Papers & Essays: Crash Course Study Skills #9

Let’s be real here – you’ve got a 2,000-word
essay due in less than 24 hours and you’re
watching a YouTube video. Look at your life, look at your choices. But wait to do that until this video’s over,
because today I’m going to help you become
a literary genius. Or, at least, write a paper that doesn’t give
your teacher more ammunition for wastebasket
free throws. [Theme Music] Simon Peyton Jones, a researcher for Microsoft,
once gave a talk at Cambridge University about
how to write a great research paper. In this talk, he advised the audience to start out
the paper writing process with a pre-writing phase. Only once that’s done should they go to
research. Most people do this in the opposite way. They get their idea, they go do a bunch of
research on it, and then write their paper. But I like Jones’ advice to go through a pre-writing
phase before doing any research, because
it does a couple of very important things. First, pre-writing will dredge up things you
didn’t even think you knew about the topic. This is something that professional
writers know really well; when you spend some quality time writing in a
focused state, your brain will make connections and
serve up memories you didn’t even know you had. As a result, you’ll come up with lots of
great questions and preliminary arguments
that might just make it into your final draft. And this leads directly to the second benefit,
which is more focused research. When you go into the research process
armed with questions and arguments from
your pre-writing phase, you’ll have a much better idea of what you’re
looking for, and you’ll spend a lot less time going
down pointless rabbit holes. Now, the first thing to understand about the
pre-writing phase is that it’s not about cranking
out a polished paper on your first try. For one, you haven’t even done the research yet
– but more importantly, a paper is a big project. And with big projects, you need to just jump
in and make a mess at first. It’s like an artist creating a sculpture
out of a solid block of marble. Any good artist knows that it’s much easier to
hammer out the basic features right away instead
of trying to jump right into the detailed work. And at first, the result will be a mess, but
it’s much easier to hone a mess into something
great than to turn a solid block of marble
into a masterpiece on the first pass. So let’s get into the details. Personally, my pre-writing phase usually takes
the form of a brain dump. Now, this is not an attempt to write a coherent
paper. Instead, it’s just a chance for me to get
all of my thoughts onto a piece of paper or
into a document in my note-taking app. When I do a brain dump, I’ll open a new
document, set a pomodoro timer for 25 minutes, like we talked about in that procrastination
video, and then I just start writing. Specifically, I’m looking to pull basically everything
I know about the topic out of my brain, as well as
identify any questions I might have. I’ll also list out any main points that I think will be important to cover, and finally try to think of any specific external resources that might be useful to look at during the research process. Once you’ve done a brain dump, it’s time
to move onto the research process. Now, the biggest pitfall that most students
deal with here is the tendency to get stuck
in this phase forever. The author Cal Newport calls this “research
recursion syndrome” – you get stuck in a loop of
constantly looking for yet another source. In his book How to Become a Straight-A Student,
Newport lays out an algorithm of sorts for
ensuring you don’t get stuck in this loop. First, you find your sources. Now, you’ll probably find most of these at
the library or on the internet, but it’s also possible that you’ll find them in the
burial room of an ancient temple full of booby traps. Pro-tip: Most teachers agree that being impaled
by hidden floor spikes is not an acceptable
excuse for turning your paper in late. Just so you know. A safer place that you might actually want
to start with is Wikipedia. Now, some of your teachers are gonna say that
Wikipedia isn’t a good source – and they’re right. However, the citations section at the bottom
of each and every Wikipedia article is actually
a really great place to find good sources, since Wikipedia holds their articles to high standards
and requires high-quality source material – like scientific
studies published in reputable journals. Aside from Wikipedia, though, you’ll also find
lots of good sources through Google Scholar, journal
databases like EBSCO, your school library, and – one place you might not have thought
of before – the notes or bibliography section
in most popular science books. For example, Bill Bryson’s book A Short
History of Nearly Everything contains 48 pages
of citations and references to other works. Once you’ve found your sources, make
personal copies of them – create photocopies if they’re in books
or other paper formats, or add them to a
note-taking app if they’re digital. This ensures that you’ll always have them
available to you when you’re writing without
having to go look them up again. Next, you wanna annotate the material. Skim each source, highlight the sections
that you feel are specifically relevant to the
arguments you want to make, and add any notes that might help you hammer
out the details of those arguments when you’re
actually writing the final draft. Finally, consciously ask yourself if you’re
done. Cal’s ballpark suggestion here is to have at least
two sources for each main point in your thesis, and
at least one for any tangential or non-crucial points. Of course, this is a general suggestion, so
you’ll have to make the final call. If the answer is no, repeat the process. If the answer is yes, then it’s time to
write your first real draft. And this should be an awful first draft. There’s a popular adage that’s often attributed
to Ernest Hemingway which goes, “Write drunk,
edit sober.” Now, there are a more than a few things wrong
with this quote. First, Hemingway never said it – it’s actually
a pithy re-phrasing of a passage from a novel
called Reuben, Reuben by Peter De Vries. Secondly, Hemingway definitely didn’t write
this way – even though he was a guy who
definitely drank a lot in his spare time. However, it’s still a useful piece of advice
as long as it isn’t taken literally. What’s it’s actually getting at is the
usefulness of letting the initial act of creation
be free of scrutiny and restraint. And this is important, because one of the
most difficult problems that writers deal
with is perfectionism. To the Thought Bubble! Let me get real with you for a second.
This video you’re watching right now? Creating this has been a dream of mine for
years. Crash Course was one of my biggest inspirations
for becoming a YouTuber in the first place, and ever since I started, one of my biggest
aspirations was to be a host on this very channel. I wanted to be a part of the project that
inspired me to start creating videos on my own. So I’ll be honest, sitting here, talking to you,
being an animated character – this is awesome. But it was also intimidating, because I felt like the
series had to be perfect, and that made it really hard
to write the scripts that you’re listening to right now. However, once I reminded myself that they
didn’t have to be perfect the first time, the
writing became much, much easier. I knew that my fantastic editor Meredith would
help me hone each script into something truly great
before I actually had to deliver it on camera. And once I acknowledged that fact, the first
drafts became so much easier to do. This same mindset will speed up the completion
of your own first draft as well. It’s ok if your first draft is awful, because
future you will be there to edit it and shape
it into something great. Thanks, Thought Bubble. Now, one technique that I’ve found to be helpful
during this process is to write my first draft in a
different place than where I intend the final draft to go. This might be a separate document, or it might
be an entirely different app. For instance, I write the first draft of almost every
one of my blog posts and video scripts in Evernote. Later, I’ll polish them up in Google Drive. Using a separate app helps me to truly believe
that it’s ok to make a mess. Of course, that mess has to get cleaned up
eventually! Now, I did say a minute ago that cleaning
it up is future you’s problem, but eventually
future you becomes now you. So let’s talk about editing. I recommend editing your paper in two separate
stages. Stage one is the content edit. Here, you’re looking at your paper as a whole
and asking yourself the most important questions: Does each argument support the thesis? Does the paper have a good narrative flow? Is each argument properly fleshed out and
backed up with research or external sources? What can be removed or written in a clearer,
simpler way? Essentially, this stage is all about making
sure the paper communicates your message to
the reader as effectively as possible. It’s not about spelling errors. Those you should save for stage two – the
technical edit. At this point, you’re ready to go over your
paper with a fine-toothed comb to identify
any problems with the structure or syntax. Things like:
– Spelling and grammar mistakes
– Poorly structured sentences – Formatting errors
– Sentences that just don’t sound right I find that the most effective way to do a
technical edit is to print out the paper and
go over it by hand. It’s just easier to catch mistakes when
you’re editing the paper in its final intended
medium. Plus, by using pen and paper, you’re prevented
from making corrections on the fly. Doing so would require switching contexts from
editing to writing, which can be fatiguing and makes
it easier to get sloppy near the end of the paper. In addition to printing out your paper, you
should also take the time to read it out loud. This forces you to slow down and prevents
you from unconsciously skipping over any words, and it also helps you identify any sentences
that don’t sound good. Finally, remember that one set of eyes isn’t
good enough – especially when they’re your own. To make your paper truly great, you need to
let other people look over it and get their feedback. Simon Peyton Jones has some more good advice
here: First, realize that each person can only read
your paper for the first time exactly once. Just like I can never experience the magic of Zelda:
Breath of the Wild for the first time ever again (single
tear), nobody can read your paper with fresh eyes twice. So be strategic with your reviewers. Let a couple people read the first draft, and
keep other people on deck for the final one. Secondly, make sure to explicitly ask for
the kind of feedback you actually want. When people aren’t given direction, they’ll
naturally gravitate to looking for spelling
and grammar errors – which aren’t nearly as important as the big elements,
like whether your arguments even make sense. Finally, after you’ve gotten your feedback and finished
both stages of editing, print out your final draft and give
it one final read-through from start to finish. If everything makes sense and nothing sticks out
as glaringly wrong, give yourself permission to be done. In all likelihood, you’ve just crafted an
excellent paper. Congrats! Crash Course Study Skills is filmed in the
Dr. Cheryl C. Kinney Crash Course Studio in
Missoula, MT, and it’s made with the help
of all of these nice people. If you’d like to keep Crash Course free for
everyone, forever, you can support the series
at Patreon, a crowdfunding platform that allows
you to support the content you love. Thank you so much for your support.

100 Replies to “Papers & Essays: Crash Course Study Skills #9

  1. Write Drunk, Edit Sober = Best Writing Advice Ever, hahahahahahaha, technically what he means, I think is to utilize your unjudged creative power and then use critical power to sort things out.

  2. I just wrote myself a simple step-by-step guide to writing essays, based on this video. It's going to help me a lot in the future! Thank you!

  3. This whole series, but especially this video has helped me research write and edit my essays immeasurably better than I had done previously, thank you so much for the advice!

  4. I think instructors are missing the boat when they dismiss Wikipedia. Especially when it comes to pop culture subjects, it is an excellent source. A community of superfans on Wikipedia are going to write with more passion, detail, and accuracy on their favorite topic than you could find in a stack of peer-reviewed journals. Should Wikipedia be the only source? Of course not. But as Thomas said in the video, it’s a great first stop.

  5. 2,000 words in 24 hours? Relatively easy in most cases. Having ADD is a bit tricky, as you often do your best work when under the gun, so ironically it's easier for me than having 48 hours. Three hours is going to be about the highest time compression I could work with for a research paper of this length (assuming I am worried about getting an "A"). For whatever reason, my writing is far better under these conditions as well.

  6. If anyone ever needs an essay written for them: dm us on Instagram @easy.essays. We have been doing this for years and decided to head to instagram to access more people.

  7. I don’t need this. I need a basic technical breakdown of how to write the paper. Not all this – I don’t even know what this was. Oh wait i know. Hot garbage.

  8. Thank you so much for this video. It's freaking awesome, and I relate way too much with the idea that everything has to be perfect on the first try. It was really encouraging to hear that you struggled with the same thing, as well as how you worked to overcome it 🙂 Thank you.

  9. I find the Crash Course videos inspiring as well, yet I do not know what kind of host I would be? Thank you Thought Bubble Team for the book "The Devils Detail's" by Chuck Zerby.

  10. Very annoying to watch this video. His cut and paste was about every four seconds, making his sentences seem unfinished. Rather than being concerned about research papers and having his dreams come true on posting YouTube videos, he may want to consult with a video editor to teach him how to better "cut and splice" the final draft video posts for better "technical edits".

  11. Thanks for telling me about ebsco. I didn't knew about it. When I looked it up I thought that I literally struck a gold mine!

  12. What a stupid introduction, people save time looking for a YouTube video that explains a topic because for some people it works better. Plus not all of the people who are watching this video have a deadline, me for example, I am not in school I just wanted to remind myself about how to write an essay.
    I need to remind myself because I don't know when an opportunity for a job comes and I might need to communicate better than I do now.

    Anyway, that intro just make students feel stupid. And that is why I called the intro stupid to give credit of stupidity to the one that deserves it, the intro.

  13. This video began to give me the inspiration to start thinking about setting aside some time to consider thinking about how I'm going to decide to think about laying out the plan for the first draft of the paper I have to hand in tomorrow

  14. Teachers are too busy pressing their own ideology’s in school to teach us useful things that you guys show on this channel. Thank you

  15. I haven't started university yet; I've only applied. I was wondering if there is a certain degree level (I'll be doing BA: Honours / Level 6) needed to be studied in order to submit research papers, without the paper being a required assignment? And is there a certain academic board you send such papers to? Should I asked a professor to analyse the assignment and then send it elsewhere or just hand it to a professor and they do some hidden magic with it that declares it a completed academic paper? I'm thinking an extra paper here and there where I can would impress future potential employers/professors blah..

  16. i wish i saw this video sooner. i always do the research then rough draft. hopefully with these techniques i can turn my B paper into an A paper.thanks thomas!

  17. Why every essay advice video never ever give example of the freewriting and just giving advices that so hard to implement without examples?

  18. Creative Savants has an
    experienced team that can deliver a best research paper for you. Contact at 00971525441428
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  19. Look at you life, look at your choices. WTF, present your information bro. I don't need your personal feedback or some type of moral lecture. TD

  20. T minus 2 weeks 4 page double spaced mla format psychology paper and I’m in 9th grade smh please help

  21. he said that the wikipedia has there is sources but I don't see them, Witch resources are they are like tones.I neeed more information about that

  22. 1) brain dump (get down all you ideas)
    2) the research process (Wikipedia, google scholar etc.)
    3) annotate the important parts of the material (two sources for each main point)
    4) first draft (don't be a perfectionist just finish the draft)
    5) Edit (make sure it communicates the message as effectively as possible, and edit by printing the paper)
    6) Get FEEDBACK (ask if statements make sense)

  23. WOW the citation section of wiki. Genius. As a writer I related 100% to the sculpting metaphor. It's true for all art.

  24. Yaaassss! Thank you! My goodness, I always ALWAYS would start out writing without doing research. My current instructor got mad that I had already started writing before doing research for my current paper, but ahaaaa
    This is awesome advice thank you!

  25. You were talking way to fast for me, English is my second language and there's still words I'm unfamiliar with and event to take notes I had to stop the video…

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