National Writing Project

TR 16. How the Writing Context Shapes College Students' Strategies for Writing from Sources

By: John R. Hayes, Jennie Nelson
Publication: National Center for the Study of Writing and Literacy Technical Report
Date: August 1988

Summary: This study explores processes college students use to write assigned research papers.


Excerpt from Article

The findings of these two exploratory studies are disturbing and promising. They are disturbing because they reveal that students have an extensive set of very refined, dead-end strategies for writing from sources, strategies that include one-shot library research, the plundering of sources for easily extracted information, and rote reproduction of other authors' ideas. These strategies appear to be tailor-made for writing to the teacher-as-examiner and are so well-learned and ingrained that some students seem to use them as a sort of "standard operating procedure" when they are confronted with an assignment that requires the use of multiple sources.

Perhaps what is even more disturbing is that students are rewarded for using these low-investment strategies. As teachers we must ask ourselves what kinds of intellectual processes we want our student to engage in, for example, when we ask them to write research papers. Do we really want them to "think in the same critical, analytical, inquiring mode" (Schwegler & Shamoon, 1982, p. 821) as we do? Or are we more interested in testing their ability to look up information and produce "correct" academic writing?

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