Research Writing Is Like Hanging A Screen Door

Why Research Writing Is The Same As Screen Door Hanging

Most universities offer a research methods course. Research methods courses are designed to develop the skill to research a topic and synthesize findings.

Recently, I put up a screen door on my back porch. I have a Ph.D. in Engineering Management from Old Dominion University, so how hard could this be? It was hard, but I am now proud to say that I am an expert at screen door hanging. I will proudly point out the three sets of different holes drilled into the wood frame where I placed the two different hinges wrong; three times. I have my proud self-made diploma, in my head, for finishing successful screen door hanging.

Screen door hanging and research writing is basically the same thing. We ask students to drill a few extra holes along the way in the wood to create a written class paper. We help them try not to overlook the simple things that keep the effort from being successful. In the end, we want students to learn something and be better for the experience.

  1. Finding the Topic.
    So, what leads to a good research paper? First, students need an effective topic. That seems impossible to many students. You can offer a list of past topics for a class, but it’s more effective to help students find a topic that they really want to understand or discover a little bit more about. Help students to avoid writing about a project that they are in charge of or how their military unit is hurting promotions and retention. If they are too close to a problem, they will be biased from the start and not have an open mind and do genuine research as a basis of facts. Give students an opportunity to share their topics and offer feedback. Great papers mean great reading time for you.
  2. Help Students to See More Opportunities.
    When I completed my PhD dissertation, my advisor, Derya, informed me that I had to have it published in a peer reviewed journal. So I summarized the 259 pages into an article and submitted and it was published. I thought I was done, but I wasn’t; she told me I needed to publish about 10 more times. My advisor rattled off a long list of article topics. It was then that I realized that a research paper is not about solving all the world’s problems, but about looking at the smaller aspects of a topic, not overlooking the simple things. So, when you next encounter the hard-headed student who wants to write a research paper that is too broad, ask them a few simple questions: What time frame does the topic cover? Is it too broad? What scope do you plan to cover?  One instance or instances around the globe? Asking these types of questions should help students see when a topic is too vast in scope to generate a meaningful paper. Keep asking the probing questions that will help them to find a good basis for some research. Those questions limit those extra holes in their research screen door paper.
  3. Beyond One Paper.
    Research papers are not an isolated product. That is why I stress that at the end of each research paper that the student includes a short paragraph on future research. I want them to see that their paper is important, but it is just one fish in a school of fish; each one similar but different. To really understand the whole mass of fish you need hundreds or thousands of fish, or research papers.

Focus is hard to hold onto. But once you help students to see the focus of the research, you help them open doors to many successful papers.

I am holding up a cup of coffee, to you, and now my metaphor of my success – a wonderful white screen door, that slams closed each time someone comes in or out. Sometimes I just open it to watch the spring-loaded hinges slowly take control and make that wonderful southern slamming noise.  Take time to appreciate the slamming noise of student success with research writing.

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