Monthly Archives: October 2016

Ways to Motivate Yourself to Write an Assignment

writing-assignments

The best writers seem to effortlessly tap into their creative juices, then spontaneously produce gorgeous sentences—the kinds of sentences with which a teacher could never find fault.

But what if you’re not the best writer? What if you’re positively terrified at the thought of having to express yourself in prose, to the point that some sort of temporary paralysis descends on your hands: so there you sit, fingers poised to tap-tap-tap away at the computer, and your digits won’t budge, instead hovering idly over the keyboard, never striking a single letter?

You’re not alone. Trust me, you’re not alone. And also trust that there are developed strategies for getting over this very common anxiety and for moving toward productivity as a writer. Read on and then practice what I preach.

No One’s Perfect

Repeat this phrase ten times. Make it your motto for academic life. No writer fluidly crafts perfect prose, all at once, all the time. Every writer has to work at it, even though it definitely comes more easily to some than others. The point is that every writer has room for improvement, on every assignment, and that alone should motivate you to start a writing assignment. After all, who doesn’t relish the chance to produce something, refine it, and then perfect it? A writing assignment is just that—the opportunity to achieve something meaningful, and to enjoy the credit for doing so.

Write—Edit—Revise—Re-write

Don’t let these multiple stages discourage you; in fact, embrace the process, from the first brainstorming session to the rough outline, to the draft and finally to revisions and a re-write. The best part of this sequence is that you’re likely to find your voice, all while working on a writing assignment! Imagine, in fact, that the assignment is the vehicle for expressing your convictions, your philosophies—and to conveying thoughts you wouldn’t otherwise have conjured, invented, or verbalized. What’s more motivating than that?

Recognize that the written word is that powerful, and that a writing assignment puts that power in your hands—literally.

Know Why It Matters

Think carefully about why the writing assignment is crucial for you as a student, a thinker, and as a participant in academic life. Consider where in your “big-picture” this essay or research paper might fit, and imagine ways that you could turn it into something bigger: could you later share the essay as a blog post, or could you develop a narrow research project into a broader academic thesis? Of course, not every writing assignment proves relevant to your life, but with planning, speculation, and imagination, it’s possible to relate a writing assignment to future scholarly conversations, or to opening fresh dialogue via social media. Get motivated to write with the goal of articulating something about yourself and your future.

Settle In for Success

Start every writing assignment with the intent to finish it. Nothing motivates more than the realization that you CAN and WILL see this through. Take that single-minded approach to every writing task, and motivation will course through your veins! To secure that ultimate success, find—or create—a quiet, focused environment that supports you doing your best work. Even the most competent writer can falter if distracted. The library may be an option, but if it’s noisy or too social, get off campus and try a more isolated location; move out of your immediate zip code if necessary! Be sure to have on hand everything you need, from source material to your laptop charger to snacks. With all of your needs met, no interruptions and no excuses will result in success.

How to Do Research for an Essay Without Wasting Time

essay-research

So, it sounded like a good idea to take six classes this semester, but now that you have four or five essays all due by midterm, you’re rethinking that decision. Relax, you’ve got this. Doing the research for your essay is arguably the most challenging part of the whole process, so knowing how to do it quickly and efficiently puts you a little closer to finishing your essays on time and with good results. Let’s look at how to expedite essay research when you’ve got a goal to achieve and deadlines looming near.

Create an Outline

The outlining step to writing an essay can’t be skipped, no matter how short on time you are. Determine how you want to open the essay and what you want to say in the body and the conclusion. Determine if any research is required for information you plan to include. List the facts you want to substantiate as you make your outline, since this streamlines what you’re looking for when you dig into research.

Review Requirements

Essay requirements are like Forest Gump’s proverbial box of chocolates; you really never know what your professors are going to ask of you when it comes to writing assignments. One professor may require that you use peer-reviewed sources only, while some others may even accept Wikipedia as a source. Refer to the specific requirements of the essay before you start researching, and get up to speed on what is expected of you (instead of finding out later that a source is not acceptable).

Reserve Materials

Plan well in advance for your essay by reserving any materials that you need from the library. You don’t want to be the 12th student waiting on a particular book when you have to tackle the nitty-gritty and get your paper written. If your school doesn’t have an item that you need in its campus library, turn to your public library instead. Many librarians will even order books and other media that patrons need if the facility does not own the item already; all you have to do is ask.

Take Advantage of Your School’s Library Database

Now you probably prefer searching the materials online, but at one time, students just like you had to actually go to a library and page through peer-reviewed journals themselves to find scholarly articles and studies. Today, even the smallest community colleges usually provide students digital access to databases of material such as EBSCO, Medline/Pub Med, Health Reference Center Academic, Oxford University Press, and more. With just a few search terms entered into your library’s collective databases, you can find oodles of information in seconds and sort it by resource type. Some databases even include a works cited entry for journal articles and other publications, making it easy to construct your works cited page as you choose your resources (be sure to determine if your professor prefers MLA or APA style first).

Take Notes

Note what you want to use from each source as you evaluate and research, keeping the notes organized in the order in which you plan to use the material in the essay. Making a single page for each resource can make it easier to cite things as you go along and keep you on track and moving toward the finish line. You can also make use of research management tools, sometimes available in library databases, such as EndNote or Zotero, to help you organize your material, annotate your work, and generate the reference list for you.

Finally, pace yourself and avoid getting side-tracked. Staying on-task is important to efficient research, within reason. Be sure to allow yourself a break to stretch or even grab some fresh air to keep you alert and in tune to the job at hand. Before you know it, you’ll be finished and ready to move on to the next essay in your pile.

How to Write a Proper Cover Letter for Your First Job

job-search-cover-letter

Employers often get hundreds of applicants for a single position. Applications and resumes turn into a sea of sameness when there is nothing to distinguish one candidate from another. Because of this, submitting a cover letter essentially increases your chances of landing the job. But how do you write one when you have no job experience at all?

The Anatomy of a Cover Letter

Before we touch on what to put in your cover letter, let’s look at how it is laid out. When writing a cover letter, it’s good practice to follow a basic outline that most employers recognize. This includes:

  • Your name and contact information, including your email address and current phone number in the upper right-hand corner.
  • The name of the business or the human resources contact’s name on the left.
  • Clearly stated purpose of the letter. For example, “Re: Application for Chief Candy Tester.”
  • A salutation to the person reading the letter. For example, “Dear Mr. Wonka,” or some other cordial greeting.
  • An opening paragraph to introduce yourself to the reader of the cover letter.
  • A main paragraph highlighting your skills that are relevant to the job sought.
  • A closing paragraph, asking to be considered for the position and expressing your interest in an interview.

Writing a Cover Letter with No Job Experience

Don’t consider writing a cover letter for a first job to be an obstacle; use it as an exercise in creativity. What you lack in formal experience, you may make up for in real-life background. For instance, if you are applying for a job as a secretary, highlighting your office skills is a good strategy. Do you type at blazing speeds, know how to run MS Excel, and have experience with MS Word? These are all translatable to the position you are seeking.

Volunteer work can also be useful when you have no real work experience to cite. Did you volunteer at the local church to answer phones for the pastor’s office? Did you make flyers for the Beta Club in high school or design pages for the yearbook? Think out of the box, recalling previous experiences where you had an opportunity to shine when performing tasks related to the job. Here’s what you may want to highlight:

  • your strengths and any personal attributes that set you apart as an asset to the company;
  • educational achievements that put you in a good light that are relatable to the position;
  • participation in community or school volunteer organizations;
  • hobbies and personal interests that are related to the job;
  • experiences that highlight your capacity for teamwork.

Traps to Avoid

Now that you know all the “do’s”, it’s time to take a close look at the “dont’s”. Simple writing blunders can quickly ruin the impression from your awesome cover letter. Luckily, they’re easy to avoid.

  • Overly long cover letters. Hiring managers are busy, so keep it short, simple, and to the point.
  • Unnatural language. While the letter should be semi-formal, it shouldn’t use overly formal language. This can come across as disingenuous. For example, instead of saying “advantageous,” sub in “helpful,” or instead of “subsequently,” use “later” or “after.”
  • Underselling yourself. One of the hardest things in life is to boast about yourself, but a cover letter really is a brag letter for all intents and purposes. Don’t be shy; be your own biggest fan.
  • Fluff. Don’t write words just for the sake of filling up the page. For example, don’t use a string of adjectives when one will do. Avoid constructions such as “I’m sincere, honest, and trustworthy;” these words all say the same thing.

With some nonconventional thinking, it’s altogether possible to write a “wow” cover letter, even if you’ve not yet earned a penny in the workforce. Show confidence in your assessment of yourself, and it will spill over into the impression that you make with potential employers.