The Study Dude – Writing for Dummies, Part III

Study Tips from a Semi-Anonymous Friend

There is nothing more that The Study Dude wants for you than to realize that every little bit of effort accumulates exponentially over time and can, and likely will, position you for a life-changing opportunity.

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.

Writing Essays for Dummies guide by Mary Page and Dr. Carrie Winstanley is a book for anyone but dummies.

Reorganize Your First Draft? Try the Headings Approach
Recently, I wrote a 25-page book intended for publication in Kindle format. A friend looked over the initial draft, commenting that the ideas were disorganized and fragmented. Discouraged, I sought out the advice of my published brother, who relayed that writing with discontinuity in the first draft is part of the process of writing a book. He advised that I should stick with it and find a system to help better restructure the book with each subsequent draft.

Resolving my issue, Page and Winstanley (2009) presented a system for reorganizing a paper/book that I thought I would actually try implementing. Namely, they advise students to do the following:
– add a heading to each paragraph that encapsulates the essence of the paragraph,
– ensure that each paragraph emphasizes one and only one idea,
– restructure the paragraphs so that they are better clustered.
– turn each paragraph heading into a topic sentence once the paper is fully reorganized.

I’m in the process of working with this system, and it is easy to implement and provides a well-needed transparency.

However, I would advise students to spend most of their time in the outlining/research stages, where relevant quotes are placed directly in an outline such that each and every paragraph has ample supporting quotes (or even opposing views that you negotiate), preferably ones that build on each other.

In Microsoft Word, if you go to the menu heading “view” and then click on “outline” in the “document views” grouping, you can work in a simple outline interface that can later be converted to “print layout” quite readily. Using cue cards or mind maps are an alternative approach to the Word outline. Just ensure that you have ample quotes, logically grouped and organized, to support each branch in the mind map.

Form a Solid, Well-Backed Position in Your Papers
As you are aware, knowing what the literature says about your topic is crucial to success in academia. You don’t want to draft up your opinions without leveraging what the critics and proponents have to say first.

When I was in graduate studies, I came across the real and pressing issue of how to insert my own perspectives into my writing. You probably have, at some point or another, experienced the same dilemma. On one hand, it is fundamental to let the ideas of other researchers guide the content of your writing. On the other hand, your own views and opinions should not be overlooked. So, what is the secret formula?

In next week’s article, I will give some provocative insights provided by another book on how to engage and build your arguments from other researchers’ ideas. For now, here are some guidelines by Page and Winstanley (2009) to give you a solid footing in backing up your position:
– Let the research quotes that you accumulate on any given essay topic dictate the final conclusion that you reach. In other words, let the evidence guide your overall assessment.
– It is okay to start writing your paper with a particular view, but be open-minded: let the evidence sway your perspective accordingly.
– Be certain that you are familiar with and cite the key proponent and opponents of your particular paper’s conclusion.
– If you are writing your paper with both pros and cons, thereby giving a balanced perspective, let the side that is more weighted with evidence govern your final conclusion.
– Accumulate enough evidence to make a stand and provide reasonable support before making your final assessment on your position.

In next week’s article, we’ll entertain how to insert your own views?yes, your opinions matter in academic writing?how to effectively either disagree or agree with the research, and how to express ambivalence in your position.

Edit Your Paper Wisely
After writing your first draft, you need to spend some time, usually beyond just a few days, editing and revising. When I was in undergraduate studies I would write the first draft and then have a good night’s rest before tackling the editing process. I would space out the edits with a day or two, or sometimes three, depending on how early I finished. I would also print out the draft and work from a paper copy, later transferring all edits to the computer. As an additional hedge, I would name each edited draft file with a suffix of “-Draft1”, “-Draft2”, and so forth. When I was in graduate studies, my thesis had over a 100 drafts in total.

But what if you don’t have several days to do the editing? Page and Winstanley (2009) have advice on how you can peruse your draft with a fresh set of eyes for effective editing:

– Be sure to print out your document for proofreading and editing purposes. Mark the paper itself before transferring the changes to the computer document.
– Find a quiet place in which to make edits.
– Slow down your reading pace, and use a ruler to guide your eyes across each line.
– If you read aloud, the process of verbalizing your essay will slow you down, enabling more streamlined editing.
– Read the document backwards, if you can, to ensure that you catch all spelling errors, word omissions, and repeated words.
– Change up the font color or size to make the document seem brand new. This, too, may help you address your paper from a clean slate.
– Have a friend or someone from your class proofread the document

At the Student’s Union website, there is a program called the Study Buddy. One option for making this program work for you is to connect with another student from your class at your general academic grade level and to edit each other’s papers. Make sure that this is acceptable by your program coordinator before proceeding.

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.