Analysis of Literary Practices Part I: Taking “Err” Out of Research and Writing
Students might groan, say their “ah, man,” and “err” sounds while learning about a research paper assignment.
Even at the graduate and professional levels of writing, I believe our – referring to professional writers and students – “errs” and “ah, man” might still linger inside because our writing process continues to evolve. While some writers have a fully developed system , others, like me, are still developing brainstorming, writing, revising, and editing processes.
Planning and Prewriting
Writing a research paper in the field of online teaching allows the exploration of several different ideas, since many subjects within in the field are still being explored by online educational researchers and writers. I begin writing a list of ideas in which I am interested. Sometimes I write what I already know about a topic next to it or in a sub-circle in the style of a graphic organizer.
Courtesy of In2Books.com
I narrow my list down to two ideas, and create a graphic organizer. I think about what I know, my questions, and why I want to research the particular subject of interest. Even in the English courses not designed for every student’s enjoyment, there must be a source of interest. If there is not a source of interest, then I find it difficult to ask and find the answers to my questions.
With the graphic organizer strategy, I use paper and pen. It refreshes my writing when I see my thoughts on paper. Since I am also an artistic person, I like to doodle, and for me, drawing a graphic designer allows me to include an aspect of creativity.
At this point I begin to research.
One of the best English teachers taught me how to keep track of my sources. Aside from learning, and later relearning, MLA format; the teacher taught me to write the citation on a notecard. In the technology driven world, I still use notecards today. I write my sources on them, and I also type my sources in MLA or APA format into a Word doc. I dislike trying to figure out the placement of every name, title, and source when I’m finishing my paper, so I find already having this type of record helps finish the project in an organized way.
When I begin researching, I will start with a search engine just to see what basic information is available, or I go straight to Dacus’ online databases. I explore the English and Education databases based on whatever subject I’m researching. I also check out the list of databases from a to z because there are some good databases which are not listed under the Education and English categories.
Academic OneFile, Eric, JSTOR, and MLA International Bibliography are some of the databases I use on Dacus’ website. (I also use Dacus’ online catalogue because the library has resourceful ebooks that can be great sources.) When I go to the search engines within databases, I type one or two keywords in the first blank. I type a secondary keyword in the second blank, and I select text only.
For example, I researched 2013 District Superintendent of the Year, Mark Edwards, for his work in making certain every student in Mooresville, NC and in his former Virginia school district received a device and had Internet access. I typed his name in the first search engine blank. I typed technology in the second. I already knew from a general read from regular search engines like Google about what he did with both school districts.
Websites can also make great resources for two reasons. A professional website, like Mooresville’s website, is usually written in a way which can be credited. More researchers are crediting websites, including the book The Essential Criticism of Mice and Men. In some chapters, the writers listed websites and their authors in MLA format. What makes such a book successful in its citations is that now, with the Kindle app, you can click on the link in the book and go to the origin of the citation.
The second reason some websites make quality resources is that many of them will have a recommended or further reading page. For example, on some websites that talk about Dr. Edwards, there are links to more articles. On the Steinbeck Center’s website, there is a bibliography page listing books and more resources.
When I research online, I use a keyboard or a tablet, depending on where I am working. When I narrow down my list of resources, particularly books, I find out in what library they are available. I use the Fort Mill Library’s website. Not only do I have access to more databases, but I can request a book from another library and it will be delivered to Fort Mill.
Using a digital recorder, I say my thoughts out loud. I will say a sentence and play it back before ever writing it.
When I worked on a modern history research assignment, I used a digital recorder provided by the University of South Carolina. While the interview from the recording became one of my sources, it also helped to hear my questions out loud. Not all questions were written on a sheet of paper, and I thought of questions off the top of my head. Sometimes when I talk out loud, I will say a question or statement from my thought process.
I used the same process while I worked as a reporter. Aside from quote insurance, I became so accustomed to saying my thoughts and ideas aloud on the digital recorder. Large parts of my story were already on the recorder.
I took up this prewriting process again while taking a challenging course. No matter what I wrote, the professor disliked the writing. I said sentences and created a verbal outline using the digital recorder. I uploaded the recording to my laptop and played it back.
When I write I follow an outline and just let words flow. I use a keyboard and Microsoft Word document. I type and then I will stop and read after a few paragraphs to remember where I’m going. I think of them like traffic stops. Every now and then, I need to stop at a red light and check where I am going.
When I edit papers, I read out loud. A lot of times, I use Natural Reader software, which you can download for free on your computer. If you do not have Internet access one day, you have Natural Reader on your desktop. I select text I want read. In a blue box, a highlighter will move as each word is read. You can select the speed. The voice that reads is your Microsoft installed reader. (All of the fancy voices cost money.)
Sometimes I will read slowly with just my eyes after I’ve edited. I look for the grammar errors, such as missing commas or missing -es.
Closing Thoughts with “Is Google Making Us Stupid?”
For the most part, I am not the kind of researcher Nicholas Carr describes because I read most of an article if it is specific to my subject. While I might bounce around or skim articles, I will stop at articles that are specific to what I’m researching. I read more than two or three pages. I also bookmark or save the article, and write down the source on one of my note cards.
I also do not think of online research as avoiding tradional ways of reading. I think searching online connects you to more options of what you can read. A long time ago, Americans had to read whatever was available at a nearby library or book store. While it is common for some people to skim while they research, I think the Internet also opens doors to what you can read and where you might find it.