Procrastinating? Read this.

It’s 11:20 p.m. There are ten minutes left to meet the deadline, and you’re typing like mad to finish your final paper. This paper is no ordinary paper – no, this is the most creative and thought-provoking paper you’ve ever written. A combination of 50% panic and 50% determination, your focus is unmatched. Almost there and, PHEW! A sigh of relief as you submit your paper to the Dropbox with one minute to spare.

Does this sound like you? It’s okay; it used to be me, too.

I used to consider procrastination a positive motivator to “do my best work”. Thinking this way, particularly in my first year, I was getting by on coffee-induced all-nighters, and handing in my work sometimes two minutes before the Dropbox closed on My Learning Space. I was flirting with academic danger and I knew it – even worse, I was justifying it because of the surge in focus I got racing against the clock. I convinced myself that, under the pressure of time, not only am I more focused, but I am more creative. In reality, I just didn’t want to do my work beforehand. I continued this until my second semester when I learned the hard way that my procrastination ways were not positively motivating me; I received a C- on a project worth 40% of my final grade because of poor quality work done the day before. The project grade lowered my course average, which in-turn lowered my GPA… cue my existential crisis.

Sure, surges in creativity and efficiency can happen when you put off your work until the last minute, but what about the downfalls? In addition to low project grades (like the one I received), Zarick and Stonebraker (2009) highlight other downfalls that can outweigh the potential creativity and efficiency that students can experience from procrastinating (p. 213). Procrastination can cause “lower quality papers… lower exam scores and, to a lesser extent, late or missing assignments” (p. 211). So much for your creative work if you miss out on the deadline, right? The most shocking part of their study to me, however, was that procrastination is a rational choice students make (p. 211). That’s right friends, procrastination (despite some people’s objections) is something we do to ourselves, not something done to us. I was doing it to myself by solely focusing on the positives and not the negatives I was experiencing. Knowing this now, you may be wondering, how do I stop procrastinating and get down to business??? Never fear, for over the past three years I have devised some tried and tested ways to counter procrastination.

From one seasoned student to others, here are my tips on how to stop procrastinating:

  1. Understand your work

Zarick and Stonebraker (2009) state that “uncertainty about what research topic to choose or what resources will be needed or how much study time should be allocated can throw the most well-intentioned student into a frozen stupor” (p. 212). Uncertainty can put you off from even wanting to think about your upcoming assignment. When you get your assignment, make sure to read it right away so that you can ask questions. The sooner, the better. You will also be able to prepare all the materials you will need in advance, so you’re all set to get started to avoid that “frozen stupor”.

  1. Plan time to work

With technology, we have so many options available to plan our time. You can use your phone calendar, a reminder app, your giant Laurier dry-erase wall calendar, or an old-school agenda, to plot out due dates and plan your study/work time accordingly. Colour-coding makes it fun for me. At Writing & Study Skills Services we offer some fantastic templates for time management for term-planning and weekly-planning. You can drop in to the centre or access resources like the assignment planner here.

  1. Make it personal

Not all of your courses may be your cup of tea. With test-heavy courses especially, it can limit how personally stimulating some material can be. If you have a paper or assignment, hopefully, you have some autonomy over which topic you focus on. I find that picking topics that interest me personally make my work more engaging. If I’m eager to investigate and research an interesting topic, I’m more eager to put my new learning onto paper.

  1. Break it down

One enormous task to cross off your to-do list is daunting. Zarick and Stonebraker (2009) state that by making “bite-sized” pieces, students are less intimidated by their work (p. 214). Breaking up one massive task into smaller, more manageable sub-tasks makes it easier to begin and gives you an action plan to follow. Plus, who doesn’t feel more motivated when crossing all those small tasks off their to-do list??

  1. Pick a productive environment

I LOVE my roommates to death; it’s non-stop laughter when we’re together. The laughs are great, except for when I’m trying to get a 20-page paper done. Find out who you can do your work with and where you can get it done. For me, it’s usually by myself sitting in the SC Johnson Building on the main floor outside of the Career Centre.

  1. Turn it off

No, I’m not kidding – turn off the access to wifi and turn off your phone. If it’s not completely realistic to fully disconnect, put your phone on do not disturb for the duration of your work session. You need to focus on your work instead of sending memes to your friends, trust me.

  1. Sit down and do it

Self-discipline baby. For the first five minutes, I find myself fussing about with paper headers and making sure I like the brightness of my screen. Try your best to sit down for five minutes and become engaged with your work. Eventually, I get down to business, and next thing I know, I’m half-way through my assignment.

  1. Perfection isn’t productive

We all fear failure. As Zarick and Stonebraker (2009) reiterate, when we fear failure or making mistakes, especially on things important to us, it further delays our work (p. 212). Honestly, your first draft won’t be perfect, and that’s okay. The beautiful thing about completing your first draft of your assignment is that you can make it your best work by letting it sit for a few days and then coming back to it with fresh eyes. Or, you could even schedule an appointment with one of our skilled peer mentors to get feedback on whatever you are working on.

There you have it friends. Three years in the making and those are some of my personal tried and true techniques I use when I need to get to work. Now, instead of staying up until 4:00 a.m. briskly typing away at a paper due in hard-copy for my 10:00 a.m. lecture, I am drooling on my pillow by 10:30 p.m. with my paper polished and printed, ready to hand in. Every now and then I fall victim to my procrastination urges (hey, I’m only human too), but accepting that I am the master of my own work and of my own procrastination has been academically life-changing.

Now, go forth and write those final papers and review those study notes! You can do it. And never forget, Writing & Study Skills Services is always here for your academic support.

Go get those good grades Golden Hawks!!

Marissa
FSG Leader

Reference:

Zarick, L.M., & Stonebraker, R. (2009). I’ll do it tomorrow: The logic of procrastination. College Teaching, 57(4), 211-215. doi:10.3200/CTCH.57.4.211-215

 

 

 

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Editing and Proofreading

We all know the feeling of relief that comes after finishing the last sentence of a paper. There is no better feeling of completion than actually printing the paper, stacking the pages so they lie perfectly on top of each other, and stapling the entire collection of sheets that contain your thoughts and hard work. However, just before you eagerly hand in your assignment, at least let the heat from the printer cool off and give your assignment another read.  As tempting as it may be to hand in an essay the minute it’s done, actually writing a paper is only half of the whole writing process! Editing and proofreading are two very important steps in writing that are often skipped or rushed through at the last minute.

To make your writing the best that it can be, it is crucial that you take time to edit and proofread. The first step in this process is actually being able to understand the difference between editing and proofreading! Typically, the editing process takes place after you have finished writing the paper and are confident with its overall content (Brown, Bruyn, Messenger, & Montagnes, 2005). Editing focuses on the structure, clarity, citations, and organization of the paper (The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 2018). Proofreading on the other hand is the final step in your writing process. It focuses on surface errors such as spelling, punctuation, grammar, and spacing (Wyrick & Bose, 2010). Here are some tips on how to effectively proofread and edit your papers.

Editing

  1. Structure

Editing the structure of your paper includes ensuring that you have followed the assignment requirements that detail the structure of your paper (for instance, the margins, page numbers, headings, title page). Looking at the structure of your paper could also include making sure that your paragraphs are in a logical order. Sometimes after you have finished writing you may realize that two paragraphs are quite similar and should maybe be amalgamated into one, or that one paragraph just doesn’t quite fit with your argument anymore.

  1. Paragraphs

After looking at the overall structure of your paper, you should narrow in on your individual paragraphs. The structure of your paper and layout of your paragraphs will be dependent upon the type of assignment you are writing. For example, when writing a research essay you should ensure that each paragraph has a topic sentence and an argument that connects to your thesis. For tips on organizing your paragraphs for different types of papers (for example, research reports, reflections, book reviews), you can make an appointment with a peer mentor or check out our online resources. You should also consider your transitions from one paragraph to the next by ensuring that they flow nicely and do not end or start abruptly. Make sure that your paragraphs are an appropriate length; not two sentences but not an entire page.

  1. Clarity

This is the time to ensure that everything that you have said in your paper makes sense. Do you explain all terms that may need to be defined? Is it clear who or what you are referring to? Although it may be tempting to use long and fancy words in a paper, try not to use terms that you are not familiar with as this may disrupt the flow of the paper and confuse the reader. As an expert of the topic you are writing on, it is great to present your specialized knowledge of the subject matter; however, ensure that you do so in a clear and presentable way that will allow for your readers to understand what you are writing.

  1. Style

Try to ensure that the style of your writing fits with the style of paper you are writing. For example, if you are completing a formal research paper, it may not be appropriate to include ‘you’ or ‘I’. However, that might be more appropriate for an opinion or reflection paper. When reading through your paper, ensure that you have not included any jargon or common phrases that may take away from the content of your paper.

  1. Citations

Checking over your citations is a crucial step in the editing process! Ensure that you have cited all information that is summarized, paraphrased, or directly quoted from a source. Find out what style the assignment requires you to cite in and ensure that your citations match that format. If you need assistance with citations you can make an appointment with a peer mentor who will help you through the process.

Proofreading

Proofreading is the final stage of the writing process that should be completed after you have thoroughly edited your paper. Here are some tips that you can consider when proofreading your paper (Wyrick & Bose, 2010):

  • Don’t rely on your computer’s spellcheck for spelling and grammar mistakes
  • Try proofreading for one error at a time – read your paper over and only look for spelling, then again for grammar, and again for punctuation
  • Read your paper completely and slowly – don’t skim!
  • Try reading your paper out loud – actually hearing the words may make you notice spelling or grammar mistakes, or it may encourage you to change the wording of a sentence
  • Print off a copy of your paper and circle or highlight every punctuation mark, which will force you to pay attention to them and see if they make sense

Tips for Editing and Proofreading

Editing and proofreading your paper can be a daunting task, especially after you have put so much time and effort into writing it. Sometimes it is beneficial to take a break from the paper before you edit it; spend a few days away from the writing and this may make you aware of things that you didn’t notice before. It may also be helpful to print out a copy of your paper and move away from your normal workspace; this could also make you see problems or errors that you didn’t notice before. If you are stuck and can’t seem to figure out how to improve your paper, use your resources! Re-read your syllabus for any tips, use a thesaurus or dictionary to help you with spelling and grammar, or make an appointment with a peer mentor who will read through your paper with you and help you develop valuable editing and proofreading skills (Wyrick & Bose, 2010). As you continue to write and edit more, you will begin to notice trends in your writing, and editing and proofreading will become easier as you continue to improve your writing style!

Happy editing!

Megan

Peer Mentor

References:

Brown, J., Bruyn, J., Messenger, W., & Montagnes, R. (2005). The Canadian Writer’s Handbook (4th ed.). Canada: Oxford University Press.

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. (2018). Editing and proofreading. Retrieved from http://writingcenter.unc.edu/tips-and-tools/editing-and-proofreading/

Wyrick, J., & Bose, S. (2010). Steps to Writing Well with Additional Readings (1st ed.). Canada: Nelson Education Ltd.

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Tackling University Readings

Reading at university – this statement carries with it many different feelings for students. Reading in university can be eye-opening, fascinating and engaging. However, sometimes, university reading can be long, frustrating and seemingly pointless, particularly when you are reading something and it feels like you just don’t understand it! With this post, I hope to provide you with some strategies that you can use when you’re feeling stuck when tackling your readings for class.

Firstly, it is important and helpful to know that you’re most definitely not alone in your love/hate relationship with readings. All students struggle with certain readings throughout their time in university and that is completely okay because university readings can be extremely difficult – plain and simple. However, it is what students choose to do about these difficult readings that set them up for either success or disappointment.

Before we get into specific strategies, the following are some tips that I would like to share. Firstly, you do not have to understand every single word or concept within a reading. If the most that you can do is take one idea from a paragraph, page or chapter that is okay because the information that you do understand is very valuable! Also, being somewhat familiar with the material before a lecture is going to benefit you much more than if you had not looked at the reading at all!

The following are some strategies that you can use to assist you in completing and better understanding your course readings:

Reading Textbooks:

Skimming

Skimming is best used to get an overview of what is in a text (Hay, Bochner, Dungey, & Perret, 2012). This strategy can be useful to gain a basic idea of what the reading is about and the important topics that the reading covers. The purpose of this “exercise is not to understand or retain what you skim”; instead, the idea is to familiarize yourself with the text before completing a thorough reading (Hay et al., 2012, p. 39).

To skim a text, you should look over the:

  • Table of contents
  • Introduction, summary and headings in the text
  • Bolded, underlined or highlighted words
  • Boxed off sections

By completing a skim of your reading, you should be able to put together some inferences about what your reading is about. You may also be able to connect the topic of the reading to prior knowledge you have about the subject.

Scan, Read, Review

Scan, Read, Review is a comprehensive strategy that will give you a deeper understanding of your readings. This technique is useful because it involves going over a reading multiple times in different ways, which will be beneficial to your understanding and retention of the material.

Scan:

Get to know the material by looking for key concepts and information throughout the text. When you are completing your scan, you can look at:

  • Headings, titles, etc.
  • Bolded, highlights, underlined words
  • The introduction or summary
  • Boxed off information

The purpose of this scan is to try to gain an overall grasp of the key points and main idea of the material that you will be reading.

Read:

Then, continue with this process by actively reading through the all of the assigned text.

Active Reading:  To actively read, you need to really engage with the text.

You can engage with your reading by:

  • Making notes in your own words of the main point in each paragraph or section
  • Highlighting key words and phrases
  • Asking questions about what you are reading
  • Creating your own examples and connecting them to your life or prior knowledge

Review:

For this step, you can look over your notes from your reading after you have attended lecture and discussed the material in class. This will help you to fill in any blanks you may have as well as help you to retain the information better. You can also use tools provided in your text to check in with yourself to see if you have understood what you have read. This can be done by using the discussion questions at the end of the chapter, or creating your own questions using the headings in the reading. You can also write a summary of the chapter and compare it to the summary provided in the textbook.

Reading Academic Articles:

Noting for Gist

This is a great strategy to use when you are trying to make sense of an academic article that you are required to read for a class or an assignment. To note for gist, follow these steps:

  • For each paragraph or section that you are reading, make a jot note that summarizes the main idea in that paragraph. Remember that you may pick out a different key idea from the article than someone else doing the same process with the exact same article and that is okay!
  • When you are finished reading the article, you will have a summary of the reading in the form of jot notes. This summary will include all of the key ideas that you have identified throughout the article.
  • If you want, you can then create a more traditional summary by taking your jot notes and writing a paragraph-style summary of the article. The key point here, though, is to base your written summary off of the jot notes that you have created.

At Writing and Study Skills, we work with students all of the time who are struggling to successfully and efficiently complete their readings for their coursework. The strategies discussed above are the ones that we always share with students when they present us with these challenges; thus, these are tried and true strategies that have helped many students. I hope that you will give them a try next time you are struggling with your reading and that they are also helpful to you!

Kind regards,
Kayla
Senior Peer Mentor

Reference:

Hay, I., Bochner, D., Dungey, C., & Perret, N. (2012). Making the grade: A guide to study and success (Canadian ed.). Canada: Oxford University Press.

 

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Brainstorm Like There’s No Tomorrow

Brainstorm

Assignment planning is no easy task. It is often very difficult to get started, and even harder to organize the tornado of ideas spiraling in your mind. From decoding the assignment’s requirements to organizing paragraph order, starting the writing process can be a long and arduous task. This is why brainstorming plays a pivotal role in pre-writing. Writers beginning an assignment are much like storm-chasers; storm-chasers would never enter the eye of the storm without adequately preparing themselves for the weather they are about to encounter. Similarly, writers prepare themselves when starting assignments by equipping themselves with ideas and information pertinent to the task. As a result, writers start effectively organizing their ideas by bunkering down for the incoming brainstorm.

I Storm, You Storm, We All Storm for Brainstorms!

Finnbogason and Valleau (2006) describe brainstorming as a free association activity that allows writers to organize their thoughts on the subject of the writing assignment, as well as organize a proposed structure for the assignment (p. 7). However, not all people brainstorm in the same linear way. When writers give themselves free space to creatively think about their topic and develop ideas, it could eventually lead to the synthesis of a thesis, main points and the structure for body paragraphs. The following are examples of different formats and styles of brainstorming that might benefit you when equipping yourself before heading into the eye of the essay storm!

  1. Good Ol’ Fashioned Lists

Lists are no longer monopolized by groceries and buckets! Quickly jotting down ideas is an efficient way to record bursts of thought. Without focussing on the order or specificity of what is being written down, lists are fast and effective (Finnbogason & Valleau, 2006, p. 7). For example:

What are the causes of high incarceration rates among males ages 18- 25 in Canada?
1. Lack of educational opportunity
2. Low income
3. Criminalized in the youth courts
4. Insufficient government programs for this age group
5. High rates of violent crimes
  1. Mind Mapping

Mind mapping is visual representation of the writer’s thoughts. By organizing them in a compartmentalized and structured way, it allows the writer to physically see the connections between different thoughts (Finnbogason & Valleau, 2006, p. 7). Mind maps do not always follow a specific format; instead they are merely a way for you to see how different ideas can associate within a topic. Mind mapping can often benefit the brainstorming of a thesis or main points for an essay. As seen in this example, the writer came up with four different themes that directly connect with the topic he/she is brainstorming. As well, the writer came up with three additional subtopics that are similar to the main topic, but are not as closely associated. This helped produce both a relevant research question and a specific thesis. Mind Map

  1. Free Writing ktpng

Free writing is explained by Finnbogason and Valleau (2006) as a method of brainstorming where a person takes a short period of time to write out their thoughts (7). This allows the writer’s feelings on the topic and natural voice to emerge. Setting about five minutes of time aside to continuously write out thoughts on a specific topic fosters spontaneous and creative bursts of writing. Often people who consider themselves to be deep revisers, meaning they prefer to write out their essay without planning out the structure beforehand, find this method to suit their writing style.

  1. Branching Out

According to Finnbogason and Valleau (2006), branching is a variation of mind mapping. The difference between these two types of brainstorming is that branching is a more linear way of developing ideas, whereas mind mapping tends to be less methodical and more sporadic (8). Branching begins in a similar fashion to mind mapping, where you start with the topic in the middle of the page. Next, you would create as many main branches as there are main ideas that emerge from the topic. Connecting to the main branches would be any supporting points that are contingent on the main point (Finnbogason & Valleau, 2006, p. 8). Branching gives the writer a more concise visualization of how the different parts of a topic relate to one another. It also provides a visual reference of the topic, and a clear understanding if there are any gaps in between the thesis and the main points where more research is necessary.

Branching Out

Altogether, putting thoughts on a page can often be daunting and difficult to start. Using different types of brainstorming activities and selecting the style that best suits your writing style best will only help the writing process. You better prepare yourself; I think there is a brainstorm brewing!

All the best,

Erin McHarge

Summer Intern

References

Finnbogason, J., & Valleau, A. (2006). A Canadian writer’s guide (3rd ed.). Toronto:          Thomson Nelson.

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Study Now! An Effective Way to Successfully Learn

Too often students find themselves only days away from a midterm or final exam and just starting to review notes from class. Sometimes we are even guilty of cramming for a test or staying awake the entire night before. Creating unnecessary distress and despair before walking into the exam room is the last thing any student needs. If only there was a better way!

The good news is that studying does not have to boring, stressful or even all too difficult. By developing positive work habits that aim to transfer information into long-term memory and improve our understanding, studying can be a positive lifestyle change. Consistent studying using simple review tactics listed below or your own effective study method, will contribute to less stress, reaffirm what was recently learned in class, as well as help to develop a deeper understanding of course material.

  1. Active Review is Your New Best Friend

Study Now! Pic 1Fleet, Goodchild & Zajchowski (2006) explain that reviewing notes after class reinforces the information in a person’s long-term memory (57). Finding regular time, approximately fifteen to twenty minutes, within twenty-four hours after a lecture to go over your notes will make a vast difference in the comprehension and recollection of what was learned. To make this reviewing extra effective, challenge yourself to put your phone down for that window of time and resist the temptation to log onto social media sites. The most important element to this studying technique is the intention to remember the information. Langan (2002) asserts that deciding to remember something not only signifies your willingness to effectively learn, but it provides motivation to get through a small study session (211).

  1. Test Yo’ Self- For a Deeper Understanding

Study Now! Pic 2Develop your own questions from lectures and readings to develop a deep comprehension and application of knowledge. After using active review, develop some questions that ask about the main concepts from the lecture or readings. Try to come up with questions that push you to not only show that you understand, but that you can also apply a concept or analyze the information.  Both summarizing and expanding upon important ideas in an answer demonstrates that you really grasp the concepts discussed in class. As an added bonus, these questions will prepare you for any assignments or tests relating to that topic! (Fleet, Goodchild & Zajchowski, 2006, 57).  You can read our previous blog entry for more information about creating a deeper understanding with Bloom’s taxonomy.

  1. Teamwork Makes the Dream Work

Meeting with friends or acquaintances from your class to discuss lecture material is a positive way to review information (Fleet, Goodchild & Zajchowski, 2006, 57). Working in a productive group setting elicits conversation about the lecture or readings which can provide clarification for any ambiguous parts of the material. As well, conversation between peers creates an opportunity for different people to explain their unique perspecStudy Now! Pic 3tives of the information, which you can compare with your own conceptualization or understanding. This allows for an engaging and interesting way to review ideas and their implications. Grab a coffee, settle down, and spend time with your friends evaluating the week’s lecture. If you would like to learn more about group studying, read up on our blog entry to learn more about its benefits.

  1. Rehearsal is Key, Rehearsal is Key, Rehearsal is Key

Be sure to continually test yourself and review material throughout the semester to fully commit the information to your long-term memory. Rehearsal is when a person uses information over and over again, spanning across a period of time, as a way of remembering and learning. This is not only a way to recall information, but it helps you build upon the foundational knowledge you previously learned with newer and more intricate information (Langan, 2002, 212). Several kinds of memory techniques, such as using senses or focussing on key words contribute towards a deeper and more personalized recollection of the information you have previously learned. Using the senses as a strategy, such as writing out the information, drawing an associated symbol or picture, or even speaking the information aloud are proven to be more effective than just reading over the information silently (Langan, 2002, 213). Any time we make our review strategies active instead of passive, we benefit from improved learning.  Key words, or hooks, help you remember ideas by associating them with a central word that is representative of the overall concept. For instance, see the chart below for an example of a key words exercise you can use in your own notes (Langan, 2002, 214).

  Uses for Plants in an Urban Environment Key Words
1. Gives off oxygen (and pleasant smell) Oxygen
2. Absorbs air pollution (gases used as nutrients) Pollution
3. Cools the air (evaporation from leaves) Cools
4. Catches dust particles Dust
5. Muffles noises (from traffic or construction) Muffles

You can avoid future stress by starting to study now! If you would like to discuss study strategies further, we are available for individual consultations at the Centre for Student Success. You can book an appointment here at the Brantford campus through the student portal. We are here to help!

Erin McHarge

Summer Intern

 

References

Fleet, J., Goodchild, F., & Zajchowski, R. (2006). Learning for Success: Effective                                    Strategies  for Students (4th ed.). Toronto, ON: Nelson.

Langan, John. (2002). Reading and Study Skills (7th ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill Higher                  Education

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