How to Get an A in Your College Courses

How to Get an A in Your College Courses

Some of the top reasons that students don’t pass courses, based on my experience as a professor, is that they do not read the requirements for the classes or they don’t turn in material on time.  If a student really wants to receive an “A”, there are some important things that they must do to achieve this.  The following list will help students improve their grades:

  1. Follow Instructions – Read the instructor’s materials for assignment requirements.   Print out a copy of the syllabus and any instructions on the first day of class. Some may post a rubric or a spreadsheet that lists the requirements and the number of possible points allocated for each part of the assignment.  Before turning in your assignment, go down the list of requirements and be sure that you have included all of them.
  2. Cite Correctly – It is best to paraphrase rather than to include large blocks of directly quoted material in your writing.  Some professors will not allow any direct quotations. An example of paraphrasing is:  Hamilton (2011) stated that paraphrasing was important.  An example of a direct quote is:  “It is better to paraphrase.” (Hamilton, 2011). 
  3. Submit Original Work – Schools have a tool called TurnItIn to check for plagiarism.  Be sure to run your paper through that system (or whatever plagiarism tool the school uses) before submitting papers, to ensure that your work is your own.  You can be sure professors will check it if you do not.  Keep in mind that citing incorrectly can be viewed as plagiarism. Plagiarism is grounds for being expelled.
  4. Write in APA – Professors can be very picky about formatting in APA.  Most schools use this formatting as compared to MLA or some other format.  Click here for some of the most important links to help with APA.  When writing in APA, students will need to have their paper include double-spacing, indented paragraphs, proper header information, proper page numbering, proper title and reference page, etc.
  5. Meet Discussion Requirements – Online colleges have specific writing and posting requirements for classroom discussions.  Students often disregard the minimum word count or the fact that the instructor requested cited materials.  It is not uncommon for a discussion question to require 150-500 word responses.  These responses may also require paraphrased information to show research to back up any points that the student makes. Students may also be required to respond to their fellow classmates’ postings as well.  There are usually minimum word count requirements for these responses as well. Discussions should be written in a formal manner.  Sentence and paragraph structure should be the same as if a student was writing an essay.  Simply agreeing with a fellow classmate’s points will not count for credit.
  6. Include Strong Sentences and Paragraphs – It is important to write correctly and in a formal manner in online discussions as well as in formal papers.  In higher-level courses, first person should not be used.  Unless it is an opinion paper and the professor has allowed it, do not refer to yourself in your writing.  Don’t write in run-on sentences.  Sentences vary in length but should average around 20 words.  Keep sentences between around 12-25 words.  Paragraphs should also contain complete information.  A paragraph should include between 4-8 sentences.  Remember to include an introduction and conclusion paragraph. 
  7. Plan Ahead – Many students post late due to not being prepared.  There may be an occasional emergency but in general most issues with late postings could be avoided.  Write papers early and back them up somewhere other than your main computer.  Some students send themselves a copy of their homework so that it is saved on their email server.  Computer issues are not considered a valid excuse for late assignments.
  8. Use Scholarly Sources – Professors often require that students include peer-reviewed scholarly journals as sources for their papers. To find out more about peer-reviewed journals, click here.  Students often confuse citations and references.  It is not correct to simply list a reference without having a corresponding citation.  For help with citations and references, click here.
  9. Never Copy and Paste – Students often try to copy and paste information into their papers.  Not only can this be plagiarism if not cited correctly, it can cause havoc with formatting. 
  10. Always Read Instructor Feedback – I see students submit the same mistakes every week because they will not read the feedback on their papers.  If a professor has taken the time to read your paper and give helpful advice, it is important to incorporate those suggestions into future assignments. 

For additional help, see The Top Ten Most Common Writing Mistakes and The Top Ten Sources for Help with APA.

Top 10 Tips for Surviving a Doctoral Dissertation

Today’s Ask Dr. Diane:  Do you have any suggestions on how to avoid the pitfalls many other doctoral students may have encountered when writing their dissertations?

As a doctoral chair, I guide students through the process of writing a dissertation.  There are different problems that many of them may face based on the topics they chose to study.  I prefer to chair quantitative, business-related studies, so my suggestions may be slanted in that direction.

Here are the top 10 things that I think a doctoral student should be made aware of from the beginning:

  1. The process will probably take longer than you think.  There may be a set of doctoral courses required for the dissertation part of your degree.  For example, there may be Class 1, 2, and 3.  They will explain that if you don’t finish 1, you can take 1a and 1b, etc.  Be prepared to take 1a, 1b, 2a, 2b, etc.  Remember that every time you take the class, it costs money.  Have it in your budget in case you need extra courses.
  2. Find a good doctoral chair (also called doctoral mentor).  The school will probably have a website that lists professors that you can pick from, to be your chair.  Go through the lists carefully to find one that fits your topic and your needs.  Send them a very polite letter of request to be your chair/mentor.  Do not send a bulk message to a lot of potential chairs.  This is seen as tacky.   I recommend talking to them on the phone prior to signing up with any of them.  If they don’t want to do this, you may want to pick someone who is more hospitable.  Find out if they work at your speed.  I had two different chairs in my journey.  The first one was not a good fit for me.  The second was much better. Keep in mind that you can probably change chairs later if you find out it isn’t working for you.
  3. Become an APA expert.  Most schools require that your paper is in APA 6th edition right now.  Click here for writing help.  When you submit a dissertation, the review board will be beyond picky about this.  Every space, every heading, every table, etc. has to be exact.  Schools usually have writing centers that can help you with APA as well. 
  4. Find a good statistician.  If you are going to do a quantitative study, you will need an excellent statistician for guidance.  It helps to have SPSS software as well. It is important to understand how to do a Power Analysis when deciding on your population and sample size.
  5. Strong editing is a must.  Schools are very picky about anthropomorphisms and they don’t like what they call “fluff” wording.  They want the writing to sound scholarly.  Avoid using words like:  However, In Addition, Therefore.  Do not refer to yourself in the document.  Example:  The research did blah blah blah.  Don’t use the wording “the researcher” unless you are referring to someone other than you.  There should be no first person references in the paper at all. The proposal will be written in future tense so everything you write will be about what will happen.  The only thing that the proposal has in past tense is what others have written.  For example:  Hamilton (2011) stated blah blah blah is OK but everything that you propose to do must be in future tense.  There should be no personal bias.  Use research citations to back up your points.  When you write Chapters 1-3 of the proposal, you need to refer to your study as the proposed study.  Do not forget to include the word proposed
  6. Have a good template.  Some schools use a company called Bold that offers a dissertation template that has all of the formatting set up already.  These templates usually cost under $100 and are worth it.  They have the hard parts like the table of contents set up for you.  Some students try to write their dissertation in a regular Word document first and transfer it over to the Bold document later. This can cause a real headache with formatting and I don’t recommend it.
  7. Set up a schedule and become organized.  I have seen students flounder because they find the process overwhelming and don’t know where to begin.  Setting up a schedule for when you will do things is very helpful.  Set aside a certain number of hours in the week dedicated to your research and writing.   Usually the first doctoral class is set up to create Chapters 1-3 of your proposal.  It may be helpful to begin with Chapter 2 first to research the topic you have in mind. Look for areas in the research where there are gaps that still need addressing.  When you have written about everything others have done regarding your topic in Chapter 2, it should help highlight the exact area where you want to focus for Chapter 1.
  8. Download past dissertations. Looking at past dissertations written by students at your school can be very helpful.  It will give you a template of the format that is appropriate for your school and show you how others handled specific sections.
  9. Keep studies in notebooks.  I personally found it helpful to keep all of the studies I referenced in notebooks. I would alphabetize them by author last name.  I had 5 or 6 different notebooks based on the topics.  For example, since my dissertation was on emotional intelligence and its impact on sales performance, I would have a notebook about sales studies, another about emotional intelligence tests, another about emotional intelligence in workplace, etc. 
  10. Don’t give up.  Think of writing a dissertation as you would writing a book.  It has chapters and has to be approached one step at a time.  You wouldn’t write a book all in one day and you can’t write a dissertation that way either.  Sometimes students fail to see the light at the end of the tunnel.  It’s there.  It just takes a while to get there.

I recommend reading some of the following books:

APA Publication Manual 6th Edition

Business Research Methods

Research Strategies

Methods in Behavioral Research

Top 10 Sources for Help with APA 6th Edition

Students often find it challenging to write papers that meet APA guidelines.  The following table demonstrates how difficult it can be just to cite correctly.

The following is a list of some of the most useful resources to help write a paper that meets APA requirements.

  1. Purdue Online Writing Lab APA 6th Edition – One of the most excellent resources for all things APA, writing, punctuation, grammar, mechanics, MLA, and more . . . main Purdue site index.
  2. APA Style Lite for College Papers – Free style guide that gives excellent examples of how things should look in APA 6th edition.
  3. Sample APA Paper from Owl Purdue – Excellent example of a paper with arrows and text boxes pointing out each area of the paper and how it should look.
  4. APA 6th Edition Tutorial – Video demonstration of changes in most recent APA edition.
  5. APA 6th Edition Style Headings – Examples of the different levels of headings.
  6. Meeting APA 2 Spaces After Periods Requirement – Video of how to easily change from one space to two spaces after periods to meet 6th edition guidelines.
  7. Long Quotation Requirements – How to space longer quotations in APA 6th edition.
  8. Removing that Extra Space Between Paragraphs – Video demonstration of how to use the home tab in Word to find paragraph settings to remove any spaces from in between paragraphs.
  9. Accessing Headers and Page Numbers in Word – Video demonstration of how to set up headers and page numbers.
  10. Top 10 Most Common Writing Mistakes – Additional APA information, first person explanation, vocabulary, grammar, anthropomorphisms, Wikipedia, and more.

Anthropomorphisms: When Not to Use Them

There is a really big word that students should know, but may not.  That word is anthropomorphic.  Technically it means to give human form or attributes to something that is not human. It is popularly used in children’s books.  However, doctoral students often have their dissertations rejected for including anthropomorphisms.

Here are some examples of what an anthropomorphism looks like:

  • The study assumed that people would not be interested.
  • The computer program thinks that the results are accurate.

Both of these sentences should not be used.  The reason is that a person can “assume” but a study cannot. Animate nouns are things like a person, a researcher or a participant.  Animate nouns can make an assumption.  An inanimate noun, like a research study, cannot.  Just like an animate noun, a researcher can “think”, but an inanimate noun, a computer, cannot.

To put it more simply, think of it this way:

  • Person, Researcher, Participant = assume and think
  • Study, Computer, Inanimate Object ≠ assume and think

Bloggers and Social Media Junkies: 5 Tips to Improve Your Writing

Today’s Ask Dr. Diane:  What are some things I can do to improve my blogging and writing skills?

The Internet has turned lot of people into writers.  Bloggers and social media junkies may have great ideas to share but may lack some writing skills that could help improve the message they want to convey.  I know I make a lot of mistakes when I write.  I try not to, but when you blog as much as I do, it is inevitable.  I never intended to be a writer.  However, I found that I liked sharing information, so writing became a means to an end.  When I write my books, I use a professional editor.  Not all of us can be editing experts. It could be very expensive and inconvenient to have to use an editor for every blog and social media posting.  However, there are some simple things that can help to improve writing skills. 

1.  Don’t End Sentences in Prepositions. The problem is that many people have no idea what a preposition is.  Susan Thurman, author of The Only Grammar Book You’ll Ever Need, claims there is a trick to helping recognize a preposition.  “Look at the last eight letters of the word preposition; they spell position.  A preposition sometimes tells the position of something:  in, out, under, over, above and so forth.”  My seventh grade teacher suggested we think about a box.  For example:  in the box, over the box, and so forth. The following are the most common prepositions according to Thurman.  Try to avoid ending a sentence with any of these words:

  • About
  • Above
  • Across
  • After
  • Against
  • Along
  • Among
  • Around
  • At
  • Before
  • Behind
  • Below
  • Beneath
  • Beside
  • Between
  • Beyond
  • But
  • By
  • Concerning
  • Despite
  • Down
  • During
  • Except
  • For
  • From
  • In
  • Inside
  • Into
  • Like
  • Of
  • Off
  • On
  • Onto
  • Out
  • Outside
  • Over
  • Past
  • Since
  • Through
  • Throughout
  • To
  • Toward
  • Under
  • Underneath
  • Until
  • Up
  • Upon
  • With
  • Within
  • Without

2.   Learn to Spell without Spell Check. If you rely too much on a spell checker, you may find that words you meant to write are replaced with words that have entirely different meanings.  I can’t count how many times that a student has sent me a note saying to “please excuse the incontinence”.   It is best if you take the time to learn to spell correctly so that you don’t have to rely on a device that may change your intended meaning. The following are fifty of the most commonly misspelled words according to author Gary Provost of 100 Ways to Improve Your Writing:

  • Acceptable
  • Apology
  • Appetite
  • Architect
  • Assassinate
  • Autumn
  • Calendar
  • Changeable
  • Conscious
  • Correspondence
  • Criticism
  • Deceive
  • Discernible
  • Embarrass
  • Eminent
  • Existence
  • Fascinate
  • Grateful
  • Hygiene
  • Imaginable
  • Immediately
  • Irrelevant
  • Jewelry
  • Judgment
  • Lovable
  • Miscellaneous
  • Mischievous
  • Mortgage
  • Necessarily
  • Occasionally
  • Occurrence
  • Omission
  • Orchestra
  • Potatoes
  • Professor
  • Pseudonym
  • Quarrelsome
  • Religious
  • Reservoir
  • Rhythmic
  • Scissors
  • Syllable
  • Tragedy
  • Umbrella
  • Vanilla
  • Vengeance
  • Weird
  • Wholesome
  • Youthful
  • Zealot

3.  Vary your sentence length.  Some of my students like to write in either really long run-on sentences or overly short monotonous sentences.  Try to vary your sentence length.  Notice how the first sentence in this paragraph was longer and more complex.  That was followed by a shorter more succinct sentence.  It makes your writing easier to read if you vary the sentence length and mix it up a bit. 

4.  Ask yourself some questions once you have finished your draft.  Does the initial paragraph let the reader know what your paper, blog or article is going to contain?  Do you have needless repetition of ideas?  Is your tone and tense consistent?  Does one paragraph advance to the next in a smooth fashion?  Does each of your paragraphs contain a topic sentence that conveys the thought you have developed throughout that paragraph? 

5.  Work on expanding your vocabulary.  Rather than learning overly complicated words to express what you want to say, try varying the way that you say things by using a thesaurus.  If you are talking about a house, perhaps refer to that house as a dwelling or a building in the next sentence.  If you find that you are using the same word over and over, check out some alternatives words in a thesaurus to add dimension to your writing.

I know I am guilty of making some of these mistakes.  Through practice, we can all improve our skills. 

What is the Difference Between a Citation and a Reference?

Today’s Ask Dr. Diane:  What do professors mean when they say to include citations and references?

Students are often required to have both citations and references when creating their college assignments.  There can be confusion as to what the difference is between a citation and a reference.  Cornell explains, “a citation occurs when you use a specific source in your work and then follow up with the proper bibliographic information; plagiarism issues arise when you use a specific source, but fail to indicate what you have borrowed, and/or fail to provide proper bibliographic information a reference is the bibliographic information that guides readers to your source.”

It may seem easier to understand when given examples of each.  Here is an example of a citation:

“Canadians can celebrate that smoking rates have dropped dramatically in Canada in the past three decades” (Reutter, 2001, p. 13). 

You may also paraphrase what others have written.  Here is an example of how to do this correctly:

According to the Canadian Lung Association (2008), most people who quit smoking use a combination of methods. 

These should be included within the body of the document. They should not be confused with references.  References should be included on the separate Reference Page.

An example of how to list references on a Reference Page is listed below.  Keep in mind that formatting will not show up correctly on a blog.  The first line of each reference should be at the left margin and each following line should be indented 1/2 inch.  Here is an example without the indentations showing up:

References

Canadian Lung Association. (2008). How to quit. Retrieved May 26, 2008, from http://www.lung.ca/protect-protegez/tobacco-tabagisme/quitting-cesser/how-comment_e.php

Reutter, L. (2001). Health and wellness. In P. A. Potter, A. G. Perry, J. C. Ross-Kerr, & M. J. Wood (Eds.), Canadian fundamentals of nursing (2nd ed.) (pp. 2-30). Toronto, Ontario, Canada: Harcourt Canada.

It is important to note that many students think they should just include references to show the sites they visited or read to complete the assignment.  This is not correct.  References should be listed to explain where the citation information was obtained.  If a citation was not listed within the document, it doesn’t make sense to list a reference.

2011 Top 10 Things You Should Not Put On Your Resume

image via google.com

In a tough economy, many people are trying to perfect their resumes.  It is a very competitive market out there, with many competing for the few coveted jobs.  It is important not to make the mistake of including inappropriate information in your resume or cover letter as this is the first thing that companies use to judge you.

I read an interesting article about whether you should include your MBTI and IQ results on your resume.  AskaManager.com didn’t think this was a good idea explaining, “Resumes are for listing your accomplishments; they’re not for personal traits. Listing that you’re an “ESTJ” does give me some information about you, but it doesn’t tell me what you’ve achieved and experienced, which is what I’m looking for when I look at your resume.” 

This made me think about all of the resumes I’ve screened that had inappropriate information listed on them.  Here is my top list of things you should never include on your resume:

  1. Age, weight, height, religion, race, political affiliation, pets, marital status and other personal information
  2. Salary requirements
  3. Inappropriate email names (example:  Toosexy at blahblah.com)
  4. Medical issues
  5. High School Information, High School Memberships
  6. Photograph
  7. Personal negative feelings about a position or employer
  8. Hobbies or activities that imply religious affiliation
  9. IQ, EQ, Personality Results, Mensa, GPA
  10. Overly large or busy fonts and colors on resume and cover page

Some career sites note that the objective and reference sections are not a good addition.  I don’t personally think those are as much of a problem.  In fact, I think an objective statement can help if a person’s past jobs aren’t in line with the job they are hoping to obtain. Including the phrase “References Available Upon Request” is still acceptable although not required.  It is not correct to actually list the people being used as references unless they are requested.

The Top 10 Most Common Writing Mistakes

 

Ask Dr. Diane: What are the most common writing mistakes that your students make?

While it is not unusual to see spelling and grammar issues, I’ll assume that readers realize that they should check for such things and just list the top 10 most common other issues I see here. I hope this posting will give some insight into how to set up your papers so that you can avoid making these common mistakes.

  1. Papers not set up with double-spacing – To set your paper to be double-spaced, be sure you are on the home tab in Word and go to the paragraph section of the tool bar.  There is an up and down arrow icon that you can click on.  When you do this, it will give you choices of how to set up your spacing. Pick 2.0 to set double-spacing. 
  2. Papers should not have an extra space between paragraphs – Remember that papers must be double-spaced throughout in APA.  Word sometimes defaults with an extra space between paragraphs.  To change this, click here.
  3. Papers must have headers/numbers set up correctly through the header/number function in Word – To learn how to do this, click here.
  4. Papers must be set up with an introduction/body/conclusion – Your introduction and conclusion need to be strong summaries of what the paper will or has included.  For more about how to write an essay, click here.
  5. Papers should not be written in first person – Remove the “I” or “Me” from your writing. For an explanation of the meaning of first person, click  here.
  6. Citing and References confusion – Citing is the act of quoting a source.  For example:  “Citing is the act of quoting a source.” (Hamilton, 2010)  This is not to be confused with references.  References are included on a separate page with the title References at the top.  You must include references whenever you cite.  The reference explains who deserves credit for the citation.  Many students list references but no citations.  That is not correct.  You need both. 
  7. Paragraph length confusion – Students often either write in overly short or overly long paragraphs.  A good size paragraph is at least 3-4 sentences but should not be so long that it takes up an entire page or more.
  8. Papers should be left justified and not blocked – Students sometimes write in blocked format.  That is not correct.  Papers need to be left justified.  The setting for this is on the home tab under the paragraph part of the toolbar.
  9. Over citing – I see a lot of students who tend to write entire paragraphs of citing and forget to include their own writing in their work.  Although citing is important, it is also important to have your own points and statements.  Remember to make your point and then follow that up with citations to back up what you have written.  As a professor, I am looking to see that you have learned the subject and are not simply restating what others have said.
  10. Forgetting title page – Students often forget to include a title page.  It is very important that all papers include a title page that is correctly formatted in APA format. For helpful examples of APA formatting, click here.

For more help, see the following articles:

15 Ways to Improve Writing Skills for Students and Everyone Else

Removing Extra Spaces Between Paragraphs

How to Add Headers and Page Numbers in Word

APA Style:  5 Essential Tips for APA Style Headings

Citing Long Quotations in APA 6th Edition

Sample APA Paper – 6th Edition

Adding 2 Spaces After a Period to Meet APA 6th Edition Requirements

What is the Difference Between a Citation and a Reference?

Is Wikipedia Reliable?

PowerPoint – Resources and Examples to Make the Perfect Presentation

The Top 100 Vocabulary Words Adults Should Know

Sample APA 6th edition paper in PDF Form

Explanation of First, Second and Third Person Writing

Anthropomorphisms:  When Not to Use Them

Have Some Fun With Common Grammar Mistakes

TerriblyWrite Blog

What is a Peer-Reviewed Journal?

How to Paraphrase and Avoid Using Direct Quotes

How to Reinvent Your Career: Make Money Doing What You Love Facebook Page

How to Reinvent Your Career by Dr. Diane Hamilton

There is now a Facebook page for How to Reinvent Your Career: Make Money Doing What You Love at http://bit.ly/9A1Qge

Sample APA Paper 6th Edition

I often have students ask me for examples of how to write in APA format.  With the recent changes in the 6th edition of APA, it can be even more confusing.  I think the following link has a good example of what an APA paper should look like:  http://owl.english.purdue.edu/media/pdf/20090212013008_560.pdf