A Change from a Traditional Research Paper – the I-Search Paper

by Dr. Becky Rogers, Instructional Designer III

One challenge faculty members face is how to incorporate writing into their courses in both meaningful and engaging ways. Students typically complain about writing research papers, and instructors decry the long hours to both grade and give critical feedback. We know the practice of writing academic papers containing clear analysis and correct formatting is important for a good education and future success, but the reality of student submissions is often disappointing.

We suggest an alternative to the traditional paper. It is more informal and allows students freedom to choose topics that interest them. It also guides them through the research process while engaging students in selected areas. This alternative is called an I-Search paper, and we will discuss its key components below.

First, the student choses a specific area in the course curriculum that has piqued their interest. Once the student selects the topic, they put it into question form to guide their research.

Here are a few examples of the types of questions they could select:

  • What are our physical reactions to emotions and why do we have them?
  • How does playing with Legos affect the brain?
  • What is the “cloud” and how are things stored there?
  • How do vocal cords work and how can one’s pitch go higher and lower?
  • What is military surveillance like today?

Next, the student creates a hook. They must figure out a way to excite their readers and make them want to read more. Here is an example:

On the dresser in my room is a very special object, a cup made by my grandmother. Grandma Kasamoto was a potter. Years ago, when I was five, I saw this pretty cup sitting on a shelf in Grandma’s pottery shop. It was white, with delicate green stems and leaves painted on it. The stems curled up the sides of the cup and ended in tiny purple flowers.

The student then states the question they will research and why it is important to them. In this particular example, the student wanted to know the process her grandmother would have used to create the cup. This is followed by a synopsis of what the student already knows about the topic and then an outline of the additional information they are interested in. By breaking the main question into narrower questions, it controls the scope of the research.

After that, the student begins researching their questions. It is important that they take notes about what they are learning and keep track of the resources they use. This information will be crucial when they summarize their research process. It is a good idea to have suggestions for where to look for information and how to evaluate the credibility of a source. Once research is complete, the student will summarize the process they used to research their questions and then provide their key findings.

Finally, the student will discuss what they have learned and how it helped answer their questions. This part of their paper should include a reflection piece describing how the answers have informed them and how they can be used in their lives. At this point they can also determine additional questions they would like to explore at a later time.


English 1 Honors & Advanced Communications Web Portal (n.d.) The I-Search Paper. Retrieved from: https://mrsspeachenglish.weebly.com/i-search-paper.html

Gallaudet University. (n.d.). I-Search Paper Format Guide. Retrieved from: https://www.gallaudet.edu/tutorial-and-instructional-programs/english-center/citations-and-references/i-search-paper-format-guide/

Gallaudet University. (n.d.). Writing an I-Search Paper. Retrieved from: https://www.gallaudet.edu/Documents/Academic/CLAST/TIP/writing%20an%20I-search%20paper.pdf

I Search Topics. Retrieved from: https://elalibman.com/Site/I-Search_Topics.html

Yamato, Michiko. (2000). How Memories are Made. Retrieved from: https://www.yumpu.com/en/document/read/25196071/i-search-paper