The Cure for Writers Block -10 Ways to Jumpstart Your Brain

As an English Lit. major in college, I had to write dozens of essays a quarter.

And, unfortunately, I got hit with writers block on a regular basis.

I tried to combat it by spending more time researching in the library, but that just made my problem worse.

You see, even though research is important it didnt help me write my paper. In fact, Ive found that research just helped me procrastinate more.

So how do I cure my bouts with writers block?

Here are 10 ways that have helped me write when Im not in the mood:

1. Relax your mind.
The more you worry about not having ideas, the more youll freeze up your mind. You need to relax and think positively about your writing assignment. Realize that everyone goes through writers block, and the cure is to relax your mind.

2. Take a hot shower.
I dont know what it is about a hot shower, but it really helps me refresh my body and mind. The hot shower helps me relax and focus on my writing assignments. Its also a place where I brainstorm easily. Take a notepad and leave it next to your shower door for when the ideas start flowing.

3. Write freely.
Whenever Im at a loss for words, Ill just start writing. It doesnt matter what you write, just write something. The very act of getting words on a page will help you build confidence, and help your mind to start pumping out your thoughts.

4. Write what you would say to your friend.
Sometimes it helps me to pretend that Im explaining the subject to a friend. By imagining a conversation with a friend, it helps me write what I would say – and this is a great way to trick yourself into writing.

5. Dont worry about punctuation or organization.
When youre struggling with writers block, this is not the time to focus on punctuation or how youre organizing your paper. You want to eliminate everything that stands between you and getting words on a page. So just write and dont worry about anything else.

6. Take deep breaths.
There are many benefits to breathing deeply in meditation, and one of them is to help you refresh your mind. I personally like Dr. Weils deep breathing exercises when Im feeling tired and uninspired:

  1. Inhale through your nose for four seconds
  2. Hold your breath for seven seconds
  3. Exhale through tightly pursed lips, creating back pressure, for eight seconds.
  4. Do this eight times, twice a day, everyday.

7. Move around.
Get your body moving and possibly even try writing in a new location. Just by moving around will get your blood pumping faster and will help you feel more energized.

8. Concentrate on a different section of your paper.
If youre stuck writing your introduction, just skip it. Start writing another section. Dont worry if you dont have the best paragraph structure – just write and the words will start to flow. You can always edit later.

9. Listen to music.
Sometimes listening to classical music or jazz can help you start writing. It doesnt work for everyone, but Ive found that it can help me block out any surrounding noises and focus on my writing. Try music when youre out of words.

10. Dont worry about failing.
Look, a lot of people get writers block because they think theyre afraid of failure – or they think they cant write a good paper. You have to get rid of that negativity and start writing. The more you write, the better your paper will be. You can always edit it later – and find a friend to proofread it to give you some suggestions.

So just start writing . . .

10 Foods to Sneak into the Library to Improve Your Productivity

When I visit the library for research, I’m most efficient if I plan on staying there for as long as I can.

I don’t want to leave until I accomplish certain research goals – which mean I’m usually there for at least 4-hours at a time.

I usually get hungry, so here are a bunch of foods that I often sneak into my backpack to make me more productive:

Trail Mix. I like to get a good trail mix – the ones with walnuts, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, and craisins. This can keep me going for hours.

Oat bran muffin. Lately, I’ve really been enjoying the vegan oat bran muffins at Trader Joes. These muffins are filled fiber, and have raspberries mixed in. It’s low in sugar, and provides a great energy boost.

Raisins. Raisins will definitely give you a boost of energy – and they’re full of antioxidants.

Soybeans. Soybeans taste great, filled with nutrition, and easily mobile.

Bag of Carrots. Carrots aren’t for everyone, but I really like to munch on them. Very healthy – but you have to try and keep quiet when you crunch them in the library.

Beef Jerky. Protein-rich foods like beef jerky can give you more energy.

Peanut-butter & honey sandwich. These sandwiches are delicious, and packed with energy, protein, and vitamins. You just need to have a drink on hand or water fountain nearby.

String Cheese. Cheese contains calcium, vitamins A and B12, potassium and riboflavin. A great energy boost – and tastes better at room temperature.

Cheerios. A bag of cheerios is packed with vitamins – and tastes great. Besides, who doesn’t like cheerios?

Dried berries. I’m not talking about Cap’n Crunch Berries – I mean: dried blue berries, dried cranberries, dried gogi berries, etc. These berries are packed with antioxidants and vitamins.

These foods will help you stay much more productive – and are far healthier than anything in your school’s vending machine.

What foods help you stay more productive?

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Flash Card Hacks

Flash cards can help you memorize information quickly and more efficiently.

As long as you carry them with you, you can study whenever you have a free moment. You’d be surprised how many times during a day you can break them out and start studying.

And flash cards can be used to narrow down the subjects and terms you’re having the toughest time learning. As you practice, you can start creating two stacks of cards: the stack of cards you know well, and the cards you still need to study.

Flash cards not only help you learn quicker, but it builds your confidence with the material you’re learning.

Here are 5 great websites that you can use to create, share, and find free flash cards:

Flash Card Wiki
Create and share your web-based flash cards

Pauker Open Source Flash Cards
Create and import your flash cards

Pro Profs Flash Cards
Tons of free flash cards ready to download

Flash Card Machine
Interactive web application for you to create and share your flash cards

Flash Card Exchange
Print and share your flash cards

Group Study 101 – How to Avoid Goofing Off

I love to study in group sespecially before an exam.

The only problem is that if you dont have the right people in your group, you can end up wasting a lot of time. And thats not helpful for anyone.

Here are some tips to help you avoid goofing off when studying in a group:

Find the Right Students
There are many ways to stay productive during a group discussion, but it all starts with finding the right people. I recommend selecting the members for your group yourself. You know who in your class participates in class discussions. You know who seems to be serious about their education. Its those people that you want to join your group. The more motivated everyone is, the better off youll be. I know its fun to join a group with a bunch of friends, but those are the types of groups where its easy to goof around and not study productively.

Limit Your Group to Under Six Students
The larger the group, the more difficult it can be to keep everyone focused. If the group begins to grow for some reason, I recommend splitting everyone up into groups of 5 or 6. I tend to find that small group sizes work better together.

Set an Agenda
Once everyone arrives for your study group, decide on a quick agenda (if it makes sense). An agenda will keep everyone focused on whats ahead, and what they should be concentrating on. Set approximate time lengths for each item, and try to assign various tasks for each person (depending on what youre studying). Sticking to an agenda is a key to good productivity.

Discuss Class Notes
If everyone is studying for a particular test, have everyone make copies of their class notes. Everyone takes notes differently, and its helpful to look at a range of notes from different student perspectives. Everyone will benefit from seeing everyones notes. This could also spark some great discussions on areas that should get studied.

Discuss Possible Test Questions
Tell everyone in your group to bring a list of questions they think might be on the test. These questions are a great way to get the groups mental juices going. If possible, email your professor or teachers assistant ahead of time to get a list of areas to focus on. All the questions brought to the group are a great way to keep everyone thinking about the exam. It will also highlight particular areas that need more attention.

Everyone Should Teach
Some students are going to understand test material much better than others. If it makes sense to the group, have each person talk about the particular area they know very well. Have them explain what they understand about the particular topic, and have them field questions from the group.

What are some ways you keep your study group productive?

Super-Sized List of Online Academic Databases

Ive been spending a lot of time writing and researching this semester.

Im actually having dreams about one of my papers – and I have so much more research to do.

Anyway, here is a list of online databases that Ive been using to find journal articles for my lit reviews.

Most of these databases require a student ID and password, but Im listing them here because its quick access if youre in a school library:

Why You Should Use Google Scholar for Research

If you dont 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 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 articleslink. 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 youre 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 youre interested in. So the articles with more citations should give you an idea of the articles importance within your research topic
. Its 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.

Get Answers to Your Questions with These Websites

Here are a bunch of websites to help you find answers to all your questions:

AnswerBag
AnswerBag is similar to Yahoo Answers except the questions are always open for answering. They have a community of over 175,000 members posting and answering questions on a variety of subjects. You can ask any type of question from shopping advice to medical questions. It’s a shame this site isn’t as popular as Yahoo Answers. It definitely deserves to be.

Askville
Askville is Amazon.com’s version of Yahoo Answers. It’s a very simple website that acts much like all the others. You post a question and wait for an answer. Nothing really unique here.

BitWine
Bitwine is a pay-per-call service that allows you to use Skype to ring up an expert about whatever topic you’re interested in. It’s free to make the calls, and charges only begin after you and the expert agree on a price. The BitWine website makes it very easy to find bios and reviews about the various experts in their directory. Check out their tutoring section . . .

Ether
Ether.com is a place where experts are available 24-hours a day to answer whatever question you might have. Instead of posting your question in a forum, you call a free phone number (1-888-MY-ETHER) and you pay to talk to an expert (per minute). The only problem with this website is that it’s a bit difficult to find a list of people to ask questions to. The only way to find an expert is to sort through their directory of blogs. This is not a very user-friendly way to find help.

LiveQnA
This is Microsoft’s version of Yahoo Answers. MSN members quickly respond to your questions trying to provide you with the best answer possible. MSN did a nice job with the design of this website. Very easy-to-use.

Qunu
Qunu is a website that will connect you with an expert to answer your question through instant messaging. This is a great way to talk one-on-one with someone familiar with the topic you need help with. Not only are experts available 24/7, but they volunteer their time for free.

Oyogi
Oyogi has a very nice Web 2.0 look and feel. However, finding answers to common questions seems a bit difficult. Its also difficult to find answers to previously asked questions. Overall, this site is pretty weak.

Uclue.com
This site is managed by researchers who used to answer questions at Google Answers. You post a question with a price then wait to see if a researcher wants to answer. This might take some time to get the answer you want, but youre pretty much guaranteed a solid answer.

Yahoo Answers
Yahoo Answers is a website that allows Yahoo members to post and answer questions on practically any topic imaginable. The quality of answers you’ll get really depends on who’s interested in answering your question within a three day period. The best part about Yahoo answers is that it’s free and you can get answers from a variety of people within minutes. The only problem is that questions are closed after three days, which means better answers can never get added.

Yedda
Yedda is very similar to Yahoo Answers: where it’s free to post questions, and free to read answers from the members. Yedda has a pretty cool tagging system to find questions related to the topic youre interested in. Explore the topics.

Here are a bunch of others:

  • All Experts – Experts answer your questions on a variety of topics
  • Ask MetaFilter – not very user-friendly, but worth a shot
  • The Answerbank.co.uk – Q & A site based in the United Kingdom
  • Ask A Linguist – Working on a paper that requires help from a linguist? This is the website for you.
  • Ask Me Help Desk – This site operates much like a forum: people post questions and then wait for someone to answer their question. This isnt the best site to find previous answers from people.
  • Blurt It! – People post questions on a given topic and then wait for people to vote yes or no. Its intersting to see what people think, but not very helpful when you neeed a concrete answer on something.
  • I Recognise That – I Recognise That is a place where people can ask or answer questions about anything and everything. Someone that asks a question can also upload a photo to help illustrate that question.
  • JustAnswer – Ask experts a question and then set a price on how much the answer is worth to you.

Where Do You Study Best?

Although studying in a dorm room is convenient, it is often a poor place to learn. There are simply too many distractions.

Thats why its important for you to choose a study spot where you can focus and not have opportunities to goof around.

Here are some tips on how to find your best study area:

Study Where Youre Alert
It is difficult for me to stay alert in a library. Sure, I can stay focused for a while, but I easily fizzle out without caffeine. So thats why I prefer reading and writing in a local coffee shop. Theres something about drinking coffee and having people around that keeps me energized and focused on writing my papers. I know coffee shops are not ideal study areas for everyone, but it works for me.

Study Where You Can Focus
I know this is obvious, but its important to study in a location where you wont be bothered. This means turning off your cell phone and going to a location where nobody else knows who you are. This can help you maximize your productivity.

Study in the Same Location
Ive read about the importance of studying in the same location regularly. Your mind and body know where you are. Using the same place to study helps train your mind and body to focus your attention more quickly. So whether you enjoy studying at a particular desk, or reading in a particular chair at a coffee shop, try and stay consistent.

So where do you study best?

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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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How to Study Effectively – 8 Concentration Strategies

We found a killer list of concentration strategies for students.

This list is perfect for those who want to know the best way to cram for an exam. Check this out:

Eat Frequent Small Meals
Avoid eating a big meal before a study session. Too much food will send your body into a rest mode. On the other hand, dont starve yourself either. Frequent small meals are best.

Study When Youre Sharpest
Study according to your body-clock. Are you sharpest in the morning or at the evening? Schedule your most difficult materials when you are mentally at your best, and schedule the easier ones when you are mentally less efficient.

Drink Water Often
Drink plenty of water during a study session, especially when you feel sluggish. Caffeine may help you to stay awake, but it can increase your anxiety – use it in moderation.

Don’t Get Too Comfortable in Your Chair
Choose a chair that supports your back. It should be comfortable, but not too comfortable. Just like an athlete during a performance, your body should be relaxed, so that all your energy goes to where it matters – your brain.

Clear Your Desk of Everything You Dont Need
Have everything you need on the desk. Put away what you do not need for the study session. Seeing reminders of other assessments or domestic bills may increase your anxiety and distract you.

Take Breaks Every Hour
It is important to take a break before you feel tired and lose your concentration completely. Regular breaks at least once an hour helps to sustain your concentration. If the work is not going too well and you have difficulties in concentrating, you may need a long break and go back to it later

Stretch During Your Breaks
Know and respect your concentration span which will vary from hour to hour and from day to day. When you sit for long periods, gravity draws the blood to the lower part of your body. When you take a break, take a few deep breaths and get more oxygen to your brain: try walking around and doing some light stretching for a few minutes. It will help to release tension in your body, and help your circulation.

Study at the Same Time, Same Place
Study at the same time and at the same place, devoted to study only. This helps you to associate the time and place with studying and concentrating. You will find that you get into a habit of studying as soon as you sit down.

Check out the other concentration strategies . . .