By LARRY HYPES
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
Often the first step is to find a topic that will make somebody mad. Perhaps it is a concept that many will truly find enjoyable. Often, the key is to locate an idea that the writer can be passionate enough about to actually compose a paper. In any case, a great challenge for teachers in high schools as well as colleges is to prepare students to write a research paper. Controversy is always a premium but the ability to find material is essential.
For example, the emotional issue of pit bulls inside the city limits here in Bluefield is an excellent idea to spark the writer’s interest. It is difficult to ignore. Those who love the dogs are adamantly supportive of the animals while those who would like to see them gone are equally intense about the need to control or eliminate the canines.
Another recent “hot button” issue that would be the kind of emotional spark a writer might need is the debate about the West Virginia Turnpike tolls. Supporters say the state cannot afford to lose the millions of dollars in annual revenue. At the same time, southern state citizens continue to cry “foul” about having to shell out $6 one way in order to travel between Princeton and Charleston.
In either case, this single issue might not make a good persuasive research paper by virtue of the fact that there might not be enough sources available for a credible effort. To produce a paper that will be accepted generally requires books, magazines, newspapers, references, and other works. A localized issue, especially one so recent, might not have all of those available even though the issue itself is very worthy.
The availability of sources and wide-ranging influence rekindles old newspaper memories. Several years ago when the Internet was in its infancy, I was in the late Daily Telegraph executive editor Tom Colley’s office at about this time of the year. It was back in the day when Jim Terry, Barbara Hawkins, Don Cuppett, and Mel Grubb, among others, were regulars in the office (although Mel is still a regular visitor to the newsroom to this very day) and everybody was seemingly interested in everything under the sun. In fact, when I first applied to start writing here, Tom observed with a grin that a good newsperson should know a little something about everything.
Well, that was close to the way it was for that little group. On any given day or night, you could find someone looking up who the 18th governor of West Virginia was, or what kind of drumsticks Ringo Starr used with the Beatles, or who won the 1959 Daytona 500. It was amazing — like having an almanac search or something going on all the time.
At any rate, this was a weekend before the anniversary of the sinking of the RMS Titanic on April 15, 1912. We always liked to look for things like that and make up some kind of a good feature piece. People enjoy those types of stories when the writing is factual and interesting. Rather than go into the library or the encyclopedias, we decided to give the new-fangled ‘Net a try. Jaws dropped all around the table when we found some 800 articles on the first try. None of us had any idea we would find so much. It was an eye-opener and one of those concepts that could make a fine research project due in part to the overwhelming amount of material that we could access.
To be honest, we all understood this was the beginning and end of research methods all at the same time. It was quite cost effective because a few key strokes could eliminate perhaps hour or days of searching and that would surely be a good thing in terms of less hours being spent finding information. The reporter could produce more copy in less time. Editors like that. Readers don’t care where the material comes from as long as the facts are straight.
On the other hand, we all were still trying to sort out just how reliable all this “stuff” might be. I pointed out that it had not been long since somebody had sent me a piece about former Tazewell High School pitcher Billy Wagner. They had found it “on the computer” as I phrased it and I was amazed to read that Billy’s birthplace was Oklahoma City. Since I had taught Billy and knew his family, I was well aware that he was born in Marion and later raised in nearby Tannersville. We all agreed that one major concern with the new wonder tool would be its accuracy. Still, we learned to navigate through the World Wide Web and the little screen has become a huge part of our lives.
I still wonder, though, how 88 miles of turnpike can cost so doggone much to drive on while at the same time I can travel from here to Oklahoma City, including 900 miles on a very nice Interstate 40, and not have to pay a penny in tolls.
Larry Hypes, a teacher at Tazewell High School, is a Daily Telegraph columnist.