Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Quick Tips: Creating the Perfect Title

There's something poetic about the process of creating a title, isn't there?  Like a haiku, the writer must work within a limited space and draw out as much impact as possible.  

For me, the title comes at the end of the writing process, after I've had time enough to brainstorm and figure out the purpose of my work.  But even then, the process of creating a title does not come naturally to me, and I often end up feeling stuck.  When this happens, I try to remember the following tips: 

1. Lead the Reader into Your Paper 

It's important to cue the reader in on the topic of your essay from the very beginning.  To do this, ask yourself the following question: What am I talking about?  The answer will provide you with a few key terms that you can use to create a title that situates the reader to your topic.   

2. Search-Engine Optimized 

If you're writing with the intent to get published, it is beneficial to use terminology in your title that someone might use when searching for articles.  Consider which words provided results during your own research.  Do these words still apply to the paper you've written?  If so, think about how to use them in your title, it's very likely that others will look these same words up in the future.  

3. Have a Hook 

You want your essay to stand out, don’t you?  Try to spice things up with a pun or get creative with wordplay.  Having a clever title is an effective way to engage the reader and leave them wanting more.  Which of the following would you rather read from: 

A). Property Rights in the Elizabethan Era 

B). To Deed or Not to Deed:  Property Rights in the Elizabethan Era 

Although option A is direct, option B compels the reader to keep reading.   

4. Do Not Use Automated Title Generators 

As a general rule, do not use automatically generated titles. I went to a title generating website and plugged in a few key terms for this blog's title as an experiment.  These are the terrible results:

"How to Write Effective Titles: Formulating Frank Rivalry and Alterity," "Estimating Mythical Notions: How to Write Effective Titles and/in the Congress," and "How to Write Effective Titles: Collecting Patronizing Response and Violence." 

The only usable segment from these titles is what I plugged in myself, "How to Write Effective Titles..."  As you can see, there is absolutely no reason to rely on an automatically generated title.  Do Not Use Them! 

Bad time ski instructor 1 - If you auto-generate titles You're gonna have a bad time

The process of writing a title should not be a difficult one.  As long as you lead the reader into your essay, use commonly searched terminology, and hook the reader, you'll have a title that reads like poetry.  

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Why I Love the New MLA and Why You Should Too

I’m not exaggerating when I say I love the new MLA. You may be thinking, Is it really possible to be that excited about citation guidelines? Let me be the first to tell you: It is! Thanks to the new MLA, you’ll no longer dread creating that Works Cited page. You know, the page that you spend just as much time on as your actual paper? Now, instead of spending precious writing time on a reference page that is probably full of mistakes anyway, you can take that extra hour to put the finishing touches on your paper. Creating a flawless Works Cited page will take you no time at all!  

Here are just a few ways in which the new MLA is making your life easier:

  1. It uses simple punctuation.

This change may be my favorite part about the new MLA. No more colons, no more parenthesis, and no more periods in weird places. The new MLA only requires the use of two types of punctuation, the period and the comma. Place a period after the name of the author and the title of your source, and separate the rest of the core elements with commas. Then, end your entry with a period. How easy is that?!

  1. All sources are cited using the same basic format.

The old MLA required you to identify the type of source you were citing. Is this a periodical? Or maybe it’s a peer-reviewed journal? Do I even know what a peer-reviewed journal is? I think it’s just an article. Wait, is this a blog? This thought process might sound familiar. Depending on the type of source you used, there was a specific set of guidelines for your works cited entry. If your source fit into two of those categories (like a book on an online database), it became even more complicated. Now, all you need to know are these nine core elements (also listed above). Identify as many of these nine elements as you can for each of your sources, and you’re already on your way to creating a successful Works Cited page!

  1. It’s reader-friendly.

Unless you’re an expert on MLA, you probably had no idea what most of the numbers in a Works Cited entry referred to. I mean 20.2 (2013): 120-130 doesn’t really tell us much. Luckily for us, the Modern Language Association realized this too and decided to make these numbers more reader-friendly. Now, if a journal has a volume or an issue number, you can use abbreviations to identify them. There are also abbreviations for edition and page numbers, which your readers will easily recognize. Here’s an example:

Baron, Naomi S. “Redefining Reading: The Impact of Digital Communication
Media.” PMLA, vol. 128, no. 1, Jan. 2013, pp. 193.

In this entry, it’s clear what the volume (vol.), issue number (no,), and page numbers (pp.) are. Even better, the abbreviations are sensible and easy to remember!

  1. Only the most relevant information is needed.

“I hate when I look at a Works Cited entry only to be devastated when the city of publication is missing,”….said no one ever. While there are special circumstances where you might record the city of publication (a version of the same work is published in two countries), this piece of information is normally excluded now; and let’s be real, we’re pretty glad it is. Also, you no longer need to identify whether the source is “print” or “web.” Identifying the page number(s) or URL (location) in your entry is enough to let your reader know if it is a print or web-based source.

  1. You can actually remember these rules!

I used the old MLA for seven years, and there were very few times I created a Works Cited page without having to look up the correct guidelines. I’ve been using the new MLA for about three months now, and I can already cite my sources on my own with confidence. Now, don’t get me wrong; I still flip through my MLA Handbook, 8th Edition every now and then or check out Purdue OWL’s amazing website when I come across a new citation question. For the most part, however, it’s pretty easy to remember MLA’s new guidelines, and that makes my life a heck of a lot easier!

Good riddance, old MLA!

Friday, October 7, 2016

Breaking Through Writers Block

Picture this:  It's late on a Sunday night, the pot of coffee you brewed earlier is now empty, and the desk you've sat at all day is covered in piles of disheveled articles.  You've made a lot of progress on your essay. In fact, the conclusion is all that’s left, and you're such an expert on the topic by now that it should write itself.  But it doesn't.  The words don’t come out.  You've hit writer's block. 

If you're like me, this phenomena will occur at least once per writing assignment.  You could sit and stare at the screen, hoping for the right words to come, or you can tackle writers block head on.  I recommend the latter.  Though some of the advice may seem counter-intuitive, these tricks have always worked for me: 

Take a Break
We're all looking for excuses to watch just one more episode of our favorite television shows; when you're stumped with what to write next, go ahead and watch one.  It's important to give your brain a break every once and a while.  Leave the computer, re-calibrate, and return to your paper when you've gotten enough distance from it.  Although it may seem counter-intuitive, taking a break can do wonders in regards to writer's block. 

Go for a Walk
If restraint isn't one of your better qualities and you find watching just one episode an impossible task, do what I do:  go for a walk.  Unlike watching T.V., walking can subconsciously generate new ideas.  If I'm stuck on a paper and go for a walk, I can usually find a way to push past writer's block by the time I get back.   

Write it Out
One of the most common causes of writer's block is the desire for everything to come out perfectly the first time.  If you halt at the end of each sentence to re-read and then edit what's just been written, this trick is made for you.  Instead of focusing on saying everything perfectly, just write what comes to your mind first.  It might look like gibberish, but it works the same way brainstorming does.  Just remember to edit your work when finished! 

Change the Scene 
Have you ever wondered why so many fast food restaurants brand themselves with the colors red or yellow?  They do this because it triggers the parts of your brain associated with hunger and happiness on a subconscious level.  In this same way, the room you most often work in becomes associated with stress, and that can get in the way of productivity.  Try taking your work somewhere new, perhaps a local coffee shop, and see if that does anything for you.  If not, at least you got a cup of coffee.

It might take some time to figure out what method works for you (if you're lucky they all do), but writer's block should never be seen as insurmountable.  Often times, all you need to do is take a step back and breath.