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Filtering by Tag: how to write a paper

Writing Tips #13: Cut it out: Editing

Nobel Laureate, George Wald (1906-1997) said: “We are the products of editing, rather than of authorship.” A not-so-well-edited paper not only garners a low grade, it also makes you look sloppy and careless. You will be remembered for your mistakes! I edit a paper while I am writing it, and again after I finish it. The best practice is to put the paper aside for a day or two, and edit it after your mind has had time to readjust. Yes, that means not waiting until the last minute to write it! Often, you will find that better words can be used, and that you have overlooked minor errors. For instance, edits will make this sentence better:

“The student will have to try and get the paper done by Tuesday.” Edited: “The student must finish the paper by Tuesday.”

Another tip: Not editing your resume properly can be the kiss of death! If you cannot afford to pay someone to edit your work, hone your editing skills. Remember, you are the “product of your editing.”

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Published on by bcalvano.

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How to Research a Paper Topic

Is Google really the best way to research a paper topic? Most of the time, probably not because it may be difficult to get results to an accurate and manageable list. After all, your time is valuable! Watch this virtual classroom-style video by English Professor, Renee Bangerter, to learn how to:

  • Research a paper topic without even going to the library
  • Hone in on sources that give you the information that you really need
  • Narrow down your topic to something worth writing about

Read along (transcript):

Where is the first place you go to do research for an assignment?  Google? Why do students usually choose Google as their firs stop shop for research? Some say because it “has the most information on their topic” or “It’s easy,” “convenient!”

But I’m going to ask, “is that really what you want?

Let’s take a look at a Google search for global warming: 84,400,000 hits.  Do you have time to search through that many? I don’t.

There is a way to research your topic with the same ease and convenience as Google but with more manageable hits.

Your school library has invested in a collection of online materials.  You don’t even have to physically go to the library.

Here’s how it works.  Libraries purchase databases, or collections of articles for their students to access.  Some popular databases are “EBSCOhost” and “ProQuest”. You search these databases the same way you would a Google search, with key words.

Let’s use “global warming” in an EBSCOhost search.  Now we have only 128, 423 hits. Still not very manageable.

How can I make this number more workable? I need to reevaluate how I am searching.

I want to talk for a minute about the type of source you are really looking for: typically students want periodicals, journal articles by experts in the field of study they are researching.

What’s a periodical?  There is a clue in its name…it is published periodically.  What kind of texts do you know about are published periodically rather than once like a book?  Newspapers and magazines are periodicals.  Journals are also periodicals.  They are articles about topics but written by experts.

When these experts write for journals, they have to be peer reviewed, but what does that mean? Other scholars check to make sure the article is accurate, interesting, well-written, etc.

We can actually check a box that will limit our search to Peer Reviewed articles, so I’ll get the best scholarly articles in my search right off the bat.

How many hits do we get when we change our search to Peer Reviewed articles? Now we’re down to 27, 000.

However, while we’re checking boxes, let’s give ourselves a little bit of a reality check and see if we can’t make that 27,000 smaller.  It’s not likely that you are going to go to the library to pull your sources, right?  Not like I had to when I was researching, you know back before the internet existed.  Let’s just go ahead and make it easy on yourself and check that you only want Full-text articles, those that you can access right online, the whole article ready to download or print.

One last thing we can do to narrow the types of sources we get.  We can play with time a little by establishing that we want only recent articles on our search, say 2000 on.  So now we’ve moved from 84 million random sources to 9,000.  I don’t know. I’m still not convinced I have that kind of time.  There’s got to be something we can do to make the work manageable.

The term “global warming” is actually too general, too broad for the paper I’m doing, an argument on an issue.  The search itself can lead you down the wrong path.

My paper is supposed to be something I feel strongly about so I can argue a claim.  Keeping my topic connected to global warming, but more about something that affects me everyday are reusable bags.  You see, I have a problem, when I go to the store, I forget my reusable bags in my car.  I end up going to the store and using bags when I don’t need to.  How many of us do the same thing?  How can we change consumer behavior, so we remember our reusable bags?  And why would we even want to eliminate plastic bags in the first place?  This can be my new search.

I can approach this topic from several different avenues, but let’s just take plastic bags as a search in the database just to compare the numbers to our global warming search.

There, we have 217 peer reviewed, recent, full-text articles.  That is something I can write about and now something I can manage reading about as well.

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Keep It Simple

Many freshmen college students try to use lots of words to say something quite simple. Don’t fall into that trap. Your professor will not be impressed. He or she will simply edit out your fine words. Instead, choose quality words that convey your message in the best way possible. Don’t overuse the Thesaurus! Find the word that is best for the idea and use it. Edgar Allen Poe wrote: “Words have no power to impress the mind without the exquisite horror of their reality.” This doesn't mean terrify your instructors. Poe was right in that each word has its own reality. Find the right one. Your writing should be as tight as possible. Read over your paper and dissect the words. Can some words be removed? Can some words be exchanged for better ones? A concise, well-worded paper will impress your professor more than a wordy one.

Here is an example:

A: Let me tell you the reasons why I left you there. I had to throw out all of my papers and start over. Now I can't decide whether or not to stay.

B: Let me tell you why I left. I threw out all my papers. Now I can't decide whether to stay.

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Published on by bcalvano.

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