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Advice for Students: 10 Steps Toward Better Writing

Advice for Students: 10 Steps Toward Better Writing
Better Writing

    Writing well is easily one of the most sought-after and useful skills in the business world. Ironically, it is one of the rarest and most undervalued skills among students, and few professors have the time, resources, or skills to teach writing skills effectively. What follows are a handful of tips and general principles to help you develop your writing skills, which will not only improve your grades (the most worthless indicator of academic progress) but will help develop your ability to think and explain the most difficult topics. Although directed at students, most of this advice applies equally well to any sort of writing; in the end, good writing is not limited to one context or another.

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    1. Pace yourself. Far too many students start their papers the night before they are due and write straight through until their deadline. Most have even deceived themselves into thinking they write best this way. They don’t. Professors give out assignments at the beginning of the semester for a reason: so that you have ample time to plan, research, write, and revise a paper. Taking advantage of that time means that not only will you produce a better paper but you’ll do so with less stress and without losing a night of sleep (or partying) the evening of the due date. Block out time at the beginning of the semester — e.g. 2 weeks for research, 2 weeks for writing, 2 weeks to let your draft “sit”, and a few days to revise and proofread. During your writing time, set aside time to write a little bit each day (500 words is incredibly doable, usually in less than an hour — a short blog post is that long!) and “park downhill” when you’re done — that is, end your writing session at a place where you’ll be able to easily pick up the thread the next day.
    2. Plan, then write. For some reason, the idea of planning out a paper strikes fear deep into the hearts of most students — it’s as if they consider themselves modernist artists of the word, and any attempt to direct the course of their brilliance would sully the pure artistic expression that is their paper. This is, in a word, dumb. There is no successful writer who does not plan his work before he starts writing — and if he says he does, he’s lying. Granted, not every writer, or even most, bothers with a traditional formal outline with Roman numerals, capital letters, Arabic numerals, lowercase letters, lowercase Roman numerals, and so on. An outline can be a mindmap, a list of points to cover, a statement of purpose, a mental image of your finished paper — even, if you’re good, the first paragraph you write. See the introduction to this post? That’s an outline: it tells you what I’m going to talk about, how I’m going to talk about it, and what you can expect to find in the rest of the paper. It’s not very complete; my real outline for this post was scribbled on my bedside notebook and consisted of a headline and a list of the ten points I wanted to cover.

      Whatever form it takes, an effective outline accomplishes a number of things. It provides a ruler to measure your progress against as you’re writing. It acts as a reminder to make sure you cover your topic as fully as possible. It offers writing prompts when you get stuck. A good outline allows you to jump back and forth, attacking topics as your thinking or your research allows, rather than waiting to see what you write on page six before deciding what you should write about on page seven. Finally, having a plan at hand helps keep you focused on the goals you’ve set for the paper, leading to better writing than the “making it up as you go along” school of writing to which most students seem to subscribe.

    3. Start in the middle. One of the biggest problems facing writers of all kinds is figuring out how to start. Rather than staring at a blank screen until it’s burned into your retinas trying to think of something awe-inspiring and profound to open your paper with, skip the introduction and jump in at paragraph two. You can always come back and write another paragraph at the top when you’re done — but then again, you might find you don’t need to. As it turns out, the first paragraph or so are usually the weakest, as we use them to warm up to our topic rather than to do any useful work.
    4. Write crappy first drafts. Give up the fantasy of writing sterling prose in your first go-around. You aren’t Jack Kerouac (and even he wrote some crummy prose) and you aren’t writing the Great American Novel (and Kerouac beat you to it, anyway). Write secure in the knowledge that you can fix your mistakes later. Don’t let the need to look up a fact or to think through a point get in the way of your writerly flow — just put a string of x’es or note to yourself in curly brackets {like this} and move on. Ignore the rules of grammar and format — just write. You can fix your mistakes when you proofread. What you write doesn’t matter, what you rewrite is what matters.
    5. Don’t plagiarize. Plagiarism is much more than lifting papers off the Internet — it’s copying phrases from Wikipedia or another site without including a reference and enclosing the statement in quotes, it’s summarizing someone else’s argument or using their data without noting the source, it’s including anything in your paper that is not your own original thought and not including a pointer to where it comes from. Avoid ever using another person’s work in a way that even suggests it is your own.

      Be sparing in your use of other people’s work, even properly cited. A paper that is essentially a string of quotes and paraphrases with a minimum of your on words is not going to be a good paper, even though each quote and paraphrase is followed by a perfectly formed reference.

    6. Use directions wisely. Make sure your paper meets the requirements spelled out in the assignment. The number one question most students ask is “how long does it have to be?” The real answer, no matter what the instructions say, is that every paper needs to be exactly as long as it needs to be to make its point. However, almost every topic can be stretched to fill out a book, or condensed down to a one-page summary; by including a page-count, your professor is giving you a target not for the number of words but for the level of detail you should include.

      Contrary to popular opinion, writing shorter papers well is much harder than writing longer papers. If your professor asks you to write 8 – 10 pages, it’s not because she doesn’t think you can write more than ten pages on your topic; more likely, it’s because she doesn’t think you can write less than eight.

    7. Avoid Wikipedia. I admit, I am a big fan of Wikipedia. It is generally well-researched, authoritative, and solidly written. But I cringe when students cite Wikipedia in their papers, especially when they use the worst possible introductory strategy: “According to Wikipedia, [subject of paper] is [quote from Wikipedia].” Wikipedia — and any other general-purpose encyclopedia — is really not a suitable source for college-level work. It’s there as a place to look up facts quickly, to gain a cursory understanding of a topic, not to present detailed examinations of academic subjects. Wikipedia is where you should start your research, but the understanding that forms the core of a good academic paper (or nearly any other kind of paper) should be much deeper and richer than Wikipedia offers. But don’t take my word for it: Jimmy Wales, one of Wikipedia’s founders, has very openly discouraged students from using his creation as a source.
    8. Focus on communicating your purpose.Revise your paper at least once, focusing on how well each line directs your readers towards the understanding you’ve set out to instill in them. Every sentence should direct your reader towards your conclusion. Ask yourself, “Does this sentence add to my argument or just take up space? Does it follow from the sentence before, and lead into the following sentence? Is the topic of each paragraph clear? Does each sentence in the paragraph contribute to a deeper understanding of the paragraph’s topic?” Revising your paper is where the magic happens — when you’re done with your first draft, your understanding of your subject will be much greater than it was when you started writing; use that deeper knowledge to clarify and enrich your writing. Revision should take about the same time as writing — say 15 – 30 minutes a page.
    9. Proofread. Proofreading is a separate thing entirely from revision, and should be the last thing you do before declaring a paper “finished”. This is where you’ll want to pay attention to your grammar — make sure every sentence has a subject and a verb, and that they agree with each other. Fix up all the spelling errors, especially the ones that spell-checking misses (like “there” and “their”). Certainly run your word processor’s spell-checker, but that’s the beginning, not the end, of proofreading. One good trick is to proofread your paper backwards — look at the last word, then the second-to-last word, then the third-to-last word, and so on. This forces your brain to look at each word out of its original context, which means that your memory of what you wanted to write won’t get in the way of seeing what you actually did write.
    10. Conclude something. Don’t confuse a “conclusion” with a “summary”. The last paragraph or two should be the culmination of your argument, not a rehash of it. Explain the findings of your research, propose an explanation for the data presented, point out avenues for future research, or point out the significance of the facts you’ve laid out in your paper. The conclusion should be a strong resolution to the paper, not a weak recapitulation tacked on to pad out the page count.

    The best way to improve your writing is to write, as much as you can. The tips above will help give you direction and point out areas where you are likely to find weaknesses that undermine your written work. What tricks have you come up with to make the process of writing more productive and less painful?

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    Last Updated on November 17, 2019

    40 Amazing Date Ideas for Valentine’s Day

    40 Amazing Date Ideas for Valentine’s Day

    With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, starry-eyed lovers worldwide are getting ready to celebrate their love and planning the perfect date for their partner. However, there are many loving, caring, and generally great people out there who simply can’t think of a single romantic thing to do, let alone create the ultimate Valentine’s Day experience for their loved one. If you are looking for some great date ideas that will put a smile on your partner’s face and melt their heart, then just keep on reading. I’ve got a pretty big list of choices for you. Here are some great ideas ranging from tried and true classics, to the fun and slightly unconventional.

    1. Rom-coms marathon

    This is a very basic yet highly romantic way of spending the day with your partner. Take a few days to prepare the right playlist and create a romantic atmosphere at home. You can order out some food, open a bottle of wine and cuddle up in front of the TV.

    2. Recreate your first date

    Rated pretty high on the “romantic gestures scale,” this is guaranteed to impress your significant other. It requires a good memory and a bit of work to make it just right, but it is well worth it. Walk down the same streets where you first kissed and have a couple of drinks in that old coffee shop where you had your first drinks together. Don’t be afraid to spend a bit extra and add a little romantic gift into the mix.

    3. Cook for your loved one

    Start researching good recipes for a romantic dinner for two, get the right ingredients and prepare a couple of practice dinners to make sure you’ve got your technique and presentation down pat. Cooking for someone can be a big turn on and you can create some incredible meals without spending too much money. Take it up a notch by dressing classy, decorating your dining room and presenting your partner with a printed menu.

    4. Organize your very own ancient Greek party

    Here’s another one of those creative date ideas for the stay-at-home couple. The ancient Greek private party can be a very fun and erotic experience. You can decorate by using big bowls full of grapes, spreading some white sheets all over the place, placing some plastic vines here and there, putting up a few posters depicting Greek parties and having plenty of wine lying around. Wear nothing but light sheets or costumes and channel some of that hot-blooded Greek spirit.

    5. A romantic weekend getaway in the mountains

    For those looking for a change of scenery and an escape from the busy city, there is nothing better than a quiet, romantic weekend in the mountains. There are plenty of fun activities like skiing that will keep you active. You can have fun making a snowman or engaging in a snowball fight, and, of course, there is plenty of privacy and great room service waiting for you back at your room.

    6. Fun day at the shooting range

    A bit unconventional but an incredibly fun and exciting date that will get your blood pumping and put a huge smile on your faces. Try out a number of guns and have a bit of a competition. Some outdoor ranges have fully automatic rifles, which are a blast to shoot.

    7. Rent an expensive sports car for a day

    Don’t be afraid to live large from time to time—even if you can’t afford the glamorous lifestyle of the stars, you can most definitely play pretend for a day. Put on some classy clothes and drive around town in a rented sports car. The quick acceleration and high speed are sure to provide an exhilarating experience.

    8. Go on a shopping spree together

    Very few things can elicit such a huge dopamine rush as a good old shopping spree. Get some new lingerie, pretty shoes, a nice shirt and tie, a couple of new video games or whatever else you need or want. This is a unique chance to bond, have fun and get some stuff that you’ve been waiting to buy for a while now.

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    9. Hit the clubs

    For all the party animals out there, one of the best date ideas is to go out drinking, dancing, and just generally enjoying the night life. Visit a few good clubs, then go to an after-party and keep that party spirit going for as long as you can.

    10. Spend the day driving around the city and visiting new places

    This one is geared towards couples who have been together for a year or two and want to experience a few new things together. Visit a few cool coffee places on the other side of town, check out interesting restaurants you’ve never been to, and consider going to see a play or having fun at a comedy club on open mic night.

    11. Wine and chocolates at sunset

    Pick out a romantic location, such as a camping spot on a hill overlooking the city or a balcony in a restaurant with a nice view, open a bottle of wine and a box of chocolates and wait for that perfect moment when the sky turns fiery red to embrace and share a passionate kiss.

    12. Ice skating

    There is something incredibly fun about ice skating that brings people closer together and just keeps you laughing (maybe it’s all the falling and clinging to the other person for dear life). You can have some great fun and then move on to a more private location for some alone time.

    13. Body painting

    Speaking of private locations and intimate moments, body painting allows you to spice things up back at your place and add a new element of fun to foreplay. You’ll need adequate body paints and some brushes and the rest is up to you. You can do tiger stripes, paint a t-shirt on your partner, or go for something more abstract—the choice is yours.

    14. Model clothes for each other

    This one goes well when combined with a shopping spree, but you can just get a bunch of your clothes—old and new—from the closet, set up a catwalk area and then try on different combinations. You can be stylish, funny or beautiful. It’s a great after-dinner show and a good way to transition into a more intimate atmosphere.

    15. Dance the night away

    If you and your significant other are relatively good dancers, or if you simply enjoy moving your body to the rhythm of the music, then a night at salsa club or similar venue is the perfect thing for you. Alternatively, you can set up dance floor at home, play your favorite music, have a few drinks and dance like there is no tomorrow.

    16. Lock the doors, turn off the phones and have the whole house to yourselves

    This one might seem a bit obvious and kind of redundant seeing as how I’ve already mentioned a bunch of stay-at-home date ideas that require this step as a prerequisite, but when I say, “Have the whole house to yourselves,” I literally mean turning the whole house into romantic stage where you can explore your fantasies. Decorate each room a bit differently, have a lot of snacks and drinks lying around, put a bunch of blankets and pillows on the floor and go from room to room throughout the day. You can start off with a steaming shower, have a romantic meal, then watch a movie cuddled up on the couch and eventually make your way to the bedroom.

    17. Organize a nature walk

    Being outside has many health benefits, but what you are going for is the beautiful view, seclusion, and the thrill of engaging in some erotic behavior out in the open. You can rent a cottage far from the city, bring some food and drinks, and explore the wilderness. This is nice way to spice things up a bit and get away from the loud and busy city life.

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    18. Act out a fun scenario wearing costumes

    Some role-playing may be just the thing you need to spice up your love life after a few years of being together, but it can be a very fun experience for new couples as well. Work on the scenario together (wounded soldier and nurse, a female cop arresting a robber, etc.), buy the right costumes and accessories beforehand and find a good setting. You could also rent a hotel room to add to the forbidden-fruit vibe.

    19. Travel abroad

    This takes a bit of planning in advance and may be a bit costly, but if you can afford it, there are very few things that can match a trip to France, Italy, Egypt, Turkey, Greece, or a number of other excellent locations.

    20. Go on a hot-air balloon ride

    These are very fun and romantic—you get an incredible view, get to experience the thrill of flying, and you’ve got enough room for a romantic dinner and some champagne. Just be sure to wear warm clothes, it can get pretty cold high up in the air.

    21. A relaxing day at the spa

    Treat your body, mind and senses to a relaxing day at the spa. You and your partner will feel fresh, comfortable and relaxed—a perfect date for the more serious couples who don’t get to spend as much time with each other as they’d like.

    22. A trip down memory lane

    This one is great for long-term couples who will benefit from reminiscing about all of their fondest memories together from the start of the relationship through to the present, reliving some of the most significant moments they shared.

    23. Fun times at a karaoke bar

    A great choice for couples celebrating their first Valentine’s Day together—it’s fairly informal and inexpensive, yet incredibly fun and allows for deeper bonding. Once you have a few drinks in your system and come to terms with the fact that you are making a complete fool of yourself, you’ll have the time of your life!

    24. Helicopter tour of the city followed by dinner

    A modern equivalent to the hot-air balloon ride, the helicopter tour is among the more reasonably priced date ideas and is incredibly romantic and exciting. After about half an hour or an hour of sightseeing you can finish off the upper-class experience by dining in a nice restaurant.

    25. Horseback riding

    Horseback riding is incredibly fun, especially if you’ve never done it before. And what girl doesn’t dream of a prince coming to take her on an adventure on his noble steed? It evokes a sense of nobility and is a very good bonding experience.

    26. Plan a fun date night with other couples

    Take a break and rent a cabin in the woods, go to a mountain resort, a couple’s retreat, or just organize a huge date night at someone’s place and hang out with other couples. This is a great option for couples who have spent at least one Valentine’s Day together and allows you to customize your experience to suit your needs. Also, you can always retire early and get some alone time with your partner if you so desire.

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    27. Cocktail night

    This can be done privately, or with other couples if you are organizing a group Valentine’s Day celebration at someone’s house. All you need is a bunch of different drinks, a few accessories like fruit and spices, and internet access to check out some cool recipes online. Try out all sorts of fun cocktails and mix some brand new ones on your own. Make it a fancy dress night for added fun.

    28. Make reservations at an exclusive restaurant

    A fairly old school move, except this time you can pick out a restaurant that serves a particular type of cuisine you’ve never tried before. Go for a place that has unusual menus and likes to make a show out of presenting the food, rather than just going for your regular “suits and monocles” type venue.

    29. Go to a concert

    There are a whole bunch of things happening around Valentine’s Day, so go online and check out what’s happening near you. You’ll surely be able to find tickets for a cool concert or some type of festival with live music.

    30. Fancy night on the town

    Buy some elegant new clothes, rent a limo for the night and go to a nice restaurant, followed by a jazz club or gallery exhibition. Walk tall, make a few sarcastic quips, and have a few laughs with your partner while letting your inner snob take charge for a few hours.

    31. Take a tour of the historical and cultural sites of your city

    For the cultured crowd and history buffs among us, a day spent learning about some of the local history and delving deeper into national culture is both incredibly fun and a great way to share a unique experience with a loved one. You’d be surprised to find just how much you don’t know about the place you live in.

    32. Live out a James Bond film at a casino

    A beautiful lady in a simple yet sensual, form-fitting, black dress, and a strong and handsome, if somewhat stern-looking man in a fine suit walk up to a roulette table with drinks in hand and place bets at random as they smile at each other seductively. This is a scenario most of us wish to play out, but rarely get a chance. It can be a bit costly, but this is one of the most incredibly adventurous and romantic date ideas.

    33. Go bungee jumping

    People in long-term relationships often talk about things like keeping a relationship fun and exciting, doing new things together, trusting each other and using aphrodisiacs. Well, bungee jumping is a fun, exhilarating activity you can both enjoy; it requires trust and the adrenaline rush you get from it is better than any aphrodisiac out there. Just saying, give it a shot and you won’t regret it.

    34. Take a tour of a winery or brewery

    Taking a tour like this can be a great opportunity to learn new things about wine or beer (or perhaps whiskey) and how it is made, while at the same time getting a chance to taste some excellent drinks and get a few bottles for later in the evening.

    35. Make a fun music video

    Meet up earlier in the day, take decent camera, and start shooting a music video. Rehearse the lyrics (you can even make up your own silly song), dress up, and start filming. You’ll have tons of fun doing it and you can edit the video later and have a cool memento.

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    36. Play some sports

    Some one-on-one basketball, a soccer match against another couple, a bit of tennis, or even something as simple as a table tennis tournament (make it fun by stripping off items of clothing when you lose a game). You can combine this with date idea #13 and paint team uniforms on each other and play in the nude.

    37. Visit a club with live music

    A great option for just about any couple—pick a club that has live performers (whether it’s jazz, rock or even a poetry reading) and dress up for the occasion. Be sure to make reservations in advance to avoid the Valentine’s Day rush, and focus on making your date feel comfortable.

    38. Take skydiving lessons

    Another adrenaline-filled date, skydiving is sure to get your heart racing like crazy and leave you with a goofy grin for the rest of the day. You can offset all the excitement by ending the day with a quiet dinner at home.

    39. Go for some paintball

    Playing war games is an excellent way to get your body moving, focus on some of that hand-eye-coordination, and engage your brain in coming up with tactical solutions in the heat of the moment. It is also a great bonding experience, adrenaline-fueled fun, and role-playing all wrapped into one. And when you get back home, you can always act out the wounded soldier scenario (see #18).

    40. Fill the whole day with random fun activities

    Just say no to plans, reservations and clichés—take your partner by the hand, have your credit card ready and just go out and have some fun. Bowling, followed by a drink at a coffee shop and then a romantic movie? Sure, why not? Going for lunch at a nice restaurant and then organizing a double-date game night? Go right ahead. Going for a long walk in the park, visiting a museum, followed by romantic meal at home and then going out to a club? Hey, who am I to say no? You can use some of the ideas from this article and mash them up together to create a fun-filled Valentine’s Day you’ll both remember.

    There you go, a whole bunch of useful date ideas for all you loving couples out there. You can pick out any one of these, make some adjustments or even combine different options to create the perfect Valentine’s Day date for your significant other. Plan ahead, have fun and celebrate your love proudly.

    Featured photo credit: Relevante design via unsplash.com

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