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....

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