Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Writing in English

We are halfway through the 8th week of the Winter quarter, wow! Four weeks from now I'll be going crazy with the finals, they're just here! Apart from the exams, most of us will have a lot of papers to hand in. That's why today we had an extraordinary lecture in our Writing through Literature class. Pat Stabile, a reading and writing coordinator at Berkeley College, gave us a very helpful workshop on writing research papers and plagiarism. She gave us guidelines to write a proper research paper following the rules we are required to at Berkeley and avoiding plagiarism. It's always interesting to see how some formatting rules and writing issues are different from other countries and languages.

First of all, I'd like to mention the Academic Suport Center (ASC), which is located in the 13th floor of the B-Building in my campus (NYC - midtown). They provide you with any help regarding your academic issues. There are tutors available all the time to help students with the subjects they struggle with (from Mathematics to Accounting, Marketing, etc.). Moreover, for English and writing matters they have full time tutors available who are willing to help you improve these skills. Whatever your problem is, they will help you keep up with the good grades! I never had such a thing in any of the colleges I've been before and it is actually a great help for students, plus it's free of charge! If you're a Berkeley student, you might want to have a look at this service on Blackboard (you can book a tutor online, download guides, etc.):

"The Academic Support Center (ASC) at Berkeley College provides tutoring and helps students to achieve academic success by meeting with them on a regular basis to improve learning and study skills. Students can receive free tutoring in subjects such as Accounting, Computer Applications, English, Math, Reading, and Writing. On the ASC Web site on Blackboard, students can access a variety of handouts, presentations, and links about all of the above subjects plus some very useful information about study skills, such as time management and test taking."
 During the workshop, we were told how to get started with a research paper once we get the assignment. We were recommended to start asking us as many questions as possible: what do I know about the topic? what are the requirements for the assignment? what kind of information am I looking for? Where should I look for it?

The last question is very important. The sources we use are an essential part of the paper and they need to be reliable. It's very common for students to use Wikipedia, which is a good starting point because it might lead you to reliable sources; however, it's not valid as a source in our school (and in the majority of schools in America). Looking for information through the Internet is a little bit challenging. It is important to know who is responsible for the information and who is providing it. Pat Stabile gave us a clue on how to quickly detect if we can trust a web site or not: if it's a .gov (official statistics and this kind of matters) or a .edu (college studies, thesis...) they are both going to be valid sources. However, web sites ending in .com, .net or .org are questionable.

I personally think the best way to find sources is using the library. By using the library I mean not only going to the actual building, but also taking advantage of the digital data bases the school provides. We were told today about them and I have used them in my last quarter for my papers, they work perfectly! Part of our tuition is covering the subscription to these data bases, which are not free. Students can access them through Blackboard using our Berkeley ID; they are very convenient. Any document from any of these data bases is going to be accepted by any professor and you don't need to worry about who wrote it and if it's a reliable source. Moreover, I find it easier to find information about a certain topic than Googling it (Google is awesome, but it will give you thousands of invalid results while a data base will be more accurate). To find out about the databases you just need to go to Blackboard, Library and then you will find the list of databases classified by subjects or by alphabetical order. I recommend using ProQuest for general topics, I like the search options and I usually get what I want faster than with others. 

Finally, we talked about plagiarism. I find it funny/ridiculous how a student can hand in a copy-pasted paper. Because it's strictly punished by the school, it is better to avoid doing it by all means. I don't understand how people can copy something from someone and pretending the professor to believe it's your own work. However, it can happen that you want to refer to a source, but don't know how to do it. There are basically three ways to refer to a source avoiding plagiarism: paraphrasing, summarizing and quoting. Paraphrasing is the most common one. When you read one or several sources, you can say the same in your own words. Summarizing is the same but focusing on the main points of the source. Whenever a direct quotation is needed, it is acceptable to introduce it with the proper formatting. At any case, when using a source you are required to cite it. At Berkeley we usually work with the MLA format, which gives us the rules to cite properly. To get a detailed guide about how to cite and use MLA format, I encourage you to check this link: http://berkeleycollege.libguides.com/cat.php?cid=26262 where you will find guides for every single topic I mentioned in this post. They are really helpful... Have a great week!

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