Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Using Blogs to Help you Write Research Papers

Let's assume you already have:
  • your topic chosen
  • your resources gathered
You may even have your outline completed and thesis (but maybe not!)

How can a blog help you to write better papers?

  1. Blogs provide a place to process your reading as you go along. You can summarize, pull out main points, note lingering questions, etc.
So what can blogs help you do, that you don't already do with plain old paper and pencil?
  1. categorization
  2. input and feedback through comments

Let's take a look at both...

As you are reading, you write a blog posting that captures the main ideas of the first resource. Keep the postings relatively brief - one big idea/concept per posting - mark page numbers (for citations later on!)

The simple fact of writing helps you to internalize the information. So the next resource you read, your brain now has something to start to connect with, to attach to. Themes or repeating ideas may start to emerge (this can translate into segments of your outline). As you read, you are thinking how the information can be used to support your ideas in your paper.

But... by the time you read your 10th resource, you aren't going to remember these connections! So... blogs allow you to label your posts for quick sorting later.

When you finish writing your post, you add labels (or tags) that capture the essence or nugget of that post. What's the main point - or usefulness to your paper - or section of the paper where this nugget fits?

  • Try to be consistent in wording for tags. If you use the word "pro" to label a posting as something that supports your point, you don't want the next posting label to read "pros" or you've lost the power of the blog to gather your sorted thoughts.
  • Think about the big ideas and concepts for each posting and how it connects to your paper and tag accordingly.
  • You could tag by author last name, main concept, section of outline it supports, way you will use it. Think about how you will pull the information out of the blog and tag accordingly.

Input and Feedback Through Comments
Blogs are designed to be interactive! They come with ready made places for people to read your postings and to add comments.

Academic writing improves as you discuss your thoughts with others. They can challenge your thinking, or expose the gaps and assumptions you are making. They can find holes in your logic and tell you where your thoughts spark new questions.

Look at an example in the next posting....

Monday, January 28, 2008


OK, Let's take our example to see how this works...

Say your topic is Eleanor Roosevelt & Hillary Clinton: Women People Love to Hate

You have found 6 resources: 3 journal articles, 2 books, 1 online interview

1) You start reading the first article on Eleanor Roosevelt: Civil Rights Champion by John Stones...

2) You open up your blog and type in the following for the title-

JS: Eleanor Roosevelt: Civil Rights Champion - Overview

3) In the body you type as important passages or factoids appear or things that make you question something. Remember page numbers - helps with citations later on!!

Background history (pg 2)
  • Born - year
  • Education
  • Family connections
  • Marriage & Family
  • Years in White House

Depending on how many sub-ideas there are, you may want separate postings for each. Note the page numbers for easy citations later on.

4) Then you label the entire post according to the big ideas and where it might be useful in your paper (comma separating):
labels: JS, FDR, White House, family, ER background, ER overview,

5) Now you keep reading, posting, and labeling as you go through your resources

Think about your topic and thesis - has it changed at all as you discover new information? - Do you have any lingering questions? Are you ready to start writing?

6) As things start to answer or support your thesis, mark them with a separate post - thesis

7) Retrieve your information!! Because you used labels, your postings are searchable and retrievable in an organized fashion.
How do your ideas connect to the information you have gathered? Use your labels to retrieve statements, quotes, ideas that support your goals of the paper, and sort!!!

8) Getting ready to write! Just the simple task of thinking about categories of information, can help you see the natural structure of your paper - help you to write your outline even, based on the categories.

In the example above, when you get ready to write the background information section, you sort by the label "background" and all your postings come up. Re-read them and weave them (with citations) into your own ideas. Because you put page numbers in as you went, your citations are almost ready!