Monthly Archives: November 2008

The Research Process Step 5: Editing and Proofreading

Now’s the Time to Let Your Inner Critic Shine!

Once your draft is done, now’s the time to get out the proverbial red pen and read it over and over for mistakes.

At this stage, I’m not talking about proofreading. It makes no sense to make sure every comma is in the right place in a sentence that shouldn’t even be in the paper.

No, we’re looking at content first of all.

Check your paper for the following:

·         A strong thesis

·         Body paragraphs that back up that thesis

·         Sources that strongly support your thesis (not just there to get the required number of sources in the paper J)

·         Sources are integrated into paper, not just dropped in.

·         Correct citations

·         Works cited page matches citations in text

·         Attention-grabbing introduction (On my first draft, I often write the most mediocre of introduction, knowing that some better idea will come to me later. And when I say mediocre, I mean bad:  “There are lots of Victorian women writers. Some of them wrote about work. Women writers often disguised their feminist message by forcing their female characters into jobs through being widows, orphans, or spinsters.”

·         A conclusion that bring the reader to a sense of completion

Then look at the following:

·         Check to see how the paper reads. (It helps to have someone else read this to find places hwere it sounds awkward or doesn’t make sense. These can be the hardest for you to discover about your own work. If you thought it sounded awkward, you probably wouldn’t have written it that way to begin with.

·         Go back over your source material. Make sure your quotations are formatted and cited properly. Double check paraphrases to make sure that you haven’t plagiarized.

·         Double check parenthetical citations to make sure their correct.

·         Check your works cited page to make sure all your sources are correct and formatted properly.

·         Proofread for spelling, punctuation, word choice (all the elements of usage and grammar).


Three NSCC helping hands:

·         Your instructor. Your instructor is probably your best least-used resource.

·         Smarthinking. ( This is an online tutorial service free to NSCC students. Professional tutors will look over your paper and provide feedback. Call the Learning Center (353-3551) for this year’s user name and password.

·         The Learning Center. Professional tutors are available to help with specific aspects of your paper.  They are not allowed to do wholesale proofreading. But they can help you with specific problems.

Now you’re ready to turn in your paper. And relax!

The Works Cited Page’s Lament: Why Do Students Hate Me?

Works Cited

When I taught English, I was amazed at how often Works Cited pages were done incorrectly. Students often lost many points from what were simple formatting mistakes. So here is the big secret behind writing the Works Cited or bibliography page: Don’t rely on your memory. Get a good style handbook and follow it religiously.

Seriously, I have three graduate degrees, including a doctorate in English, so I have written a lot of research papers. Still, every time it comes to writing the works cited page, I get out my MLA handbook and follow the rules. There is no way that I would even try to rely on my memory.

Still, there are some things that make the process a little easier:

  1. Keep up with your sources as you go. When you’re taking notes, go ahead and put the source material in the correct format. I actually start my Works Cited page with the first source I use in my paper. That way, I’m not trying to do them all at once. I’m less likely to make mistakes if I’m not rushed at the end of the writing cycle.
  2. Use the technology available. Almost every database now has formatting help which gives you an example of how to cite articles found in the database. Word 2007 has Citation Help, which allows you to plug in the information and then it puts it the correct order. These are only aids. Remember that YOU are always responsible for making sure that your format is correct! 
  3. If you’re not quite clear about how to cite a specific: journal vs. magazine, a forward or afterward in a book, then check with your professor and/or a librarian. Never be afraid to ask questions. Almost every professor I know would much rather have questions on the front end than have to deal with a poorly-written Works Cited page during the grading process.
  4. Also, remember a Works Cited page should only include those sources that are actually used in your paper. No matter how many times you use a source in the paper, you put it on the Works Cited page only once.

Here is an example of a Works Cited page from the Online Writing Lab at Purdue University.

Nashville State professor, Michele Singletary also has a good tutorial on her website.


The Research Process 4.5: FAQs about Plagiarism

(Note: Today’s post is taken from the NSCC Student Handbook)

What is plagiarism?


According to Random House Webster’s College Dictionary, plagiarism is “the unauthorized use of the language and thoughts of another author and the representation of them as one’s own.” 



Why should I care about plagiarism?


The main reason is that it is academic stealing. It’s claiming ownership of words and ideas that are not yours.


There are also severe penalties associated with plagiarism. Depending on the instructor, you can receive an “F” on a plagiarized assignment or an “F” for the course.


Okay. You convinced me. So how do I keep from plagiarizing?


The obvious way is to avoid buying term papers off the Internet or turning in someone else’s work as your own.


Truthfully, however, most people don’t do that. The vast majority of cases of plagiarism can be classified as unintentional. Students don’t mean to plagiarize; they’re just not skillful at paraphrasing and/or citing sources.


What is paraphrasing?


Paraphrasing is taking an original statement and putting it in your own words without modifying the author’s meaning. This is a skill that takes some practice and time.


Can you give an example?


Sure. Let’s work with this paragraph:


Servants were ubiquitous in Victorian culture. Every household with pretensions to middle class respectability had at least one servant, making servanthood the largest category of employment for women throughout the nineteenth century. Still servants never garnered the public’s attention the way the female factory worker and governess did. There was no outcry about their working conditions and little concern expressed about the deleterious effects on a family if the mother worked as a servant.

                             –Margaret Jones, Worker Angels: Ambivalence towards Women’s Work in Elizabeth Gaskell, George Eliot, and Elizabeth Stuart Phelps.


Here’s an acceptable paraphrase:


Although more women worked as servants than at any other job in Victorian England, there was little public concern about their welfare or that of their families (Jones 32).


Notice here that the meaning stays the same, but I have put the meaning in my own words. Also, notice that while, technically, paraphrasing does not mean shortening the original; in practicality, that often happens.


Can you give me an example of plagiarism?


Sure, think of the original paragraph above.


  • First, it would be plagiarism if you just copied the original in the paper without appropriate citation and quotation marks.
  • Second, it would be plagiarism if you paraphrased appropriately, but did not cite the statements.


Wait a minute! Why would that be plagiarism? The paragraph is paraphrased.


True, but while you have put the original in your own words, the original idea is not yours. You got that from the source. So you will still need to cite it appropriately.


What else can go wrong?


·         Here is another version that just doesn’t get the paraphrasing right. See if you can tell what is wrong:



In Victorian culture, servants were ubiquitous. Any house that wanted middle-class respectability had a servant. This made servanthood the biggest group of jobs for women in the 1800s. Still, the public’s attention was never focused on servants rather than governesses and factory workers. Their working conditions and effects on their families caused little outcry.



The problem here is that the wording is just too close to the original. There are just a few synonyms thrown in with a couple of sentences inverted. This usually happens when you haven’t given yourself enough time to write the paper, and you’re in a rush. Good paraphrasing and summarizing take time.



Can you summarize some tips to help me here?



·         If it’s your thoughts and your words, no need to cite.

·         If it’s someone else’s words, use quotation marks.

·         If it’s someone else’s ideas but your paraphrase, you need to cite.

·         Give yourself plenty of time.

·         Consider writing your thoughts first; then, you’ll be clear about what came from you and what came from other sources.


Where are some other resources for help?


Look under resources at the NSCC library webpage for some helpful handouts on plagiarism.


There are also some good links to helpful guides at the Learning Center website .










The Research Process: Step 4

Writing the Paper

So at this point, you have your research question. You have your sources. You have them read and marked. And if you followed my earlier advice, you have a very rough essay that outlines your thoughts on your topic. So now it’s time to write the first rough draft.

(Here is a link to a very helpful overview of the entire research process from the Online Writing Lab at Purdue University.) I’m going to focus on some frequently-asked questions today:


How do I get started?

My most important advice at this stage is to simply let the ideas flow. You can always make changes later. But for many of us, making changes is much easier than that first stage of getting ideas on paper. So clench your teeth, take a seat, and write the draft.

What should be in my introduction?

The one thing that must be in your introduction is your thesis statement, but there are many ways to start a paper. Don’t get tied down to what I say here, but these are some common ones.

·         Start with a general statement and narrow down to your thesis.


Each day, the average teenager is bombarded with thousands of media images telling them how they should be. They should be thin. They should be fit. They should be funny. They should be cool. These images come from all sides: magazines, television, billboards, and the internet. In order to combat this onslaught, high schools should make mandatory a media literacy course so that students can critically evaluate the messages they receive on a daily basis and make better choices about what they choose to believe about themselves.


·         Start with a question.


Where do teenagers get their information about the world? Most adults would like to think from authority figures, such as teachers and parents.  Still, on any given day, it is the mass media that has the most time to influence teenagers, whether through television, magazines, or the ever-present internet. In order to combat this onslaught, high schools should make mandatory a media literacy course so that students can critically evaluate the messages they receive on a daily basis and make better choices about what they choose to believe about themselves.

·         Start with some startling statistics.

Forty percent of students spend at least twenty hours per week in front of the television or online, according to a recent study. While many news stories are concerned about the obesity rate of such students, there is another issue as well. Students are exposed to a massive amount of advertising during those hours that affect their self-concept. Therefore, high schools should include a mandatory media literacy course to provide teenagers with the tools to evaluate critically the information they see on the screen.


What sort of sources should I include?

Carefully choose source material that will back up your argument, such as:

·         Statistics.

·         Results of studies.

·         Opinions of experts in the field.

How do I work my sources in?

For the beginning essay writer, one way is the sandwich technique:

·         Start with your point. “A media literacy course would enable students to analyze ads that tell them that their physical appearance is unacceptable.”

·         Add your source material:  “A girl who has reached the age of seventeen has seen more than a quarter million advertisements.

·         Explain the importance of your source material: Even those advertisements that have nothing to do with physical appearance, such as those advertising beer and cars, send a message to teenagers. Most people in these ads are thin, attractive, outgoing, and stylishly dressed. The ulterior message is you have to look like us to be successful. It is hard for the average teen to avoid this message, but a media literacy course would at least bring these ulterior messages to the surface where they could be discussed openly.

Can I just quote my sources?

Usually put source material in your own words will make your paper sound more authentic. Quotations should be used when the writer’s words are important to the point you are making. Whether quoting or paraphrasing, never just drop the material in the middle of the paragraph. Use some sort of introductory phrase. 

·         Example:  Margaret Jones, a Victorian scholar, has noted that “women writers had to hide their vocational ambitions behind masks of necessity in their works of fiction. Therefore, female fictional characters lost parents or husbands in often violent or heartbreaking ways so that their authors could give them jobs without losing respectability with their readers” (63).

What about my conclusion?

Some experts say to summarize your thesis and your main points in your conclusion.

Another way is to predict the consequences of what might happen if your thesis is followed through or if it is not.


It is hard to imagine that the number of advertisements that teenagers are exposed to will do anything but increase. It only makes sense that media literacy be added to the high school curriculum so that future teenagers will have a fighting chance to maintain their identity against the huge advertising agency whose sole purpose is to make people dissatisfied with who they are.



Subject and Keyword Searches

Today, we have a guest post from librarian Emily Bush.

Keyword vs. Subject Searching


If you panicked upon your discovery that the library databases don’t look like this:

Don’t fret. Understanding the difference between keyword and subject searches will free you from the confines of Googling.


Subject Searches:

                Use subject searches to seek information by topic. Subject searching uses controlled vocabulary, which means librarians have assigned “subject heads” to every article. Like politics and love, these subject heads aren’t always logical. For instance, the official subject head for movies is motion picture despite the outdated nature of the term. If you’re thinking, “How will I possibly know what the subject heading is?” Don’t worry – most databases will refer you to the correct subject head.


If you search pigs, the database may say “See: swine.”

                Don’t let the irrationality of librarians hold you back. There are benefits to performing subject searches (See: Advantages).


  • Subject searches return more relevant results than keyword searches.
  • Which means, you don’t have to cull through lots of junk to get to what you want
  • Subject searches = time saved


How to execute a subject search:

Think about all the different ways you can think about your topic:



What’s the picture above? It’s a cupcake, but it’s also a dessert àa cake à a cupcake à a chocolate cupcake àa chocolaty delight, etc.  If you find there’s no subject head for chocolate cupcake then you can search for cupcake and so on. Generally, try not to start too narrow.


Keyword Searching:

Try a keyword search if you have a specific or a current topic that may not have subject heads assigned to it (Examples: Twentieth Century Women’s Headwear OR High School Musical 3). Though keyword searches offer more flexibility than subject searches, make certain your results are relevant to your topic.  For instance, if you do a keyword search for aids, the database will return results on the disease, hearing aids, school aids, etc. Instead search for a combination of words like: hearing aids, children, united states.

Always start a keyword search by brainstorming for terms associated with your topic. If you’ve ever tagged videos on Youtube, you’re already halfway there. Think about all the words related to your topic and don’t be afraid to crack open a thesaurus (If you’re visually oriented try this:

So let’s say you’re writing a paper on diet fads your keywords might include: diets, fads, Atkins, South Beach, The Zone, etc. Most topics are multifaceted, so there won’t be one search you can do to pull up all the results you want. You might do a search for “diet fads” AND* Atkins then do a search for “diet fads” AND “The Zone.”*

* Most databases require you put ‘AND’ between each of your keywords or phrases.

** By putting quotes around phrases you ensure that you pull up articles with the phrase “diet fads” rather than articles that just happen to mention the words diet and fad. This will increase the likelihood of returning relevant results.