Most children acquire the same eye color or a similar shaped nose from their parents, but I've inherited much more: a passion for learning and an insatiable curiosity which has served me well throughout my academic career. My father, an electrical engineer, taught me to explore the world with inquisitive eyes, constantly seeking to learn more, to understand more. I watched him for hours as he worked on elevator schematics at home, wondering what all the various symbols and lines meant. I was fascinated by technology and wanted to know how and why things worked the way they did.
"How does this toaster work?" "What’s inside this VCR?" I was never satisfied with the simplified answers that my parents sometimes gave to these questions. So I discovered many answers for myself by exploring and experimenting.
My playground was a jumble of old circuit boards, spare electric wire, and an assortment of broken appliances. I spent hours disassembling and tinkering with the amazing treasures I found lying around our garage. My mother, a first grade teacher, noticed my intellectual curiosity and encouraged my childhood explorations. She gave me piles of mind-opening children's books, which I willingly read. Books like "What Makes Popcorn Pop, and Other Questions about the World around Us" allowed me to discover the irresistible appeal of imaginative questions and their fascinating answers.
I was given a remarkable amount of freedom at a young age. When I was 6, my parents bought an old computer for $25 from a local yard sale with the intention of letting me loose on it. I was thrilled. Motivated by curiosity, I delved into it at once and learned how to use each and every feature of the computer's antiquated MS-DOS operating system. With my father's help and an old programming book by my side, I even created simple videogames for my younger brother to play.
My parents taught me to be independent and self-motivated by providing me opportunities to learn by trial and error. I recall an episode where my parents bought a new microwave when I was just 8 years old. As they unpacked the microwave, I caught sight of the owner's manual and asked to see it. After reading the 40-page text front-to-back, I learned one very important thing: how to use a feature called "child lock," or as I saw it, "parent lock." By pressing a special sequence of buttons on the microwave, I disabled it, thus protecting my parents from the dangers of using the appliance without my supervision. Until this day, the first thing I do after buying a new gadget is read the entire manual, in search of nifty features.
My intellectual curiosity is the result of a unique combination of early influences and childhood experiences which have fueled my passion for learning inside and outside of the classroom -- learning from everything I do. I hope to continue applying this curiosity to all aspects of my life, exploring the world through the eyes of my childhood persona. By refusing to accept the obvious explanation, refusing to settle for a superficial understanding, and refusing to endure the status quo, great American innovators like my role model Benjamin Franklin created new knowledge, new technologies, and new innovations. I strive to do the same. It's part of who I am, and what drives me to become successful and happy.
Anonymous Student. "My World, My Dreams" StudyNotes.org. Study Notes, LLC., 21 Sep. 2013. Web. 14 Mar. 2018. <https://www.apstudynotes.org/stanford/my-world-my-dreams/>.
As the government begins its crackdown on essay mill websites, it’s easy to see just how much pressure students are under to get top grades for their coursework these days. But writing a high-scoring paper doesn’t need to be complicated. We spoke to experts to get some simple techniques that will raise your writing game.
Tim Squirrell is a PhD student at the University of Edinburgh, and is teaching for the first time this year. When he was asked to deliver sessions on the art of essay-writing, he decided to publish a comprehensive (and brilliant) blog on the topic, offering wisdom gleaned from turning out two or three essays a week for his own undergraduate degree.
“There is a knack to it,” he says. “It took me until my second or third year at Cambridge to work it out. No one tells you how to put together an argument and push yourself from a 60 to a 70, but once you to get grips with how you’re meant to construct them, it’s simple.”
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The goal of writing any essay is to show that you can think critically about the material at hand (whatever it may be). This means going beyond regurgitating what you’ve read; if you’re just repeating other people’s arguments, you’re never going to trouble the upper end of the marking scale.
“You need to be using your higher cognitive abilities,” says Bryan Greetham, author of the bestselling How to Write Better Essays. “You’re not just showing understanding and recall, but analysing and synthesising ideas from different sources, then critically evaluating them. That’s where the marks lie.”
But what does critical evaluation actually look like? According to Squirrell, it’s simple: you need to “poke holes” in the texts you’re exploring and work out the ways in which “the authors aren’t perfect”.
“That can be an intimidating idea,” he says. “You’re reading something that someone has probably spent their career studying, so how can you, as an undergraduate, critique it?
“The answer is that you’re not going to discover some gaping flaw in Foucault’s History of Sexuality Volume 3, but you are going to be able to say: ‘There are issues with these certain accounts, here is how you might resolve those’. That’s the difference between a 60-something essay and a 70-something essay.”
Critique your own arguments
Once you’ve cast a critical eye over the texts, you should turn it back on your own arguments. This may feel like going against the grain of what you’ve learned about writing academic essays, but it’s the key to drawing out developed points.
“We’re taught at an early age to present both sides of the argument,” Squirrell continues. “Then you get to university and you’re told to present one side of the argument and sustain it throughout the piece. But that’s not quite it: you need to figure out what the strongest objections to your own argument would be. Write them and try to respond to them, so you become aware of flaws in your reasoning. Every argument has its limits and if you can try and explore those, the markers will often reward that.”
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Fine, use Wikipedia then
The use of Wikipedia for research is a controversial topic among academics, with many advising their students to stay away from the site altogether.
“I genuinely disagree,” says Squirrell. “Those on the other side say that you can’t know who has written it, what they had in mind, what their biases are. But if you’re just trying to get a handle on a subject, or you want to find a scattering of secondary sources, it can be quite useful. I would only recommend it as either a primer or a last resort, but it does have its place.”
Focus your reading
Reading lists can be a hindrance as well as a help. They should be your first port of call for guidance, but they aren’t to-do lists. A book may be listed, but that doesn’t mean you need to absorb the whole thing.
Squirrell advises reading the introduction and conclusion and a relevant chapter but no more. “Otherwise you won’t actually get anything out of it because you’re trying to plough your way through a 300-page monograph,” he says.
You also need to store the information you’re gathering in a helpful, systematic way. Bryan Greetham recommends a digital update of his old-school “project box” approach.
“I have a box to catch all of those small things – a figure, a quotation, something interesting someone says – I’ll write them down and put them in the box so I don’t lose them. Then when I come to write, I have all of my material.”
There are a plenty of online offerings to help with this, such as the project management app Scrivener and referencing tool Zotero, and, for the procrastinators, there are productivity programmes like Self Control, which allow users to block certain websites from their computers for a set period.
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Look beyond the reading list
“This is comparatively easy to do,” says Squirrell. “Look at the citations used in the text, put them in Google Scholar, read the abstracts and decide whether they’re worth reading. Then you can look on Google Scholar at other papers that have cited the work you’re writing about – some of those will be useful. But quality matters more than quantity.”
And finally, the introduction
The old trick of dealing with your introduction last is common knowledge, but it seems few have really mastered the art of writing an effective opener.
“Introductions are the easiest things in the world to get right and nobody does it properly,” Squirrel says. “It should be ‘Here is the argument I am going to make, I am going to substantiate this with three or four strands of argumentation, drawing upon these theorists, who say these things, and I will conclude with some thoughts on this area and how it might clarify our understanding of this phenomenon.’ You should be able to encapsulate it in 100 words or so. That’s literally it.”
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