At face value, memorizing facts about a topic can be a daunting, even frustrating, task. Even worse, much of this information remains in our minds for only just about as long as the duration of the exam we’re cramming for.
Tired of the monotony of flashcards or simply rewriting notes? Why not try writing about the topics instead.
Although this can be a challenge when undertaking topics that don’t ignite much enthusiasm, the work that one must do with content in order to write a short article, or even a full essay, helps one transform into a practical expert on the topic.
Writing begins with a research stage, which requires us to review everything we’ve previously learned about a topic, or variety of topics, then build on it. In essence, this is much like review before a test, but we can even learn some new factoids or gain additional perspectives that we haven’t previously considered during this stage.
Next, we must begin to organize the information from our research. This again compels us to review the content. Gradually, we will start to take note that we are memorizing quite a bit of the content. At this step, we gain understanding of how different aspects of the topic relate to each other by grouping them into subtopics. This creates a roadmap that makes sense to our minds regarding the various pieces of information we are memorizing.
The connections we’re forming are again reinforced through the creation of outlines. By creating a guide of ideas, we see bite-sized pieces of information rather than a stack of notecards or several pages of notes – much less overwhelming than before. By this stage, we’ve had to go through the information several times, but since we create something each time our boredom is minimized.
Now that we have an outline, we’re ready to write. As this is only being used as a studying technique, we have absolute freedom in terms of how we want to write. This creates less pressure than many other academic situations. This is the fourth time we have made our way through our info in this process alone. By now, we have learned quite a bit. In proofreading this essay, we are able to repeat this process yet again.
Now, we have studied AND we’ve gotten valuable practice writing with less academic pressure. A win-win.
Kyle, Peer Tutor
Let’s be honest, most of us tell ourselves we will definitely start writing at a certain time of the day, and by the time it comes, we find ourselves sitting in front of our computer, staring at a blank Word document (almost blank! It probably has our name on it and an earlier date so it looks like we started earlier than the night before it’s due). After a while, you find yourself writing, but soon enough you are checking Instagram, or texting, or doing anything remotely entertaining to distract you from your work. Sound familiar? So how do you remain focused once you’ve started? Here are some tips!
- Find a good place to write. This may sound cheesy, but I can’t stress this enough. Find a place that’s conducive to writing for you. Some people get severely distracted in loud places, while some others can’t stand to sit in silence. Figure out what kind of person you are and find that place where you’ll be comfortable and feel like you can conquer anything.
- Accept the fact that, yes, you could be doing something more fun, but this assignment needs to get done. Many times, merely knowing that we could be relaxing instead of doing work creates writer’s block, making it impossible to concentrate. Let go of the tension that those feelings are causing and accept the assignment as it is. You’re in college now, you will get through this assignment and many more, so accept it and get to writing!
- Try not to think about how much you have left. I completely understand the feeling of dread you get when you look at how much you’ve written and it’s not even close to the page limit. Don’t get stuck! The more time you think about that, the less time you spend writing. Look at what you’ve written, give yourself a pat in the back for getting something done, and keep going!
- Give yourself breaks. Let yourself get distracted for 5-10 minutes, but stick to a schedule. Write for a while, then give yourself a break. I know turning off your phone sounds like torture, and I know the urge to check all your social media grows by the minute, but if you stick to a schedule you are more likely to get stuff done. You can even use these shorts breaks as a reward. You go, you!
- Get up! Ultimately, if your mind is wandering too much, go take a walk. Get some coffee or water, stretch your legs, and think about something else. By the time you come back to your computer, you are bound to feel recharged and have some fresh ideas.
- Visit the Writing Center! Just saying, if you come see us, you’ll have little choice but to focus on your assignment—at least for that hour.
Sometimes writing is a struggle for all of us, and that’s okay. But learning how to concentrate on your writing will help you in the long run. It may not be easy at first, but I’m sure you’ll get there. Good luck!
Mirii Rep, Writing Center Tutor
For everyone who may want to write about literature (English majors or otherwise), here’s a quick primer on some of the most popular schools of literary study, with examples of their application to William Shakespeare’s Hamlet.
Image from mhpbooks.com
Formalism: This is the literary field you were most likely taught back in high school. This study focuses on solely the language provided within a given text, rather than historical context or authorial intent. This method includes analyzing plot elements, characters, diction, and poetic devices such as metaphor and allusion.
Example: When Hamlet says “To die; to sleep…” (3.1.68), he is using metaphor to compare dying to sleeping, and thus makes death seem less frightful and complex.
Structuralism: Structuralism focuses on how plot elements may give structure to a text, often by analyzing binaries that exist within a text. Like Formalism, Structuralism focuses solely on a text itself, not historical context.
Example: We see a dichotomy of characters within Hamlet, those who act and those who think/hesitate/do not act. Laertes and Claudius are men of action (fighting or killing to suit their needs), whereas Hamlet tends toward inaction (hesitating to kill Claudius as he prays.)
Deconstruction: When Structuralism gives us binaries, Deconstruction breaks them down. Deconstruction also analyzes the instability of language, as word meanings may change over time or mean several things within one usage.
Example: Although, as our previous example demonstrated, Hamlet tends toward inaction, he tends toward actions in some scene, such as when he stabs Polonius through a curtain. We can also ask what exactly “action” means – is it solely deeds, or does speech count as well?
New Historicism: New Historicism looks at the realities of the time period a text was written in to find meaning. New Historicism seeks out primary sources to give us description about what life was like for the author during their life in their era and their home.
Example: What was life like for Danish royals during the Renaissance? Why did Shakespeare, an Englishman, choose to write about Denmark? Succession disputes are at the heart of Hamlet’s plot, is this commentary on the real-life succession crisis following the death of Queen Elizabeth I that Shakespeare lived through?
Art by John William Waterhouse
Feminism: Feminist theory analyzes women within a text. This can manifest as analyzing female characters themselves, or attitudes toward women, or how women are placed within power structures of the text, etc. Feminist studies has since transformed into Gender Studies, which analyzes both men and women in a text, as well as what constitutes the masculine and the feminine in a text.
Example: Only two women appear within Hamlet: one his mother, Gertrude and one his girlfriend, Ophelia. Hamlet harasses his mother, believing she has something to due with the murder of his father (she does not), and spurns Ophelia as a part of his scheme to “act crazy.” We can easily see that women do not have much power within the play.
Queer Theory: Queer Theory came out of Gender Studies, and focuses on depictions of non-normative sexuality that oppose dominant attitudes about sexuality. Queer Theory also analyzes general inversions of dominant constructs within a given text.
Example: Is Hamlet’s relationship with Horatio homoerotic? The Prince tells Horatio that he is held close in his heart, and Horatio eulogizes the dying Hamlet with the touching “Goodnight, sweet prince” (5.2.397).
Psychoanalysis: Having begun with Sigmund Freud, Psychoanalytic Theory attempts to understand the unconscious and subconscious of authors as their desires may manifest within literature. While some of the most famous applications of Psychoanalytic literary criticism involve the Oedipus Complex, this field also studies the id, ego, and superego; dreams; reality versus fantasy; and death wishes/death avoidance.
Example: “Hamlet and Oedipus,” a book by Ernest Jones, claims that Hamlet’s desire to kill his uncle is in part due to his repressed sexual desire for his own mother. This theory about Hamlet and Gertrude’s relationship can also be seen in several adaptations of the play, such as Mel Gibson’s Hamlet.
Marxism: Marxism analyzes both structures of control and circulation of capital. Marxism asks who has the power and what gives them that power within any given work of literature.
Example: The major players of the text have considerable wealth, either belonging to the royal family or having some kind of noble blood. Non-royal characters, such as Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, are expendable, their deaths off-screen and holding little impact. This fact demonstrates the valuing of those with capital over those without within feudalism/capitalism.
In academia, you will rarely find scholarly articles that use only one method of analysis. It is common, for instance, to see a scholar take a Marxist, Feminist, and New Historicist approach to a text, or maybe a Queer and Deconstructionist approach. This breakdown is simply to help identify such approaches, and perhaps inspire you to analyze literature under these approaches on your own.
-Summer, Peer Tutor
Chicago Manual Style. Though you may hope that your professor is requesting that you turn in a deep dish pizza with your finished essay, this is not the case.
Image courtesy of cookdiary.net
While Chicago style formatting is not as delicious as deep dish pizza, it is no cause for alarm. Some people cling to MLA as it is familiar to them, but Chicago is very easy, and has a cleaner look to it on the page. Do not worry, you too can learn this wonderful formatting style!
Here are simple tips for formatting your paper in Chicago style:
-If you are talking about a book or the title of a periodical, italicize it.
-If you are talking about an article or the title of a chapter, it get less fancy “quotation marks.”
-When you cite a source, place a superscript number at the end of the sentence. This number will correspond to a footnote at the bottom of the page. Not sure how that works in Word? It should look something like this:
Image courtesy of community.thomsonreuters.com
How do you format these citations or in-text citations you ask? Never fear! It is also quite simple.
For the footnote:
1Firstname, Lastname. Fancy Title of Book. (Fancy place of publication: Publisher name, publication year), page number(s).
1Jane Austen. Sense and Sensibility. (New York: W. W. Norton and Co., 2002), 254.
For the bibliography:
Lastname, Firstname. Fancy Title of Book. Place of publication: Publisher name, publication
Austen, Jane. Sense and Sensibility. New York: W. W. Norton and Co., 2002.
The formatting for an article in a periodical is also very similar and simple.
For the footnote:
2Firstname, Lastname. “Fancy Title of Article,” Capitalized Journal Title. issue number, volume number (year of publication): page number(s) that you are citing.
2Misty, Krueger. “From Marginalia to Juvenilia: Jane Austen’s Vindication of the Stuarts.”
Eighteenth Century: Theory and Interpretation. 56, no. 2 (2015): 250.
For the bibliography:
2Lastname, Firstname. “Fancy Title of Article,” Capitalized Journal Title. issue number, volume
number (year of publication): page number(s) cited.
2Krueger, Misty. “From Marginalia to Juvenilia: Jane Austen’s Vindication of the Stuarts.”
Eighteenth Century: Theory And Interpretation. 56, no. 2 (2015): 243-259.
More tips for the Bibliography:
-Just like with other citation methods, your bibliography should be in alphabetical order.
-If there are 2-3 authors, write out all of their names. If you have 4-10 authors, then still write out all of their names. However, just use the first of the names and “et al” in your footnotes.
If you have other questions about Chicago Manual Style, another wonderful resource is the OWL Purdue.
-Hannah, peer tutor
Have you ever wanted to write about the experiences you’ve had when you’ve travelled? Maybe you went to Punta Cana this past summer, or England on your Jan Term. How can you let someone know what your experiences were really like? The answer to that question is: travel writing.
Travel writing is a genre of nonfiction writing in which “the narrator’s encounters with foreign places serve as the dominant subject.” This means you can write about exploration, adventure, or the great outdoors! But you can also write about not-so-glamorous experiences, like riding the broken-down metro or getting lost in the back alleys of Budapest. Anything that’s a “travel experience” is fair game. It’s also important to note that you don’t have to travel far to have a meaningful travel experience. You can travel write about your hometown: What is there to do? What aspects of the town do people first notice? What’s the attitude of the people like? Your backyard is someone’s travel spot!
Not your literal backyard, though.
Interested yet? Well, onto the first step: travel there! If you have yet to go to your destination-of-choice, be sure to bring a journal when you do. Jot down notes about things that strike you. What are your first impressions? What makes the place unique? What is an encounter that might be interesting or amusing to retell? If you have already been to your destination and are writing about it after-the-fact, try to mentally travel back to that place, and ask yourself the same questions: What features of the place stood out to you? What vibe did you get from the people? Did anything interesting happen to you while you were there? Describe it! As an aside, your writing doesn’t have to be an encapsulation of an entire place. You can travel write about things like a restaurant, park, or mall (while eventually putting it in the larger context of the place—but we’ll get to that!).
Next, organize your notes. For travel writing, you’ll usually want to have a mix of:
- your own present experiences in the place
- your past experiences relevant to the place
- experiences of other people in the place
- historical or broader context about the place
This “weaving” of different content allows you to give a fuller picture of the place to your readers. It keeps things interesting without relegating your writing to only a quirky story or an encyclopedia entry. Including people (whether it’s yourself or others) interacting with your place also prevents you from simply describing the physical features of a place, which gets boring fast.
If you need help with details and organization, check out some “travel” shows like Rick Steves Europe, House Hunters International, and Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives. These shows profile places visually and orally. The writers find interesting features of a place, film and talk about them, and give background information. Take note of how they do it, and imagine you’re a director: how would you film your topic? You can’t include everything, so what do you include?
Finally: write! As with any writing: draft, revise, repeat—until you have an engaging and informative piece that illuminates some aspect of your place. Do this well enough, and you can even submit to magazines and get paid! At the very least, you will have a great written memory of a place and your experiences there.
-Sarah, peer tutor
Now that we’re almost done with the semester, there’s a glazed look in every McDaniel student’s eyes. It can only mean one thing: we’re burned out. We’ve all had four tests too many, not enough paper extensions, and way too many Starbucks Doubleshots. But you know what? There’s still another paper, another test, another cup of coffee. And in a few weeks, we’re going to have finals. Whenever someone mentions finals, there’re a few phrases you’ll hear:
“I’m going to drop out.”
“C’s get degrees.”
“Grandma said college was a waste of money.”
from Flickr Commons
Now, before you drop out, resign yourself to an average grade, or start believing Grandma, who still thinks you look best with your shirt buttoned up to your neck, take a break. That’s right. I said take a break.
The best thing to do when you’re feeling burned out after a 3-hour study session or a 4-hour paper-writing binge is to take a break. Not a 5 hour Orange is the New Black break. A 30-minute maximum break. That’s the limit I’m going to give you. From personal experience, after those 30 minutes are over, you have a better chance of catching a foul hit at an O’s game than getting straight back into your paper-writing mode.
Accept it, you’re not as lucky as the Oriole Bird. Instead, follow these suggestions for 30-minute breaks to take during your finals week:
1. Clean your study space.
You might laugh, but it’s a good way to still feel productive. Part of why it’s so hard to get back to work after a break is that you’ve lost your desire to continue being productive. That break to read the next chapter of your fifth reread of The Goblet of Fire will quickly dissolve into a nap until dinner. And boom! You’ve lost 4 hours of work. So grab the Clorox wipes, vacuum, or dust rag and clean around your laptop or desk before sitting back down and getting the rest of your study guide typed.
2. Watch a TED talk.
Instead of YouTube, where you can get lost watching every Jenna Marbles video she’s uploaded over the past two years, go ahead and check out TED.com. These videos are between 5 and 20 minutes and the library offers a selection of educational lectures on just about anything you can think of. They’re entertaining but will keep you thinking, just so it’s easier for you to get back to work.
3. Fix yourself a good study break snack.
Make it something tasty. Don’t bother with bird food or rabbit food, but don’t just grab a bag of Doritos. Try an apple with caramel or crackers and peanut butter. Make it a reward for working so hard. Make sure you eat it away from your laptop; you don’t want to associate things you do during break time with where you do work.
4. Go on a walk.
Stretch your legs. Make it a lap around the school, but not much more. Getting too far, literally and figuratively, from your work will only make it that much harder to get back to it.
5. Play 8 rounds of Mario-cart.
If absolutely none of these options are going to happen for you, play a video game. Not Assassin’s Creed: Unity. Something you can time and actually stick to the time you set up. Something like Mario Cart. According to Writing Center polls, it takes about 8 games of Mario Cart to fill a 30-minute slot.
Rather than catching up on your Hulu queue that you’ve been neglecting for two weeks, try one of the above options. Do your best to avoid the Internet; you’re going to want to cry when you realize you spent 3 hours of your study time watching Cat Man Do videos on YouTube. You really will. I’m not speaking out of personal experience. Really.
Best of luck on finals!
–Cari, peer tutor