Final Check: Self-editing tips for your final draft

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MLA Formatting

**MLA has recently made some changes to how things are formatted and cited. Make sure you know if you are to follow the old or new edition. The following are suggestions from the old edition, as most instructors will not change over mid-term.

Include 1” margins on all sides.

Double-space all lines (no extra spaces between header and title and title and text).

Center title. Do not bold, italicize, or enlarge font.

Single space after periods or other end punctuation.

Tab all indents; spacing 5 times is not the same!

Insert a paginated right header. This means to insert your last name only, followed by a space, then the page number. Your instructor may ask that you remove this from the first page, as you’ll have your left header here.

Works Cited should be numbered consecutively after the last page of essay.

Insert 4-line left header on first page only.

Block quotes should be indented one inch with no quotation marks.

All other direct quotes should have quotation marks and in-text citation, followed by period (note: period comes after the citation).

Sources

All outside research or sources should be followed with an in-text citation, whether they are a direct quote, paraphrase, or summary.

Direct quotes should have attributive or author tags.

If a source doesn’t have an author, give the title or website.

The in-text citation should match the FIRST WORD the source is listed under on the Works Cited page.

Avoid giving dictionary definitions of a word as an “outside source.” That’s not research.

Always use italics when referring to a book or website; use quotation marks for small works (article or short story) in a larger work (book or newspaper).

Works Cited

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The title, Works Cited, should be centered at the top of the final page. Do not bold, italicize or enlarge font.

Works Cited should also be double spaced. NO EXTRA SPACES BETWEEN ENTRIES.

Works Cited should be alphabetized by author’s last name. If no author, alphabetize by the title or website. See Purdue Owl for other listings.

Each entry should have a hanging indent (the opposite of a regular line indent).

Include URL only if instructor requires it, or if the source cannot be found without it.

When using electronic sources, always include the date you accessed the source.

Other Tips

In Microsoft WORD, the default for paragraphs is set to insert an extra line space when you hit ENTER to move to a new paragraph. You must reset this to avoid triple-spacing the header, paragraphs, and Works Cited entries. To do this, go to the PARAGRAPH tab on the toolbar, clicking on the icon that has up and down arrows with five lines, just to the right of the 4 justification icons. Click the arrow on the right to open the tab, and scroll down to the bottom line that says “Add Space After Paragraph”; click this so that it says “Remove Space After Paragraph.” If you have already completed your essay and have triple spaces, highlight the entire text, follow these steps, and it should remove the extra lines.

The default font in Word is usually Calibri 11. MLA is Times New Roman 12, unless otherwise instructed. Make sure you have changed the font to follow MLA. 

This list is a very abbreviated editing checklist, and your instructor might have different directives, which we refer to as “instructor preference.” Always follow your instructor guidelines and ask for specifics if you are unsure of anything. 

This is only an abbreviated list of editing steps to take to make your essay a perfect as it can be. Hopefully, you’ve read your essay over carefully and had a peer read it as well. Don’t trust Spellcheck! Once you’ve done all you can do, turn it in and let it go. If you’ve followed your instructor’s guidelines and instruction and edited carefully, you should feel confident you’ve done your best work.

 

 

 

 

 

Plagiarism: What is it and How to Avoid it

Plagiarism is using the ideas and words of others and failing to acknowledge the original source. However, college students are constantly exposed to the ideas of others. Students read texts, attend class lectures, watch documentaries, and even surf the internet where we are routinely inundated with unlimited online content. Students are often confused by all the complexities involved in citing sources, so determining when and how to cite information in research papers is always a challenge.

To avoid plagiarism, you must credit any source when using

  • another’s idea, opinion, or theory

  • statistics, graphs, charts, or other images

  • any direct quotations of written or spoken words

  • paraphrase or summary of another’s written or spoken words

In short, any time you incorporate another’s ideas or words in any form, regardless of whether you use a direct quote, or whether you paraphrase or summarize another’s information, you must clearly acknowledge the source or you could be accused of plagiarism.

Quoting and Paraphrasing

It’s most common to incorporate direct quotes into our research papers, and most students know to acknowledge the original source of any direct quotes used. But paraphrasing is another skill that you might utilize even more often than directly quoting sources. Paraphrasing, even though it isn’t the exact words of the original source, must be cited, so it’s imperative to learn how to paraphrase correctly.

When you want to paraphrase, you must not only change the words of the original source, but the sentence structure as well. Simply replacing one word with a synonym is not enough to avoid plagiarism.

Original –

“Childhood obesity is a serious medical condition that affects children and adolescents. It occurs when a child is well above the normal weight for his or her age and height. Childhood obesity is particularly troubling because the extra pounds often start children on the path to health problems that were once confined to adults, such as diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.”

Paraphrase Considered Plagiarism –

Obesity in children is a serious condition that affects children and teens. It occurs when a child is above the normal weight for his or her age and height. Childhood obesity is particularly worrisome because the extra pounds often cause kids to have health problems, such as high cholesterol, diabetes, and high blood pressure.

 

Notice that in the paraphrased example, a few words were omitted and a few were changed to a word with the same meaning. The sentence structure – the order of the words in the sentence – however, has not been altered, except for one or two words. Basically, the second example is the same as the original, minus a few synonym changes. The best way to avoid plagiarism when paraphrasing is to read the section a few times, and then put it in your own words. Avoid cutting and pasting, then simply tweaking the language.

 

Plagiarism and the Internet

The World Wide Web is a wonderful thing. Boundless information is available at our fingertips, some of which has an author attributed to the writing, but many that do not. Don’t be fooled into thinking that an online source does not need to be acknowledged if no author’s name is attached. The rules apply to online sources of information just as they do to print sources, even blogs and social media. Any content taken from another source must be acknowledged. This includes not only ideas or theories, but also images, graphics, tables, charts – any type of information that you have not originally conceived.

If you can find no attributable author, then you would cite either by the title of the article, the web page, or the website name.

 

Information Considered Common Knowledge

Common knowledge is information that is widely known and available in numerous sources. Note the following statements, which would be considered common knowledge

The first president of the United States was George Washington.
The Earth is one of nine planets that orbit around the Sun.
World War II ended when the Allied troops defeated Nazi Germany and Japan.

These statements are widely known and widely read in texts. Each of these statements can be used in a research paper without acknowledging the original source, as the statements are general knowledge.

Experts sometimes disagree on how to judge what is considered common knowledge and what is not. Some facts that are common knowledge in one discipline may not be common knowledge in another. For instance, if a definition or fact is found in a highly specialized reference book, such as a medical reference book, but not readily known to a general audience, than it should probably be cited.

Understanding exactly what constitutes plagiarism is the first step to avoiding it. Take care to acknowledge any information you get from any type of source, be it print or online, with a given author, or no author. If you have any doubt about how or when to cite a source, always ask your professor.

 

 

 

The Research Paper: Beginning Your Search for Research

research-studies_000When assigned a research paper, many students become anxious, as they may be unfamiliar with research basics. Even though your instructor may have given you guidelines to follow, it’s daunting to know where to begin. With the tremendous amount of online resources now available, a student can get lost for days scrolling through information and get bogged down to the point of drowning in TMI: too much information!

So where to begin?

1.    First, consider your topic. Is it a current issue? Is it a more scientific topic? What field of interest is it? A current issue, say, the debate on the college bowl system, isn’t going to be found in peer-reviewed journals. A current issue will be written about in newspapers or magazines, and most likely on some websites. Your instructor may have strict guidelines that prohibit the use of these types of sources.

If you’ve picked a topic based more in the sciences, for instance, genetically modified food or organ transplantation, you’ll probably find research on these topics in peer-reviewed or academic journals, as well as books and respected websites. Current social or ethical topics, like cyberbullying or wind farms, would most likely be found in newspapers or magazines, as they are current issues, but might also be found in academic journals as well and even books.

Before you get too far into the research process, make certain your topic will work for the type of research your assignment requires. If peer-reviewed or academic research is required, debating the merits of a BCS playoff system might not work.

2.    Think quality over quantity. If your assignment requires you to cite 8 sources, citing 16 isn’t going to double your chances of a better grade. Using too many sources may send up a red flag that you’ve relied too heavily on source material and not your own ideas. Quality sources are books, peer-reviewed journals, scholarly articles, most library databases, and some websites. I guide my students to only utilize “.edu” or “.gov,” as even some “.org” websites can be misrepresentative. Wikipedia is hit and miss. Most instructors oppose its use, though some permit limited use for only a bit of historical information. And please, oh please, avoid using a dictionary or encyclopedia definition as a source.

3.    The best way to locate quality research comes from other quality research. If you’ve found one good source, look at that source’s citation page at the end. Who has your source referenced? These are often the best sources for your topic. Still having a love affair with Wikipedia? You might not be able to use Wiki in your paper, but it’s often not a bad starting point to find other research that you can use. Search your topic, then scroll down to Wikipedia’s references. They are often quite long. I searched “Wind Farm” in Wikipedia and 111 sources came up. They also have a “Further Reading” list at the bottom of most pages.

4.    When searching library databases such as EBSCO or ERIC, I often see students repeatedly use the same keyword in different databases and getting the same poor result. Database searches are all about keywords, and your best results come from careful consideration of search terms. Brainstorm a list of possible keywords, either general topics or titles, even synonyms will bring up different results. You might also consult the Library of Congress Subject Headings, which contain the keywords that librarians use when they classify materials. A search of “wind farm” brought up “wind power plants,” and “wind power parks.” If in doubt, ask your librarian. That’s what they’re there for.

5.    As you spend some time sifting through research, it’s important to keep careful records. You’ll save a lot of valuable time if you stay organized and maintain careful records so you don’t have to go back and try to find where all your sources came from. Keep research note cards, photocopy materials, or keep a detailed research journal.

Start early and schedule ample time for collecting research. This is often the most time consuming part of the essay process, but it’s also the most crucial. You can’t write a research paper without research. It’s also important to understand the research and show that you’ve developed insights into the problem or debate. You’re not just compiling data to dump in between your own paragraphs. You must synthesize the research and link this new information to what you already know.