Mary Jo Fresch and David L. Harrison are co-authors of 7 Keys to Research for Writing Success. They join edu@scholastic to share a conversation about their process for conceiving of and writing the book, as well as why it's so important for educators to understand how to talk about research.
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We would like to share our writing journey with you for our latest Scholastic book, 7 Keys to Research for Writing Success. As a literacy expert and educator (Mary Jo) and children’s book author (David), we have collaborated for several years, and knew that we could grow this work into a resource that will help educators teach students how to get ready to write. And as writers, both of us know from lots of trial and error that in order to craft something powerful, you have to be prepared. It was in this idea of preparation that we saw an important opportunity.
We had conversations about writing (and teaching writing) with many writers, editors and teachers, and decided that our book didn’t need to be about the writing process. There are excellent titles about the process but there is not much information about what writers need to do before they are ready to write. Preparing to write—doing the presearch and research about a subject—shapes what we say and how we say it when the time comes to do the writing. Presearch is what writers do to prepare for the real digging for information (research). It’s the time when we think about the task ahead, decide what we’ll need to know, and map out how we’ll go about the process. In other words, presearch is planning for research. When young writers learn to organize their thoughts and questions, as well as the knowledge they bring to a subject, they have a solid foundation on which to tell a compelling story or craft an iron-clad argument.
We also knew that “doing research” is a skill that needs to be taught in a practical way. It’s not enough to say, “look at books,” or “enlist the librarian.” Students need guidance on how to do these things with purpose: to select a topic, ask the right questions, consult reliable resources (as author Dan Brown says, “Google is not a synonym for research”), take good notes, and prepare to write. When students have these skills, they become independent researchers, which is an important part of the writing process.
We wrote 7 Keys to Research for Writing Success with help from experienced teachers who provided samples of their students’ work, and David dug into his own research notes for examples to share with students. He shared stories (all in the book!) about how important good research is to his writing.
David offered this example in particular:
“A key element in a middle grade novel I was developing involved a scientist and his son driving across the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument to spend a summer researching. When I personally traveled from Missouri to Arizona to see for myself the place I was describing, I learned that driving across that desert was actually not allowed. With this knowledge, I had to adjust: my adventurers had to settle for staying at a campsite! (And I had to make sure that any further plot points reflected the change.)”
Sharing stories like this with students drives home the point that unless we prepare before we start, our writing may have holes or inconsistencies that we don’t even know about! Our writing won’t be true and our readers will be cheated.
The teachers we worked with appreciated the step-by-step, efficient way they could teach good research skills to their students. By presearching a proposed topic, students discover if their idea is too big or too narrow. This saves time later on and helps keep students from being overwhelmed (by too much information) or disappointed (by too little). By putting a laser focus on their topics, students could choose more specific key words, saving time in the search and yielding better results. From there students can get really engaged in their topic. Suddenly, they will realize that research is the same for them as it is for published authors. We believe that if you do the (pre)work, you will wow your reader with a piece full of interesting and relevant facts and details.
We open the book with an anonymous quote that we will use to close this blog post: “The future belongs to the curious. The ones who are not afraid to try it, explore it, poke it, question it and turn it inside out.”
We wish happy research adventures to you and your students!