Thursday, December 22, 2005

Thesis Development Alex Trebeck Style

“Thesis Writing” for $200, please Alex.
Writers use various methods to develop their thesis statements. Maybe you’re one of the many writers who don’t arrive at a final thesis until after you’ve completed most of the paper. Often, you will have done background research, written some or most of the paper, and still be searching for the thesis to tie it all together. You have the answer(s), but may require a question to determine what the main point of the paper is. To determine the thesis for the paper, ask “What is this paper about?” The thesis statement is probably within your answer. In a way, thesis development is like the game show Jeopardy, where contestants are given the answers to the questions and must then provide the question.

For instance, imagine you are writing a paper on the benefits of libraries. During your research you may have come across information highlighting the kinds of information available in libraries.
Your main topics might be:
(1) information available through databases supplied by the library
(2) information available in the book collections in a library
(3) information available in the periodical collections of libraries
Ask a question like this: “What is common between all of the points I make about information and libraries?”
Next, turn your question into a statement that answers the question.
Your answer could be that libraries provide information in various forms for people to access. It is the multi-dimensional aspects libraries that may develop into your thesis statement.
An example thesis statement could be:
“Libraries provide access to information in the forms of databases, books and periodicals.”
This thesis makes a statement and encompasses all of the main topics in the paper.

“Assessing the Primary Points of the Paper and Drawing Connections” for $400, Alex.
A thesis statement can be thought of as drawing a connection between two or more things or concepts that would otherwise not be naturally connected. Or, you may be highlighting the connection that is naturally there, but not usually observed. If you were writing a paper on the negative effects of smoking cigarettes you could first make points about the negative effects:
(1) can lead to lung cancer
(2) can lead to emphysema
(3) is unhealthy to those around smokers.
Ask a question like: What do these three points have in common?
Your answer might focus on the negative effects smoking has on health
A thesis statement could then be formed:
“Smoking is hazardous to the health of the smoker as well as to the health of anyone who is around a smoker.”
Final Jeopardy: “What is using questions to form a thesis.”


Monday, December 19, 2005

Post-Exam Blues: Improve your future test results by learning from your mistakes and your successes

Sometimes I’ve been disappointed when I got poor or lower-than-expected marks on exams, even though I thought I understood the course material. In these situations, I’ve also felt frustrated because I thought that I’d wasted my time and energy preparing for this test. After the exam is over and the marks are posted, is there anything students can do to redeem a bad exam experience? And what can we do after a successful exam to make sure we match this success on future tests? By the time we get marks back after an exam, we may be sick and tired of looking at the material from that course. If we got a mark that was less than satisfactory we may avoid looking at a past exam because we feel bad about the grade. But, writing exams is not just about marks. Assessing exam performance is an important step in our learning process. Just as important, exams are a fact of student life. Students will find themselves going through the exam process on a regular basis. Having a “post-exam” system to follow is one of the secrets to student success.

Looking at marked exams offers both immediate and long-term benefits. You can use returned tests or exams to learn about how the instructor constructs exams.
• What patterns do you see in types of questions asked?
• Do the test questions put more emphasis on lecture or text notes?
• What does the marked test reveal about grading patterns?
Answering these questions can help you prepare more effectively for the next test or final exam in the course. Final exams also offer useful information about your skills.
• Which study and test-taking strategies were most successful?
• Which ones need improvement?
You may even use an analysis of your test-taking skills to influence course choices in the future.
• Which courses, or specific course sections, use testing methods that match my skills?
With multiple choice exams, students are often allowed to take the question sheets with them when they leave an exam. After an exam, you can compare your answer sheets to the correct answers posted by the instructor. If essay exams are not returned, you can request to see your marked exam and evaluate your strengths as well as where you need to improve.1

So, next time you get a test or exam returned to you, remember you’re not done with it yet! It’s also important to look at what you did that worked. Don’t miss this important opportunity to evaluate your study and test-taking habits, and to help you prepare for the next exam. And, don't forget the LAC! LAC tutors would be more than happy to sit down with you post-test and help you evaluate what went wrong and what went right!

University of Texas has a useful page on preparing for and then evaluating your test results

See this Middle Tennessee State University website for a dozen practical
reasons to look over your returned tests:

1 See the “Worksheet for Examining Returned Tests” in Longman, Debbie Guice, and Rhonda Holt Atkinson. College Learning and Study Skills. 2nd ed. St. Paul: West Publishing, 1991. p. 200.


Friday, December 02, 2005

Check “this” out!

Though I am grateful to live in a world in which my computer checks and helps me correct my spelling and grammar, these technological tools have their limits. In particular, computer grammar checkers usually miss pronoun-antecedent agreement problems. Unfortunately, my computer’s Word program is not reliable when it comes to recognizing the pronoun errors I make when I mistakenly type “he” instead of “it”, “that” instead of “who” or “those” instead of “these”. More unfortunately, these pronoun errors can cause serious confusion for the reader.

For many writers, clearing up their use of the pronoun “this” can really improve their writing. “This” is a pronoun—a word used in place of a noun a person, place, or thing. The pronoun “this” derives its meaning from its antecedent—the noun it substitutes for. A pronoun must refer clearly and unmistakably to its antecedent in order for the meaning to be clear. The reference is unclear if it is ambiguous, implied, vague, or indefinite.

Writers may run into difficulty with “this” because the pronoun’s reference is needlessly broad.

Unclear reference
More and more often, we are finding ourselves victims of serious crimes. We learn to accept this with minor complaints.1
Readers are left wondering, what is it specifically that we learn to accept? To improve clarity, replace the pronoun with a noun
More and more often, we are finding ourselves victims of serious crimes. We learn to accept our fate with minor complaints.
Writers are most likely to run into difficulties with “this” when they use “this” as the first word of a sentence.

Unclear reference
The voyageurs interacted freely with the Aboriginal peoples and traveled wherever furs and the waterways took them. This gave the voyageurs a great advantage.2
In this example, it’s unclear if the voyageurs gained their advantage because of their free interaction, or because of their traveling.

To improve clarity, ask “this what?” when editing your writing, make sure each “this” refers clearly to some specific noun. Don’t leave your reader uncertain.
The voyageurs interacted freely with the Aboriginal peoples and traveled wherever furs and the waterways took them. This freedom and mobility gave the voyageurs a great advantage.

1. Example taken from Fowler, H. Ramsay, Jane E. Aaron, and Murray McArthur. The Little Brown Handbook. 4th ed. Toronto: Pearson, 2005: 289.

2. Example taken from Hacker, Diana. A Writer’s Reference. 4th ed. New York: Bedford/St.Martin’s, 1999: 192.