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Curiosity is at the heart of academic inquiry. Bruce Ballenger’s The Curious Researcher is the antithesis to the common perception that writing research papers is a dry and uninspired process. Early on he makes the distinction between research reports and research papers. Most high school students are taught to write research reports that are merely a regurgitation of facts.

Whereas a research paper incorporates researched information that is shaped by the writer’s desire to make meaning out of that information in order to arrive at a new level of understanding.  However, given public education’s tendency to keep dumbing down the curriculum so schools have more students meet arbitrary benchmarks, it’s probably safe to say fact regurgitation will remain the norm. Bruce Ballenger’s approach could do wonders to help high school English teachers lead their students through an authentic experience with the research writing process.

The Curious Researcher is marketed as a college-level writing textbook. Some students and teachers alike can be put-off by the tone the author takes, but the tone comes from the sincere passion Bruce Ballenger has for the subject. Other readers will become impatient with the numerous freewriting exercises. If that is the case, they have missed a big point of Ballenger’s book: That too many writers think before they write. Freewriting is a beneficial way to open up the writer’s mind to think thoughts that might not occur otherwise, which in turn allows a writer to say things in new and interesting ways.

A five-week plan takes the writer through all the steps of writing a research paper from creating an inventory of topics, finding and evaluating sources, narrowing your topic, finding researchable questions, recognizing plagiarism, and deciding on a voice suited to the reader’s audience. Emphasis is placed on source variety and guidelines are included for MLA and APA format as well. Along the way, Ballenger includes anecdotes from his personal writing experience as well as examples of published essays that incorporate research.

It may be confusing for some students that the professional examples are not written in MLA format. However, that is standard practice when writing for general publication, just as it is standard practice to use a citation system such as MLA or APA for academic research. Ballenger is trying to bridge the gap between the two.

It’s true that The Curious Researcher teaches concepts that students should be learning at the middle school and high school level, but just because state standards mandate such a thing does not always mean a student enters college ready to do academic research. Ballenger’s approach is at the heart of the writing program at Boise State University. It is an approach that will take any writer, student or professional, on a journey of discovery. After all, the reason many people get hooked on writing is because they are continually surprised by what they have to say. Bruce Ballanger’s book makes that experience accessible and fun.


What books or activities have you used that help get at the necessity of curiosity when conducting research?


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