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FYS 1399 Terrorism & Political Violence: Good Research Habits

Academic Writing Expectations

You may find that although you were a good or even an outstanding writer in high school, your writing will be criticized more often once you get to college.  College writing will ask you to be more focused and organized in the development and presentation of your thoughts, and you will have to be much more thorough in documenting the sources of your ideas.  In this first year of college, you are most often writing what are called "derivative" papers - you are learning how to read (for college purposes), synthesize, and incorporate the ideas of other writers and scholars.  What your are doing is moving from having an opinion that's just yours (a good thing) to having an educated opinion which you can defend by refering to the work of others (and don't be surprized if you actually change an opinion or two because of your reading and research!).

The link below to the University of Toronto's Writing Center is one of the best resources I've come across recently to help you understand the nature of academic writing. I've also included a link to the web site Plagiarism: What It is and How to Recognize and Avoid It from the University of Indiana, Bloomington.

I've included a very good online grammar review web site as well, The Guide to Grammar and Writing.  It is well organized, has very good PowerPoint slides explaining things like using commas vs. semi-colons and the like.

Good Habits to Start

Your life as a college student will be very busy - especially in the Honors College programs!  You won't always have the luxury to follow these practice these habits, but if you do have the time, consider doing so.  Even practicing one on each of your three essays for this class will give you an idea of how you work best and how you can make the most of your time.

  1. Start Soon: You'll find that you have more reading to do than you know what to do with, so begin the grunt work of locating what you need as soon as you can and at least 2 - 3 weeks before any written assignment is due.  This will give you time to identify what's available and what isn't.  Availablility may cause you to change or adapt your chosen topic.

  1. Read More Than Once:  You will be absorbing new ideas, so give yourself time to take those in and see how they fit with the other material you're reading and finding on the subject.  Academic discourse by scholars and thinkers usually doesn't agree with one another, so time to weigh the evidence and arguments is important.

  1. Read Actively: Don't just hightlight sections of an article you've copied or a book you own; make marginal notes instead.  The process of writing something out does at least two things: you engage more of your senses in the process and this will usually help you remember information better, AND you'll be learning to paraphrase and put information in your own words. 
    1. Be sure to read with a dictionary (print or online) to hand so you can increase your vocabulary and learn the professional language of your field.
    2. Record the names of persons, groups, events, or researcher/scholars that come up in your active reading - these will provide other "points of access" you can use to find out more specific information about your topic.
  2. Work Smart: Attend a RefWorks or Zotero workshop at the Library to learn how to use the tools to gather your sources and keep track of your references in your paper.
  3. Feel Virtuous:  Everyone likes this feeling!  Break your research tasks down into small segments and get one of them accomplished each day for a week ("Today I'm going to look for information on the history of the IRA, tomorrow I'll look for work on its leaders; the next day on the British response to the IRA. . ." etc.).  Trust me, each of these tasks will take less than 30 minutes and you'll get to check off one more task each day so that by the end of the week you can prepare your working bibliography.

At this stage of your academic career, it's unlikely that you will need to read an entire book about your topic, person, or event.  Learn to use the the table of contents and the index in a book or the section headings in a journal article and select the parts you need to pay close attention to.  So if you are writing on the IRA, for example, and you run across the name "Gerry Adams," you might decide to see if there is a biography of him.  You won't need to read about his early years, but could skip that section to focus on his work with the IRA, and perhaps even just a smaller portion of that.

Liaison Librarian for Honors

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Ellen Hampton Filgo
Jones 121

Government Documents Librarian

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Sinai Wood

University Libraries

One Bear Place #97148
Waco, TX 76798-7148

(254) 710-6702