The Study Dude – Writing Essays for Dummies, II

There is nothing more that The Study Dude wants for you than to start paraphrasing at least 50% more in all of your essays.

Well, in these articles, as The Study Dude, I’ll try to give you the study tips you need to help make your learning easier. I’ll also give you straight and honest opinions and personal anecdotes?even the embarrassing ones that you wouldn’t ever dare read about from any other study tip guru.

This article will focus on Writing Essays for Dummies by Mary Page and Dr. Carrie Winstanley. Contrary to the title, this book is beyond the calibre of most Dummies books and comes highly recommended by me.

How Exactly Should You Paraphrase?
I used to make cue cards, write direct quotes on them, write keywords to capture each of the quotations’ meanings, group them together logically, and then string the direct quotes together with my own introductory thoughts per quote. That was the magic of writing an essay.

But, woe is me. This system, while gaining mostly A grades, came short of attaining the bigger goal of producing stellar work. You see, the ideal essay relies largely on paraphrased material and sparingly on direct quotations. I strung together lots of direct quotes, believing it added strength to my papers when I should have resorted to paraphrasing at least 75% of the quotes on the page.

But no need to worry, my beloved readers, as Page and Winstanley (2009) have solid advice on how to properly paraphrase your materials:

– The joy of paraphrasing is converting a direct quotation into your own thought: “make it your own” (p. 121)
– The length of paraphrased material will inevitably be much longer than the original direct quotation
– Things to avoid paraphrasing are as follows: “job titles, names of people and places, dates and many numbers” (p. 121)
– Take the direct quotation, identify all the keywords (including verbs and even adjectives and adverbs), and seek out synonyms in your thesaurus
– Change the word form, such that the word “employee” becomes “employer” or “employment” and so forth. This will alter the structure of the sentence to give it your own unique flare.
– Change verbs to nouns and vice-verse (for instance, “to study” becomes “the study”)
– Finally, insert both the in-text reference and bibliographic entry.

As an afterthought, I thought it might be wise to write direct quotations on a cue card, and, underneath or on the backside, include a paraphrased version as you encounter each quote in the literature. That way, the quote is fresh and you can better ensure that you capture the intended meaning in the paraphrased material. Plus, keeping the original direct quotation also helps to guarantee that the context doesn’t get misconstrued. This system might mean more work, but may be worth the time investment in the long run.

How to Master the Paragraph
Writing a paragraph is easy when you have your direct quotations/paraphrased materials in a logical order and well-planned groupings. Yet, there is a magic formula for making them flow seamlessly and for ensuring that each paragraph pertains to a single topic.

Page and Winstanley (2009) have a brilliant system for making your paragraphs flow meaningfully:

– Have, at the bare minimum, three sentences per paragraph and no more than eight.
– Your page should contain somewhere between two and five paragraphs.
– Each paragraph should answer a single question. Turn that question into a topic sentence (but don’t leave it as a question; make it a statement).
– Optional: Include a header for each paragraph that captures the question it answered (written as the topic sentence). This will aid you when it comes time to reorder your ideas more clearly. You will then have to delete all the headers once your essay draft is finalized.
– Provide ample support for each question in each paragraph. This support can be further details, quotes that help answer the question, definitions, comparison/contrast, cause/effect, details, background, statistics, and examples, to name a few. You will also want to include your own views, if and only if they are naturally supported by the citations. If the quotations/paraphrased materials don’t inevitably lead to the view you present, then your view (so sorry!) has no place in the essay.
– If there are gaps in your information (say, you only have two sentences to respond to a paragraph question), then go ahead and collect more research to sufficiently fill in the paragraph.
– Organize the paragraphs into a logical flow.
– Finalize with a summary sentence.
– Repeat the above for each paragraph.
– Ensure that you have one and only one main idea per paragraph.
– Don’t use commands or questions in your essays.
– Place your most essential points at the beginning or end of the paragraph.
– Use lots of verbs, as sentences filled with verbs make for easier reading
– Use a mix of sentence lengths: short followed by longer followed by extra long?you get the picture!

Writing the Perfect Intro
That perplexing conundrum of how to start your essay or thesis is one that leaves many students with writer’s block. However, there are formulaic approaches to writing your introduction. We all know about the thesis statement, but there are other questions that your professor will ask, like “So what?” (Not to be harsh, but one of my professors asked me “so what” so many times that I was at a loss for words.) With a little ingenuity, perhaps you can come up with a “so what” answer that will be convincing, but ideally, you will want to start your essay with its relevance thought out in advance.

And what should your first sentence be? We’ve all heard of starting your essay with something moving, such as surprising quotes, an anecdote, a startling fact, etcetera, etcetera, but how about the zinger of rewording the assignment question with your own pizzazz?or, better yet and for a stronger paper?incorporating both a moving intro and a reworded assignment question?

Page and Winstanley (2009) have some advice to heed on writing an introduction:

– Start by taking the assignment question or title and rewording it into your own statement. Ensure that you express the main idea of the paper in the rewording. It should provide your “take” on the topic as well as relaying your understanding of the assignment.
– Possibly mention any of the critical key theorists you include in your essay.
– Answer the question “so what?” by providing context on the relevance of the essay. You can do this by expressing things, such as (1) the topic’s significance as an issue unto itself, (2) how the topic has become more relevant due to other factors, (3) how over time, the topic has become more pressing, or, (4) the topic’s role in a much bigger issue. These are just some basic ideas to get you started about how to think of the “so what” question.
– Think of why the topic was important from your instructor’s perspective. He/she thought it was significant enough to assign, so determining why the topic is relevant from the instructor’s point-of-view will help you to include the “so what?” component of the introduction.
– Show the direction that you will be going in answering the assignment question. You can do this by summarizing your key points/key answers to the assignment question.
– Give a hint of what the conclusion will relay (but don’t give it all away in the introduction).
– Start your introduction with a paradox, an opposing view, or a compelling quotation, to name a few possibilities. Don’t add wild and crazy facts or quotations unrelated to the crux of your argument, though. Keep it relevant.

So, there’s nothing to fear. The Study Dude is determined to make right for you all the wrongs I made in grad school?one A+ at a time.

Page, Mary, & Winstanley, Carrie. (2009). Writing Essays for Dummies. West Sussex, England: John Wiley & Sons.