Working Papers

Research and Process Writing on the Internet

R. Jeffrey Blair
contact information
Aichi Gakuin University, Nagoya, Japan
rough machine translation ... [ Eng=>Jpn ]

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The Course Without Computers

        The present research seminar class began in 1996 as an elective class for first year students. The class met for one 40-minute period a week. Two activities were carried out: (a) Most weeks involved a discussion of several countries, a different country each week. A short history of each country was distributed to students one week before the discussion. (b) There was also a research project for which each student wrote a research paper about a topic involving a foreign country. In the first semester simple research concepts and techniques were introduced. Then the paper was written in five drafts. Draft One was due at the end of the first semester. The next four drafts were spaced out at 2-3 week intervals during the second semester. Each successive draft required one new reference and usually became about 90 words longer.
        The printed copies of country histories passed out to students one week before discussion were originally simply text without any photos or pictures to break up the monotony. Later, however, they were posted on the Internet ( with photos and images embedded. Links to related websites were also inserted. Dunkley (1997) argues for the use of materials derived from the Internet. In full agreement with him I would add the suggestion that it is valuable for teachers to put their own materials on the World Wide Web as homepages--in Hypertext Markup Language (html) text format, because of the added benefits of on-screen presentation and the increased access to the teacher's own students, other teachers, and students around the world.

        Writing papers in five drafts accomplished three important purposes. First it broke the research writing requirement down into smaller bite-sized pieces so that students would not feel overwhelmed and would be less likely to copy material into their writing. Next it drew the students' attention to the process of writing and the organization of that writing and introduced the concept of rewriting: integrating new information into the text (not simply attaching it to the end of their previous writing) and eliminating material that does not add to the overall quality of the paper. Students learned the difference between part 2 and draft 2. Finally it allowed for comments and self-evaluation that could be acted upon and make a difference in the final product. Starting with Draft Two students had to submit the previous draft along with each new draft, except the Final Draft. In this way the teacher could monitor the progress of each research paper.
        The fact that the papers were research papers helped introduce several important concepts: (a) the concept of audience. Students learned that the audience for a research paper is not about to go on an overseas tour. (b) the idea and format of references. They practiced writing references that help their readers go back and find the source material used in their papers. They found where to look for the author's or editor's name, the publisher's name, and the year of publication. (c) the organization of libraries. They learned how to use a library catalog and what the Japanese library decimal system is.

Revived and Expanded Course

        This class was discontinued for two years and then revived in 2002 as a required seminar class for 22 second-year students. Two important changes were made to the course: (a) the class now meets for two consecutive 40-minute periods instead of one and (b) during the second period the class meets in the computer lab. Students still get printed materials, but they now have class time to view these materials on the Internet, explore the links, and use search engines to find related information on their own. Muehleisen (1997) suggests teachers create their own "starting page" tailored to their own students' specific needs. I have expanded on that idea by creating such a page as the index within a folder that contains my own materials explaining the Internet and how to put student research papers into html text format. The students' research reports, which all used to be handwritten, must now be submitted in two formats: a handwritten and a homepage version. Students can submit wordprocessed papers in place of handwritten ones. The advantage is two-fold: (a) being able to copy and paste the revised text into the homepage version and (b) not having to rewrite each draft from scratch.
        Computers have become a vital tool for producing professional quality papers and for accessing information (Freirermuth, 1997). With this in mind the Junior College maintains a modern computer lab that is available for class and individual student use. In the research seminar students use a 4 by 6 block of i-Macs and are kept in the same groups (which are mixed up several times over the year) they have in the regular classroom. Though the students were already familiar with the basic wordprocessing skills needed to use Microsoft Word, many still needed to learn formatting commands and shortcuts (pressing a letter while holding down the apple key). With a little practice they mastered double-spacing, justifying the right margin, centering headings, changing font face (including bold face and italic) and size, underlining text, undoing mistakes, and saving changes to a document. Using the wordprocessing capabilities of their computers allows students to edit their writing easily. In addition to deleting, inserting, and moving text they can search the text to locate specific words or phrases. A wordprocessed document can also be extremely useful for keeping track of and organizing lists of useful web addresses.
        By viewing the web version of the printed class handouts, students learn how to use a browser and to navigate across the World Wide Web (WWW) with hyperlinks. The World Wide Web is a huge collection of documents stored on computers called servers located throughout the world maintained by universities (.edu or .ac), government agencies (.gov or .go), businesses (.com or .co), internet service providers (.net or .ne), and other organizations (.org or .or). The most common types of documents include html text format and two photo formats (jpg and gif). Computer addresses called URLs typically start with http://www. followed by (a) a server designation, (b) one or more folders, and finally (c) the document. Here is an example:

The web (www) server at Aichi Gakuin University, an academic institution in Japan is ... My folder on the server is ... ~jeffreyb. Within that folder is a folder for my seminar class' second drafts ... draft2 ... which contains a document listing students and the titles of their papers ... index.html. The title of each paper is linked to the paper itself. By clicking on the title in the index any student, indeed anyone anywhere in the world connected to the Internet, may read any student's paper.
        Most of my documents, including the country histories, reside in my main folder ... ~jeffreyb. Country histories such as

have external links to documents on other servers around the world--a map of Canada as well as information concerning population and area which are posted on the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency's server, for example. My document also contains a beautiful photo in gif format of Niagara Falls that moves, a still photo of Celine Dion, and links to information and photos on her web site. The photos embedded in the country history are NOT actually on my web site, but are imported from these various sites, remotely loaded into the viewer's computer, and embedded into the country history on the viewer's computer.
        After viewing the weekly country handouts as a homepage, students are encouraged to conduct their own search for information on the Internet. To do this they use a search engine, such as Webcrawler, Yahoo, or Altavista (see Ryan, 1997). A search engine provides them with a list of links to URLs that contain the word or phrase they type into the search box. The documents at those URLs may also provide further useful links. It is this linking of documents from one server to another that gives the Web its name. Without them the Web would not be a web. These links are what give the Web its tremendous power.

Homepage Structure

        Once students are comfortable with their browser programs and viewing materials on the Web, it is time for them to learn how to write papers in homepage (Hypertext Markup Language=html) format. Although Davies (1997) claims it can be learned in one week, I advise introducing it very early in the course to give students with little confidence in the use of computers a greater chance to become comfortable with the technology. In my class they practice making a homepage using one of their homework assignments. First they type the homework text into a wordprocessing program using Microsoft Word 5.1 (English version) or the newer Japanese version already on their computer.
        The next step is to introduce the structure of homepages. Here it is important to make a sharp distinction between (a) the computer instructions--the source document and (b) the image that those instructions create--the browser image. The browser image is what everyone sees when they look at a homepage. To write a homepage, however, students need to create a source document. The most efficient way to do this is to copy the source document of a browser image that the teacher provides, a template (Davies, 1997). In this way students can concentrate on the content of the homepage without worrying about the design. Later on various aspects of the design--paragraphing, photos, links, font, and tables--can be dealt with as the need arises. Students learn to study source documents of homepages they like, copy those parts of the html code that look useful and interesting, and insert them into their own homepages. This compromise incorporates the advantages of two techniques (see Newfields and McGuire, 1997): (1) captured code and (2) writing from scratch.
        Students learn to view the entire source document (apple + e) and paste it into a simple wordprocessing document (Simple Text) on their own computer. They learn to identify various parts of the text--the heading, body, and reference section--and distinguish them from the formatting commands. Then they can type or copy their own heading, body, and references into the appropriate locations, save, and view the newly created source document as a browser image. Here the distinction between documents on the Internet (accessed by typing the URL into the browser to view a web page) and documents on the student's own computer (accessed by typing apple + o to open and view the appropriate file) becomes important. Students must be viewing the newly created document on their own computer to see the changes. The original documents on the Internet will not change. Afterwards inserting simple format commands adds variety and proper spacing to the homepage text.

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