What Is A High School Research Paper

It’s time to write this year’s homeschool high school research paper. Which style should you choose?

High School Research Paper: MLA? APA? Other?

“What to do??? Which style research paper should my homeschool high schooler do this year?”

Those are the questions I’d often hear in my years as a homeschool high school academic advisor. They are good questions because:

  • Teens need to be prepared for college-level writing
  • Teens need the experience, knowledge, and maturity that research writing helps develop
  • Teens need the character development that they learn while persevering through the process of writing that high school research paper

There are several styles of high school research papers. Let me explain them:

Traditional report style: Remember writing reports back in your middle school and high school years? You simply picked a topic and looked up information about the topic. You did not give opinion but rather, shared information.

The purpose of these papers is simply to learn how to do research, learn basic citations, and develop reference-list skills.

This is an excellent choice of high school research paper style for absolute novices. If your teen hasn’t had experience in research, start here.  As a gift to you, 7SistersHomeschool.com has a FREEBIE step-by-step instructions on the traditional report style high school research paper. Great place to start!

MLA style: Modern Language Association’s style of high school research paper writing is familiar to many people. In MLA papers, students choose a thesis (idea) and develop it. In other words, they come up with an opinion or idea and look for good research to support that idea. 7SistersHomeschool.com has a user-friendly, no busywork, step-by-step guide for writing an MLA high school research paper, used by many thankful homeschool parents and teens.

MLA is a great high school research paper format to follow if your homeschooler has solid experience in essay writing. Good essays require a thesis, support, and solid conclusion. When teens have this style writing down, it is easy to advance into MLA paper writing.

MLA is often chosen for a first high school research paper for those who have essay writing experience (such as thesis writing and composing transition sentences). Teens can concentrate their learning on the MLA-style citations, bibliography, and solid research skills.

APA style: American Psychological Association’s style of research paper is one of the most common papers your homeschool high schooler will face in college. Unfortunately, many homeschool parents have never written an APA paper themselves, so feel intimidated by its no-nonsense format. However, in my opinion, they are the easiest-to-write high school research paper style. Here’s why:

  • APA doesn’t require choosing an opinion and defending it. Teens simply find a topic they’d like to learn more about and research it thoroughly.
  • They do not need transition sentences. They employ section titles (magazine style).

7Sistershomeschool.com has an easy step-by-step guide to writing APA style high school research papers. It is a great choice for upper classmen, if they are tired of MLA. The format of our 7Sisters guide also makes it a good choice for underclassmen, since it even helps them choose topics.

There’s not a wrong choice on high school research paper writing styles, except this: skipping the research paper. Don’t let that happen!  Help your homeschooler choose a high school research paper style and make sure they get it done. They’ll be glad they did!

No matter which research paper style you choose, it is important to avoid plagiarism. Click here to learn more.

High School Research Paper: MLA? APA? Other?


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Filed Under: By Age Group, By Subject, High School Language Arts, Homeschool High School, Homeschool InformationTagged With: homeschool high school language arts, research paper

I Was There When High School Research Papers Came Alive!

Want an assignment that has students lining up at six in the morning -- by choice? Clearwater (Kansas) High School English teacher Ernie Beachey's 11th graders beat the clock to get first dibs on the year they will research to create an original work of American historical fiction. Education World writer Leslie Bulion talks with Beachey about how the creative research paper project got started and how it works. Included: Helpful research sites, excerpts from Clearwater High student papers, and thoughts from a writer of historical fiction!

On the Value of Writing Historical Fiction

"When I was a child, history classes were simply endless streams of men's names, assorted dates, and maps of places I'd never been -- all of which I remembered only until the next test," Kathleen Kudlinski told Education World. "It wasn't until I started to re-create the story part of his-story --and her-story too-- that I cared deeply.

"I'll remember all of the stories, and the historical facts imbedded in them, forever," said Kudlinski, whose most recent biography, Rosa Parks: Young Rebel, was published earlier this year by Simon and Schuster.

"Writing historical fiction gives the writer a sense of real, live people living in history," Kudlinski added.

"We were doing research projects with our students and getting these nearly plagiarized reports straight out of books," teacher Ernie Beachey told Education World. "They made for pretty dry and dull reading!"

So Beachey, an English teacher at Clearwater (Kansas) High School, and his former Clearwater colleague Amy Harris combined the research skills students need to learn with a unit on creative writing. The result is a project that has every 11th grader writing an original piece of historical fiction.

This year, Beachey's students worked in pairs. Each team selected a different year to research. Certain periods in history hold special appeal for students, which is the cause for the early morning lineup on assignment day. After thoroughly researching the year, students planned and wrote historical fiction that incorporated events, people, terms, and other facts they had learned in their research.

Read excerpts from the students' writings at the end of this article!

"I wanted to pick a year in the 1920s because of the interesting fashions, prohibition, and the cool dances," 11th grader Chrystal told Education World.

"1969 was so full of great history, like the landing on the moon and Woodstock," said Chrystal's classmate Jonathan. "The hippies had some great ideas about peace, but we seem to have forgotten them."

Unless a student is interested in a specific period, such as the Civil War, Beachey encourages students to choose a year after 1900. That way he can be sure Clearwater's library will have enough information. Students are required to choose a year before they were born.


After students select a year, Beachey and his classes discuss research methodology. Then they head to the library to begin their search for source material. According to Beachey, his students start out on the Internet with general search engines, including

"We require our students to use at least six sources of information," Beachey told Education World. "We want them to use at least three Internet sources and two or more hard-copy sources, including books, magazines, and newspapers. Often they get some really valuable background information on their particular year from older folks in our local retirement village."

Beachey gives his students an extensive checklist that helps them find specific details about the year they will write about. Those topics include

  • Form of government
  • Transportation
  • Cooking
  • House and furniture design
  • Cost of household necessities
  • Fashion
  • Hairstyles
  • Occupations and salaries
  • Entertainment: popular music, books, magazines, plays, movies
  • Social rules and customs
  • Contemporary slang and other language etiquette
  • Five people who lived and were famous for positive achievements during the research year
  • Three famous "firsts" of that year
  • Three major events

"On the History Channel's This Day in History, students can type in their year or even a decade and find lots of good information to choose from," Beachey added.

"I think the students gain a good understanding of research," Beachey told Education World. "They see it is sometimes easy to be misled. They will come up to me and say, 'Mr. Beachey, look at this! This source says right here that so and so died in 1953, but this source says he died in 1954. Which one is right?' I think learning about reliable sources may be more important to me right at that moment than it is to the student, but that's a valuable tool that will help them later on."


"We will have worked on creative writing the month before we start the research paper," Beachey explained. "That way students can develop the elements of their fiction, such as character, plot, and conflict, as they are doing the research."

As the students do their research, Beachey wanders from one student to another. He asks questions and talks with the students about how they are going to incorporate the information they are finding. "I might see a note card about the excesses of the 'roaring 20s and comment, 'Hey, your character could be even more interesting if you make her both fascinated and repelled by the extravagances of wealthy show-biz people' or, 'Gosh, wouldn't this street war make a great conflict for your character?'" Beachey said.

Beachey's students' papers take many creative forms, including a series of letters or journal entries or a fictionalized story. Students can be first-person narrators traveling back in time, or they can write stories set in their specific time period.

"The historical fiction project takes a month, and it's a lot of work, but it really is worth it," Beachey said. "Students come up to me and say, 'You know, this felt like fun, not like sitting down to do an assignment.' That makes me feel like we are on the right track!"

"I'll probably remember the events of my year longer than just plain facts that I learn in history class, because I'll always attach my original story to them," 11th grader Britni concurred.


  • I Read It On The Internet This Education World article helps teachers show students how to evaluate Web site reliability. Links to helpful teaching resource Web sites included.
  • Education World Lesson Planning Center Archives For History Education World has archives full of great lesson plans including its Celebrate the Century series for each decade in 1900's American History. Links to event and person-specific Web sites and a great game are included in each lesson.
  • About.com Creative Writing for Teens In "Historical Fiction, What Does History Have to Do With Creative Writing," the About.com guide gives a step-by-step process for writing historical fiction, including many helpful research and writing links.


Updated 5/1/2012


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