Visualizing Your Argument

The blank page at the very beginning of the writing process is one of the most difficult stages for me. I struggle with how to get started and feel overwhelmed by the amount of work ahead of me.

To avoid this blank page, I open a Word Document called “Notes” early on in the research process. As I sort through the ever-accumulating pile of books and articles on my desk, I copy the relevant quotes into the document, followed by the author’s name and the page number. Typically, only a fraction of these quotes actually make it into the paper, so it can be hard to know when to stop. The metric I’ve figured out is: when the notes document is double the length of the assignment, I know it’s time to begin drafting the paper.

Film editor Walter Murch helped me rethink my editing process.

As I write, this document becomes my primary resource for information and direct quotes. Because it’s consolidated in one file, it’s easily navigable and searchable. Sometimes, I reorganize the quotes into sections to guide my paragraph structure and overall argument.

In the past, this system has worked well for me. But in the past few weeks, two of my teachers have modeled an exciting new approach to organizing research materials: visual mapping. Continue reading Visualizing Your Argument

GEO/WRI 201: The Best Course on Scientific Research and Writing Offered at Princeton

“Any science major should consider this course…it is basically independent work guided by two top notch professors and supported by an entire seminar class.” – Anonymous Student Review

Every undergraduate studying the natural sciences at Princeton undertakes significant independent research projects in their Junior and Senior years. GEO/WRI 201: Methods in Data Analysis & Scientific Writing is a unique course designed specifically to teach students how to write an independent scientific paper. If you are a Sophomore or Junior looking to attain the concrete skills and confidence to tackle independent research, there is no better class to take.

In 201, you will learn how to design, research, write, and present original scientific research, all through the lens of measuring changing landscapes using satellite and drone-derived aerial imagery. Under the mentorship of Adam Maloof (GEO) and Amanda Irwin Wilkins (WRI), and with the support of your peers, you will: develop an original, well motivated scientific question; design effective field methods to test a specific hypothesis; quantitatively analyze data and imagery; and learn how to effectively communicate the results in a scientific paper and slideshow presentation. The highlight of the class is a nine day field trip across Utah, where students work collaboratively to implement their own field methods, piloting drones and collecting climatological data.

Will Atkinson ‘18 misses a beautiful sunset over Delicate Arch in Arches National Park, Utah while taking notes on a geology lecture given by professor Adam Maloof during the class field trip. (Fall break, 2016)

Continue reading GEO/WRI 201: The Best Course on Scientific Research and Writing Offered at Princeton

Recommend a Purchase: The Princeton Wish List

The Princeton University Library system features over six million unique titles. So when you discover a book not already in the system, you know you’ve found a niche topic.

This semester, I’m taking a course called “Modern India: History and Political Theory” taught by Visiting Professor Sunil Khilnani. In the course, we examine primary sources from the major actors in the Indian nationalist movement.

Recommending a book purchase is as easy as online shopping!

Interested in indigenous politics in India, I asked Professor Khilnani if I could write my midterm paper on the Adivasi (Indian tribal societies) role in Independence – even though we haven’t addressed this topic in class. He suggested I focus on Jaipal Singh, a major twentieth-century Adivasi activist, and sent me a list of primary and secondary sources to consider. Specifically, he recommended using the recently published collection of Singh’s speeches and writings, Adivasidom. Continue reading Recommend a Purchase: The Princeton Wish List

How to Write a History Research Paper

When writing a history research paper, the right approach is key. Sitting outside, like the above student, may be helpful, but also consider heading to a library for a more focused atmosphere–and larger tables to spread out your notes!

In my last post, I shared some tips on how to conduct research in history and emphasized that researchers should keep in mind a source’s category (transcript, court document, speech, etc.). This post is something of a sequel to that, as I will share some thoughts on what often follows primary-source research: a history research paper.  Continue reading How to Write a History Research Paper

Tips for Conquering the New York Public Library

Firestone is my favorite Princeton resource – but it has its limits, especially when it comes to primary source material (see my previous post). If I can’t access a source through Firestone, my next step is generally the New York Public Library system. NYPL offers not only a beautiful place to study, but also a wide range of primary source material in their public collections.

I recently spent a day at the Schwarzman building on 42nd and 5th in order to access a microfilm copy of a Yiddish periodical published by Holocaust survivors in 1946. This was my first time researching at the NYPL and working with microfilm (the small reels of film used to store documents in pre-digitization libraries) – so I learned a lot in my few hours there.

My well-angled selfie in front of the Schwarzman building

Continue reading Tips for Conquering the New York Public Library

Researching with Skepticism: Working with Historical Sources

When working with historical sources, particularly secondary sources, one has to consider the levels of mediation that the historical narrative has gone through before it finally reaches the researcher. We all have to use primary and secondary sources in our work. But something often overlooked is the extent to which there are degrees of truth, or what Stephen Colbert famously called “truthiness,” in the sources that we encounter. We learn in English class about the idea of the unreliable narrator. Well, the exact same thing applies when studying history. Except, with history, everyone is unreliable to some degree, as demonstrated by my reading of The Battles of Coxinga.

Zheng Chenggong/Coxinga, date unknown

Continue reading Researching with Skepticism: Working with Historical Sources

When Borrow Direct Isn’t Enough: Accessing the New York Public Library

Borrow Direct is my favorite feature of the Princeton library system. If you’re ever hunting for a book and it’s not available at Princeton, the Borrow Direct program allows you to order the book free of charge from another university library. A few days after your order, you receive an email that your book has arrived, and you pick it up from the front desk – where it is wrapped in paper and marked with your name. It’s like Hannukah, but all the time.

The joy of Borrow Direct isn’t limited to campus. Over the summer, when I needed to do research at Brown University’s library, the Borrow Direct system gave me unlimited access to the library there and enabled me to check out books with nothing more than my PUID. I was even allowed to reserve a carrel for the entire summer — which I did.

Carrels at Brown University’s Rockefeller Library

Continue reading When Borrow Direct Isn’t Enough: Accessing the New York Public Library

Behind on Independent Work? Tips for the Final Push

This past July,  Joe ‘Stringbean’ McConaughy set out to break the speed record for hiking the Appalachian Trail. Carrying a 25 pound backpack and eating 8,000 calories a day, Stringbean initially planned to average 50 miles per day and finish the 2,181-mile trek from Georgia to Maine in only 43 days. Twenty two days in and halfway to Maine, he felt confident that he was on track to break the record of 46 days. However, his pace slowed dramatically in the mountains of New Hampshire, and when day 43 came, Stringbean still had 151.5 miles to go and under 70 hours to beat the record.

As my third Fall semester comes to a close, I find myself in a place similar to McConaughy’s. I started working on my Junior Paper in September with a well-defined research path and have worked consistently for the past three months, meeting with my adviser every week. Yet, with a full draft of my JP due in only four days, I have fallen far behind my planned timetable.

The view overlooking the Appalachian Trail as it winds north into Maine shows nothing but rugged mountains. Like hiking 150+ miles in three days over this type of terrain, writing a quality research paper days before the deadline requires a herculean effort.

There will be a time for reflecting back on why I fell behind my JP plans this semester and how to adjust my study habits and work strategies to get a better start in the Spring–but that time is not now. It is now day 43 and we have 70 hours and 151 miles left to go. If you have fallen behind in your independent work like me, now is the time for the final push. So here is my strategy for beating my JP draft deadline in four days: Continue reading Behind on Independent Work? Tips for the Final Push

Trusting My “Nugget”: Committing to Initial Ideas

Do you remember that old SAT advice of committing to your first multiple-choice answer? I have realized that choosing not to second-guess yourself applies to much more than standardized tests, and this realization has been an integral part of my research experience at Princeton.

Your intuition is as valuable as this pure Australian gold nugget!

When I’m confronted with a writing task, like seeing an essay prompt for the first time, thinking of my JP for this fall, or even this blog post (#meta), it is tempting to let myself panic and frantically begin brainstorming. But, before all of that chaos begins, an immediate seed of an idea always pops into my head. I call it my “nugget.” It could be a tidbit from a conversation I had with a friend, a theme I had been following in class, or, most recently, a side-note I had made over the summer about a potential JP topic.

However, I’ll often ignore my nugget as quickly as it appears. I’ll abide by “first is worst” logic and assume that the first idea I think of to start a research project cannot possibly be as developed as the result of hours of brainstorming. So, I’ll put myself through the ringer searching for other topics. But, almost inevitably, the products of these intensive brainstorming sessions fall short, and I circle back to my initial idea. Continue reading Trusting My “Nugget”: Committing to Initial Ideas

January Already? How to Begin Preparing for a Final Essay WAY in Advance

I surprised my inner procrastinator this week and thought about my final essay for my junior seminar a week and a half before midterms. I had written about an interesting theme in my Blackboard response, and thought in passing that it could make a good topic for an extended essay. I didn’t take this thought too seriously at first, because with finals being months away, I didn’t want to add any extra stress overthinking

Don’t be alarmed! You don’t have to have your final essay together now, but even giving it a passing thought early on is helpful.

everything. But then I realized that thinking long-term about finals, even casually, could actually make Dean’s Date a lot less stressful. I then made a mental note of this potential essay topic and planned on consistently revisiting it as I progressed through the course.

Several difficulties come with courses that have final papers. Some prompts are open-ended, leaving you to find a relevant and interesting research topic related to the course with little guidance. Others are more specific, requiring you to tailor a semester’s worth of information and synthesize it into a Continue reading January Already? How to Begin Preparing for a Final Essay WAY in Advance