I recently had a student tell me that he had carefully chosen his classes so that he only took one writing class in all of his undergrad and graduate work. My class was the second (and unfortunately for him the unavoidable one). When I heard this I thought, “Wow, what a lot of work that must have been to create that kind of schedule, just to avoid the English language.” It probably took more work than learning how to write. In our digital age, it is incredibly easy to create good research and writing skills. Here are a few tips.
- Wiki is not a scholarly source. It’s a great tool to find out what your co-worker meant when she called your project a “boondoggle”, but it doesn’t really count as research for one simple reason. Most pages are unverified, meaning that the content has not been evaluated or approved by experts on the topic. However, Wiki is a great stopping off point for finding scholarly work, as often great internet articles are cited within a Wiki post. Use it to leap-frog to some great research.
- It’s OK to look at a book (or ebook). Sometimes the depth of information required for your project means reading more than a four paragraph article on the subject. Lots of libraries have great resource books online.
- Use the librarian, at your school, the public library, anywhere you can find one. They KNOW how to research quicker and better than you. Most of them have advanced degrees in library science (that’s librarian code for majoring in research skills). Many libraries will generate a research guide for you from an e-mail or phone call. Check it out!
- Brainstorm your ideas, but then organize your thoughts. There are some great creative platforms which allow you to capture all your thoughts while typing at your computer (think MS Office OneNote). But don’t just print this off and hand it in without providing some well thought out structure. After you’ve had the creative fuzzy thinking time, go have a bowl of cereal and come back to organize your thoughts. Order makes your paper so much easier to read.
- Write like an English teacher. Can’t proofread to save your life? Grammar is your mortal enemy? No worries, the internet is here to help you. Check out these sites for writing skills, proofreading, and even a citation generator, which covers all major citation forms.
Grammarly: Immediate grammar check of any text . (I got a 76/100 on this blog post) http://www.grammarly.com/?gclid=CLn-lf-z6LECFYdAMgodhnkA-g
Purdue University’s OWL project: Grammar help, online citation and lots of tutorials http://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/
Son of Citation Machine: Generate citations quickly- all major formats, free. http://citationmachine.net/index2.php
Hope these ideas help you get the semester going just write, I mean right.