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
A lot of people think of the Writing Center as a place to take papers from your English class. But, as we’ve discussed in previous blogs, we can help with al kinds of assignments! Not only can we help you with your English essay, we have expertise in History papers, presentations, visual texts such as fliers, making videos, and much more.
We can even help you with writing a report for your biology, chemistry, or other science course. Check out Bryn’s Tips for Writing a Science Report and make an appointment with us today!
Use separate section headers!
Introduction or background
- State the need for your project
- Explain the past research and findings
- State the objectives of the project
- State and explain hypothesis (if one exists)
- Explain, in detail, the experiment so that another may recreate it the same way
- Explain which materials and apparatus were used
- Explain what you measured and how, etc.
- Explicitly state the results of the experiment
- Explain why results are important and what they mean
- Explain whether or not the results support any hypothesis presented in the introduction
- Explain error with error analysis and how it affected results
- Where to go from here
- Next steps in experiment or next experiments to follow the previous one
Check your tone!
- Be sure to use a professional and factual voice
- Be as concise as possible
- Refrain from “First… second…” listings and “story-like” or directional language
- Use past tense about findings and methods
- Use present tense for generalizations and future research/conclusion
Share your equations!
- Separate line from text
- Numbered for reference
- Only post the relevant, final graphs
- Be sure to title the graph and label its axes
PowerPoints are the bane of many a student’s existence. They’re irritating, difficult to work with, and easy to tweak into an unreadable mess. The following ten tips should help, however, when approaching these sticky assignments.
- Go for a crisp, clean, professional look, not an artistic or messy one. This includes not having unnecessary pictures, ‘cute’ fonts, words in strange colors, and ‘fun’ elements such as incessant visual and audio effects. Go ahead and pick a nice-looking theme, but don’t overdo it.
Don’t be this person. Use an appropriate font and images with transparent backgrounds—avoid the white box around images!
- Make everything possible to read. This means using easy-to-read fonts like Times New Roman, Arial, or Georgia, making sure text has a strong contrast with the background, and using organizational tools like bullet points and numbered lists judiciously. Text needs to be large enough to read easily and pictures need to be relevant and easy to understand.
Never do…basically any of this. Don’t use ‘cute’ fonts, yellow text, or even more than one font in your PowerPoint. Use contrast: cool colors in the background, like blue or gradient gray, go better with a little bit of text in a warm color, like red or plum.
- Limit text displayed on-screen. Try using the 7-7 rule: only 7 words on each line of each slide, and only 7 lines per slide. Obviously, this isn’t always possible, but it does help to practice being concise and saving detailed information for the presenter to present vocally.
Holy walls of text, Batman!
- Use pictures—carefully. Pictures are a great addition to your PowerPoint, and some successful presentations only have text in the titles of their slides, but if you over-saturate your presentation with them they will soon lose their effectiveness. Only use relevant pictures, and be careful to ensure that they are either of good quality or are justified in not being so.
This would be a bad image to use in a PowerPoint about non-Euclidean geometries, for example.
- Don’t make it too long or short. Practice your PowerPoint at least twice and time it. Try to aim for the average of the minimum and maximum presentation times–if you asked to have a 10-15 minute presentation, shoot for 12.5 minutes; if you are assigned a 30-45 minute presentation, try for 37.5 minutes. A presentation that is too short makes you look lazy, and a presentation that is too long bores the listener.
You almost certainly don’t ever need to see this. Too many slides!
- Don’t rush. Leave appropriate pauses between bullet points and slides, giving time for students to take notes and the audience to absorb, process, and respond to new information. Rushing through a presentation gives the impression that you hate presenting, and professors are sharks that feast on your discomfort.
Not a good life OR writing motto.
- Delude yourself into displaying confidence. It is perfectly normal and fine to feel impeding doom at the very idea of having to make and give a presentation. However, acting confident by smiling, gesticulating, answering questions, and projecting your voice all give a good false impression that you are secure and confident in your PowerPoint, and thus help your audience enjoy and pay attention to your work.
Imagine yourself as Wonder Woman. Do her stance before every slide if you need to.
- Have a cheat sheet and practice off of it. Make a ‘cheat sheet’ of some sort, out of index cards or a typed outline, and practice giving the presentation by speaking from the sheet. This will help the presentation flow together better and alert you to changes you need to make to your PowerPoint.
A creative way to use a cheat sheet. Retrieved from https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Spicker_trinkflasche.jpg
- Present as if you are not a robot. This means that you cannot simply sit or awkwardly stand in front of the computer or class and read off of the slides. Instead, gesture, walk back and forth in front of the room, and elaborate on your points. Smile and nod at people, and address the audience as if they exist. Make your presentation pop with props and embedded videos and audio files. Please note that if you are, in fact, a robot, this is a great opportunity to infiltrate human society.
Don’t be this adorable robot. Be better than this adorable robot. Crush its adorable robot dreams into dust.
- Go to the Writing Center or otherwise get feedback on your PowerPoint. Go ahead and book an appointment with us today, here! We’re willing, able, and happy to help you with any kind of writing, including multimedia writing.
Log on and make an appointment today!
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
I studied abroad for the summer in Dijon, France followed by a fall semester abroad in Budapest, Hungary. Before embarking on my seven-month stay in Europe, I made a promise to myself that I would write in a travel journal every day — no skipping days and no excuses. I wanted to remember as much as possible about my experience and decided that writing in a journal would be the best way to preserve my memories.
Budapest, Hungary (photo credit: www.myhomebudspest.com)
Below are some of the reasons why writing in a journal is helpful (especially for those of you thinking about study abroad) along with some (hopefully) useful advice regarding journal writing.
- The entries do not have to be extensive. Some of my entries were only two sentences. However, writing these brief entries not only helped me accomplish my goal of writing each day, but the items I did write down added valuable details to the journal.
- Writing can complement your photos. Pictures are always a great visual representation of places you have visited. However, after I returned to the US, I forgot the significance and history of certain buildings and monuments. When I read through some of my journal entries, I was able to recall important details which enriched my story telling for my friends and family.
McDaniel College, Budapest (photo credit: www.mcdaniel.edu)
- Write down key words. If something significant happened on a particular day, I wrote down a title for the journal entry. This way, whenever I want to reread a specific detail about a trip, instead of browsing through each entry, I can simply look at the titles of certain entries.
- Reread the journal entries. Every month while abroad, I read through past entries. Not only was it fun to reflect on my random thoughts, but I was able to notice some changes in the way I wrote and thought. The progression of the entries demonstrated that my views were consistently changing; reading this was pretty rewarding.
- Write at a specific time each day. At first, I struggled to write each night at 11 pm. After about two weeks of writing at this time, I discovered that I could not fall asleep without writing. There were times where I forgot or was too busy to write. However, I made sure to catch up with the entries the next day in order to reach my goal.
- Make it personal and special. On random pages throughout my journal, I listed some inspirational travel quotes. Whenever I came across a page with a quote, it was a bit of a surprise, and each one seemed to connect to my journey at the time.
Semester in Budapest
(photo credit: Leanna Jasek-Rysdahl)
In all honesty, my journal is the most valuable souvenir from my study abroad experience. It traveled with me to ten different countries and contains a written record of my thoughts, worries, concerns, beliefs, and experiences for my seven months abroad. I would recommend journal writing for any situation, but if you are going abroad, it might be one of the best decisions you make. It was for me.
-Leanna, Peer Tutor
Maybe you write best in absolute silence. Maybe you need the soft buzz of life going on around you. You might find that the best sentences pour from you once you turn on some Frank Sinatra or One Direction. Perhaps all you really need to be inspired is the scent of the fresh air rushing through the grass.
The importance of place when one sets out to write is paramount. Ernest Hemingway needed to write standing up. Rumor has it that Ben Franklin wrote from the bathtub. Jane Austen preferred to write amidst the daily routine of her family. E. B. White sought the comfort of a cabin by the shore. And I find that my best work comes when I lay on my stomach on the floor.
Every writer, and yes, you are a writer, has his or her own quirks when it comes to finding a place that works with writing energy. As a junior now at McDaniel, I’ve been able to try out a few places around campus and have found some of the best writing places for those with different writing atmospheric needs. My hope is that this brief list will help both the new students coming into a new environment at McDaniel and those still searching for their sweet spot around campus.
image from mcdaniel.edu
• Clever, Shannon, the library is an obvious place to mention first. But seriously, I bet you might be able to find a place in the library that works for you. Hoover Library has undergone some serious renovation and refurnishing that has made all types of spaces available for students. Whether you need the silent floor, the group study tables, an individual desk, or one of the comfy chairs on the side rooms on the second floor in the front, you’ll find a nice place amongst the shelves. I recommend that you take a walk through the library and explore every nook and cranny like I did, and now I know my perfect library spot—which is mine and mine only…
Casey’s Corner is a wonderful place for those who need a soft buzz in the background while they write. The colors are cozy, the seating options vary, and the place always smells like delicious, warm coffee (if you like that sort of scent, like I do). Casey’s Corner also offers a convenient and tasty writing break opportunity so that you can reenergize and refocus with a coffee or big cookie stimulation if you work best with a yummy bite.
image from mcdaniel2016.tumblr.com
Hill, Lewis, Merritt Classrooms
Even though the late night classroom use policy has changed, you can still find a classroom to work in for a couple hours before the buildings close for the night. Sometimes I like to work in the classrooms on the second floor of Hill (because I love the English dept. to pieces :] ) which provide enough space to spread out and write while on the floor, or you can use the big desk if you’d like. The classrooms are conducive to writing because they don’t have too many distractions which means you’re usually left alone and can focus much better.
You might think this is an odd choice, but sometimes when I really just need to get away from it all, I like to take a little walk over to Little Baker, laptop in tow, and sit down for a couple of hours to write. I have found that Little Baker has a very peaceful and beautiful atmosphere that might be helpful for those of you that stress out while writing. Take a breather, look at the beauty of the stained glass, and return to that paper with a calmer demeanor.
Harvey Stone Park
Depending on the weather, Harvey Stone is a great place to write for those of you who need to be outdoors. Harvey Stone is the pavilion located behind the baseball field, down the little gravel hillside pathway, and bumped up against the golf course. You might find the quiet you are looking for here with a little bit of nature cheering you on as you type.
image from panoramio.com
I know a lot of athletes who like to write in the lobby of Gill where they can have the background stimulation of the tv’s, passersby, and the all encompassing aroma of Vocelli’s. A lot of athletes feel comfortable working and writing here because they spend so much time there for their extracurricular athletic activities and training. This might be your spot if you need some movement around you or would like to feel comfortable in a spot that feels just like your second home.
Create Your Own Unique Spot
So this is my clever way of wrapping up my modest list. But this one might be the most important. Maybe your dorm room or common room is the best place. I’ve never been to your room, but maybe you have a poster of Brittany Spears or Ganesh from which you find the source of your most brilliant of thoughts. Or maybe you’re like me and you find some spot that only works for you—for example, I go down to the pool. As a swimmer, I’ve found that writing at the pool is like coming home, and that is perfect for me to generate some stellar paragraphs.
I hope this list has at least sparked some thought about where you need to be to write at your best. Sometimes it is surprising just how much of an effect your surroundings have on your work, and those surroundings might need to change depending on even your mood or the type of writing you need to do. You might find that you can do your English papers in the comfort of your room, but gosh darn you just need to go to a classroom to do your Chemistry lab report. Do a little writer-soul-searching and take a walk around campus, try out some new spots. You never know where you might end up and what you can do when you find that perfect place of your writing dreams.
– Shannon, peer tutor