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High school research writing: Getting started

by | Feb 19, 2019 | College Prep, Essays & Research Papers, High school

Getting started with high school research writing

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Does the idea of high school research writing make you tremble? In this three-part series, I’ll walk you through the WHO, WHAT, WHEN, WHERE, and HOW of high school research writing, sharing tips and tricks I have learned during 25 years of teaching.

Juniors and seniors should tackle at least one substantial persuasive expository research paper before heading to college. Let’s get started!


Who should tackle a substantial research paper?

Because of the critical thinking and organization involved, this assignment must be reserved for older teens who have a solid foundation in five-paragraph essays and sentence structure. They should have already completed some research projects for essays or oral presentations.

If your student needs confidence in his or her writing skills, stop the presses and hit WriteShop I and WriteShop II. Older teens can zoom through the lessons in this curriculum and gain that solid foundation.

WriteShop I works on descriptive writing, sentence structure, and paragraph structure. WriteShop II allows the students to write persuasively, do some smaller research assignments, and gain experience in writing essays.

(For the sake of our discussion on high school research writing, I assume students have completed WriteShop I and II, or the equivalent.)


What should a high school research paper include?

  • Title page
  • Outline
  • 1750-2500 word (7-10 page) persuasive exposition
  • Reference page
  • MLA or APA format
  • At least 7 credible academic sources (.edu, .gov, .org)

What formatting should we use?

Not only must your teens know how to write well, they will also need to format their papers using a specific style, most commonly MLA and APA formatting.

Because college professors do not explain them, make sure students know the basics of these nationally accepted formats.

Details matter! Students must follow the guidelines for margins, reference pages, and in-text citations.

What research topics should we choose?

High school research writing gives teens the opportunity to choose relevant topics—and allows them to dig into and study those hard subjects for themselves. For instance:

Urban gardening
Any current political issue
Gun control
Music education
Computer gaming

Global warming
Any one aspect of transhumanism
Junk food
Legalization of medical or recreational marijuana

Once he’s chosen a research topic, your student must choose a position and defend it with expert opinions, and call the reader to action.

Have fun—and don’t shy away from controversial “hot” topics! Journal All Year Teen! Writing Prompt Calendar contains dozens of argumentative and persuasive topics to challenge your student.

This season of homeschooling presents a perfect time for your kids to study and make some decisions for themselves while you are around to give your input.


Pick a time and a place to do research writing—and stick with it. Using a calendar, decide together on dates for small deadlines. For example:

  • Notes from three resources by March 1st
  • Rough draft complete by March 25th

Meeting deadlines is a learned skill. Dock the grade if your teen has not met each stepping stone.


At home

Students must have room to keep reference material organized and handy. If you have younger children, allowing your teen to wear noise-canceling headphones is a good idea.

When my kids worked on their research papers, I set up a long folding table in the middle of the living room. The computer, notes, books, and printed resources all stayed on the table until the project was finished.

Not surprisingly, my kids focused better in our living room than they did in a bedroom, where gaming or social media distracted them. Also, I could pop in and help them find sources or discuss an issue when they camped out next to the kitchen.

At a coffee shop

I feel “grown-up” when I work from a coffee shop. The general background noise of a coffee shop keeps me productive, whereas, noise from my family distracts me.

At the library

Ask for a study room; they’re great. Libraries, which have free Wi-Fi, allow you to talk (and sometimes even bring snacks and drinks) in study rooms. Plus, with reference materials and a helpful librarian just a few steps away, the library makes an ideal place to focus on research.

At home. In a cozy coffee shop. At your local library. Really, the WHERE can be anywhere these days.

Enjoy this season of homeschooling and come back next time when we delve into the HOW of high school research writing.

As WriteShop’s curriculum consultant, Misti Lacy draws from her years of experience as a veteran writing teacher and homeschool mom to help you build a solid writing foundation. Whether you’re deciding on products for your family, exploring our program for your school or co-op, or needing someone to walk you through your WriteShop curriculum, Misti is your girl! She has a heart for building relationships with you and your kids, and through her warm encouragement, she takes the fear out of teaching writing. 

Contact Misti today! She’s delighted to walk with you along your WriteShop journey.

Essay writing skills lie at the foundation of research writing. WriteShop I teaches strong paragraph writing and more mature sentence structure. These skills pave the way for students to learn five-paragraph essay writing in WriteShop II.

To learn more about the WriteShop I and II program from a real mom, check out this video by Annie and Everything.

WriteShop I and WriteShop II