Tutor profile: Laura P.
What strategies can help me self-edit my writing?
My first recommendation for self-editing is to read a piece of writing out loud. More importantly than finding spelling errors, reading aloud helps me to "hear" if a sentence works. Is it too long? Is it capturing my speech rhythm? Are my sentences clear? Reading aloud doesn't solve everything; what "sounds right" to one person often differs depending on the audience and purpose of the writing. So, when you review your piece, ask yourself: what is my goal and whom am I writing for? Those two points can help you determine if how you're saying something contributes to your goal and is appropriate for your audience. Finally, one style thing I always look for when I'm self-editing: do I use variations on to be anywhere (i.e. "is" or "are") and can I use a more active verb instead? (I am passionate about writing vs. Writing invigorates me.). "To be" can't always be replaced and switching between sentence styles can refresh your writing.
Subject: Library and Information Science
When I'm working on a literature review for a research paper, how can I make sure I'm not missing important articles relevant to my topic?
Before I start searching for articles to inform a research paper, I take a couple minutes and write out my topic as a question. For example, do restorative justice practices meet the need of crime victims to feel heard? This helps me to identify the main parts of my topic and how they relate to each other. By taking time before searching to pinpoint what I'm looking for, I save time in the long run, because I am being very specific about what I'm looking for and don't waste as much time sorting through thousands of search results or reading through whole articles to realize they aren't relevant. It can help to return to this question throughout your search, to confirm you're on the right track; you can of course modify your question if you discover new information while searching that changes the basis of your original question (i.e. if there isn't yet a lot of research on a topic, or if there is already a well-established evidence base). While reviewing my question, I circle the 2-3 distinct parts of my topic. In continuing the above example, I would circle "restorative justice" and "crime victims" and "feel heard." For each of these parts, I write down synonyms and word variations, like "mediation" for restorative justice and "voice" or "empowerment" or "input" or impact for "feel heard." Identifying related terms can help you find papers that use different language to describe the same topic. (Academic researchers love to coin new phrases!). Now, you can string these related terms together, using Boolean logic, a computer logic language. Academic databases and many search engines use Boolean logic to focus results on the most relevant articles that include (or exclude) your terms. The Boolean operators are AND, OR, and NOT (or "AND NOT" depending on the database). I focus on AND and OR the most. AND tells the database or search engine that all those words must be included in an article title, abstract, subjects, or full text; OR tells the database or search engine that either of those words could be part of an article title, abstract, subjects, or full text. From the example above, I can connect related terms like this "restorative justice" OR mediation AND "crime victims" AND "feel heard" OR empower OR voice OR input. Using Boolean logic, you are helping the database identify all possible relevant results, even if authors use different terms. Once you start using this search string in academic databases or search engines like Google Scholar, keep track of what you find in your search results. Do some authors come up again and again? Do you notice new phrases you didn't think of before? Did you find one perfect article that is exactly what you're looking for? Is there one article that others keep citing? If so, note the subjects, phrases, authors, and other information in your "ideal" article or the article others keep citing and apply these terms or subjects to your future searches. Write down where you've searched, and the types of results you see for each search. This will help you make sure you don't repeat searches or forget what you already found when you come back. By being specific in your research questions, identifying your main search terms, including variations in your terms, and tracking what you find, you have a good bet to not miss essential pieces of research in your literature review.
How can I get started on a close reading of a text?
For a close reading of a piece of literature or an essay, first step can be noting who is speaking and why. What is the point of view used in the piece? How does the point of view affect how you interpret what is happening? Do other characters have the chance to interject other ideas and interpretations? While reading, pay attention to the author's diction (word choice). Do certain phrases come up frequently? Are other words only used once, at a pivotal moment in the text? Do you notice if any word or types of words are avoided? What is the register (level of formality based on vocabulary, grammatical order, and sentence complexity) of the language in the piece? Do different characters or dialogue change the types of language used? How does the word choice make the reader feel? Another approach for a close reading can be watching for symbols - items, people, or creatures that may represent something else beyond their literal appearance. How do characters or the narrator interact with these symbols in different ways than they interact with other characters? Why is this symbol meaningful or significant? What other parts of the writing made you notice this symbol? Many close readings also require identification of a text's theme - what is the piece of writing trying to say about the topics covered? Many of the previous elements (characters and narrators, word choice, symbols) can help readers discover the "main point." There are many ways to enjoy a piece of writing; a close reading can be a way to immerse yourself inside the world of the text, reading passages multiple times, looking for additional layers within a text and learning about how previous readers may have interpreted the same words, in different eras. Some authors may resist their work needing to have a "point" or "symbolizing" anything beyond what they wrote. However, readers are free to discover--or even make up--connections, as long as they have enough compelling evidence and examples from the text to back up their own interpretations.
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