Paper Writing Tips

Since I just finished chapter 2 of my research paper, I decided to share my paper writing tips.  The paper I’m writing has to be at least 20 pages, and write now I’ve got about 25, and I haven’t written chapter 3 yet.  This is also how I wrote my senior thesis, so it’s been tested a few times.

Paper Writing Tips

Don’t procrastinate!

This is the best tip I can give, although I’m not good at taking it myself.  True story, I rewrote my entire thesis in 48 hours after procrastinating the editing/rewriting process.  I didn’t sleep, mainlined lemonade, and cranked it out.  It was not cute.  Don’t do this.

 

Find you best background noise.

Depending on what I’m writing, I listen to different things.  For some papers I need no music, just Coffitivity or Soundrown.  For others, I need opera or dubstep with very limited vocals, preferably no vocals at all.  Still other papers require a specific artist.  With this paper I’ve been listening to Bastille almost exclusively, with the occasional Taylor Swift break.  I can’t tell you what will work for you, but give those a try.

 

Find your best writing spot.

Only you know what your best writing spot is.  I like to write at a table or a desk, but currently I don’t have a desk, so I write at the dining room table.  It’s not ideal because I can hear the living room tv, my grandmother’s in the living room and she always wants to chat, and I’m often stuck having to fix something in the house.  For you, it might mean going to the library, or a coffee shop, maybe sitting in your favorite spot on the couch.  Finding just the right spot is important so that you’re not distracted  by bodily discomfort or by environmental factors.

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Outline & find quotes ahead of time.

There’s nothing worse than struggling to figure out what your next paragraph is about, or trying to find a quote to support your point.  Instead, I pull out quotes while I’m reading the articles, then type them into a document the page before my outline.  On the outline I use lettered sections and bullet points, and include the points I want to make, examples to use, which sources I want to cite, and the quotes I’ve pulled out.  I even write sentences to start the sections sometimes.

 

Reward yourself properly & at good intervals.  

You have to give yourself rewards, but they can’t all be food based.  That’s just not good for you.  Sometimes I reward myself with a snack, but other times it’s a music video, or a TED talk (like this one by Summer Beretsky about anxiety), or a walk with my dog.  For a longer break/reward, I might watch an episode of Bob’s Burgers or The Blacklist.  But, I can’t reward myself for every page, not even for a 25 page paper.  It’s going to be different depending on your goal, but you have to figure out the best intervals.  That could be half hour intervals, five page intervals, or section-based intervals.

 

Use the Pomodoro Method – but if you’re in the groove don’t stop.

This has really revolutionized the way I write papers.  Let me explain.  According to this method, you work for 25 minutes, then take a five minute break.  Twenty-five more minutes of work, another break.  This goes on for four sessions, then you take a longer break, usually 15 minutes.  You can use a kitchen timer, an app, or a chrome extension.  For non-computer work (like reading and annotating) I use the app ClearFocus on my phone.  For computer work I use the chrome extension StrictWorkflow which serves as a timer and a self-control aid.  It blocks common distracting sites, and you can edit the list to your personal preferences.  If you’re really in the groove though, don’t stop writing until you end that section.

Paper Writing Tips

If you’re easily distracted (and even if you’re not) use an app to control your computer.

I always put on an app to keep me from visiting Facebook or Tumblr or Pinterest while I’m supposed to be writing a paper.  The chrome extension I use, StrictWorkflow, does this really well, so I rarely need anything else.  But I used to use ColdTurkey, which blocks sites for PCs, and I know tat Macs have Self Control as well.  I’m sure there are plenty of other programs and apps to do the same.  Minimizing distraction is, for me, the key to getting in the zone.

 

Make sure people know you’re working.

I live with my parents and my grandmother, so I tell them “Don’t bother me, I’m writing a paper.”  This always works on my mom, but not nearly as well with my other family members.  When I was at my undergrad, I would tell my roommate or any friends in the lounge not to bother me unless the building was on fire.  Even if you know they’ll still come and bother you, it might make them give it a second thought.

 

Turn your phone off.

Okay, so I didn’t turn my phone off while I was writing this paper.  But I did put it in another room until my breaks.  Our phones are such an integral part of our lives that when it rings we’re all conditioned to pick up, or check the text, or see who tweeted.  Turn it off, put it on vibrate, or put it away elsewhere so you can actually get your paper done.

 

That’s it, that’s all I’ve got for you.  Go forth and write!  (And leave your tips below in the comments!)

Evaluating Primary and Secondary Sources

Let’s start with the easiest definition of primary vs secondary sources.  Primary sources are sources from where or when an event happened, or from a person who was involved in or witnessed an event.  Secondary sources are sources from those who were not involved, were not there, and often did not live in that time.

 Primary & Secondary Sources

Examples:

The journal of a civil war soldier at Gettysburg would be a primary source about Gettysburg.
A newspaper article about the battle of Gettysburg would be a secondary source about Gettysburg.

 

But it can get more complicated.  What about interviews?  What about newspaper articles?  They can both be both.  An interview can be both primary and secondary in the same interview, but about different topics.  A newspaper article could be either one.  What about news bloggers?  If they were in the event, then their blog post might be a primary source.  How about a documentary?

When you’re focusing on ancient and medieval sources, the lines become even muddier.  Often there are no direct primary sources, but the closest source is the primary source.  Ancient Romans didn’t have a lot of primary sources about the Roman republic, so when historians write about the Roman republic, they use a lot of archaeological sources, and other ancient sources such as Livy who lived after the events.  Julius Caesar’s books are frequently used sources, but he was an observer of the cultures he wrote about.  Even in the colonial era, a lot of the primary sources for indigenous peoples are that of the invading Europeans.

 

There are a few things that are always secondary sources though.  Journal articles, textbooks, reference books, and most monograph books.  As for primary sources, well, there’s nothing that is always a primary source.  A journal can recount rumor or an anecdote from a friend, an interview could contain third hand information.

 Secondary Sources

When evaluating a primary vs secondary source, you have to be critical and careful.  Each source requires an independent and thorough review, especially when studying historical time periods.  The further back a time period, the muddier the primary/secondary line becomes.

 

Here are some easy evaluation tools.  Regarding each source, ask yourself:

1) was this person involved in the event I’m researching?

2) was s/he a witness to that event?

3) does this account contain rumor or hearsay?

4) is this a legal document from the time period?

5) (if artifact) has this artifact been reliably dated to the time period?

 

For further information regarding primary and secondary sources see:

http://teachinghistory.org/best-practices/using-primary-sources/19080

http://www.princeton.edu/~refdesk/primary2.html

http://qcpages.qc.cuny.edu/writing/history/sources/secondary.html

 

For the downloadable, pdf version of this guide click here: Primary & Secondary Source Guide.

Undergraduate Research Guide

Undergraduate Research Guide

 

I’ve been doing academic research for many a year.  Not longer than any of you have likely been alive, but I did start doing research projects in sixth or seventh grade, so it’s been about 11 years.  In that time, I’ve learned how to gauge a good, credible website versus a bad, not credible website.  Which by the way doesn’t mean the information is automatically right or wrong.  A lot of history (and anthropology) is about your interpretation, so information is always subjective.  Additionally, history professors can make mistakes just as easily as history enthusiasts with no training can.  So always keep a critical eye no matter what you’re reading.  

 

WEBSITES | .gov .edu .org

Evaluating websites before you cite them is important.  I trust the websites that I’ve cited above, but there are plenty of other sites.  Most sites that end in “.edu” or “.gov” are credible, because they’re produced by educational institutions or government organizations.  When I was first learning to research I was also told “.org” but the rules have changed.  Be careful with “.org” sites.  Some of them are by religious organizations, which means the facts will be reflective of their religious views.  Which is not to say that religious websites are bad, but they are subjective.

This is not to say that no “.com” websites are reliable.  But anyone can get a “.com” website, so they require further vetting.

A web search can result in lots of options, but you should always look for an author.  Then take that author’s name and google them.  You never know, MarxInHistory.com (not a real website, but one someone should totally make) could easily be run by Dr. John B. Doe, PhD in History.  But you won’t know unless you check.  I’m less critical of databases of texts, because they’re so easy to vet with other sources.

 

 

DATABASES

If you’re in university, you have access to your college’s library.  Most of them have subscriptions to various databases.  If you’re in high school, your library may still have some database access, or an agreement with a local college.  These are usually accessible through the library website.  Some are bigger than others, so it couldn’t hurt to ask a friend at a different, bigger school if their library has access to a database yours doesn’t.  A lot of city libraries also have access to a lot of databases.  I was spoiled during high school because I lived in New York and had an NYPL card.  The NYPL had a HUGE database.  It was easy to find just about anything I needed.  During college I used the DCPL database as well.  Most major cities have a lot of databases, and plenty of towns have some kind of database search.

 

LIBRARY RESEARCH

If you are struggling, I can’t recommend enough to go ask a research librarian for help.  They’re trained to do research, they can suggest new keywords, new databases, maybe they even know a book or two before researching.  Just go in and ask for help.  Especially at a university.

 

OPEN SOURCE ACADEMIA

I talked about this slant-wise in the Academia.edu section of my History Source Guide.  Lots of scholars, when legally possible, make their articles available for free.  Sometimes their doctoral dissertations too.  For my thesis I cited a doctoral dissertation I found on the internet.  Which sounds sketchy, but I researched the doctoral candidate.  (She’s a professor in Scotland now).  Google Scholar is a great source for this.  Sometimes you can find things like newsletters within departments that have been put online.  Sometimes, as a project, professors will have students create websites or blogs, and their citations can be very handy.  Sometimes professors blog, and cite sources within their blog posts.

 

Emailing A Professional

I have to preface this by saying I have never done it.  But, if you read an article, you can often email the person who wrote it.  Find an article through a database you really love?  Want to have a conversation with the professor?  It can’t hurt to email them. Their emails are often on the paper itself.  My classmate, lets call him B, actually emailed a PhD who had written a lot of books and articles in his topic, and that PhD responded!  The professor sent him an article, and gave him some ideas of where else to look.  So great things can happen from emailing a professional.

 

 

Scholarpedia | http://www.scholarpedia.org/

An alternative to Wikipedia, this is a peer-reviewed online encyclopedia written by professors.  They write comprehensive, easily accessible articles with citations.  They do focus on science and math, but if that’s your topic, you’re probably set with the articles here and their citations.

 

Google Scholar | scholar.google.com

When searching for academic articles without a university database, Google Scholar is your best friend.  While your results will sometimes be met with paywalls, you can also find some freely available sources here.

 

Directory of Open Access Journals | http://doaj.org/

Many scholars want their research to be available to all.  If only five people read your article, you’re not going to get much discussion out of it.  So some journals have made their contents freely available through the Directory of Open Access Journals.  You will have to search, but nothing is behind a paywall.

 

REFERENCE PAGES

Once you’ve found one source, you’ve got a foothold.  Check the reference page of that book or article.  They have to have referenced someone else.  Then check that article’s reference page.  Search the authors’ names.  Chances are if they’ve written one article about English piety under viking rule in Jorvik, they’ve written two.  Or they’ve written something related.  Use keywords from that book/article in your search.  Really, finding your first source is the biggest sigh of relief moment.

 

Thank you for making it all the way to the end of this long, everlasting guide.  Check back to my website (JeanniFloyd.wordpress.com) for an anthropology guide, a history guide, and more.

To download this guide as a PDF click here: Undergraduate Research Guide

Anthropology Resource Guide

Anthropology Resource Guide copy

My minor in college was Anthropology.  For a while I was actually a double major in history and anthropology, but I wanted to graduate a semester early.  Within anthropology my favorite section was physical anthropology.  If you know me, you know I find human skeletons incredibly fascinating and beautiful.  The first anthropology class I ever took was actually Human Osteology.  It was an incredible class that then led to taking Biological Anthropology.  I also got to go behind the scenes at the Smithsonian’s Natural History Museum in DC twice and handle their skeletal samples.  Over the years I’ve gathered a few resources, so I’m going to share them.

 

DEFINITIONS

Several universities have created glossaries of anthropological terms.  You can find a bunch by googling, but I’ve listed a handful below.  It’s always good to consult a couple of these because one glossary may not have the definition you need, and you may find nuances by reading two or three different definitions.

 

Anthrobase Dictionary | http://www.anthrobase.com/Dic/eng/

This site, run by a freelance anthropologist from Norway, has a great wide-ranging dictionary.  Not only can you look up anthropological terms, but anthropologists as well.

Glossary of Terms from the University of Alabama | http://anthropology.ua.edu/glossary.htm

This glossary is a searchable one, which is different from all the others I’ve found.  You can search single terms, or use boolean operators to get closer to what you need.

Anthropological Terms from Oregon State University | http://dft.ba/-ae-o

The definitions here are quite simple, written in short sentences.  It boils the complex terms down to the most concise meanings.

Cultural Anthropology Terms from Palomar College | http://dft.ba/-aevW

This glossary also uses short definitions, and links terms together with cross-references.  If you don’t know how to pronounce a term, don’t fret.  Beside the words is a little button to help you out with that.

Biological Anthropology Terms from Palomar College | http://dft.ba/-aeKP

This site has a cultural anthropology twin, which is linked above.  Here you’ll find lots of terms that are useful for biological anthropology classes.  This site also has audio links to help you pronounce the terms.

Kinship Glossary from the University of Alabama | http://dft.ba/-afyS

For a lot of anthropology classes and topics, family and kinship groups are important.  Family shapes the human experience after all.  So when you need to write a paper about kinship groups, but just can’t think of the right term, here’s your life saver.

 

ONLINE ENCYCLOPEDIAS

Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy | http://www.iep.utm.edu/

A lot of anthropology includes philosophy and theory.  Maybe you need to find some data about Karl Marx or Emile Durkheim.  Maybe you need to understand a topic quickly.  This is your spot for that.  It’s provided by the University of Tennessee, so it’s credible.

Encyclopedia Mythica | http://www.pantheon.org/

Here you’ll find comprehensive information about mythology from all over the world.  It includes everything from Native American myths, to Greek epics, to Arthurian romances, to Chinese fables.  Need a source for your folklore discussion?  This is it.

 

SKELETAL SAMPLES

eSkeletons | http://www.eskeletons.org/

The eSkeletons project is maintained by the University of Texas at Austin.  I stumbled across it a couple of years ago while researching primate anatomy relating to bipedalism.  They have digitized the skeletons of 13 species of primates.  You can look at different individual bones, different angles, and even compare skeletons.  Bonus: the same team created eLucy and eFossils.

eLucy | http://elucy.org/

The eLucy project was created by the same people who created the aforementioned eSkeletons project.  On the site you can check out different aspects of Lucy’s anatomy, and compare each bone or joint to that of a modern human or chimpanzee.  What’s really great about this site is that because it’s maintained by a university, it’s a credible source.

eFossils | http://efossils.org/

The eFossils project is the last of the three projects on this list by the University of Texas at Austin, and is related to eSkeletons and eLucy.  On eFossils you can look at the fossil remains of hominin species from many genera, not just the genus homo.

Becoming Human | http://www.becominghuman.org/

Maintained by the Institute for Human Origins, this site focuses on human ancestors.  Click on a fossil human, and you can learn all about them.  There’s even an interactive timeline.  This is the best source I’ve found for human ancestry study.

The Skull Practical Exam | http://dft.ba/-skpe

Loyola University Chicago supplies the internet with a great source to test your knowledge of the human skull.  Complete with images, arrows, and labels.  Need to study for your osteology exam?  This site has your back.

 

 

FREE OPEN COURSES

MIT Open Courseware | http://ocw.mit.edu/courses/anthropology/

While MIT also has other departments, their open courseware offerings in anthropology are excellent.

Coursera | https://www.coursera.org/

Coursera allows people all over the world to take courses in all different departments from many different universities.  Totally free.  The courses in anthropology are currently a bit light, but let’s keep hoping for more. On Coursera you can even get a verified certificate that you completed the course, though you have to pay for it.  (I wrote about Coursera here).

edX | https://www.edx.org/

edX is similar to Coursera, but different in that many of the courses on edX are at-your-own-pace.  While there are some courses that are on a schedule, these courses are more free form.  This is great for if you just want to learn about a topic on your own for your own enrichment.

 

SCHOLARLY ARTICLES

Directory of Open Access Journals | http://doaj.org/

Many scholars want their research to be available to all.  If only five people read your article, you’re not going to get much discussion out of it.  So some journals have made their contents freely available through the Directory of Open Access Journals.  You will have to search, but nothing is behind a paywall.

Academia.edu | https://www.academia.edu/

Here you can search for papers that have been made accessible by the authors.  This is great, because so much academic research is behind a paywall, which blocks anyone who doesn’t have the database access from the research.  But with a search on Academia.edu you can find plenty of possibilities!

Google Scholar | scholar.google.com

When searching for academic articles without a university database, Google Scholar is your best friend.  While your results will sometimes be met with paywalls, you can also find some freely available sources here.

 

EVERYTHING ELSE

Australopithecine Morphology Song | http://youtu.be/HrfT5q6oUUY

A fellow anthropology student made this song a few years ago.  Teachers always say to create a memory device, and songs are great memory devices.  While not everything in this song is perfect, and it may not have everything you need for a human origins exam, it’s a great starting point.   Additionally, there are lots of other videos on YouTube about anthropology.

Human Origins at the Smithsonian | http://humanorigins.si.edu/

The Smithsonian Institution consists of 19 museums, and one of those is the National Museum of Natural History.  In the NMNH there is an entire section devoted to human origins.  They even have a website with lots of information and plenty of links.  It’s a great resource.

Anthropology Toolbox on YouTube | http://dft.ba/-anthrotoolbox

In addition to this blog, I have a YouTube channel.  I make anthropology videos, and they include short lessons on anthropology topics.  These usually take the form of “term + definition” -> “history of term” -> “discussion + context”.  Sometimes they’re even mini biographies of anthropologists.

 

Thanks for checking this guide out.  I hope it’s helpful for your anthropological needs.  Check back to my website (JeanniFloyd.wordpress.com) for more guides.  

 Download this guide as a PDF here.

History Student Source Guide

History Student Source Guide copy I studied history.  In a couple of years, I’ll be teaching history to high school students.  In the time I spent preparing for research papers, I’ve found a few great free databases for primary and secondary sources.    

PRIMARY & SECONDARY SOURCE TEXTS

Internet Sacred Text Archive | http://www.sacred-texts.com/ Lots of history classes include religion and religious texts.  This archive has an awful lot of texts that are sacred to various religions and cultures.  Because most of them were composed millennia ago, they’re public domain and free to share.  The Archive also has sagas, myths, and legends, including Arthurian legends, and Icelandic sagas.  There are also sections on various topics.  It’s very handy to have around.

SagaNet | http://handrit.is/ SagaNet used to be hosted at Cornell, but now it’s hosted through an Icelandic site.  However, it’s still the same material.  It’s a collection of Icelandic sagas for free access.  If you’re studying the vikings, this is very handy to have around.

Perseus Digital Library | http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/ This is a vast collection of classical literature and mythology.  My professor for my online Greek & Roman Mythology course recommended it as a source of very accurate translations of classical material.  It’s also hosted through Tufts, which bolsters its credibility. 

Internet History Sourcebook | http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/ Run by Fordham University, this is one of the first sites I would turn to when looking for source material but not knowing any titles.  It is separated by time period and area, and is easy to search.  There are also subject headings.

Project Gutenberg | http://www.gutenberg.org/ At Project Gutenberg you’ll find transcribed public domain books.  Word to the wise: you need to know exactly what you’re looking for.

Amazon | http://www.amazon.com/ Surprisingly, Amazon is a good source for public domain books.  That can include translations of ancient, medieval, or early modern literature, historical texts, and religious texts.  Also, many religious groups offer free e-book versions of their religious texts as a method of evangelizing.  This is really handy when you need to cite a portion of that religious text to back up an interpretation of cultural norms.  It’s also really handy if you take any religious studies classes.  Personally, I have a mega ton of ancient epics on my e-reader.  I really recommend getting the Kindle app if you don’t have an e-reader, it’s available for essentially every format there is.  

IMAGES

Library of Congress | http://www.loc.gov/pictures/ The LOC has an enormous collection of historical images, and because it’s a government facility you can download the photos for free!  This is super handy if your topic is relatively modern and you want to use images, especially in a presentation.

Bodleian Library | http://bit.ly/1jABCwv Oxford University has shared a lot of incredible medieval imagery from their collections.  Because they’re so old, they’re all public domain.  Paintings and images are useful for presentations, but also for papers and you can tell a lot about a culture by their art.

Index of Medieval Medical Images | http://digital.library.ucla.edu/immi/ From UCLA, this index gathers images of medieval medicine, as implied by its title.  Super useful for any project related to the medieval world or history of medicine.  

SCHOLARLY ARTICLES

Academia.edu | https://www.academia.edu/ Here you can search for papers that have been made accessible by the authors.  This is great, because so much academic research is behind a paywall, which blocks anyone who doesn’t have the database access from the research.  But with a search on Academia.edu you can find plenty of possibilities!

Google Scholar | scholar.google.com When searching for academic articles without a university database, Google Scholar is your best friend.  While your results will sometimes be met with paywalls, you can also find some freely available sources here.

Directory of Open Access Journals | http://doaj.org/ Many scholars want their research to be available to all.  If only five people read your article, you’re not going to get much discussion out of it.  So some journals have made their contents freely available through the Directory of Open Access Journals.  You will have to search, but nothing is behind a paywall.  

EVERYTHING ELSE

History Pin | http://www.historypin.com/ I was first introduced to History Pin by my public history professor.  History Pin is a collaborative project to place “pins” in an electronic map of the world and identify historical happenings.  You can put in your area, or any area really, and find photos pinned to the map.  I just found a picture of the first post office in my town.

Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy | http://www.iep.utm.edu/ A lot of history includes philosophy and theory.  Maybe you need to find some data about Karl Marx or Emile Durkheim.  Maybe you need to understand a topic quickly.  This is your spot for that.  It’s provided by the University of Tennessee, so it’s credible.

History Lessons on YouTube | http://dft.ba/-historylessons I make short history lessons on my YouTube channel.  They’re researched, and I use sources to back up my information.  For quick lessons in a topic or time period, check them out.

 

There are obviously many more databases, but these are databases that are free.  I’m sure there are many more free databases I never found, as well.  Anyone can access these as long as you have an internet connection.  If you’re attached to a school you’ll undoubtedly have access to other databases.  Those are great, use them.  These are also great, use them too.

Download this guide as a PDF here.