The Dreaded Research Paper

Honestly, I never knew much about the infamous junior research paper until this year. Whether it was just a cruel myth sponsored by the senior class, or actually the debacle of every junior’s year, I didn’t have a reason to care too much as an underclassman. Now, as a junior, I do. There are way too many facets of this paper to cover, but, for those of you who are just beginning your papers, for those of you who are already falling behind on your papers, or for those of you who are just curious underclassmen, I can offer my two-cents.

One fateful day in December, my U.S. History teacher explained the research paper to our class. She tried to describe a concept, foreign to us at the time; we were expected to write a paper more than three pages long. Sitting in complete and utter shock, I mulled over the allotted period of time during which I’d be expected to work on my paper. Before this class, I had had no preconceived notions about the duration of the assignment, the painful footnotes, or the topics to stay away from. I assumed the assignment existed only as cruel and unusual punishment to test each student’s academic rigor. Nevertheless, I began my research process.

Since I am a third-grader at heart, I knew that my paper had to revolve around pirates. As per usual, I was the butt of my friends’ jokes. However, the joke’s on them, seeing as I’m the only one in our friend group who knows how to successfully maraud a ship. I got pretty enthusiastic about my topic after about two days of research. While investigating potential interests, I learned about the Barbary pirates: North African corsairs who were financed by their government in the 18th and 19th centuries to terrorize merchant ships passing through the Mediterranean sea. The pirates subjected the merchants to slavery, and demanded enormous tributes from their prisoners’ homelands.

It soon became startlingly clear to me that this was a complex topic with many different angles. Prior to research, I had no idea that the Barbary Wars had even happened. To my own horror, Barbary piracy turned out to be completely uncharted territory for me. Although it took extensive research to understand the sides of the conflict, the many wars, treaties signed, and tributes paid, I have no regrets about my area of research. Currently, I am at ease knowing that my paper will concentrate on Barbary piracy along the coast of North Africa in the early 1800’s, and the many ways in which Barbary terrorism has informed U.S. foreign policy and naval development.

Call it a cliché, but I believe that the research process will pay off in my not-so-distant future. Learning how to write a 10+-page research paper is stressful, is demanding, and is ridiculous to me at times, but I can’t help looking forward to when this knowledge will benefit me. Thanks to this paper, I know my way around the scribbly handwriting of a 1796 primary source letter, I know the trappings of secondary source documents, I know the pitfalls of wrongly-formatted footnotes, and the challenges of compiling a decent bibliography. I doubt I will become a historian or a pirate, but at least I know about a conflict that helped shape American history as we know it today.

am aware that any mention of the junior-year history research paper normally brings about a ubiquitous groan. And among the juniors who have read this reflection, I am sure that you’ve rolled your eyes a couple dozen times during your reading (thanks for making it this far). Of course, I aim to please, so here’s a piece of obvious, yet essential advice: always, always, always, always cite the information you include in your paper immediately, or you will forget where that fact, number, or direct quote came from. Always. This way, you can enjoy what little free time you end up having during your junior year. To be painfully corny, I’ll end by fortifying a belief that everyone should hold near and dear already: In order to research a topic for 2-3 months, it’s vital that you find a subject that you enjoy, so that you can realistically sustain your interest. If you don’t love to stumble upon odd little facts about your topic weeks after you’ve ceased research, then you’ve gone wrong. One last thing: if you pray for me during the research process, I will definitely return the favor.