High school students need to experience the challenges and rewards of writing a research paper, but not every bit of the research has to come out from dry, boring sources. If your homeschool teen is undecided about his MLA style research paper topic, encourage a look at your extended family for inspiration. You might find a really interesting way to get help from relatives with the task!
(APA style papers are quite different, so this post doesn’t apply as easily to those. Here’s a great post from Vicki to help you understand the difference, and a link to her APA style writing guide in the ebookstore.)
Writing a Research Paper
Making the transition from WRITING A REPORT in elementary and middle school to WRITING AN MLA STYLE RESEARCH PAPER in high school is tough for some students. Keep reminding them that the high school research paper is NOT just a report about something; it is a research paper that presents a specific THESIS (including an opinion), and the writing in the paper is to explain and support that thesis in an effort to convince the reader to agree.
Here are some general ideas to help high schoolers choose an interesting MLA research paper topic with sources that are close to home, followed by specific examples from our own family that might help you get excited about your own relatives!
Start with the obvious: Are you interested in a particular period of history in which your parents, aunts and uncles, or grandparents lived? If so, choosing a topic about which they would have helpful stories and insights might be fun basis for creating a thesis statement.
My mother was raised by a single-parent-working-mom after her father’s death when she was very young. Their life in a very small Kentucky town in the 1940’s could offer insights into the plight of single mothers pre-women’s-rights, the unique difficulties that faced a single mother in a small town as opposed to a city, or the expectation of the community in helping raise the children of a widow then vs. now.
One possible thesis statement would be, “Single mothers in World War II era small towns in the United States had few options for employment that would adequately provide for their families.”
Do you have a relative with a chronic illness or permanent damage from an injury who feels comfortable talking about it? Perhaps you want to choose a topic about her experience that will spark a powerful thesis statement.
My father had a heart attack in his thirties. In his fifties, he underwent cardiac triple by-pass surgery. In his seventies he had a pacemaker installed. Today, at 80 years old, he is active, exercises daily, and has an excellent quality of life.
One possible thesis statement might be, “Where once a history of heart disease was close to being a death sentence, 21st century medicine has made it possible for many with cardiac problems to live active lives well into their elder years.”
Think about the various careers represented when your extended family gathers in one room. Is there someone who has a specific career that interests you?
My daughter-in-law is a lawyer specializing in bankruptcy. Talking to her about her work is a real eye-opener!
One possible thesis statement might be, “Although designed to provide a solution to people with overwhelming debt and the people to whom the money was owed, there are perhaps now as many abusers of the bankruptcy system as there are legitimate recipients of its attempt at mercy and justice.”
Do you get the idea? What subject areas can you explore with your extended family?
For help writing that MLA style paper once you’ve found a topic that interests you, download Allison Thorp’s MLA Research Paper Writing Guide. It breaks writing a research paper — what can be a daunting task — into manageable steps!
Writing a Research Paper