Project 2: I-Search (Fall 2015)


This project will be used to explore and develop research skills and your ethos as a researcher. You will pick a topic and compose a research question or questions about that topic. Then you will use the “I-Search” method to work through the process of composing a reflective research narrative. The I-Search is a process of researching a question, but also refers to a particular form of writing–a genre–that is based in questions, rather than answers, and that centers on a narrative of research. It is a project where you search for information rather than only reporting what other writers have researched before you. The outcome of the I-Search project may be an answer to your initial research question, an understanding of how to best research this kind of question, an evaluation of sources for a future research project, or even a refined sense of the argument you might pursue in the next project.

Assignment Prompt

For this project, pick a topic and compose a research question or set of related research questions on a topic of significant personal interest, and work through relevant research strategies to begin to find answers to these questions. Compose a 1500-2000 word project that explains your research process, findings, and reflections.

How do I begin?

  • To start, consider what issue you would like to explore.
  • Assess the knowledge you have about this topic and the knowledge you need, and brainstorm a list of questions.
  • Group related questions together, and spend some time brainstorming any other related questions. These research questions will guide your inquiry: the reading, research, and writing you do for the paper.

Some questions students in Winter 2015 were interested in researching:

  • Does the food that we eat affect our dreams? How? What exactly causes this? Is it the chemicals inside the food or is it psychological?
  • How do musicians know when they are ready to perform?
  • What does a job at the FSO [Foreign Service Office] entail? How do I get a position there? What is the lifestyle like for those employed by the FSO?
  • How does social media affect romantic relationships?
  • How does chronic pain, or treatment for chronic pain, lead to depression?

 When you’re thinking about whether or not your I-Search question will “work,” ask yourself the following questions:

  • Is it written as a question or set of questions, instead of a statement?
  • Do I need to clarify any terms to make my research question understandable to my audience?
  • Am I personally invested in exploring this question? Why or how will exploring this question help me? Can I articulate my motivation for asking this question?
  • Is my question something I can research using secondary sources? Can it be answered too easily, or do I need a diverse set of sources to understand the answer?
  • Is my question specific or concrete enough to explore in 1500-2000 words? Or is it too broad or too narrow?

What does the paper “look” like?

The I-search paper is a narrative of sorts, describing your search for answers to your research questions. In this paper, you will use first person (“I”), and will think about what vocabulary, style, and tone work best to support your development of the topic. Ken Macrorie, in his book I-Search lists four parts of the paper (What I Knew, Why I’m Writing This Paper, The Search, and What I Learned), though, as he notes, this is flexible:

Part 1: The introduction (What I Knew and Why I’m Writing the Paper)

In the introduction you will explain three things:

  • Your research question
  • What you know or think you know about the topic
  • Your motivation for finding the answers to your question(s)

The introduction may be more than one paragraph long, depending on how much prior knowledge you have. Decide in which order the content is best presented.

Part 2: The body of the paper (The Search)

The body of the essay is the narrative of your search for answers and your reflection on this research process.

In the beginning of the project, we will learn about the tools available to you through the WSU library database. You will explore these library tools as you engage in secondary research on your topic.

There are two ways students generally plan the research process:

  • You might begin with the source that is “closest” to you, the one that is easiest to access. Write about what you find there to answer your question and what seems like an intuitive next step for research. Then move on to that next source, and continue to follow the research path.
  • Or, you might have a more concrete research plan in place when you begin. For example, you might plan to look at scholarly articles from three particular journals to answer your question, or you might plan to find the answers to your sub-questions in a certain order.

You will find at least three relevant secondary sources to learn more about your topic. For each source you write about in the body of the essay, you should do the following:

  • Explain how you found that source: What search tools did you use? How did you navigate them?
  • Summarize the information you find in that source as it relates to your question.
  • Reflect on how that source helps you answer your question and/or how it helps you build on the knowledge you’ve found in other sources.

Your narration of the search process and your reflection on and analysis of sources will help you build transitions between your discussion of the sources you discover.

Part 3: The conclusion (What I Learned)

The conclusion of the paper is different than the traditional conclusion you may be used to in academic writing. While you may be able to summarize what you’ve learned, it’s also just as likely that you will be left with more questions, or will have gone down an unsatisfying research path. This is also worth writing about, as you are nevertheless learning about the research process, and can always carry your inquiry forth in a future project.

Your conclusion should include three things:

  • An explanation/summary of what you learned through research about possible answers to your research question.
  • An explanation/summary of what you learned about research and/or writing through examining this question and using the research methods you used.
  • A claim about your conclusions in a nutshell; that is, state what you learned through this project (your research process, writing process and topic) in one sentence (“After finishing this project, I hypothesize/claim/understand/argue that….”)

Sample I-Search Papers for Discussion





Minimum Requirements
Length: 1500-2000 words long

Research: At least three relevant secondary sources

Format: MLA format

Due Date

  • Upload your paper to Blackboard by [date].

Your grade for the I-Search paper will be averaged with your grades for the other four major projects you complete in the course . The effective I-Search paper will display the following characteristics:

I-Search Rubric Excellent




Needs Revision




Does the introduction include clearly stated research question(s)?
Does the introduction include the writer’s prior knowledge on the topic?
Does the introduction include the writer’s motivation for asking the research question(s)?
Does the writer explain and narrate his/her research process in the body of the essay?
Does the writer select appropriate and sufficient sources to explore his/her research question(s)?
Does the writer summarize, paraphrase, or quote relevant information from sources?
Does the writer analyze sources and/or reflect on how these sources help him/her answer research questions and/or continue to navigate the research process? Is this metacommentary developed throughout the paper?
Does the writer include an explanation/summary of what he/she learned through research about possible answers to the research question(s)? Are conclusions developed logically from the evidence and information discovered through research?
Does the writer include an explanation/summary of what he/she learned about research and/or writing through examining this question and using these research methods?
Does the writer include a claim about what he/she learned through this project in one sentence?
Formatting (title, margins, spacing, font, page numbers, indentation)
Does the writer properly introduce and integrate sources using MLA citation? Does the format of the paper follow MLA standards?
Does the essay contain focus, developed, and coherent paragraphs?
Do transitions between paragraphs connect ideas? Are narrative transitions used when appropriate?
Clear and Effective Writing
Are sentences clear and coherent?
Does the essay display minimal error?
Is the vocabulary, style, and tone used appropriate to the subject being explored?

Learning Outcomes


  • Use key course concepts (genre and rhetoric) to write effectively
    • You’ll practice employing narrative, reporting, and reflection in the text, showing that you understand the features of the I-Search genre.
  • Use a flexible writing process that includes brainstorming/inventing ideas, planning, drafting, giving and receiving feedback, revising, editing, and publishing.
    • You’ll practice brainstorming, drafting, response, reflection, and revision activities in class and for homework to develop ideas and refine writing.


  • Use reading strategies in order to identify, analyze, evaluate, and respond to arguments, rhetorical elements and genre conventions in college-level texts and other media.
    • You’ll practice using your knowledge of rhetoric to read, analyze, evaluate, and respond to sources, thinking about how they provide information and perspectives integral to a discussion of the topic.


  • Conduct research by finding and evaluating print, electronic, and other sources;
    • You’ll practice using the library databases to identify relevant and sufficient resources for the project.
  • Generate information and ideas from research;
    • You’ll practice summarizing, paraphrasing, and quoting relevant information from sources.
  • Appropriately integrate material from sources.
    • You’ll practice using search narrative to introduce sources.
    • You’ll practice using MLA format to integrate in-text citations and a works cited page.


  • Use written reflection to plan, monitor, and evaluate one’s own learning and writing.
    • You’ll practice articulating prior knowledge and knowledge gaps in order to form research questions in reflection.
    • You’ll practice monitoring your development of voice, and topic and assessing the effectiveness of organization and style through in-process reflection.
    • You’ll practice evaluating your composition of the I-search project in a post-process reflection. 

Drafting and Feedback Process

We will work through several drafts of this project to support your development of ideas and revision throughout the research and writing process.

  • We will begin by workshopping I-Search (research) questions in class to ensure that they are appropriate and manageable for the assignment.
  • Then, you will draft your introduction and bring a copy of it to class for peer response.
  • After we do our session on library research, you will draft the first part of the body of your essay, explaining how you found your initial source, reporting the information from that source, and reflecting on how that source helps you begin to answer your research question or further your research process. You will add this writing to your draft and will bring this new draft in for peer response.
  • While you continue to research and write your complete draft of the I-search paper, we will have conferences to discuss your progress and questions.

You will bring a full draft of the project to class for peer response. After you make further revisions to this draft, you will submit it to me for feedback before you prepare your final version.

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