Monthly Archives: May 2015

The Advanced Guide To Writing a Research Paper

how to write a research paper

Research papers are designed to display your level of expertise in a subject and your ability to transmit information in a compelling way. While it’s essential that you do extensive research before writing your paper, the tricky part actually lies in the writing process. There are many common mistakes to avoid and even great writers have areas where they can improve.

Here’s a breakdown of areas to focus on while writing your research paper:

Gather evidence

Sometimes a teacher or professor will give you a specific topic they want you to write on. In that case, you should read with that topic in mind and highlight or write down examples that support the topic you’ve been assigned. Other times, it’s up to you to decide what to write about. In that case, you have more leisure to explore what arguments interest you most as you read.

Make a list of possible thesis

As you do more research, you can start to narrow down the list. Eventually, you’ll end up with one or two options that have the strongest evidence and from there you can choose which topic to write about.

Introduction

The introduction is your opportunity to hook your reader. Get them interested in your topic so that they want to read more. There are several approaches you can take to the introduction:

Tell an anecdote – an interesting story humanizes the issue and helps the reader identify with the topic on a personal level.
Use a quotation – sometimes there’s a perfect quote for your topic that gets right to the essence of your thesis. If you have that quote in stock, use it.
Use a statistic or fact – they add credibility to your claims and also show you’ve done your research.

Thesis statement

A good thesis statement presents a strong opinion about something. It’s usually presented in a way that could be argued for or against. For example: Parents should monitor their children’s social media accounts. This is a strong statement that someone could very well argue for or against.

A weak example of a thesis statement: Some parents find it worrying that they have no control over their children’s social media activities. This statement is useful to the argument and can find its way into another section of your research paper. However it’s not strong enough to qualify as a thesis statement. Its use of the qualifier “some” makes it difficult to argue against.

Your thesis statement should be made in the opening paragraph of your research paper. It should be the last sentence of your first paragraph.

Show the evidence

After you’ve presented the thesis statement, you’re ready to get into the meat of your paper with supporting paragraphs. Each paragraph should have a topic sentence in which you present a statement. After the statement you’ll present evidence as to why that statement is true based on the research you’ve done. You’ll also explain why you believe the research supports your thesis statement which is the analytical part of your essay. Example:

Many children have no adult supervision over their social media accounts (topic sentence). A study by XYZ in 2014 revealed that less than x% of parents monitor their children’s social media accounts (supporting evidence). This can pose a threat to children’s safety and parents should make more efforts to be aware of their children’s social media interactions (analysis).

Transitions

In order for your research paper to flow logically, it’s important to pay attention to transitions. Transitions are what bring the reader from one idea to the next. The analytical statement in the example paragraph above can lead to a new topic sentence.

Ex: The number of children who are lured by strangers through social media is increasing. This is a new topic sentence, but it’s related to the analysis presented in the last paragraph and it helps support the thesis statement.

A weak transition would be: Many children use the internet to play video games with their friends and do not need to be monitored. This is an unrelated topic and does not support the thesis statement or offer a strong transition.

Keep it interesting. In order to maintain your reader’s interest, it’s important to pay attention to how you’re presenting these ideas:

  • Vary your sentence length and structure.
  • Check for overused words. Use a thesaurus to help you find new ways to express the same idea.
  • Steer clear of cliches, stereotyping and generalizations.
  • Keep the language simple – avoid over-reaching with sophisticated vocabulary.
  • Write clean sentences – avoid run-on sentences or overly complicated explanations.

Conclusion

The conclusion is where you wrap up your research. It’s a good place for you to pose questions or to suggest further steps or research for your topic. Leave the reader pondering about the future of this issue.

Leave time to edit

There is no substitute for time in the editing process. I don’t mean the amount of time you spend editing, but the amount of time you spend between the moment you write the last sentence and the moment you begin your editing process. Your thoughts need time to settle. The longer you give yourself to rest, the easier it will be for you to spot holes in your argument, weak topic sentences or flaws in your analysis. You’ll also have an easier time recognizing grammar and punctuation problems.

How to edit

The best way to edit is to read your paper out loud. Reading aloud turns off the auto-correct that your brain does when reading. You’ll pick up on more grammar mistakes and also have a better sense of the rhythm of your paper. Have you varied sentence length and structure or does it read as one long mono-sentence? Are some of your sentences difficult to read out loud? That probably means you can go back and simplify the language. If spelling and grammar are not your strong points, have a friend read it for you or use an editing app.

How To Fight Writer’s Block and Win

how to fight writer'sblock

Writer’s block is an affliction that affects almost all writers at some point. I say “almost all” because I have to allow for some cyborgs from outer space posing as writers who never have writer’s block. For us humanoid writers, it just so happens that sometimes the words don’t flow. The ideas don’t come, panic sets in. And then paralysis.

Writer’s block can be debilitating and some writers can take a really long time to get back up on the horse after falling off. Ralph Ellison, whose novel Invisible Man made him not only an overnight literary genius but also a hero, is one of the most famous cases of writer’s block. Publishers and critics waited for decades for his second novel to come. It finally did, in 1999, published posthumously five years after his death.

Harper Lee’s story is much the same. After publishing To Kill a Mockingbird in 1960, she finally birthed her second novel this year in 2015. Some writers have prolific careers and then suddenly stop cold. Truman Capote’s last novel, In Cold Blood, was the one that made him most famous and, arguably, the one that ended his career. Sometimes, a work is so famous that the writer becomes intimidated by the task of trying to top it. And then, writing becomes not only difficult but impossible.

So, if these literary giants were defeated by writer’s block, what possible hope do the rest of us have? Well, it can be that you have even more hope than they did. Because chances are you haven’t reached your peak or written your masterpiece yet. That’s actually the good news. Let’s get you writing again, so that you have the chance to reach your top.

Can-Do Attitude

Jerrold Mundis has a great method for beginning writers. You can read his book or listen to his audio tapes which are sold on his site www.unblock.org.  Mundis’ method encourages first a healthy dose of self-esteem and a can-do attitude about writing. Silencing the inner critic and believing that you can write are the first steps to getting over writer’s block. He also warns writers not to focus on the end result, on book deals and movie contracts, but to concentrate on the writing itself, making the goals small and doable. Looking too much at the big picture will inhibit your ability to focus on the small tasks of putting one word after the other.

His recommended method is freewriting, with no editing or revising allowed during writing sessions. And he also champions the idea of quitting while you’re ahead, i.e. not going past time or word count goals for the day but saving whatever might have spilled over for your next session. Hemingway also recommended doing this. It makes you thirsty for your next writing session to see where that thought process you started will end up.

Don’t Fight It

College professor John Perry made waves recently with his book The Art of Procrastination: A Guide to Effective Dawdling, Lollygagging and Postponing. The genius of his advice lies in the same wisdom as those martial artists who use the enemy’s energy against them by not reacting. Don’t resist it. The more you resist, the worse it becomes and the harder it is to get over it. He urges people to make lists of tasks starting with the least important and building to the most important. Knocking the less important tasks off the list make you feel productive and builds your confidence so that by the time you get to the important one, you feel more prepared to take it on.

You can apply the same to writing. Instead of working on your book, for example, work on an essay or a journal entry or a poem. Build yourself up to the intimidating tasks by knocking off some writing assignments that hold less emotional weight for you.

Just Focus On the Work

Most writers are pretty good at inflicting terror on themselves. They get caught up in thoughts like “How will I be able to market this?” or “How will I be able to look my mother in the eye after publishing this book with sex scenes in it?” Don’t try to write someone else’s book. Don’t try to write a book that your mother would approve of. Don’t think about what publishers will say. Just write what’s inside of you. That’s the only concern you should have for a good long until you have something that’s developed enough to show to someone. Then let an agent or publisher tell you their thoughts.

If you get caught up in preemptive worries about the finished product, you may never get to that final stage. Shut those thoughts down and every time they come up, recognize them, breathe, and get back to writing. Remind yourself that this is your job, not worrying about other people’s opinions or the future criticisms of your work. Tape a note above your desk reminding you of this. Type it at the top of every page if you must until it sinks in. Your art is yours, your words are yours.

Get Comfortable With Routine

All of the professional writers I know follow some sort of routine. And there are scores of interviews with famous writers about their writing process that all go pretty much along the same lines: write every day. Some may, argued that writer’s block is more of an existential crisis than anything else. Like most artists, writers write because at some point they had a taste of the thunderbolt of inspiration and they wanted more of it.

Most days aren’t inspired days. So what do you do in the meantime? The only way to get on with writing when the inspiration isn’t there is to humbly accept the fact that writing, like being a chef, a plumber, a construction worker or a teacher, is work. You’ll have good days and bad days, but that you must show up to work. So, create your routine. Designate your working time, punch your time card and write.

2015 Summer Reading List: Don’t Miss These Books

2015 summer reading list

Is there any better time for a book lover than the summer? A body of water, a cool drink in your hand, and endless sunlight is the perfect backdrop for cracking the spine of a new book. Below is our Summer Reading list, a mixture of fact and fiction for all bookish tastes.

The romantic is sure to enjoy the latest novel by Susanna Kearsley, A Desperate Fortune, that offers two happily-ever-afters within its covers. Those looking for the chill of suspense on a hot day will enjoy Lori Roy’s tale of fate and families set in 1950’s Kentucky, Let Me Die In His Footsteps. And those looking for more emotional stories will find Scott Simon’s memoir about the loss of his mother, Unforgettable: A Son, a Mother, and the Lessons of a Lifetime, graceful and touching.

These stories and many more beg to be read this summer. So grab some sunscreen and a beach blanket because it’s time to sit back, relax, and enjoy one of these engrossing tales.

A Desperate Fortune by Susanna Kearsley

The latest book from Susanna Kearsley features a dual timeline: the first following Sara Thomas, an amateur code-breaker in the present and the second, Mary Dundass, an exiled Jacobite living in 1732 France. In present day, Sara agrees to break the code of Mary’s journal. It is believed to simply be the diary of an average woman living in the 1700’s, but all is not as it appears. To start, the diary must not leave its home in a French chateau. Between jobs, Sara agrees to live in the home as she decodes the diary. As we follow both women on their journeys, romance and intrigue will blossom for both. A book of both delicious romance as well as adventure this tale will definitely keep the romantic in you very happy.

The Rocks by Peter Nichols

This novel, set on a posh resort island, holds a mystery. Once upon a time, a newly married couple was still on their honeymoon when something happened. Something so cataclysmic that the two managed to live on the same small island for sixty years and never exchange a single word between them. Now their own (unrelated) children find themselves star-crossed lovers and the web of their parents’ secrets lies in the way of their own happiness. This story delves backwards through the years, uncovering secrets and lies until finally the truth is revealed in all of its bittersweet and romantic glory.

The Last Bookaneer by Matthew Pearl

This work of historical fiction takes the reader to the last years of book piracy and the forgotten world of the Bookaneers. The end of the nineteenth century was a time of loose copyright laws where it was incredibly easy to publish a book without an author’s consent. Society was full of hungry readers and quick-fingered thieves who stalked authors and print shops hoping to lay their fingers on the latest manuscripts. With an international law looming that will end the era of the Bookaneers, this book follows the last great steal of this literary era. Following two rival Bookaneers and a furiously writing Robert Louis Stevenson to the island of Samoa, readers will live the adventure, triumph, and failings of a dying breed of pirate.

Let Me Die In His Footsteps by Lori Roy

This book is for the lover of suspense. The author, Lori Roy, is a former Edgar Award winner and this time she’s weaving a tale of spellbinding suspense following a girl of fifteen going on sixteen. It’s 1952 and on the night Annie Holleran is exactly fifteen and a half she runs through her family’s lavender fields into forbidden territory. It has been generations since a Holleran entered Baines’s land and Annie does so to seek her fortune in a well. But when the dead body she spies in the well’s dark waters appears in the daylight, Annie’s world will be forever changed.

Luckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll

Knoll set out to write a book where the lead character was a female Don Draper and in her debut novel Knoll achieves that goal. We follow Ani FaNelli, a woman living a perfect life. Her job is perfect, her friends are perfect, her glamorous wardrobe is perfect, and let’s not forget about her rich fiancé…he’s perfect too. Ani was a bullied child whose experience at the hands of her private school classmates sparked in her a desperate desire to reinvent herself. But there is more than a bad childhood buried in her past – no, there is another secret. One more painful and private that is threatening to rise to the surface and mar the perfection that is Ani FaNelli.

Unforgettable: A Son, a Mother, and the Lessons of a Lifetime by Scott Simon

A memoir of strength and beauty, this book is a tribute to a dying mother, her memorable life, and the bond between mother and son. In 2013 NPR Weekend Edition Saturday host Scott Simon started tweeting from his mother’s hospital room, the tweets of a son dealing with his mother’s dying went viral. The 140 characters gained so much attention that when Simon’s mother finally passed, her death became national news. This memoir evolved from those tweets as well as Simon’s memories of his mother, a woman who lived a glamorous life in the era of Mad Men. This is an emotional read is sure to leave you fulfilled.

Let’s Write a Winning College Application Essay!

writing a college application essay

Why is it that most students freeze up when it comes to writing the college application essay? It’s an essay about a topic you know very well: yourself.

Many students think that in order to write a great essay, they have to be a straight-A student or a star athlete or have done volunteer work in a Nicaraguan orphanage over the summer. In fact, the beauty of the college application essay is that it’s not about what you’ve done – it’s about how well you’re able to write about yourself. Anyone can write a great essay if they focus on the right things.

Here’s a step-by-step guide to writing the best college application essay you can:

Brainstorm

The essay is a chance for the college application officers to get to know you better. Think about something that you wish to communicate about yourself. If you already know what you want to write about, great! If not, sit down and make a list of your personality traits, activities, strengths and passions. Talk to your friends, teachers, coaches or parents and ask them if they would add anything to the list. Sometimes an outside perspective can help you see things you weren’t aware of.

Identify your strengths

If you are a star athlete, straight-A student, class president, or some other form of superlative, then the essay will probably be made infinitely easier. But most people aren’t stars. You’ve got to work with the strengths you do possess. Maybe you’re not the best athlete at your school. Maybe you’re a middle ranking one. But, maybe you started out at the bottom of the pack and worked your way up. Instead of quitting, you now secure your position on the team and support the star athletes who couldn’t do it without you. Maybe you never missed a practice. Maybe you also have strong leadership skills or have a knack for boosting team morale and were voted player of the year. Those things are worth mentioning to a college application officer. Don’t think about generic ideas of strengths. You don’t have to be number one. You just have to recognize what’s great about you.

Tell them about your passions

What do you enjoy doing with your time? Are you an artist? An IT fanatic? Do you enjoy leadership positions and participate in the student body? Are you a musician? An actor? An environmentalist? Are you an introvert who sits quietly in the library during lunch and writes poetry? What’s your thing? If you have a calling, write about it. Describe how that activity makes you feel. Have you earned any accolades or awards, officially or unofficially for your talent? Include them.

Don’t be boring

Admissions counselors will love you if you write something creative and original. Do you have any idea how many essays they have to read each year? A lot of students are afraid to say something that the counselors won’t like and end up taking the safe route instead of daring to be different. Be creative, look at the question or subject from a different angle. Explore an uncommon point of view. Just don’t be boring!

Don’t be afraid of controversy

Don’t be afraid to tackle controversy in your essay. If there’s a specific issue that you feel strongly about, express it. Maybe you’re anti-war and feel that the past two presidential administrations spent too much time and energy fighting wars abroad. Maybe you’re pro-war and you feel that the nation’s military programs need to be expanded. Whatever your stance on the subject you choose, make sure you allow time to consider counterarguments and give examples of why you feel so strongly and how this particular issue affects you.

Don’t make a list

Don’t write a resume or make a list of your accomplishments. There should be plenty of space to list them on the rest of your application. The application essay should have a specific theme that you identify in the beginning and carry through to the end. Don’t try to talk about a bunch of different topics and experiences. It will sound muddled and it’s not the point of the essay. The point of the essay is for the college application officers to see how well you can express yourself and to get to know your personality, not just your test scores. They want to see the student behind the grades and numbers.

Write in your own voice

If you had some assistance from someone else, especially if it’s an adult, in crafting your essay, please make sure that the final outcome has your own voice. Admissions counselors will be able to tell if the essay was mainly written by a parent or if it reflects a student’s viewpoint. Remember, they don’t want a perfect paper. They want to get to know you better. And hiding behind the sophisticated language of adults isn’t going to allow them to accomplish that. By trying to craft the perfect essay, you will end up robbing the readers of the opportunity to find out who you are.

Ask for feedback

You may want to show your essay to a trusted teacher or your college counselor or a parent or your friend. Or all of the above. Getting someone else’s feedback may help you identify weaknesses in your essay that you could address before submitting it. But remember that the essay is yours and if you don’t agree with the advice, don’t take it.

How to self-edit

Read it through several times out loud. Reading out loud is a much more effective way to spot awkward phrasing and errors than reading to yourself. If you find yourself stumbling over your words, go back and edit. Keep editing and re-reading out loud until it comes out smoothly. Rigorously submit it to spelling, grammar and punctuation checks. If those things aren’t your strong suit, let someone else with better editing skills read it.

Good luck on your college applications!