In assigning her university memoir-writing class to locate documents of significance to their lives as a starting point for composing personal essays, this teacher compelled her students to search outside themselves for material—in effect, to undertake research in a genre that many initially approach as if the story is already there, complete, inside their heads. By immersing themselves in material that was personal but also concrete and exterior, students discovered that memoir writing calls for as much exploration outside the self as searching within. As it turned out, the assignment not only helped to clarify the role of research in memoir writing, it also served as a springboard for discussions on the nature of documents and on their various uses in conveying a personal story.

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