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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 November 5, 2018

    8 Powerful Reasons to Love Your Enemies

    8 Powerful Reasons to Love Your Enemies

    We’ve all got our enemies; people who take pleasure in causing us pain and misery. Sometimes, the development of an enemy is due to certain differences in your characters and events have led to that. Other times, some people end up hating you for apparently no reason at all.

    Regardless of how you got this enemy, as opposed to the paradigm of fighting fire with fire, consider the following reasons and see why you should actually appreciate your enemies. This article will show you not only how to not be bothered by your enemies, but how to actually foster love for them.

    Read on to learn the secret.

    1. It’s a practical lesson in anger management

    To be honest, your enemies are the best people to help you understand your sense of anger management. When it might be true that your enemies have a way of bringing out the worst in you as regards anger, it is also true that they can help you in your quest to have that anger managed. You can’t get truly angry at someone you love and it is only in that time when you get truly annoyed that you learn how to manage it.

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    Anger management is more effective when it is in practice and not in theory

    Your enemies are like the therapists who you need, but actually don’t want. Inasmuch as you might want to hate them, they provide you an opportunity to control the anger impulse that you have.

    2. It’s an opportunity for healthy competition

    You might not know it, but your enemies make for great rivals as they help harness the competitor in you (sometimes, you might not even know or bee conversant with this competitive side until you come across an adversary). You get the right motivation to compete and this can go a long way to spur you to victory.

    However, while doing so, it is also essential that you remember not to become a worse version of yourself while competing. Working against an adversary is tricky, and you need to ensure that you don’t cause harm to yourself or your morals in the process. Healthy competition is all you need to get out of this.

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    3. Their negative comments can help you make a breakthrough

    It is true that your enemies never really have much good to say about you. However, in as much as they might be talking out of a place of hate, there might be some truth to what they’re saying.

    To wit, whenever you hear something mean or nasty from an enemy, you might want to take a step back and evaluate yourself. There is a chance that what this enemy is saying is true and coming to face that fact is a major step in helping you to become a better person overall. This is another testament to the fact that enemies can be therapists in their own way.

    4. Enemies can also be powerful allies

    Loving your enemies can also mean making an effort to interact and make peace with them. In the end, if you are able to establish some common ground and patch things up, you’ll have succeeded in making another friend. And who doesn’t need friends?

    This can also help you in working with people in the long run. You get to hone your inter-personal skills, and that can be a big plus to your ledger.

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    5. It gives you the ability to realize positivity

    In a multitude of negativity, a speck of positivity always seems to find its way through.

    Sometimes, a knowledge of the fact that you have enemies will also help you to focus on the many positives and good things that are in your life. A lot of times, we neglect what really matters in life. This can be due to being overly concerned with the enemies we have.

    However, it is also possible for this acknowledgement to spur you to take a step back and appreciate the goo things (and people who surround you).

    6. There might just be a misunderstanding

    Sometimes, the reason why you have an enemy might be something very innocuous. You might not have known the cause of this fractured relationship and your enemy will help complete the picture.

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    Simply approaching them will help you to understand the reason for the fracture. This, in turn, can help you to work towards healing your relationship moving forward. Misunderstandings happen, and you need to be able to work around them.

    7. You learn to appreciate love as well

    A constant reminder of the fact that there are enemies will also help you not to take those who love you for granted. Love and hate are two opposing emotions and it is possible for one to momentarily overshadow the other.

    However, while you’ll always have enemies, there will also always be people who love you. These people need to be appreciated for what they do for you. Never let the hate projected to you from your enemies take the place of that.

    8. Do you really need the hate?

    The truth is that enemies bring only toxic emotions and generate bad reactions from you. If you’re truly to live a prosperous life, you can’t really be carrying all this baggage around.

    Hate is bad and you should try all you can to get rid of it. It is a well-known fact that nobody can get really far in life while carrying a lot of emotional baggage. Well, hate is the biggest form of emotional baggage there is.

    Featured photo credit: rawpixel via unsplash.com

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