Monthly Archives: February 2016

How to Write a Thesis Statement For Your Research Paper

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Writing a good, solid thesis statement is an important skill to learn.

The thesis statement serves many purposes:

  • It’s the springboard for the rest of your paper and the central point of your arguments. A well-formed thesis statement makes this process more fluid. A poor thesis statement makes it all the more difficult.
  • It helps your reader understand what they should get out of the paper.
  • It’s your elevator pitch, a way to persuade the reader to your side.

Here’s how to write a rock-solid thesis statement:

First Step

Write some drafts. Your thesis statement isn’t an immediate process. After doing enough research, you should be able to decide what side or point of view you’re taking on a topic. Write down a list of 5 practice thesis statements that are summaries of your opinion. For example, if your topic is “How does the Syrian refugee crisis affect Europe?” you can write down some thoughts based on your research:

  1. Some citizens in European countries complain of increased violence (Cologne attacks on New Year’s Eve, Paris attacks, other individual cases).
  2. Some citizens are afraid of increased Muslim presence in their cities as they associate Muslims with terrorism.
  3. There are cultural conflicts and conflicts in values.
  4. It puts a strain on economic resources at a time when many countries are experiencing an economic crisis.
  5. There are many movements that encourage and welcome the refugees including some grassroots organizations to help clothe, feed and house them.

As you write these sentences, you may notice specific recurring themes or threads. Gather the best of these themes and write a practice thesis statement:
The Syrian refugee crisis has brought up a lot of fears and conflicts among European citizens.

Second Step

Test it to see if it holds up:
Once you’ve identified the basic theme you wish to argue, you’re now ready to edit your thesis statement.
A good thesis statement has the following qualities:

  • It’s specific. A thesis statement needs to address a specific topic. A sentence like “Since the beginning of time, refugees have had a hard time integrating with their new nations” is too general and doesn’t tell the reader enough about what you plan to discuss in your paper. If your statement is too general, narrow it down.
  • It’s polemic. A good thesis statement takes a strong stance. Don’t take the middle road and be neutral. Whether or not you have a strong opinion on the topic, you’ll need to pick a side in order to present your research. A statement like the one in step 1 “The Syrian refugee crisis has brought up a lot of fears and conflicts among European citizens.” is a good start but it doesn’t state an opinion. Try this instead:
    “The Syrian refugee crisis has had a negative impact on many European cities.” Someone could argue for or against this statement.
  • It’s supported by solid research. Maybe your personal opinion on this issue is that the Syrian refugee crisis has had a positive impact on Europe. But you haven’t been able to find enough evidence to support this viewpoint. In that case, your best bet is to go with the side where you can present the most convincing evidence, regardless of personal views.
  • It’s engaging. Does it make someone want to read further? Is it stated in such a way that intrigues someone and makes them want to find out more? If so, it’s a successful thesis statement.

An ideal thesis statement is one that interests the readers and takes a strong stand on a controversial question. Take time to rework and edit your thesis statement before delving into the rest of your essay as it will form the way you present your evidence. Good luck and happy writing!

7 Exercises to Improve Your Ability to Write Creatively

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Writers, in general, are a pretty creative bunch. But, since there’s no such thing as being too creative, anyone could benefit from some imagination-boosting exercises.

Whether you’re in a creative slump, and it happens to everyone now and then, or you just want to expand your resources as a writer, there are lots of ways for you to open up your creative channels.

Here are some methods to help inspire you:

1) Make a list of 20 topics

Sometimes your greatest creative block will be coming up with new ideas. So, sit down and make a list of 20 different writing ideas. Of this list of 20, at least one should be workable. Start developing it. A great habit for you to develop would be to keep a list somewhere of story ideas. If you do this, you’ll end up with an incredible cache of topics to use when your inspiration runs dry.

2) Re-write

Take an old story or idea you’ve written and rework it. Make sure it’s not something you’re currently working on. If you’re too close to it, you’ll have trouble seeing it from a new perspective. As you rework it, take a completely different view. If you told a story about a family from the perspective of one of the children, try telling it from the perspective of the mother or from an omniscient perspective. This is an exercise in creating flexibility in your writing. You may go back to the piece from the original perspective, but with new insights about the other characters. Sometimes telling the story you don’t want to tell can help you tell the story you do want to tell.

3) Read

Follow William Faulkner’s advice: “Read, read, read. Read everything- trash, classics, good and bad and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You’ll absorb it. Then write…” The more you read, the more you’ll be exposed to different writer’s voices and styles. You’ll get a sense for their mastery and their weaknesses. Don’t just read for pleasure. Read to examine different techniques such as transitions, character-building, suspense and dialogue. Then challenge yourself to use those techniques in your own work.

4) Try hand-writing

Martin Amis “I always do my draft in long hand because even the ink is part of the flow.” If you’re used to typing, take yourself out of your comfort zone. Buy a notebook and a pen or pencil and start writing in it. Hand-writing means you have to slow down your thoughts a little, as you can’t write as fast as you type. There’s also no erasing, so if you’re constantly self-editing by erasing your work, hand-writing may be a great way for you to tie up your inner editor and unleash your creative voice.

5) Use your pain

J.P. Donleavy “Writing is turning one’s worst moments into money.” Everyone has had to face struggle in life. And struggle often makes for the best literature. Recount a moment or experience that was difficult for you. You could turn it into a poem, a story or an essay.

6) Free-write

Free-writing is all about release. If you need to unleash your creativity, try sitting down for 10-15 minutes and write without pausing, correcting or planning. Just write whatever comes to mind without any interruptions of the conscious mind. After you’re finished, go back and read what you wrote. Hopefully, you’ll be able to pick out an interesting concept or theme from your free-write and work it into a piece.

7) Switch genres

Creativity is the result of a flexible mind. If you write only essays or only short stories or only poetry, why not try something different? Choose another genre and see what comes up. It may feel strange and awkward, but by pushing yourself to do something different, you may discover a new source of creative thought. Try it.

Try one or all of these exercises to stimulate your mind’s creativity. It just may help you write better, more imaginative work. Good luck and happy writing!

Passive Voice Evasions and Writing Problems

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Even without meaning to, writers have a way of letting passive voice sneak into their sentences. It can be hard to avoid. It creeps up for several reasons. Sometimes it’s to avoid assigning blame. Other times it’s when we’re trying to avoid committing other grammar mistakes such as using “I” or “we”.

Passive voice is when a sentence starts with the object and not the subject of an action. For example, “Money must be saved for the trip.” Who should be saving the money? The subject is missing.

Good writing is active. Active sentences engage the reader with direct language. They’re also easier to understand: “Carla must save money for the trip.” There, now you understand who is saving money and why.

Here are some common passive voice evasions, how to fix them plus some other common writing errors to avoid:

Using passive voice to avoid using “I” or “we”

Instead of:
It is estimated that over 50% of families will be affected by the change.
Change to:
We estimate that over 50% of families will be affected by the change.

Instead of:
During the expedition, a discovery was made that could change our perception of history.
Change to: During the expedition, we made a discovery that could change our perception of history.

There are lots of other examples of passive voice that don’t include such obvious omissions. In fact, the majority of passive voice sentences have all the information needed, but continue to use passive voice.

For example

Instead of:
Gifts were given by the United Way to the children of the village.
Change to:
The United Way gave gifts to the children of the village.

Instead of:
A masterpiece was painted by Michelangelo on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.
Change to:
Michelangelo painted a masterpiece on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.

Instead of:
Instructions will be sent to you by the hiring manager.
Change to:
The hiring manager will send you instructions.

Instead of:
The ball was thrown to John by Simon.
Change to:
Simon threw the ball to John.

If you happen to be a passive voice fan, be aware that it’s not considered good English. Writers from William Strunk Jr., George Orwell and Stephen King, have warned writers to avoid it.

Some other common writing errors to watch for:

Subject-verb agreement

  • Within a sentence. Be sure that your verb is in agreement with the subject for your sentence. Check out this guide for the most common subject verb agreement pitfalls.
  • Within a paper. Stick with the same subject throughout the paper. Don’t suddenly switch from third (he, she, they) to second (you) or vice versa.

Cliches

Don’t use them. They can be an eyesore to the professor reading your paper. If you come across a cliché in your paper, go back and find another way to express the same idea. Check this comprehensive list of cliches to make sure your not using them.

Sentence fragments

Sentence fragments are when a group of words are a dependent clause acting as though they were an independent clause.
For example: Jim thought he had locked the door. But no.
The second sentence “But no” is a sentence fragment and not a full sentence.
Change to: Jim thought he had locked the door, but he hadn’t.

When you finish writing a paper, make editing a priority. A lot of common grammar and writing mistakes can be caught and corrected with careful editing. Good luck and happy writing!