Editing Methods

10 Steps to Writing a Research Paper in 5 Days

These steps do not need to be completed all at once (or even at all if you feel you’re all set in the rough draft department). Space them out over the next five days. If you sit down for about one hour a day between now and then, you will have ample time to write an engaging and effective rough draft.

Day 1

1. Write a tentative thesis statement that meets the following criteria:

Narrows your subject to an appropriate scope

Claims something specific and significant

Conveys your purpose

Offers a debatable point of view

2. Sit down for 30 minutes. Spend 10 minutes each on three of the following prewriting exercises:





Asking Questions

Journal Writing

Day 2

3. Spend 30 minutes searching through the online library to identify four more sources. Print them out. At this point, you should have at least 8-10 sources at your disposal.

4. Sit down for one hour. Read through your sources and for each, write a three-sentence summary and identify three quotes you could use.

Day 3

5. Sit down for 30 minutes. Write a 2-page informal letter to a friend, teacher, or other recipient (it won’t be sent), telling them what you know about your topic, what your position is, and why. Do not spend time on grammar or organization at this point – just write complete sentences. When done, put the letter aside.

6. Choose your four favorite sources. Develop a prompt for your topic similar to those used for in-class essays. For example:

In the near future, it is possible that robotics will replace many jobs that are currently held by humans. In his articles “Robots Prepare for the Battlefield by First Fighting City Traffic” and “Robot-Assisted Rescuers Seek Answer in Wake of Utah,” Larry Greenemeier describes how robots are being used to complete tasks that are too difficult or dangerous for humans. It is also feasible that robots will substitute for other humans in social relationships. In the article “Could Robots Become Your Toddler’s New Best Friend?” Nikhil Swaminathan relates the details of an experiment where toddlers befriended a robot and treated it like another child. Robert Epstein, in his article “My Date with a Robot,” shares his own experience of dating Repliee Q1expo, a humanlike robot.

Write an essay in which you compare the robot/human relationships each author describes, making sure to summarize each article briefly before quoting from it. Develop a thesis in which you put forth your views as to what extent you believe robots can replace humans in various facets of life, such as labor and social relationships. Support your argument with reference to all four essays, outside texts (books, films, television, news, etc.), and/or examples from your own experience.

Day 4

7. Sit down for one hour and respond to the prompt you have written, exactly as you would during an in-class essay. (Later, revise your response to submit as the synthesis essay assignment due on Tuesday.)

8. Read over the letter you wrote in step 5 and the prompt response you wrote in step 7. Imagine you have been asked to break down your topic into four smaller two-page sections. Create evocative titles for each section. For example:

Robots: Friend or Foe?

Crash Test Dummies Exist for a Reason

After Dinner, A Robot Does the Dishes

What Would I Be Able to Do Instead if a Robot Could Write This Essay?

Put the titles aside.

Day 5

9. Write an outline to determine the best way to organize your essay. Do not use the titled sections yet. Try to get by without them at first to see if you can.

10. Put your prewriting, the source summaries and quotes, the letter, and the synthesis essay into one document. Move the text around using cut and paste until all usable text has been organized following the outline. Fill in the blanks so that all outline points are addressed and the document reads like the rough draft of an essay. Edit for grammar and flair. Proofread and let go!


APA Tutorial

Here’s an excellent tutorial in the basics of APA: http://www.apastyle.org/learn/tutorials/basics-tutorial.aspx

Top 10 APA 6th Sources

A prevalent problem many students have is using correct documentation. Check out my friend Dr. Diane Hamilton’s excellent compilation of APA 6th tips and usage rules for help with dissertation editing.  http://bit.ly/qYNHWn.  In fact, her blog is full of great advice and wisdom for writers and students, dissertation editors and thesis editors.

Characterization and the Alter-Ego

Characterization and the Alter-Ego: Mary Sue, Evil Incarnate

An author in his book must be like God in the universe, present everywhere and visible nowhere. –  Gustave Flaubert

A good novel tells us the truth about its hero; but a bad novel tells us the truth about its author. –  G.K. Chesterton

Writing comes from within, so it’s only natural that fiction writers will often, consciously or not, create miniature, flatter versions of themselves with which to act out their stories.  The feat of creating good characters can be a tightrope walk between the person we are and the people we would like to be, particularly when we are trying to create heroes.

And when we fall off that rope, the impact is painful, even deadly.  No exciting plot, no in-depth exposition, no prose of pure beauty can overcome characters that put the reader to sleep while they’re rolling their eyes.

And so we must beware the horror that is Mary Sue.  She has a heart-shaped face and violet/emerald eyes.  She wears her long, luxurious hair in a ponytail, but sometimes she releases it to fall as an entrancing cascade around her shoulders.  She is smart, funny, brave, and loyal.  She’s incredibly, effortlessly stylish.  In fact, she is incredibly, effortlessly everything.

The male version looks a little different, and is often a child, but he shares many of Mary Sue’s other features. Male or female, Mary Sue is, in short, the author’s idealized alter-ego.  They frequently save the day and marry the hero/ine.  Or sometimes they die, and everyone gets to cry at their funeral and talk about how wonderful they were.

Mary Sue’s Background

The name was first used by Paula Smith in “A Trekkie’s Tale” (1973), where Lieutenant Mary Sue was the youngest lieutenant in the fleet, “only fifteen and a half years old.” The label caught on quickly and was even applied by Trekkers to Wesley Crusher on Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987), created by Gene Wesley Roddenberry, a boy genius who keeps saving the ship by being so gosh darn earnest.

Mary Sues pop up in many published novels.  Think of Melanie Hamilton Wilkes in Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind, who is beautiful and kind to the point of being saintly, or Patricia Cornwell’s Kay Scarpetta, who starts off just being smart and a good cook, but by the fourth book can do everything but catch bullets in her teeth.  Or think of Isaac Asimov’s cameo in his own Murder at the ABA, in which we are told of his many amazing abilities.

A Mary Sue need not be perfect.  She may be slightly overweight (and proud of it with a boyfriend who loves curves).  He may have trouble at work (for being too moral and/or a maverick.  She may have too many cats (which are all adorable, especially the one missing a leg).  He may be divorced (because his ex is a total bitch).

Danger, Will Robinson!

The many ways one can write a Mary Sue is, in fact, his most dangerous trait.  Disguised as he is, it can be quite difficult to discern him in your own story, even though it’s dead easy to spot someone else’s overly wonderful mirror-self.

Mary Sues are so stomach-turning that some critics apply the label to any too-sweet, too-nice, too-strong-and-silent character they don’t like.  But it’s vital to define Mary Sues exactly, for only by knowing exactly what they are can we exorcise these devils from our work.

Mary Sue is the author’s wish-fulfillment, which why she is frequently described as self-pleasuring.  She defies the basic parameters of writing a fictional character in that she is not only unrealistic, she is inconsistent.  She tends to sprout powers and abilities on demand. She often corrects others and is always right, yet people don’t want to punch her in the face.  In fact, others will admire her beyond measure, especially after she’s dead.  A true Mary Sue is relentless in her perfection.  Even when she is wrong, she is right.

These tailored paragons are so awful, in fact, that it’s easy to believe that you personally would never fall into the Mary Sue Trap.  But take heed:  that’s the first step to writing the worst Mary Sue of all.

Face Your Worst Character

Instead, if you truly wish to tame the Mary Sue Impulse, you should embrace your base humanity.  Sit down, take a deep breath, and write the story of your most private and personal dreams.

Give him big muscles that come from real labor, not working out at the gym.  Make him a self-made billionaire who made his first million while he was still in sixth grade.  Make him a superhero who can control others with his mind but never uses his ability for anything other than the public good. Or perhaps your Mary Sue is bitter, and the whole system has screwed him over.  He has nothing left but his guts and his gun.  He doesn’t need anything else to take those bastards down.

Your personal Mary Sue may be able to tame wild animals with her calm soul.  Perhaps she can walk into any department store, anywhere, and spot the best bargain in fifteen seconds flat.  She might worry about being too skinny and force herself to eat pizza and ice-cream.  Or maybe she has transformed her ability to do yo-yo tricks into a wildly successful national campaign against child molestation.

The thing is, you will never know your Mary Sue until he or she appears before you in black and white.  Give everything to your story.  Don’t make it a parody, or a children’s story, or an outline.  Put your Mary Sue in the perfect environment.  Have them meet a challenge and overcome it (usually with minimum effort, but your mileage may vary).  Give them a victory moment worthy of King Henry V or a funeral worthy of Dumbledore.

Most importantly of all, don’t hold back.  Don’t worry about quality, marketability, or demographics.  Do whatever the hell you want, and do it big.

Once you’re done, print the story out, or otherwise get the hard copy together, and never, ever show it to anyone else (especially if they’re going to tell you it’s good because they love you).  Put it in a drawer somewhere safe.  Wait a few days, then pull it back out and read it through.

Whether you enjoy the story or not isn’t important.  All that matters is that now you know the details of the Mary Sue within you.  This is your ultimate self-indulgence, exorcised and disconnected, contained and tamed.  And now you have it on the page to exploit at your will.

Yes, exploit.

If you want to take the Mary Sue concept to the extreme, then every character ever written is a Mary Sue.  Everything you write comes from you: your demons, your goals, your idea of how the world should be, your idea of how the world is.  Authors are just people, and no one can imagine a character that isn’t somehow connected to their own life.  (Or, if they could, I doubt many would want to read about it.)

Writing down your ultimate fantasy of yourself means you can examine what makes that fantasy intriguing and what is just….er…playing with your super-self. Read your own work carefully, look at it as a fiction editor would, and you should be able to see where you cross the line from hero to messiah, pilgrim to Truth, career woman to Wonder Woman, plucky explorer to Indiana Jones in The Temple of Doom.

Mary Sues in Mainstream Fiction

Let’s look at just a few professionally written characters from different media who are heroic and larger than life, but do not cross the no man’s land into Mary Sue-ism.

Harry Potter.  Yes, he basically conquers all challenges, but every victory costs him.  He must accept the fact that his father was a bit of bully (Draco-like) in his youth, people he cares about die and are mourned in their own right, not just because they were his friends, and – most importantly – he ends up an ordinary guy, not King of the Wizards.  Hermione is used as a foil, in fact, as the smartest wizard of her age, to keep Harry out of the position of “best most wonderful ever.”

Vivian Ward (Julia Roberts) in Pretty Woman. Based on Cinderella, Vivian’s character is in grave danger of being a Mary Sue, and her being a prostitute isn’t enough to ward the specter off.  So additionally we find she is a “bum magnet,” loses her temper, is more than a little materialistic, and is sadly searching for a father figure.

Leroy Jethro Gibbs (NCIS). He comes a little close to Mary Sue at times, but ultimately he fends off the title by making the occasional mistake, being too rigid, and, of course, having that long line of ex-wives where he was as much to blame as the women.

In other words, a little bit of Mary Sue can be good, as long as the character still  possesses familiar, believable traits that make them all too human.

Think of the decidedly non-Mary Sue Sherlock Holmes.  So smart, so deductive, so insightful, and yet so introverted, even anti-social.  Seriously, did the guy ever go on a date?  And he does drugs.

Mary Sues can also be useful when they aren’t the main character.  Melanie in Gone with the Wind is definitely a Mary Sue, as I said, but she is both a loved and hated object in the story, a subject of Scarlett’s extreme jealousy for the equally Mary Sue-ish Ashley.  Moreover, Mitchell seems to recognize her for the idealized Southern example that she is.

(For those of you who had have the pleasure of seeing Carol Burnett’s parody, think of the wild laughter when “Scarlet” pushes “Melanie” down the stairs.)

A quirky Mary Sue can make a good sidekick (Tonto, Little John).  A Mary Sue too full of themselves is a wonderful character to make fail in some horribly embarrassing way.

Putting Mary Sue to Work

By  capturing your own Mary Sue on the page, you have a truly limitless resource into which you can dip for heroism, sex appeal, smarts, beauty, and whatever else strikes you as desirable.  Just remember, if you want to get published, to take an aspect, a trait, a little bit here and there, not the whole kit and caboodle.

And hey, take something and turn it on its head, and there’s your villain.  Her heart-shaped face and emerald eyes lure people to invest in bogus stocks.  His gritty determination and empathy for the common man comes in mighty handy when he’s torturing the hero with a red hot poker.

From time to time, update your Mary Sue adventure.  Put it in a pretty binder with glitter.  Cover it in NRA stickers.  Bury it in your underwear drawer.  Give it sunlight and lots of praise.

After all, Mary Sue is you: perfect, powerful, efficient, effortless, and completely available for your writing needs.

What a gal.

Post Dissertation Stress Disorder

post dissertation stress disorderHow Dissertation Editing can reduce the effects of PDSD— Post Dissertation Stress Disorder

First, a confession. I thought writing a dissertation would be, if not a piece of cake, at least a manageable project—one that would fit into tidy buckets similar to the large marketing projects I had done countless times over the years. The other reason I thought it would be easy was because I’m a good writer. I’ve got a master’s in journalism and 20+ years of writing experience. Add to that the fact that I’m organized, disciplined, creative, motivated, and focused.

So what happened? Following my defense and my committee saying, “Congratulations, Doctor,” I had a mini meltdown. Nothing major like going on a major spending spree or taking an exotic vacation (which I deserved but couldn’t afford with all those graduate school loans), or even staying in bed for a week. Instead, as friends and family report, I was pretty testy, crabby, short, and a few other choice words people were afraid to use around me at the time. One friend suggested I talk to other recent doctors from my doctoral program cohort group to see how they managed what I was by now referring to as “post dissertation stress disorder” or PDSD. The same friend thought this information might be helpful for the next cohort who was just beginning the dissertation process.

Get professional help.

This was a common theme. Not the psychiatric kind although that was also suggested. Four people in the cohort used professional dissertation editors and proofreaders. There were probably more but these are the ones I know about. And there were even more who wish they had gotten help but for some reason didn’t. (I’m one of those but more about that later.)

ESL editing. One guy got pre-editing and editing help because he speaks English as a second language and felt he needed an editor to, as he put it, “smooth out the bumps.” He used an editor for the proposal and the dissertation and a proofreader for the final review before it was turned over to the committee.

APA 6th. Another guy used a dissertation proofreader whose claim to fame was that she knew APA 5th and 6th –and probably dozens of other style manuals–by heart. He said this gave him the time to focus on the content instead of “where the commas and periods went and how a citation differs when you have two, or three, or four, or seven (what’s that about?) or more authors.” Truth be told, I think he was a little “creeped out” by her attention to detail, especially when she’d put in a comment about seriation in section 3.04 of APA 6th and he was positive she didn’t have to look it up. And this from a guy who was the first in our cohort to understand all the “ology” and “istic”—epistemology, etymology (or is that bugs?), ontology, phenomenology, heuristic, positivistic, interpretivistic, masochistic (that one was mine)—words that are part of any doctoral program.

Stroke prevention. One woman was looking for a combination of editing and proofreading and polish. She, like many others, said “you get so close to it [the dissertation] you can’t see the forest for the trees.” She added, “I’d look through yet another version of my literature review and see sentences where I just stopped writing or ended a sentence mid-word. It looked like I had a stroke.”

Saving friendships. I was one of those doctoral candidates who said I was going to have family and friends look at different versions and provide feedback and edits. My rationale was that they’d be happy to help because “the sooner I finish the sooner I stop whining about not being finished and how hard it is and how I never have time to see anyone or do anything or….” But, as one wise friend put it, “Is it really worth it? If I ask a friend to read my dissertation, he or she might ask me to read theirs.” Another friend suggested that asking a friend to read your dissertation was an unfair thing to ask of anybody. I mean, just because we thought our dissertation topic was a true spell-binder and that copies would be flying off the shelves when we finished it, didn’t mean that others would have quite the same passion for the topic that we had. Better to use a professional dissertation editing service and save our friends and family for other distasteful (her word, not mine) tasks like “moving a piano or cleaning a storm drain.” That hurt!

So…it’s been 18 months (and three days and six hours and …) since I officially became a doctor. If I had it to do over again—which I never would and that explains why they call it a terminal degree—I would have opted for getting professional help. The dissertation editing help, not the therapeutic treatment of PDSD. Now if I could only get rid of that pesky eye twitch.