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Advice for Students: How to Write Research Papers that Rock!

Advice for Students: How to Write Research Papers that Rock!
Research papers that rock!

No assignment save the comprehensive final exam seems to engender such fear in students as the research paper, especially the open topic research paper. Faced with the prospect of writing 5, 8, 12, or more pages on a topic of their choosing, a lot of students panic, unsure what to write about and how to research it. Far too often, students endanger their grades and even their academic futures by turning to online essay sites or other sources and copying what they assume is decent work (it rarely is, of course). I’ve even had students hand in my work as their own!

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One of the reasons students balk at research paper is that writing them is a skill that most college professors assume their students have, while few high school teachers teach it — leaving students to work out for themseves how exactly to proceed. Add to that the fact that students often take a range of courses they have little or no interest in to satisfy their general requirements, and it’s no wonder that students often feel hung out to dry when it comes to writing research papers.

It doesn’t have to be that way. Looked at properly, research papers can be a great way to deepen your understanding of your chosen field, and may be the first step towards developing a specialization that will serve you well as you move into your career or advanced education.

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There are a lot of things you can do to help make research papers work for you — and get a decent grade in the process:

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  • Write about something you’re passionate about. Figure out the link between the class you’re taking and your educational and career goals. If you hope to earn an MBA and find yourself stuck in a required Women’s Studies class, write about workplace harassment, or the impact of equal opportunity laws. If you are pre-med and have to take anthropology or sociology, write about cultural differences in notions of healing, or about access to health care for members of different classes. If you”re an accounting major… change your major. No, just kidding — if your major is accounting and you have to take literature, write about Franz Kafka (an insurance company clerk by day) or Wallace Stevens (also in insurance — there’s a lesson in here somewhere…).
  • Write a strong thesis. Your thesis is your statement of intent: what do you intend to demonstrate or prove in your paper. Here’s some types of theses that will grab your (and your professor’s) attention:
  1. Challenge a misconception: Use your paper to challenge the received wisdom, the stuff “everybody knows”. E.g. “Lots of people think [A] but really [not-A]”
  2. Find an unlikely connection: Use an idea from science to illuminate a concept in literature, or vice versa. For example: “Neils Bohr’s theory of the structure of the atom provides one way of looking at the relationship between Hamlet and the play’s secondary characters.” The idea here is to find a surprising new way of looking at or thinking about a concept.
  3. Rehabilitate a villain. Defend a historical personage or literary character widely assumed to have been “a bad guy”. The biologist Steven Jay Gould was a master of this, writing about people generally portrayed as the enemies of scientific progress — Lamarck, Bishop Usher, Pope Urban VIII — as exemplars of the cutting-edge science of their day. Make your reader take an unfairly (or even fairly) maligned character or person seriously. (Note: I’d avoid using this approach for Hitler; no matter how well you write, it’s unlikely anyone will appreeciate your efforts to make Hitler seem like a good chap.)
  4. Reframe a classic work in light of today’s technology, social structure, or culture. What kind of woman would Cinderella or Jane Austen’s Emma be in today’s corporate world? What could Newton or Julius Caesar have done with a MacBook Pro?
  5. Reframe today’s world in light of the technological, social, or cultural context of a classic. What would Julius Caesar think of Jack Welch or Bill Gates? What would Johannes Kepler make of string theory? What would Jane Austen think of today’s career woman?
  • Use yourself as a source. Use your own life experiences to illustrate the points you’re making. If you are writing about witchcraft and your grandmother was a Oaxacan healer, talk about that; if you are taking accounting 101 and your father ran a successful dry cleaning business, talk about that; if you are taking Poli Sci and you successfully ran for class president, talk about that. Use your own experiences to make your writing immediate and lively — and to keep yourself engaged in the act of writing. (Who doesn’t like to talk about themselves?)
  • Consult the experts. The Internet makes it possible to directly reach people we’d have never thought possible even a decade ago. Google the leading voice in the field you’re writing about: a professor of chemistry at MIT, a leadership guru, a corporate anthropologist at Intel, and so on — chances are you’ll come across an email address, or at least a mailing address. Write to them, explain your project, and ask a few questions. The worst that can happen is they’ll ignore your request (so write a few people for backup). An easy trade-off, though, for being able to back up your argument with a nobel laureate’s support.
  • Choose your audience. Never, ever, write only for your professor. Write as if you were explaining your topic to a friend or family member, or to the President of the United States. Write as if your work was going to be a feature article in Time magazine, or as if you were submitting it to the leading academic journal in your field. Always choose an audience to write for, which will give you both a standard to evaluate your writing against (“would mom get this?”) and the incentive to write clearly and at the appropriate level. Writing as if your professor was the only one likely to read your paper (even if s/he is) is the shortest path to stuffy, boring writing that will engage neither your professor or, most likely, you.
  • Writing a research paper is work, there’s no getting around that. But it doesn’t have to be a chore — it can be, with a little thought, work you enjoy pouring yourself into. The trick is to give yourself something to write about that reflects your interests and truly fascinates you, something that you would want to know more about even if you hadn’t been assigned a paper.

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    The ideas above are a start — what tips do you have to share to help make writing less of a task to get through and more of an experience to enjoy?

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    Last Updated on July 10, 2020

    How to Reinvent Yourself and Change Your Life

    How to Reinvent Yourself and Change Your Life

    There will always be times in your life when you may need to learn how to reinvent yourself. This could come when you experience a big change, such as leaving your job, moving on from a relationship, transferring to a new home, or losing a loved one. If you are going through a major shift in your life, you may have to find new ways of thinking or doing things, or risk failing to reach your full potential.

    “When something bad happens, you have three choices. You can let it define you, let it destroy you, or you can let it strengthen you.”

    Many people who dared to leave their old unhappy lives enabled themselves to pursue their passions and find a renewed zest for living. You can also achieve the same if you take a leap of faith and make things happen for yourself.

    To help you always be at your best wherever you may be in your life, here are some practical tips on how to reinvent yourself.

    The Reinvention Checklist

    Before embarking on a journey of self-reinvention, you need to make sure that you have everything that you need to make the trip bump-proof. These things include:

    Resilience

    Problems and obstacles are guaranteed to happen. Some of them will be difficult and may knock you off course; the important thing, however, is that you learn from these difficulties, never lose focus, and always get back up. This requires building resilience to get through the tough times.

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    Support

    Humans are social beings. Although it is important that you learn to rely on yourself when facing any challenge, it is also important to have a support team that you can lean on to give you a boost when things get too tough and to correct you when you’re making mistakes.

    The key is to find the right balance between independence and dependence. Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable and share the difficulties you’re facing. When you open up, you’ll find the people who are really going to be there for you.

    Self-Care

    During the process of learning how to reinvent yourself, you will have to pull yourself away from your old comfort zones, habits, roles, and self-perceptions. This can be difficult and cause you to question your self-worth, so it’s important to engage in self-care to maintain a positive outlook and keep your mind and body healthy as you face the challenges that await you. Self-care can include:

    • Participating in a hobby you enjoy
    • Spending time with your support system
    • Taking some time to walk in nature
    • Practicing loving-kindness meditation

    Find what works for you and what helps you feel like your true self as you seek a reinvented version of you.

    How to Reinvent Yourself

    Once you’re sure that you’re equipped with all the tools in the self-reinvention checklist, you can begin your journey of learning how to reinvent yourself.

    1. Discover Your Strengths

    This step provides valuable information on how you deal with certain situations. If you have this information, you will be able to manage difficulties more efficiently.

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    To find out what your strengths are, you can ask your friends and colleagues for feedback, engage in self-reflection, or try these 10 Ways to Find Your Own Personal Strengths.

    2. Plan

    This step calls for a thorough assessment of your current emotional, psychological, and financial status so that you can develop plans that are realistic and practical.

    It’s okay to have ambitious dreams, but your plans have to be realistic. Making use of SMART goals can help you plan your life better.

    You can also consult your mentor or life coach for practical tips and advice.

    Ultimately, you’ll want to create specific long-term and short-term goals that you can create milestones for. By doing this, you’ll lay out a specific roadmap to your reinvented self.

    3. Try Things Out

    Sometimes, we don’t know if solutions actually work until we try them out. This is why it is important to experiment whenever possible, especially if you’re dealing with a career change. You may need to simply experiment in order to find the things you like. This can be the same with hobbies. If you’re not sure what you would like doing, accept invitations from friends to join them in their favorite sport or take a class, like pottery or photography.

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    By seeing what’s out there in any area of your life, you’ll have a better chance of finding the things you enjoy and the goals you want to create.

    4. Manage Your Finances Well

    Changes may require a bit of money. If you’re shifting to a new career, you may have to pay for training. If you’re going through a tough divorce or having a hard time dealing with the death of a loved one, you may have to pay for therapy. If you’re moving to a new home, you’ll definitely have to pay a whole lot of expenses.

    All of these things are possible, but it will require a bit of money savviness as you learn how to reinvent yourself. If you have that cushion, you’ll feel more comfortable straying from your current path to try new things.

    5. Muster Your Courage

    Fears and self-doubt may arise when you encounter difficulties and setbacks. Sometimes, they may also come when you’re taking risks. You have to manage these negative emotions well and not allow them to discourage you. Tap into your courage and try doing at least one new thing each week to develop it.

    Learn how to deal with your self-doubts to move forward in this article: How Self Doubt Keeps You Stuck (And How to Overcome It)

    6. Use Your Support Group

    As stated above, you need to build a strong support group before you even start the process of reinventing yourself. Your group will keep you from taking wrong turns and encourage you when you get too weighed down by problems. Don’t be afraid to call them, or even ask them out for coffee if you need to vent about the current difficulties you’re facing.

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    7. Remind Yourself Every Day of Your Commitment

    Write your goals on different-sized cards and scatter them at home and at work in places where you can easily see them. This way, you will constantly be reminded of where you want to be. Remember, writing down your goals helps them stick[1].

    8. Accept Failure, Learn, and Resume Your Journey

    Failing is normal, especially when we’re trying out something new. When you fail, simply recognize it, learn from it, and move on. Failure, in the end, is the best way to learn what does and doesn’t work, and you simply won’t be able to learn how to reinvent yourself if you don’t accept the inevitable failures that await you.

    Final Thoughts

    If you truly want to learn how to reinvent yourself and live the life you desire, take the advice above and start taking action. It will take time, patience, and plenty of effort to make the change you want happen, but it will be all worth it.

    More Tips on How to Reinvent Yourself

    Featured photo credit: Ashley Rich via unsplash.com

    Reference

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