All posts by Steve

Keep Your Focus

Keep Your Focus

When doing a lot of research, you’ll probably end up with a lot of notes, annotations, highlights, etc. That’s fine, but sometimes it can be a challenge to get everything together on paper. Here are some tips to help you stay focused and produce a high-quality essay.

  1. Have a vision:
    If you don’t know where you’re going, it’s going to be pretty hard to get there. You should have some idea—perhaps a thesis statement—of what your essay’s final form will show.
  2. Define the scope:
    You may decide to write an essay about how Kant’s philosophical views were foundational and groundbreaking. But how much of Kant’s views do you want to cover? If you’re writing about the Categorical Imperative, how much of Kantian ethics should you cover? Or if you’re writing about whether a priori synthetic judgments are possible, will you restrict your essay to this topic only, or will you do an overview of The Critique of Pure Reason?

    Scope is very important. Without a clearly defined vision, you won’t know where to go with your essay. But without limits on what you’ll cover, you may find yourself wandering aimlessly, trying to cover way too much material. Remember that it’s much better to have a 5-page paper that clearly defines your perspective, than a 50-page paper tome that doesn’t really make a point.

  3. Be flexible:
    Sometimes essays, like most writing, can take on a life of their own. You may start out wanting to cover one thing, only to realize that your research and writing have led, logically, to something else. While you should definitely have a vision, you should not allow it to prevent you from modifying your direction—or perhaps even your scope—as logic would dictate while writing certain essays.

So, define your vision and determine your scope. Be flexible, making adjustments to your original plan as conditions merit.

Get It Down—Edit It Later

Get It Down—Edit It Later

Many a great idea, profound insight, or creative vision may have been lost because it was not written down in time—and was then forgotten, sometimes never to be retrieved.

Perhaps you’ve heard the story of the Samuel Taylor Coleridge classic, Kubla Khan. The author had fallen asleep and had experienced vivid and unusual dreams, which he thought would amount to several hundred lines of great poetry. Upon awaking, he eagerly began writing down what he had dreamt about. Then, having been called out by someone on business, he was detained for over an hour. When he returned, he found that he could remember very little of what was so fresh in his mind only a short time ago.

Addressing the subject of the fragility of inspired thoughts, philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer, in his essay, On Noise, asks the following question:

How many great and splendid thoughts, I should like to know, have been lost to the world by the crack of a whip?

Schopenhauer laments noise, particularly unnecessary noise (such as the cracking of whips, which was commonly done by chariot drivers in his day) since it could cause a thinking person to completely lose his or her train of thought.

But it doesn’t require an imposing visitor or an excess of noise to cause a writer to lose a good thought. All that has to happen is for one to get too involved in the mechanics of writing. Proper proofreading and editing are essential, but they should not be done in the beginning. Rather, this is a time for creative flow, for one’s thoughts to come pouring out onto the page. Get them out, and then clean up the grammar, etc. later.

In fact, there’s a way to avoid the tedium of the editing process entirely. Companies such as Papercheck make it possible for writers to write (the fun part) and editors to edit (the not-quite-as-fun-but-still-frightfully-important part). Whether you choose to self-edit or have your documents edited professionally, remember to get it down—edit it later.

The Importance of Correct Citations

The Importance of Correct Citations

If you’re doing an essay, it’s very likely you’re going to be citing quotations from works by other authors. Sometimes these works will be from conventional sources, such as books and journals. At other times, it may be necessary to use more contemporary sources such as websites, blogs, online conferences, PowerPoint presentations, etc. Whatever the sources of your information, it is very important to use correct procedures when using citations.

There are actually two parts of this to consider: in-text citations and references. But before we get to that, it should be pointed out that there are many different style guides, and different places have varying preferences. The two most common, however, are APA (American Psychological Association) and MLA (Modern Language Association). Of these two, APA seems the more commonly used, although MLA is prevalent at many universities. For the purpose of this short discussion, we’ll look at APA.

One of the most common citations you make will look something like this:

According to Smith (2003), “Adhering to all APA guidelines when writing can be somewhat tedious.” (p. 199).

At the end of your paper, you’d have a References Cited page, and on that page you would have the necessary information about the work you’re citing from:

Smith, M. A. (2003). Why citing sources is so time-consuming. Using Time Wisely Journal, 85, 110-115.

The main problem you’ll find when writing essays that use quotations from other authors is this: it can really take awhile. And you have to follow different citation procedures, depending on which type of media source you’re using.

Because of this, the complete rules are impossible to remember. That’s why it can be a good idea to invest in a style manual, which will let you know just what you need to do. There is another option, however. To avoid the tedious, time-consuming mess of confirming your references, let a pro from an editing company like Papercheck handle it for you.

When Should I Use an Apostrophe?

When Should I Use an Apostrophe?

If you ever want to see an English teacher cringe, let him or her see something like this:

“Theyve got 100’s of CD’s and DVD’s at the malls music store’s.”

Yikes! (Or should I say Yike’s?!) There is an incredible amount of confusion (and, admittedly, apathy) about the correct use of apostrophes (that’s apostrophes, not apostrophe’s).

Generally, apostrophes only have two basic functions. First, they may be used to denote a contraction such as don’t for do not or can’t for cannot. For some reason, people often mistake the distinction between its and it’s (please note that its’ is never used). The possessive form of it is its, not it’s.

Example: Its best feature is that it’s economically priced.

Second, apostrophes are used to indicate that something belongs to someone or something:

Example:My wife’s cooking is absolutely yummy.

Third, when talking about something belonging to more than one person or thing, the apostrophe goes on the other side of the “s”:

Example:The kids’ clothes are out on the line.

Finally, never use an apostrophe to make a plural. I’ve seen signs such as “pony ride’s,” “egg’s,” and “tortilla’s.” Such errors should be diligently avoided, as it may cause readers to assume you have no idea what you’re talking about.

Incidentally, the opening example would be correctly written as:

“They’ve got 100s of CDs and DVDs at the mall’s music stores.”

To make sure your writing is correct in every way, consider a professional editing service such as Papercheck.