On the CHE I was reading a thread on “Teaching New Grad Students–Focusing them on methodology.” The author/professor had gotten papers that were not focused as they should have been. The problem in a grad class, where the first major paper was not due until late October, after months of discussion in class:
the class as a whole did not devote as much time and attention to the larger issues of methodology, scope, evidence etc., that were specified in the assignment instructions and which we have emphasized in seminar so far. In other words, too much time was spent discussing the conclusions of the pieces they addressed and not enough on how those conclusions were related to ways in which the authors conceptualized the question of the article, how the authors identified relevant evidence and generally approached the question.
Several responses were given including:
Have them write earlier in the semester.
Don’t have them start with a compare/contrast. Instead have them do a single work.
Then there was this answer which I really liked and thought might work:
Something I’ve done a couple of times is have the students (collaboratively in class) work backwards from the article they had to read to draft a (very rough) grant proposal. In other words, have them imagine that they are the author(s) and that they have to explain to someone who might be interested in funding their research why it is significant and how they plan to conduct it. I’ve found that it all but forces them to shift their attention from conclusions to research questions, existing literature, data, and methods, and it’s a nice break from the usual seminar discussions.