Don’t Stress—Schedule

By Kari Lease

Balancing all of your responsibilities can be a challenge. As a student and an employee, I have developed a few strategies to reduce stress and achieve my goals.

To be successful, I cannot stress enough the importance of a planner. The idea may seem obvious, but it will be a lifesaver during the midterm and final seasons. Once you get all of your syllabi for the semester, take time to do a general semester outline. Mark the due dates for all of your tests, papers, group projects, presentations, and note your instructors’ office hours in your calendar. Mapping out the entire semester like this will give you a more detailed overview of your busy weeks and allow you to plan weekend trips or social activities. It also helps many people visualize everything they would like to accomplish.

Every Sunday night or Monday morning take time to plan out the upcoming week: write out required readings and minor assignments due that week and account for work hours if you are balancing school and a job. However, managing your school and work time is only half of the battle. You also need to prioritize your health, both physically and mentally. This may seem silly, but remember to schedule time to do laundry or clean your dorm/apartment.

Daily, I make a list of the things I have to do and the things I want to do. Try to keep the list of things you have to do short—the list should only include the assignments and activities that you need to have finished by the end of the day or the next morning. By keeping the “have to” list down to a manageable size, you may be able to keep yourself from feeling overwhelmed. Color coding is another way to organize and prioritize tasks. Below is an example of a planner page that organizes school, work, and personal tasks into “have to” and “want to” categories. A quick Google search returns thousands of planner templates like the one below; this particular template is from

Template source credit

It’s also important to give yourself breaks. Scheduling every second of your life can easily become unmanageable; don’t forget to allow yourself some downtime. I plan small fifteen to thirty minute breaks throughout my day so I have time to do the things I actually enjoy. You can use the time to take a walk or catch up on Game of Thrones. Sometimes taking time for yourself can lead to guilt, but having a concrete plan for your downtime can alleviate these feelings. I have found that taking time to focus on my mental and physical health makes the time I spend working/studying more productive.

Take it from me, balancing work and school can be stressful. I hope that if you try out these tips and ask those around you how they balance work and school, you’ll be able to craft a schedule that works for you.


Weekly To Dos. Retrieved October 05, 2017, from

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Tips for Requesting Letters of Recommendation

By Erica Dietlein

So you need a letter of recommendation. Especially if you’ve never asked for one, this can be a daunting task. How do I ask for something like that? Who do I ask? What if they say no?
Fear not. Letters of recommendation are a common practice in the academic world. Your professors are in the position they’re in because they received positive letters of recommendation at some point. They know the drill.

Picking Your Letter Writer
The person you ask needs to be someone who can answer basics question about you. Do they know your name, your face, and a bit about your background? Have they worked with you personally before? If the answer to all of the above is yes, then they may be the right person to ask.
Choose your potential letter writer with care. You want to get the strongest letters of recommendation possible. Before making the request, stop and think about whether they know enough about your positive traits to speak about them and speak about them with confidence. If you select someone you’ve had bad experiences with, they will be obligated to disclose their concerns in the letter.

Making the Request
The first and most important tip: Ask in Advance! Don’t spring the request on the potential letter writer last minute if you can help it. It’s a headache for both you and them. Most professors/employers are writing multiple letters of recommendation at the same time, so asking early could set you apart.
Make the initial request in person. If at all possible, ask your potential letter writer in person if they would be willing to write you a letter of recommendation. Don’t default to email. Some people may consider it rude if you don’t ask in person first. If they say yes, you may then turn to email as a means of further communication
Ask if they can write you a strong letter. Be sure to ask if they can write you a strong letter. One way to do this is to ask something along the lines of, “Do you think you know me well enough/have enough information about me to write a strong letter of recommendation?” This gives the person an opportunity to say “no” without explanation if they feel they don’t have the information they need to write you a positive letter.
If they say yes, schedule a follow up. If they accept your request, follow up with an appointment to discuss further what it is you need the letter for and what you need out of the letter.
If they say no, it’s OK. Don’t take this as a personal rejection. More often than not, someone will say no because they don’t feel they can write you a strong letter that will help you. Additionally, it’s important to recognize people have other responsibilities that may conflict with their ability to write a letter.
Don’t forget to say thank you. Even if they said no, let them know you appreciate their time.

The Email
Be professional. Make sure you’re tone is professional, and include any documentation that the letter writer might have asked to see. Even if they don’t explicitly ask to see what program it is you’re applying for, consider sending them a link or document that describes what it is you’re applying for. If the letter writer has a better idea of who their audience is, it will help guide them when they write the letter.
Don’t forget to say thank you. Use appropriate salutations and end the message with a statement of appreciation.

The Meeting & Follow Up
Be ready to talk about what it is you’re applying for. The letter writer probably has some questions about you and the program or job you’re interested in.
Be specific. The letter writer needs to know what it is you want the letter to accomplish. Let them know if there is anything specific you want reflected in it and why.
Follow up. You’ve likely asked for a letter from someone who, like you, has a lot of other things going on. After you have made the request and have met with them to discuss the letter, follow up with them. Let them know that you appreciate their help, but don’t do this last minute.
And, as always, don’t forget to say thank you.

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Don’t Hate, Imitate

By Nathan Lachner

“Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.” Imitatio, deriving from the Greek word “to imitate,” refers to the process of studying and emulating rhetorical features of other authors. Many students developing a foundation in writing feel daunted by the extensive possibilities of creative and academic writing. My advice to someone who doesn’t know where to start with writing would be to find a writer they enjoy and to analyze and emulate their style. Don’t mistake imitatio for plagiarism, which refers to intentionally passing off someone else’s work as your own and then lying about it. When you use imitatio, you are emulating successful stylistic features, not adopting the original author’s exact sentence structure and ideas as your own. Many renowned writers and artists look to other creators for inspiration.

Imitatio may sound counterintuitive to some because many people aim to be completely original. Yes, originality is an admirable goal, but sometimes it can be forged out of imitation, much like when an art teacher says, “You have to learn the rules in order to break them.” For example, Hemingway has a distinct style that can be adapted into your own writing. His sparse, minimalist prose emphasizes concision, so he may be a less overwhelming choice to imitate compared to other denser authors. Obviously, Hemingway is well-liked and respected within American literature; in other words, his style has been successful, therefore, it is worth imitating. After reading his prose, you may notice that he omits dialogue tags like “he/she said,” he utilizes the expletive “it” rather than lengthy noun phrases, and he avoids excessive adverbs and adjectives. These are all stylistic features that you can emulate if you want to create minimalist prose. Imitating Hemingway is especially useful for beginning writers—once you have mastered concision, you can begin adding more stylistic elements. .

Let’s tie writing into something that almost everyone enjoys—music. If we think about how musicians have imitated other artists to become popular, it may help us to understand the importance of imitatio. For example, there are many pop artists who have emulated the style of Michael Jackson. Take Bruno Mars as an example. Just because Bruno Mars emulates Michael Jackson doesn’t mean Mars is an incapable artist. It also doesn’t mean that Bruno Mars is ripping Jackson off. Bruno Mars took the example of a successful artist and utilized imitatio to contribute to his own success. In imitatio, a person can subconsciously appropriate forms and creative devices and incorporate them into their own work.

Image source

So, what do you think? Do you think that imitatio is a form of flattery, or is it a way for someone to get away with being unoriginal? I think there are many benefits that can come from imitatio in any art form. When we imitate authors/creators, we utilize techniques and forms that have led to success.

There are examples of successful academic and creative writing on the internet and at the library. The next time writer’s block strikes, consider turning to one of these examples and replicating the successful features.

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Five Ways to Prepare for Presentations

By Jordan Dynes

Gasp! Your professor just assigned you a presentation. For as long as you can remember, the mere thought of having to stand and talk to a group of people makes a shiver run down your spine. However, there’s no need to worry any longer. Here are five strategies to help you feel at ease and well-prepared for presentations.

1. Practice in front of your friends and pets.
Practice your presentation in front of your best friend or favorite furry pet. Your friend will give you honest feedback and encourage you to become more comfortable speaking in front of people. Rent a group room at the Writing Center and practice in front of multiple friends. This will create an environment resembling the classroom setting that you’ll be presenting in. Eye contact makes you appear confident and prepared—just be sure to not focus on a single person. Also, practicing in front of your pet will help ease the anxiety of presenting. When you eventually present in front of your class, just think of your pet or best friend, and your worries will melt away.

2. Speak in front of a mirror.
Although you may feel uncomfortable at first, speaking in front of a mirror can help you identify your body language and how others perceive you. You may notice that you talk excessively with your hands or keep your arms crossed. Using the mirror to recognize areas where you appear to be too closed off or too open gives you an opportunity to improve your body language in a low stakes situation. Remember, if you project confidence, even if it’s forced, you will begin to feel more confident eventually. Also, don’t forget to smile!

3. Try recording yourself and playing it back.
Speaking into a recording device and playing your voice back helps you identify patterns in your speech that could detract from the clarity of your presentation. For example, if you use fillers such as “umm” or “like,” you can begin to work on pausing when you are thinking instead of trying to fill the silence. Recording yourself can also help you gauge the length of your presentation, which is especially important when you have time constraints.

4. Dress to impress.
One strategy that can help you become more confident is to wear the appropriate attire for your presentation. The general rule of thumb is that you should appear slightly more dressed up than your audience. If you have students in the class wearing casual or simple attire, consider dressing more business casual. This will help increase your ethos, i.e. credibility, and might encourage audience engagement.

5. Know your stuff.
The best way to succeed when giving a presentation is to know the content that you will be talking about. We’ve all experienced what it’s like to draw a blank during a presentation—it’s better to have extra material prepared to discuss so you have something to fall back on. While notecards are useful tools for prompting your memory, you should avoid reading off of them word for word.

Writing consultants were asked, “What is the most important presentation tip?”

1. Kari: “I would say dressing well. If you dress well, you feel well.”
2. Scout: “Know your presentation material really well like the back of your hand. If you know something well, you can talk about it well.”
3. Reece: “Don’t make your presentation text heavy. Don’t memorize the script; memorize the main ideas of what you are trying to say.”
4. Iris: “Make it visually appealing. Don’t make the background highlighter yellow or neon green.”
5. Shay: “Be cognizant of your main points so you don’t ramble.”
6. Kylie: “Wear deodorant. Antiperspirant is a must as well. Don’t speak too quickly because that’s what a lot of students do. They get nervous. Don’t read off the PowerPoint.”
7. Izzy: “Moderately know what you are talking about. You’ll sound convincing.”
8. Nate: “Someone wise once told me, ‘Speak softly, and carry a big stick.’ That man was Theodore Roosevelt.”

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Overcoming a Dreadful Case of Senioritis

By Samantha Kutner

Senioritis is that drop in motivation and the tendency to procrastinate and/or entirely miss assignments during your final year or semester as an undergrad. It has ruined many an A student, but it doesn’t have to ruin you!

You might have great news about your plans after you graduate… or you might have no plans whatsoever. Both, surprisingly, cause a fair amount of anxiety. You could be inundated with options or offers (or realize that you have none). You may be thinking, “I finish this, and it’s over. I graduate, and then what?” In addition to all the uncertainty about the future, you still need to finish your assignments to graduate.

By the time you recognize the signs of senioritis, you may be in too deep to pull yourself out unassisted. Try talk to your friends and family and let them know that you would appreciate their extra support. In addition to your support group of friends and family, here are a few tried and tested tools that have worked for me to manage my own senioritis. I hope they can work for you too!

1. Perspective Taking

In my downtime, I like to read about people and how they’ve adapted to adversity and challenges. I am currently reading a memoir of someone with clinical anxiety disorder (who happens to be a brilliant and funny writer). Even if you are just mildly anxious, sometimes it helps reading about the experience of being anxious in someone else’s words. That feeling of “Oh, I’m not the only one experiencing these things” can be calming.

2. Find your way “in” to the material
Many student will put off taking classes they are not interested in until their last semester. As a senior, you may be taking a class that doesn’t even remotely relate to your major or career path. The hardest thing here is finding that connection between something you already know or enjoy and something that seems foreign or inaccessible. The more connections you can make, the easier it will be to get through the class. For example, I find it helps to draw the neuroscience figures to help me remember as opposed to memorizing slides. It lets me engage with figures and anatomical things in a more creative and less threatening way.

I’m no Ramon y Cajal, but you get the idea.

3. Find Your Way “Out” of the Material
Part of senioritis is fatigue. You’ve been through 4+ years of this difficult journey called “college,” and you might be feeling like a runner who gets a cramp during the last mile of a marathon. We all have something we enjoy doing, and sometimes it’s necessary to take a break and just do that thing! It could be taking a bath, going for a hike, seeing a concert with a friend, or just meeting with your friends (even if it is to talk about how stressed you are).

4. “Grandma’s Rule” or the “Premack Principle”
Ensure that the things you enjoy (for me, it’s dancing, reading, and writing) will only happen if you finish one of your goals. I tell myself often, “If I finish half of my chapter by 6pm, then I can go out to that movie or salsa dancing or take that dance class.” It requires a little bit of self-discipline, but you’ll find that rewarding yourself when you do get things done can provide that motivation you need to finish your last semester. The important thing is to set realistic, clear, small goals. An unclear, vague, or terrifying goal would be saying “I can’t eat dinner until I’ve finished my entire essay or the entire study guide for my exam.” A more realistic goal could be, “I am going to answer and fully understand at least 3 questions in my study guide before going out tonight.”

5. Seek support and extra help, if needed
Make time to speak with your instructors or TAs. You may just be misunderstanding one element of a single mathematical concept and figuring that out can make the difference between procrastination and a sense of feeling like you can accomplish a decent grade in a class. Come into the Writing Center if you’re having a hard time organizing or structuring your senior thesis or final research paper! There is also no shame in seeking help from a counselor to talk through problems and adopt healthier strategies for succeeding in your final semester.

None of this is easy, but I’m right there with you, seniors.

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Using Effective Language in a Cover Letter and Resume

By Ashley Fluellen

Dear Job Seeker,

I think it’s safe to say that applying for a new job isn’t always the most fun experience in the world. Possibly the most stressful aspects of the application process come with the resume and cover letter. These documents carry a lot of weight, as they are often the first impression that your potential employer has of you. You want to make sure that this potential employer sees that you are a good fit for the job, knows you can communicate well through writing, and gets an idea of your personality. This can be difficult, but if you follow the tips laid out below, you’re sure to have that job in a snap.

Tip 1: Reflect the job description

Job descriptions help to create expectations for both the employer and the hopeful employee. You’re most likely applying for positions that match your specific skills and experience, and you want to convey that in your resume and cover letter. Highlight the skills and experiences you have that match what the employer is looking for. For example, if you know a lot about using Photoshop to create digital advertisements, and you’re applying for an advertising position, make that a key point in your skills section. You’re selling yourself as the best person for the job, and the easiest way to do that is to highlight what you know you can do that the job demands.

An important addition to this tip is don’t lie about your experiences and skills in hopes that your resume will get you an interview. If you lie on your resume and get the job, you will undoubtedly come to a point where you’re assigned a task you don’t know how to do—despite it being a required skill in the job description. Don’t put yourself, or your employer, in that position.

Tip 2: Find out “to whom it may concern”

This really isn’t the best way to start your cover letter. Not only does this create an impersonal first impression to your potential manager, but it also makes you seem lazy. If you can’t even do enough research to find out to whom you’re applying, how could they trust you with more significant projects? Look on the company’s website or re-read the job ad to figure out to whom you should address your letter.

Of course, there will be times when no amount of research will give you the name of “whom it may concern.” If you can’t find this information, make sure to include details about the work the company does and why you’re well-suited to it. This is a great way to show that you took the time to do research on the company, even though you were unable to find an addressee for your application materials.

Tip 3: Use purposeful and active language

Nothing is more boring than having to read the same descriptors for different people over and over again. Every employer already assumes you are “very organized” or “a hard worker.” What really packs a punch is rephrasing these words to have more relevant meaning. You can change “I’m very organized” to “I ensure that deadlines are met and the product is free of any errors.” Also, vary the descriptions for your job duties so that you can avoid annoying and unproductive repetition (i.e., don’t say “managed” or “developed” over an over again). Try to be as precise and descriptive without overwriting. Remember, your potential employer will see many applications, so stay concise while you create detailed job descriptions. 

Using active voice makes for a more dynamic cover letter and resume. Using non-helping verbs invokes a sense of action. Employers will appreciate this type of language because it shows that you are someone who is, in a realistic sense, active instead of passive, which can go a long way in any job (check out our previous blog on active and passive voice).

Tip 5: End it with a bang

Cover letters, when done correctly, are meant to get you an interview. So, why not end your letter by simply asking for one? This could seem a bit too bold, but simply ending with an “I look forward to discussing potential interview dates with you soon,” is short, sweet and to the point. Be sure to include contact information here as well, as you want to make it as easy as possible for the person trying to hire you. 

Now that you have written an effective cover letter, all that’s left is to sign!


UWC Consultant


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Out of the Sheet Music and Into the Essay: Specific Suggestions for Writing about Music

By Cameo Flores

Music is highly subjective to the ear, but it is even more subjective when you write about its nitty-gritty details. This blog contains a few things to keep in mind when you write a paper about music.

There are three types of musical analysis: textual, aural, and experiential.  Textual analysis is when someone is analyzing a readable record of music like a score, composer biography, or a performance criticism. Aural analysis requires a broad knowledge of music theory and aural training to comment on audio without a hard copy of the music. Experiential analysis occurs when you witness music occurring through any of the five senses.

When writing a textual analysis of music, consider the following:

  1. Assume your audience knows your language. This means that you do not need to explain what a secondary function chord is, only why it’s important in the grand scheme of your analysis.
  2. Score analysis is extremely specific, and there are no specific alt codes for music notation. Make a copy of your marked score and attach it in your appendix.
  3. Be sure to cite measures as “m. #” for a single measure, “mm. # – #” for more than one measure.
  4. Do the score analyses before you begin to write your paper. Most of the time, the score analysis will help you form an argument for your thesis.
  5. Typically, you will be writing something that is either musicological or ethnomusicological. These papers use Chicago Style for citations—make sure your citing style is consistent!
  6. Most of these papers will involve a personal opinion, so don’t be afraid to show it as long as you back it up with evidence.
  7. Because music is such a broad, subjective topic, it’s important to establish a concentrated and specific analysis. A narrow focus should help prevent you from going on unneeded tangents.

While writing an aural or experiential analysis of music, remember that these topics are more subjective than a textual analysis. This requires a fearless perspective that is both well-informed and steadfast. Here are some points to consider while writing about these modes of music.

  1. Make sure you use diverse evidence in a narrow argument. If you can back an argument stating that you heard a plagal cadence, assert it—but also talk about other places you have heard a plagal cadence. Diverse evidence strengthens your argument in the limited parameters of aural analysis.
  2. Cultural analyses are oftentimes tied into these types of writing, so keep in mind that you are an observer of a specific musical time period of musical culture. Avoid making general assumptions and recognize your limitations as a writer. Acknowledge your cultural perspective limitations in your written examinations. Limitations are usually addressed in a preface or a concluding paragraph.
  3. Hum or whistle intervals, chords, cadences, and harmonies to yourself. If you do not aurally know the music well enough where you cannot recite the music from memory, you need to spend more time on the aural analysis. This is a good way to correct any mistakes you made in the analysis as well.
  4. Treat all of these writings as if you are an “extraterrestrial” in the subject you are writing about. Write as if you know about music, but have no other cultural influences swaying your opinions.
  5. Be open minded and prepared to be critiqued because you have a mindset limited to yourself. Open mindedness is key to successful aural and experiential writing.

Since subjectivity is so prevalent in music papers, remember that you will need a lot of diverse information to back any argument.  There typically is no right or wrong answer in music (except for, perhaps, music history and theory) so remember to assert your opinion confidently in your writing. Avoid using uncertain language, but acknowledge any informational shortcomings. Keep in mind that writing about music is purely analytical because of its subjectivity. There are no absolute right or wrong answers, only argumentative strengths!



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Coffee Makes the Student’s World Go ‘Round

By Elizabeth Kelly

As college students, we acquire this impressive ability to accomplish large tasks in very little time and on very little sleep.  Let’s face it—college is all about taking five hours to complete a task that should only take one hour and taking only 30 minutes to complete a project that should have taken a few days.  There are a few key elements that make this poor time-management strategy manageable: the most important being coffee.

Whether it’s four shots of espresso or the largest size of the strongest brew, coffee is what facilitates those all-nighters and 12-hour-long study sessions.  The caffeine in coffee is a stimulant to the central nervous system and can improve mental performance and concentration (Pietrangelo). If a student buys coffee every day, the math comes out to roughly $120 per month, $480 per semester, and $960 per academic year. You could be spending even more if you’re buying  those venti, extra-hot, no whip, and triple stirred cups of brain stimulant from Starbucks.  For some people coffee may be a luxury, but, for students who have more work to do than there are hours in a day, coffee is really more of a necessity.

Coffee is great for tolerating those 8 am classes, but another staple of a college student’s study habits is the copious amount of snacks that are consumed alongside those fancy caffeinated beverages.  Healthy snacks such as spinach, figs, and sunflower seeds can be a great option for a boost in brain power.  However, few students can afford these expensive healthy snacks, especially when all of that money goes towards coffee drinks—not to mention that no one wants to eat green leaves for a snack.  As a result, most students settle for the $0.99 bag of potato chips, Finding Dory fruit snacks, or even a package of ramen that can be bought for a quarter.  These snacks often have high levels of sodium and even higher levels of sugar.  Between the sugary snacks and the sugary caffeinated drinks, a mental crash is almost inevitable.  One can only hope that the crash comes after that 12-page essay on the philosophy of some important historical figure is finished.

Many students swear by their snacking and caffeine habits as contributors to their success, but there are definitely ways to make these habits more healthy, cost effective, and helpful for studying. In terms of buying coffee, brewing coffee at home and adding a touch of milk is much more cost effective than those $5 sugared ones bought on campus.  However, it is virtually impossible to make those complicated 5-pump mocha lattes at home, so if buying coffee is necessary, go with a smaller size and sugar free sweetener (if you’re into that sort of thing). That can help you avoid the crash that comes after the surge in brain power.

When reaching for a study snack, consider grabbing something that may be slightly more nutrient-dense and lower in artificial sugars, such as a granola bar or a whole piece of fruit. These snacks are still more cost effective than those kale salads or fancy dried fruits and nuts, all while providing more nutrients than a bag of cheese balls or some leftover pizza. Eating slightly healthier snacks will also be more beneficial in boosting your energy and concentration levels while studying!

In reality, coffee and snacks are what help a college student make it through a long day of brutal exams and endless essay writing.  With a little modification, and in moderation, both snacks and coffee can be extremely beneficial to college students and their study habits.

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Navigating the Jungle of Summary and Synthesis

By Madison Bosque

In the rough terrain of college, many types of writing can feel like a herd of buffalo stampeding towards you. However, it doesn’t all have to be so scary! Let’s make summary and synthesis part of your survival kit to navigate college.

Summary can be thought of as describing a particular source in your own words by pulling out the most important aspects. Normally, this type of writing doesn’t require your opinion; you are simply restating what someone else has said. This type of writing can happen in any kind of assignment, whether it be for your Introduction to Biology course or your psychology class about behavioral analysis.

A summary is like going to a zoo and only looking at the tiger exhibit. While there are many other animals at this zoo, you’re only looking at this one tiger. You take note of the coloration of the tiger and the white dot on the back of its ears. You view the habitat of the enclosure, what the tiger has to eat, and what sounds it makes.

The writing process, then, would be like describing this tiger exhibit to a friend. Although your friend didn’t go to the exhibit, they should get a good idea of what the tiger looked like, what was in the exhibit, and if they want to maybe to go the exhibit themselves someday! Similarly, a summary of an article should provide your reader with enough information to get a good understanding of the content without having to actually read the entire source.
Synthesis can be described as combining certain elements and aspects of multiple sources into one single paragraph or paper. The main idea for synthesis is to take the best, most interesting, most noteworthy pieces of a bunch of work and weave them into the best paper ever! Synthesis can be used in almost any class, but it’s mainly used when writing things like research papers where you take multiple sources covering the same subject and combine them to get a specific conclusion. It could also be used in a comparison essay when you need to show similarities and differences between multiple texts.

Think of synthesis like creating a “Big Cats” exhibit at a zoo. You do your research on what actually makes a cat a “Big Cat,” and then you include or exclude certain species from the exhibit based on that definition.  The exhibit would include information on what sets these species apart from other species of cats, as well as what sets them apart from each other.

Synthesis requires looking at more than one source, just like you’d have to look at more than one species to come up with a list of “Big Cats.” The writing process would involve looking at what the articles are saying and how those conclusions match or counter other researcher’s findings in relation to the argument you are trying to make in your paper.

Don’t let synthesis and summary add to the jungle of assignments and papers you stress about; navigating the terrain is easy if you stick to the assignment description and don’t let the amount of research intimidate you. Just use your toolkit of the Writing Center blog, resources, and consultants so you don’t get lost in the jungle!


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A Modest Proposal: A Beginner’s Guide to Writing Conference Proposals

By Reece Gibb

Writing a conference proposal for the first time can be intimidating—especially if you’ve never been in a conference environment before. So many questions come to mind: how do I choose a topic? What form does a conference proposal take? Who is the audience of my proposal?

When you’re considering a topic to choose for a conference, think of both the conference theme and the related audience. Think of a conference as a family dinner. You head home to find a colorful array of relatives mingling with your family: among them the outspoken uncle, the oddball nephew, and your crazed aunt. When dinner is served, conversations start on all sides of the table. A few cousins discuss your aunt’s car accident, while your grandparents argue over whether your uncle should have married a younger woman. Which conversation you chime in on has to do with which subject you feel you have the most contribute to. You may know more about one particular development in the family, but every discussion centers around what’s happening in the family.

In much the same way, a conference is often set around a subject or set of subjects. Like your family dinner, you are heading into different conversations happening at once, so you want to pick a topic that you feel you have a firm grasp on or interest in. When you’ve decided on your topic, look at the conference’s call for proposals (CFP). A CFP is a short prompt that details the conference’s formatting requirements for the proposal, the conference’s theme, and sometimes the “ideal” attendee. Be sure to write down a few of the defining terms and keywords used in the CFP so you can incorporate them into your proposal. The CFP may also ask you to specify which panel or session you are applying to, so make sure your topic adheres to the topic of a specific session.

Once you’ve gotten a feeling for the expectations and language of the conference, ask yourself what you want to contribute to the discussion. In the proposal itself, you want to indicate where exactly your topic factors into an academic conversation. At the beginning of your proposal, you want to introduce “a key source or scholar, or situating your work in line of inquiry or major debate in your field of study”(Sano-Franchini, 2011). More broadly, does your paper, research, study, etc., “challenge, extend, or complicate existing work in your field?” (Sano-Franchini, 2011). Aside from just introducing the essential components of your research, you are stating in your conference proposal how exactly you are contributing to or changing your field of study.

Finally, before you submit your proposal to a conference, it would probably be a good idea to have an advisor look over your proposal. Consulting with someone familiar with your topic who has been admitted to and involved in conferences before can be beneficial, especially as you work through the kinks of writing a proposal for the first time. With these strategies, you can rest easy knowing that you can make the case for why your research deserves to be heard in the “family dinner” of academia.


Sano-Franchini, J.  (2011). Writing the academic conference proposal. GradHacker. Retrieved from

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