The Study Dude – Study Tips from a Semi-Anonymous Friend

How to Write Like a Top Student

There is nothing more that the Study Dude wants than for you to master the craft of revision.

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 week’s article probes the mindset of the nonfiction writing expert, Roy Peter Clark, in the book Help! For Writers: 210 Solutions to the Problems Every Writer Faces. The final article for the three part Study Dude series on Roy Peter Clark concludes today.

Never Again Miss a Deadline
Why should you not miss a deadline? Well, I once held a film screening of a Louise Hay movie in a local theatre. I love managing events, having succeeding at event coordination in a number of past projects. Yet, my world view changed dramatically around the time just before the film screening, when I spent the core of my time focused on more important events like thesis writing, relocation, and other life urgencies. This lack of focus resulted in my missing the deadline for filling up an audience at the screening.

Nonetheless, I contacted a psychic to partake in the presentation of the film screening with the hopes that she would talk about, well, psychic things, especially those pertaining to how our psychology is linked to our physical health. (I wouldn’t consult a psychic today, however, due to my spiritual development, but back then it seemed appealing.) The psychic delighted in the opportunity, and agreed to present to the crowd.

But a crowd did not arrive. My focus waned, and the day of the screening came with very little effort or forethought on my part. In advance of the screening, I advised the psychic to watch the show only as I anticipated a low turn-out. True to my word, the audience hardly manifested, leaving most seats empty. Even worse, the media came out, and filmed me on stage talking to a paltry audience interspersed throughout vacated rows. I tried to avoid the media once the tears started to flow, and I hid my face, sobbing.I advised the camera person to avoid crowd shots and instead take close-ups of people’s faces.

So, that is why you don’t want to miss a deadline.

Roy Peter Clark presents some sage advice on how to never miss a deadline:
– Attempt to find your story or essay focus as soon as possible. You don’t have to commit to this particular focus, but instead let the research guide your ultimate focus direction
– Your ability to choose your best material from your research depends on your focus.
– If you don’t have enough support for your position, go back to the research and find what you need to make an argument, even if your argument changes.
– If your deadline is a month away, set an earlier deadline of two to three weeks away. Always try to set a pseudo-deadline well in advance of the actual deadline.
– When you make lots of progress, don’t take time off. Keep on that essay like a dog on a bone.
– If you write at least one page every single day, you will have written a book every year.
– Make your revision as early as time allows.
– Celebrate at every pivotal moment of your essay writing. (First draft done? Go celebrate).

Learn How To Revise Your Paper
In undergraduate studies, I would start collecting books for a research paper the day the assignment was handed out. I would collect reams of books and gather numerous journal articles. Once I located my materials, I would begin researching with either cue cards or an outline in Microsoft Word’s outline option of the Document View tab. Once the compiled quotes created roughly the size of the paper assigned, I would begin drafting the article.

I aimed to finish the first rough draft within two to three weeks of the due date. This way, I could read and reread the paper, making corrections and adjustments along the way or returning to the literature to fill in the gaps as needed. By the time I submitted the paper, the document was void of errors. An A grade demands error free documents.

Now, writing for The Voice, I can submit a document with some errors and know the editorwill catch any little mishap. Not only does he catch errors, but he also helps polish my understanding of English in the process. If only academics could have it so good. (In a future article, I will explore strategies for self-editing and for feedback-soliciting.)

For those of you self-reliant on your revisions, Roy Peter Clark has some sage tips on how to revise your drafts:
– “Revise at every stage of the writing process” (p. 245).
– Revise everything, including your prior revisions.
– Before making your first draft, make a zero draft in which you write down everything you know and determine what you need yet to learn.
– don’t shy away from finding and accepting criticism. Go talk to your teacher prior to and after you have done your research.
– Reading work aloud enables you to find your best possible writing voice.
– Print your essay or story and write in the margins of each paragraph the topic of the paragraph. This helps you cut and paste related items.
– Always double-check your facts and statistics. Accuracy yields higher grades. Check mark every fact that you have proven to be accurate.

Select Your Very Best and Trash the Rest
As a young teenager, I often played Dungeons and Dragons with my brother, who won an acting award. He served as the dungeon master. Inspired by the creativity of it all, I wrote a story in junior high based on one of the games we played. My teacher loved it so much that she read it aloud to the class over a several week time frame.

The beginning of the story started beautifully, but grew more amateurish as the story progressed. I ended up inserting a lot of references to “undigested juices” as a lazy man’s way to ramp up the humour, and my teacher asked me in front of the class, “Why do you keep bringing up undigested juices?” Everyone laughed. Cockily, I told her I thought it would appeal to the grade nine mindset.

In hindsight, I should have left out those parts. Whenever the teacher read it aloud, my face reddened, as it did just now. So, if you want to feel proud of your overall work, leave out the trash and select the brass.

Roy Peter Clark devised a systematic way for you to edit out the worse and keep the best:
– In your paper margins, place brackets around the best parts of your essay. Try to determine what works best from the viewpoint of your readership.
– In the parts that you bracketed, number then from one to ten with ten being the best.
– Consider cutting out the low ranking elements on your page.
– If your writing is flowery, and you like how it sounds, or if it has intrigue, only keep it if it fits with the theme nicely.
– The stuff you cut out you can attempt to use in another essay, so keep it on file.
– Omit flowery adjectives and adverbs that just repeat, such as a “happy smile”.

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.

References
Clark, Roy Peter. (2011). Help! For Writers: 210 Solutions to the Problems Every Writer Faces. New York, NY: Little, Brown and Company.

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