Category Archives: Writing Tips

Papers & Essays: Study Skills

Let’s be real here – you’ve got a 2,000-word essay due in less than 24 hours and you’re watching a YouTube video.

Look at your life, look at your choices. But wait to do that until this video’s over, because today I’m going to help you become a literary genius.

Or, at least, write a paper that doesn’t give your teacher more ammunition for wastebasket free throws.

Simon Peyton Jones, a researcher for Microsoft, once gave a talk at Cambridge University about how to write a great research paper.

In this talk, he advised the audience to start out the paper writing process with a pre-writing phase.

Only once that’s done should they go to research. Most people do this in the opposite way.

They get their idea, they go do a bunch of research on it, and then write their paper.

But I like Jones’ advice to go through a pre-writing phase before doing any research, because it does a couple of very important things.

First, pre-writing will dredge up things you didn’t even think you knew about the topic.

This is something that professional writers know really well; when you spend some quality time writing in a focused state, your brain will make connections and serve up memories you didn’t even know you had.

As a result, you’ll come up with lots of great questions and preliminary arguments that might just make it into your final draft.

And this leads directly to the second benefit, which is more focused research.

When you go into the research process armed with questions and arguments from your pre-writing phase, you’ll have a much better idea of what you’re looking for, and you’ll spend a lot less time going down pointless rabbit holes.

Now, the first thing to understand about the pre-writing phase is that it’s not about cranking out a polished paper on your first try.

For one, you haven’t even done the research yet – but more importantly, a paper is a big project. And with big projects, you need to just jump in and make a mess at first. It’s like an artist creating a sculpture out of a solid block of marble. Any good artist knows that it’s much easier to hammer out the basic features right away instead of trying to jump right into the detailed work. And at first, the result will be a mess, but it’s much easier to hone a mess into something great than to turn a solid block of marble into a masterpiece on the first pass.

So let’s get into the details. Personally, my pre-writing phase usually takes the form of a brain dump.

Now, this is not an attempt to write a coherent paper. Instead, it’s just a chance for me to get all of my thoughts onto a piece of paper or into a document in my note-taking app. When I do a brain dump, I’ll open a new document, set a pomodoro timer for 25 minutes, like we talked about in that procrastination video, and then I just start writing.

Specifically, I’m looking to pull basically everything I know about the topic out of my brain, as well as identify any questions I might have.

I’ll also list out any main points that I think will be important to cover, and finally try to think of any specific external resources that might be useful to look at during the research process. Once you’ve done a brain dump, it’s time to move onto the research process.

Now, the biggest pitfall that most students deal with here is the tendency to get stuck in this phase forever. The author Cal Newport calls this “research recursion syndrome” – you get stuck in a loop of constantly looking for yet another source.

In his book How to Become a Straight-A Student, Newport lays out an algorithm of sorts for ensuring you don’t get stuck in this loop.

First, you find your sources. Now, you’ll probably find most of these at the library or on the internet,

but it’s also possible that you’ll find them in the burial room of an ancient temple full of booby traps.

Pro-tip: Most teachers agree that being impaled by hidden floor spikes is not an acceptable excuse for turning your paper in late.

Just so you know. A safer place that you might actually want to start with is Wikipedia.

Now, some of your teachers are gonna say that Wikipedia isn’t a good source – and they’re right. However, the citations section at the bottom of each and every Wikipedia article is actually a really great place to find good sources, since Wikipedia holds their articles to high standards and requires high-quality source material – like scientific studies published in reputable journals.

Aside from Wikipedia, though, you’ll also find lots of good sources through Google Scholar, journal databases like EBSCO, your school library,

and – one place you might not have thought of before – the notes or bibliography section in most popular science books.

For example, Bill Bryson’s book A Short History of Nearly Everything contains 48 pages of citations and references to other works.

Once you’ve found your sources, make personal copies of them – create photocopies if they’re in books or other paper formats, or add them to a note-taking app if they’re digital.

This ensures that you’ll always have them available to you when you’re writing without having to go look them up again.

Next, you wanna annotate the material.

Skim each source, highlight the sections that you feel are specifically relevant to the arguments you want to make,

and add any notes that might help you hammer out the details of those arguments when you’re actually writing the final draft.

Finally, consciously ask yourself if you’re done.

Cal’s ballpark suggestion here is to have at least two sources for each main point in your thesis, and at least one for any tangential or non-crucial points.

Of course, this is a general suggestion, so you’ll have to make the final call.

If the answer is no, repeat the process.

If the answer is yes, then it’s time to write your first real draft.

And this should be an awful first draft.

There’s a popular adage that’s often attributed to Ernest Hemingway which goes, “Write drunk, edit sober.”

Now, there are a more than a few things wrong with this quote.

First, Hemingway never said it – it’s actually a pithy re-phrasing of a passage from a novel called Reuben, Reuben by Peter De Vries.

Secondly, Hemingway definitely didn’t write this way – even though he was a guy who definitely drank a lot in his spare time.

However, it’s still a useful piece of advice as long as it isn’t taken literally.

What’s it’s actually getting at is the usefulness of letting the initial act of creation be free of scrutiny and restraint.

And this is important, because one of the most difficult problems that writers deal with is perfectionism.

To the Thought Bubble!

Let me get real with you for a second. This video you’re watching right now? Creating this has been a dream of mine for years.

Crash Course was one of my biggest inspirations for becoming a YouTuber in the first place, and ever since I started, one of my biggest aspirations was to be a host on this very channel.

I wanted to be a part of the project that inspired me to start creating videos on my own. So I’ll be honest, sitting here, talking to you, being an animated character – this is awesome.

But it was also intimidating, because I felt like the series had to be perfect, and that made it really hard to write the scripts that you’re listening to right now. However, once I reminded myself that they didn’t have to be perfect the first time, the writing became much, much easier.

I knew that my fantastic editor Meredith would help me hone each script into something truly great before I actually had to deliver it on camera.

And once I acknowledged that fact, the first drafts became so much easier to do. This same mindset will speed up the completion of your own first draft as well. It’s ok if your first draft is awful, because future you will be there to edit it and shape it into something great.

Thanks, Thought Bubble. Now, one technique that I’ve found to be helpful during this process is to write my first draft in a different place than where I intend the final draft to go.

This might be a separate document, or it might be an entirely different app.

For instance, I write the first draft of almost every one of my blog posts and video scripts in Evernote. Later, I’ll polish them up in Google Drive.

Using a separate app helps me to truly believe that it’s ok to make a mess. Of course, that mess has to get cleaned up eventually!

Now, I did say a minute ago that cleaning it up is future you’s problem, but eventually future you becomes now you. So let’s talk about editing. I recommend editing your paper in two separate stages.

Stage one is the content edit. Here, you’re looking at your paper as a whole and asking yourself the most important questions:

Does each argument support the thesis? Does the paper have a good narrative flow?

Is each argument properly fleshed out and backed up with research or external sources? What can be removed or written in a clearer, simpler way? Essentially, this stage is all about making sure the paper communicates your message to the reader as effectively as possible.

It’s not about spelling errors. Those you should save for stage two – the technical edit.

At this point, you’re ready to go over your paper with a fine-toothed comb to identify any problems with the structure or syntax.

Things like: – Spelling and grammar mistakes – Poorly structured sentences – Formatting errors – Sentences that just don’t sound right

I find that the most effective way to do a technical edit is to print out the paper and go over it by hand. It’s just easier to catch mistakes when you’re editing the paper in its final intended medium. Plus, by using pen and paper, you’re prevented from making corrections on the fly.

Doing so would require switching contexts from editing to writing, which can be fatiguing and makes it easier to get sloppy near the end of the paper. In addition to printing out your paper, you should also take the time to read it out loud.

This forces you to slow down and prevents you from unconsciously skipping over any words, and it also helps you identify any sentences that don’t sound good.

Finally, remember that one set of eyes isn’t good enough – especially when they’re your own. To make your paper truly great, you need to let other people look over it and get their feedback.

Simon Peyton Jones has some more good advice here:

First, realize that each person can only read your paper for the first time exactly once.

Just like I can never experience the magic of Zelda: Breath of the Wild for the first time ever again (single tear), nobody can read your paper with fresh eyes twice.

So be strategic with your reviewers.

Let a couple people read the first draft, and keep other people on deck for the final one.

Secondly, make sure to explicitly ask for the kind of feedback you actually want.

When people aren’t given direction, they’ll naturally gravitate to looking for spelling and grammar errors – which aren’t nearly as important as the big elements, like whether your arguments even make sense.

Finally, after you’ve gotten your feedback and finished both stages of editing, print out your final draft and give it one final read-through from start to finish.

If everything makes sense and nothing sticks out as glaringly wrong, give yourself permission to be done.

In all likelihood, you’ve just crafted an excellent paper. Congrats!

Crash Course Study Skills is filmed in the Dr. Cheryl C. Kinney Crash Course Studio in Missoula, MT, and it’s made with the help of all of these nice people. If you’d like to keep Crash Course free for everyone, forever, you can support the series at Patreon, a crowdfunding platform that allows you to support the content you love.

Thank you so much for your support.


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Ways You Can Get More essay writing services While Spending Less

 DAY 3 DETAIL CHART—Model using the topic sentences from your Organization Chart to add details on your Detail Chart. essay writing service the topic sentences in the boxes, then list details related to each topic sentence. Try to come up with a personal connection or experience for each topic sentence. This helps give the essay a personal touch! Have students write their topic sentences in the Detail Charts, then talk with a friend as they add details to each box. Use the last 5 minutes of class to have students share their Detail Charts with the class or in small groups. (40 minutes)

*DAYS 4 & 5 ROUGH DRAFT—Model using ideas from the Organization Chart and Detail Chart to write the rough draft. This will take a few days. Use this time to model and teach mini-lessons that improve writing such as using transition words, prepositional phrases, hooks and conclusions, elaboration, including adjectives and adverbs, etc. Refer to your school’s curriculum for resources on helping students develop their rough drafts. The organizer is the frame for the writing at this point, but you will need to supplement with lessons to help your writers grow. Conference with students to make sure they are following the structure, staying on topic, using their charts as a guide when they write their drafts, etc. They need lots of support at this point. (80 minutes)

*DAYS 6 & 7 REVISE AND EDIT—Refer to your school’s curriculum for support with revising and editing. I use ARMS for revising which stands for Add, Remove, Move, Substitute and CUPS for editing which stands for Capitalization, Usage, Punctuation, and Spelling. Model this process and teach students to work cooperatively with a writing partner. (80 minutes)

*DAY 8 FINAL COPY—Model taking information from the Rough Draft page to the Final Copy page. I teach my students to indent for each paragraph but NOT to skip lines. Then, give students time to write. Before they are allowed to turn the final copy in, I ask them to take a short break before going back one more time to read their work and fix silly mistakes. (40 minutes)

Writing/Expository and Procedural Texts. Students write expository and procedural or work-related texts to communicate ideas and information to specific audiences for specific purposes. Students are expected to:

(A) create brief compositions that:

(i) establish a central idea in a topic sentence;

(ii) include supporting sentences with simple facts, details, and explanations; and

(iii) contain a concluding statement.

Read More

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Avoiding Plagiarism in Research Paper Writing

Plagiarism is the use of another person’s words or ideas without crediting the source. It is a serious breach of academic honesty. At the very least, you will fail the assignment, and sometimes the consequences are much more severe. Even if you don’t get caught, you have let yourself down by being dishonest and missing the opportunity to learn.

An example of plagiarism is to use someone else’s paper as your own, or directly copying information from a website or other source. You also need to avoid unintentional plagiarism, where you incorrectly use someone else’s ideas simply because you don’t know how to cite them properly. Ignorance of what constitutes plagiarism, however, is no excuse. The following guidelines will help you avoid making a mistake in Works Cited page.

Example source: “As one might imagine, Stegner was not in favor of the American Dream, or at least not the materialistic dream of status and possessions.”

Benson, Jackson. Wallace Stegner: His Life and Work. New York: Viking, 1996.
1. Direct Quotation: If you use the exact words from a source, always use quotation marks,

followed by a citation.

Correct: “As one might imagine, Stegner was not in favor of the American Dream, or at least not the materialistic dream of status and possessions” (Benson 10).

Plagiarized: As one might imagine, Stegner was not in favor of the American Dream, or at least not the materialistic dream of status and possessions.
(Missing quotation marks and citation)

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MLA formatting Tips & Tricks

  • Double space the whole paper.
  • Use an easily readable 12 point font, such as Times New Roman (this document uses
    Times New Roman).
  • The margins of the paper all the way around are 1 inch
  • Use the tab key (5 spaces) when beginning a new paragraph.
  • Put your last name and page number in the upper right corner of each page, 1⁄2 inch from
    the top of the page.
  • On the first page, in the upper left, one inch from the top of the page, list your name, the
    instructor’s name, the class and the date. The date should be in this format: 21 March
  • Center the title. Do not use a different, larger or bold font. Do not put extra space

between the title and the text of the paper.

Here is a sample of the first page of an essay in MLA format

Example of 1st Page of MLA Formatted Essay

Here is a sample of the In-Text Citation Chart

In-Text Citation Chart for MLA Format

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Writing Introductions and Conclusions for Research Papers

The introduction and conclusion are critical parts of your essay. The introduction is what grabs the reader’s attention (or not!) and makes them want to read what you have to say. The conclusion is the last impression you will leave with the reader, and the last chance to persuade the reader to see your point of view.


There are many ways to begin your paper, but the main consideration is to get the reader’s attention. Sometimes your thesis statement works well enough on its own, but often you will want to start with some other type of attention-grabber before you state your thesis. Below are three ways to consider starting your essay, and an example of each. You can also see how your thesis statement might be adjusted to make the first paragraph flow smoothly.

Thesis:  Although researchers believe that the cause for eating disorders is complicated, media images are one of the main reasons girls develop these disorders.

1. Anecdote

An anecdote is a short narrative, or story, that illustrates your point. This can be effective because the reader will want to know what happens next.


My sister wanted to be a high-fashion model like the girls in the ads she ripped story out of magazines and tacked to her wall. She was tall and beautiful, but she never felt she was thin enough. One day, after passing out in school, she was diagnosed


2. Interesting Information

(to be continued…)

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