Post from the Past: How to Efficiently Write a Great Research Paper

In honor of Throwback Thursdays. Because I have friends who are just starting college life. Because I want to start blogging again. But mostly, because I am bored, and I can’t sleep…

In college, I wrote tons of research papers. While most of my classes only required one paper per semester, two of the classes that I took required three. As I read the syllabi for those classes, I realized that I needed to find a way to streamline my whole paper-writing process. This is what I came up with, and it worked really well for me.

Step 1: Choose a topic within 24 hours of learning that you have a paper to write.

Step 2: As soon as the topic is approved by your instructor, go to the library. Set aside two or three hours for taking notes (for a 1500 word paper – about 4 pages, double-spaced). I prefer to take hand-written notes – don’t ask me why. I always retype them anyway. Perhaps it’s because once I’ve written my notes once, and typed them once, I don’t have to reread them before I begin writing the paper.

Step 3: If you are researching something that is pretty obscure, try looking it up in the index of big books that cover a broad topic. Even if you can only find a paragraph or two covering your specific topic, you can still use that particular book as a source. (I had a teacher that required four different book sources and two online sources.) That way, even if you can’t find an entire book on your topic, you can still pull a different quote or fact from each book source. The rest you can find online.

Step 4: Write down bibliographical information immediately. You don’t have to format it yet – just make sure you have all the info.

Step 5: Take all of your notes verbatim, and make a note of which page you are taking the info from. If you begin a new page in the middle of your notes, make sure to note that as well. Instead of trying to italicize hand-written words, I use slashes to /set them apart/. If you have an idea of your own while copying notes, make sure you clearly mark it as yours.

My notes usually ended up looking something like this:

Book Title: Author’s full name: Publisher, City, Date

Page 17

Blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah /blah blah/ blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah.

(Amy’s idea: blah blah blah.)

Blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah (18) blah blah blah blah.

Type all of your notes into a single file.

Step 6: Spend a half hour taking notes from each book source. After a half hour – stop. Don’t allow yourself to get too caught up taking notes from any one source. You will never get finished! If you are researching a person, use each book to research a different era of the person’s life. If you are researching a different kind of topic, use each book to research a different aspect of that topic. Even if all of the books contain basically the same information, this is a good way to efficiently use multiple sources.

Step 7: Find your online sources, making sure they are from trusted sites. If you can use the school’s databases, all the better. Copy and paste all pertinent info into a single file. Copy and paste all bibliographical web site information at the beginning of each section. Since websites are in a constant state of change, make sure you include the access date (the date you copied the information).

Step 8: Print off all of your information. If you have more than twenty pages for a relatively short paper, you may want to delete some of the redundant or irrelevant material before printing.

Step 9: Decide how you want your paper to flow. Basically this is an outline. Biographies are relatively easy, since you will follow a chronological timeline. At the end of the paper, you can sum up greatest accomplishments, lasting impact, etc. Other types of papers can be easy as well; just decide on an order that makes sense, and stick with it. For example, your outline may look like this: Early Life, Interesting Turn of Events, Move to Boarding School, Work in the Field, Awards, Impact on Society, 200 Years Later, etc.

Step 10: Take several different colored highlighters or pens and mark your notes, using a different color for each point on the outline. Alternatively, you could bracket off each topic category in your notes, and mark the category in the margin.

You can either assign each category a color or a code. Your resulting notes will either look like this:

Blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah (18) blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah.

Or like this, based on the outline given above:

EL (early life) Blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah.

ITE Blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah (18) blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah.

IS Blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah.

EL Blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah.

MBS Blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah.

Step 11: Read all of your notes two or three times. Now put your notes away and write your paper based on the knowledge in your own head. If you don’t know a fact such as a year, a number, or a name, write a question mark there to be filled in later. Writing it this way, without the use of your notes, keeps the whole paper from seeming like a paraphrased imitation of your research (which is how most research papers end up).

Step 12: If your paper is too long, cut out the unessential stuff, or tighten up your sentence structure. If it is too short, read your notes again and look for interesting tidbits. Top your paper off by using one or two exact quotes per typed page.

Step 13: Go back over your research paper, and compare it to your notes, which should be verbatim from the sources, and make sure you haven’t accidentally plagiarized. Make use of your highlighted sections to find your sources easily, based on which section of the paper you are currently working on.

Step 14: Time for adding footnotes or in-text citations. You can look up your references easily by using your highlighted notes.

Step 15: Format your bibliography, footnotes, margins, etc. Set aside at least an hour to do this, instead of waiting until 20 minutes before you have to leave for class on the day the paper is due.

Step 16: If you are truly interested in your topic, and you have finished your paper early, now is the time to satisfy your thirst for knowledge and dig a little deeper. If you run out of time, you can turn your paper in the way it is. But if time allows, you can tweak it to your heart’s content.

Jesse’s Easy Vegan Chili

Jesse has long been the chili master in our house. With our recent switch to an oil-free vegan diet, we weren’t sure how to keep up the tradition. Yesterday, Jesse just decided to “go for it,” and this is what he came up with. I must say, it was very tasty, and I ate WAY more than I should have in one day!

3 cans beans (we used red kidney beans, black beans, and pinto beans)

10 oz. can diced tomatoes with green chiles

6 oz. can tomato paste

½ caramelized red onion

3 T. chile powder

1 T. cumin

1 T. parsley

1 T. basil

½ c. apple cider vinegar

6 drops liquid smoke

Salt to taste

Enjoy!

Music Practice, the Easy Way

Ian had been flying through his drumset and guitar books. Up until last week, that is. Last week, things became suddenly hard. He knows the top three open strings on the guitar, and F and G on the E string. So far, so good. On his drumset, he has learned to play several patterns and read a bit of music. But last week, his guitar method introduced C on the B string, and his drum method introduced fills. Ten different fills on one page. Enter the crying sessions. Well, Monday night, we had such a terrible night. We probably spent 90 minutes on his music practice. I felt so sorry for him, but I could not allow him to throw a temper tantrum and win. So we pressed on, but I knew I needed to do something different. So Tuesday and Wednesday, here is what we did: after finishing every subject in school, Ian always receives a ten minute break before he starts his next subject. Well, we decided to throw in a bit of music practice here and there throughout the day. So after his first break, he played the first song in his guitar book 5 times. It took him all of about 3 minutes. Not scary, right? Even for an 8-year-old. After his second break, he played the second song, and so forth. Well, things are going much smoother now. He’s happy and he’s learning, and that makes me happy too!

Awesome Hummus Recipe!

Jesse and I recently watched Forks Over Knives (you can stream it on Netflix), and we decided to try the Esselstyn diet. …Well, now, that’s the wrong choice of words. Yoda would get on to me. We’re not going to try it; we’re going to do it. By the way, I mean diet in the following sense: “The kinds of food that a person, animal, or community habitually eats.” Not: “Restrict oneself to small amounts or special kinds of food in order to lose weight.” I think the second definition is the one most people generally think of when they hear the word “diet.” (I used the Google search to find these definitions, but I didn’t see a page to give them credit. The definitions just showed up in the search screen. So my apologies to Mr. Webster, or whoever coined the definitions.)

e2book-MAnyway, for those of you who would like to try some nice and easy vegan meals, I would recommend the Engine 2 cookbook. We’ve had it for 10 days, and we’ve already tried seven recipes. I think that’s a world record for me. (I usually get a cookbook and try one or two recipes.) :/ I had two more picked out to try today, but we decided that we need to eat some of our leftovers before trying anything new. Honestly, I’m running out of storage containers!

So far, all of the recipes have been fantastic! (They have reheated well too, but since we got rid of our microwave, we’ve been reheating in a skillet, so take that into account.) Unless you count my ineptitude at chopping vegetables, nothing has been difficult or less-than-tasty. In fact, we have found ourselves asking the same question over and over again this last week-and-a-half: If it’s so easy and yummy to eat healthy, why in the world would we want to eat any other way? We did have to buy some of the ingredients at Whole Foods Market, but we’ve been buying the bulk of our food there anyway, so this wasn’t really a problem for us.

My advice: take $200 of your tax refund and invest in some shelf-stable health foods. Look at some recipes to get an idea of what you’ll want to purchase. It’s not that much more expensive to eat healthy, especially considering the facts that we rarely eat out any more, we buy zero convenience foods, and our stomachs are shrinking so we consume less than we used to. Even if it is a bit more expensive, money shouldn’t be an issue here anyway because it is cheaper BY FAR to maintain a healthy body than it is to have your symptoms treated by a doctor. (We just found this out the hard way last month, which is what prompted the paradigm shift in our thinking and lifestyle.)

Here’s my favorite recipe so far. (Actually, it’s between this one and the Raise-the-Roof Sweet-Potato Vegetable Lasagna, but that one has too many ingredients to type out!)

Healthy Homemade Hummus, The Engine 2 Diet, pg. 236Screen-shot-2012-10-18-at-6.10.00-PM

This is the most basic of the spreads. You can find a variation of this recipe in almost any grocery store, but 95 percent of them are made with either olive oil or tahini (sesame paste), which pushes up the fat content. Your best bet is to take three minutes and make a batch on Sunday that will last you for the week.

1 can chickpeas, rinsed and drained

2 cloves garlic, chopped

2-3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1 teaspoon Bragg Liquid Aminos or low-sodium tamari

3 tablespoons water or vegetable broth.

Blend all the ingredients into a thick past, using a small amount of water as necessary to achieve desired consistency.

The book also goes on to list several hummus variations, such as roasted red pepper.

I used dried, cooked beans instead of canned beans, vegetable broth instead of water, itty-bitty whole lemon pieces (rind and all – I just dropped the whole thing in my blender, and I’ve been using bits of it in different recipes all week. I just guessed at the amount to use – maybe 1.5 teapoons – and it turned out great!), and Bragg Liquid Aminos instead of tamari (both of which can be found near the soy sauce at your local health food store, such as Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods Market. You can also order them from Amazon. Make sure you get non-GMO soy products.) I also took out a piece of pita bread and tore it into chunks and popped it into my toaster oven at 350° for about four minutes. Actually, that’s what I’m munching on as I type this up – hummus and pita chips!

Enjoy!

New Homeschooler Packet Ideas

I get questions about homeschooling all the time from various people. In some cases, it might be a wife who is trying to persuade her husband (or the other way ’round!). Other times, they come from families who are on the verge of homeschooling, but haven’t started yet. Parents in their first couple years of homeschooling are often full of questions as well.

What I am wanting to do is put together a packet for new and potential homeschoolers in my area. Once I have everything together, I will probably post it to my blog as well, although some things (such as local resources, field trip sites, co-ops, etc.) will be location specific. Perhaps I can just give pointers on how to search for these things in any given area.

Anyway, I know I have lots of homeschoolers who read my blog, so I was wondering if you all could help me come up with a good list of resources to include in the packets. So far, I have thought of things such as:

Two or three catalogues from major curriculum companies,

A description of the HSLDA, with a link to their website (possibly even a registration form),

A couple of articles on time-management, budgeting, discipline, etc,

FAQ,

Local groups and activities,

Copy of current homeschool laws,

Etc.

If you all could help me out with the FAQ aspect, and maybe some other ideas of what to include, I would be very grateful! For instance, what do you think are the most frequently asked questions, and how would you answer those? I would like to include several different perspectives as long as I can do so without creating confusion. After all, each family is different.

To get the discussion started, what do you think is the absolute best advice you could give a new homeschooler, concerning any main issues such as socialization, curriculum, schedules, etc.

Homemade Spanish Flashcards

Okay, so I just spent the last several hours making Spanish flashcards to coordinate with Ian’s elementary Spanish curriculum (Monarch online – published by Alpha & Omega). I really like the course, and so does he, but it seems like it could be largely improved by some good flashcards. These are for the first unit, and all of the vocabulary words can be found in the second-to-last lesson in unit one: Meeting Esteban at the Beach. I know they covered a few more words in this unit, but I didn’t take the time to look through every single lesson to find all of the vocabulary words. As it stands, there are over 100 words in this file, all with nice pics to go with them. (I did add in a few words myself – maybe 10 or so, because I just thought they made sense.) I’ll most likely do this at the end of each unit, so if you are using the Monarch Spanish curriculum (or if you just want some free Spanish flashcards) check back occasionally. I tried very hard to make sure none of these pics had copyrights on them, but if you catch something, let me know, and I will change the file. I’m going to cut out each card and write the Spanish word on the back. I’m not sure I’m gonna write the English word on them at all, but I haven’t decided yet. I really just want Ian to associate the Spanish words with the items/actions they belong to, and not constantly be translating from English. Here they are, for anyone who wants them: Spanish Flashcards

By the way, if you want to make more, all I did was type in the word I wanted, followed by the word clip art. Then I just looked for pics that didn’t have a copyright symbol of any kind.

Sugar Creek Gang: Swamp Robber

I met Heather Idoni on my birthday this year – on FaceBook! She happened to notice it was my special day, and popped on over to say “hi.” And, boy, am I glad that she did! When I asked her how we were acquainted, she remembered that I had been to visit her website, www.belovedbooks.com

I checked out her delightful site (more thoroughly this time), all the while regretting the fact that my son has shown little interest in audio books. That is, until we received our copy of Sugar Creek Gang: Swamp Robber. It came in the mail on two CDs. Each is about an hour and twenty minutes long. I immediately dug out an old CD player, and we began listening to them!

I must admit, I allowed myself to become distracted while these CDs were playing in the background, so I couldn’t possibly give you every single detail. I write a lot, and I totally lose myself when I am reading or writing; I never hear what’s going on around me. I know I’ve been like this since at least the 6th grade, when I looked up from my book to find my teacher sitting at her desk smiling at me. The rest of the classroom was empty. And where had all the kids gone? To recess! I was so busy reading, I didn’t hear them leave.

Anyway, while I couldn’t give you a book report on the story, I do have several things that I want to say about this audio book:

First and foremost, this book clearly communicates the gospel message to children, or to anyone who might be listening for that matter. While nothing can replace a child’s own parents setting a godly example and taking the time to instruct him in righteousness, this book will help your diligent teachings to gel in your child’s mind.

Second, the narrator is phenomenal! I kid you not. No matter how long I sit here and try to explain to you how fantastic he is, there is no way you can possibly wrap your mind around it without listening to him for yourself. He portrays little Bill Collins so perfectly, it’s impossible to imagine that an older man was actually sitting in a studio somewhere reading from the book while being recorded. He does a great job with the other characters as well.

Third, this book is not only parent-approved, but kids like them too. My son wanted to listen to the story over again, and that’s a first for him. Also, even though I was zoned out most of the time, my son could actually play with his toys and pay attention at the same time. He came up to me several times while the story was playing to remark on something he heard. The book spawned several very good conversations between him and me.

Forth, Beloved Books offers great customer service! (Or is it friendship?) When I mentioned to Heather how much we were enjoying the CDs, until our CD player finally gave up the ghost, she sent me a couple of links to download the MP3 files for free. I downloaded them without telling my son what I was doing. I then pressed the play icon and waited for his response; he was so excited when he realized just what was coming out of my laptop. It felt like Christmas! We were so grateful to Heather for helping us out.

The only thing I could wish is that the other books were available individually. It’s going to be difficult to save up the money to buy a whole volume at a time (6 volumes in all – 32 different books), but considering how perfectly amazing the first book was, how can I skip this opportunity? I can’t imagine, now that I know what we would be missing, not having these CDs around for years to come. If you’d like to read more parent reviews, check it out: http://www.belovedbooks.com/page/page/1567675.htm

Conclusion: order the sample for $4.95 plus free shipping. You can do that here: http://www.belovedbooks.com/page/page/1567474.htm