Tuesday, August 22, 2017

How to Develop a Thesis

So you have read through the assignment and have a general idea of what is expected for this academic essay. Now what? Well, now you have to decide what you are going to write about and how you are going to write about it - this will essentially be your thesis.

Here are a few different ways to figure out the topic of your paper.

  • Brainstorm - have a brainstorming session. Grab a piece of paper or open up a new document. Read the assignment sheet once more and simply write down whatever comes to mind. Even if some of your ideas seem silly, write them down anyway. You never know if they could turn into something great.
  • Pro/Con List - If you are having trouble deciding between certain topics, make a list of pros and cons for each one. If you have a lot of cons against an idea, it might be a really difficult one to explain/analyze/argue.
  • Refer to the text - If your academic essay is related to a text you have read in class, by all means look back at the text or any notes that you have on it. Chances are that you will find something meaningful to write about or that your teacher has hinted at good essay topics beforehand.
Always remember to refer back to the assignment sheet. It is easy to get carried away once you have found a topic that you like. Just be sure that your topic follows the qualifications laid out in the assignment sheet before moving on to crafting your thesis.

Once you have a topic picked out, it is time to craft your thesis. Normally, a thesis will look something like this: F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby explores the disillusionment of 1920s American society particularly through diction, imagery, and allusions. The thesis takes sentence formatting a step up. We have a subject, verb, and object. The subject is what you are arguing about. It can be a text (in this case, The Great Gatsby) or it can be a person, a character, or even a thing. Next, the verb tells your reader what kind of essay they are about to read. The example above uses the verb “explore,” which tells us that this is an analytical essay. The object, “disillusionment of 1920s society,” demonstrates that there might also be some argument involved on the writer’s part. Now the thesis goes a step further by adding how you are going to explore the disillusionment of 1920s society in this novel: diction, imagery, and allusions. The detail section is a very important and oftentimes overlooked component of the thesis. Without the “how” details, the reader has no idea how your paper is going to develop. This component adds clarity to your analysis or argument and adds a sense of credibility to your writing. There does not always have to be three details, but the idea is that each detail will be the topic of one or two of your supporting paragraphs in your paper. In general, just make sure that you have enough details to give yourself and your reader a roadmap of where the rest of your paper is going.

Looking back at your thesis is crucial throughout the paper writing process. Very rarely does a thesis stay exactly the same as when you first wrote it. Usually, you will have tweaked or maybe entirely altered parts of it to match your paper as you continue to write. Know that that is normal, healthy even. A thesis that is flexible enough to alter different sections is a strong thesis because it shows that you have a good understanding of the format. The thesis is your guiding tool as you write the paper and in turn the paper will continue to shape the thesis as you develop the different ideas of your topic.

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How to Read an Assignment

First thing’s first. Before you even think about what you want to write or how you want to write it, you have to read the assignment sheet clearly and carefully. The key here is to take your time. If you rush, you are much more likely to skip over a minute detail that actually has a huge impact on the essay so go slow. Secondly, make sure to have a highlighter, pen, pencil or whatever you prefer to use on hand. Mark any details that directly affect your essay. Look for the when, what, and why (chances are that the why is what you will have to figure out!) Here is a quick example:

For this assignment, students are required to pick one of the two novels that we read in class. Analyze a theme that we discussed in class from one of the novels. Make sure to include a clear thesis as well as at least three examples to support your argument. The first draft will be due Sept.14 and the final draft will be due Sept.21.

It is important to keep in mind that assignment sheets vary by class. You will most likely receive more background information and perhaps even a few examples of what to write about, but it all depends on the class and the teacher. The brief excerpt above allows us to practice reading the assignment sheet carefully. The when is Sept. 21, but I would strongly urge you to take advantage of drafts! Turning in a draft early shows the teacher that you take his or her class seriously and want to do well. Also, you will get feedback on what to improve, which increases your chances of getting a higher grade on your final draft. Next is what, which refers to a theme from one of the novels discussed in class. This what will be your topic throughout the essay. Lastly, why are you writing this paper. In this case, the assignment asks you to both analyze and make an argument with at least three examples to support your claim. Therefore, you are ultimately writing this paper to analyze a novel and to make a claim about it. You get to figure out all the details as you write.

Keep an eye out for any dates that are listed on the assignment sheet as well as any examples regarding how to write the paper and what to write about. If anything in the assignment sheet is confusing, ask the teacher! Their job is to help you learn and being able to clearly understand what you are asked to do is a very important part of the learning process.

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Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Search API Price Hike Impacts Plagiarism Checking

When PaperRater first "opened its doors", we were excited to find that Yahoo offered a cost effective Search API to power our free proofreader's plagiarism checking technology.  Google later offered a free API as well, and Bing too would eventually jump on board.  In just a few years, the search API landscape changed dramatically with Yahoo dropping out completely and Google replacing its free search API with the most expensive option (read prohibitively expensive). Fortunately, Bing remained steady offering an option of decent price and solid results, which granted us another couple years of free plagiarism checking integrated into our automated proofreader and grammar checker.  Yay!

I can say with great conviction that offering high quality tools for free is a wonderful way to spend my days, which is why it pained me to receive notification recently that Bing was increasing the cost of their search API.  Moreover, because the specific search package we are using will no longer be offered, the cost of the API to which we are forced to migrate is 2.5X higher than the current pricing. The bottom line of this very sad news is that we can no longer bundle free plagiarism checking with our automated proofreader.  Only premium members will have access to plagiarism checking when using the automated proofreader.  The good news for our users is that we have no plans to increase the cost of our premium service even in spite of the cost hike we are facing, and we will continue to offer plagiarism checking as part of our free premium EDU service for teachers to use with their classrooms. PaperRater also still offers our standalone (w/o automated proofreading) plagiarism checker for free.  We will continue to work at our mission of offering the best free automated proofreader and for those interested in additional features, thank you for supporting us via our premium membership.  Use the button below to learn more about our premium subscriptions.

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Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Feed a Hungry Child While Improving Your Writing

Better Writing + Feeding Hungry Kids

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UPDATE 12/27/2016: We raised over $1000 for food-insecure children! Way to go!

For the month of December, we want to empower patrons of PaperRater to make a difference in the world of someone in need while improving your writing.  So today we are announcing a partnership with GO Pantry, a charity that feeds needy children who slip through the cracks of other social institutions and programs within the United States.  Schools do a fabulous job of feeding children who are food-insecure via free or reduced lunch programs, but what about weekends and the summer?  The sad reality is that many of the most at risk children go without food for extended periods of time when school is not in session.  Through food drives, corporate sponsors, volunteers, and charitable individuals, GO Pantry sends "GO Boxes" and "GO Bags" full of food to children identified by their school as being the most at risk.

Make a Difference

If you've been on the fence about signing up for PaperRater, now is the best time to join!  For every new subscriber in December, we will donate $5 to GO Pantry.  Imagine the smiles that you put on the faces of children in need.  What could be better than that?

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Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Can paraphrasing be considered plagiarism?

Every writing task usually implies reading. Whether it's an academic paper, blog post or newspaper article, it rarely gets written from scratch. Even subject matter experts consult sources and other experts before writing.

In this situation, how do you draw the line between original and borrowed ideas? And if an external text has been rewritten in other words rather than simply copied, is it still plagiarized? Finally, do well-knownfacts require citation? In this article, we’ll give the answers to these and other important questions.
What is a paraphrase?
According to Merriam-Webster, a paraphrase is “a restatement of a text, passage, or work giving the meaning in another form.” In other words, authors who want to paraphrase someone's ideas should interpret them in a new way, yet keep the original meaning.
In academic papers, paraphrasing is preferred over quoting. By avoiding copying the exact wording, students get (and demonstrate) a deeper understanding of the subject. It makes sense to use quotation instead of paraphrasing only when an original text is so impactful that it would lose its value when rewritten.
Paraphrased text is plagiarized when
1. It doesn't contain proper acknowledgement. By re-expressing someone's idea in our own words, we don't make it ours. A reader should be able to distinguish our insights from those that belong to someone else. The right way to do that is to provide proper attribution to the relevant source. If authors don't give credit, they end up taking it and thus plagiarizing, whether it's been done intentionally or by accident.

2. It's too close to the original version. Paraphrasing is a fresh expression of an idea, not a trivial rewording. It's not enough to change some words here and there and leave the main text unaltered. Instead, authors should completely restate the original passage using their own vocabulary.

Superficial changes often consist of a simple synonym replacement or altered sentence order while keeping the original sentence structure. In academic writing, this situation may show that students don't have a significant understanding of the subject.

If an author fails to articulate an idea in a new way, then he is plagiarizing even if he's provided a reference. As a rule, good rewriting implies that there are no identical sequences consisting of 7 or more words. When checking for plagiarism with PaperRater's plagiarism checker, you can find a list of such matching phrases.
Paraphrased text is NOT plagiarized when
1. It's formatted properly. On the contrary, paraphrasing cannot be considered plagiarism when applied correctly. This means that an author should both cite an external source and use as few words as possible from it.

Quite often, rephrasing leads to a reinvention of the original idea. Therefore, when checking provided sources, it's a good idea to see if an author has actually succeeded in conveying the original meaning.

2. It describes widely-known facts

It's pretty clear that ideas and interpretations need to be cited, but what about well-known facts that can't be attributed to anyone? Let's say a paper contains this sentence: "Gravity was discovered by Sir Isaac Newton, an English mathematician and physicist who lived from 1642-1727." Yes, there are many similar and even identical phrases on the Internet, yet it cannot be considered plagiarized, as it's common knowledge.

While there's no clear boundary on what common knowledge is, the two general criteria are ubiquity and anonymity. Before considering a fact common knowledge, try to find it on five independent and reputable sources. If none of them gives a credit to a certain author, then it's common knowledge.
The bottom line
Paraphrasing can be both plagiarism and a way to avoid it. When correctly cited and expressed in original words, paraphrasing is absolutely legit and even welcome. If any of these conditions hasn't been met, then plagiarism has taken place. For example, if an author provides a reference but his language is too close to the original, it's plagiarism. Alternatively, even if an author distills a borrowed idea into his own words, he still needs to give credit rather than take it.

At the same time, paraphrased well-known facts can be used without citation and shouldn't be considered plagiarism, as they convey common knowledge. Practically everything we know and write about is somehow based on these facts. That's why when getting a plagiarism report, it's wise to check if matching phrases express stolen ideas or well-known facts.

This blog article was written by Linda Emerson from iSpringSolutions, an e-Learning software development company.

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