Friday, October 15, 2010 Tech Tips
By Erica Schatzlein, Writing Specialist
Google knows everything, according to a friend’s kindergarten-age daughter. Oh, how I wish it were true. I have thousands of questions: When will my retirement account start to grow again instead of shrinking? Where was the “very special place” I put that very important document I can no longer find? I wouldn’t be surprised if people type these questions into search engines. In fact, if you go to Google and type in “when will I” or “how do I” you will get some amusing suggestions for the rest of your question!
Less amusing but much more helpful are the number of search engines that will help your academic career. Here are a few of my favorites for saving time, money, and sanity:
1. Get Help Completing Your Reference List
Students get a majority of their scholarly articles online, often from different databases like ERIC or SAGE. Following sixth edition APA rules, though, listing the name of the database as retrieval information is not preferred. (You can read more about retrieval information details here: http://writingcenter.waldenu.edu/355.htm). The preferred retrieval information is the digital object identifier, or DOI. A search engine isn’t my favorite way to look for a DOI; instead, I use crossref.org (http://www.crossref.org/SimpleTextQuery). However, for articles that have no DOI assigned, the next preference is to list the journal homepage. How do you know if the journal has a homepage? Entering the journal title into a search engine is the best way to tell.
2. Nail That Picky Grammar or Style Rule
As I read papers from numerous students each week, I come across just as many different writing styles, and often many topics I know little about. How do I check if a student is using an unfamiliar term or awkward phrase correctly? I search for it. Additionally, many of us know how to write to avoid tricky grammar situations. For example, I always set my book on the table because I’m never entirely certain if I should lay it or lie it. But when I need to find out the right way to write something, search engines are blessings. Typing a “versus” statement often works: lay vs. lie. I have also searched for APA reference formats for sources students use that I’ve never seen before and aren’t addressed in the manual, like the first time a student asked me about the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, which was not in my grammar nerd schema.
A note here about scholarly, reputable, and junk sources: Almost none of the sources in regular search engine results are scholarly. Thus, they are not good sources for a KAM or dissertation. Many of the sources in search results are pure junk. When relying on websites for factual information, be a savvy searcher! Two of my favorite (and trusted) sources for grammar are Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips and Grammarbook.com. They often come up on the first page of results when searching for a specific grammar topic, too. I feel better knowing that both of these online resources resulted from published books. For APA information, the best source is always the actual APA manual, which is not online. Besides that, apastyle.org is the official manual website, so anything that appears on the search engine from that site is my first choice. Many universities (including Walden!) have great APA information online. Please take a minute to evaluate the source before trusting the information found in web searches.
3. Get a Free Book
A kind student at July’s Summer Session Residency shared in one of my sessions that some of the books written by classical theorists (so commonly used in KAM Breadths) are available on Google Books for free, as they are out of copyright. Additionally, just like in a database search, where you restrict searches to “full text,” you can limit for “full view” sources in this search. For books that aren’t free, many offer a nice amount of pages to preview. I’ve since located hundreds of books I want to read, both scholarly texts and books for use when procrastinating about scholarly work.
Friday, October 01, 2010 Grammar and Mechanics
By Hillary Wentworth, Graduate Writing Tutor
Is it becoming cool to misspell? Hip to abbreviate?
I asked myself these questions as I strolled through the business district of a town I was visiting recently. Everywhere I turned, something was a bit off. In front of the theater, the marquee read, “TONITE: JAWS!” I strolled by a salon with the name Hair and Moor (I doubt that meant a tract of marshy land). And to top it all off, the actual road on which I walked was called Mainstreet. Not two words but one.
It is true that language can change; the words in dictionaries today are very different from those 100 years ago (think of the computer terms alone!). Over the years, doughnut became donut due to length (and probably so we don’t have to think of all that dough while we’re eating it)—but doughnut is still the main entry in Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary. While you’re texting, how often do you write out because or see you later? Man, that takes time and finger strength. Instead, you truncate and cut corners. But does that make it okay?
Misspelling is not the only popular corruption of the English language these days. Abbreviations and acronyms have permeated American culture due to texting and emailing, and they’re likely to stay. Though APA allows acronyms (SAT instead of Scholastic Aptitude Test, for instance), limit their use. You don’t want your paper to sound like a string of HTML code. Your responsibility as a scholar-author is always to express meaning through clear language. And to do so, sometimes you just have to write the whole word or phrase.
Advertisers long ago discovered that if a business was “creatively” spelled or abbreviated it would get more attention. Passersby would stop and stare and think that’s not right. Then they would go inside to see what all the fuss was about. Misspelling was a way of attracting customers! Call me a purist, but I like my tonights with night in them and my doughnuts with dough. I think that misspelling in order to save time or business is, well, just plain lazy.
And as for scholarly writing, forget about it. It’s certainly not cool to write “thru this research” or “2day I will demonstrate” in your dissertation. It’s not even cute.