We will go into depth about tips and tricks for writing high quality research essays, and help you to get those As that you deserve.
About this event
Does writing an essay cause cold sweats? Do the rows of books, journals, and resources in the library overwhelm you? Do you feel stuck in the 60% range for essay assignments?
You’re not alone. Writing a research essay requires the development of some specialized skills in research, critical thinking, organization, and of course, writing.
This workshop is ideal for college and university students who are scared about writing their first major paper or think they need extra help to improve their overall skills or senior high school students preparing for university. Over the course of these 8 classes, we will be reviewing the fundamentals of essay writing, including: research tips, developing a research question, structuring your argument, writing a convincing thesis, analyzing your evidence, writing strong paragraphs and the difference between an introduction and conclusion.
Each class will include practical advice and tips on the research and writing process, as well as grammar, vocabulary, and punctuation exercises to help improve the overall quality of your writing. Students are encouraged to bring a research paper to workshop over the course of the 8 weeks by applying the various exercises and techniques learned throughout the course.
Class 1 – Formulating a Topic & Developing a Research Question
Class 2 – Research Fundamentals & Finding the Best Sources
Class 3 – Organizing your Evidence & Conducting a Thoughtful Analysis
Class 4 – Creating Essay Scaffolding & Developing a Strong Thesis Statement
Class 5 – Constructing a Well-Structured Paragraph & Avoiding Fluff
Class 6 – The Importance of an Appealing Introduction
Class 7 – Writing a Thoughtful Conclusion
Class 8 – The Art of Proofreading and Revision
This course is completely ONLINE, which mean there is a LIVE STREAM with the instructor Thursdays at 6:00pm, followed by access to the class video and course materials through our classroom portal. This means that you can post your assignments and communicate with the instructor at your own pace over the duration of the course, and don’t need to worry about missing a class because you can catch up by viewing the video. There is also an option to take the course completely online by viewing the videos and submitting your work weekly to the instructor for feedback. You can register for the self-directed online course anytime and go at your own pace.
There are three registration options:
1) Single Class ($45) – gives you access to the livestream and handouts for a single session
2) Pre-recorded Course ($400) – gives you access to the lecture recordings, handouts, Google classroom platform, and feedback on assignments
**you can enroll in the pre-recorded classes at any time!!
3) Full Course Live ($550) – gives you access to the livestream sessions, lecture recordings, handouts & resources, Google classroom platforms, and weekly assignment feedback
This week we interview Amanda Christie, academic writing coach and editor at PFAU Academic Writing, about what it takes to write a solid research paper. We thought this topic would be helpful to our listeners who are currently working on their term research papers and feeling a bit overwhelmed. While writing can be stressful and time-consuming, a well-thought out and detailed research, note-taking, and planning process can make writing much easier.
Amanda comes from a family of teachers and professors, but she also is no slouch herself. She has a BA (Hons) in Global Development and Gender Studies from Queen’s University, and has worked on research projects with the Ottawa Coalition to End Violence Against Women, Newcomer Women’s Services, and Singing Out. She also presented at several conferences throughout Ontario as coordinator for a youth drop-in centre, and has a real passion for the education of young adults – helping them to edit essays, improve assignments, enhance university applications, and polish up English as a second language skills.
What do you think is the value of feedback from other people on research papers?
No matter how good a paper might be, it is always nice to have a second set of eyes on it to make sure that someone else can understand you. It is really easy to make assumptions about what you mean when you are reading your own work. When you wrote it yourself, you know what you mean, but someone else might not understand your argument. In addition, it is great to have an outside perspective because you might be asked questions that you did not think about and given suggestions on how to expand your argument. Sometimes other people might even have extra resources for you that are helpful for the paper. Generally, it is just great to exchange ideas with others.
What do you think is the most challenging aspect of writing a good quality research paper?
I think the most challenging thing is keeping the paper organized. Often, people have a lot of really great ideas, but they do not always communicate them clearly, which results in the effect being lost. You can have the best argument in the world, but if it is not coming across to your readers, it is ineffective. I think that it is important to remember the flow of your essay and that each paragraph should have strong arguments that related to your main point. You should back those arguments up in a logical way and building upon each new idea. Ideas should not come out of the blue and you should not be jumping back and forth between topics or ideas. It is key to also have transition sentences. The ability to link your ideas into a coherent argument or logic is what takes a paper from a C to an A.
What is the most common error you see when providing feedback on research paper drafts?
I think the most common error is the lack of specificity and evidence, for example, insufficient supporting evidence like statistics and quotations. I find that a lot of people do not always back up or prove their claims, and they just stick them in their papers as assumptions and reality. On the flip side, sometimes people use evidence incorrectly or in a way that is not as impactful. For example, you may be plopping a quotation into an essay without any subsequent analysis. I think that goes back to taking the time to do detailed research notes to help you figure out which evidence you want to use and which is no longer relevant.
What are the top three tips for students who are adjusting to university-level writing?
First of all, I want to remind everyone to not take their grades personally. Your worth is not tied to your grades; it is merely a measure of skill assessment. Second of all, work on developing strong thesis statements. The thesis statement sets up the argument and structure of your paper. Third of all, ensure that your essay structure and flow works to support the argument that you outline in your thesis statement. It is essential to ensure that your ideas connect to and build off of each other, and not just merely floating island on the page.
Decolonizing Methodologies by Linda Tuhiwai Smith
The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron
Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom by bell hooks
Thank you, Amanda, for sharing the excellent advice with us and our readers!
Missed the podcast? Listen here:
For more advice about writing, check out our weekly podcast or subscribe to our monthly newsletter.
To get more help with your assignments, book a 20 minute discovery session with us and start your journey to reaching your full potential on the page, and in life.
Both the written, visual, audio, and audiovisual content of this post has been created by and is the intellectual property of Lisa Pfau and PFAU Academic Writing. Please do not replicate any of the above content without our consent. However, please do feel free to share this post and its authorship widely.
Lisa Pfau is the founder, CEO, and Sr. Coach at PFAU Academic Writing. We discussed how she came to be an entrepreneur, writer, coach, and teacher. We also talk about her own experiences writing papers and applying for Grad School, and how she uses those experiences inform the coaching she provides to clients. As the economy continues to be hit by COVID, investing in further education is a great use of your time and energy.
Lisa currently assists high school, college, and university students to improve their research in writing skills through a combination of individual coaching sessions and writing courses. Lisa cares deeply about her students and PFAU team members, viewing success as a collaborative effort where everyone learns from and grows together. She feels grateful to wake up each morning, and use her creativity and passion for learning to build something meaningful.
What inspired you to take this career path?
I kind of stumbled into teaching. It was something that I was always doing – helping a friend or classmates with an essay – until eventually I became a Teaching Assistant in my Master’s degree and began to tutor high school and college students on the side. It was at this point that I realized there was a real deficit in solid writing skills, and educational supports to guide students in the art of writing. Still, since I enjoyed teaching and editing so much, I didn’t really consider it a career until I underwent a really difficult life transition and really had nothing to lose in starting my own academic coaching business – something that had been on my mind for quite some time, but that I never really took seriously.
What are you favorite aspects of teaching students?
My favorite part of teaching is the relationships that I build with my students. I love seeing them succeed and gain confidence in their own special skill set. For example, one of my long-time students, who original came to me because he was failing his classes and had been put on academic probation, was just accepted into the Toronto Police Service and started training this month. I had the honor of being one of his references, and it was such a treat to reflect on how far he has come. It was been inspiring to watch him over the years improve not only his research and writing skills and graduate with an A- average, but also to see his overall growth in confidence and work ethic. He had a dream, and now he is making it happen. I couldn’t be prouder!
What do you think is currently lacking in the current education system?
When I took my first TAship at the University of Toronto, I failed a bunch of students because of their poor writing skills. The Professor told me that I had to raise everyone’s grades by one whole grade point average, and that I needed to lower my expectations given that Grade 13 in Ontario had recently been discontinued. The results were good for the students in the short-term, but that moment sticks in my memory as I wondering about the long-term impact of such leniency. I am still grateful for the predominantly red marked up thesis drafts that I would receive from my Undergraduate supervisor because of how much it taught me to be more mindful in my written communication. I know that we focus a lot on presentation skills and oral communication, but writing is such an important skill set that is often overlooked. I mean, most people are online for the majority of the day, and a huge percentage of content is written, even the videos that we love are often scripted ahead of time. So, to give a long-winded response – I think attention to fundamentals of written communication and critical thinking are overlooked, especially in high school.
What kind of help can students expect at PFAU Academic Writing?
I think the best way to find out the true answer to this question would be to ask one of my past or current students, but I will try to answer this. I think I see each students an unique individual, and as such, I try to provide the resources and support necessary to help each student succeed in achieving their individual goals – whether it be passing a class, getting an A, graduating university, getting into a great school, or gaining and marketing their transferable skills in order to get a job. I still find this the hardest question to answer because honestly at work I am just myself – Lisa P. I just sit down, figure out what someone needs to succeed, and put a plan together to make that happen, and then, get on the ride with them and help them along the way when gaps show up. So, I suppose a student can expect compassionate, kind, inclusive, professional (I do know my stuff – or so I’ve been told), and individualized support with a focus on getting results.
Lisa’s Book Recommendations and Resources
The Adventues of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
Thank you, Lisa, for sharing the excellent advice with us and our readers!
Missed the podcast? Listen here:
For more advice about writing, check out our weekly podcast or subscribe to our monthly newsletter.
To get more help with your assignments, book a 20 minute discovery session with us and start your journey to reaching your full potential on the page, and in life.
It is easy to sell yourself short and think you aren’t smart enough, hard working enough, or overall good enough to receive a scholarship, but that is 100% not true. If you have an academic goal in mind and work hard towards it, it is highly likely that there are plenty of scholarships, grants, and bursaries out there suited to you. You just need to know what you want, be creative and resourceful looking for funds, and learn how to sell yourself well.
Figuring out what you want:
One of the hardest things about applying for scholarships, and in life, is deciding who you are and what you want. It’s unlikely that you will find a scholarship/grant/bursary that is suitable for you, if you don’t know what you are looking for in the first place. So, how do you figure this out?
The best place to start is with what they call your “signature skills“. Your signature skills are the things that you are naturally good at, that you feel accomplished, happy, and respected whenever you apply these skills. For example, even since I’ve been a young kid, I was a decent writer. I liked to imagine things, making up crazy stories, and learn new words. It was difficult at times, and my dad put my assignments through several arduous edits. I was a terrible speller and I hated reading. But, somehow, I knew I was good at and I enjoyed it, especially when I did things like write articles for the local newspaper. People would compliment me on my humor and prose. It made me feel good. Of course, at the time, I didn’t really think I could make a career out of writing, but here I am. So, what kinds of skills do you have that you have always done pretty well, even when you were a young child? What do you people often compliment you about? Those are probably your signature skills.
Knowing your signature skills, can help you to think critically about what you want in life. What do you want to study at school? What do you think would be an interesting job? For example, being the genius that I am (*cough*), I received a scholarship for Engineering in Undergrad that was larger than any of my other scholarships, but I wasn’t interested in Engineering. I was interested in Politics, so I went into an Arts degree. In the beginning I didn’t get as larger a scholarship, as I would have if I’d enrolled in Engineering. But, in the end, I received several scholarships throughout my Undergrad, Graduate, and post-Grad years because I followed my interests and skills set, and developed those skills over time. It’s highly likely that had I enrolled in Engineering I wouldn’t have done that well, and I would’ve lost my scholarship after the first year, and just be miserable, penniless, and beating myself up. Knowing what you are good at and what you enjoy, can help you to choose a path that exemplifies those skills and passions. Then, you can start to look for scholarships related to your own specific gifts and goals, and be more likely to receive them as you continue to build up your qualifications and experiences.
Finding the right scholarship/grant for you:
As I mentioned in the previous paragraph, it is important to know what you are looking for in a scholarship. There are gazillions of scholarships out there, once you start looking, so don’t waste your time applying for all of them. Instead, focus on the ones that you think are best suited to your own unique skills set and long-term goals.
For example, I studied Chinese Politics in Undergrad long before it was cool to be interested in China. In fact, most people thought I was crazy…but now, who’s laughing?! Anyway, I knew that I wanted to go to China, and hopefully learn Chinese, so I asked my Chinese Professors for advice. She was and still is an excellent networker, and she let me know about several scholarship programs through the Chinese government, Taiwanese government, Canadian government, and even a special program with a grant for teaching English in China. This process would be a lot easier today with Google because I could do a quick search of “Chinese Language Scholarships for Canadians” and find a bunch of these links. However, it is also extremely useful to have a mentor to point you to opportunities because they can also give you advice on what the scholarship committees might be looking for. Since it was still a bit unusual for a Ukranian-Canadian from rural Alberta to want to go to China to study Chinese, and I had passionately pursued a degree in Chinese Politics and History, when I applied for all of these scholarships, I got EVERY one of them, and had to chose where I wanted to go. Knowing your own special niche and searching for specific opportunities in that area, no matter how crazy everyone else thinks you are, can really pay off because you are putting your energy into applications that are best suited for your long-term goals, and can really highlights your own unique skills set.
Fine-tuning your personal sales pitch:
Once you know what you want and you’ve found it, the last important step is knowing how to sell yourself so that the selection committee believes they are giving the scholarship to the best person. Instead of thinking about all the ways in which you are going to impress them with a long list of high grades and extra-curricular activities, try to think about the selection process from their perspective. They will be sifting through piles of applications and reading about all kinds of people with lots of accomplishments. So, how can you make yourself stand out?
Well, in my case, I used my strength in writing and added some creativity to my application. I wanted to tell a story about myself. Now, this doesn’t mean that I made up any information or embellished reality. But, it does mean that I thought about what parts of my own academic and professional life would help me to succeed in a Chinese Language program, and how I could present those qualities in a manner that was interesting and relatable to the audience. Thus, I started with a quote from a famous Chinese story, and used that story as a basis to explain why I wanted to study in China, in what ways I was prepared, and how I was going to use my new language skills to achieve my long-term goals. By using this quote and story, I was able to show indirectly that I had an in-depth knowledge of China, and a passion for its history and culture. It also helped me to stay on track and focus only on the skills that were related to the application criteria. In the end, it seemed to work. Therefore, I recommend taking a risk and being a little creative in your next scholarship application. After all, what do you have to lose? They’re the ones giving you free money!
Scholarships can be intimidating. You may feel that you aren’t smart enough or hard working enough to qualify. But, I guarantee that if you are passionate and dedicated to something, there is someone out there willing to give you money to pursue your dreams, so give it a shot! Start thinking about what you want, where you can find it, and how to tell the best story about yourself. If you need some help getting started on this journey, please reach out to us for a free 30 minute consultation and find out what PFAU can do to help you to reach your full potential on the page, and in life.
All content in this post is created by Lisa Pfau and Patricia Huang. Feel free to share it widely; however, please do not replicate any of the text or graphics without our prior permission. Doing so is violating copyright law. Thank you for respecting our intellectual property rights.
Healthy and constructive communication skills are not innate. If we are fortunate, we grow up in an environment with confident parents and clear non-judgmental communication. Unfortunately, that is not the case for most of us. We usually end up learning we need to work on our communication and relationship skills later in life. So, what can you do to help yourself now?
Think before you react: It is common to want to spit back a reply or act out when we are feeling hurt, upset, or uncomfortable. However, it is in these moments of intense emotion that I find it is most useful for me to step back, take a breath, and think about what I need from the situation. Once I know what I need, it is easier for me to articulate what I want to say without blame and judgement. Count to 10! It’s not an emergency. The person will still be there to hear your response in most cases.
Learn to listen: We all love to talk, but listening takes work. It means that we need to quiet the thoughts in our mind for long enough to let someone else’s in. It also means that we need to step out of ourselves and focus on someone else. It takes time, effort, and patience to try to understand another person’s perspective, especially when it is in direct contrast to our own. But, you can’t really craft a constructive response to a situation, if you don’t understand it first. So, listen before you speak next time and see what happens.
Lead with “I” statements: The biggest issue in communication is blame, shame, and defensiveness. It is impossible to get anywhere in a conversation once you or the other person becomes defensive. Defensiveness is destructive, whilst openness is constructive. So, instead of focusing on being right and assigning blame, you could try focusing on what you are feeling, what do you need, what do you hope to get out of the conversation. Then, lead with “I” statements, instead of “you” statements. That is as simple as saying: “I really felt hurt and betrayed when you suddenly dropped out of the group assignments and didn’t do the work you’d previous agreed upon. I don’t feel comfortable letting you back into the group unless we can do things differently in the future.” That is much better than: “OMG! How dare you ask to rejoin our group! You’re so lazy and totally let us down last time. Forget it!!” Hmmm…which one do you think is going to escalate a situation?!
Be open to feedback? Personal growth is a process. There is no finish line in that process until you cross over to the other side (ie. death). Communication is a part of personal growth, so don’t beat yourself up when you make a mistake or could do better. Instead, stay open to how your communication style impacts others. Can you do something different in the future? Maybe? Maybe not? But, at least you opened your ears and took the feedback as constructive, instead of closing yourself off from some potentially valuable information.
Remember that communication is a skill, not a in-born trait. It takes practice and lots of blunders, so don’t get discouraged. And remember, if you need some advice on how to improve you communication skills at school or work, you can book a free 30 minute consultation with one of our coaches. You can also check out our upcoming talk with qualifying psychotherapist, Jill Gillbert, on Tuesday, February 26th at 6:00pm. Check out the blog post and EventBrite for more details.
All content in this post is created by Lisa Pfau & Patricia Huang. Please feel free to share widely, but also please do remember to give us credit. Thank you for respecting our intellectual property rights.
It happens to even the most planned and studios of students. There comes a point in our academic career when we are faced with potentially having to adjust our course schedule by adding or dropping a course part way through the semester.
I was usually pretty good with planning out my schedule in advance and choosing the right courses by reading course descriptions, familiarizing myself with course requirements, keeping up-to-date necessary credits for graduation, and asking friends for opinions about Profs and courses. However, in second year, I registered for a French course in order to meet my language requirement, and found that I had no idea what the Prof was saying. I was terrified that I would fail. After careful consideration and discussion with my friend and the Prof, I decided to stay in French 100, but transferred to another instructor where the where requirements were slightly lower and I had a friend in the course to help me with problem areas. I didn’t do wonderfully, but I passed and got the language credit out of the way. This decision allowed me to focus on more important courses in the final two years of my degree. Therefore, when trying to figure out the best way to amend your academic schedule consider both your long-term and short-term goals.
I would say the most important aspect of planning your course schedule throughout your degree is knowing which courses you need to take and grades you need to achieve in order to graduate. It is common for most Bachelor’s degrees to have the requirement that you take a course in all disciplines in order to create an overall well-rounded degree, even if have a specific major and minor. You also will be required to take a certain number of courses in your major and minor in order to receive accreditation for them on your diploma.
For example, as an Arts student, I was still required to take a certain number of credits in Math and Science in order to graduate. I also had to take courses in languages, English, and Fine Arts, even though those were not my major or nor minor in order to receive a Bachelor of Arts. This requirements can sometime wreck havoc on your GPA if are not interested in them, or wired to do well at them. For example, university level Math was a bit daunting for me. The good thing about these courses is that you have more flexibility in how and when you complete them. I tend to recommend doing them earlier on in your degree with your grades are less important to getting into Grad School or professional programs. Doing them early also allows you to drop one, if you feel it is a struggle and taking energy away from more important course; and then, making it up in the summer or taking a different course in order to receive the same credit.
When it comes to courses related to the major and minors, deciding to add or drop can be more complex as many of these courses require prerequisites and many not be offered every semester. Thus, you need to think long-term about how you will ensure you complete not only one course, but subsequent courses in time for graduation. In some cases, it may be better to bit the bullet and power through a prerequisite earlier on in your degree in order to create more freedom in your third and fourth year. However, you also need to keep in mind that the grades in courses related to your major and minor are more significant than optional courses. Therefore, if you truly think you may fail a key course, and have time to take it next year, dropping it and replacing it with another course you had originally intended to take next year might be a good option.
Of course, there are other elements to consider beyond career requirements, such as personal life, budget, academic skills, and social supports. However, knowing your degree requirements and being clear about your long-term and short-term goals is a great place to start. Once you know what you want to do, make sure you check add/drop deadlines and penalties so that you can make the most informed and best decision for you.
**All content in this blog post is created by Lisa Pfau & Patricia Huang. You are very welcome to share any of this content (written and images) as long as appropriate credit is given to the authors and creators. Thank you for respecting our intellectual property rights. 🙂
Recently a well-known and prize winning American poet was accused of plagiarism by her contemporaries and her reputation completely sullied. Plagiarism is a major academic offense, and a very common mistake made by 1st Year Undergraduate students. In order to avoid a failed assignment or scary encounter with your Professor, there a few things that you can do to protect your academic integrity:
When in doubt, cite: Although you can be penalized for citing too much (ongoing debate among Law students), that is a far better offense than citing too little or not at all. You will not be kicked out for being honest about your unoriginality. Thus, if you think that the ideas that you are using in your essay are based upon someone else’s, make sure to cite the article or book that you got them from. Citations are not just for quotations, but paraphrasing as well. Paraphrasing means taking someone else’s words or ideas and putting them into your own. It is often taught in lower grades that paraphrasing can be presented as your original thoughts, but once you get into university and college paraphrasing without a reference is a serious offense. The main idea of a book, the argument/theory in an academic article, or a discussion by your Professor in class needs to referenced. Generally any evidence you are using to prove your point needs to be cited. If you are still unsure about whether or not your are plagiarizing, Turnitin.com has an interesting quiz where you can test yourself. Your analysis of the data is where you have a chance to be creative and present some original work of your own. In other words, you take other’s information and thoughts and provide your own opinion about them. If you are really creative, maybe someone else will cite you one day!
Consult a Style Guide: Another thing to watch out for when referencing material in your essay is the referencing style. Different faculties and departments use different referencing guidelines. The Social Sciences, for example, tend to use APA/ASA style, while Historians prefer Chicago Style and the English department sticks to MLA. If you are confused about the difference between these different referencing guidelines, it is best to consult a style guide and confirm with your TA/Professor. You can usually find reputable style guides in your university or college bookstore, or else online with a quick Google search. Look for one’s that have been published by or reviewed by academic institutions to determine their accuracy and relevance. One of my favorites is OWL Purdue. I find it easy to follow and comprehensive. I also really like how they give you the citation format for both in-text and bibliography, as well as a real example of what the citation would look like when input into your essay. it is a resources I suggest to all of my First-Year students.
Take detailed research notes from the start: Many students avoid putting in citations because they find it tedious, or have lost their references. They read books and articles and know the main ideas, but haven’t noted exact page numbers or even the source while doing their research. Then, when it’s time to write the paper, they remember the content, but not where they have gotten it from. At this point, citing sources seems like a big pain in the butt.
The best way to make citing easy is to take detailed research notes that include the authors name, date, text (if you are using the same author more than once), and page number in one notebook/document that is solely dedicated to your research essay. Every time I write down a quote or paraphrase an idea while reading a text, I write down a simple citation in brackets after each note, even if it’s from the same author and on the same page. It is unlikely that I will remember those details later when I’m writing up the paper.
It is also a good idea to add any materials that you are think relevant to your bibliography immediately. Many university/college libraries have software, such as RefWorks, to help you to organize your research materials and automatically generate bibliographies. Most libraries also provide free courses on how to use the library system and citation software throughout the year. You can usually find this out by consulting your university library information desk.
Don’t risk your academic integrity! Cite any and all ideas that you believe not to be your own. Referencing others work gives credit where credit is due, as well as, helps you to engage in the ongoing academic conversation in a respectful and professional manner.