Traditional research paper writing required an enormous amount of paperwork. Just two decades ago, the process would incur the long and complicated process of visiting a library, perusing the card catalog, visiting the stacks, taking notes in notebooks, organizing ideas on index cards, drafting your paper in longhand online paper, and typing a final copy on a typewriter, or visiting the library or computer lab yet again to use a machine and a dot matrix printer. The entire effort could take days for even the simplest of essays, just because of the challenge involved in going places and physically moving books and papers around to prepare the essay.
Today, however, technology has made the process of writing a research paper much easier—but has it improved students’ ability to write papers? Today, students can visit their school’s library online and download articles and whole books to complete the research process in just minutes, without ever leaving the comfort of their homes. Word processing software has made it easier than ever to write an essay without ever touching a sheet of paper. It also makes it possible to edit a document without needing to rewrite it from scratch.
But the ease of using technology has created a generation with some bad habits that impact the quality of the resulting research papers. When students can retrieve research with a quick search engine search, the vast majority will accept the search engine’s ranking of results as indicative of the importance of the research sources. Or, in simpler terms: They’ll take the first few results and try to write a professional paper around the results rather than seek out the best possible sources. Convenience trumps quality, especially with the modern world’s emphasis on speed.
The good news is that technology has also opened new vistas for research that can also improve researching and writing skills if used properly. Let’s start with the research available in libraries. Technology has made it possible to access research sources that previously were either difficult or impossible to access. Full texts of books and journal articles held in libraries around the world are now accessible with a single search and a few clicks of the mouse. With access to higher quality sources and a greater diversity of sources, students can develop better quality essays that have better support and more thorough literature reviews.
But beyond this, technology is also making it easier to write well. Services that provide grammar, spelling, and formatting assistance provide students with excellent opportunities to develop their writing skills. Most modern word processors come with spelling and grammar checkers that do a decent job of catching basic mistakes, but there are now dedicated websites, add-ons, and apps that can analyze and improve grammar at a deeper and more comprehensive level. Similarly, automated citation generators can help you to document your sources correctly and provide a comprehensive bibliography of sources. Additionally, automated plagiarism checkers can scour papers for originality issues in order to help avoid some of the most common academic honesty problems.
These sorts of stop-gaps can help catch mistakes that students make in writing, but technology can also help to prevent errors before they begin. There are a number of apps that help students to practice skill building, and this in turn allows for better developed and stronger papers overall. Libraries, for example, often provide students with training materials to teach them how to research sources, critically evaluate them, and make educated and informed decisions on the best sources for a particular paper.
There is always the risk that a student will go too far in using the help technology provides as a crutch to limit the amount of effort needed to create a paper, but when used properly technology can deliver an important boost that can turn the most difficult of research papers into an opportunity for learning and growth. The key is to find the right balance between technological assistance and elbow grease.