Thursday, 30 April 2015

Not another research paper! Part 1A

1. Topic/Research Question
2. Pre-search
3. Research
4. Outline
5. Research
6. Fill-in-the-blanks
7. Edit

{Relax, I know that research is listed twice, it's not a mistake.}

But, first off is the topic!  Your teacher probably gave you a pretty broad topic to start off with.  This is NOT going to be the subject of your paper.  Usually instructors give wide ideas to give you the freedom to focus on something about that topic that interests you.  And I'll give you your first hint in writing a good paper.

Are you ready?

If you are interested in what you're writing about, your teacher will be too.

Interest and enthusiasm are tangible in your writing and the person who is reading it will notice.  If you like what you're writing about, you tend to focus on the more interesting aspects and your teacher will appreciate that.  Here's your second hint:

You are writing one (1!) paper but your teacher is grading... how many?  Have pity on your instructor and write something in-depth and interesting to save them from the humdrum of grading dry, boring, painful papers.

So, back to the topic at hand... the topic!

I like to think of the topic that a teacher gives as a cloud.  It's big, fluffy, nebulous, and doesn't have much shape.  But when the raindrops form and the lightning strikes, then you've got something to work with!

Behold--some examples:

This is the cloud idea I am talking about. Ideas and topics don't stand alone, there are a lot of related subjects.  But here is something more specific.

Just with one topic a teacher might give you, there are lots and LOTS of other things that fall under it or are related.  So, how are you going to narrow it down?  Find something you find the most intriguing or that you know the most about.  Then use that to narrow it down and let inspiration strike!
Not interested in laws or government?  Or decide you don't know enough about it?  Change your mind!

So many choices and you are in charge!

OK, I don't want to overwhelm.  We'll finish this section in another post.  Because it's not enough just to talk about a subject, that's just a summary and we're way beyond that level at this point.  You need to actually get down into the research level by asking:

The Research Question

Bum buh buuuummmm (portentous music)

To Be Continued...

Monday, 27 April 2015

Not another research paper! Introduction

This is a step-by-step recipe for how to take some of the pain and guesswork out of writing a research paper.

First off, what I'm taking about is called "qualitative" research which is reading, interpreting and synthesizing information into a coherent paper.  The other kind of research is "quantitative" which focuses on (shudder with me now) statistics and their uses.

I like to break down the assignment of writing a research paper and make it into a fill-in-the-blanks game; I'll outline the thought process of how I do that.  Remember, though, this is a multi-step process, the idea is not just to get enough words on the page to turn in but to actually find something you are interested in learning about.

Common obstacles to writing a research paper:

  1. It's an assignment and automatically classified as BORING, UNPLEASANT, UNNECESSARY.  I know, I was a student once, too...
  2. The second obstacle is often that you may not like the class you are taking and so the idea of having to spend so much time on the subject is off-putting.
  3. And the final and most prevalent obstacle is time.  Very rarely do we plan out enough time to to plan, research, write and edit that darn paper.

I'm hoping that by giving you tips and guidelines for the first two, the third will be less of a problem because you will be less likely to procrastinate because, hopefully, it's no longer quite the oppressive, unpleasant burden you started out with.

First off--DON'T PANIC!  I'm going to list the steps I'm going to cover in this process and it's not the Pinterest-style quick and easy method.  There are 7 steps but that's not even as many steps as it takes to make a skillet chocolate chip cookie for the dough (cookie dough is one of my favorite foods, please no lectures on the health aspects) so take a look and give it a try.

1. Topic/Research Question
2. Pre-search
3. Research
4. Outline
5. Research
6. Fill-in-the-blanks
7. Edit

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Book Review--An Illustrated Book of Bad Arguments

"Logic does not generate new truths, but rather allows one to evaluate existing chains of thought for consistency and coherence." Ali Almossawi, author of An Illustrated Book of Bad Arguments: Learning the Lost Art of Making Sense.

I liked the simplicity of this explanation which also is reflective of the simple elegance of the text.

Logic when taken as a field of study can be very confusing and, to a novice like me, illogical (that is what we call irony).  Almossawi, however, takes the most common types of arguments and reduces them down to their most basic parts to give an understandable and solid introduction to each type of logic.  Don't be fooled by the whimsical artwork, the cartoons are very good representations of each point and help deepen your understanding with relevant humor.

If you are looking for a place to start in the confusing whirl of logical arguments, An Illustrated Book of Bad Arguments is a good place to gain a foothold.

Monday, 13 April 2015

Book Review--When Bad Things Happen to Good Quilters

I like to quilt and sew and do hand work.  Here are a couple of my favorite projects.
Drunkards path in a symmetrical arrangement.  I won 3rd place in the county fair with this one!

Crazy Christmas trees.  I had fun with the buttons.

Hand-pieced and hand-quilted.  I don't have this kind of time any more.
So, when I saw the book When Bad Things Happen to Good Quilters: Survival Guide for Fixing and Finishing Any Quilting Project by Joan Ford, you understand why I picked it up.  I have never, repeat NEVER, had a project that didn't have a problem in either the supplies or the process.

And even veteran sewers know that unexpected things can throw a monkey wrench into the works.  My mother (who will remain safely anonymous--except for everyone who knows her) sewed her own thumb and broke the needle off inside it at one point.  I've bled on quilts, had the puppy relieve herself on it, the other dog chew up a pattern, my son as a toddler filled every crevice in my older-model sewing machine with straight pins.  Trust me, if it can happen to a sewer, it has to someone (and probably to me)!

I found this book to be very interesting and informative.  While I probably wouldn't sit down to read it cover-to-cover like a novel, it is a great reference to have around.  The neat thing is that it is a resource that can help every level of sewer.  Experienced sewers will appreciate the affirmation that things go wrong and even if they have encountered many of these mistakes before will find beneficial reminders of how to fix things.  Beginning and intermediate sewers will find this a treasure trove of information from how to fix the tension on the sewing machine to using acrylic rules with a rotary cutter.  There is also a lot of encouragement to finish what you've started, no matter how long ago you started it!

This is a wonderful combination between a tutorial and encyclopedia with various and sundry sewing tips to keep even adept sewers ready to pick up their scissors and needles with the confidence of knowing how to use their tools and fix snafus (so-called because my philosophy on sewing is "There are no mistakes, only alterations").

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Evaluating Diet Plans—a semi-scientific approach

What is even more predictable than a soap opera plot?  New diet plans!  Every year there are new diet plans, new research touted, new "miracle" foods that are discovered.  But the variety and the contradiction can be dizzying!  One book may have you eat only greens and lean meat while another has you doing whole grains and organic veggies.  Some are more radical than others, juicing only for an amount of time; no carbohydrates for a certain amount of time and restrictions for a lot longer than that, sugar substitutes for lower calorie or real butter only because of the digestibility.

How do you decide what is good, what is a sham and what is downright dangerous?  Rather than addressing each of the more popular diet fads currently in vogue (there are a lot of other websites that do that and I’ll list a few at the end), I thought I would concentrate on guidelines regular people (by this I mean people who don't have allergies or other diagnosed problems) can use to determine if the information is valid and trustworthy.
  • What would your mother AND your grandmother have to say about the foods proposed?
    • Moms are famous for common sense—don’t discount this!
  • How easily obtainable are the recommended ingredients?
    •  A lot of specialty items may have some health benefits that are outweighed by the expense of getting them. 
  • How many professional people (doctors, nutritionists, etc) were a part of putting this plan together?
    • If we require a panel of experts to make sure our toothpaste is safe, why would we let one person dictate our diet?
  • How many studies were done regarding this particular eating habit?
    • Just one?  How alike are you to the people in the study?  Do you really want to risk your health on what a small group of people did in a controlled environment?
  • What do other professionals say about the plan?
    • Reputable websites can be found that give the background and pros and cons of new diets; take a look and compare.  A lot of “new” diets are just re-packaged information from others that didn't work.
  • If you try it for a couple of weeks; how do you feel?
    • Radical changes in your diet may make you feel off-kilter for a few days (think extraneous gas from increase fiber) but it should not take your body long to adjust.  If you don’t feel good, it’s not working.

I will emphasize that the best way to formulate a healthy eating plan is to discuss it with your doctor at your yearly check up (yes, everyone should have a yearly check up, not just babies!).  He/she can give you information on healthy foods and lifestyles and what will work best for you. 

My own guideline is: the less processed the better and try to eat as many things as close to their natural state as possible.  But, if something interferes with that sometimes… don’t beat yourself up (e.g. pizza night after a long day at work).

Here are a few evaluations of popular diet plans:

Saturday, 4 April 2015


April is National Poetry Month!

This is a little tricky for me because poetry is not my favorite form of expression.  However, I have learned to find what I like and enjoy it.  

To help clarify for those of you who may not already be avid poetry readers, here are some definitions and examples I made into posters for the Alamogordo Public Library:

*Note, the posters are a bit awkward on the page but if you click on them, you get a full-size view.