Five Tips for Writing a Successful Thesis Statement

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Maxine Rodburg and the tutors of the writing center at Harvard developed a great article about constructing thesis statements.

Heres what they suggest:

1. A thesis is never a question. Readers of academic essays expect to have questions discussed, explored, or even answered. A question (Why did communism collapse in Eastern Europe?) is not an argument, and without an argument, a thesis is dead in the water.

2. A thesis is never a list. For political, economic, social and cultural reasons, communism collapsed in Eastern Europe does a good job of telegraphing the reader what to expect in the essay—a section about political reasons, a section about economic reasons, a section about social reasons, and a section about cultural reasons. However, political, economic, social and cultural reasons are pretty much the only possible reasons why communism could collapse. This sentence lacks tension and doesnt advance an argument. Everyone knows that politics, economics, and culture are important.

3. A thesis should never be vague, combative or confrontational.
An ineffective thesis would be, Communism collapsed in Eastern Europe because communism is evil. This is hard to argue (evil from whose perspective? what does evil mean?) and it is likely to mark you as moralistic and judgmental rather than rational and thorough. It also may spark a defensive reaction from readers sympathetic to communism. If readers strongly disagree with you right off the bat, they may stop reading.

4. An effective thesis has a definable, arguable claim. While cultural forces contributed to the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe, the disintegration of economies played the key role in driving its decline is an effective thesis sentence that telegraphs, so that the reader expects the essay to have a section about cultural forces and another about the disintegration of economies. This thesis makes a definite, arguable claim: that the disintegration of economies played a more important role than cultural forces in defeating communism in Eastern Europe. The reader would react to this statement by thinking, Perhaps what the author says is true, but I am not convinced. I want to read further to see how the author argues this claim.

5. A thesis should be as clear and specific as possible. Avoid overused, general terms and abstractions. For example, Communism collapsed in Eastern Europe because of the ruling elites inability to address the economic concerns of the people is more powerful than Communism collapsed due to societal discontent.
Continue reading how to construct a thesis statement . . .

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How to Conclude an Essay Exam in 5 Minutes

As an English major in college, I had my share of essay exams.

I usually kept an eye on the clock when writing, but I’ve definitely had moments when I ran out of time.

So here’s some advice from Harvard University on how to complete an essay when you only have minutes left:

  • Conclude by linking the last paragraph to the first, perhaps by reiterating a word or phrase you used at the beginning.
  • Conclude with a sentence composed mainly of one-syllable words. Simple language can help create an effect of understated drama.
  • Conclude with a sentence thats compound or parallel in structure; such sentences can establish a sense of balance or order that may feel just right at the end of a complex discussion.

And here’s how you should never end an essay:

  • Dont simply summarize your essay. A brief summary of your argument may be useful, especially if your essay is long_more than ten pages or so. But shorter essays tend not to require a restatement of your main ideas.
  • Avoid phrases like in conclusion, to conclude, in summary, and to sum up. These phrases can be useful_even welcome_in oral presentations. But readers can see, by the tell-tale compression of the pages, when an essay is about to end. Youll irritate your audience if you belabor the obvious.

Read more tips on how to conclude an Essay . . .

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The Best APA Cheat Sheets on the Web

So it’s like 3 a.m. and you’re trying to finish your paper. You’re almost done, but you forgot where you left your APA Style Guide. No worries. We have some online APA style guide cheat sheets that you can use right now:

APA Formatting Tips from Purdue
Purdue University offers a comprehensive review of everything you need to know about APA style. This website offers not only great instruction, but also helpful pictures to demonstrate how to use the various APA rules.

APA Research Style Crib Sheet Project
This website archives a bunch of handy APA rules that you should definitely check out. It provides an excellent summary of how to format and write your title page, references, and abbreviations.

APA Online Tips
The official APA website doesn’t provide very many free tips because they want you to buy the book from them. However, they do offer some free tips on APA word usage and hyphens.

APA Citation Help
How do you cite multiple authors again? Or what about citing televisions shows or interviews? This website answers all those common questions.

APA Style Essentials
This might be one of our favorite APA sites. Its written and maintained by a professor of psychology. He not only lists all the major APA rules, but he includes a downloadable pdf to show you exactly how to do it. Very useful.

If you find any other handy APA cheat sheets on the web, please send us an email or leave a comment here. We’ll add it to the list.

Top 7 Websites to Visit Prior to Writing Your Research Paper

You know writing a research paper can be a tedious process.

Not only do you have to spend a lot of time writing, but you also need to spend many hours finding and reading appropriate journal articles and books.

To make your life a bit easier, here are the top seven websites you should visit when starting your research paper. You might be surprised how much you can learn about your topic without even going to a college library:

Wikipedia
Wikipedia is always a good place to start when beginning initial research. The articles will usually provide you with a good summary of the topic you’re interested in. And the external links sections might give you some other links to consider. Check the discussion pages for further investigation.

Internet Public Library
The Internet Public Library will provide you with a host of quality websites about the topic you’re interested in. This is definitely a great resource for finding books and articles about your chosen topic.

Google News Search
Depending on what type of research you’re doing, Google News Search might be appropriate. Google News archives newspaper articles. All you need to do is type in a word and newspaper articles using that word will appear in chronological order. It’s very handy when looking for current news about your topic.

Microsoft Book Search
If you’re looking for a book in the public domain, check out this book search. You can search every word in a book, and even download entire books as a pdf. It’s a great resource for finding relevant content in older books.

Google Book Search
If you can’t find a particular book in Microsoft Book Search, definitely check out Google Book Search. You can search for current books in Google, but you’ll only get a limited preview. Google Books will also provide full downloads of older books (in public domain).

Virtual Library
Virtual library is a place that hosts tons of links on various topics. It’s easy to get lost in this website because of the amount of information available. It’s not as user-friendly as the Internet Public Library, but it does provide great links.

Google Scholar
As you get more focused on your topic, don’t forget to search in Google Scholar. This website will extract articles from academic journals. It’s a great resource for finding high quality articles on your topic. Many of the links might only give you an abstract (or summary) of what’s in the articles, but you can save the reference information and find the journals at your local college library.

No doubt there are many articles and journals that you cant access without student identificaiton, so if you run into roadblocks on articles you really need, visit your local public or college library. Libraries typically have access to passwor protected research sites..

And if you still have problems getting a particular journal article or book, just ask for help from a college librarian or research associate. It’s their job to know how to find and get information, and they will probably have some great recommendations.

Best wishes on your research.