September 12, 2016

Guide to goal achieving, not just goal setting

The beginning of a term is an excellent time to set goals, but how do you stay on track to achieving your goals in the months ahead? Tristan Donald, Student Learning Advisor with the Student Success Centre, shares his four step guide to achieve any goal.

Much like New Year resolutions in January, September is the month for students to set their academic resolutions. “I am going to keep up with my readings”, “I am going to attend every class”, or “I am going to get straight ‘A’s”. However, at the end of the semester, I almost always get students asking in some variation, “Why do I achieve some goals, but not others?”.

Take out a pen and a piece of paper. Draw three columns on your piece of paper. At the top of each column, I want you to write one academic goal you are setting this year.

Here are the 4 steps we are going to follow:
  1. Identify the values behind your goals
  2. Stop fantasizing about the goal
  3. Identify the approach or strategy you need
  4. Commit to this approach

September 08, 2016

Making your computer work for you: Citations and bibliographies

In the 'Making your computer work for you' series, Stephen Kuntz, Associate Director of Writing Resources at the Student Success Centre, shares the features of your computer that can make writing and studying easier.

Computers cannot write for you, but they can help make tasks in writing easier. Your word processing software can do a lot of work for you, and learning as much as you can about it helps to set you up for successful writing.

Did you know, for example, that WORD has a References feature that will do the following:
  1. Put your references in appropriate and correct citation format, be it APA, MLA, or Chicago (and others). No more guessing or trying to copy examples.
  2. Manage your sources. More careful managing of sources can prevent inadvertent plagiarism.
  3. Create a bibliography for you when you are done—yes, that’s right. You don’t have to spend time making a bibliography if you entered the information correctly.

September 07, 2016

How to ask for help with writing

Baffled by your writing assignment? Don’t be afraid to discuss it with your professor. Learn from Rob Desjardins, Graduate Writing Advisor with the Student Success Centre, the steps you can take to strategically approach your professor for help.

As the professor hands out the writing assignment, she launches into a detailed description of her expectations for the work. “Be sure to do this, take care not to do that. And by all means, avoid this other thing.” It’s hard to follow what she’s saying, though. As you scan the densely worded assignment sheet, it seems to call for intellectual feats you’ve never accomplished before.

Sound familiar? For many students, the experience of receiving a writing assignment is two parts bewildering and three parts terrifying. Too many respond by stuffing the instruction sheet into their backpack and planning to decipher it later. When “later” comes — often hours before the assignment is due — it’s usually too late to think clearly about the project.

We suggest that you do the opposite. Face your fears head-on by planning the project as soon as possible — and by asking for help when you need it. Your professors are happy to assist you, but be warned: they’re not in the business of holding your hand or solving your problems for you. Before approaching them, therefore, it’s often a good idea to do some critical thinking on your own.

Try following these steps before and during your meeting with your professor.

What's in a course outline?

You’ve received course outlines for all of your classes, but do you know how to use them to your advantage? Mebbie Bell, Director of the Student Success Centre, shares her insights on how to turn any course outline into your tool for success. 

Course outlines are many things. They are guides or maps for managing your course work and learning, calendars, reading lists, sets of rules, and answers to common student questions. In some universities and colleges, course outlines are actually treated as contracts between instructors and students, binding them together and setting out each of their responsibilities. Basically, your course outline — or syllabus — includes everything your instructor wants you to know about your course and thinks is important.

What should you look for in a course outline?
Course outlines can look very different — short or long, elaborate or concise, full of extra information, or just the basic “need to know” facts. However, at the University of Alberta, the Calendar outlines some basic information they should include, such as:

What you should know before you write

When you receive a writing assignment, the work you need to do before you put the first word down is just as important as the words themselves. To help you be successful in the writing process, Stephen Kuntz, Associate Director of Writing Resources at the Student Success Centre, identifies six things you should familiarize yourself with before you begin.

When tasked with a writing assignment, most of us sit down and begin writing before we ought to. There are some things we need to know before we begin writing to help make the process easier and more effective.

Know Your Discipline: Each subject area has its own vocabulary and phrases and, at times, sentence or essay structure and forms. You need to know these before you can truly begin to write in that discipline.
  • Pay attention to the course textbook or the articles you are given to read. Read the glossary of the text that contains key words and phrases.
  • Listen to the instructor: what words are repeated? What words are written on the board?
  • Know the citation format that is required - don’t guess. Look in the syllabus or ask.
Know the Assignment: The worth of the assignment should dictate how much time and effort you spend on it.
  • Know what written form is expected.  Although we tend to use the term “essay,” there are reports, abstracts, reviews, reflective pieces and many other forms of writing.
  • Read the prompt or question carefully. What is the focus and intent of the assignment?  Writing a great essay but not for that prompt can be frustrating and confusing.