Saturday, November 22, 2014

Working with Peer Feedback

By: Sarah Sansolo

So your paper has been peer reviewed. Now what? It can often be difficult to sort through what your classmates have to say and figure out what and who to listen to. A lot of students put peer comments aside and don’t use them at all. What do your classmates know, after all? They’re not the professor. Obviously the professor has the final say, and most of us try to tailor our writing to what he or she wants.

Great writers, though, look to their peers for help. Some creative writers spend years in writing workshops to hone their craft. They recognize the importance of multiple viewpoints and you should, too.

·      Using your test audience. Anyone who reads your paper—a classmate, your roommate, a writing consultant, your mom—is a test audience for your work. This is the one thing that a writer can’t do for him or herself. It’s impossible to know how others will react to your writing unless you ask them to read it. You know what you meant when you wrote that sentence, but can somebody else understand it?
·      Your classmates are experts. “No,” you say, “I’m pretty sure my classmates don’t know much about marine biology or Jane Austen or politics in Taiwan.” Maybe not, but there is one thing they’re experts in: your class. They’ve done the same homework and sat through the same discussions. They’ve spent as much time as you have reading the assignment sheet and thinking about how to respond to it. They remember what your professor said when she clarified what kinds of sources to use. A peer might not know all about your topic, but he or she knows the class and the assignment.
·      Find trustworthy voices. While your classmates are a great resource, not all of them will be helpful. Some readers will simply not be interested in what you have to say or will misunderstand your point in a way that reflects more on them than on your clarity. But there will be someone in your class who understands what you’re trying to do and gives you great suggestions to improve your writing. This peer is a great resource to have. Ask him if you can swap your next drafts or if you can meet up to chat about ideas.
·      Trust yourself. In the end, it’s your paper. You should take in peer comments and think about them carefully, but you don’t have to use them. You know what you want to say and what you don’t better than anyone.


If you’re not sure how to incorporate your peer comments or which reviewers you should listen to, bring your paper and your peer review materials to the Writing Center. Our consultants can help you sort through feedback in a way that will make your paper stronger.

Friday, November 14, 2014

How to Write a Great Personal Statement

By: Joellyn Powers

Personal statements can be overwhelming: in one or two pages, you have to, essentially, summarize yourself. Be it for a potential job, for graduate school, or for a scholarship, a personal statement requires you to explain to a complete stranger why you are the right choice for a particular position. Here are some Dos and Donts to follow as you begin writing a personal statement:

DO highlight your unique life experiences. Studied abroad? Had a cool internship? Been in a leadership position? Make sure to let the reader of your personal statement know! Keep in mind that the people reading your statement will likely be reading dozens of other statements, so what can you say that sets you apart from the pack? But

DONT tell your full life story. Most personal statements should not be more than two pages in length. Again: the committees reading these statements are reading LOTS of them; keep it brief and to the point be specific! Make sure to highlight all of your relevant life experiences, education, and work experience, but dont go into intricate detail for each and every thing.

DO answer the specific questions that are being asked. Make sure to read the guidelines carefully: most places that require a personal statement will pose certain questions, such as: What are your future goals? Why do you see yourself as a good fit for this position? How will you use this graduate degree to accomplish your future goals? Make sure youre addressing these questions; not following specific rules will only make the process of reading your personal statement more challenging for a particular committee. Which brings me to

DONT write the same personal statement for multiple jobs/graduate school applications/scholarships. While you can definitely utilize the same information (and even some of the same paragraphs), make sure there is something unique about each personal statement that applies to each job or school you are applying to. You want to highlight the fact that you have done your research, and that you are excited about these places youre applying to. Is there a particular class at one school that sounds interesting to you? Is there something about a particular companys past successes that you want to comment on? By making each personal statement an individual one, you show that you care enough to take the time to do so, which will only count in your favor as the committee reads through your statement.

And, finally

DO be yourself. Dont worry about coming across as the ideal applicant; be specific about what you see as your strengths and disregard any concerns that they may not be good enough. Again: committees want to see what sets YOU apart from the rest of the applicants, not how you fit into a cliched pack.


For more info on writing personal statements, visit the Purdue OWL website!

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Undergraduate Research Proposal Writing


By Madison Chapman

American University is working towards becoming a stronger research university by tapping into its undergraduate population. Even before figuring out a major, students often express an interest in contributing to a professor’s research project or starting their own research initiative for experience. Such opportunities allow students to explore the world of academia while gaining valuable experience which can look impressive on resumes, graduate school applications, and applications for competitive graduate school scholarships (e.g. Rhodes, Marshall, Fulbright Awards). Currently, few students know of an annual competitive opportunity through the Vice Provost Office which enables undergraduate students to head up their own research endeavors. The AU Summer Scholars & Artists Fellowship Award is offered to eight students across the university who submit exemplary proposals for research projects to be conducted over an eight week period during the summer. The $4000 award can be put towards any related expenses, and the project does not have to be conducted on/near AU’s campus as long as the student is in regular contact with their sponsoring faculty mentor.
So how exactly do you write a research proposal if you have never done research before? As one of this past year’s Summer Scholar Award winners, I want to share a few tips for crafting an effective proposal.

·       Think ahead! The strongest research projects (regardless of discipline) stem from projects started in advanced classes within your major. Talk to your professors about how you could expand or extend work on a topic that interests you.

·       Start early! Once you know what you want to do, work with your designated mentor, academic advisor or even another professor to perfect your draft proposal. The experts in your field will know the proper phrasing and keywords necessary for research proposals.

·       Ask yourself why this topic is important! Make sure your research project is tackling a subject which interests you while also addressing something significant and timely to your discipline.

·       Know the scholarly conversation! You are entering an academic dialogue when you begin a research endeavor. Work with professors to discover the literature in your field most relevant to your subject. Before you start original research, you should gain a thorough understanding of how your work fits into the field as a whole. 

·       Have a methodology! Whether you have a scientific project requiring specific technology or you are conducting a humanities project, you need to know exactly how you are going to try to answer your research question(s). Your proposal is not just to articulate what you want to research and why, but also serves to validate that you are capable of carrying out the project successfully.

·       Be mindful of scope! The selection panel will reward ambition only within limits. As scholars-in-the-making, you should be aware of how specific your topic needs to be in order to be manageable. While many people (such as myself) expand their summer projects into independent studies and/or capstones, you need to know what you can accomplish just within those eight weeks.


·       Stay positive! Although I have mentioned a lot of qualifications for your proposal, try to sound confident and passionate. Remember, you are only competing with other undergraduate students. No one can claim to have vast research experience so don’t try to sound like an expert yet. At this point in your academic career, you are only responsible for having genuine interest and motivation. Good luck!

Sunday, November 2, 2014

The Eh Paper and the A Paper

By: Alex Tammaro

Wanting to pass, regardless of what anyone says, is a noble pursuit. However, once you’ve reached your page limit, there’s still some work to be done. While it’s nice to think you could turn in a paper and get a decent grade, taking your paper to the next level requires a bit more time, although perhaps not as much as you’d think. Here are some things to keep in mind as you revise your masterpiece:

1. Specificity is Key. General statements (i.e. “It has been said,” “for many years…,” “It is interesting that”) almost always mean nothing. Avoiding these commonplaces not only removes clutter from your paper, but also keeps you as a writer on track. For example, what is interesting and how is it interesting? Sometimes these overused phrases are just us as writers still trying to sort out our ideas.

2. Long trails of thought are exhausting. If you have trouble reading over one of your own sentences, chances are your professor will too. Making your paper easy to follow means your ideas are conveyed clearly, and if your ideas are conveyed clearly, your professor is much more likely to look favorably on your paper.

3. Wordiness is the worst. Long chains of prepositional phrases sound laborious. Rearranging sentences to get rid of some prepositions makes a sentence sharper and more specific. For example, “members of the chess club” can simply be “chess club members.”

4. Most importantly, make sure you not only have a point but are also arguing that point. Engaging actively with evidence and showing how it supports your argument is easy to say but a bit more difficult in practice. If you use a quote, be sure to explain it thoroughly. If I use a five-word quote, I take a sentence or two to show how it supports my argument. The same theory applies to your thesis. Saying “Hamlet is the best piece of literature ever to exist” is not the same as saying “Hamlet is the best piece of literature because it shows the futility of vengeance.”

Making sure your thesis is sharp, your examples are specific, and your arguments are engaging is the best way to create a solid paper, and the difference between an acceptable paper and a great one may simply lie in one more revision.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Writing for an Exam

By: Eleanor Greene

The time of the semester when there’s no tests to study for is sadly long-forgotten as we’re now in the limbo between midterms and finals. There’s no denying test season. No matter what major or program you’re in, you can count on some writing for those tests. And whether that means a timed test-essay or just a bunch of short answer questions, here are some tips to help get you started.

Write down what you know. The moment between putting down your notes and getting your exam is the moment to remember that definition, conjugation, or date.  Once you get your test, jot down that thing you might forget to refer to later, when you really need it.

(Really) Read the prompt. Look out for specific action terms that will tell you what your professor is looking for. This will help you to answer the question correctly and to not do more work than you have to. Underline terms like: identify, compare/contrast, take a stance, discuss, or explain.

Once you think you know what you’re going to write about, jot down your ideas (that will later become body paragraphs). Write down only a couple words so you know what you meant, and try writing down a few more than you need. Your best thought may not be the first thing you think of. Write them down, then narrow down.

Even in a classroom exam, backing up your claims with outside support makes your argument stronger. Think back to class discussions, lectures, readings, and any outside research you’ve done, and note those sources in your writing. A professor probably doesn’t expect a direct quote in a paper, but it’s nice to add something like, “Source X agrees, this was a cause of the Civil War.” Or something like that.

Don’t spend too long working on an outline—just enough so you know what you’re doing and can pace yourself through the test. With an eye on your outline and your watch, you’re ready to start writing!