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Independent Research Projects: Guide for Students

Defining a Project

A project consists of the long-term development of a question or idea that is significant to professionals in your academic area of interest. You will use sophisticated research methods and technology appropriate to the field of study. Over the course of the project, you will engage in a research process similar to that of a professional who works in the field of study.

Your project must demonstrate creative mastery of content through a final product of professional quality. The final product, which is scored, may be in either of two formats:

  • A written product, such as a formal paper or literary work
  • A public performance, such as an exhibit or theatrical production 

The selection of the format for your final product must be appropriate for the field of study and convey the knowledge and skills you have learned in the project. The final product is the focus of the scoring process. Along with the final product, you will need to submit the following documentation:

  • A supporting public presentation if your final product is written, or a written summary if your final product is a public performance
  • A process record, accompanied by supporting artifacts, that provides documentation of your course of study

Choose A Topic

One of the most important decisions you will make in this project is selecting a topic or question to pursue. You should keep the following criteria in mind when selecting a topic.

Interest. The topic you choose should be something you know about but want to learn more. The topic should allow you to "stretch"—it should challenge you in some way you have not been challenged academically before.

Significance. The topic or question should be important to the field and potentially add to the body of knowledge of the field of study. It should give you plenty of opportunities to demonstrate the impact of your project on yourself and others.

Scope. The Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) in one or more of the following disciplines—English language arts and reading, mathematics, science, or social studies—should serve as a foundation of the project. The topic or question should be narrow enough in scope to allow for an in-depth, original study and should lend itself to the development of a professional-quality final product. Finally, you should be able to address the topic or question fully in the agreed-upon time period.

Resources. There should be enough information available to research the topic. Your project should utilize some degree of primary sources and analysis; thus, your project cannot depend only on secondary sources. You need adequate financial resources for the project or to know where and how to obtain such resources. You should have access and transportation to research sites and a mentor in the field.

Write a Proposal

Preparing your proposal may be the most difficult part of your entire project. However, once you complete your proposal, you will be well on your way to completing your project. Your proposal will assist your teacher in evaluating the appropriateness and feasibility of your project in light of the scoring guide. Be sure to keep the scoring guide in mind when developing your proposal. You can also download an organizer to help you write your proposal.

Choose a Mentor

One of the most important steps you will make in this project is selecting a mentor. The mentor is the person who will support you with professional expertise and experience in the field you wish to study. Your teacher will collaborate with you in making this important selection, though it is your responsibility to find and engage your mentor.

Mentors must

  • be at least 21 years of age;
  • have demonstrated knowledge and skill in your area of study;
  • not be a member of your immediate family;
  • be available to advise you, answer questions, and give you instruction and support during the duration of your project; and
  • be willing to provide a driver's license number and submit to a criminal background check.

Mentors should also

  • show enthusiasm for his/her chosen profession;
  • have a record of success in the profession;
  • be a competent communicator; and
  • be able to commit to the needed level of assistance.

Document Product Development

Developing and implementing your proposal will no doubt involve a great deal of exploration. You may gather your information in a variety of ways, such as the following:

  • Meeting with your mentor
  • Interviewing experts in the field of your project
  • Observing experts at work
  • Writing letters of inquiry
  • Reading primary and secondary sources

Part of conducting a comprehensive project involves careful record keeping. You will probably want to get a binder or set up a file on your computer for compiling and organizing your documentation.

Participating in this project will enable you to demonstrate your ability to produce work of professional-level quality. A key to producing high-quality work is the ability to organize your project effectively and to establish systems or processes for ensuring tasks are completed and meet agreed-upon expectations. You will probably be able to do this on your own. However, if you do need assistance or would like to see some ideas for organizing your work, some optional forms are available.

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