A personal journal is your practice field. It can contain virtually anything--from your extemporaneous notes of what it feels like to be on a plane rapidly losing altitude, to your reaction to a given poem or class. A journal is a place to rehearse your ideas, to exercise your work, to prepare your thinking for more formal writing elsewhere.

Ken Macrorie suggests that journals are, among other things, good places to collect "Fabulous Realities." Here are some from his student's work:


Sometimes modest contradictions like these lead to fresh insights, new ways of seeing old things, that can contribute to your work later on. Sometimes it is simply worthwhile to memorialize your ideas. The key issue is to write--often.

Quantity does turn into quality. Add sufficient heat to water, you get steam. Of course, it must be the right quantity. Adding rocks to water would not help the analogy. Lots of bad writing will probably produce more bad writing. But with writing, as with much else, practice is critical.

Much of your practice writing will be quite personal, your thoughts on subjects you may or may not be prepared to share. But you will probably face requests from several classes, simultaneously, to keep journals--and your entries will be read. You may need a ring-binder to keep a journal that can be yours in its entirety, yet broken up to meet your academic demands.

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Response/Reaction papers

Response or reaction papers are composed as your critical reply to material delivered in a text or a class. Your instructor will specify length and questions of format.

These papers ask for more than simply your subjective, train-of-thought answer. Any of your written work should be completed with some deliberation. You might consider the critical questions above as a potential format.

But you are being asked to report more than your subjective feelings. Precisely what are your ideas and how do you support them? What in the substance of the material at hand give impetus to your thoughts? How do you demonstrate a grasp of the text? How would you see the implications in practice of what is being proposed? What consequences do you project will come from your position?

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Essay Exams

In many law schools, the advice for legal briefs and essay exams is much the same: " Say what you're going to say, say it, say it again, say what you said, say 'that was great'."

The fundamental way to do well on essay exams is to prepare. Secondly, organize your work in a way that makes the exam simply writing an outline you prepare at the outset.

In most cases, you are warned of a given number of potential essay questions. You must choose whether you want to fully prepare for every question--or chance intensified preparation on a few questions. That is your call; one based on Sun Tzu's advice: Know your instructor.

You should at least prepare to the point that you have written an outline for the questions you plan to attack. At best, write out the entire essay. Feel comfortable enough with the material that you can easily explain it to a colleague, and answer related questions. Few people do well with rote memorization (which usually vaporizes). Moreover, your understanding and the ability to apply that understanding is the key goal.

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Theses and Research Papers

These are questions that might be helpful in preparing a research paper:


Annotated Bibliographies

An annotated bibliography is a list of sources, either alphabetically or by subject area, that you have discovered along with a brief evaluative statement: what this text says, what it means, perhaps its historical location, the author's greater project, and its value to you as a researcher. You instructor will specify format.

Start making a brief annotation of every book you read, right now. Most professors wish they did. Regardless of your assignments, the time spent briefing a text, if it was worth reading to begin with, will be worth it to you in the future. If you wish to be truly organized (perhaps anal retentive is a better phrase), you can keep the annotations on notecards, thus providing yourself with a wonderful reference source, and an easy way to refresh your mind on books you read awhile ago.

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Literature Reviews

A literature review is an essay with a central focus, a broad controlling topic, that blends together a given number of books, journal articles, or reviews.

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Casenotes should be as clear and concise as possible, conveying your impressions, observations, and suggestions at a quick glance. Accuracy and an attempt at objectivity are crucial, for writing such as this could have a direct influence on the future of an individual. Below are some examples of things which may be included in casenotes used in rehabilitation. Despite the light tone of the examples, please remember that creativity is not suggested when writing casenotes.

Client: Hannibal L. Counselor: Sigmund F.

Session No.: 1 Date of Session: 1/15/93

Primary Intent of Interview: 1. Establish rapport; 2. Assess eligibility for services; and 3. Identify appropriate rehabilitation interventions, if necessary.

Description of Session Content:

Be sure to check with your professor about what exactly will be expected of you before you write up casenotes.

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Writing for Publication

There are no strict guidelines as far as this goes. Everything varies according to the publication. The best advice I can give you is to know who you are writing for. If you want to get published in a certain journal, read it and determine the sort of subjects and styles the editors want. Often, technical guidelines will be offered in the frontispiece of the journal. It is critical that you conform to these guidelines! Busy editors may not even consider articles that are not in their requested format, regardless of content.

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