Monday, November 19, 2007 - 22:35
Most colleges and universities have workshops and tutoring programs for support with the educational process, especially if you are a mature student. My first year in uni I took as many of these as I could, as I had no idea how to do any of this at all either. If you are feeling overwhelmed and frustrated, I would recommend attending some of these.
Also for some reason a significant number of us SGAs (thereís a study in there somewhere as these are genetic) have learning disabilities such as dyslexia and ADD. Most schools also have specific support for people with learning disabilities, such as extra time on essays and exams, free computers, extra tutoring, etc. so it might be worth getting tested.
Frankly, the most important thing, in my opinion, is to not procrastinate and to take the time to work through the process of creating a good essay. It does help you get good grades, but for me, it significantly lowered the stress involved in submitting something to my prof.. I am a horrible procrastinator, but I absolutely hate being stressed out.
Figuring how long something would take me to do and then being able to create a schedule for myself to do it in was very helpful for me. Of course sometimes you have to write essays (sometimes a number of them) in an exam. A number of these steps have worked for me then as well though, with the main thing being having studied the material and thought about it.
The formula I learned to write an essay is the following:
a. Start by Brainstorming.
Read through all of your reference material and jot down any and all ideas you have while reading this, no matter what they are. Note the references to your research material in relation to your idea (this will save you a lot of time later on).
Even if you donít have any ideas about your material, if you think something is significant, note the subject matter and page number in your notes. Mark the page with a post it facing out of the book.
Take some time to think about the material and your topic and continue to write down ideas as they come.
b. Create an outline.
When you have a general idea of your premise, check your notes and start to create an outline of your essay. DO NOT do this at the last minute, but allow yourself enough time to work through the whole process.
When creating your outline, donít go from top to bottom all the way through, but start with the main sections and then go back and fill in the sub-points.
The main sections of an essay follow this progression:
1. Explain the question that you are answering.
2. Give a clear and definite answer to the question.
3. Give a fully developed argument and support your claim in detail.
4. Consider the objections to your specific argument and refute them.
5. Consider the alternatives to your claim and explain why your proposal is the superior one.
6. Wrap it up in a conclusion, summarizing your argument and restating your claim.
Write just a one sentence statement to answer these points. Once you know what these will cover, go through them and create sub-points in your outline.
Points 1 and 2 are often one paragraph, so you donít usually need to create sub-points for these. Points 3, 4 and 5 however are the places to expand. For point 3, use your one or two best arguments and write a one sentence statement to support this (I often use bullet points under this to remind me of how my argument is structured.)
I donít know what courses you are taking, but I found Philosophy 101 to be an excellent introduction to the basic structure of argumentative essays, the structure of arguments and how to write and think critically. A little book I found incredibly helpful is ďA Rulebook for ArgumentsĒ. http://www.amazon.com/Rulebook-Arguments-Anthony-Weston/dp/0872201562
With points 4 and 5, the sub-points are self-evident.
c. Write up your draft.
Write through your essay. If you have read the material, thought it through and have the structure of your essay in your head, this can be a straight run through. Leave notes in brackets for where to insert references and quotes, because you can look them up later and insert them then. You will lose your train of thought if you stop to look everything up. Get everything down on paper that you want to say. Donít worry about the grammar or spelling, etc.
d. Review your draft.
Give it a day or so and then go over your draft. I usually review my draft the first time on the computer. I correct my spelling and grammar, add and delete from my paragraphs and flush out my arguments. I also look up my references and quotes and insert these, as well as the bibliography.
Give it another day or so and then print out your essay. Go somewhere quiet with this and a red pen and read it over. For some reason, looking at it on paper is different than looking at it on a computer screen. Mark it up where needed and edit with your red pen. Make the changes on your document on your computer.
e. Finalize your essay.
After another day or so, read over your essay one final time.
Does it express what you really wanted to say? (Edit and/or add what would not)
Would it convince you of your argument?
Double check all the spelling and grammar.
Is it too short or too long? (A quick surefire way of expanding the word count is to insert a relevant long quote--and your notes will come in handy here.)
I hope this is in someway helpful.
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