Professors may or may not facilitate the reading process in the future.
Sometimes you can find resources on-line from other schools. Look up, for
example, “Mountains beyond Mountains” and study questions, on-line, and you’ll
understand this idea. Always look to see where other schools are using a text
and what kind of help you might find. Also, if you’re looking at a textbook, they
almost always have on-line resources as well.
Summaries from other Sources—searching on-line for help
While I shouldn’t admit it, I’m a big believer in using all the available resources.
When I first read Shakespeare, I always bought the cliff notes, read through that
resource and then read through the play. It makes sense to search out
summaries of books which will clue you in to the author’s agendas. A variety of
summaries will give you a variety of perspectives.
Preparing for quizzes
Geeky kids (or people who want to earn high grades) will prepare for quizzes by
anticipating the kinds of questions a teacher will ask, and then they will try to
answer the questions before they even attend class. If the teacher gives short
answer tests with not enough time to finish the questions, these students will
study and prepare so that they can write very quickly and effectively on task.
For the purposes of this course, a summary has been an opportunity to just
describe what happens in a text. Summaries take a variety of forms, and you
need to determine what best works for you. For me, in college and beyond,
summaries were really useful, particularly in courses in which there was a
cumulative final. If you stop, after you’ve read an assigned reading, and try to
summarize what the chapter/section contained, you’ll comprehend more. You’ll
also understand the places in which you failed to grasp the authors’ points.
Critique moves beyond summary (though it often includes some summary) to an
analysis of the author’s arguments. What strengths? What weaknesses? What
underlying assumptions shaped the arguments? What ideologies? What
beliefs? The more you can engage with the main ideas and really go after the
quality of the argument, the more you’ll understand the piece, and the more you’ll
show off to a professor your understanding. This works particularly if you really
have read the piece carefully, have sought out additional research, have
explored what others have said about the piece.
Set artificial deadlines—earlier than the due dates, and then create rewards (and
even negative consequences) if you fail to meet your self-imposed deadlines. I
always made an appointment with the teacher by that deadline, promising to
hand them a completed draft. You will want to come up with some way of setting
a real deadline that you will meet. An earlier deadline, obviously, gives you time
to revise, to rethink, to gather your ideas differently. While goofy, perhaps,
strong students often set these kinds of deadlines, gather various opinions about
their writing and come up with stronger papers as a result. You should also take
an assignment and divvy up the work of it so that it doesn’t sneak up on you. A
lot of teachers provide little to no guidance on how you should gather research,
and shape a paper. You need to guide yourself in those cases!
Coming up with ideas
Teachers often assign papers with the same topic for everyone which means that
a lot of students land on the same solution to a paper’s topic. I strongly suggest
that you try to focus on something within research papers that allows you to
shape the assignment to your areas of interest and specialization. Always touch
base with the teacher to determine whether innovation will be welcomed, but try
really hard to steer clear of the obvious research paper topics. If you struggle,
take your assignment to the writing center and ask the person there to help you
brainstorm a good direction. Or drop by the teacher’s office and ask for some
help. Be prepared before you make an appointment—don’t waste your teacher’s
time…but once prepared, see if they can’t help you figure a way to a really
interesting topic. That way, you’ll be more invested in the project and the paper
will stand out from the others.
We’ve talked extensively about the difference between primary and secondary
research. I hope you have the opportunity in your field of study to conduct
primary research, to learn the ins and outs of statistics and to develop a deeper
understanding of the dilemmas researcher’s face as they try to determine the
relationships between behaviors and causes.
I hope that you will become accomplished researchers of secondary resources
while in college. Research makes all the difference between uninformed and
informed consent. I’ll hope that you become fierce protectors of the right to study
a situation, to read a variety of perspectives and opinions, to understand the
quality of the insight, and that you’ll easily find excellent resources that help you
to determine appropriate action in the future. Instead of relying on the powers of
others to persuade and influence based on manipulative awareness of what
sways a human, you’ll determine your own course. Secondary research is
crucial to finding a strong direction through difficult ideas.
Do you know the difference between relying on Wikipedia and relying on
scholarly journals? How do you evaluate the quality of research on the internet?
What criteria do you have for deciding on the quality of the information you
believe? Do you know the difference between a scholarly source and other
sources. Would it be appropriate in an upper division course to rely on Wikipedia
and Newsweek? Why or why not?
Reference librarians: At the university and in your local towns, librarians
are an incredible source of knowledge. Reference librarians particularly
are trained to keep up with the always changing realities of information
dissemination. You want to know how to use the library, how to ask for
information and help, and to remember that if you treat the reference
librarians with dignity and respect, and if you work to understand your
questions and how they might be able to help you, the reference
librarians advocate for you.
Writing Center Experts: In addition, your writing resources include the
writing center tutors. Try to find ones who work there who you can rely
on to tell you the truth about your ideas, your sources, your document’s
organization, the quality of your syntax, etc. This free service should
become a part of your routine from the brainstorming of ideas to the final
Quality of Ideas
Ideas are the reason we write papers—not only to prove that we have ideas but
because the process of writing often gives us the incredible perk of thinking new
ideas out, of learning and discovering through the process of research, writing
and revising. Take the time to really enjoy, throughout the process of writing a
document, the possibility of learning and growing as a human, as you consider
and process new information. Most of us teaching at the college level enjoy the
seduction of ideas and learning. If you have a crappy idea for a paper, and you
write a crappy paper as a result, the first place you need to start, in revision, is
with rethinking your idea. Be willing to rethink! To reconsider. To grow and
develop an idea even if it means you must revise the entire paper!
Quality of resources/research
When you’re considering revision, look again at the quality of your resources.
You may want to research more, evaluate ideas more, rethink because of the
resources you find. Always be willing to change your mind, to consider
alternative perspectives (the perk of writing!). Sources can often change your
perspective and your argument. If you want to simply finish an assignment,
fine…don’t gather better research. If you want to learn/grow/improve the grade,
be willing to reconsider your perspectives. When you rethink in terms of
resources, it may change your ideas, may require that you revise the entire
A lot of people start without outlines…which means they begin with “writer
friendly” text. I strongly urge you to have an audience member in mind, to write
the first draft (in order to see what you think/believe) and then start to play with
organization, start to really think about how a reader needs information given to
them. Sometimes we’re so thick in the knowledge that stepping back to consider
the audience seems impossible. This step often determines the quality of the
grade you receive on a project. Really consider your audience and how they will
need information handed to them…and revise accordingly.
Quality of Paragraphs/segments of information
Once you have your paper/document working, then the really important step is to
be able to step back and assess the quality of your document at different
locations. If you write like many, you’ll begin your revisions at the beginning. I
suggest starting revision at different points in the document each time. So begin
a revision session by looking in the middle or the end of the document. Then
change out really weak areas.
Effective integration of Quotations
Some of you fail to introduce quotations effectively. Read others’ work.
Understand what it means to cite by MLA citation standards. Learn how to
accurately weave another person’s argument seamlessly into your paragraphs!
Evaluation of syntax/word choices
Your teacher will judge you based on your syntax, the quality of your language.
Take the time, and use the tricks we played with in class to Re SEE your paper,
to see the verb choices, to determine the quality of your sentences and start to
really play with developing a repertoire of sentences to meet the challenges of
your very big brains!
Document design: font, layout, color, distribution, usability
You may be lucky enough to have someone design documents for you, or you
may be lucky enough to rely on the templates established by word or whatever
program. However, in the midst of changing realities for writing, the more you
know about design…about font, layout, color choices, the better. The more you
can understand what the costs will be to distribute a document based on the
font/layout/color choices, the better you can make decisions. And the more that
you can test the market (with quantitative and qualitative studies) to see how well
your document accomplishes its tasks for the designated audience, the more
effective a writer you’ll become.