Start Using Google Scholar to Save Time on Research

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If you don’t have access to library databases at home, you should definitely start your research using Google Scholar. To describe Google Scholar as simply a website that simply archives and organizes online journal articles would be an understatement.

Google Scholar not only lets you search for articles by search terms (like every other journal database), but it provides you with great search features like:

Related Articles Link
Most every article listed within Google Scholar has a “related articles” link. The “related articles” link expands on articles not cited within the article itself, and can provide you with a long list of scholarly journal articles you might not have thought about checking out. You can spend hours just clicking through the related links of the journal articles you’re interested in.

Cited By Link
Another great tool on Google Scholar is the “Cited by __” link. This nifty link will give you set of online journal articles that cite the article you’re interested in. So the articles with more citations should give you an idea of the article’s importance within your research topic
. It’s a great tool to quickly find articles most referenced in other journals, which means you might want to consider reading and citing those highly referenced articles too.

There are many other advanced search features and scholar preference searches, so go check it out.

How to Write a Fascinating Thesis Statement

No professors or teaching assistants want to read a boring paper. They want to read a paper that engages them; a paper that is compelling and clearly articulated.

So how do you write one of these papers?

Well, the most important part of writing a fascinating paper is to develop a great thesis statement.

You see, your thesis statement is the spine for your entire paper. Its the glue that holds your paper together. The more complex, specific, and interesting, the better your paper will be.

So here are some steps to breathe life into your next thesis statement:

Get Excited About Your Topic
No matter what you have to write about, you should try and get excited about it. The more interest and excitement you put forth, the better your paper will be. Even if your paper topic bores you, this is your opportunity to get creative and think of a way to make it exciting. Thats your challenge – and you can do it.

Develop A Strong Opinion About Your Topic
Writing a great thesis statement means you need to develop a strong opinion about your topic. This is how radio talk show hosts keep their audiences – they spew strong opinions that attract listeners and phone calls. If youre not sure how to form a strong opinion about your topic, start reading through journal article abstracts. Check out Google Scholar and read through thesis statements pertaining to your topic. Jot down any strong opinions that look interesting to you.

Use Exciting Adjectives to Spice up Your Thesis
Dont just say that something is good or bad, empower your nouns with exciting adjectives that describe what you really think. Adjectives like oppressive, tyrannical, and bloodthirsty are powerful because they portray a strong point of view about something or someone.

Focus Your Thesis On One Main Idea
As mentioned in the introduction, your thesis is the glue for your paper. Make sure your thesis doesnt divert into different directions. Stay focused on one main theme to keep your paper organized and your reader on topic.

Get Extremely Specific in Your Thesis
A generic thesis statement weakens a paper because the reader isnt clear exactly what youre going to be arguing about. However, if your thesis includes specific details about your argument, it will prepare the reader for whats ahead. It also helps you stay on task as you argue your points with specific examples.

Keep a List of Interesting Thesis Statements
Just as copywriters have a swipe file of powerful headlines, you should develop your own list of powerful thesis statements. Whenever you come across a thesis statement that intrigues you, add it to your list. The longer your list of thesis statements, the more ammunition youll have when you need to craft your own.

Here are three examples of thesis statements to get you going:

Weak Thesis:
The North and South fought the Civil War for many reasons, some of which were the same and some different.

Average Thesis:
While both sides fought the Civil War over the issue of slavery, the North fought for moral reasons while the South fought to preserve its own institutions.

Strong Thesis:
While both Northerners and Southerners believed they fought against tyranny and oppression, Northerners focused on the oppression of slaves while Southerners defended their own right to self-government.

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How to Write Abstracts

Ive been very busy these last few weeks working on a lengthy research proposal.

Its been absolutely exhausting – but it feels good to almost be done.

The last step in any research proposal is to write a comprehensive summary (or abstract) about what youre about to propose.

This might sound easy, but I find that this is sometimes the most difficult part.

How do you condense all your research into a brief paragraph?

It can be mind-boggling I know.

After spending some time researching abstract development, I found these helpful tips for writing the perfect abstract:

Abstract Style

  • One paragraph under 150 – 200 words
  • Use related keywords that people might use to find your article
  • As a summary of work done, it is always written in past tense
  • An abstract should stand on its own, and not refer to any other part of the paper such as a figure or table
  • Focus on summarizing results – limit background information
  • What you report in an abstract must be consistent with what you report
  • Correct spelling, clarity of sentences and phrases, and proper reporting of quantities (proper units, significant figures) are just as important in an abstract as they are anywhere else

Abstract Content

  • Motivation – Why do we care about the problem and the results?
  • Problem Statement – What problem are you trying to solve? What is the scope of your work (a generalized approach, or for a specific situation)? Be careful not to use too much jargon. In some cases it is appropriate to put the problem statement before the motivation, but usually this only works if most readers already understand why the problem is important.
  • Approach – How did you go about solving or making progress on the problem? What important variables did you control, ignore, or measure?
  • Results – Whats the answer? Put the result there, in numbers. Avoid vague, hand-waving results such as very, small, or significant.
  • Conclusions – What are the implications of your answer? Is it going to change the world (unlikely), be a significant win, be a nice hack, or simply serve as a road sign indicating that this path is a waste of time (all of the previous results are useful). Are your results general, potentially generalizable, or specific to a particular case?

Read more about writing abstracts here . . .

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8 Unconventional Student Research Projects

As the Fall semester approaches, its time to start thinking of potential research projects to focus on this year. Here are some unconventional student research projects to get your creative mind going . . .

1. Crickets Playing Pac Man

Grad student Wim van Eck turned to crickets to add a bit more unpredictability to a game of Pac-Man, casting them in the role of the lowly ghosts against a human-controlled Pac. Theres few details about how the system actually works, but it seems that the crickets actually proved to be more worthy adversaries than your typical AI-controlled enemy: at one point, a particularly clever ghost decided to shed its skin, probably knowing full well that it would become invisible to the games color-based detection system. Watch the video . . .

2. Urine (Youre In) Control

These MIT seniors developed a game that is played when using a urinal. The video game is our interpretation of the classic carnival game whack-a-mole. Position on the back of the urinal corresponds to position on the screen. The player attempted to hit hamsters as they jumped from one hole in the ground into another hole in the ground. A successful hit turned the hamster yellow, made it scream and spin out of contol, and rewarded the player with ten points. The parabolic paths of the hamsters concealed the grid-like arrangment of sensors, resulting in a fluid transition between input and output. The game was programmed in C++. See the whole project.

3. Flash Game – Flow

The addictive little flash game was posted on the USC website as part of his graduate thesis in the Interactive Media division. Within two weeks, it had over 100,000 hits – with no intentional promotion. In the game: as you grow, you can eat bigger and bigger things and survive at deeper and deeper depths. This eventually became a PS3 game. Play this addictive game online.

4. Rubiks Cube Solving Robot

University of Michigan students Doug Li, Jeff Loevell, and Mike Zajac created a Rubiks Cube Solver robot for their final project it can solve a Rubiks Cube in 54 seconds or less. Watch the robot conquer the cube.

5. Prototype Hand Gesture Based iPod Remote Control

Zhuan, Derrick, and Colin of Purdue University created Handy, a prototype hand gesture based remote control. The setup consists of a Handy box, an iPod Nano, and a BOSE Sound Dock. Watch the video to see it work.

6. Cheap Solar Power System

A team of MIT students, led by mechanical engineering grad student Spencer Ahrens, has come up with a prototype that one day could be mass-produced. The system is a 12-foot-suqare mirrored dish that concentrates sunlight by a factor of 1,000. Read the full story.

7. Star Trek Replicators and Diatom Nanotechnology

This paper helps demonstrate that silica can be replaced atom for atom without change of shape – a step towards the Star Trek replicator. Learn more about this Trekker project.

8. Using the Force: How Star Wars Can Help You Teach Recursion

The Journal of Computing Sciences in Colleges published this research article on how Star Wars can help students learn about recursion. Check out the papers abstract.

Any other student projects that should get mentioned here?

5 Online Libraries You Should Know About

Here are five great online resources that can help you research prior to writing your next paper. These online resources can help you save time, and can really help if you don’t have time to visit a library.

Google Scholar
The advanced features on Google Scholar can help you quickly narrow down and research your topic of interest. Google scholar provides you a rich database of research material available on the web. Though much of the content requires passwords to view full journal articles, you can still view abstracts for free.

E-Research – Harvard University
This research site will provide you with a list of journal articles and online references for whatever topic you’re interested in. Though this site was built for Harvard students, you can still access and use the site without a student ID. Simply click on the “show unrestricted” button to get access to free content.

LibrarySpot.com
Library Spot can provide you with online encyclopedias, dictionaries, journal articles, and other important reference materials. The website can seem overwhelming at first because of the amount of information available, but it’s definitely a great place to start for general research.

WorldCat.org
WorldCat.org can provide you with a laundry list of books and articles to reference for whatever topic you’re interested in. It’s sort of like going to the largest library you could imagine. It’s all there for you to sort through to find the books that might help you for your paper. The only problem is that it doesn’t provide any abstracts for the books you want to know more about.

Encyclopedia.com
This site is valuable because it provides links to tons of great online encyclopedias. Just type in a term and you’ll find dozens of definitions and information about that topic–with links going to the various online encyclopedias. The only problem with this site is that it’s cluttered with ads.

These five online libraries will help you with your research.

How to Deal with Exam Stress

We love The Student Room (the United Kingdom’s largest online student community) website.

They have a cool wiki project with students posting tips and advice on a variety of subjects—everything from anthropology to veterinary medicine. The wiki project just launched, and were excited to already see students submitting helpful content.

Anyway, they have a great collection of tips on how to deal with test stress.

Here are some of our favorites:

  • If your mind goes blank, don’t panic. If you worry and panic, it will make it harder to recall the information. Focus on some deep breathing for a few minutes. The information is there, you just have to get to it. If after relaxing for a few minutes, you still can’t remember the answer, move onto the next question and come back to this one later.
  • Don’t try to be perfect. We all want the best possible grades that we can get, but sometimes it just doesn’t work like that. If you think that ‘anything less than an A means I’ve failed’, then you are just creating unnecessary mountains of stress for yourself. Try to do your best, but remember that we can’t be perfect all the time.
  • The night before your exam, make sure you have a relaxing evening, doing as little revision as possible. Get a good night’s sleep, and try your best not to worry; you have already done all your revision anyway! On the day, make sure you have plenty of time to get ready, have a good breakfast and arrive at college or school in plenty of time.

Check out the rest of the test taking strategies to reduce stress.

How to Write a Great Term Paper in One Evening

If youve ever procrastinated like I have, youve probably had to research and write an entire term paper in one night.

Its not the ideal way to write, but Ive been able to write some of my best papers during this time. Im not sure if its the adrenaline or what, but writing things last minute seems to be the muse that I need.

Anyway, if you ever find yourself staring at a blank word document at like 10 p.m. – and your paper is due the next day – this blog entry is just for you.

Ive included an approximate time length for each step below. These are just approximations that will obviously fluctuate with your particular assignment. The purpose of setting times for each task is to quickly move your paper along.

Step 1: Relax Your Mind (15 Minutes)
Before you get started on this paper, I want you to relax your mind. This doesnt mean grabbing a beer. It means calming yourself down and focusing your mind on the paper topic. You have one night to finish this paper, and you can do it. Turn on some classical music if it helps you stay relaxed and focused.

Step 2: Develop a Great Thesis Statement (45 minutes)
Alright, once youre relaxed its time to focus your attention on writing a great thesis statement. Your thesis statement is what will keep your research and writing on topic. This is the most important part of your paper. Spend some time reading thesis statements in Google Scholar or whatever journal article database you have access to.

Use whatever you find as a springboard for writing your own argument. Make sure to save citations and quotes from any relevant journal articles you find.

Step 3: Write a Killer Introduction (15 minutes)
The way to start your paper with a bang is with a great introduction. You need an introduction that not only grabs the attention of your professor, but focuses the paper on the topic at hand. You should have one or two intro sentences, and then jump right into your thesis statement. If you cant think of an introduction, simply use your thesis statement.

Step 4: Defend Your Thesis in a Brainstorming Session (30 minutes)
You should brainstorm a bunch of reasons why your thesis statement is true. Brainstorm for 30-minutes and think of every reason why your professor should be convinced of your claim. Write down the key arguments because those become your supporting paragraphs. Each argument is a mini-thesis that helps you support your paper.

Step 5: Start Your Research to Defend Your Thesis (2 hours)
Professors sometimes will give you a minimum number of references they want to see in your bibliography. That should be your minimum too, so make sure to list more than whats required. Log into your colleges library database and start researching your topic.

This is the part that most people wast time, so give yourself just two hours to copy and paste your citations into your paper. Try to organize the quotations within an appropriate argument (from step 4). More than likely, youll find more arguments for your topic when researching. So add these arguments to your list.

Step 6: Time to Write (4 to 5 hours)
Select your best arguments (with supportive references) and use them as the introduction for your supporting paragraphs. Convince your professor that your thesis is true with strong arguments leading each paragraph. Write as if your professor was right there, and make sure to think of possible weak spots in your argument. You want to write a flawless paper, so keep your argument tight.

Its easy to get stuck when you first begin to write, so dont worry much about your sentence structure and argument process. Focus more on getting all your ideas down on the page. Just start writing, and use your main arguments as writing prompts.

Step 7: Think of Critics Would Say About Your Thesis (1 hour)
If you have time, make sure to cite what critics might say about your arguments. By responding to what critics say, youre strengthening your paper by revealing that you understand other points of view. This shows youve spent some time thinking about the topic, and are prepared to answer objections.

Step 8: Summarize Your Thesis At the End (30 minutes)
When youve completed your paper, wrap it up by restating your thesis (with some support). Make sure to leave your professor with something to think about at the end of your paper.

Step 9: Cut the Fat (1 hour)
When youre ready to edit, its time to eliminate everything that doesnt support your thesis. Cut out passive verbs (to-be) and rely on action-oriented words whenever possible. Eliminate any sentences or paragraphs that slow down your paper or weaken your main argument. Make sure your arguments are clear and easily understood.

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Book Report Hack: How to Analyze a Book Quickly

As an English Literature major in college, I had to read 4 to 5 books per class. This meant that within a 10 week quarter, I would have read over 20 novels. It was a lot of work, but here’s a technique I used to help me analyze the books quickly:

1. Read the Plot Overview First
You can find plot summaries of most books online. I recommend checking out sparknotes.com, cliffnotes.com, or wikibooks.org. Plot summaries can give you a general understanding of the plot before opening the book. It will spoil the ending for you, but it will help you focus on the major plotline while reading.

2. Read the Themes, Motifs and Symbols
Sparknotes.com offers a Themes, Motifs and Symbols section for every book within its database. This will give you a snapshot of the major themes to watch for. If you know the themes and symbols ahead of time, you can start highlighting any reference in the book that relates to that theme.

3. Underline, Highlight and Write Notes
After you know the plot and major themes, you’re ready to start dissecting your book. As you study, start underlining the key passages that relate to the major plots and themes within the novel. Then make sure to catalog all your notations on a separate piece of paper. Write down page numbers and a brief comment of why that page or section is important to the main theme or plot you’re studying. This will be extremely helpful when you start writing a report or essay about the book.

4. Read Journal Article Abstracts
If you have time, it also helps to search for journal articles about the book you’re reading. I don’t mean start reading through dense journal articles. That takes too much time. I just mean that you should skim journal article abstracts so that you know what scholars are thinking about the book you’ve just read. Simply visit Google Scholar and type in the name of your book. Read the article abstract to give you ideas of what to write about.

Lastly, if you really don’t have time to read the book at all, then start reading through chapter summaries from sparknotes.com or cliffnotes.com. It’s not the best choice, but it will give you some preparation prior to a test or writing an essay.

How to Hack Google Scholar to Get Search Results by Email or RSS

Im in love with aggregator sites like Yahoo Pipes and Dapper.com.

These nifty mash-up tools allow you to hack feeds and/or search results to get the information you want as a filtered RSS feed, XML, email, or website widget.

And whats great is that student hackers have created helpful feeds to help you research smarter without doing any work.

Here are some of my favorite filters that will email results to you:

Let me know of any others that you like so I can add them to the list.

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How to Write a Research Paper – Step by Step

Ive probably written over 70 research papers over the last 7 years of school.

And Ive gotten to the point where writing research papers is like second nature for me.

Its not that Im a better writer than anyone else, its just that I know how to organize information quickly.

So here is my basic process on how I write my papers step-by-step:

Research Phase: Hunting and Gathering
This is probably the most time-consuming part of the research paper. Im a research hound, so I like to spend as much time as possible finding all the research possible. Its during this phase that Im doing the following:

  • Refining my research subject
  • Developing research questions
  • Consulting librarians for their insight on my research area
  • Reading journal article abstracts on the topic Im interested in

Organizing Phase: Reading and Writing
As Im reviewing journal articles, Im jotting down everything I need from the article before moving on; including: citation info, potential quotes, summaries, and any referenced journal articles that look interesting. Im also:

  • Developing a potential thesis statement
  • Creating a meaty bibliography
  • Outlining my paper
  • Inserting notes within my outline – and adding references

Drafting Phase: Writing
Once Ive written my thesis statement and completed my outline, its time to begin working on my first draft. Here are the steps that I take:

  • Just start writing something (I typically start in the middle somewhere)
  • Make sure to cite everything (I go overboard just to be safe)
  • Keep refining the thesis
  • Keeping modifying the outline
  • Pretend the paper is due the next day and just finish it
  • Take a day off after the first draft is done – dont look at it

Revision Phase: Editing Never Ends
Revising as you know means removing and adding content to make the paper better – which means nobody is ever really done. We just turn in our last and best draft. Here are my editing steps:

  • Read it aloud and mark any areas that dont sound right
  • Look at all the punctuation marks – especially apostrophes
  • Make sure every paragraph moves the paper along
  • Eliminate passive verbs whenever possible

So thats my strategy on how to write a research paper. I never feel completely done writing, but those steps help me get a paper finished that Im at least happy with.

What steps do you take when writing a research paper?

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