Notes on How to Create a Research Question


1) Identify what has already been answered in the literature.

There are many ways to start research. Typically, people will find a topic that they are interested in or they will make an observation about something in the world. Once a person has found an interesting topic or observation, he or she will probably have some unanswered questions. These questions can range from simple to complex, but finding the right questions can be difficult. One useful way to keep track of thoughts are to write down all of the questions in one location and cite the article that engendered the questions.

2) Identify questions that may or may not be definitively answered.

The next step would be to search existing literature for answers to the questions. Some answers may be straightforward such as wondering how many bellybuttons humans typically have. The answer to that question is easy (one bellybutton), but other questions may be more ambiguous such as wondering why certain animals behave a certain way. Some questions may not have an answer. The unanswered questions are the best research questions on which to focus.keep-calm-and-plan-for-the-unanswered-questions-2

3) Keep it simple. You’re not changing the world with one study. Research is a collective effort.

Once a question (or multiple questions) has been found, it’s time to develop a primary research question. Developing a research question is easier than some people think. Research questions are specific questions about phenomena. For example, I notice that my office chair doesn’t move smoothly on the carpeted floor. I ask, “What would happen to the movement of the chair if the wheels were replaced?” which is a very simple research question. I made an observation in the world about my chair, and I had a question about why the chair didn’t move smoothly over the carpeted floor. This is a question that is easily answered, but most importantly it is feasibly answered. I’m not trying to change every chair in one fell swoop. I start small and then make my way up to more broad questions, but first I have to answer my simple question.

4) Hypotheses are based on research questions.

I create a hypothesis, a prediction for an outcome, based on my research question. I hypothesize that changing the chair wheels will increase the movability on carpeted flooring. I change the wheels and move the chair again to discover that it moves more smoothly on the carpeted floor. My hypothesis turned out to be accurate and I now have evidence to support it. I can now add this bit of information to chair wheels research. Research is a long process and, sometimes, a finding engenders more questions than answers. Unfortunately, not all findings provide answers.unanswered-questions

5) Don’t change research questions based on the results. It’s unethical.

If a study fails to find evidence to support a hypothesis it is always important to remember that a no is still an answer. If I had run the chair wheel experiment and the chair did not move any differently then I fail to support my hypothesis. However, I still have an answer to my original question: what would happen to the movement of the chair if the wheels were replaced. The answer to that question is that the chair won’t move any differently. While the results were not the results I was hoping to get, they are still results. I have to accept this fact and move on.


By: Christopher Greenwood


Finish Strong: Tips and Tricks for the Last Week of Classes


Why is it that at the end of the semester, everything always ends up due on the same day? My to-do list is more of a novel than a post-it, and it can be difficult to manage some semblance of balance in the last few weeks of the semester. Here are some things to try if, like me, you’re a little busy at the moment. I’ll try to keep it quick.

Get organized.

  • Itemized To-Do Lists: I’m working, graduating, taking a full course load, applying for jobs, AND moving—all in the month of May. To stay on top of each deadline, I make separate to-do lists for each of these big-ticket items, and list each smaller step under the larger ones. Put them up somewhere where you’ll see them, like above your work space. This way you can keep track of every step you’ve taken toward your goal, rather than having the entire project hanging over your head. (Sometimes, I’ll put something I’ve already done on there, because it feels good to cross it off!)
    1. Example: Finish Class
      1. Weekly blackboard posts
        1. For 4/28
        2. For 5/1
        3. For 5/10
      2. Final Paper due 5/15
        1. Research topic
        2. Prospectus due on Blackboard 5/1
        3. Draft for peer review due 5/10
          1. Group?
        4. Peer review comments due 5/12
          1. Notes from peer review:
            1. Revise transitions
            2. Consider adding research on background
          2. Check APA
            1. Make appointment with writing studio?
          3. Print
          4. Turn in: 5/15
            1. On Blackboard too?
          5. Return books to library
  • Post-It Method: Write each task on a post-it note, and stick them up somewhere you’ll see them often. Once a task is complete, recycle the post-it note. This works well for people who would rather see their list get smaller as tasks are completed, rather than seeing lots of crossed off items.checklist
  • Bullet Journal Method: If you’d rather your to-do list be portable, try keeping it in a journal. The Bullet Journal Method allows you to track larger tasks and schedule each step. It’s great if you’re balancing multiple deadlines with limited time. Best of all, you don’t need to buy a new planner, you just need a notebook of some kind. For information on how to set yours up, visit the website here.
  • “GTD Method”: David Allen, author of Getting Things Done: the Art of Stress Free Productivity, explains his method for time management and task completion on his website and in his TEDtalk. Allen’s five steps to GTD are: 1) Capture 2) Clarify 3) Organize 4) Reflect 5) Engage.
  • Syllabus: Revisit your syllabus, and cross of all the tasks that you’ve completed to get a full view of what you’ve done, and what you still need to do.
  • Tech: There are tons of apps and websites that can help you organize your tasks and manage your time (I’m partial to Evernote). You can use what you already have, with your school Gmail Update the calendar with all your due dates, set reminders, and create a to-do list that you can access from your phone or computer.

Don’t add on.

  • Table some things for later: Make a list of the things on your list that can be put off until after the semester is over. Do you really need to plan your vacation this week? Does your dog absolutely have to go to the vet on Thursday, or can you reschedule? What about that dinner party? Get your responsibilities down to a minimum so that when you do have the time to do them, you’ll actually enjoy it.
  • Block out distractions: I downloaded an extension (WasteNoTime) to limit my time on various time-sucking websites to 10 minutes a day (including email!). You can also delete apps from your phone so that you don’t waste time scrolling mindlessly.
  • Set realistic expectations: Let family and friends know that your next few weeks will be busy, so that there are no hurt feelings or unrealistic expectations of your time.
  • Optimize your time: As soon as I need to write a big paper, my junk drawer suddenly looks like a very necessary thing to organize. Getting out of the house helps to minimize this kind of “productive procrastination.” Stake out a study room in the library, a booth in your local coffee shop, or anywhere else where you won’t be tempted to distract yourself with other tasks. In the same vein, find the best time of day for you to get things done and maximize it.

Embrace it.

  • Make stress your friend: Hey! You have things to do. Isn’t that exciting? Not everyone gets to do this. Own it, enjoy it, let it propel you forward. Kelly McGonigal’s “How To Make Stress Your Friend” and Daniel Levitin’s “How To Stay Calm When You Know You’ll Be Stressed” are two great TEDtalks that can help you do this.
  • Get into it! At the Graduate Writing Studio we know that hardest part is getting started, and once you do, you usually flow through the assignment. If you haven’t picked on up on my writing style yet… surprise! Here’s a TEDtalk to prove my point.
  • Set a reward: You’ve been working hard, so don’t forget to reward yourself. Setting a big reward for finishing a task helps me stay focused and inspires me to keep trying. It can be big, like a weekend trip, or small, like treating yourself to your favorite bad-but-so-good drink at that coffee place that always has a line around the block (I’m looking at you, DutchBros).

Good luck! And, as always, the Graduate Writing Studio is here all week to help.

By: Tricia Savelli

RIGOR: Thoughts and Comparisons Regarding the Initial Drafting Processes for Poetry and Academic Writing

Last month was National Poetry Month and, due to the prompting of a fellow employee, I found myself contemplating similarities between the early stages of drafting processes for essay and poem writing. I feel that it’s necessary to ​inform you that I am a poet; however, I am also a supervisor/consultant​ for the Graduate Writing Studio at Fresno State. It is my daily duty to help students with their writing and I am often engaged in the necessary discussion of how to get writers started on a project, any project.

​Sitting down to write a poem is a struggle. Most writers, of any genre, find themselves in this position and I speak to students on a daily basis regarding this dilemma. Often, I find myself boring our over-worked students with a brief anecdote intended to help them feel less alone—that I, too, have writing troubles. I make sure that they know that from the moment I sit down to write, I—like them—inevitably trip over several types of stumbling blocks: self-doubt, comparison (to my past work and other writers I admire), a vacancy of ideas, whether or not I should be folding laundry or washing dishes or taking out the trash instead, or I’m asking the big question: why is my writing important or necessary? These thoughts are problematic and should be avoided. This avoidance, though, is easier said than done.

As writers, we are all faced with the initial problem of getting started with that first Anne-Lamott-yancylael.com_1draft. In Anne Lamott’s edifying essay Shitty First Drafts, she claims that “the first draft is the child’s draft, where you let it all pour out and let it romp all over the place, knowing that no one is going to see it and that you can shape it later” (22). I wholeheartedly agree; but how do we get to that place of play or freedom? The answer is not magical; there is no easy way to turn on the stream-of-consciousness-Kerouac-switch in our brains. The answer comes in the form of rigor, hard work, an unrelenting schedule, and draft after draft after draft until we have something that can be let loose into the intimidating world of scholarly works.

As poet Richard Hugo so eloquently states in his essay The Triggering Town, “The hard work on the first poem is responsible for the sudden ease of the second. If you just sit around waiting for the easy ones, nothing will come” (17). Hugo is not only revealing a RichardHugodisappointing truth about the illusion of inspiration, he is also letting us know that, if we spend our time waiting, nothing will get done. With that being said, a poet should begin writing whether or not there is something to write about. A student/essayist, similarly, should be taking notes while reading source material. These actions motivate the writer to begin thinking about the content of their first draft in a way that is almost subconscious. But, thinking about adding one’s poems to the world of the great poets or contemplating that jump into the bigger academic conversation can be intimidating.

Academia is scary. We read scholarly articles and studies and we may find ourselves shrinking away from that kind of writing. Perhaps we are thinking: “how in the world can I write this way?” This is a similar experience for the creative writer. A dedicated artist should always be engaged in the work of others, whether contemporary or classic. In addition, we poets are always thinking about the development of our individual voices. Students should also consider their own voice when composing an essay. Intellectual or unique language in one writer’s work will never be another writer’s way of speaking. Ben Lerner, author of The Hatred of Poetry, makes clear the problem of a poet aspiring to sound like another. He says, quite bluntly, “if poems are impenetrable, they are elitist” (77). This is important to keep in mind if one finds oneself attempting to emulate the apparent intellect of another author, no matter what we are writing. The truth is this: our own scholarly voice comes from our knowledge of our subject matter/material, along with the ability to construct a clear sentence, and nothing else. The statement “write what you know” has been a mantra for poets since it was first mentioned by Mark Twain. The same goes for hatredofpoetryany writer of any genre. First know your stuff and then, as Hugo would say, “get to work” (17).

That first “shitty draft” will never write itself. Create a rigorous schedule and make it a necessity to be productive during the hours of the day when your brain is most active. For me, this is early in the morning. For others, it may be late at night, in the middle of the day, or at the horse races. Then be sure to give yourself a goal. My goal, for instance, is to create one finished poem a week. This means that two or three poems (or multiple drafts of the same poem) may need to be written in order for me to end up with an acceptable result after seven days. If your essay requires fourteen sources, perhaps you can attempt to write seven summaries a week for two weeks. It is also extremely important to offer yourself a reward for each weekly accomplishment. Remember to be strict with yourself. Be responsible for your goals and your rewards.

Finally, write about something that is of interest to you. Your subject matter needs to have relevance to you on some level. Richard Hugo knew that the “trigger,” or motivation, for a poem should be one that lights that flame of inspiration for the writer. So pick a subject that is meaningful: “Your triggering subjects are those that ignite your need for words” (15). There is nothing worse than a poet who writes about something that doesn’t interest them or that they know very little about. For instance, I may want to write a poem about the Great Depression, but if I have no experiences or have not taken the time to gather research to support or add to my knowledge of the subject, I will inevitably fail in my attempt. Similarly, a student who writes an essay about something to which they are not attached will truly dread the process of gathering research and will write a lackluster piece.

All writers, at any level, should remember that we are in this together. Writing is difficult for everyone. ​There is no romance in the act of writing poems, nor is there a need for intellectual prowess in academic writing. We learn, as students of any subject, that we are responsible for our own contributions. Putting in the hard work, maintaining rigorous practices, finding the courage to resist our own insecurities, and maintaining productivity despite our fears and busy lives, are ways we can learn to have confidence in ourselves as scholars and as participants in a conversation that will always seem bigger than us.

by Ronald Dzerigian


Works Cited:

Hugo, Richard. “The Triggering Town.” The Triggering Town, W. W. Norton & Company, 1979​, pp. 15 – 17.

Lamott, Anne. “Shitty First Drafts.” Bird by Bird, Anchor Books/Doubleday, 1994​, p. 22.

Lerner, Ben. The Hatred of Poetry. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2016, p. 77.

Self Care to Support Graduate Student Success

Yes, friends, we’re going to talk about “self-care.” This phrase gets thrown around a lot on social media, and, as my undergrad students tell me, is trending. Basically, it’s exactly what it sounds like; self-care means taking care of yourself. It encompasses any activities or practices that you can do for yourself to support your physical, mental and emotional health, like: listening to music, taking a nap, or taking time away from your responsibilities. See Guy Winch’s TED Talk on “Why we all need to practice emotional first aid” if you need more convincing. I’m sure you’re wondering why now, at the end of the semester, we’d be talking about this. But, at least for me, this is when everything becomes a little less bearable, and when I need a little extra help.

In previous posts on the GWS blog, consultants advised us to get enough sleep, eat a balanced diet, exercise, and socialize. And you may be thinking—okay, I’m doing the best I can in these areas already (and I’m not about to stop going to Taco Bell after my late night lab), so… what else? Here are some other self-care strategies to support your overall well-being as you complete your graduate work.

1) Change your point of view. 

Get away from your desk for an hour, a day, or a weekend. Take the 41 out to the mountains for a literal perspective change, or head to the water (the central coast, Shaver Lake, or the San Joaquin River are some local options). A walk through an orchard, the closest park, or even just five minutes around your block can help clear your head. Whatever is within your own means, availability, and ability—get out there. walking-in-the-woods

Some options include: The San Joaquin River Parkway, which offers nature walks and river tours, as well as monthly readings. For the ultimate change of perspective, visit our own Downing Planetarium, which costs $3 for students. Take a treewalk around the campus, which is an arboretum, using this map! Visit the Shinzen Friendship Gardens in Woodward Park, which costs $1 for students. Or, go underground at the Forestiere Underground Gardens ($15 with student ID). Drive along the Blossom Trail using this self-guided tour map. Or visit Yosemite via bus, which offers a student discount.

2) If you can’t get out, go inward. reading-in-nature

Okay, you just can’t go anywhere right now. Deadlines are around the corner, money is tight, and you can’t justify any more time away. Meditation is a great way to access the benefits of an escape without having to leave your desk. Guided meditations can be found online for free. Or, you can visit the Meditation and Prayer Rooms on campus, located in the Cross Cultural and Gender Center (Thomas Building 110A) and the Henry Madden Library (3rd floor, old library side). In addition, the Health Center offers a free Meditation Group. Another place to meditate on campus is the Peace Garden, which can be found here.  If meditation isn’t your thing, free yoga and other fitness classes are offered weekly at the student recreation center.

3) When you can’t go out OR in: explore where you are. 

Socialization and community are important to our mental health and happiness (see this article if you’re doubtful). As graduate students, we often isolate ourselves in order to get work done. This may cause us to miss out on important opportunities to interact with others. Try to make room for something fun this week with friends, neighbors, or your family. The feeling of connecting with those around you has been linked to happiness, and I know anecdotally that this works for me, too.

Spring in Fresno is ripe with community events, like the upcoming international potluck, the Theater Department production, the Downtown Clovis Wine Walk, the 9066 Exhibition in the Henry Madden Library, LitHop in the Tower District, local farmers markets, a Fresno Filmworks screening in the historic Tower Theater, on-campus readings and concerts, and local block sales. Do something that makes you say, “Hey, I live in a place that other people also live, and we’re all doing cool/weird/interesting things and are a part of one community.” For other ideas, click here.

4) And finally, unplug. unplug

Take some time to yourself. Stuck on campus? Try a nap pod. If you’re home, consider cleaning up your space, listening to a podcast that has nothing to do with your discipline (I like this one, this one, and this one, and a few others that I probably shouldn’t list here), putting on your favorite record, or taking a bath. Protect your time in these last few weeks of the semester. Be cautious about taking on extra responsibilities, and practice saying this word with me: “No!”


Your friend in over-achievement and self-induced stress,

Tricia Savelli

Revision as a Strategy to Overcoming Impostor Syndrome


Impostor syndrome, also commonly called impostor phenomenon, is the feeling that despite your many successes, you don’t deserve the recognition you are receiving. It’s most common in minority populations and those who are trying something new (read: graduate students). Students struggling with impostor syndrome feel like they don’t belong in graduate school, they link their successes with luck rather than skill, and they experience heightened anxieties about being discovered as an “impostor” by their peers. This can make students less likely to be open with their peers, submit their work for publication, feel ownership over their achievements, take risks, and make connections, due to the fear of being “found out.”impostor-in-group-found

As we start out the semester, I find that many of the students I consult deal with impostor syndrome in one way or another. Either they don’t feel like they belong in a particular class, in graduate school, or in academia in general. Writing can be a huge block that prevents people from acquiring academic discourse and entering into the academic conversation. Even (and, in my experience, most often) the brightest students struggle with articulating an idea in a coherent way. This barrier can increase feelings of being an impostor, causing frustration (why can’t I just do this), self-doubt (I don’t deserve to be here), procrastination (I’d rather not do this at all than try and fail), and anxiety about writing in front of a consultant (I don’t want to bring my work in to him/her, because then he/she will know that I don’t deserve to be here). Overcoming this in a 50-minute appointment is no easy feat, but it is necessary in order to be able to help the student.


I’ve found that establishing rapport, and creating a safe atmosphere early on, to be an important first step. Demonstrating vulnerability to a student who you feel exhibits signs of impostor syndrome gives the student the freedom to be vulnerable and open as well. This safe, personal connection can help bridge the divide, and encourages students to share their writing at any stage in the process.

Beyond simply being friendly and open, breaking down the misconception that good writing comes naturally is another way to address impostor syndrome. Reinforcing the idea that everyone in academia must revise extensively (barring a few annoyingly talented writers, but even they have had years of practice) levels the playing field. This strategy, commonly used in writing classrooms, comes from Anne Lamott’s Shitty First Drafts. Lamott argues that the best strategy to overcome writer’s block is to write with abandon. Maybe don’t “write drunk, edit sober,” as the advice commonly misattributed to Ernest Hemingway suggests, but certainly don’t be afraid to write ugly. Encourage students to write that long, clunky sentence, and then help them edit for clarity. Emphasizing the idea that writing is a process, which relies heavily on revision, takes the pressure off those first attempts at articulating an idea, and gives hope to students who feel like “bad writers.”

A revision activity that I like is to break up a paragraph line by line, so that each sentence is its own line. The visual space between each sentence makes it easier to revise, without the clutter of the overall paragraph. Have a conversation with the student about what each sentence is saying (summarize the ideas) and what it is doing (introduction, defining, transitioning, etc.). This helps to visualize the structure of the paragraph, and the student can move the sentences around to restructure the paragraph into a logical order. After that, the student can add transition phrases, introductions, and conclusions as needed, and can ensure that the sentence structures are varied. This can help students practice revision skills, build confidence, and break through writer’s block.


Revision Activity Example

Free Write:

Writing is a process which requires reading, critical thinking, writing, and revision. Nobody writes perfectly without revision. Every good writer must revise their work. Even the ugliest, longest, most redundant sentence can be revised to be clear, concise, and to the point. Sometimes students feel embarrassed to write this way in front of consultants, because they don’t feel like they belong in graduate school, or don’t feel comfortable making a mistake in front of their consultant. Consultants should emphasize revision to make students feel more comfortable about making mistakes, and to help them feel like they belong in graduate school and will be successful. 

Step One: Saying & Doing

1. Writing is a process which requires reading, critical thinking, writing, and revision.

            –defines writing process

2. Nobody writes perfectly without revision.

               -furthers argument

3. Every good writer must revise their work.

            -furthers argument

4. Even the ugliest, longest, most redundant sentence can be revised to be clear, concise, and to the point.

            –furthers argument

5. Sometimes students feel embarrassed to write this way in front of consultants, because they don’t feel like they belong in graduate school, or don’t feel comfortable making a mistake in front of their consultant.

            –a reason why students struggle with this

6. Consultants should emphasize revision to make students feel more comfortable about making mistakes, and to help them feel like they belong in graduate school and will be successful.

            –the reason this activity will help

Step Two: Restructure

5. Sometimes students feel embarrassed to write this way in front of consultants, because they don’t feel like they belong in graduate school, or don’t feel comfortable making a mistake in front of their consultant.

6. Consultants should emphasize revision to make students feel more comfortable about making mistakes, and to help them feel like they belong in graduate school and will be successful.

1. Writing is a process which requires reading, critical thinking, writing, and revision.

2. Nobody writes perfectly without revision.

3. Every good writer must revise their work.

4. Even the ugliest, longest, most redundant sentence can be revised to be clear, concise, and to the point.

Step Three: Revise  revise

5. Many graduate students feel like they don’t belong in graduate school, a phenomenon called impostor syndrome. This can contribute to a student’s fear of making a mistake in front of their consultant, a common problem early on in the semester.

6. & 1. To make students more comfortable with making mistakes, and to help them feel like they belong in graduate school with their peers, consultants should emphasize writing as a process which involves reading, critical thinking, writing, and revision.

2. & 3. Nobody writes perfectly without revision, and even the best writers must revise their work.

4. With revision, even the most redundant sentence can be revised to be to the point. Creating a welcoming environment which applauds risk-taking and mistakes helps students feel at home in graduate school, and will help them overcome writer’s block in a consultation.

Result: Polished Writing

               Many graduate students feel like they don’t belong in graduate school, a phenomenon called impostor syndrome. This can contribute to a student’s fear of making a mistake in front of their consultant, a common problem early on in the semester. To make students more comfortable with making mistakes, and to help them feel like they belong in graduate school with their peers, consultants should emphasize writing as a process which involves reading, critical thinking, writing, and revision. Nobody writes perfectly without revision, and even the best writers must revise their work. With revision, even the most redundant sentence can be revised to be to the point. Creating a welcoming environment which applauds risk-taking and mistakes helps students feel at home in graduate school, and will help them overcome writer’s block in a consultation.



Impostor syndrome can be a huge barrier to success in higher education. A student who doesn’t feel like they belong will be less likely to be open with their peers, make connections, submit their work for publication, or take risks, all of which are important aspects of succeeding in graduate school. Fortunately, consultants have the power to bridge that gap by providing tools for students to acquire academic discourse, enter the academic conversation, and feel like they have an ally and friend on campus who they can come to for help without judgement. This is just one example of using revision to overcome an obstacle. What are your favorite revision strategies? Have you encountered examples of impostor syndrome in your consultations? How did you work to help the student overcome it?

By: Tricia Savelli

Further Reading:

Starting the Semester Strong as a Graduate Student

lewis_hine_boy_studying_ca-_1924We all know the feeling of coming back to another semester of grad school. Intense lectures and seminars, long hours of studying and preparing for exams, meeting after meeting with professors and advisors, and of course hours upon hours of writing. Simply put, life as a graduate student can be extremely demanding and at times, very overwhelming. For the most part, no matter the program you may find yourself in, the truth is you will be required to do lots of writing and eventually write a thesis, dissertation, or project. As a second year graduate student, I would like to share several tips on how to start the semester off strong, successfully make it to finals week, and eventually graduation.

  1. First, it’s important to begin with organization. Plan out your coursework and study times. Use Google calendar or an agenda to record your class times, work hours, meetings, and of course, study time. With all the responsibilities you have going on, it is crucial to be organized. This is also a way to avoid procrastination and falling behind in your coursework.
  1. Once you have attended all your classes during the first week, you should figure out the writing assignments your courses require. Depending on your program, the writing assignments will differ. Some will keep you busier than others, so you want to know, at all times, what assignments are coming up and when they are due. Doing this will keep your time balanced so that you don’t find yourself working on two 10-page papers at the same time.plan
  1. Visit your university’s graduate writing studio/center and make an appointment to see a writing consultant. No matter how confident you feel as a writer, you should be aware that it’s always good to have someone else look over your paper and give you feedback. Set up weekly or biweekly appointments for the entire semester. Furthermore, having appointments will help ensure you are writing on a weekly basis and, therefore, avoid procrastination.
  1. Set aside “writing time” on various days during the week. Depending on how far you are in your program, and what assignments you are drafting, this time should be used to focus solely on the writing process. For example, if you are a second or third year student, this time should be used to work on your thesis and any preliminary research for your thesis or project.research-sm
  1. Once you have set aside a time/day for writing, you should find a location where you will do your writing. Because some writing assignments can be more difficult than others, there will be times when you will need to force yourself to write. Book a study room, find a corner in the quiet area of the library, or pick your favorite Starbucks location. Ideally, you want to make sure your “writing time” is at the same time every week. This will help keep you motivated and accountable to yourself.Young students
  1. Form a study/writing group with other graduate students in your program. Working with a graduate writing consultant is an excellent way to receive feedback on your writing, but know that giving feedback is also an integral component of growing as a writer. Get together with two other peers (ideally the same ones) and meet as a group once a week, or once every two weeks, to share your writing. Since these students are in the same program as you, and are taking/or have previously taken the same instructors you’re taking, they’ll be able to provide you with tips on how to write an effective paper. Additionally, this will give you an opportunity to read what other students are working on while allowing you to offer them some constructive criticism. Research has demonstrated that one of the most effective ways for students to grow as writers, is through offering feedback to others.
  1. Once a paper has been graded and returned to you, set up an appointment to meet with your professor to discuss your writing. No matter the score you received, in order to grow as a writer, you want to be sure you are constantly reflecting on your writing and finding ways to improve. Meet with your professor and discuss the things you need to improve as well as the areas in which you are doing well. Students need to be reminded of their strengths and weaknesses in order to grow as writers. If you are working on your thesis or dissertation, be sure to meet with your chair/advisor for this as well.

Keep in mind that apart from making sure you stay on top of your writing and other coursework, it is also important that you allow yourself some free time. You can (and should!) set aside a specific time during the week just for this. On your calendar write out “Free time” or you can use mine–“Relax and enjoy life”–and remind yourself that every Friday from 2-6 pm (or whatever day/time you choose), you will do just that. relaxation1Giving yourself time to refresh is crucial to your success. It serves as a way to reward yourself for your hard work during the week, and motivate as well, by giving you something to look forward to.

By: Guadalupe Remigio Ortega

Plagiarism Ponderings


Plagiarism is a serious issue and has become more prevalent even at the graduate level. It is true – many students do not understand the multiple facets of plagiarism, and most are not intentionally copying the works of others. Access to internet sources has made it easy and convenient to copy and paste passages (short and long) from websites, peer-reviewed journals, and e-books. Many have employed this as a form of note-taking as they comb through their research. The problem is that as they copy/paste and write their own words, the two get intertwined. The student author may not remember what was copied, what has already been paraphrased, and what constitutes their own original thoughts.

nedryIt is important to educate our students on how to identify plagiarism, how to avoid it, and how to cite correctly. In fact, our librarians at California State University Fresno’s Henry Madden Library, offer workshops on “Avoiding Plagiarism” and our Grammar for Grad Students Series has also included a session on plagiarism.

While it is crucial for students to know how to avoid plagiarism, we also must equip them with strategies of how to incorporate information from sources into their own writing. They need to master the art of paraphrasing. We have seen many students who come into the Writing Studio poorly equipped with paraphrasing skills. They look at a paragraph and try to rearrange words or replace words in the hopes of making it their own. When this occurs, it is apparent that the student is engaging with words and not the overall topic itself. As they research literature related to a specific topic, they need to be gaining understanding of that topic based on what the experts in the literature are saying. They need to be able to understand5018046764_655e6d7a27_o the ideas embodied in the research and know how to cite appropriately. This requires much more than substituting a word here and there or re-ordering a sentence. If a student has taken the time to research and understand the topic, they will be able to communicate the issues embodied in the topic in their own words.

The progression of moving from reading and researching to creating the draft is crucial, and it is one reason we encourage students to come in and meet with a writing consultant early in the writing process. It is during the stages of brainstorming, research, outlining, and drafting where students are forced to articulate the information as they talk to the consultant. This gives them the opportunity to verbalize research themes and ideas and leads to a better understanding of the topic. In addition, it is at this time that paraphrasing skills can be developed with the guidance of a writing consultant.

I think that students need to be made aware of plagiarism. Consequences need to be in place when plagiarism occurs. I also think we need to continue to support students in their own writing processes, so they can confidently convey the research found in the literature while giving credit where credit is due.


Here are some helpful sites that provide more information, strategies, and exercises for paraphrasing and avoiding plagiarism: this is a great article from UNC. It outlines common knowledge, paraphrasing, avoiding plagiarism, and strategies for taking organized notes.

Several universities have created Plagiarism Tutorials:

The University of Southern Mississippi

Duke University:

Penn State:

Simon Fraser University:

The plagiarism-checking platform (Turnitin) also has some resources:

By Debra Neufeld

Improve Your Writing, with Science!


In “The Science of Scientific Writing,” Gopen and Swan provide some excellent tips for improving scientific prose. The authors base their recommendations on studies of how readers actually process written information.

cats are reading a book

It turns out that readers have many common expectations of sentences. When sentences conform to these expectations, readers are more easily able to understand even the most scientific writing.

Here’s a quick summary of some of Gopen and Swan’s tips for crafting easy-to-read scientific prose:

  1. Don’t put too many words between a subject and its verb. Subjects should be followed by their verbs as soon as possible. verb-clipart-subject_verb
  2. Put the most important and new information at the end of the sentence (or at the    end of an independent clause joined by a semicolon). Readers naturally place more emphasis on the material at the end of the sentence.

In the examples below, the new information meant to be emphasized is bolded:
    • Important information at the end of the sentence: 
“The results of the first test indicate a significant correlation between the variables.” 

The above sentence reads more easily than: 
“A significant correlation between the variables has been indicated by the results of the first test.” This sentence violates the reader’s expectation that the new information will be placed at the sentence’s point of emphasis: the end.ln7qk
    • New information at the ends of independent clauses joined by a semicolon: 
“The results of the first test indicate a significant correlation between the variables; however, the results of the second test were inconclusive.” Semicolons can be used to create multiple points of emphasis within the same sentence.

  3. Put topical information at the beginning of the sentence to give readers some context. Gopen and Swan provide the following examples (the topical information is bolded):
    • Large earthquakes along a given fault segment do not occur at random intervals because it takes time to accumulate the strain energy for the rupture.
    • The rates at which tectonic plates move and accumulate strain at their boundaries are roughly uniform.
    • Therefore, nearly constant time intervals (at first approximation) would be 200_sexpected between large ruptures of the same fault segment.

(Note how the writers have also incorporated the advice from #2 in the above sentences. The new information appears at each sentence’s end.)

By: Eryn Baldrica-Guy

For further reading, see:

Gopen, G., & Swan, J. (1990). The science of scientific writing. American Scientist. Retrieved  from

An Abrupt Release of Responsibility: A Constructivist Approach for Graduate Writing Consultants

Q: At what point does a consultant step back and let the student take the reins?

A: At the moment they enter the session.

We, as writing consultants, are often expected by graduate students to be their editors. We cannot let ourselves fall into this trap. This will not help these students grow to be the writers they feel like they should be or help them accomplish their goal of completing a thesis, project, or dissertation. The primary issue being addressed here is that we may find ourselves so comfortable with our students that we can sometimes forget that they are the ones who are doing the writing. How do we avoid this predicament?

Perhaps the answer to this question can be summed up in one word—listen.


In my three years of experience as a Graduate Writing Consultant I have found that when I’ve been listening too much to my own voice, during a consultation, I know I must immediately stop talking. At this point, we, as consultants, need to stop and ask them how they would go about fixing the sentence, or paragraph, or entire first chapter. We are not the end-all-be-all and, on top of that, I’ve found that the students, with whom I’ve worked, often have a more interesting voice than my own. All writing consultants, and/or tutors, should stop themselves if they have talked longer than 10 seconds and ask questions that lead the students to their own conclusions, which will give them time to have their own moment of realization. I have found that these pauses are very important.

On a personal note, I was rarely given my own amount time to think and come up with my way of learning/retaining information. This was often the case as a high school student and especially as an undergrad. I didn’t figure out how to solve mathematical equations on my own until I took the CBEST test. I had a moment of realization during that seemingly unending time frame when I suddenly learned my way to solve math problems—by drawing. All students have subjects with which they struggle. When it comes to writing, I find myself comfortable. Yes, I may know how to construct a sentence, but how can I help a person who is uncomfortable with the written word become comfortable? They need a guide to help them find their way of writing.

One way of teaching a child to swim is to throw them into a body of water without telling them what to do. This may seem sudden and cruel, but the child has seen the water, has probably seen others swim, is probably being thrown in by a person with whom she/he is familiar, etc. The child, mid-air, is subconsciously evaluating the situation, and is chemistrysearching their biological instincts to find a way to survive the experience. They also trust that, if they fail, they will be saved. Throw the student in, but be there to save them from drowning. Grammar, logical continuity, syntax, research, outlining, the drafting process, and other processes have been a part of every graduate student’s life at some point—this is their pool of water. They may not have the vocabulary to explain these things and they may not know how to explain the functions of language on the page—they may not know that they already know how to swim—but they have been exposed enough to paddle their way to safety.

Domenico_Fetti_-_Portrait_of_a_Scholar_-_WGA07862Students often get caught up in sounding scholarly. When encountering this, try to ask them, “How would you write this sentence?” Often, after they have let go of that Jiminy Cricket on their shoulder who is telling them that they need to write to a scholarly audience, they dismantle the facade and rewrite the sentence in their own authoritative voice. These students haven’t quite learned that they have already become the scholars and they definitely do not trust themselves. How do we show them how to trust themselves? We ask them to explain the subject in their own words. We should listen, ask, and then listen again. They have the tools and a constructivist approach would assume that they would find their way. A consultant should say “there is the pool,” throw them, in and be the “life jacket” in case the student flounders. Nine times out of 10, the student will find their way toward a clear, scholarly, voice that belongs to them.

Ronald Dzerigian

Presenting Papers at Academic Conferences

academic-conferences-victoria-bc-canada-600x400Academic conferences in your field of study are valuable (and often initially intimidating) scholarly experiences. Since I am preparing to attend a conference next month, I’ve compiled a series of tips for applying to, getting to, and presenting at graduate and undergraduate conferences.

Finding a Conference

This step may sound like the simplest, but it can be surprisingly overwhelming to find current CFPs (calls for papers) considering the hundreds, if not thousands, of conferences held every year in the U.S. (not to mention those taking place overseas).

  • Literature:

Since my field is literary studies, the two sites I use most often to find CFPs are and Both sites contain mountains of requests for abstracts, but both allow you to narrow your search by your field of interest (e.g., digital humanities, interdisciplinary studies, rhetoric and composition, etc.). CFP List even has a nifty feature that allows you to sort your results by abstract deadlines and event dates.

  • Philosophy:Finding

  • Computer Science, Engineering, Biology, Psychology, Statistics, Music, and More:

This wiki contains CFPs from a vast array of disciplines, with the most popular being computer science and artificial intelligence.

Submitting a Conference Proposal

Once you’ve found a conference at which you’d like to present, the next step is submitting your proposal. Some conferences will ask for a short abstract (typically ranging from 150 to 500 words) of the paper you’d like to present. Other conferences require you to send your entire paper for consideration. If you’re sending an abstract, be sure it includes your thesis, topic, and the terrain the paper will cover. Attach your abstract (in Word Doc or PDF form) to an email that includes your name, paper title, university affiliation, and class standing. Unless you’re attending a conference specifically for undergraduates, it’s best not to include your academic year if you are an undergrad.

“I’ve been accepted to present at a conference—Now what?”

If you’ve been accepted to present, congratulations! Your first step should be to find out if the conference offers any assistance (such as travel grants or free accommodations) to presenters. If not, don’t despair; contact the department office of your academic major and ask if funding is available. At Fresno State, most of this funding is provided to graduate students through their individual departments or through travel grants awarded by the Division of Graduate Studies (see

Revising a Paper for a Listening Audience             Revising

  • Kerber (2008) points out that hearing a paper is much different from reading it; she advises presenters to make good use of examples and quotes: “Listeners have difficulty absorbing abstraction after abstraction; they need to be grounded in lived experience. Think about the ratio between example and argument as your paper develops.”

  • In the same vein, make sure you’re using reader-based prose throughout your paper; incorporate helpful transitions, and “turn complex sentences into simple, declarative statements” (Kerber, 2008).

Preparing to Present a Paper

  • Find out how long you’ve been given to read your paper. The conference organizers should email you with a schedule. Time yourself as you practice reading your paper aloud, and be sure to leave time at the end for audience questions. Remember that it’s better to conclude your paper too soon than to go on for too long.

  • According to the Writing Center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, “A general rule of thumb is that one double-spaced page takes 2-2.5 minutes to read out loud. Thus an 8-10 page, double-spaced paper is often a good fit for a 15-20 minute presentation.”

  • Pepper your paper with cues to “remind yourself to pause, look up and make eye contact with your audience” (The Writing Center, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill).

  • Add cues to remind yourself when to take a breath (Kerber, 2008).

  • If you’re worried about reading a parenthetical citation during your presentation, you can remove in-text citations from the copy of the paper you’ll be reading aloud. You will still want to have an extra copy with your references included in case you get a question about one of them.

  • Don’t use staples. When presenting, flipping through a stapled conference paper is more distracting than simply putting aside unstapled pages as you finish them.

  • Print your paper in 14- or 16-point font “so that you do not need to squint to see it when you are standing at a podium” (Kerber, 2008).

AttendConference Etiquette

It is considered proper to attend at least one conference panel other than your own. Just as you want attendees at your panel, your fellow presenters are eager for audiences.


Kerber, L. K. (2008, March 21). Conference rules, part 2. The Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved from

The Writing Center, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (n.d.). Conference papers [handout]. Retrieved from

Eryn Baldrica-Guy
Teaching Associate, First-Year Writing Program
Consultant, Graduate Writing Studio