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Education

My Tips for Writing Essays Part 5: Love the source you’re with

In the last part of this blog series on my best essay writing tips, I talked about getting the sources you want.

“Love the one (source) You’re With”

So far in this blog series, we’ve talked about finding sources, managing citations and resources, and several other things. But today we’re going to talk about learning to love the sources you’ve got.

All too often, students waste valuable time and energy looking for a better source when their current one is more than adequate. In some cases, it’s even better to use the resources you have instead of searching for something better. This isn’t always easy, but with a little bit of effort, it can be done. Here are a few tips on how to make the best of what you have:

It’s easy to get lost in the sea of information that is the internet. Especially if you hate writing, it can be tempting to send yourself on a quest to find the One Best Source. However, at a certain point, research can become procrastination, and you have to learn when to call it and move onto the next phase.

Sometimes you’ve got a deadline, and other times you’re just stuck. Sometimes, like I said, you’re using the research to avoid something else.

So how can we make the best of what we have? Here are a few tips and scenarios showing what I mean:

Maybe your professor wanted you to use a specific book, but all you could find was a review of that book (Did you check out my blog post on how to track down sources, though?) – you know, one of those academic reviews that show up in journal articles and hence, Google Scholar or JSTOR or EBSCO or what-have-you. Use the review. Does it have direct quotes? Does it give you insight into the argument? Don’t lie and claim you have the book, but perhaps you could mention something like “Reviewers of this book noted its extremely nice font and pretty cover” or whatever else the reviewer mentioned.

Maybe you really, really, really need to work with this one article from 1986 that completely explains the benefits of Vitamin C in a way no other source has ever done, but it’s not digitized, your school library can’t get it for you, and all you have access to is the abstract or a citation from one of the people who’ve cited it. Do any of those citations have a direct quote? Can you quote the abstract? Does the abstract give you a pretty good idea of the basic gist of the argument? Then… just use it. Sure, quoting from the abstract is not the greatest thing ever, but it is sure better than not having a source to back up a claim.

What do you do once you’ve called it, or when you have to start writing, but you don’t think you’ve found the best sources? Find about 3 quotes, if you’re writing the kind of essay that requires an arbitrary number of quotes from each source. Then brainstorm a few ways to work each quote into the essay. If you have one of those professors that is exceedingly pedantic, just find a way to put a quote in, even if it does not frankly add much. Rubrics dominate everything these days, and if the rubric said you had to have a quote, but not that it had to be insightful, well, it’s malicious compliance time.

Next, try to be an optimist. By that I mean: What’s good about these sources? Come on, I’m sure you can say something nice. It can be tough to find something nice to say about a source, especially if you think it’s bad. But even if the source is terrible, there are still some good things you can point out.

For example, you might mention how the source is inaccurate or biased, but you can also highlight any strengths it has. You might focus on how well-researched the source is, or how interesting it is.

No matter what, try to find at least one good thing to say about the source. It will make your essay stronger and help you avoid sounding like you’re just trying to bash the source. After all… if you think writing just an essay is torturous; imagine writing a book or a journal article.

In short, don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Use the resources you have – love the ones you’re (stuck) with.

Some of these tips were adapted from Deleuzienne’s 2020 book Paper Hacking 101.  

For more essay writing tips and help, reach out to Unemployed Professors.

Categories
Education

How to take lecture notes

Most university students dislike taking lecture notes, yet attest to their vital importance. Unless you have perfect recall, you’re not going to get anywhere in higher education without well-honed notetaking skills. Anyone who has reviewed a shoddy set of notes just prior to a final can attest to this truth. The sense of regret, frustration, and impending doom at trying to decipher pages of chicken-scratch is unparalleled.

We at Unemployed Professors have thus put together a set of tips that will help you arrive at finals with the composure and confidence that only the well-prepared know.

Consider using a laptop or tablet:

Today, many students are taking advantage of the speed and legibility available through typing, rather than writing. Laptops and tablets can also use specific programs, such as Evernote or OneNote, which help facilitate the note-taking process.  Just make sure that your typing skills are up to the task, and that you know how to use the necessary shortcuts and commands (e.g. inserting tables and lists).  If you do choose a laptop or tablet, remove all possible distractions by disconnecting from WIFI before lectures begin.

Don’t be afraid to note-take by hand:

While laptop note-taking is en vogue, and offers greater speed, legibility, and editability, research indicates that taking notes by hand results in greater retention. This makes sense, since writing by hand is slower, and therefore requires the note-taker to be more engaged.  Keep in mind, however, that if your handwriting tends to turn to chicken scratch when writing fast, or when your hand is tired, you may wish to opt for a laptop.

Don’t just note-take in class:

You should also write notes when conducting readings, and also after class.  Note-taking before class will help you prepare for the lectures, and may, therefore, preclude the necessity for recording everything uttered by the professor.  By committing a few jottings to paper after class, you can help consolidate the material just covered.

Consider recording audio files of the lectures:

In this way, any difficulties interpreting your notes at a later time can generally be resolved.  And, if you have time, re-listening to the lecture outside the classroom, and with the benefit of retrospection, will often allow you to draw more from the lecture than you did at first hearing.

Insert gaps in notes:

This is especially important when note-taking by hand.  Always leave a gap between topics, or if you have trouble hearing or understanding something.  This will allow you to add relevant information later, or to delve more deeply into an interesting factoid or insight.

Consolidate:

Consider summarizing your notes after, either by hand or by computer.  For most people, merely re-reading notes isn’t enough to internalize the information.  When summarizing, however, make sure that you aren’t just copying from your base notes.  Try to read sizable portions, and then paraphrase them.

The ability to take clear, concise, and compelling lecture notes is vital to university success.  By following these tips, you will enjoy the decided advantage of a clear, well-organized and complete set of notes – the basis of academic success at university!

With that in mind, ask the team of academic professionals at UnemployedProfessors.com any questions you may have regarding their college writing services and they will be more than happy to guide you along the arduous path!