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Using Sources Effectively

Finding a good topic to write about and establishing a strong thesis statement is challenging. Realizing that you must come up with 15 different sources and manage to use all of them in your paper, however, can be anxiety-inducing. You start to panic, so you begin to pick random quotes and stick them in the middle of a paragraph hoping they’re relevant. In the end, you end up with a mediocre grade for something that took you so long and caused you so much stress. Don’t fret. There is a method to this madness. Below are some tips and tricks to help you navigate the seemingly mountainous task of using your sources effectively.

Plan Ahead

If your assignment requires you to use a great number of sources, make sure you start working on gathering them ahead of time. Find all of your references and list them out in order of relevance to your topic and/or thesis statement. Then, begin reading from the most relevant sources. Some may seem like they’re a mile long, but you don’t have to read everything. Read the first few pages, the middle few pages, and the last few pages of the source. Most articles also have headings and subheadings that help guide you to the most useful information for your specific topic.

Prepare your best choice of weapons, such as pens and highlighters, and brace yourself to tackle the giant beast! Highlight keywords or phrases as well as statistics. Then, in your own words, summarize research studies and expert testimonies. Before you know it, you have condensed your source into digestible bits of information you actually understand.

You Did Not Plan Ahead; You Need a Plan B

If you did not plan ahead and are in a crunch for time, all hope is not lost. Flip through the Psalms for some encouragement and prepare to win the race against time. Choose a few sources you think you would be able to use with the ticking clock in mind. Don’t forget, you have to actually write the paper too. It is better to use fewer sources well rather than to use multiple sources poorly.

It is better to use fewer sources well rather than to use multiple sources poorly.

Once you’ve picked the sources you want to use, start applying the methods described above. If you need extra speed, read and highlight the first sentence of every paragraph. This gives you a general understanding of the sources’ claims about your topic. You can summarize and paraphrase these claims and put them to use!

Making It Make Sense

Using direct quotes, statistics, and other facts can make your paper seem choppy if it lacks organization. The key to using sources effectively is asking yourself a simple question: why? Why did you choose that particular source in this particular part of the paper? Once you are able to answer this question, you can be sure you are using the quotes and paraphrases correctly. Connect all the dots for the reader, reiterate implied ideas for clarification, and make sure it all agrees with your thesis statement. It is also extremely important that you alternate between direct quotes and paraphrases throughout your paper.

Connect all the dots for the reader, reiterate implied ideas for clarification, and make sure it all agrees with your thesis statement.

Conclusion

Condensing and digesting the information found within sources might look a little different for each student; however, the overall goal should be gaining a clear understanding of the reason for the use of that particular source. It is also important that the reader can discern your own thoughts from a mere summarization of the sources. Practice evoking the question or prompt and your answer to it, also known as the thesis statement. And don’t forget, cite your sources!

Written by Kenean 

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The Mysterious Creature

In Lenape, Deleware, the native people believe that if they dream of an owl it means it will become their guardian. The Dakota Hidatsa Indians believe the owls are protectors; even in Greek mythology, owls symbolized wisdom. These theories aren’t true, but owls have something very special and unique about them.

Owls can be found in all parts of the world, including North America, which is home to almost 20 different owl species. The only place you will not find one of these beloved creatures is in Antarctica because the climate is simply too cold. These creatures are unique in many ways: one being that they have 14 cervical vertebrae. Which means they can rotate their necks 270 degrees! An owl’s eyes are completely immobile, giving it binocular vision to focus in on its prey. Did you know they hunt each other? Great horned owls are at the top of the species’ food chain and prey on smaller barn owls.

Owls and humans have been friends for a long time. Hieroglyphs in Ancient Egypt show our relationship with these stunning creatures going back over 30,000 years ago. However, we can’t get too friendly with these birds; it is illegal to keep an owl as a pet in the United States. This is for a good reason though; they attack humans if they feel threatened anyway.  The relation between owls and writing centers is that Purdue OWL was the first-ever writing center to create an online writing lab and email services. Ever since then, owls have been the face of writing centers across the nation.

Written by Princess

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Letter to the Adult-student Writer

Dear Working-Adult Student,

Hi, my (likely) stressed out friend. If you’re anything like I was when I decided to attend college at the ripe old age of 39, you have a family, one or more jobs (I had three), bills to pay, a home to clean, laundry piling up around you, a vehicle that needs regular maintenance, perhaps parents who need attention or care, and a myriad of other concerns that distract you from the business of classwork and study. In addition to those responsibilities, most of us have concerns about how things within the classroom have changed. Many of us feel like a duck in a forest: we’re old enough to be parents to those sitting by us, and that creates discomfort. There were times I felt that I couldn’t participate effectively because my background and ideas seemed so out of step with my younger classmates. I was flabbergasted at the expectations of and formatting used for papers, and I was terrified of using a computer for my written work. In fact, I spent much of my time feeling pretty overwhelmed, underprepared, and inadequate. Maybe you are feeling some of those things, too.

Friends, let me assure you that you can successfully earn that degree. You may have to delegate some chores at home and let some things slide, but you can juggle the most important things, and you can be a successful essay and research-paper writer. How do I know that? Because I was, and I hadn’t written a thing since my last English class in high school 20 years earlier! The truth is that sentence structure and the meaning of words haven’t changed over the course of our lifetimes. The shifts in language are so gradual as to be almost invisible to all but professional linguists, and that makes writing easier than we think it will be.

Oh sure, we may not be as up-to-date on slang or texting styles as our younger classmates, but they may not understand how to be formal in the same ways we do. We’ve worked in various settings. We know that talking with a prospective employer or current boss requires a formality that is foreign to most young people. We know how to persuade others: we persuade spouses and children, we persuade colleagues, and we persuade aging parents. So, we got this.

It’s likely that you don’t recall all the writing, grammar, or other academic terminology you learned in school. I sure didn’t. Nevertheless, we do know important things. Things like complete sentences. Things like how to successfully navigate the unknown or new. Things like negotiation. Things like how to meet deadlines. Things like how to organize time. Things like how to put the important stuff first. Things like not procrastinating until the last minute. All those things we know serve us well when writing essays and papers. We already know how to order activities; ordering thoughts comes easily when considering how well we already order work and family life.

What we may not know is that most universities have Writing Centers. (Yes, this may be a bit of a commercial, but bear with me because it will matter to you, too.) In these facilities, there are well-trained people who know the mechanics of writing, grammar, and formatting. They are there to help all students, faculty, and staff organize written class work. Most centers have extended hours and special tools to assist working-adult writers who find it difficult if not impossible to get to campus after working all day. Additionally, most writing-center people are willing to allow all students to decompress before diving into papers. Those writing helpers understand the pressures of writing papers, and they are all good listeners who are ready, willing, and able to give us time to talk and before helping make papers the best they can be. I used my own Writing Center staff for all my graduate papers, and you, too, should use your university writing center, my friend. You’ll be glad you did.

Sincerely shared from my personal experience,

DBU Students: For more information about the services offered by the Dallas Baptist University Writing Center, check out this link to our website. You’ll also find links to our various handouts and pamphlets on all things writing, as well as encouragement in your academic journey.

Letter to the Unsure Writer

Dear Unsure Writer,

We’ve all been there: the place where we’ve written a paper and turned it in, and we’re afraid of the possibility of a failing grade. We’ve all produced papers that we feel are not up to par with the grades we want on them. But take heart! We don’t always have to feel like what we’ve done isn’t good enough. There are a few ways to check and make sure that the work we’re about to turn in is exactly what we want it to be.

The first and easiest way is to simply read the paper out loud, especially from the first to the last paragraph. Take 10-15 minutes to sit down with the paper and go through it. People often find that by reading their work out loud, confusing phrases and typos are brought to light and can be easily fixed. The ear is the best tool to check for mistakes after slaving over a paper for who-knows-how-long, but remember to spend some time away from the work before reading it to give the brain a break.

Get a friend or two to read it. Not only can they catch typing and phrasing aberrations, they can tell if the ideas present in the paper go along with what the writer wants to say. This prevents rabbit trails and ensures every point refers back to the thesis. Plus, it isn’t the author tiredly rereading the same material without actually noticing anything wrong. Most of the time, minor errors that were previously over looked could add up to a large percentage of points counted off by the professor.

Ask the professor if s/he will take a rough draft and give comments/corrections. The professor is the one grading the final product, so s/he knows what is desired when the work is turned in. This is a great way to understand which direction to go on a paper and ensure that the all the guidelines set by the professor are met. S/he can give helpful advice either on the paper or what to do if s/he will not look at a rough draft.

Finally, the option that will give authors the most help possible: visit the University Writing Center (UWC). At the Center, a trained consultant is able to sit down with authors and walk through their papers in a friendly, helpful way. The consultants at the UWC are well trained in the most up-to-date practices and rules of grammar and writing needs. They are paid to walk alongside students with their works, so why not set up an appointment to go through a paper? Their job is to help all writers become more confident in their skills and to make sure those writers understand what mistakes they make on a regular basis so they can be fixed. A consultation may bring to light some obscure meanings or flow issues that had not been detected by the author’s ear or friends.

After working hard on a paper, it is a wise decision to get all the help available in order to be confident about the product being turned in. There is no need to be unsure about the work produced when so many options are available to help improve it.

So the next time a paper is due, don’t feel uncomfortable about the work being submitted. Take advantage of the many choices available, especially the UWC, in order to be confident with the final product.

Written by Maddison

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Letter to the Overwhelmed Writer

Dear Overwhelmed Writer,

First of all, you are not alone. Even the most experienced writers can get bogged down in ideas, sources, and deadlines. I have learned from experience that writing assignments can definitely be stressful. Sometimes the page count is just too daunting, or the right words are hard to find. However, I have some good news: no matter what it is you’re struggling with, it can be overcome.

For starters, a good way to cut down on the stress of writing assignments, no matter what kind, is to go into the writing process with everything already prepared. If the writing process is for a paper, gather all of the sources, quotes, and information ahead of time and have them readily accessible. If you’re writing a story, write out the main idea and make sure that it makes sense and that all the important details are accounted for. Next, outline. Every piece of writing should start as an outline. Any easy way is to go scene by scene or paragraph by paragraph and write down the ideas and information you want to use in that section. The easiest way is to also include any quotes or statistics with their sources in the outline, to avoid having to hunt them down later. Then, when the writing process starts, it’s just a matter of converting the ideas into words. However, the key is to do all of the preparation ahead of time instead of the night before. Researching and outlining can sometimes be a long process, and an impending deadline can cut the writing time short.

Although the worst is now over, writing itself can sometimes cause anxiety. There are many times where the right words just aren’t coming to mind. For situations like this, a thesaurus will be your best friend. It helps a lot to be able to look up similar words that will often lead to a better synonym. Another tip that often helps with writing is waiting until after the work is completely done to do any editing. Getting caught up in going back and making changes slows down the process and sometimes the entire work needs to be complete to be able to tell if an idea makes sense or not. If necessary, cover the entire screen except for the line or two you are currently working on. Then, once it’s finished, go back and check for spelling, grammar, and fluency. Also, don’t be afraid to ask for help if it feels like things aren’t going well. The Writing Center can be a great resource, and having a second set of eyes can help.

There you go: some tips to get you through the stress of the writing process. Now that you know how to beat the overwhelming feeling, you have all the power in the world. Next time you feel the anxiety setting in, start early and be prepared; you’ve got this in the bag. So, go forth and write!

Written by Taylor

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Letter to the Student-Athlete Writer

Dear Student-Athlete Writer,

First of all, you have my sincerest apologies. I’m sorry that Hollywood and the media have given the name “Student-Athlete Writer” an unfortunate, negative stigma. For some reason, along with countless other offensive and inaccurate archetypes, popular culture has crafted and exploited the false stereotype of the dumb jock. It’s unfair, it’s stupid, and we wish it didn’t exist.

Second, and more importantly though, you have our highest respect. The team here in the Writing Center does not view student-athlete writers in any negative light. You awe and inspire us, and if we’re being frank, most of us wish we had an inch of the talent God has blessed you with. We know that you work harder than many of your peers, are just as academically capable as your peers, and are going to achieve great things both now and in the future.

Refuse to believe the lie that you are not skilled enough, prepared enough, or designed well-enough by your Creator to hurdle the obstacles that stand between where you are today and the distinguished accomplishment of graduating as an athlete and a scholar. Sometimes the lies come from well-meaning loved ones, sometimes they come from ignorant strangers on the internet, and sometimes they come from your own mind. Wherever they come from, throw them out now.

Missing class to travel for games is tough, but it doesn’t mean that you cannot be fully prepared to write your papers. The consultants in the Writing Center are available to help you at every stage of your writing process. An assignment instruction sheet and a willing attitude are all that is required for us to begin helping you, and if you’re willing, we will stick with you through the rough draft, the revision process, and the final formatting. If you have access to Wi-Fi while traveling with the team, we can even help you via Blackboard’s Collaborate. We never correct papers because we view our services as a way to help students learn how to become better writers. Our goal in every session is to help you improve your current paper and future papers by equipping you as a writer.

Writing mechanics are not easy; thesis statements, academic language, and proper citations can be intimidating prospects for anyone, but you are better skilled for the task than you may imagine. The playbook you have memorized in your head is infinitely more complicated than the formatting packets we can walk you through step by step. While the rules for academic writing may be tedious and unconventional, they pale in comparison to the complexity of the penalties, scoring techniques, and winning strategies of your sport. Thesis statements are difficult to compose, but they are no more difficult than breaking a full-court press, snagging a game-winning out, or coming back from a love-40 deficit.

Most importantly, you have the capability to be a successful college writer because your brain is hardwired for success. As a student-athlete writer, you have the advantages of discipline, longevity, and perseverance to help you tackle your writing endeavors. Athletes do not see difficulties that result in defeat; they see challenges that develop champions. It takes incredible mental strength to push through two-a-day practices, and the analytical power it takes for a batter to calculate the speed of a fastball or for a goalie to predict the trajectory of a goal attempt is beyond most people’s comprehension. Only a special kind of person is willing to test the mental and physical limits of his or her body under the scrutinizing eyes of the public, knowing his or her performance will either be a delight or a disappointment.

If you can do that, dare we say you can do anything?

Please don’t hesitate to visit our office or call and schedule an appointment. We want to see you go above and beyond your personal academic expectations and become the proficient, effective writer that you hold the potential to be. Like a knowledgeable coach, an encouraging teammate, and supportive parent all wrapped up into one, the Writing Center wants to be there to assist you every step of the way.

-The Writing Center

PS: One of our director’s favorite former consultants was a student-athlete writer. We don’t just love student-athlete writers who visit; we love the ones who work for us, too!

Written by Savanna

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The Pen Dripped Red

To celebrate our recent 100th blog post, the UWC decided we’d look at the most popular blogs from each of our authors.

Mine… was from a year and a half ago.

My boss, who was just asking out of curiosity, inquired what the thesis of my blog post was. With some trepidation, I looked at the document and tried to remind myself what the heck I’d said. My memory was (and is) terrible. And, apparently, my grammar back then was just as equally despicable. I projected my despair to the general populace. How could I possibly reintroduce such a rough blog to the web? I wanted to either fix or re-write the entire thing. My wonderful supervisor thought showing the process of revision was a wonderful idea, and this was born. Behold, the markup of an author revising his own work! Enjoy its glorious, red-filled pages and the extent to which I tear my own words apart as they flee in terror.

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Presented by Isaac

Image credits: Header image, Evil Laughter Cat