Joe Giampalmi

Joe Giampalmi, EdD, is a hall-of-fame educator who’s been teaching students to mind their P’s and Q’s, use active voice, include Oxford commas, and support their arguments for more than 50 years. He has taught more than 100 English composition courses.

Articles From Joe Giampalmi

4 results
4 results
How to Start a College Essay

Article / Updated 10-31-2023

The essay is to college writing what books are to educated people, what professors are to college teaching, and what wireless is to technology — they’re inseparable. The essay has been a major part of students’ academic life for more than 15 centuries. With such a storied history, the essay requirement isn’t likely to disappear before you graduate, which is why it's important to know how to start an essay. Don't have time to read the entire article? Jump to the quick read summary. News flash. Your professor, a human being afflicted with a lifetime addiction to reading, determines your essay grade. As much as you’ve been told about the importance of writing for your audience, your professors are the one member of your audience you need to please. And because professors are sophisticated readers, they value writing that contains a skillfully created opening and closing. Engaging openings and closings, the intersection of academic and professional writing, offer you the opportunity to impress your professor and stand out among your peers. When you undervalue the importance of an enticing opening and closing, you’re leaving points on the page. Here I focus on what you need to know about writing openings, including the first few sentences and the title. To learn how to write an excellent closing to your essay, and about all other aspects of college writing, check out my book College Writing For Dummies. Standing out Let the gains begin. As a professor who read and graded tens of thousands of essays and research papers, I’m thrilled to see a thoughtful opening that interests me as a consumer of content. My grading experience tells me to anticipate an excellent grade and read the remainder of the essay to justify that grade. When you're thinking about how to start off an essay, remember that the purpose of your opening includes the following: Engage your reader in the topic and establish the organizational structure of your essay. Convince your reader of the importance of your topic and raise reader questions about the topic. Clarify your position on the topic question, using language from the assignment sheet. Highlight your overall essay plan. Demonstrate your command of language. The opening transports your reader from the symbolic representation of your topic to the specific promise of your thesis — the last sentence in your opening. The structure of the opening progresses from general to specific information, from the abstract hook to the concrete thesis. Your investment in a strong opening yields high returns on your essay grade. As you're thinking about how to start your essay introduction, avoid experimenting with a delayed thesis, such as positioning the thesis in the closing. Avoid this until you regularly write A-graded college essays. When you read leisurely, focus on openings and closings that attract your attention. If you want to be nerdy about it, ask Siri to file them. And when you’re ready to write your openings and closings, consider re-engineering a favorite one you saved. While your opening provides background to place your topic within context, college essays usually require a background paragraph following the opening paragraph. Be sure all background content is related to the thesis, not merely to the topic. Including an anecdote Among the solid ways to start an essay is a go-to opening taught by many professors: the anecdote. It's brief personal experience story. You can use anecdotes in a wide variety of ways, such as: Connect a different personal experience to each essay you’re assigned. Exercise your poetic license by writing an anecdote about an experience that happened to someone else. Write a fictional anecdote that appears believable if you’re feeling especially creative. Use one as a piece of evidence in the essay body. The more you use them, the better your skills at developing them. Use one as a style tool. Anecdotes are the gift that keep giving. Following, I focus on what to include when writing anecdotes and how you can capture your reader’s attention. What to include in an anecdote Anecdotes are scenes, not narratives with a beginning, middle, and ending. They range between five and six sentences within essays between 600 to 650 words. They aren’t the recount of an experience from beginning to end. Strategies for writing anecdotes include the following: Name relevant people, places, and events. Identify relevant time references. Consider a twist or surprise ending. Add brief dialogue when appropriate. Brainstorm your anecdote similar to how you brainstorm your essay. Reference conclusions from your anecdote that apply to your essay’s thesis. Anecdotes are successful only when the experience connects with the essay topic. For example, an anecdote that tells a story about never quitting in athletics can be applied to an essay about never quitting in a challenging course. Grabbing your reader’s attention Similar to opening an essay, begin an anecdote with an attention-attracting first sentence. Following, are examples of language for beginning your anecdote and setting the scene: When I visited Alaska, I experienced the highlight of my travel experience — walking on a glacier. I will never forget the desperation on animals' faces when I volunteered at the center for abused animals. Some of the most memorable lessons I learned in middle school occurred outside the classroom on camping trips. I hide emotions well, but holding tears failed me when I recognized the name on the post. Consider this opening anecdote: I boarded the helicopter from the heliport in Juneau, Alaska — aware that one crashed in recent weeks — anticipating the experience of flying above an ice field, landing on the Mendenhall Glacier, and walking across frozen tundra, thousands of years old. I walked to the edge of crevasses, looking down hundreds of feet at the flow of blue glacier water. I witnessed the excitement of one of nature’s unique performances. But on the helicopter flight back to Juneau, nature offered one additional surprise that changed my comfort level with nature’s majesty. Using additional openings strategies When you're thinking about how to start an introduction for an essay, consider these other opening strategies: Series of questions: Many professors consider a one question opening a cliché strategy common to high school writing. But a series of questions raises the curiosity level and raises even more questions. Here’s a sample from my column reviewing Choke by Sian Beilock (Delco News Network): What’s the cause of high-performing students underperforming on a high-stakes standardized test such as the SAT and GRE (Graduate Record Examination)? What’s the cause of a professional athlete underperforming on a game-winning play or a pressure putt? Do underperforming students and athletes share common characteristics for their “choke”? What if? picture this: Another opening is the hypothetical “What if?” which raises questions and curiosities. Here’s a sample on a topic that interests you: What if colleges accepted more responsibility for ensuring graduation for the students they accept? What if their accountability included partial refunds of tuition and student loans for students who drop out? What if colleges fulfilled the promises to students and their parents made during freshmen orientation? In addition to the previous opening strategies, openings also include the importance of the topic, the approach to the assignment, your position on the topic, and the thesis. Steer clear of these types of openings Here’s a look at openings as unappealing as a broken popsicle: Previewing your intentions for the essay, such as what you plan to cover A dictionary or encyclopedia definition of the topic Restating the topic Presenting an overview of the topic An all-encompassing phrase such as: “Since the dawn of time …” Quotations that suddenly appear in text without context or follow up When I read these openings as a professor, I thought no effort, no thought, and no good. Focusing on the first sentences Are you surprised to hear that some professors will stereotype you as a student? Your professor’s assessment of your grade begins the first day of class with behaviors such as: Arriving early and introducing yourself Sitting in the front row and assuming an academic position Actively participating in class discussions and taking notes Saying thank you on the way out of class Your professor will also stereotype you by a strong opening of your essay, especially the first sentence. Unlike professional writers, inexperienced writers rarely prioritize first sentences and openings. Professional writers quickly learn that their most important sentence is the first because editors frequently buy or reject a piece of writing based on the reader connection of the first sentence. A lackluster title, first sentence, and opening won’t cost you money as a first-year student, but it can cost you a scoring opportunity. Here’s a look at a few first-sentence strategies that will engage your reader, impress your professor, and score the grade (you can easily develop these first-sentence strategies into opening strategies): Surprise information: Readers enjoy a surprise. When the first-sentence surprise raises curiosity and questions, you have the ingredients for an engaging opening. Here’s a sample: Sleep researchers studying mice observed that the brain’s synapses, message connectors, surprisingly decrease about 20 percent after a few hours’ sleep. But they also discovered that the reduction makes you smarter. The second sentence (But they also …) shows a sentence that transitions into the thesis. Chapter 6 details more information about thesis statements. Expert quotations: Opening an essay with a quotation by an expert interests the most sophisticated readers, including your professor. Here’s an example: “Progress is made by trial and failure, the failures are generally a hundred times more numerous than the successes; yet they are usually left unchronicled,” said renowned chemist William Ramsey (1852–1916). Ramsey was referencing science, but his advice applies beyond science and into everyday life, including writing. The second sentence (Ramsey was referencing …) also shows a sentence that transitions into the thesis. Essential content connection: What is the most emotional part of your essay? For example, if your essay’s about the college dropout rate, play the emotional card by opening with a sentence describing what a college degree means to you and your family. Here’s a sample: I dreamed of my college graduation since my first day of school, but I didn’t dream of its financial and emotional toll on my family. When your first sentence connects with your readers, you’re set up to deliver your second sentence and the remainder of your opening. Midway through your opening, your professor formulates a projection of your grade. Capitalize on the opportunity to impress your professor with a high-interest opening, and remember that good openings generate good grades. Quick Read Summary The essay is an essential component of college writing, much like books are to educated individuals and professors are to teaching. It has been a vital part of academia for over 15 centuries, and it's crucial to understand how to start an essay effectively. Your professor, as a dedicated reader, plays a pivotal role in determining your essay's grade. They appreciate well-crafted openings and closings, which set your work apart. Neglecting the importance of a compelling start means missing out on valuable points. An engaging opening serves multiple purposes: it draws in the reader, establishes the essay's structure, emphasizes the topic's significance, and clarifies your position while highlighting your overall essay plan. The opening guides the reader from the general topic to the specific thesis, a progression from the abstract to the concrete. Avoid experimenting with a delayed thesis placement until you're consistently writing high-quality essays. An effective strategy for essay openings is the use of anecdotes, brief personal stories that connect to the topic. Anecdotes should be concise, involving relevant people, places, events, time references, and possibly a twist or surprise ending. They should tie back to the essay's thesis. To captivate your reader, start with an attention-grabbing first sentence, such as an intriguing experience or a thought-provoking question. Other opening strategies include posing a series of questions or exploring hypothetical scenarios related to your topic. Avoid unappealing openings, such as previews, dictionary definitions, restating the topic, or vague phrases like "Since the dawn of time." Professors often perceive these as lacking effort and thought. In the academic world, first impressions matter. Your professor forms an initial impression of your work based on the essay's opening, particularly the first sentence. To engage your reader and secure a good grade, consider strategies like surprising information, expert quotations, or connecting with essential emotional content. In summary, mastering the art of essay openings is crucial for academic success. Impress your professor with a well-crafted start, as it can significantly impact your grade. Hungry for more? Go back and read the article or check out the book.

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How to Evaluate Sources for a Research Paper

Article / Updated 08-04-2023

Your success in college has depended on problem-solving and figuring out how to navigate the academic maze. For example, you’ve successfully learned to register online, interpret syllabi, find your way around campus, and communicate with your professors. An additional requirement for your academic success is evaluating the credibility of sources you find to support your argument in your research paper. Without good evidence for your paper, you will lack a good argument. This article explains criteria for evaluating sources you research and identifying the sources that please your professor. I also examine using Wikipedia as a starting point — but not as an ending point. How to evaluate sources for credibility You can’t prepare a good meal with bad ingredients, and you can’t enjoy good takeout without reliable delivery. Similarly, the strength of your academic entrée, your argument, is based on quality source ingredients and reliable evidence. The source evaluation process starts when you begin searching — and if you begin with library databases and similar sources, you’re as good as getting measured for your cap and gown. Many searches expedite the source evaluation process by including filters for publication dates, peer-reviewed materials, and full-text articles. If you’re using library resources, the following guidelines are a review. If you’re using the open Internet or academic search engine resources, the guidelines are a necessity. Here’s a look at guidelines for evaluating sources your professors expect: Currency: Review your assignment for professor restrictions on dates of sources. Publication dates are relevant to your topic, especially current topics. Academic search engines usually contain more current sources than databases. Age matters when selecting sources. For example, current topics (technology and current events) need current sources. Literary topics (classic literature and art) may be supported with eight-to-ten-year-old sources. Verification of the publication date answers the question: When was the source published and does the data have relevance to the topic? Credibility: Author credibility includes demonstrating knowledge on the topic as well as being truthful, objective, and ethical. Credible authors are usually affiliated with credible institutions. Further investigate sources you’re unfamiliar with. Author credibility also includes the author citing similar credible authors and answers the question: Does the author demonstrate the credibility that’s necessary for the success of the paper? Accuracy: Read a few paragraphs in the middle of the text and determine the accuracy of information. Ideas should appear academic, documented, and well supported. Information accuracy answers the question: Is information accurate and presented fairly, and does it fulfill the purpose of the paper? Writing: Authors of scholarly sources should write like scholars. If they don’t, question their credibility — and also question the credibility of the source because scholarly journals are professionally edited. Validity of the author’s writing style answers the question: Is the information written in a scholarly documented style that contributes to understanding ideas in the source? Relevance: Even though your source information may check all boxes, it’s useless to you if it lacks relevance answering your research questions. The relevance of information answers the question: Does the information contribute to the argument of the paper? If you’re using library databases, almost all sources have been vetted for accuracy and credibility of information. Use database sources as models for what to expect from other sources. Analyzing websites as sources for research paper Many websites lack the vetting and quality control of databases and many academic search engines. Although most criteria for evaluating sources also apply to websites, one significant criteria of evaluating a source remains: the eye test or appearance of the website. Here are questions to ask to evaluate the appearance of websites: Is it regularly maintained and updated? Are links relevant and functional? Does it appear professional and express an academic tone (see tone in Chapter 10)? Does it contain an academic, noncommercial extension such as .org, .gov, or .edu? Does the text avoid promotion of outlier claims such as the 9-11 attack on America never occurred? Is ownership of the website identified and credible? Is information supported with cited sources and active links to those sources? Is information sponsored by an organization with an unbiased interest in beliefs expressed? Studies show that students lack evaluation skills to distinguish between factual sites and fictional sites. Critically evaluate every website you search. Avoiding sources displeasing to professors Evaluating sources is critical to the source selection process and to ensuring academic evidence that supports your argument. Look at your source choices this way: You have about 12 to 15 source opportunities in a research paper to impress your professor. Why choose a nonscholarly questionable source that displeases your professor? Why chose Wikipedia when you’re also likely to find a scholarly library database (refer to the next section for more about Wikipedia)? When you evaluate a source, you definitely want to avoid ones that your professors generally dislike. Use these criteria for avoiding sources: Articles from nonscholarly popular magazines Definitions from general dictionaries References from your textbook References from some self-published books Unscholarly blogs, websites, and social media Information-sharing sites that include open editing Biased, unethical, and nonmainstream sources Reckoning with Wikipedia Since its inception in 2001, Wikipedia may be the most controversial research source among professors in college classrooms. The issue is that information is edited by a community of volunteers — meaning the information lacks clear accountability. It’s like not having the adult in charge in the room. My suggestion as a professor is to use Wikipedia (and sometimes AI) as background reading and fact check information before considering it. I prefer not to see Wikipedia in a citation in a college course because it doesn’t show much skill as a researcher. It requires as much effort as enjoying a sunset on Clearwater Beach. Clarify with professors their approval or disapproval of Wikipedia. Like all matters of authority in higher education, professors’ word is as final as your final course grade. Uncovering stones: Foundations of evidence You may have learned that when you’re looking for the truth you should go directly to the source. But did you ever learn what to do at the source when you arrive there? The following sections show you how to convert sources into evidence and make meaning — when you get to the source. Reading for determining evidence Reading is not only fundamental to your education, but it’s also fundamental to converting your sources into evidence. Making meaning from your sources begins with skimming for evidence to evaluate usefulness of the source. In other words, read for information that answers your research questions and supports your argument. Here are some skimming strategies you can use for initial source evaluation: Read large print. Survey the field of material by reading the title, major headings, and pullouts. Skim supplemental sections such as abstracts and appendices. Identify headings related to your argument. Read subheadings. Read subheadings in the middle sections that connect to your purpose and look for cited sources in subheadings related to your thesis. Get graphic. Identify graphic organizers (bullets, numbers, letters, and steps) that connect with your purpose. Review the thesis and evidence. Determine if the thesis and argument show a connection with your questions. Accept or reject. If the source shows value for your research, annotate and take notes as described in the sections that follow. For much more on how to tackle a college research paper, including the details on all of the phases involved, check out my book College Research Papers For Dummies. Reading journal articles Recall your first day on campus, trying to locate buildings where your classes were held. But after a few days, your quickly figured out the paths and eventually the shortcuts to arrive at class on time. Reading most journal articles requires similar practice to become familiar with a unique style of reading. Here’s the point about journal articles: You read scholarly articles for the purpose of answering your research question and acquiring information you can apply to your research. You’re looking for the thesis the author’s arguing and the connection between the author’s evidence and your argument. As you read, you’re deciding on the article’s value as evidence, background information, or new insights on your topic. Preparation for reading a journal article begins with studying your research question and identifying the information you’re looking for. Reading journal articles also familiarizes you with research writing and organizational structure. Here’s a plan for reading scholarly articles: Skim the complete article. Skim the article. Look for headings that identify major sections such as abstract, introduction, statement of the problem, review of literature, and so forth. Look for author authority and affiliation as identified in the beginning of this section. As you read, add to your list of key terms. Read the abstract. From the summary of the article in the abstract, identify the thesis, argument, and the importance of the topic. Identify the audience. Journal articles are written for the academic audience, and college undergraduates can consume most articles. But some journal articles are written for professional scholars whose reading background surpasses that of some undergraduates. If the topic is too complex and requires a technical background, give it your best effort and move to another article. Some scholars write exclusively to an audience of other professional scholars. Read the conclusion. Reading the conclusion helps you understand the argument and its implications. Look for analysis and synthesis and points you may want to support and defend in your argument. Look in the conclusion for the greater application of the topic. What does the article add to the knowledge of the topic being studied? Read the introduction. Look for background information in the introduction that adds to your understanding of the topic. Locate the thesis near the end of the introduction. Create a research question that the article answers. Read the review of literature. The review of literature may appear as a separate heading or as a text discussion in the introduction. Literature reviews represent one of your best sources for identifying new evidence to support your argument. A review of literature includes analysis and synthesis of sources (see Chapter 9). Read the discussion. The discussion (found in the body or middle section) illustrates the evidence that supports the argument. Look for evidence and sources that may apply to your research. Read citations and references. Dedicate a reading to studying citations and references. Note the authors and publications of sources and file them as potential evidence for your research. Identify the argument. Journal articles are academic arguments. Evaluate each argument’s importance and application to your research.

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College Research Papers For Dummies Cheat Sheet

Cheat Sheet / Updated 08-02-2023

College researchers can’t have too many resource options for searching information. A researcher without a supply of resources is like a well without water and no source of quenching academic thirst. College researchers frequently need supplemental sources of academic research. Additional resources also include uncommon rules of grammar and usage and strategies for presenting research papers in the classroom. This Cheat Sheet offers online academic sources, unconventional rules of grammar and usage, tips for presenting research papers, and more.

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College Writing For Dummies Cheat Sheet

Cheat Sheet / Updated 11-09-2022

College students have style, and it shows with their aggressiveness for good grades, attire in the classroom, and energy on campus. This Cheat Sheet offers you help with your style when writing your college essay during your first year in college.

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