the following)
  1. cliches
  2. details, specifics, incidents, examples
  3. wordiness
  4. formal tone (avoid)
  5. short, choppy sentences
  6. sentence variety
  7. rhythm of prose
  8. paragraphing
  9. creative use of language
  10. repetition
  11. need for explanation
  12. clarity
  13. Macrorie's "List of Bad Words"

1. spelling
2. ss/
3. agr.
4. v.t. - shift in tense
5. s.p. - shift in person
6. cap. - capitalization
7. p. - punctuation
8. misplaced/dangling modifiers
9. ref. - reference (indefinite pronoun reference)

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