Writing in Your Major
Tips From Tutors
Here are some tips straight from the professors!
What is one thing that students must never forget about when writing for RSENR?
- To utilize examples. If a student is struggling with where to start, one way to get a sense of what to do is to find examples. The most direct way is to ask the professor for an example. Students should ask questions about format, length, content, style, point of view (first person, third person), etc. Emulating something that you have never done before makes the assignment much easier. Take the example and use it as an explicit model, following it as closely as you can. If the example uses one paragraph as an introduction, make your introduction one paragraph, not three pages.
The hardest part of writing a research paper is getting yourself to a place where you think you have something to say about what you have read. It is more than taking what someone else has said and turning it around and saying it again in your own words. It is taking a paper beyond summary, and actually synthesizing the information. Put yourself in a position where you can think about this differently from how other people have thought about it. You need to step back and look at the overall big picture, and think about it from different perspectives.
—Professor Deane Wang
What makes you go “Wow” when reading papers? —in a good way?
- The thinking! A paper is a just a means to express thinking. The mechanical parts of writing are important, and can get in the way of a faculty member's reading of a paper. The more thinking a student can do the better.
The first piece of thinking is, “Can I organize? I have read a bunch of stuff-can I organize it, and relate it to the reader?” If the student can organize the paper in a reasonable way and convey it in a manner that makes some sense, that is the first step.
The next piece is asking whether you can synthesize - can you find some meaning out of that? Here, the thinking process has stepped up from being an organizational thinking process to being a process that understands and gets what is going on here — what is sustainability, what is cotton, etc. This requires critical thinking, especially if there are going to be judgments about it. Example: The conclusion I have come to in this paper is that 90 percent of cotton grown in the U.S. is detrimental to the environment, and cotton might be one of the most detrimental crops that we grow in this country. Then take it a step further — realize that maybe people should start wearing wool. That is the critical synthetic place. You have pushed the framework back and expanded the perspective and compared it to other things. You are now comparing cotton with agriculture in general. That is really important, and the sign of a thinking head, and what we are supposed to go to college for.
—Professor Deane Wang
What makes you go “Wow” when reading papers? —in a bad way?
- This is true for just about every professor out there - poor punctuation, poor spelling, sloppiness, wrong margins-these make the paper look ugly. That sends a message to professors even before they begin reading, that this person does not care about the paper, doesn't care enough to do simple things such as running spell-check or reading the paper twice. And if the student does not care enough, then I don't care either. —Professor Deane Wang
What can turn a good paper into a great paper?
- Moving past summary to synthesis, and if you move past synthesis to a broader meaning. If you can get whoever is reading your paper to feel like they have learned something, that is great. This is a question of audience. You are never writing to a general audience, you are writing to a specific audience. The purpose of writing is to convey information and be persuasive, so you need to know your audience. The problem in a typical university situation is that the audience has been set up to be the professor. It is better practice for students to write to “real” audiences and not the professorial audience. If you can make what you are writing more fun and meaningful to you, you may put more energy into it. If you can convince the professor that you are going to write to a different audience, and you care about the audience you are writing to, it may be easier to write the paper. Ask to see if you can have your paper deviate from the standard student-professor audience. —Professor Deane Wang
What is your favorite database for online research?
- This varies hugely by field. JSTOR, for many of the students in the Rubenstein School, will be a good place. But it is too hard to generalize. I would say first to talk to the professor, and then schedule a mid-way check in. Don't be afraid to use the greatest resource that you are paying for: the faculty and staff at the university. The big resource for a research paper is the library. Figure out what you want to write about and the kind of research you will be doing, and go talk to a reference librarian. It is much for efficient to talk to somebody who can help point you in the right direction. —Professor Deane Wang
Any last advice for writing in RSENR, whether for the intro courses or upper levels?
- It is your education. Figure out how to make the exercise or writing assignment interesting to you. If you can't, go to the professor or TA and ask for help. If you think about it, the other side (professors) can get bored too, so if you find an interesting or engaging way to present your paper, it benefits everybody. —Professor Deane Wang
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