Coming Up With a Topic
(Look over class notes)
•What points did student find interesting? puzzling? Etc.?
•Points where professor said "Nobody talks about X," or "It
would be interesting to find out if . . . "
•Reasons why student was interested in the class?
•What personal relevance may subject have?
•Can student test or expand a model studied in class?
•Browse through books/journals in the areas studied in class.
are scholars talking about? Anything missing?
•Ask professor for suggestions
•Explore area of disagreement with particular author
Generating Ideas for a Paper
•Freewriting: Write down current knowledge of topic (instant
version or data dump)
•Brainstorming: List of ideas
•Clustering: Good for visual learners
•Journalist's questions: Can ask these more than once (ask
questions about answers to previous questions)
•Respond to scholars' opinions or particular school of thought
•Discussion with colleague or professor (student can tape)
•Research (books, journals, electronic sources) with or without
•Rough list of points to cover
•Research format [Introduction (with hypothesis or research?),
methodology, results, discussion]
•Look at good models for ideas
•Students tend to cycle back through previous stages, reorganizing,
gathering more information on various aspects of the topic
the topic itself.
•Timelog: Record of time spent on writing and tasks completed
•Metawriting: Description of what needs to happen in the
paper or in
•Discuss ideas to clarify meaning and explain ideas. Record
on tape or in writing.
Questions students can ask about their papers (let paper ferment first)
•Do ideas in the paper make sense?
•Can you see a clear purpose and audience for the paper?
•Is paper appropriate to its audience?
•Is paper organized coherently?
•Have you addressed all aspects of the topic (if assigned)?
•Have you used appropriate evidence to support arguments?
•Will the reader learn something?
•Write new paper with conclusion as introduction
•Write one-sentence summaries of each paragraph on a separate
of paper. Check for repetition, coherence, and substance.
•Compose descriptive outline of the paper. What is the
purpose of each
paragraph or section and how does the paper accomplish
•Respond to another reader's comments
•Cut paper into separate paragraphs. Can they go in the
•Highlight key ideas. How many ideas are in each paragraph?
have more than one key point, make each point the topic
of a single
paragraph or section.
•Eyeball the paper. Are any of the paragraphs longer than
one page or
shorter than three lines? You may need to separate
points or develop
•Read paper aloud
•Circle all "to be" verbs in red pen. Change as many as
•Scan the beginning of sentences. Do they all begin the
•Look for variation in sentence length. If you have too
sentences, break them. Combine short sentences.
The idea is to vary
short and long.
•Look for patterns of error identified during a tutoring session.
•Look for long nouns that could be turned into verbs.
•Make sure that indefinite pronouns have singular verbs and referents.
•Look for empty phrases, such as "the reason is that," "in order
to," "it is
important to consider," "I will argue; in the opinion
of this author," "the
argument above," etc.
•Make sure that you can attach "this," "that," "its" and "which"
to a specific
noun. If there is more than one possible connection,
• See if student can find own errors, once you identify pattern
• Use "silence" technique, reading a sentence aloud and
there's an error
• point to particular sentences and say, "you have a problem
with X here.
Can you find it?
• If necessary, you can point to specific words and explain why
grammar/usage is wrong.
• In general, move from less directive to more directive strategies.
have to be very directive, explaining a rule and working
specific sentence with a student, let the student
look for the next
instance of the same error.
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Centers. Page last updated 26 June 1999. Please send all comments
and questions to: firstname.lastname@example.org.