Plagiarism, the use of random facts, disorganization of the paper, and student apathy topped the list of problems.
I believe in the importance of teaching research, but my experience has led me to this conclusion: teachers of younger secondary students need to break away from the traditional research paper and turn to alternatives to engage students in the process while teaching research skills.
For instance, Dixie Dellinger, a teacher-consultant with the UNC Charlotte Writing Project who also served on the NWP Advisory Board, had her students make up surveys and polls, analyzing what they found (see Alternatives to Clip and Stitch: Real Research an Writing in the Classroom).
Tom Romano, a frequent speaker at National Writing Project sites, describes the "multi-genre paper" in which students use their research to create fiction and nonfiction pieces as well as other documents (see Romano's books for more).
At first I was somewhat skeptical, as I am sure many who read this may be, about whether I could break away from tradition, meet the required standards, and work this assignment into my tightly packed curriculum.
The more I listened, however, the more I saw the potential.
Another pitfall each year is the widespread plagiarism.
Whether it's blatant or unintentional, plagiarism occurs far too frequently.
As far back as the 1970s Ken Macrorie was experimenting with the I-Search paper, a form that allows students to choose their own topics on subjects important to them, encourages them to use primary sources, and requires that they interview at least one expert on their subject.
Building on Macrorie's work, other teachers have found ways to bring more authenticity and greater pleasure to the research paper.