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The I-Search Paper. Sandy Stuart-Bayer Library Information Specialist Lee’s Summit High School Lee’s Summit, MO Information adapted from The I-Search Paper by Ken Macrorie. The I-Search Paper. Typical Research Paper: The Loop

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The i search paper

The I-Search Paper

Sandy Stuart-Bayer

Library Information Specialist

Lee’s Summit High School

Lee’s Summit, MO

Information adapted from

The I-Search Paper

by Ken Macrorie

The i search paper1
The I-Search Paper

  • Typical Research Paper:

    The Loop

    • Knowledge and experience of the experts on one side; the self on the other; and no connection.

  • The I-Search Paper:

    The Moebius Strip or Loop

    • The Self and The Others connecting; Subjectivity and Objectivity; Includes context and humanity of the authors

  • The i search paper2
    The I-Search Paper

    • Ken Macrorie:

      “Most research papers written in high school and college are bad jokes. They’re funny because they pretend to be so much and actually are so little.”

      • Often an exercise in badly done bibliography

      • An introduction to the art of plagiarism

      • A triumph of meaninglessness-for the writer and the reader

    The i search paper3
    The I-Search Paper

    • Getting “back” to the Basics:

      • Need

      • Curiosity

      • Rigor in judging one’s findings and the opinions of experts

      • Helping others test the validity of the search

    The i search paper4
    The I-Search Paper

    • First, begin with an itch. Allow something to choose you that you want intensely to know or possess. Your product/paper will be the story of your adventure as you scratch that itch.

    • Then:

      • Take your topic to class and ask your classmates for tips/advice.

      • Locate useful information: books, magazines, newspapers, electronic databases, etc.

      • Look at or listen to this information and these ideas. Note down what may be most useful to you.

    The i search paper5
    The I-Search Paper

    • Interview people who know a lot about your topic

    • Think about the best way to approach them—phone? Directly? Through someone who knows them?

    • Know something about your topic before you interview them or they may resent you taking up their time.

    • Ask them where else you might look for more information.

    • Test the statements of experts against those of other experts.

    I search paper
    I-Search Paper

    • Be sure you consult both firsthand sources (persons you talk to or objects you observe)

    • and secondhand sources (books, magazines, websites, etc.)

    I search paper1
    I-Search Paper

    • Simply tell the story of your search in the order In which it happens.

    What I Knew

    and didn’t know about my topic before

    starting out.

    Why I’m Doing this Search:

    Here’s where a real need should show up. The writer demonstrates that the search may make a difference in his/her life.

    The Search

    the story of the hunt.

    What I Learned

    or didn’t learn. A search that failed can be as exciting and valuable as one that succeeded.

    Improving on the process
    Improving on the Process

    • Marilyn Joyce, Bettie Martin, and Julie Tallman fine tune the process.

      • As told in Emergency Librarian. Sep/Oct 95, Vol. 23 Issue 1, p. 20, 4p.

    The i search paper6
    The I-Search Paper

    • Macrorie’s “Itch”

      • Students need to choose a topic about something they need to know for their own lives.

    • Strategies to help students find a topic:

      • Make a personal experience webbing diagram that pictures their interest areas (hobbies, career choices, family, etc.)

      • Explore topics on EBSCO or Gale as well as print sources in the library.

      • Brainstorm with a group.

    Begin exploring the topic
    Begin exploring the topic:

    • After a topic is chosen:

      • Discuss it with classmates.

      • Complete a K-DK-W

        • Know, Don’t Know, Want to Know

      • Do a little reading for general knowledge.

        • Have students begin a journal. Portions of their journal writing will become the first draft of their paper.

        • As students begin reading for general knowledge, don’t allow them to take notes or write quotes. That comes later. Instead, they should reflect on what they’ve read in their journals. This forces using their own words.

    The pre notetaking stage
    The Pre-notetaking Stage

    • Students refer to their K-DK-W Chart to:

      • Formulate a central research question

      • Relate the question to prior knowledge

      • Identify key words and names associated with the question

      • Develop questions to organize their search

    The interpretation stage
    The Interpretation Stage

    • Students locate resources: print sources, computer sources, and firsthand sources to be interviewed.

      • Get a broad view first (encyclopedias, etc.)

      • As information gets more specific, try doing a webbing diagram or an outline.

      • Always, at all stages, reflect in the journal.

        • Discuss problems encountered in the search as well as the information found.

        • Emphasis on evaluating information, looking at different points of view, compare/contrast two articles, etc.

    The interpretation stage1
    The Interpretation Stage

    • Help students interact with source material:

      • Journal starter phrases such as

        • I reacted very strongly when I discovered…

        • I still want to know…

        • When I compared this article to that article, I found…

    • Transition to Final Products:

      • Telling the story of the search.

      • Students create their papers by going through their journals and editing them.


    • Rubric for the I-Search Paper

    • Evaluation of product and process

    • Student Self-Evaluation

    For more information
    For More Information

    • Macrorie, Ken. The I-Search Paper: Revised Edition of Searching Writing. (1988). Portsmouth, NH: Boynton/Cook Publishers.

    • Websites:


        I-Search Paper Format Guide Developed by an instructor at Gallaudet University, based on Ken Macrorie's I-Search Paper.

      • NCTE's Frequently Requested Topics: The I-Search Paper. This site offers a brief explanation of the I-Search Paper. It's a bit too brief, but it's still a positive thing to see this included in the NCTE website (That's National Council of Teachers of English)!

    For more information1
    For More Information


      I-Search in the Age of Information.

      English Journal, Volume, 95, Number 4, March 2006

      A fresh, more recent look at the I-Search method.

    • Connecting Writing and Research through the I-Search Paper

      Wow! This is an excellent addition to Ken Macrorie's book. A high school librarian and freshman English teacher have taken the I-Search Paper method and fine-tuned it, retaining all the original philosophy of the method as they increased student's understanding and likelihood of success. Excellent article!

      Later note: This site that used to be found at is no longer online, but the educators involved wrote a book on the subject.

      Making the Writing and Research Connection With the I-Search Process: A How-To-Do-It Manual

    For more information2
    For More Information


      The I-Search Unit

      This site divides the project into 4 phases, explains each one, and offers examples. This is a good site for beginners and veterans alike.