Nail That Paper

Learn to Write A+ Academic Papers

6 tips for being your own best editor

Editing seems like the easiest part of the writing process.  In fact, many people don’t even edit their papers, or they have someone else edit them.  I admit it – when I was in college, I would email all of my papers to my father.  He would email them back with a few grammatical corrections, then I made the corrections and turned in the paper.

However, editing is an essential part of the process, and if you can edit your own writing, you won’t have to worry about finding someone else to do it for you.  But just as with anything else, editing takes skill.  The following are some suggestions for how to edit papers effectively.

1. Give yourself time to leave the paper and come back to it.

Don’t finish papers the night before they are due.  Give yourself at least a day to ignore your paper before you go back and edit it.  When you have just written a paper, you are too connected to it to be able to look at it critically.

2. Use your rubric.

If your professor provided a rubric, use it to edit and revise your paper. Grade yourself honestly for each section of the rubric.  Remember, your professor is your audience, and the rubric is his lens for viewing your paper.  Try to view it as if you were him.

If your professor didn’t give you a rubric, use this one: College Writing Rubric.

3. Read it out loud.

As you look over your paper, read it out loud.  Or better yet, have someone read it to you.  You may have missed words here or there; sentences that made sense to you two days ago in a paper-writing haze may now need to be revised.  This is a very powerful method for finding writing that needs to be changed.

4. Detach yourself from your paper.

There is a reason why the first writing attempt is called a rough draft.  It is not supposed to be perfect.  In order to fix your paper, you may have to make drastic changes.  Go into the editing process with an open mind and be willing to throw entire sections away.  If they don’t advance your thesis statement or strengthen your paper, you don’t want them in your final draft.

5. Check out my blog entry on choosing more academic words for your paper.  

Changing a few nonacademic words to their higher brow counterparts can make your writing sound much more scholarly.

6. Celebrate afterward

After you have thoroughly edited your paper, take yourself out for a margarita.  You deserve it.

3 grammar websites you will love

Grammar consists of the nitty-gritty rules on how to write well.  Most of us don’t even know all of the rules, let alone remember to follow them on a consistent basis.  Yet, learning about fun things like how to use a semicolon correctly or how to break a sentence down into its parts can dramatically improve our writing.  Below, find 3 grammar websites that actually make following the rules fun.

The Write Practice Grammar Guide

Written by Liz Bureman, a fellow Denverite, this grammar guide will help you out with questions like when to use affect vs. effect, how to use an ellipses (…) correctly, and when to end a sentence with a preposition.  Each article is short, to the point, and enjoyable to read.

Grammar Girl

Grammar Girl’s tagline is “Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing.”  That should give you an indication of the tone of the website.  Here, you can find topics such as when to use a comma versus a colon, a National Grammar Day Tale of Love, and word choice posts too numerous to count.  Each article is also available in audio format, for all of you auditory learners out there.

Daily Writing Tips

If you love grammar, you will love this website.  Every single day, they publish a new grammar tip or idea.  You can also look back into the archives for more ideas or to brush up on different grammar topics.  It even includes quizzes on different grammar topics, if you have that much time on your hands.

There you have them – my favorite grammar websites.  Go ahead, try them out.  Just don’t tell anyone. And if you still want someone to proofread your paper, email me.

2 key emotional ingredients for school success

Yesterday, I was talking to one of my clients, and she was telling me how emotional she is getting about her first grade daughter’s reading level.  She said that when she got her latest test scores, she just burst out crying.

It got me thinking about the emotions of learning.  When I taught elementary school, many children in my classroom were unable to learn at first, because they had so much going on in their lives that was more important.  The turning point in their learning abilities came when they realized they could trust me and gained confidence in themselves.

From this experience, I will argue that there are 2 key factors to being successful in school (or really, any endeavor).

1. Self-confidence

Do you approach your assignments and papers with the knowledge that you can tackle any task?  Self-confident people view difficult experiences as learning opportunities.  What do you tell yourself about your skills and abilities?  Does your internal voice say that you can do it, or shy away from difficult tasks?  If you lack confidence in your abilities, get help by hiring a tutor or visiting your school’s writing center.  Break assignments down into smaller tasks so that you can see what you need to do to be successful.

Remember that everyone is brilliant in different ways.  Know yourself – where do your strengths lie?  Can you apply them to assignments you find more difficult?

Finally, self-confidence grows from accomplishments.  So if you are feeling badly about your abilities, fake it until you make it.  Just keep working and know that when you complete assignments, you will not only learn more, but gain confidence as well.

2. Support from others

Do you have a teacher you trust, someone who always encourages you and knows you can accomplish any task? If not, seek one out.  Get to know your professors; see if one of them can serve as your mentor.

Surround yourself with people who know how brilliant you are and who will help you achieve your goals.  Are your friends understanding when you can’t go out with them because you have to do schoolwork, or do they tell you to have more fun?  Are they willing to discuss academic topics with you?   If not, befriend fellow students and make a point of spending time with those who are succeeding in school.

 

In elementary education, we spend a lot of time focusing on our students’ emotional needs, but it seems to me that this focus is lost as students grow older.  However, the older we get, the more complex our emotions become.  We may be able to push them aside more effectively, but they can still greatly affect our success.  Who hasn’t experienced an argument with a loved one followed by an unsuccessful day at work? Take time to nurture yourself.  When you feel good, you will be much more successful.

4 paper writing ideas for extroverts and interpersonal learners

This week, I have been focusing my blog posts on writing papers for the different learning styles.  Today I will be focusing on interpersonal learners – those who learn best by conversation and relating to others.  What are the implications for how they should write papers?

Even though paper writing is thought of as a solitary activity, it doesn’t need to be.  The following are some ideas for social learners to get the most out of their paper writing assignments.

1. Get together with a friend to first discuss your writing and then write.  Ask each other questions like:

“What are you focusing on in your paper?”

“What is your thesis statement?”

“Do these subtopics make sense within this paper?”

2. Read the assignment with other students from your class and get multiple opinions on what your professor is looking for in the paper.  Someone else may have noticed something you missed.

3. Throughout the week or so during which you are working on the assignment, discuss the paper topic with others.  You never know what ideas a friend or family member might contribute.

4. Hire a tutor.  If you want someone to discuss your writing with you in depth, consider hiring a writing tutor.  He or she will be more than happy to sit down with you and discuss ideas and ways to improve your writing.

Paper planning and writing for visual/spatial learners

©Copyright Silverman, L.K. (2002). Upside-Down Brilliance: The Visual-Spatial Learner

Yesterday’s blog focused on paper planning for mathematical learners, and today I am going to tackle the task of paper planning and writing in a more visual, spatial manner.

Visual/spatial learners are artists, architects, and great parallel parkers.  They can easily see how objects relate to one another in space.  They may think in pictures rather than words, which can make it difficult to write papers effectively.  They tend to learn things all at once, instead of in a sequential manner.  Instead of using typical methods, they prefer to come up with their own answers to problems.  These students learn best by grasping relationships between ideas.

So, what are the implications for how visual learners can best approach the paper writing process?

from http://www.blog.imagethink.net

1. Plan visually.

Most people are taught to plan their writing by creating an outline.  However, visual learners may benefit from laying their ideas out in a more spatial manner. Instead of writing in a list format, why not create an idea map for your paper? Below are two documents to help visual/spatial learners plan their papers in a different way.  The first is a template, the second an example of how to fill in the template.

Paper Planning for Spatial Learners – Template

Paper Planning for Spatial Learners – Template, Color coded

Paper Planning for Spatial Learners – Example

2. Visualize while you read.

This is a skill that most readers do naturally, but when reading high level, academic texts, it is easy to stop visualizing.  Try to see the concepts or ideas in your mind.  Maybe even sketch a picture of your thoughts.  This can help you ground yourself and understand your reading.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C6aQiMjJ7RY

3. If you are unfamiliar with a topic, gain some background knowledge by watching educational videos or looking at books with pictures.

A key component to gaining deep understanding is connecting to background knowledge.  If you don’t know enough about a topic, first fill your background knowledge bucket by watching a video on YouTube or finding some other visual way to become acquainted with your topic.  A great paper shows that its writer is an expert on the topic.

Information on visual/spatial learners gathered from:

The Gifted Development Center

Visual/Spatial Learners

Paper Writing for Mathematical/Logical Learners

Yesterday, I wrote a blog post briefly outlining all of the intelligences and some paper writing ideas for each type of learner.  For the next few days, I will go into more detail about each intelligence and list some ideas for tackling the paper writing process.

The mathematical/logical thinker is great at solving abstract problems.  They can easily do math problems in their heads.  They categorize things and wonder how things work.  They are likely to become doctors, engineers, mathematicians, and accountants.  Based on these career choices, these learners may not have to do as much paper writing as someone in the humanities, but who doesn’t have to take intro college English?

Some of my clients have told me they prefer math to writing because there is a specific set of steps and one solution at the end.  Writing is a messier process, involving lots of differing ideas and ways of approaching them.  However, I think that a similar approach can be taken with writing as with solving mathematical equations.

I’ll admit it – I am kind of a math geek myself.  When I was in school, I loved plugging numbers into formulas.  If you are mathematical thinker, look at your paper as a formula. A well written paper is a very logical piece of writing and should follow a basic pattern.  Download the PDF below for the formula for a well-written paper.

Paper Writing Formula

Another way you can look at paper writing is that all of the ideas and sources are parts of the equation, and your thesis statement is the solution to that equation.  Writing the paper is just like writing a mathematical equation, only now, the parts of the equation are words instead of numbers, and the solution is mentioned in the introduction and the conclusion.

 

The Multiple Intelligences: A New Way of Looking at Paper Writing

Where Do You See Yourself in this Wheel?

What are the multiple intelligences? Howard Gardner coined the term in 1983 to refer to the different ways that people learn.  The multiple intelligences are:

1. Linguistic

Those who are linguistic learners love reading and writing.  They are adept with words and may also be good at learning new languages.

Linguistic learners probably love writing papers, because it gives them a chance to express themselves in words.

2. Mathematical/Logical

This intelligence has to do with abstract thinking skills.  Those who are mathematical/logical thinkers can easily connect the dots and come up with new ideas.

This intelligence also comes in handy when writing papers, because a large part of the thinking that goes into paper writing is connecting ideas to come up with a cohesive thesis.

3. Spatial

Spatial thinkers are good at putting puzzles together.  They can see how objects relate to one another.  For example, spatial thinkers are great parallel parkers. (Whereas I usually think I am way closer to the other cars than I actually am!) They also tend to be artists or other professionals with a visual focus.

How does spatial intelligence relate to paper writing?  In traditional paper writing, it doesn’t seem to apply.  However, spatial thinkers can tailor their paper writing experience to their strengths.  Instead of writing outlines, they can choose to make an idea map, where each concept connects visually to the next.

4. Bodily/kinesthetic

Bodily/kinesthetic learners are adept with using their bodies. Athletes and dancers have a high bodily/kinesthetic experience.  They are able to focus on a physical goal and hone their bodily responses to meet that goal.  They also tend to like moving their bodies when they learn, and physical learning experiences can help them internalize concepts.

Bodily/kinesthetic learners may struggle with paper writing, because it is such a sedentary activity.  However, why not infuse some of the process with physical activity?  Instead of sitting still while reading research articles, why not work out and read at the same time?  It may be helpful to visualize paper writing skills and connect them with physical goals as well.  Kicking a soccer ball into a goal, hitting a baseball, or making a slam-dunk is akin to writing a clear, focused thesis statement.

5. Musical

As you might guess, those with musical intelligence have a good pitch and a sense of rhythm.  Musical thinkers tend to also be good with language, which can come in handy with paper writing.

I would also argue that a well-written paper has its own internal rhythm.  The sentences flow well together, alternating between longer, more complex ones, and shorter, succinct ones.  If you are a musical thinker, write and read your paper over with an ear for flow.  Does your paper sound like a well composed piece of music, or is it more like a series of disjointed sounds?  Use your musical strength to revise and enhance your paper.

6. Interpersonal

Those with interpersonal intelligence relate well to others.  They can understand other people and what they need to be successful. They are also empathetic and are able to motivate others.  Those with this intelligence learn best by working with others and discussing their ideas.

If you are a highly interpersonal learner, get together with other students and write your papers side by side.  Leave time for discussing the ideas in your paper.  Many people think that they need to be secluded to write papers, and they struggle to stay focused.  That is because some people need to discuss their ideas with others in order to fully understand the concepts.  If that sounds like you, make paper writing into a social event.  Instead of sitting down alone to write your outline, jot down ideas while discussing them with your peers.

7. Intrapersonal

Intrapersonal learners have a deep understanding of themselves.  They tend to be very introspective and understand their strengths and weaknesses and what they need to be successful.

If you are an intrapersonal learner, use introspection to your advantage.  Think about your strengths and weaknesses in regard to paper writing.  In which areas do you need more help?  Plan your paper writing accordingly.

8. Naturalistic

Those with naturalistic intelligence feel deeply connected to nature.  They are able to understand the natural patterns in the world and are great gardeners and naturalists. They love animals and other living things.

If this sounds like you, try to come up with topics about nature for your papers.  If that doesn’t work, why not write your paper outside, in a park?  Fill your home with growing things and see if it helps you to stay energized.

 

Most people are a mixture of many of the intelligences.  For example, I excel at paper writing, because I am a linguistic, mathematical/logical, and intrapersonal learner.  However, I could never be an artist or an athlete, because my ability to relate objects in space and to make physical goals are nil.  However, I love painting abstract watercolors and doing yoga, because they are highly intrepersonal activities.

What are your strongest intelligences?  Take this test to find out where your strengths lie. How can you use them to help you in the paper writing process?

Learning to Write or Writing to Learn?

When I taught 3rd grade, my students were at all different stages of learning to read.  We would say that up to a certain point, when kids are learning the letter sounds and piecing the words together, they were learning to read.  Once they were able to read most words and move on to longer and more complicated texts, they were reading to learn.

The same concept can apply to writing.  Are you learning to write, or writing to learn?  Many college students haven’t been adequately taught to write research papers, or are returning to school after a long break, and therefore, have forgotten some writing skills.  But when you are learning to write, it is much more difficult to learn from your writing.  You are spending so much time trying to make the writing sound academic that the intention of the paper – to help you learn about a new topic – is lost.

Instead of waiting for paper assignments to learn to write, be proactive.  Take some writing courses over the summer, or look up some sample assignments and practice writing them.  No one expects to find success running a marathon without training for months in advance.  After all that training, the marathon is fun.  Without the training, it would be painful to go out and run for miles.

Similarly, when you already know how to write, you can actually enjoy tackling writing assignments.  When you are unsure of your skills, writing each assignment can feel like running a marathon after sitting on the couch for months. You don’t get much out of it, and when you are done, you feel exhausted, sore and unprepared for the next paper.

How not to use the word “they” in a paper

Of all of the grammar mistakes I’ve seen my students make, using the word “they” incorrectly is the most common.

When you are writing an academic paper, NEVER follow a singular subject in the beginning of a sentence with the word “they” in the second part of the sentence.  Here are a few examples of how NOT to use the word “they”:

1. When a student doesn’t understand an assignment, they might just need to hear it in a different way.

2. When a person becomes a victim of sexual assault, they can access many resources.

3. If a goalie wants to effectively block a shot, they should put complete focus on the ball.

Why are these sentences wrong?  

The beginning of the sentence refers to a singular subject.  In the second part of the sentence, the writer refers to that one person as “they”.

Why do students love to do this?  

In many essays and papers, it is considered incorrect to assume one gender or another for a subject.  For example, in the third sentence, the goalie could be a male or a female.  The word “they” could refer to either gender, thus avoiding any sexist stereotyping.  However, “they” is also grammatically incorrect.

How can you correct this mistake?

One method is replacing “they” with “he or she”. This sounds a but awkward at times, but avoids gender stereotyping while maintaining a grammatically correct sentence structure.

In many papers, it seems like we have to repeat “he or she” over and over, making the writing seem a but clumsy or choppy.  In that case, it is just as correct to change the singular subject to a plural one:

If goalies want to effectively block shots, they should put complete focus on the ball.

By changing the subject to a plural word, “goalies,” and modifying the rest of the sentence, the writer can avoid using “he or she” and also have a correctly worded sentence.

If you are editing your paper for grammatical errors, notice how you used the word “they.”  Make sure that anytime you wrote it, you were referring to a plural subject.  If not, use the above hints to change your paper.

2 Questions to Ask Yourself When Reading Assignments

Knowing how to write “A” quality papers may seem like navigating a complicated labyrinth at times,  but really, all the clues you need to be successful can usually be found in your assignment.

When reading a paper assignment, look for the answers to two key questions:

1. What is my professor trying to find out about me as a student by assigning this paper?

You professor assigned this paper for one purpose: to learn about you as a student.  Think about the context of the paper – what are the key learnings you have been focusing on in class?  Look at your syllabus for the main objectives of the course.  Is this paper assigned primarily to test your abilities as a writer?  Or is the greater purpose to determine if you understand course material?  What is the material you need to prove you’ve mastered?

Did your professor give you a rubric?  If so, use it!  By following all of the requirements on the rubric, you are practically guaranteed to get a good grade.

If all else fails, you can even ask your professor, “What are you trying to learn about me as a student from this paper?” He or she will probably be impressed and hopefully tell you exactly what you need to aim for in your paper.

The key to getting an A on your paper is giving your professor what he or she wants.

2. How long will it take me to write this paper?

In order to determine the amount of time you will need to spend writing your paper, look at the required length of the paper.  How many sources will you need?  How in depth do you need to go into your subject matter?

Once you have a clear idea of the length of time you will need to write the paper, immediately schedule times for writing it into your calendar.  While knowing what your professor is looking for will point you in the right direction, planning ahead and giving yourself enough time will ensure that you are able to reach your destination of an A quality paper.

In summary, if you know exactly what your professor wants in an A paper, and you give yourself enough time to write it, you are much more likely to succeed in getting a high grade on your paper.

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