Posts Tagged ‘research papers’

Monday Grammar & Teacher Journal

In Grammar, Uncategorized on November 24, 2009 at 3:48 am


Over the next couple of weeks, we’ll be talking about some specific punctuation rules for research papers. Last week, we talked about how to use punctuation with quotation marks. This week, we’ll talk about how to use punctuation when citing sources within your paper.

In-text citations is the official name for what happens when you cite sources within your papers. In-text citations are the references you use after a quotation or paraphrase from your research. In MLA citations (for English and other humanities classes), you’ll include the author’s surname and the page number in parentheses, like this (Obama 46). Here’s what an in-text citation would look like after a direct quotation and after a paraphrase:

Direct Quote: “I don’t waste time thinking about things more than once” (Allen 22).

Paraphrase (when you put it in your own words): It’s not efficient to think about things repeatedly (Allen 22).

We’ll talk more about how to quote and paraphrase in future posts, but for now, I want you to look at the punctuation. Notice how, in both the quotation and the paraphrase, the period at the end of the sentence doesn’t come until after the citation is finished. The idea is that, when you cite a source, the citation is part of the sentence. Also, it looks neater, doesn’t it? Try it next time you’re citing sources for a paper.


I’m sorry I missed my post last Thursday! I owe you all an apology. The truth is that the end of the quarter is just as busy for teachers as it is for you. We’re grading papers, planning classes, getting all the assignments ready to explain to you. I’ve also been working on something for our website, though. I’d like to start offering more tools to help you as students, and I’ve been busy at work, preparing the details for you. I’ll unleash the full plan in my Thanksgiving post on Thursday. In the meantime, thank you for being so patient with me!

The Research Paper: How to Spot a Good Source

In research on October 23, 2009 at 1:40 am


If you land on a website or article while doing research, how do you know it’s a good source? In the ’90s, we might have been able to judge a website by how professional it looked (cool photos and nice fonts), but today, anyone can set up a website that looks at least decent. It also might seem that, if the writing on a site sounds official — or if it seems to have what you need, the information must be good, but this isn’t necessarily a good measure either. There are a few things you can look at, however, to know whether the source you’re using is reliable:

Step 1: Look at the author — Look for a person or organization taking responsibility for the article. If there is nobody taking responsibility for the information, be wary of it!

Step 2: Look to see what expertise the author has.  Look for degrees, titles, other past experience. If you’re on a website, you can click the “about us” link (if there is one). You can also Google the person’s name and see what pops up. A degree doesn’t automatically make a person a reliable source, but it can be an indicator.

Step 3: See if you can make a good guess about what motivations the author might have for writing the article. If the author is a politician up for re-election, his motives might be to get votes. If he’s selling vitamins, he might have written the article to get you to buy medicine. If he’s writing as an educator or in a journal, he might just be trying to educate. Think a little about the author’s possible motivations. If someone wants to sell something or get votes, this motivation could influence the information.

Step 4: Where is the article published? If you found the article on a friend’s MySpace page, you’ll probably look at it differently than if you found it on your library’s database.

Looking at these four things can help you weed out a surprising number of articles that are biased or may not be reliable sources of information. Try it, and see how it goes?

The Research Paper: Avoiding Google

In writing on October 15, 2009 at 10:00 am


Once, when I assigned a research paper in class, one student said that he wanted to do his research paper on research papers. “I want to know if it’s possible to still have a social life while writing a research paper,” he said. It is possible, of course, but I think the trick is to be savvy about the way you approach your research. Last week, we talked about generating a keyword list. This week, I want to talk about where to find (or, more importantly, where not to find) your research.

When I suggest doing research, most students gravitate toward Google. We all know about Google. It’s familiar. It’s friendly. It has a cute logo that changes with the holidays — and it seems like the easiest way to get fast search results. When it comes to an academic research paper, though, Google is not necessarily your best ally.

When you type a keyword into Google, you’ll get any website that has that word mentioned. If you type in “international student,” for example, you’ll get sites with scholarship info, with cultural advice, travel information, medical insurance quotes, and people trying to sell student loans to international students. You’ll get information for American students who are studying around the globe and for students who are studying in the United States. You’ll get all sorts of stuff — because Google doesn’t discriminate. Google’s search engine searches for any website that has the keywords you type into the search box, and it searches all types of websites:

.com, .net, .biz – .com stands for commercial websites. Websites that end with .com, .net, or .biz are businesses. These sites often (but not always) exist to make money.

.edu – .edu stands for education websites. These are usually colleges or universities.

.gov – .gov stands for government websites. These are websites created by the US government.

.org – .org stands for organization websites. These are often non-profit organizations. Read the rest of this entry »

The Research Paper: Keywords, Keywords, Keywords

In writing on October 8, 2009 at 5:14 pm


Last week, we talked about using your school’s library — not just to get a quick snooze in between classes but to help get a jump start on your research papers. This week, I’d like to talk about one of the first steps in doing the research. Once you have a topic and are ready to begin, you’ll want to find some research.

Before you start using the library database or hopping online to find articles, it’s worth your time to start a keyword list. Keywords are the words you’ll use when searching for information, whether you’re searching with your library’s database or online. Often, I’ll see students start a search by typing in the first words that come to mind. This makes sense, right? The problem comes when no results appear, and we assume that there’s no information on the topic. “I think I have to change my topic,” a student will say. “There’s just nothing written about my topic.” Some students will change their topics three or even four times because of problems like this. There’s a much easier way!

When doing database research, it’s all about getting the right keywords. Library databases use keywords and subject terms to locate the articles. If you happen to use words that the database doesn’t use very often, your search will come up with limited information or even without any information — even if there are tons of articles on your topic.

The trick is to generate a list (a real list that you write down, not a list that you keep in your head!) of keywords before you sit down to the computer. When your first keyword doesn’t work, try other words on your list. Also, as you’re searching in the database, you’ll keep building and adding to your keyword list. You do this by noticing which subject terms the computer uses for articles that you generate in your searches. Most databases will have a list of subject terms. If you see one that’s not on your keyword list, add it. Sometimes, you’ll be surprised at the strange words the database uses for your topic. Keep a list, and you’ll be able to find quality research faster and with a lot less work!

Also, I think it’s worth repeating that you can always ask a librarian for help with your keyword list. Librarians work with databases every day, and they might have ideas about what words will find the best results.

First Step Toward a Great Research Paper: The Library

In writing on October 1, 2009 at 3:53 pm


It’s easy to forget that the university library is a useful tool. After all, 15 seconds of Googling can get you more information than you’ll ever want or need on any subject — unless, of course, you’re working on a research paper or in need of quality information by academic experts. This is when your school’s library is going to come in handy. There are three great things you can find at most school libraries. They can save you money and lots of time.

1) Library Databases can save you lots of time
The heart of library research today is the database. Your school has probably paid to have access to dozens of databases that have the most up-to-date articles on every subject from career advice to engineering to literature. You can find solid research in a tenth of the time it’d take you to find good research using Google. If you’re assigned a research paper — or if you just want solid, reliable information, the database is your friend!

2) Textbooks
In many school libraries, there’s a section where you can look at textbooks for your classes. Textbooks aren’t usually available for every class on campus, but you might be able to get through the first couple of weeks of the semester while you wait for your used copy to arrive in the mail or while you wait for the beginning-of-semester bookstore lines to shrink. Read the rest of this entry »

What Makes Academic Writing Academic?

In Uncategorized, writing on September 17, 2009 at 7:08 pm


Often, students think that writing becomes academic when you use lots of big words, or when a paper is really long. While it’s true that a large vocabulary can be useful in academic writing — and that it’s good to meet your teacher’s minimum page requirement, a long paper with big words doesn’t necessarily become an academic paper.

Then what is an academic paper?

When you write a business letter, you’re writing to get something accomplished (to take action or build business relationships). When you write a poem or a short story, you’re writing to create an experience for the reader and evoke emotions. When you write an academic paper (including all those research papers you have to write), you’re writing to help your reader understand an issue from multiple perspectives — to think differently about your topic. As teachers say when we get together, academic writing is all about critical thinking.

Let’s say our paper topic is public transportation. If we were to write an academic paper, our goal would be to understand the issue of public transportation fully, looking at the topic from as many different angles as we can and evaluating each of the different ideas we find to see if we think it’s any good. What do experts on public transportation talk about, when they talk about it? What do they argue about? How does public transportation affect different groups of people, like bus riders, bus drivers, children, tax payers, or the people who manufacture benches for the bus stops? Researching the topic and writing an academic paper about it might explore each of these issues. Read the rest of this entry »