Undertaking the Long Paper

Undertaking the Long Paper

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Updated on Feb 14, 2009

It happens to every student at some point or another. A large research paper or project is assigned, with a due date several weeks or months ahead, and she feels like she has all the time in the world to get it done. But, slowly but surely, the due date approaches. Sometimes students feel too intimidated by the enormity of the task to get started. Others think they can cobble it together at the last minute. But one thing's for sure: to succeed on a long paper assignment, students will need to make a plan, and stick to it!

If your child hasn’t already, he’ll undertake the long paper early in middle school. A “long paper,” which differs structurally from other essays, takes various skills other than writing. His paper could be a multi-sectioned book report, a biography on a U.S. president, or an elaborate project accompanying his science fair entry on homemade stalagmites and stalactites.

In seventh and eighth grade – and throughout high school – the long paper will most likely be a research (or term) paper, which comprises your child's findings from numerous sources on a particular topic, like the Revolutionary War or the history of European film, and can range from five to 20 pages in length (or more, depending on the class).

Regardless of your child’s level and subject matter, the keys to success are the same: sharp planning and research skills, and a whole lot of motivation!

Choosing a Subject:
Your child should leave class knowing exactly what her teacher requires. “Read the assignment over with your child,” says Anne Gronet, a fourth grade teacher at Corte Madera School. “Have them read it several times. If there are parts of the project that aren’t clear, your child needs to check in with his or her teacher.” Then, write the due date and other important deadlines on your family calendar.

After she has a grasp on the topic, she can find her focus. Her topic shouldn't be too broad (a history of the Civil War), and not too narrow (Over-Irrigation and the Collapse of the Mesopotamian Settlement of Mashkan-shapir). Help her brainstorm topics. Next, visit the library together or assist her while surfing the Internet to gauge how much information is out there. After this preliminary research, she picks her subject.

Planning the Paper:
After your child decides what her topic will be, she should immediately plan an outline, or at least have an idea of what kinds of information, and from what books or periodicals, she plans to research. Assist her in creating a schedule, scattered with mini-deadlines over the coming weeks or months.

Your child should work on the paper in increments, promptly after receiving the assignment. “Tell your child that you expect them to work a little each day on the project, and that you will be checking in periodically to find out how they’re doing,” says Gronet. Your child can begin writing even if he hasn’t finished gathering data, and doesn’t have to start at the beginning.

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