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Having Problems with a School Paper?

A student writes on a blackboard in a classroom at the Loyola Cultural Center in Agoe-Nyive, a suburb of Lome, April 15, 2013.
A student writes on a blackboard in a classroom at the Loyola Cultural Center in Agoe-Nyive, a suburb of Lome, April 15, 2013.
Having Trouble with a School Paper?
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Today we welcome a return visit from Jennifer Ahern-Dodson, assistant professor of The Practice in Writing Studies at Duke University in North Carolina. Ms. Ahern-Dodson serves as outreach director and language arts and media program director for the university’s Thompson Writing Program. She helps many students and professors organize writing groups.

Jennifer Ahern-Dodson says that probably everyone has had difficulty writing an essay or paper at some time. She says when writing seems easy, it is usually because he or she has something important to say. Today she provides some tips about how to get those important points into the computer.

Suppose you have done some research for your paper, but you still have more research to do. Ms. Ahern-Dodson says try some writing before you’re ready to write the completed paper.

“Don’t wait until you’ve done all the research for the research paper or you’ve figured out in your head exactly what you want to say before you get started. Sometimes just stopping in the middle and writing something about where you are at that moment, you can discover your ideas and think about what you want to express or understand.”

The teacher advises that you note what information other people have already presented about the subject. And she urges you not to get discouraged if you find that others have seemed to have used a lot of that information.

”There’s so much research that’s been done already that it can be intimidating once you start figuring out, well, what have other people said about my topic (subject)? And so I might just keep researching and never stop, and say, ‘Well, What do I have to contribute? People have said everything already.’ “

Instead, she suggests taking some time to think about what you’re noticing in the research. What points and thoughts of your own might you develop?

“You don’t have to be an expert on everything. What is it you find interesting in the middle of this process?”

This should help you decide what you want to write in response to what others have said. Or it can help you decide what additional research you might need if you are dealing with the subject in a different way from others.

As you progress, Ms. Ahern-Dodson strongly advises working with other writers.

“Who can give me good feedback (reaction) on my ideas as I’m developing them – and to not make me feel like I’m alone in the universe? So much of our anxiety about writing stems from sharing our writing in high-stakes (extremely important) situations like submitting to a college or turning it in at the end (of a school term). And we cannot really do anything about it once we submit it.”

She spends a lot of her time helping students and professors form writing groups. She says the reaction of others can tell you if you are communicating your ideas. It can show if your writing is interesting.

“Better to find out that no one is interested in that one paragraph before you submit it than after you submit it.”

And that’s the VOA Learning English Education Report for today. Coming soon, all about writing groups. I’m Jeri Watson.

Learning English reporter Jeri Watson wrote this story. Caty Weaver was the editor.


Words in this Story

essay -- n. an analytic or interpretive literary composition usually dealing with a subject from a limited or personal point of view

tips -- n. suggestions

discourage -- v. making someone less determined, hopeful or confident

intimidate -- v. to make (someone afraid

application -- n. a formal and usually written request for something

experience -- n. skill or knowledge that you get by doing something

universe -- n.all of space and everything in it including stars, planets, galaxies

dormitory -- n. a room for sleeping

figure out -- v. discover, determine, solve

anxiety -- n. feeling of nervousness about what might happen

submit -- v. to present or propose for another for review, consideration or decision