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Academics 101

How to have a positive experience and get good grades

Welcome to Queen’s! Congratulations on making the leap into university life. University requires new approaches to thinking, writing and studying—even for the most qualified entrants. You’ll learn complex material at a rapid pace even as you take responsibility for your own learning and life decisions. In order to make the most of your education, you’ll need to develop new skills and manage that independence.

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Thinking at universityNew academic expectationsManaging your time and yourselfClass timeHomeworkReading skillsWriting skillsGroup workTests and examsAcademic integrityHelpful resourcesThe first six weeks

In what ways are you expected to think at university?

Generally speaking, in high school you earned high grades primarily through participation, memorizing facts and some integration of more complicated material. At university, the assumption is that you can memorize, and the professor wants to know if you can use your knowledge by applying or analyzing data or ideas. From the very first weeks, you will have to make and justify judgments about complex information.  A useful model of thinking is described in Bloom’s Taxonomy of Learning (2002):

pyramid of bloom's taxonomy

Conceptual thinking is the goal. Although many first-year courses call for you to memorize facts, theories and definitions, most of your grades will come from your ability to show you can apply ideas in new contexts, demonstrate how ideas connect, analyze arguments and proofs, or compare and contrast different theoretical approaches. As you progress at university, you will be asked to challenge, apply and perhaps even create new theories. This type of thinking requires the ability to deal with ambiguities in fact and argumentation: there may be no single right answer in many questions you deal with.

How can you shift between different levels of thinking?

The chart below describes some ways to think more deeply. Each level of thinking builds directly from the previous one. The strategies you choose should reflect the type of material that you need to learn (e.g., memorize the procedures to analyze a blood sample; describe the social impact of various political movements; compare and contrast theories of personality) and will likely involve more than one thinking level.

Thinking level

Activities that support this thinking level

Specific strategies

(see Learning Resources for details on these)

Memorizing Repeat, recite, do practice questions, self-test. Make cue cards; read content more than once (try our reading strategies to save time). Test yourself on facts or details using questions that start with “define,” “list,” or “identify.”
Understanding Paraphrase, look for relationships or connections among ideas. Add your own definition to cue cards; write short lecture summaries. Self-test using questions that start with “explain” or “describe.”
Conceptual thinking
(analyzing, applying)
Analyze the nature of the relationships identified at the “understanding” level. Summarize concepts within an organizing structure. Apply a theory to a problem. Make mind maps, charts, or math problem concept summaries. Self-test using questions that start with  “solve,” “apply,” “analyze,” “compare,” “contrast,” “prove,” or “justify.” Write thoughtful responses to questions that start with “how?”
Evaluative thinking Look for implications or consequences of the relationships analyzed at the “conceptual” level. Assess the assumptions & logic of an argument, and data/research implications, to form judgments about conflicting data or theories. Participate in discussion groups; examine practice cases; write thoughtful responses to questions that start with “why?”

Ask yourself whether you are doing homework and studying that helps you learn deeply.  Memorizing is necessary, but deeper conceptual thinking is the goal. Stop and think:

  • What does this material mean?
  • Does it connect to other things we’ve been learning?
  • How can I use this information?
  • What’s the SO WHAT or significance of this chapter or unit or concept?
  • How might this be applied?
  • How could I organize and condense it?

When you pay attention to the level of thinking you are practicing, and always try to go deeper, you will prepare yourself for the type of questions your professor may ask you on exams or in class discussions.

New academic expectations

Now that you know where you’re headed conceptually, we’ll show you how to get there through effective and evidence-based study habits. You are now responsible for directing your own learning: you will have to schedule your own time to complete assignments, readings and other tasks, like quizzes, so that you are prepared for class.

Roughly speaking, students in all faculties and programs should estimate about 8-10 hours per week for each 3-unit course. This estimate includes all activities: lectures, labs, readings, assignments, homework problems, groups work, and quizzes. Studying for tests or exams is on top of these hours, and many students spend 10-20 hours studying for mid-year and final exams.  That means that a useful rule of thumb is to think of university as a full-time job: it’ll take you about 40 hours a week, sometimes a bit more. How ought you to divide and use that time?

Managing your time and yourself

University presents a wonderful opportunity to grow, explore, create and meet new people. Balancing new opportunities, school work and healthy living is often challenging, but missing out on one of these elements can lead to a dissatisfying year.

Maintaining your physical health and a positive outlook by eating well, sleeping enough (7-9 hours a night is the average requirement for a young adult), and exercising will help keep you motivated for school. See our time management tools for more help.

Balancing the workload across all your courses

Often students find the biggest challenge is getting the work done in all their courses, and having time for eating, sleeping, relaxing and socializing.

Each course may have multiple weekly quizzes and assignments, in addition to the regular readings, problem-sets and homework. Sometimes you may fall behind, but knowing what is due when and how many marks the assignment is worth are important so you can make good choices about how you use your time.

You will need to find a way to keep track of commitments and homework time, which works for you. A learning strategies advisor will be happy to help you with this, or you can use these three tools:

Class time

While students might imagine that university teaching is comprised exclusively of lectures in large groups, courses are delivered using various teaching methods, including lectures, a blend of lecture and online delivery, and fully online delivery. Frequently, tutorials—small-group discussions led by a graduate student Teaching Assistant—and labs—practical experiences for science students—complement lectures and give you a chance to practice or debate ideas introduced in lectures or out-of-class readings.

Regardless of the amount of contact time you have with professors, you’ll need to do plenty of work both in class and beyond the lecture hall or tutorial room:

  • Prepare for class by skimming through lecture slides posted online and reading the required materials, familiarizing yourself with important concepts along the way.
  • Go to the scheduled classes, or plan regular learning time each week for online courses.
  • Learn to take notes or modify printed PowerPoint slides in lectures, labs and during group work.
  • Write a brief synopsis of the lecture, lab or tutorial in your own words, to capture the big picture: “What was this class about?” Write a few sentences to summarize the main ideas or topics shortly after class, and review it before the following class and while working on assignments and reading.

Efficient learners also:

  • do homework: the content is complex, and there is a lot of material to be learned.
  • keep up: The pace is fast and constant.
  • engage and think: your professors may seem distant, but they want to help. Ask for help if you don’t understand. Cultivate curiosity.
  • pay attention: manage external distractions by putting your phone out of sight and on silent during work time. Try using site-blocking software.


Separate your learning from your studying.

When we learn, we acquire, understand and apply information.  The key activity in learning is thinking. In contrast, studying improves memory retention and retrieval, and involves practice and self-testing.

Students sometimes overlap their learning and their studying, usually right before an exam (a.k.a. cramming). While they might pass the exam, they will probably have neither good understanding nor good recall of the course for later use (in a final exam, or in later courses that build on content from previous courses). Cramming isn’t effective and isn’t much fun.

Ideally, you should spread out your learning over the term so you can make associations and connections between ideas or theories or applications, and then focus on studying before a test or exam. Think of studying as first practicing the material and skills that you’ve already learned, and then testing yourself to see what you understand well, and what you need to review.

Why is it helpful to separate your learning from your studying?

  • Clear purpose When you sit down to do work, you will be more focused and understand the purpose of your work. Ask yourself: “What am I trying to do? Am I trying to understand this new material or am I trying to practice/memorize it?”
  • Improved understanding Learning as you go means you will understand fundamental material more fully, and then be ready for more complex content. Many professors teach by building on previous lessons, so it’s a good idea to learn in gradual steps.
  • Avoid cramming When you spread your learning over days or weeks during the term, you can avoid cramming for exams during study period. You can focus your studying on improving your depth of connections, application and analysis thinking, and speed and accuracy in math-type courses.

How to use homework time

Here is a summary of how you should use your homework time. For more information, including how much time to spend on each activity, please see How to use homework time.

  • Preview main concepts, lecture slides, lab instructions or readings before the next day’s lectures/labs/tutorials
  • Review and summarize notes or slides from that day’s lectures
  • Complete assignments (problem sets, readings, etc.)

Reading skills

Lectures are generally an introduction to a given topic, rather than everything you’ll need to know about it. The majority of your learning will be done outside of class. Most students will be asked to read academic articles, scholarly books, and textbooks for each lecture and/or tutorial.

Why are readings important? Reading at university is a fundamental way of obtaining information on the facts, theories and discussions involved in any subject. Academics in all disciplines from English to Engineering to Economics communicate and debate with each other in writing, so to understand what’s going on in a discipline, you’ll need to learn to read in a new way – and fast, since you’ll have to read a lot of material! Often, professors and teaching assistants will begin class with the assumption that you have already read that week’s reading, so if you don’t do it, you may struggle to understand what’s happening in class.

How can you improve your reading skills?

Ask yourself:

  • What is the purpose of this reading assignment? How does this reading tie in with the course overall?
  • Am I reading this journal article to get an overview of a research procedure?
  • Am I reading the text to learn new terms and concepts?
  • Am I reading the novel to be able to discuss themes and writing techniques?
  • Am I reading the pre-lab material to understand the procedures I’ll follow in the lab?

The timing of when you read will depend in part on the purpose of the reading. For example, in traditional lecture courses, if the professor lectures on the key ideas in the text, you might try skimming the chapter before class, and then read more thoroughly after the lecture. It usually takes less time to read after a class, because you can focus on what you didn’t understand during class.

For strategies to increase your reading effectiveness, visit the online resources about Reading and Note-making.

Writing skills

University-level writing is an essential skill. You are expected to be capable of expressing yourself clearly and logically in English using correct grammar, and to become better at expressing an argument or systematic procedure over time. Think of your written assignments as your chance to demonstrate what you’ve learned in a course.

Writing in university is quite different from writing in high school, and it takes much more time. Students are often surprised that they can’t write good-quality papers in a day or two, but must take a week or two to write (in addition to the time needed for research), and revise more than one draft, to produce what their professors expect.

Undergraduates and graduate students use the Writing Centre at SASS is heavily used by undergraduates and graduate students for free consultations with professional writers or trained upper-year students. You can develop skills such as generating ideas for a paper, working with an outline or early draft, refining a thesis statement, strengthening an argument and writing more clearly and concisely. You can also check out our popular series of tips on academic writing.

When it’s time to research a paper, go to a librarian for help. Each academic department has a liaison librarian and there are research resources for most departments.

Many resources are also available online through the Writing Centre. Credit courses in writing are also available through Continuing and Distance Studies.

students working in a groupGroup work

Common across all subjects, group work can be challenging if students have different understandings of the assignment, different work styles, or different personal goals.

You’re more likely to have positive group work experiences if you and your group members:

  • are organized and communicate well
    • discuss and agree on the goal, assignment, or purpose of the group. What are you supposed to do?
    • look at the timeframes, and set a reasonable working schedule to meet the deadline.
    • settle where and when will you meet. Make choices that are realistic and respectful of everyone’s needs.
    • talk about expectations for attending group meetings, and what might happen if members are always late, don’t do their part of the work, or drop away entirely. At what point might the group talk to the professor for guidance?
  • break the project down into small tasks, and decide when each should be done.
  • assign tasks appropriately
    • talk about what each person is good at, and also what new skills members might want to learn in the process
    • talk about personal work styles, and how some people might be a better fit for some tasks than others.
  • choose your battles. Avoid big blow-ups within the group by talking together about what is working well and what is not. Solve small disagreements as they come up. Some of the lessons in group work include how to cooperate, share responsibility, solve problems and maintain a sense of humour.

Tests and exams

Tests and exams can be challenging, but planning ahead and learning how to study effectively definitely helps. Start by reading the learning objectives in the course syllabus, in the lecture slides, or in handouts. They often indicate what is most important to know in the course.

The goal of most tests is to assess your ability to use your knowledge by applying or analyzing the key ideas. Re-reading or re-writing notes won’t be enough; you should also summarize themes in an organized structure so you can identify similarities and differences, understand relationships among concepts, do practice problems, drill, and self-test.

Exams can have different formats, including multiple choice, short answer, essay, quantitative problem-solving, or image recognition (e.g., slides in Anatomy or paintings in Art History). SASS exam prep tips suggest strategies helpful for each type of format.

Multiple choice exams are very common and they can tap application and analysis questions in addition to facts and details. Don’t be surprised by “solve” or “compare and contrast” questions on a multiple choice style exam!

bloom's taxonomy, annotated

Your midterm exams may be spread out over several weeks, and during midterm season it’s not unusual to get behind in regular course work. Make a plan to distribute your review over several study sessions, so you don’t get too far behind in other courses. For December and April exams, see the two-step study plan method.

Online tests and quizzes are very common, and might have a different format in each course. Ask the professor or read the course syllabus to learn about the quiz’s logistics and structure.

For strategies on preparing for and writing exams, visit our online resources on exam prep. For information about online exams or quizzes, see our online learning resource.

How does the grading system work?

Students are graded on a percentage scale (0-100%). Grades above 90% are exceedingly rare—even the best students may never receive them, so don’t be alarmed if your high school average appears to drop.

Your course scores will be averaged into a Grade Point Average (GPA) system, which has a range of 0.0 to 4.3 (4.3 corresponds to x% etc.). Depending on faculty regulations, students are expected to maintain a minimum cumulative GPA across all courses to progress in good standing.

You should become familiar with the regulations for your faculty. Within every faculty, there is an appeal process that students can use, depending on their circumstances, to challenge decisions based on the academic regulations. Speak with an academic advisor from your faculty for more information.

Understanding academic integrity and plagiarism

Academic integrity means the practice of honest and responsible scholarship. It’s a key part of everything we do at university. Plagiarism occurs most commonly when someone uses the words, thoughts, products or designs of another person without permission or giving credit. Queen’s, like all universities, takes academic integrity very seriously. You should know that you are responsible for understanding and practicing academic integrity.

Two of the most common reasons why students violate academic integrity are poor time management and lack of knowledge, both of which can be overcome with a little effort. SASS can help you with both topics; we offer a variety of resources, from workshops to online resources to one-on-one consultations. Plagiarism and other aspects of academic integrity are explained in detail here.

What if I need more help with my courses?

Queen’s wants you to enjoy your courses and have a successful year, and there are many resources to help you meet your goals.

Some resources include:

Feeling overwhelmed?

There will be times when you won’t be on top of your work, or aren’t able to do everything to 100% of your ability, or aren’t feeling healthy or balanced. This is common. Learning to make wise and strategic choices is part of being an efficient student, and nobody gets it right straight away or all of the time.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed, you can try to:

  • do something you enjoy, to relax and de-stress
  • follow some of the familiar routines from home, such as bedtimes and eating times
  • talk to a friend or family member for some encouragement
  • make a to-do list and break big tasks into small manageable steps
  • write down your concerns and think about your options for each
  • talk to a professor or TA to clarify an assignment, to see if your assignment is on the right track, or to get an idea of the focus of a reading
  • use campus resources such as Student Wellness Services, QUIC, Accessibility Services, your don or other Res Life staff, Four Directions Indigenous Student Centre, the Faith and Spiritual Life office, and Student Academic Success Services
  • see your faculty academic advisor in the general administration area of the faculty office. Go to the 1st floor of Dunning Hall for Arts & Science Advising, or the 1st floor of Goodes Hall for Commerce, or Student Services in Beamish-Munroe Hall for Engineering Advising.

Week One

  • Check my mindset: I’m in charge of my success at university.
  • Figure out where my classes are, and go to all of them.
  • Read the syllabus for each of my classes. Keep it for quick reference.
  • Transfer important dates and deadlines from course syllabi to my term calendar.
  • Get my textbooks and course packs.
  • Check my courses on OnQ.
  • Start right away on course readings, problem sets, and assignments; work builds up quickly.
  • Use my time between classes to get schoolwork done, so I can relax later.
  • Estimate how much time I’ll need to give to each course, and make a weekly schedule that includes time for work, sleep, extra-curricular activities, fun, and relaxation.

Week Two

  • Check my @queensu.ca e-mail account for important messages from Queen’s.
  • Visit my professors’ office hours to introduce myself.
  • Get to know other students in my classes. See if anyone wants to start a study group.
  • Find a study space where I can get work done.
  • Review my weekly schedule: is it working? Are there things I should change?
  • Are there courses I need to add or drop? Look up the deadline.
  • Go to a SASS workshop or sign up for a consultation with a learning strategies advisor.
  • Look into ways to get involved on campus.
  • Be open to new experiences, but stay connected with my family and old friends.
  • Get enough sleep (7-9 hours / night) and get into a routine that works for me.

Week Three

  • Keep going to all my classes so I’m not caught off guard at midterms.
  • Set up study groups with some motivated classmates.
  • Keep up with course work. Do my weekly readings or problem sets before lectures, read my lab instructions before going to the lab, preview my lecture notes or slides before the lectures.
  • Use my time between classes to do school work.
  • Get help from my prof or TA when I get stuck, or make an appointment at SASS.

Week Four

Week Five

Week Six

Welcome to Queen’s University! We are glad you are here. We want you to have a great first year. Just ask if you want help!

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SOCY 122 Essay Guidelines

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The following style and reference guide is based on the American Sociological Association Style Guide (4th Edition). A copy of the ASA Style Guide is available on reserve in Stauffer Library.

While this style and reference guide follows the ASA Style Guide on most points, we have introduced some minor but important differences for the purposes of undergraduate essays in the Queen’s Department of Sociology. You should read through this guide before you begin to write your essay and refer to it when referencing ideas, paraphrasing, or making direct quotations.

Queen’s offers information and support for web-based bibliographic management tools (often called citation managers) through the Queen’s Library.  If you use a citation management system, you must ensure that it will create an ASA style list of references at the end of your essay and always compare it to the guide and check for errors.

Basic Layout and Cover PagesHeadingsIn-text ReferencesMiscellaneousWhat is a Social Theory? What isn't?AssignmentsAppendicesReferences/Works Cited (Bibliography)

Basic Page Layout and Cover Pages

Basic Page Layout

Basic Page Layout

  • Type your essay in 12-point Times New Roman font
  • Double space the text and use left-justified style
  • Pages should be numbered consecutively (not including the title page) and placed in the top right-hand corner of each page as a number only (not as “page one,” for example).

To prevent Word from numbering your title page:  Insert – page number – top of page (right corner) – format page number- start at 0

  • One-inch margins top, bottom, and sides; write to the page limit specified in the assignment. Word counts were invented before word processors, they measure only large words and you should get about 250 per 8.5 x 11 page. Therefore always write to the specified page limit.
  • Student papers do not need spaces between each paragraph, and paragraphs should be indented

Remove extra spaces between paragraphs in Word:

“Home” tab  “Paragraph” box  “Line and Paragraph Spacing”  “Remove Space Before/After Paragraph”

Cover Pages

Cover Pages

  • Essays are to be stapled in the left-hand corner. NO COVERS, plastic or paper.
  • Title (titles must be real titles, not things such as “Essay # one”)

In the bottom right hand corner should be:

  • Your student number. (You are not required to place your name on assignments, but it helps.) Make sure your student number is correct!
  • The professor’s name and TA’s name
  • The course (tutorial day and time if applicable)
  • The date

Do not repeat any of this information in the body of the essay. There is no need to repeat the title on the first page of your essay, even though the formal ASA publication guide says you should.


First year students are cautioned to avoid using headings because they take up space and make it seem as if you do not have enough to say in your paper. If you are going to use them this is proper formatting in ASA:


  • Left justified, all capitals and no bold or italics

This Is A Level Two Heading

  • Left justified, first letter capitals, italics font, no bold

This is a level three heading.

  • A level three heading should appear at the start of sentence and should be indented if at the beginning of a paragraph. The first letter of the first word of a level three heading should be capitalized. The heading should be in italics font with no bold.

IMPORTANT: Headers do not replace the need for transitional statements connecting paragraphs. Also consider introducing your header sections somewhere in your introduction to help your reader better understand how and why you have structured your paper with headers.

In-Text References (Embedded Citations)

Essays must reference all quoted and paraphrased material within the text as it appears and have a list of references at the end or they will not be marked. The author-date system (ASA style) is used for in-text references.

Three ways to embed citations

There are three acceptable ways to do textual references in ASA style:

  1. According to Howell (1993), the divorce rates can be explained by social… (34).
  2. The divorce rate can be explained by social…(Howell 1993:34).
  3. According to Howell (1993:34), the divorce rates can be explained by social …

Avoid placing citations in the middle of sentences. Arrange your words so that the citations come at the beginning (e.g., Howell (1993) explains the divorce rate…”) or the end of the sentence. Note that the punctuation always comes after the bracket, but the quotation marks for a quote occur before the bracket, e.g., “Sentence you are quoting” (Smith 1980:24).

(ASA has given up the long-standing practice of putting commas after the author’s name in the in-text citations.) Note there is no P. for page in these citations.

ASA style guides state that page numbers are used only when directly quoting from the work or referring to specific passages. For first year students, we request that students always include the page numbers, even for their paraphrased material, while upper year students can follow the official ASA guidelines.

If the work you are using is online HTML and has no page numbers, you can go with simple (author date) or (author date: N.P.) N.P. stands for no page.  However, most PDF files will have the proper page numbers for online material, especially journal articles.

Other citation rules including punctuation

More Rules

If the author’s name is in the text, follow it with the publication year in parentheses: Thomson and Biers (1995) debated the issue…

If the author’s name is not in the text, enclose the last name and year in parentheses: Suburban growth has slowed (Paulan 1989:45-60).

If the page number is to be included it follows the year of publication after a colon: Braverman (1992:147) writes that…

If the information is cited from more than one source by the same author, enclose the years of publication, separated by a comma, in parentheses:  Dingwall (1951, 1958) suggests…

If the information is cited from more than one source by the same author published in the same year, distinguish them by using letters, e.g., (Trigger 1968a:78).

If a work cited was reprinted from a version published earlier, list the earliest publication date in brackets, followed by the publication date of the recent version used: …Veblen ([1899] 1979) stated that…

When citing two different authors with the same last name, use identifying initials, as in (L. Beard 1988).

When you cite more than one source, alphabetize citations by authors’ last names within parentheses and separate with a semi-colon, as follows: … to parallel the rise and fall of working class militancy (Andersen 1987; Leaky 1977; Vintner and Parks 1991).

If you wish to cite a study referred to in the source you are using and you have not read the original yourself, you can note it as follows: (McNeil cited in Hamilton 1996:23). This indicates that you are reading Hamilton and she is citing McNeil on page 23 of her book. This is the most common question first year students ask therefore it is highlighted in RED!

If there are two authors, include both names: A contemporary study (Carr and Ventelli 1986)…

In citations with three authors, all authors’ last names should be listed the first time the reference is cited, but thereafter substitute et al. for the second and third authors’ names. First citation: (Smith, Garcia and Lee 1954); subsequent citations: (Smith et al. 1954).

In the first in-text citation of sources with four or more authors, use the first author’s last name and the words et al., as in (Parker et al. 1995). List all names only when et al. would cause confusion.
For unpublished materials, use “forthcoming” to indicate material scheduled for publication. For dissertations and unpublished papers, cite the date: (Smith, forthcoming 2011).

For institutional authorship, supply minimum identification from the beginning of the reference item, as in (Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans 1991:98).

Ampersands (&) should not be used as a substitute for “and” in citations and references.

Use of ibid.

  • The use of (ibid.) is encouraged when you are citing the same author many times in the same paragraph. The first time you give the citation in full (Jones 1998:23). The subsequent times you may say (ibid.) or if the page number changes (ibid:24). Ibid. refers to the previous reference, so any time a different author’s citation is used you must start the process all over again.

Miscellaneous Style and Grammar Matters

Referencing Problems

Referencing Concerns

Do not cite your professor, teaching assistant, or high school teachers. These are not considered research sources. Furthermore, a research paper requires effort and use of the library. It is NOT acceptable to have only open web based sources in your reference page. Never use Wikipedia, and only use Google Scholar as a last resort. However, online peer reviewed journals found on the library subscription platforms are acceptable “online sources.” Abstracts do not count as articles for the purpose of your research essays; you must find the actual article. Book reviews are also not appropriate research sources, although you may choose to find the book being reviewed. Using the web to do research can be helpful, but you must take care that the web-based sources you use are legitimate. Use only reputable organizations and take note of the fact that many organizations online will have a very clear political position that they are supporting. While students are encouraged to use sociology encyclopedias and dictionaries to help them understand their topics students are encouraged to move away from this type of reference material when citing in their essays. It is important to attempt to define your terms based on the sources you are using rather than a dictionary definition. The Annual Review of Sociology is a helpful journal for picking essay topics but note that these are large overarching literature reviews and you will have to narrow your focus.

Evidence vs. Example

Evidence versus Example

All forms of journalism including newspapers, magazines, blogs, investigative TV shows, music, etc. are all useful ways to find examples of the issues you may be discussing in your paper. They do not, however, constitute evidence.  Pop culture is not considered academic evidence; it is only used as example.



Conducting interviews is not permissible without an ethics review process and this will not be granted to first year students. If you want to incorporate material of this nature it must be stated as personal experience. You may not quote other students and you should not be asking other people questions without going through the ethics review process.

Avoid Vague, Unfocused Thesis Statements

Avoid Vague, Unfocused Thesis Statements

A vague thesis statement often results in a paper that is unfocused and never reaches meaningful conclusions. You should avoid putting issues in the thesis statement that are never followed up on, and avoid putting issues in the paper that are not accounted for in the thesis statement. The thesis statement is the most important and difficult piece of writing. Your thesis paragraph sets up a “contract” between you and your  reader and should indicate the specific issues(s) that will be analyzed in the paper (i.e., what is to be argued) and the direction that the essay will take (i.e., how it will be argued). You should endeavour to answer the question “So what?” What is the social significance of the issue at hand? A thesis statement is not the same thing as a topic. A topic is broad and a thesis is very specific. Please consult the Writing Centre web page under the “Writing Resources” → “Handouts” tabs for more information on proper thesis construction.

Ask yourself these questions:

  • Does the thesis indicate a specific problem or question?
  • Is the thesis sufficiently developed?
  • Does the thesis offer an evaluation?
  • Is the thesis arguable? Is it too broad or too narrow?
  • Is the thesis too obvious or too obscure?
  • Is the thesis clearly expressed?

A thesis is:

  • NOT a description (This essay will discuss the wage gap and the way it affects Canadian women ….)
  • NOT a statement that is self-evident (Understanding the wage gap is important …)
  • NOT a statement of fact (The wage gap continues to affect women in the Canadian workforce …)
  • NOT a question (Does the wage gap still exist in today’s Canadian workforce?)
  • NOT a matter of personal opinion or preference that cannot be argued against (Men have had their share of the pie long enough …)
  • NOT a broad generalization (Men are from Mars; women are from Venus …)


If you use footnotes, their purpose is to discuss any matter, which cannot appear in the text without constituting a digression. Where the footnote’s purpose is documentation, the reference must be sufficiently full that an interested reader can go with complete certainty to the same place in the same source to check the accuracy and fullness of the reference. A footnote to text material is shown by a superscript number or figure, which should follow a word or sentence to which it pertains. It follows the word without a space, but comes after the punctuation marks. Footnotes are to be numbered consecutively. The separation between the footnotes and the body of the text should be marked by a line across the page. Each footnote takes paragraph indentation and should be single spaced.



Paragraphs should be at least three lines long and have a beginning, a middle, and an end – with a point clearly made somewhere in them. You need smooth transitions between paragraphs. Paragraph transitions technically occur at the beginning of the new paragraph, not at the end of the old one. Relate paragraphs to each other through introductory and (if needed) concluding sentences. Avoid dealing with too many ideas in one paragraph. Hence, break up long paragraphs (most paragraphs should be less than half a page in length). Do not introduce new ideas or information in your concluding paragraph. Use your conclusion to reiterate your thesis and sum up. You must move beyond the “five paragraph hamburger” essay model that you used in high school. Essays will contain as many points and as many paragraphs as are needed to address an issue.



Quotations that would exceed four lines in the regular text should be offset from the rest of the text, single- spaced. (We realize some style guides say double spaced, but we don’t want you to do that) with no quotation marks and indented on the left side only. For example, you might write the following:

In his essay on “‘Objectivity’ in Social Science and Social Policy,” Weber (1949:54) argued:

An empirical science cannot tell anyone what he should do – but rather what he can do – and
under certain circumstances – what he wishes to do.  It is true that in our sciences, personal
value-judgments have tended to influence scientific arguments without being explicitly

Suspending one’s personal value judgments when writing an essay is crucial to the sociological enterprise, and students should avoid the error of letting them slip into their arguments.

NOTE: Some formal guides close offset quotes with a period and then follow that punctuation with the citation (Jones 1983:23).  – closing with another period! We see no logic to this format. No sentence should be punctuated with two periods.

Regular quotations are integrated into the sentence and do use quotation marks, as in the following:

Weber (1949:54) argued that “in our sciences, personal value-judgments have tended to influence scientific arguments without being explicitly admitted.”

Use single quotation marks only for noting quotations within a quote. For example you might write the following:

Weber (1949:60) also emphasized that the journal “has not been a ‘socialist’ organ hitherto and in the future it shall not be ‘bourgeois’.”

Refrain from using quotations at the end of paragraphs. It is better to sum up your point in your own words. Quotations do not stand alone on merit: you must tell the reader what is important about the quotation or sum up the point. Otherwise, the quote just seems dropped in to take up space. If the quotation starts with a capital letter, then a colon is used, e.g., She states: “When….” If the quotation it is not capitalized, then a comma is used, e.g., She states, “when…”

Avoid Wordiness

Avoid Wordiness

Keep things simple and to the point. Don’t repeat yourself and don’t throw in extra descriptions in front of people’s names like “the renowned writer Weber” – unless it is important to your point. Don’t cite entire book titles in the essay; that is why there is a reference list at the end of your paper.

Avoid Sweeping Assumptions

Avoid Sweeping Assumptions

Refrain from ahistorical or sweeping assumptions that you cannot prove or worse yet can be easily disproved, such as “for all of time,” or “throughout history,” or “since the beginning.” Always use qualifying words to be safe, such as “some,” “many,” “most.” Any student who starts their paper with any of these above dreaded fallacies is going to cause despair in the grader, remember you are not in high school anymore!



  1. Canadian spelling is required, e.g., “colour,” not “color.” Change the spellchecker language in your computer to English (Canada).
  2. Use complete clear sentences. Watch verb tense and grammar.
  3. Be aware of the difference between “there” and “their,” “to” and “too,” and “then” and “than.” “It’s” is not possessive! It is a contraction that stands for “it is.”
  4. NOT 1990’s. The apostrophe makes it possessive. Only use it when you mean the date to be possessive.
  5. Avoid gender specific language unless you mean to be gender specific.
  6. Don’t use big words when small ones will do.
  7. Be careful with that thesaurus: make sure the words you choose capture the intended meaning.
  8. Colloquial terms are not used in formal writing, e.g., “to hell in a hand basket,” “the rat race.”
  9. Keep an academic tone. Contractions are not used in formal writing. Avoid writing the way you talk.
  10. When using an acronym, spell out the complete term the first time you use it and present the acronym in parentheses: First use: “The Current Population Survey (CPS) includes . . . .” Later: “CPS data show that . . .”
  11. Racial/ethnic names that represent geographical locations or linguistic groups should be capitalized. For example, Asian, African Canadian, Caucasian, Indo Canadian. The words black and white are not capitalized.
  12. Type only one space after punctuation and do not use periods in acronyms like NAFTA (not N.A.F.T.A.)
  13. Italics should be used for book titles in the text and in the list of references and for obscure foreign language words. Commonly used foreign words or terms, however, should appear in regular type. Examples are per se, ad hoc, and et al.

Do not abbreviate the names of institutions or people’s rank or title unless it is Dr.

Using Numbers

Using Numbers

Spell out numbers one through nine. Use numerals for numbers 10 or greater. Always spell out numbers at the beginning of a sentence. Always use numerals for tables and figures. Spell out centuries. Spell out common fractions. Always use numerals with percents.  Numerals are always used to represent time and money.

Active Voice

Active Voice

The active voice is more precise and less wordy. The subject of an active sentence tells the reader who did something. For example: A team of 14 trained interviewers queried 350 college graduates. A passive construction would read: Three hundred fifty college graduates were queried. Always try to write in the active voice.

Subject-Verb and Number Agreement

Subject-Verb Agreement and Number Agreement

The subject of a sentence must agree in number with the verb regardless of the words or phrases that come between them. If you use the word “woman” the verb must be singular. It is very common to see students write “woman are” which makes no sense.  The word data is plural and takes a plural verb as in “the data as reported are correct”.

What is a Social Theory? What isn’t?



A model is a temporarily useful way of seeing. A model is a way of organizing a set of recognizable facts in such a way as to describe social reality at least for a time or for a specific purpose. It treats some “facts” as relevant and others as anomalies or irrelevancies. Models provide an immediate image of something that has been identified from experience. Parson’s model of the structurally isolated nuclear family would be an example. A model is not a theory, although it may be a starting point for the construction of a conceptual framework.

Conceptual Framework:

Conceptual Framework:

Conceptual frameworks provide key concepts used for analyzing and communicating about the observations represented in a model. It sets out the basic abstract building blocks that might be used in the construction of a theory but in and of itself does not constitute a theory. They can be thought of as theoretical perspectives that suggest the kinds of questions we should ask, direct our attention to certain events, and they help interpret what we observe. For example, an anti-racist conceptual framework would focus on colonialism and imperialism as key concepts for framing analyses around “race.”


Theory: A theory is a set of systematic abstract statements based upon the subsumption of observable phenomena within a conceptual framework which attempts to provide an EXPLANATION that includes a description of how social reality works and an understanding of why it works the way it does. The worth of theory lies in its ability to EXPLAIN the facts, not just to describe them. The more facts a theory seems to explain, the greater the GENERALITY of that theory. Other criteria of assessment would include the clarity of the logic of the explanation (parsimony), the specificity of the concepts and propositions (discriminability), and the testability – the extent to which the assertions of the theory can be disconfirmed by evidence.

A theory at a macro level of analysis is a theory that purports to describe and explain the way whole societies function, often in terms of the effect of the economy on all other aspects of the society.

A theory at a micro level of analysis is a theory that purports to describe and explain small-scale interactions amongst two or more persons, such as the internal dynamics of family.

There are a whole range of levels of analysis between macro and micro. R. Merton referred to these as theories of the middle range as they attempt to explain social relations in particular sorts of social institutions such as bureaucracies. Max Weber is a good example of a major sociologist who theorized at this middle range.

Ideology vs. Theory, Theoretical Depth, and Methodological Errors

Some theories you cannot categorize in this way as they attempt to integrate macro and micro level considerations.

Ideology vs. Theory

Ideology vs. Theory

An IDEOLOGY is a comprehensive world view that may or may not be “true” and is not the only way of viewing the world. Ideologies emerge from material realities but also help to construct material realities and often function as a system of social control. Ideologies will give broad answers to questions of social meaning including What is right / wrong? Who/what is responsible (what is the cause of the problem)? and what can be done about it (what changes are needed)?

Alternatively, a theory aims to explain social relations (What/ How/ Why) based on evidence. Theories must be tested against evidence, whereas ideologies may stand relatively unexamined unconscious and untested. Sociological theory is dependent for its validity upon evidence which is examined both historically (diachronically) and cross-culturally (synchronically). Theory can be a guide to what is researched. There is a dialectical (dynamic tension) between theory and evidence as they will impact each other and change each other. All theory contains ideological elements; implications about what is right or wrong and about what can be changed. Critical analysts should tease out and address these “hidden” implications of particular theories and show what the consequences may be.

Include Theoretical Depth

Include Theoretical Depth

It is very important in sociology that you not rely on commonsensical notions, perceptions or opinions. Sociology is not “common sense.” Support your ideas with material from the literature. When doing sociological research, you do not enter the library to attempt to prove a point you have in your head. You enter the library to read some of the scholarship on a topic and then develop your argument from there. Use specific examples to illustrate points and concepts. Demonstrate your assertions. Sociologists analyze and explain, they don’t just describe. It is the social theories that will help you to explain your topic. A theoretical perspective is a point of view on an issue, and everyone has one.

Students have a tendency to write about theories in one separate paragraph as if they had nothing to do with the rest of the argument in the paper. Avoid doing this. Sociology students writing argumentative essays write from a theoretical position not about theoretical positions. Theories do not cause the event you are looking at. Rather, they attempt to explain it. Therefore avoid sentences that say such things as “Due to Social Learning theory, children do better when…” The theory is not the cause of whatever you are discussing. The better your use of theory, the more solid your argument will be, and ultimately the better your paper will be as it will be more coherent.

Methodological Errors

Methodological Errors

Methodological individualism: Inferring properties of social relations from properties of individual persons. Sometimes theories at the micro level claim to be self-sufficient generalizations about the whole of human nature. For example, socio-biologists explain male-female relations in terms of biological parental investment. This is criticized by many sociologists as REDUCTIONIST, because it seems to reduce generalizations about the whole of societies to generalizations about the behaviour of individuals. This form of reasoning is also described as ESSENTIALIST and is said to represent the problem of methodological individualism.

Reification: The fallacy of misplaced concreteness: treating that which is abstract (e.g., society) as though it were concrete (e.g., society needs to work harder to fix inequality). Society is a thing, not an agent. Reification means to make concrete that, which is abstract. When you start sentences with phrases such as “society thinks,” “cultures have views,” and “institutions force,” what you are doing is giving those non-human things human qualities. Institutions cannot force: only people force. You need to be specific about who does these things. Medical professionals have opinions, medicine does not. When you reify, you are really making a functionalist statement that implies that everyone in society has the same values, thus denying that people with differing views are part of society. If society makes women feel fat, where does that leave all the people who would not make women feel fat? The question is: who or what processes result in women feeling fat? Think carefully about your word choice.


ANSWER THE QUESTION! Maintain a balance in your essay sections. Each component of the question to be answered should hold equal weight. Incorporate recent publications into your references. Do not say, “Today we think …” if your source is not recent!  Qualify your use of old sources. Explain sociological concepts  –  never assume the marker knows what you are talking about. Follow the instructions exactly.

Submitting Essays

Submitting Essays

Essays are typically submitted on line through the course web page. However, if you ever miss this opportunity or have to hand something in late, or you are asked to submit a hard copy, you can hand papers through the “essay slot” outside the Sociology main office M-C D431. They will be date stamped and put in the appropriate mailbox. DO NOT enter the main office and disturb the administrative staff. You are responsible for providing your own staples and ensuring that all the relevant information is on the front of your paper. Please get your TA’s name correct, as assignments cannot be distributed properly without the TA’s name. NEVER slide essays under any door. If you are not in this sociology class, please ask your instructor where you are to hand in your papers.



It is assumed that students have read and are familiar with the university’s policy on academic dishonesty in the regulations section of the Queen’s Faculty of Arts and Science Calendar. The section on plagiarism spells out what constitutes academic dishonesty with reference to essay writing. This includes:

  • Submitting as one’s own an essay written in whole or in part by someone else.
  • Preparing an essay for another student to submit.
  • Using direct quotations or large sections of paraphrased material without acknowledgement.

There are serious penalties for plagiarism. If you have any doubt about what this means, you should talk to the professor or your TA.

Note: Please keep copies of all past assignments until you graduate because you may be asked to produce old assignments if we feel that work has been submitted more than once. Always keep a back-up copy of any essay you hand in.


Use appendices only when necessary and make them brief. Appendices allow you to include detailed information in your paper that would be distracting in the main body of the paper. Examples of items you might have in an appendix include mathematical proofs, the questionnaire used in the research, a detailed description of an apparatus used in the research, etc.

Format of appendices

Your paper may have more than one appendix. Usually, each distinct item has its own appendix. If your paper only has one appendix, label it “Appendix” (without quotes.) If there is more than one appendix, label them “Appendix A,” “Appendix B,” etc. (without quotes) in the order that each item appears in the paper. Start each appendix on a new page. Continue numbering your pages as in the main body of the research paper.

In the main text parenthetical citation refer to the Appendices by their labels.
(see Appendix. Age and Gender of Participants)
(see Appendix A. Age and Gender of Participants)

In the Reference section:

Author. year. Appendix A Title of work. Location: Publisher

References/Works Cited (Bibliography)

Your final list of sources, titled References, is an alphabetized list of EVERY source referred to or quoted in your paper. References are not numbered. These references allow your reader to identify and retrieve the sources you have cited in your research in order to engage further in the ideas you present in your research. NOTE:  A bibliography is not the same thing as a reference page per se. Bibliographies include sources you have found helpful, even if you have not directly quoted from or referred to them in your paper. For our students only materials cited in the text of your essay may go in your reference page at the end of the paper, everything else will be considered padding.

Reference List Rules

  • Your references list appears on a separate page at the end of your paper. Number this page sequentially with the rest of your paper, and centre the word “References” at the top of it. You do not need to bold, italicize, or underline this title. All references cited in the text must be listed and vice-versa.
  • Officially, references should be double-spaced, but this is very hard to read so check with your TA or instructor for their preference. You will notice that the sample bibliography provided is not double spaced but a space between each entry is helpful.
  • Use hanging indention. Type the first line of each reference entry flush to the left margin. Indent all subsequent lines at least three spaces.
  • List references in alphabetical order by the author’s last name. Invert the authors’ name. If there are two or more authors, invert only the first author’s name. When no author is given, list the work alphabetically by title, disregarding “A,” “An” or “The.” NOTE: The author is not necessarily an individual, but may be an institution or a committee.
  • Arrange multiple items by the same author in order by year of publication, earliest year first. Use six hyphens and a period (——.) in place of the name(s) for repeated authorship.
  • Distinguish works by the same author in the same year by adding letters (e.g., 1993a, 1993b, 1993c).
  • Use italics for book and periodical titles (underline if italics are not available).
  • If no date is available, use “N.d.” in place of the date.
  • Name every author of each reference; “et al.” is not acceptable.
  • Use authors’ first names, not first initials, unless only initials appear in the original source.
  • List the publisher’s name as concisely as possible without losing clarity.  For example:  “Riley” for “William Riley and Sons.”


Sample Reference List Using American Sociological Association Style

(See The Sociology Student Writer’s Manual Fifth Edition by Johnson, Rettig, Scott and Garrison for more detailed information and entries)

You need Hanging indentation. Here’s how:
1. Select all the text you want indented. (CTRL/A will select the entire document.)
2. Right-click in the selection and select Paragraph from the pop-up menu.
3. Set the Special list box to Hanging.
4. Click OK.



Book with One Author

Author’s last name, first name. date of publication. title in italics. place of publication: publisher.

Acker, Joan R. 1989. Doing Comparable Worth: Gender, Class, and Pay Equity. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press.

Prus, Robert C. 1996. Symbolic Interaction and Ethnographic Research: Intersubjectivity and the

Study of Human Lived Experience. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.                 

Book with Two Authors (second name not reversed)

Bryk, Anthony and Stephen Raudenbush. 1992. Hierarchical Linear Models for Social

and Behavioral Research: Applications and Data Analysis Methods. New York: Sage.

Renzetti, Claire M. and Daniel J. Curran. 1998. Living Sociology. Boston, MA: Allyn and Bacon.

Book with Three or More Authors (the use of et al. is not acceptable in references section)

Belsley, David A., Edwin Kuh, and Roy E. Welsch. 1980. Regression Diagnostics:

Identifying Influential Data and Sources of Collinearity. New York: Wiley.

Book, Edited

Turner, Stephen P., ed. 1996. Social Theory and Sociology: The Classics and Beyond.

Cambridge, MA: Blackwell.

Leonard, Kimberly Kempf, Carl E. Pope, William H. Feyerherm, eds. 1995. Minorities in Juvenile Justice.

Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Book, Editions

McCullagh, Peter and John A. Nedler.1989. Generalized Linear Models. 2nd ed. London, England: Chapman

and Hall.

Book, Volumes

Gurr, Ted Robert, ed. 1989. Violence in America. Vol. 1, The History of Crime. Newbury Park, CA: Sage


Book, No Author (listed alphabetically by the first significant word in the title. Do not use “Anonymous.” If you can ascertain the name of the author when it is not formally given in the work itself place the author’s name in brackets)

The Chicago Manual of Style. 2003. 15th  ed. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

[Morey, Cynthia]. 1997. How We Mate: American Dating Customs, 1950-2000. New York: Putney.

Book, Chapter

Author1(last name inverted), Author 2 not inverted and author 3. Date of publication. “Title of the article”. P.p. with page numbers in Name of the publication (italicized), edited by editor’s initials only for first and middle names and not inverted. Location of publisher: publisher’s name.

Borjas, George, Richard Freeman, and Lawrence Katz. 1992. “On the Labor Market Effects of Immigration and Trade.” Pp. 213-44 in Immigration and the Work Force, edited by G. Borjas

and R. Freeman. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

Book, Chapter ( not edited)

Neuman, W. Lawerence. 1994. “Qualitative Research Design.” Pp. 316-29 in Social Research Methods: Qualitative and Quantitative Approaches. 2nd ed. Boston,

MA: Allyn and Bacon.

Book, Collected Works (Anthology), Article

Sampson, Robert J. 1992. “Family Management and Child Development: Insights from Social Disorganization Theory.” Pp. 63-93 in Advances in Criminology Theory, vol. 3,

Facts, Frameworks and Forecasts, edited by J. McCord. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction.

Book, Compilation

Trakas, Dylan, comp. 1998. Making the Road-Ways Safe: Essays on Highway Preservation and Funding.

El  Paso, TX: Del Norte Press.

Book, Translated

Stomper, Jean. 2000. Grapes and Rain. Translated by John Picard. New York: Baldock.

Lattimore, Richard, trans. 1951. The Iliad of Homer. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Book, Republished

Bernard, Claude. [1865] 1957. An Introduction to the Study of Experimental Medicine. Translated by H.C.

Greene. Reprint, New York:  Dover.

Books, Electronic

Last Name, First Name. Year. Title. City, Province. Publisher. Date retrieved (website address).

Torres, Carlos Alberto and Theodore R. Mitchell, eds. 1998. Sociology of Education: Emerging

            Perspectives. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press. Retrieved April 26, 2005


Journal Articles

Journal Articles

NOTE: Volume and issue numbers in journals are often confusing for students. Generally the volume number comes first and if there is an issue number it comes second. It may look like this:   Vol. 24 Is. 3, or V. 24 No.2,  or  24(2). The last form is preferred.

NOTE:  The majority of journal articles are now found in on-line form in library subscription data bases, for the purposes of SOCY 122 it is not necessary for students to record the retrieval date and URL of the article as the 4th edition of the official ASA style guide indicates. However, if the article is retrieved from the open web then the retrieval date and URL should be provided.

Journal Article, One Author

Author1 (last name inverted). Date of publication.”Title of the article.” Name of the publication in italics Volume Number (Issue Number):page numbers of article.

Waldfogel, Jane. 1997. “The Effect of Children on Women’s Wages.” American

Sociological Review 6293):209-17.

Mehdizadeh, Shahla A. 2002. “Health and Long-Term Care Use Trajectories of Older Disabled

Women.” Gerontologist 42(1):304-13.

Journal Article, Two Authors

Abrahamson, Mark and Lee Sigelman. 1987. “Occupational Sex Segregation in

Metropolitan Areas.” American Sociological Review 52(5):588-97.

Schoenberg, Nancy E. and Hege Ravdal. 2000. “Using Vignettes in Awareness and Attitudinal

Research.” International Journal of Social Research Methodology 3(1):63-74.

Journal Article, Multiple Authors

O’Reilly, Charles A., David F. Caldwell, and William P. Barnett. 1989. “Work Group

Demography, Social Integration, and Turnover.” Administrative Science Quarterly 34(2):21-37.

Journal Article, Foreign Language

Wegener, Berndt. 1987. “Von Nutzen Entfernter Bekannter” (Benefiting from Persons We Barely Know).

Kolner Zitschrift fur soziologie und Sozialpsychologie39:278-301.

Kenny, Martin and Richard Florida. 1998. “Response to the Debate over ‘Beyond Madd Production’” (in

Japanese). Mado 83:120-45.

Journal Article, Open Web (not from Queen’s library subscription data bases)

Schafer, Daniel W. and Fred L. Ramsey. 2003. “Teaching the Craft of Data Analysis.” Journal of Statistics

Education 11(1).  Retrieved December 12, 2006  (http://www.amstat.org/publications/jse/v11n1/schafer.html).

Graham, Lorie M. 1998. “The Past Never Vanishes: A Contextual Critique of the Existing Indian

Family Doctrine.” American Indian Law Review, 23:1 (32,854 words). Retrieved April 26,

2005 (http://web.lexis-nexis.com/universe).

Article from an open on-line repository for academic papers, such as Academia.edu

(1) Always cite the published version if the cited work is indeed published. (The published version is the archival work; the Open Access version is merely a means of access to a supplementary version of it. It is not the published work.)

(2) Always give the URL or DOI of the Open Access version for access purposes, along with the citation to the published version.

For more information, please see:


Meinhold Roman. 2009. “Popular Culture and Consumerism: Mediocre, (Schein-)Heilig and Pseudo-

Therapeutic.” Academia.edu. Retrieved Feb 12, 2013 (http://www.academia.edu/202348/Popular_Culture_and_Consumerism_Mediocre_Schein-_Heilig_and_Pseudo-Therapeutic).

Journal Article, Book Review

Saenz, Rogelio. 1990. Review of Migracion en el Occidente de Mexico by Gustavo Lopez Castro.

Contemporary Sociology 19(3):415


Quimby, Ernest. 1993. “Obstacles to Reducing AIDS among African Americans.” Abstract. The Journal of

            Black Psychology 19(2):215-22.

Online Abstract

Howell, Frank M. and William A. Reese. 1986. “Sex and Mobility in the Dual Economy: From Entry to

Midcareer” (Abstract). Work and Occupations 13:77-97. Retrieved 12 March 1998 (http://proquest.umi.com/pqdweb?RQT=395&SHtm=3&TS=889478198).



Paper, Refereed  Forthcoming

McCall, Leslie. Forthcoming. “Explaining Within-Group Wage Inequality in U.S. Labor

Markets.” Demography.

Paper, Unpublished

Nomiya, Daishiro. 1988. “Urbanization and Income Inequality: A Cross- National Study.” Department of

Sociology, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, NC. Unpublished manuscript.

Paper, Working

Williamson, Jeffery. 1996. “Globalization and Inequality Then and Now: The Late Nineteenth

and Late twentieth Centuries Compared.” Working Paper No. 5491. National Bureau of Economic Research, Cambridge, MA.

Stephenson, Stanley P., Jr. 1980. “In-School Work and Early Post-School Labor Market

Dynamics.” Working paper, Department of Economics, Pennsylvania State

University, State College, PA.

Paper, Conference

Mishel, Lawrence and Jared Bernstein. 1996. “Technology and the Wage Structure: Has Technology’s Impact Accelerated since the 1970s?” Paper presented at the NBER

Labor Studies Workshop, July, Cambridge, MA.

Mortimer, Jeylan T., Michael Finch, Timothy J. Owens, Michael Shanahan, and Michael Kemper. 1989. “The Nature and Correlates of Early Adolescent Work Experiences.”

Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association, August, San Francisco, CA.

Paper, Discussion

Sorensen, Aage B. 1983. “Processes of Allocation to Open and Closed Positions in Social Structure.” Discussion Paper No. 722-83, Institute for Research on Poverty,

University of Wisconsin, Madison, WI.

Paper, Presented

Zerubavel, Eviatar.1978. “The Benedictine Ethic and the Spirit of Scheduling.” Presented at the annual meeting of the International Society for the Comparative Study of Civilizations,

April 22, Milwaukee, WI.

Other Source Types

Other Source Types

Newspaper Article

Rimland, Bernard. 2000. “Do children’s shots invite autism?” Los Angeles Times, April 26, A13.

Snyder, Donna. 1999. “Judge Orders Teen’s Hearing in Murder Case to Be Closed.”  Buffalo

            News, May18, 1B.

Web Version of Newspapers

Clary, Mike. 2000. “Vieques Protesters Removed without Incident.” Los Angeles Times, May 5.

Retrieved May 5, 2000 (http://www.latimes.com/news/nation/updates/lat_vieques000505.htm).

Blank, Rebecca M. 2008. “How We Measure Poverty.” Los Angeles Times, September 15.

            Retrieved January 7, 2009 (http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/sunday/


Magazine Article

Jana, Reena. 2000. “Preventing culture clashes – As the IT workforce grows more diverse, managers must improve awareness without creating inconsistency.”

InfoWorld, April 24, pp. 95.

Gibbs, Nancy. 1999. “Noon in the Garden of Good and Evil: The Tragedy at Columbine Began As a Crime Story but Is Becoming a Parable.”

Time, May 17, 153:54.

Brochure or Pamphlet

Writing: The Goal Is Variety (4th ed.) [Brochure]. Hartford, CT: Author.

Treat pamphlets created by corporate authors in the same way you would treat an entire book written by a corporate author. Do not forget to identify your resource as [Brochure] or [Pamphlet] within brackets.

Reports, Bulletins, Fact Sheets and Newsletters

Report, No Author

U.S. Department of Justice. Bureau of Justice Statistics. 2010. “Key Facts at a Glance: Imprisonment Rates.”

Retrieved July 14, 2010 (http:// www.ojp.usdoj.gov/content/glance/incrt.cfm).

Report, Author

Catalano, Shannan M. 2006. National Crime Victimization Survey: Criminal Victimization, 2005. Bureau of Justice Statistics: Bulletin. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice.

Retrieved July 10, 2010 (http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/content/pub/pdf/cv05.pdf).

Newsletter, No Author

American Sociological Association. 2004. “Public Affairs Update: Concerned Scientists Say Bush Administration Ignores Research…” Footnotes, April. Retrieved July 10,2010


Dissertations and Theses

Valencia, Albert. 1995. “An examination of selected characteristics of Mexican-American battered women and implications for service providers.”

PH.D. dissertation, Department of Education, University of the Pacific, Stockton, CA.

Data Set/Machine-Readable Data Files

Treiman, Donald J., ed. 1994. Social Stratification in Eastern Europe after 1989: General Population Survey. Provisional Codebook (December 7, 1994)

[MRDF]. Los Angeles, CA: UCLA Institute for Social Science Research, Social Science Data Archive [distributor].

U.S. Census Bureau. 1996. Statistical Abstracts of the United States, 1995. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Commerce.

Government Publication – Individual Author(s)

Romaniuc, Anatol. 1984. Fertility in Canada: From Baby-Boom to Baby Bust. Cat. no. 91- 524E. Ottawa, ON: Statistics Canada.

Government Publication – Group or Organization as Author

Canada. Department of Indian and Northern Affairs. 1982. Outstanding Business: A Native Claims Policy. Ottawa, ON: Ministry of Supply and Services.

Specific Tables in a Government Report or Census Report

U.S. Census Bureau. 1943. U.S. Census of the Population: 1960.  Employment and  Personal Characteristics. Table 26. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.

 U.S. Census Bureau. 1956. U.S. Census of the Population: 1950. Vol. 4, Special  Reports: Occupational Characteristics. Table 1. Washington, DC: U.S.

Government Printing Office.

Government Report or Report by a Professional Association

Freeman, Richard, ed. 1997. When Earnings Diverge: Causes, Consequences, and Curses for the New Inequality in the U.S. Report #284, National Planning

Association, Washington, DC.

W.T. Grant Foundation. 1988. The Forgotten Half: Pathways to Success for America’s Youth and Young Families. Washington, DC: Youth and America’s Future,

William T. Grant Commission on Work, Family and Citizenship.

Census Data

Example from the 96 Census:

Statistics Canada. 1996 Census of Canada. Profile data. Ottawa, Canada. [Data obtained from PCensus Soft wear, Tetrad Computer Applications, Vancouver, B.C.].

Depending on your needs, you could include more detail in the citation e.g., the level of geography:

…Census of Canada. Profile Data for Kingston at the census Tract Level. Ottawa…..


Scientists and engineers Statistical Data System (SESTAT). 2006. “Table B-1: U.S. Scientists and Engineers, by Detailed Field and Level of Highest Degree Attained: 1999.” Retrieved July 10, 2010


Survey Instrument

National Science Foundation. 2006. “2006 Survey of Doctorate Recipients.” Arlington, VA: national Science

Foundation. Retrieved July 10, 2010 (http://….).

Archival Sources

National Archives, Box 133. 1991. File: State and Local Information, September-October 1990. Letter from Vice President of the National Association for the

Advancement of Learning Disabled People to William Wondra.

George Meany Memorial Archives, Legislature Reference Files, Box 6. March 18, 1970. File: 20. Memo, Conference with Gloster Current, Director of Organization,

National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

Information Posted on Web pages including Academia.edu which is an open on-line repository for academic papers.

American Sociological Association. 2000. “Scholarship of Teaching and Learning Workshop.” Washington, DC: American Sociological Association. Retrieved May 5, 2000


Meinhold Roman. 2009. “Popular Culture and Consumerism: Mediocre, (Schein-)Heilig and Pseudo-Therapeutic.” Academia.edu.

Retrieved Feb 12, 2013 (http://www.academia.edu/202348/Popular_Culture_and_Consumerism_Mediocre_Schein-_Heilig_and_Pseudo-Therapeutic).

“Social Science Information Gateway: Sociology.” 2005. University of Surrey. Retrieved April 27,

2005 (http://sosig.esrc.bris.ac.uk/sociology/).

“Statistical Resources on the Web: Sociology.” 2002. University of Michigan Documents Center.

Retrieved April 26, 2005 (http://www.lib.umich.edu/govdocs/stsoc.html).

Email Citation

If emails are referred to in an essay they, like other personal communication, should be entered as part of the text and referenced in a footnote. Emails are rarely cited in a reference list. When referring to communication by email obtain the permission of the owner before using it and do not cite the email address.

Example Text: In an email message to the author, Jones indicated that he was leaving the university.

Footnote: number superscript John Jones, email message to author May 19 2010.


Citing a blog in the text requires the author’s last name and date (DeLong 2007). In the reference section:

Delong, Brad. 2007. “Thomas Piketty and Emmanuel Saez Give Their Current View on American Income Inequality.” The Brad Delong Blog, January 7, 2007.

Retrieved January 9, 2007 (http://econ161.berkeley.edu/movable_type).

Religious Texts

If you need to cite religious texts such as the Bible for illustration or example purposes in your essay please see the citation practice for this in the MLA or APA on-line guide on the web. Remember religious texts are not peer reviewed and cannot stand as evidence in a sociology paper.

Lecture Note Citation

Beamish, Rob. 2010.  Class lecture.  September 22.  Queen’s University, Kingston, ON.

Various Examples of Dictionaries and Encyclopedias 

For print copy of an encyclopedia entry:

Last name of the author of the entry, first name. Date of publication. “title of the entry”. Pp. of the entry in Title of the Encyclopedia, edited by first initial last name of editor.

Place of publication: Publisher.

Beamish, Rob. 2011. “Sport and Capitalism”. Pp. 607-608. in The Concise Encyclopedia of Sociology, edited by G. Ritzer and M. Ryan. Malden MA: Blackwell Publishing Ltd.

Examples of on line versions of Encyclopedias 

Cronin, Ann. “Socialist Feminism.” Blackwell Encyclopedia of Sociology. Ritzer, George (ed). Blackwell Publishing, 2007. Blackwell Reference Online. 15

November 2010 <http://www.blackwellreference.com/subscriber/tocnode?id=g9781405124331_chunk_g978140512433125_ss1-190> 

Encyclopedia of American Social History.  Edited by Mary Kupiec Cayton, Elliott J. Gorn, and Peter W. Williams.  New York : Scribner ; Toronto : Maxwell Macmillan Canada ; New York : Maxwell

Macmillan International, c1993.

Dictionary of Sociology. By Tony Lawson and Joan Garrod.  London: Fitzroy Dearborn, 2001. Sociology Dictionary [ Online ]   Iverson Software, Incorporated.  Available:

http://www.webref.org/sociology/sociology.htm (Accessed 10 January 2005)

Online! A Reference Guide to Using Internet Sources. [ Online ] Andrew Harnack and Eugene Kleppinger. Available: http://www.bedfordstmartins.com/online/

(Accessed 7 April 2006).

ASA Format.  [ Online ] Romelia Salinas, California State University, Los Angeles.  Available: http://www.calstatela.edu/library/bi/rsalina/asa.styleguide.html

(Accessed 7 April 2006)

Non-Print Media

Non-Print Media

YouTube Video

Jack Danyells.  2007.  “The Title of the Video”  YouTube Website.  Retrieved February 2, 2007

(URL www.sooedfjhi.com).


National Academics. 2010. “National Getting Better Health Care for Your Buck.” Audio Podcast. Retrieved

June 4, 2010 (Http://media.nap.edu/podcasts/).


Blackside [Producer]. 2009. Eyes on the Prize: America’s Civil Rights Years 1954-1965 (Season 1). DVD.


Redford, R. (Director). (1980). Ordinary People [Film]. Paramount.

Film of limited circulation

Holdt, D. (Producer), & Ehlers, E. (Director). (1997). River at High Summer: The St. Lawrence [Film]. (Available from Merganser Films, Inc., 61 Woodland Street, Room 134, Hartford, CT 06105)


Lake, F. L. (Author and speaker). (1989). Bias And Organizational Decision Making [Cassette]. Gainesville: Edwards.

Musical recording

Barber, S. (1995). Cello Sonata. On Barber [CD]. New York: EMI Records Ltd.


Title of program. (transmission date) Net Work.


Author (if known, last name first). CD-Rom Title. year(s). CD-ROM: Publisher. (Date you last accessed the database).

Power Point

Cheng, Yin Cheong. 2008. “Reform Syndrome and Educational research in the Asia-Pacific region.” Presented

at the Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association, March 28, New York City.

Retrieved June 5th, 2010 (Http://www.weraonline.org/).


I found this information on Google for MLA style and just put the date after the author which is the convention in ASA.

Speaker.  Date of presentation. “Title of the Speech”. Meeting Name. Location of the Meeting.  Type of Presentation.

Angelou, Maya.  Jan. 19th 1993. “On the Pulse of Morning”. Inauguration of President ClintonWashington D.C. Speech.

In-text citation:

Maya Angelou (1993) said that “text of quotation.” OR “Text of quotation” (Angelou 1993).

Speeches on CD

Taft, William Howard. [1908] 2007. “Republican and Democratic Treatment of Trusts.” Early American Political Speech: A Collection of Speeches of American Politicians. CD.

Minneapolis: Filibust.

Citation in Text:

Place parenthetical citations in context in your sentences, after the word that needs the citation.

Use both the original and the reprint dates in the parenthetical citation:

In a much-loved speech (Taft [1908] 2007), he addressed the issue of trusts.

Speeches on YOU TUBE

Cato Institute. 2008. “John Samples on Free Political Speech in 2009.” You Tube Web site. Retrieved July 23, 2009 (http://www.you tube.com/ watch ?v=fRkUjMP8Byg).

Citations in Text:

Citations are placed in the context of discussion and are formatted like so, using the author’s last

name and the date of publication.

(Cato Institute 2008)

Alternatively, you can integrate the citation into the sentence by means of narrative, like so:

The Cato Institute (2008) has published a video on You Tube in which John Samples discusses

free political speech.

Legislation Examples

Court cases and legislative acts follow a format stipulated by legal publishers. The act or case is listed first, followed by volume number, abbreviated title, and the date of the work in which the act or case is found. The volume number is given in Arabic numerals, and the date is parenthesized. Court cases are italicized, but acts are not. Case names, including v., are italicized.

Brown v. Board of Education, 347 U.S. 483 (1954).

If retrieved from an online database, such as LexisNexis or HeinOnline, provide access information.

Ohio v. Vincer (Ohio App. Lexis 4356 [1999]).

U.S. Congress. House of Representatives. Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2007. H.R. 2. 110th Congress, 1st Session, 2007. Retrieved July 11, 2010  (http://thomas.loc.gov).

Public Documents

Because the nature of public documents is so varied, the form of entry for documentation cannot be standardized. The essential rule is to provide sufficient information so that the reader can locate the reference easily.

Reports, Constitutions, Laws, and Ordinances

New York State Department of Labor. 1997. Annual Labor Area Report: New York City, Fiscal Year 1996 (BLMI Report, No. 28). Albany: New York State Department of Labor.

Ohio Revised Code Annotated, Section 3566 (West 2000).

Telecommunications Act of 1996, Public Law 104-014,  110 U.S. Statutes at Large 56 (1996).

U.S. Bureau of the Census. 1990. Characteristics of Population. Vol. 1. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.

U.S. Constitution, Article 1, Section 4.

Citing a census table or map

Information taken from the Statistics Canada Website

Statistics Canada. 2007. Population and Dwelling Counts, for Canada, Provinces and Territories, 2006 and 2001 Censuses, 100% Data (table).

“Population and dwelling count highlight tables, 2006 Census.” “2006 Census: Release topics.” Census. Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 97-550-XWE2006002. Ottawa, Ontario.

March 13. http://www12.statcan.ca/english/census06/data/popdwell/Table.cfm?T=101 (accessed November 3, 2008.)

Statistics Canada. 2002. Québec CMA, Median Age, 2001, by Census Tract (map). “Thematic maps.” “2001 Census of Population.” Census. Last updated March 11, 2003.

http://geodepot.statcan.ca/Diss/Maps/ThematicMaps/age_sex/CMA/ Quebec_medage_ec_f3.pdf (accessed November 3, 2008).

Citing a census table, graph or map from a publication in HTML or PDF

Statistics Canada. 2007. “Brandon, Man., 46, Dissemination area by non-tracted CA, 1 of 3” (map). Dissemination Area Reference Maps, by Non-tracted Census Agglomerations, Update.

Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 92-148-UIB. Ottawa, Ontario. Last updated March 13. http://geodepot.statcan.ca/Diss2006/Maps/Maps_Cartes/ NONTRACTEDCADA/MB/CADA610-D.pdf

(accessed October 27, 2008)

Statistics Canada. 2002. “Moncton, N.B. (13), CMA/CA code 305, map 2 of 2” (map). Census Tract Reference Maps, by Census Metropolitan Area and Census Agglomeration.

Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 92F0145XIB. Ottawa, Ontario. Last updated January 20, 2003.  http://geodepot.statcan.ca/Diss/Maps/ReferenceMaps/retrieve_cmaca.cfm?pdf_index=40

(accessed August 16, 2005).

Citing a census table, graph or map from a publication in print

Statistics Canada. 2004. “Selected characteristics for census tracts, 2001 Census, 100% data and 20% sample data” (table). Profile of Census Tracts in Hamilton.

Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 95-236-XPB. Ottawa, Ontario. p. 8–310.

Wang, Jennie. 2004. “Farmland near cities commands higher prices” (graph). “They’re tilling that field behind the mall.” Canadian Agriculture at a Glance. 2001 Census of Agriculture.

Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 96-325-XPB. Ottawa, Ontario. Statistics Canada. p. 20.

Citing a table, graph or map from E-STAT

Statistics Canada. No date. Under 5 years, both sexes, 2006 (graph). 2006 Census of Population, Population from 1921 to 2006 (Canada, Provinces, Territories) (database). Using E-STAT

(distributor). Last updated October 1, 2008. http://estat.statcan.ca/cgi-win/CNSMCGI.PGM?Lang=E&C91SubDir=ESTAT\&DBSelect=HIST (accessed October 27, 2008).

Statistics Canada. No date. Number of Farms and Selected Averages by Number of Operators per Farm, by Province, Census Agricultural Region (CAR), Census Division (CD), 2001

Saskatchewan (20 Agricultural Regions) (table). 2001 – Census of Agriculture, Farm Operator Data by Province, Census Agricultural Region (CAR) and Census Division (CD) (database).

Using  E-STAT (distributor). Last updated August 12, 2002. http://estat.statcan.ca/cgi-win/CNSMCGI.EXE?ESTATFILE=EStat\English\E-Main.htm (accessed December 5, 2005).

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Developing a Thesis Statement (SOCY 122)

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EXAMPLE: SOCY 122The Drafting ProcessWhat/How/Why

Developing a Thesis Statement (SOCY 122)

Once you have spent time exploring the material in question and organizing your observations, start developing the thesis—the central argument of your paper. Sometimes students confuse their topic with their thesis. The assignment topic outlines the general scope of your project; the thesis focuses your discussion of that topic. A thesis is a statement that takes a position or offers an interpretation of the subject at hand; it is not simply a description or a statement of fact.

The Drafting Process

Consider the following example from a fictitious “Sociology of Canadian Religion” class.


Researchers such as Reginald Bibby have noted that while attendance at mainstream Christian churches has declined in recent years, interest in Evangelical Christianity has increased. By considering social factors such as race, age, class or gender, suggest reasons for this shift.

Draft thesis #1

While attendance at mainstream Christian churches has declined in recent years, interest in Evangelical Christianity has increased

This sentence is not a thesis, but a statement of fact. There is no interpretive position to argue. Try again.

Draft thesis #2

By appealing to contemporary consumer appetites, Evangelical Christian churches have repackaged their faith and, as a result, increased their numbers.

This is better. The author has looked at the data and offered an interpretation of it. His/her discussion will likely focus on the “class” and “age” aspects of the assignment topic. Another essay might emphasize other factors such as ethnicity (arguing that these churches appeal primarily to new immigrants, or, perhaps, that they appeal primarily to Canadians from Anglo-European backgrounds) or gender (arguing, perhaps, that these churches represent a return to a patriarchal view or that they do the opposite and affirm gender collaboration.) As long as the points are lucid and convincingly argued, any of these approaches would be fair game as a thesis.


One way to develop a concise thesis is to organize your thoughts around a What/How/Why strategy. This method can help you move from a descriptive position to an interpretive one. Sometimes using a chart can help you map out your ideas. Consider the following example:


  • the matter at hand
  • the topic or incident to be examined
Evangelical Christians have increased numbers by appealing to consumer appetites


  • the means by which the topic will be examined
  • examples, themes, key images, etc.
  • (i.e., the major discussion points of your essay
  • changes in style: bands, visuals, lifestyle programming, multi-purpose buildings
  • portability and consumer culture: material goods, books, CDs, video for sale, big conferences
  • who’s going to these churches?  young families, affluent people, etc., non-nuclear families, lower classes, gays/lesbians, etc. seem excluded


  • interpretation of the events/topic/etc.
  • significance of examining the topic from the angle you have chosen
  • conclusions to be drawn (i.e., the “SO WHAT?” of your argument)
Churches reflect middle-class, suburban values; numbers are up, but those who aren’t middle class don’t fit

So, with these factors in mind, a more fully developed thesis statement might look like this:

By appealing to consumer appetites, Evangelical churches have repackaged their faith in a way that reflects and promotes middle-class, suburban values. While this shift has helped to increase numbers, it has also excluded those who fall outside these implicit social and economic parameters.

When using a what/how/why breakdown, the heart of the thesis usually rests in the why statement. A thesis that only addresses what and how usually ends up being merely descriptive. The why component foregrounds your interpretation of the data presented, which is the core of your paper. What your reader is most interested in is your take on the information—your interpretation or approach to the matter at hand—not just a summary of the details involved. A thesis statement that answers what/how/why in 1-2 sentences gives your paper a precise focus. It shows your reader that you know where you’re going and why it is worthwhile to get there.

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February 5, 2014: Quick Fixes for Essays

Quick Fixes: Essays

I volunteer as a PWA (Peer Writing Assistant) at the Writing Centre, and, while I spend a lot of time helping students with their theses and paragraph structure, I also see a number of small mistakes that would be remarkably easy to fix. Of course, one small mistake shouldn’t really affect your final grade, but if it takes you only 5 minutes to fix a few things, why not?

1. Check your fonts. Most people don’t have Times New Roman set as their default font in Microsoft Word (or any other word processor), so they change from Cambria or Ariel when they open a new document. Should solve the problem, right? Not so much. When you go to set up your header with your last name and page number, you have to change the font up there. When you insert your footnotes, you have to change the font down there, too. Or just set Times New Roman to be your default. Up to you.

2.  Never have a lonely this. When you use the word this, it needs to be followed by a subject; ask yourself, this what? For example, if I write, “Students often submit their papers late, with poor grammar, and different fonts. This is one of the biggest problems in society today,” what is this? Is it the lateness, the grammar, the fonts or the combination of all three? It should read something along the lines of “This tardiness is one of the biggest problems in society today.” Besides being a general grammatical rule, avoiding the lonely this also reduces ambiguity in your essay and confusion in your reader, which is always a plus.

3.Comma which or that: choose one. You know when Microsoft Word gives you the green squiggle and wants you to choose between comma which and that?

Well, for once, you should listen to it. Basically, you use comma which for nonessential information (if it doesn’t really matter that the zoo’s downtown) and that for essential information (if it’s really important that the zoo’s downtown). I realize that the mechanics of this choice probably sound a little grammatically heavy, but, for the most part, it’s easy: just choose one. Comma which or that.

4. Contractions don’t belong in formal writing. I’m sure that most of you know this rule, so it’s more of a gentle reminder. Contractions don’t belong in formal writing. If you’re writing a blog then, by all means, contract away (I certainly do). If you’re writing an essay or a lab report or a book review or a comment sheet, maybe steer clear of the contractions. (And avoiding contractions will also up your word count, a perk that shouldn’t be ignored.)

Now, these rules might not be applicable in absolutely every situation, but they’re generally true. Good luck with your papers and, until next time, happy writing!



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January 31, 2014: Why You Should Talk to Your Profs

The best thing I ever did for my school work (writing, classes in general, all of it) was get up the courage to go talk to my professors.

In my experience, undergrads have a tendency to be intimidated about going to see their course instructors about their papers, especially in the early years. But the truth is, profs and TAs are there to help you do well in the course – they want to see you succeed – and going to talk to them about any questions you have, bouncing ideas off of them for the outline of a paper, running a thesis by them, whatever, can really help keep you on track with your ideas, and help you organize your thoughts. I often find my papers are better structured, and I have avoided silly little mistakes made out of ignorance when I meet with my Prof before handing in an assignment. These meetings don’t have to be long, but they allow you to get feedback before you get your grade, which is great! You could email your course instructors for these kinds of questions, sure, but in my experience, something gets lost without that face-to-face interaction. You can get a lot more out of a 15-minute conversation with someone than you can in 15 emails (not to mention it takes a lot less time).

Another bonus that most people don’t think about is that arranging to have a quick chat with your course instructor about an assignment forces you to manage your time. If I am going to see a prof about my thesis for a paper 2 weeks before that paper is due, then I have to have a thesis (and probably an outline) for said paper 2 weeks before it’s due. BAM! Time management.

But wait, there’s more! Getting to know your profs and TAs by going to talk to them face-to-face helps build relationships. That may sound trivial at first, but think about it: these are the people who may, one day, give you references for jobs or post-graduate studies. Building those relationships now can open a lot of doors in the future. Furthermore, your course instructors are a wealth of information (and not just about their subject matter), so why not take advantage of that? Say you’re thinking about doing a graduate degree. Who better to ask about master’s programs than your TA, who is currently working on their master’s?

I’ve had profs who have changed the way I write, who have changed the way I look at the world, and who have thoroughly enriched my time at Queen’s so far. This is a rare opportunity for us as students, so take advantage of it! So go talk to them – they don’t bite!


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1:1 Appointments

Students may book appointments for help with learning and studying, writing, and English language support. All appointments are confidential and free for Queen’s University students. Please see the tabs below for information about how to prepare for your appointment, appointment limits, and our cancellation policies.

To book an appointment with a professional learning strategist, a professional writing consultant, the ESL Program Coordinator, or a peer writing assistant, please use our online booking system. (Click here for frequently asked questions about the system.)

Learning strategies advisingWriting consultationsOnline appointmentsPeer writing appointmentsEAL consultationsBooking a 1:1 appointmentFAQs about WCOnline

Learning strategies advising

For graduate and undergraduate students.

  • Want to stay on top of your academic game?
  • Behind in your readings?
  • Feeling disorganized or unmotivated?
  • Trouble writing exams?

two people sitting at a table for an appointment

Meeting with a learning strategies advisor can help you improve your performance and confidence. We welcome all Queen’s students, regardless of year, program, or academic standing. Our team of learning strategies advisors can help by coaching and encouraging you in different strategies, skills, and mindsets for learning.

Appointments are about 50 minutes long, and are free and confidential. No information will be shared unless the student gives specific permission to do so. Referrals are not required.

Before your first appointment, consider…

  • For you to feel more satisfied with your school performance or experience, what would need to change? Are there academic skills to improve? Personal habits to modify? Attitudes to re-evaluate?
  • What went well last term or year?
  • What academic (or personal) habits or skills held you back from being your best?
  • Have you run into these issues before? What helped?
  • Is there feedback from your profs that you need to address?

At your first appointment, you are encouraged to bring…

  • a completed Study Skills and Habits Questionnaire
  • relevant materials, e.g., a text for help with reading, or class timetable for help designing a weekly homework or research schedule, or notes to practice summarizing methods
  • an experimental frame of mind, as finding a better approach involves trying new ideas or methods

Wait time for a learning strategies advising appointment may be 1-3 weeks, or longer during midterm and final exams.

To maximize your opportunity to meet with a learning strategies advisor and allow you time to practice new strategies, students are welcome to book up to one appointment per week and two per month with the same advisor. In exceptional circumstances, the advisor may adjust this policy.

Writing consultations

A writing consultant and a student pour over an essay draft

Undergraduate and graduate students of all faculties, writing proficiencies, and levels of academic achievement at Queen’s University use the Writing Centre’s popular one-to-one consultation service. These free, confidential appointments are specific to individual student needs, but commonly include topics such as

  • understanding an assignment
  • brainstorming ideas
  • developing an argument or thesis statement
  • organizing main points
  • revising a draft
  • improving grammar and style
  • integrating research

Please use our online booking system to book a 25- or 50-minute appointment with a writing consultant (click here to book an online appointment).  If you have questions about the online booking system, please see our FAQ tab.

If possible, book early–our appointments are popular!

Please click here for important information about writing appointment policies.

The Writing Centre also offers online appointments to students who are studying at a distance from campus and students who have disabilities requiring accommodation (documentation required for accommodation). Requests from other students in special circumstances will be taken into consideration. Find out more about online appointments here.

Having trouble getting an appointment? If you are a first- or second-year student seeking help with an assignment, you can sign up for an evening appointment with a Peer Writing Assistant (see Peer writing appointment tab). 

Frequently asked questions about writing consultations

How far in advance should I book my appointment?

Book appointments early–if possible, well before your assignment is due. We recommend that you book an appointment as soon as you know your assignment’s deadline. Please note that you may only have one appointment per week; students who would like a second appointment in a given week can make that request and will be contacted about a second appointment only after those on the waiting list have been accommodated.

How do appointments work?

You will have a private appointment with one of our trained staff, who will ask you questions about your assignment and offer suggestions specific to your concerns. The session may involve working through an entire draft or only selected parts of it. Our consultants work with students at any stage of the writing process – understanding the assignment, brainstorming, outlining, drafting, and revising. Here are some suggestions for making the most of your appointment:

  • Consider in advance how you would like us to help you. Are there specific parts of a draft, or specific skills, you want to focus on? Be realistic about what you can accomplish.
  • Be prepared to collaborate. Rather than “fixing” your paper for you, our consultants help you develop your skills within the context of working through your assignment. Come prepared with questions, ideas, and your learning goals.

When should I book a 50-minute appointment? When should I book a 25-minute appointment?

Appointments of any length are subject to availability, but, generally speaking, 50-minute appointments are more suitable for longer papers and more complex issues (generating an argument, overall coherence, organizing the paper, etc.), while 25-minute appointments are more suitable for short questions, clarifying your purpose, grammar issues, short brainstorming sessions, and follow-up sessions. Note career document appointments (cover letters, personal statements, professional school applications, etc.) can only be booked for 25-minute sessions, no exceptions.

What kinds of writing can you help me with?

We work with all kinds of academic writing – labs, essays, dissertations, reports, and more. You are also entitled to one session per academic year to work on a cover letter, personal statement, or other application document. Please note that consultants will not work with take-home exams, including graduate comprehensive exams, no exceptions.

What should I bring to my appointment?

  • The assignment instructions. A course syllabus can also be helpful.
  • A double-spaced, printed hard copy of your draft, if you have one (it’s okay if you do not yet have a draft). Our consultants do not work on laptops.
  • Questions you would like to ask the consultant or issues you would like addressed during the session.

Will you proofread my essay?

We cannot proofread for you. That would make us better editors, but it would not help you become a better writer. We can, however, help you become a better proofreader of your own writing.

How many appointments can I have?

Anyone registered at Queen’s is entitled to 6 appointments per academic year (please note that there is a limit of one appointment per week, per student). Appointments may be 25- or 50-minutes long, depending on the particular writing issue, subject to availability.  First-year students may also use the 25-minute drop-in sessions offered by our Peer Writing Assistants (these appointments will not count towards your 6 appointment limit). Appeals for additional sessions can be addressed to the Director, Susan Korba (korbas@queensu.ca).

What if I need to cancel an appointment?

We require at least 6 hours’ notice of cancellation; many students are on our wait list and we can fill your place if we have enough time. Students who do not give us at least 6 hours’ notice of a cancellation may not be entitled to further sessions and will have a $25 charge placed on their Queen’s account. See our Writing Centre Policies page for more information.

When are appointments available?

During the Fall and Winter terms, appointments are available throughout the day, some evenings, and some Saturday mornings (please note that fewer appointments are offered during the first few weeks of the Fall term, during Study Weeks and Reading Week, and throughout the Spring and Summer terms). Evening appointments are also available with Peer Writing Assistants most evenings during the week.

Do only “struggling” writers use the consultation service?

No. Even accomplished writers find writing difficult at times. At the Writing Centre, we see writers of every level of proficiency. Everyone can benefit from having someone read through a draft and offer suggestions for improvement. As Ernest Hemingway said, “We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master.”

For more important information, please review the Writing Centre Policies page.

How to book an online consultation

Please use our online booking system to book an online appointment with a writing consultant or learning strategist. If you have questions about the online booking system, please see our FAQ tab.

When you book an appointment, please indicate whether you would like to meet in person or online by selecting a choice from the drop-down menu on the booking form.

If possible, book early–our appointments are popular!

How to prepare for an online consultation

To begin your online session, click on your appointment slot and enter the link “Start or Join Online Consultation.” When you click on that link, you will be redirected to the virtual space that includes a shared whiteboard, a text chat box, and video chat windows. You have access to the virtual space as soon as you make the appointment.

We encourage you to go in before your appointment time to ensure that the connections and functions are all working properly for you. Online consultations are best facilitated through a Chrome browser.

If you have any technical problem, please let us know via email.

Peer writing appointments

If you are a first- or second-year student and would like some writing assistance, you might like an appointment with a Peer Writing Assistant.

What is a Peer Writing Assistant?

SASs’s Peer Writing Assistants (PWAs) are upper-year and graduate student volunteers who are committed to helping other students develop their writing skills and confidence.

What do PWAs do?

PWAs are trained to work on-on-one with students taking first- and second-year courses; they help with clarifying the terms of the assignment, brainstorming, pre-writing and structuring, providing feedback, and directing students to the resources they need to produce good papers. For many students, this service makes a significant difference in their academic performance and confidence.

Sessions are 25 minutes long and are based on a collaboration between the PWA and the student seeking assistance–i.e., PWAs do not proofread or make writing decisions for the students they help. Instead, they help students develop their own skills in writing, editing, and critical thinking, in the context of working on a particular assignment.

When are PWA appointments available?

PWA sessions take place Monday-Thursday, 6:30-8:30 p.m. from mid-September to the end of November and from mid-January to the end of March. Please book early; these appointments are popular.

If you are booking with a PWA, please note:

  • students may sign up for only one appointment per evening and a maximum of two appointments per week
  • these appointments are for first- and second-year course assignments only
  • please bring your work in hard copy; our PWAs do not work on laptops
  • PWAs will not help with take-home exams

EAL consultations

ESL Poster on Door

At SASS, we want English as an Additional Language (EAL) and international students to be able to communicate fluently and confidently while studying at Queen’s University. Our EAL programs feature one-to-one personalized consultations focusing on writing, speaking, listening, and reading skills. For example, multilingual students can book one of the popular P&P consultations (Pronunciation and Presentation Skills) to get feedback on pronunciation issues and/or practice for an upcoming oral presentation. We also offer workshops, EAL resources, and access to computer softwareInspiration and Kurzweil 3000—through the Academic Skills Lab so that students can work independently on writing and reading skills, which can improve overall fluency.

Book an introductory consultation

Multilingual students who would like language skills support should first book an introductory consultation with the EAL Program Coordinator.

Request an introductory appointment

Please note: EAL students who want help with writing assignments can book writing consultations in our core writing program.

For more information, please visit the EAL Support Page.

How do I book an appointment?

Students can book an appointment at any time using our online booking system. You must register before you can make an appointment. Once in WCOnline

  • Select a date, timeslot, and a consultant. Available appointment timeslots are WHITE. (RED indicates a timeslot is already taken, and BLACK indicates that appointments are not available during that time. A GREY timeslot indicates an appointment that has already occurred.)
  • All appointments begin on the hour or on the half-hour. For example, if you want to sign up for a 25-minute appointment at 10 a.m., reserve the time between 10 a.m. and 10:30 a.m.
  • Click on an open (white) appointment time to open the Reservation Window.
  • When the Reservation Window opens, you must complete the required information in order to continue. We ask this information to ensure you receive the best possible consultation. This information is considered private and is accessible only to relevant SASS staff.
  • After completing the form in the Reservation Window, click “Save” to finish. Your appointment will now appear on the schedule in red, and you will receive a reminder email with the date and time.

We look forward to seeing you here! If you have any questions, you can email academic.success@queensu.ca, call 613-533-6315 or visit the Student Academic Success Services reception desk on the main floor of Stauffer Library between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m., Monday to Friday (note that our front desk is usually closed for lunch from 12:00 – 1:00 p.m).

Frequently asked questions about WCOnline

How do I cancel an appointment?

If you must cancel your appointment, here’s what you should do
  • Ensure that you are cancelling 6 hours in advance of the appointment, in accordance with our cancellation policy (this policy does not apply to peer writing appointments).
  • Log into the SASS appointment booking system.
  • Locate your appointment on the schedule.
  • Select your appointment to open the reservation window.
  • In the reservation window, scroll to the bottom and locate the checkbox labelled “Cancel this Appointment.”
  • Click the “modify” button. Your appointment is now cancelled. You may also call the front desk 6 hours in advance to cancel an appointment (leave a Voicemail message if your call is not answered; phone messages are date and time-stamped, so you will not be charged if you have called 6 hours in advance of the appointment). Failing to provide 6 hours’ notice when cancelling appointments will result in a $25 fine levied against your Queen’s account (this policy does not apply to peer writing appointments). Note that students who “no-show” (fail to cancel appointments with 6 hours’ notice and do not show up for the appointment) are not entitled to further appointments until the fine has been paid.

I want to make my first appointment but I can’t log in.

If you are making an appointment for the first time, you have to register with the system before it allows you to make an actual appointment. Please register using the link to the SASS appointment booking system. After completing the registration form, you will be ready to make appointments. You will not need to register again.

How do I navigate in WCOnline?

The main page of WCOnline is the Main Schedule, and you will automatically be brought to it when you log in. If you navigate away from the Main Schedule, you can select “View Schedule” from the main menu drop-down (hover over your name in the upper left-hand corner). When using WCOnline, it is important to use the menu and pop-up windows. Using the “back” option in your browser does not always help. It can sometimes cause the browser to require a manual refresh (the browser will prompt you to do so if this occurs). WCOnline uses pop-up windows. If your computer uses a pop-up blocker, please allowWCOnline to use pop-ups. You will not be able to make appointments without them. Sometimes the pop-up windows can “hide” behind the main window, so if a pop-up window is not showing and you have not disabled pop-ups, try minimizing the main window—the pop-up is probably behind it.
My account won’t let me reserve appointments.
If you have missed an appointment that you did not cancel with sufficient notice, and you have not yet paid the fine, your account has been disabled and you will not be able to make online appointments. OR you have already met the appointment limit for the day, week or academic year. Please contact the front desk at 613-533-6315 if you want to speak to the Director about securing additional appointments.

The reservation window isn’t appearing.

The reservation window is a pop-up. Be sure you have pop-up windows enabled for WCOnline. On a rare occasion, it may open behind your current window. In that case, simply minimize the browser and it should be open behind it.

I want to change my password.

You can change your password through the main menu. On a laptop or computer, hover over “Welcome” with the cursor on the upper left portion of the screen, and a drop-down menu will appear. On a smartphone or tablet, you will need to tap or touch the “Welcome” message. Select “Update Profile and Password” and follow the instructions on that page. Please note that changing your password is only possible if you have filled out all the required information! WCOnline will not save your password if you do not have all required responses (fields marked with * are required).

I forgot my password.

If you don’t remember your password, all you have to do is reset it from the login page. Simply click the prompt towards the bottom of the page and a new password will be emailed to your account. The new password will be case sensitive, so it’s best to copy and paste the new password into the system rather than trying to retype it. Once you are back in the system, follow the steps above for “I want to change my password.”

I need a text-only version.

You can access a text-only version of our online scheduling service from the login page. Below the login information and password reset link, there is a link to the text-only scheduler. Simply click that link, and continue into the WCOnline scheduler.

Read More

Support for students with English as an additional language (EAL)

SASS offers a number of programs and resources to help multilingual students be successful at university. Both undergraduate and graduate students can improve communication and build confidence by working on academic English reading, writing, speaking, and listening skills.

Not sure where to start? Visit our frequently asked questions tab.

We support...EAL appointmentsWeekly programsPractice English onlineReading and computer softwareFrequently asked questions

Language skills we can help with include…


  • General skill development: learn strategies for academic writing and self-editing
  • Grammar: learn, review, and practice grammar topics
  • Cultural conventions: learn about the expectations of a North American / English audience
  • Academic vocabulary: develop an academic word bank
  • English Proficiency Test (EPT) preparations: practice for Engineering and Applied Science Students


  • Presentation practice: get feedback on a presentation for a course or conference
  • Pronunciation: review and practice the sounds of English
  • Academic discussions: learn and practice strategies for contributing to class discussions
  • Vocabulary: build a spoken academic vocabulary with appropriate idioms and expressions


  • Lectures: learn and practice strategies for understanding lectures and conferences
  • Comprehension: develop skills to understand spoken English and pull out key ideas
  • Active listening: find ways to engage with what your peers and professors are saying


  • Comprehension: develop strategies to break down complex academic readings and identify key concepts
  • Vocabulary: learn about resources for understanding academic language
  • Integrating Research: explore how to effectively integrate ideas from readings into your writing for a North American / English audience

EAL appointments

What is EAL support?

Students who speak English as an additional language can meet with the Academic Skills Specialist (EAL) for ongoing skills development. The purpose of this service is to support students in developing their academic English skills over time. Students may be interested in additionally booking writing [insert link] or learning strategies [insert link] appointments. The EAL program helps students develop similar skills as these other two programs, but through the specific lens of English skills development.

These appointments are private and confidential. Appointments are free, and they are available to all current domestic and international students who do not speak English as their first language.

“[The EAL Coordinator] explains things really clearly and made me feel more confident about my English skills. SASS and EAL made my graduate studies easier and less stressful. I wish every university had that program.”

What are EAL appointments like?

The first meeting focuses on discussing your goals for improving your academic English and creating a plan to achieve those goals. You and the coordinator will decide together how many times you should meet and what you will do at each session.

Each appointment is different, to suit each student’s needs, but some typical sessions include:

  • Grammar lessons: Students bring in a piece of their writing. The coordinator helps to identify trends of grammatical errors and explains self-editing strategies to fix them. (Note—this is not an editing service.)
  • Academic writing development: Students bring in writing and the coordinator helps identify places where meaning is unclear. By discussing word choice, transitions, and sentence structure, students develop their ability to produce writing that effectively communicates critical ideas.
  • Pronunciation: Either by going through the sounds of English, one by one, or through speaking exercises, students receive feedback on their English pronunciation.
  • Academic reading in English: Students bring in an academic reading and learn, then practice, strategies to support their comprehension of both vocabulary and key ideas.

How do I book an EAL appointment?

If you are interested in booking a EAL appointment, please request an introductory appointment. Once you fill out this form, you will receive an email with further instructions on how to access our online booking tool.

You need to fill out this form only once.

Weekly programs

Both SASS and QUIC (Queen’s University International Centre) offer weekly opportunities to practice academic English skills and improve your writing with the support of professionals. Most programs are free and you do not need to register. You can come every week or just when needed.

English Academic Writing Support

English Academic Writing Support

  • What is it? A chance to learn about and practice English academic writing
  • When? Tuesday evenings, 6pm-8pm
  • Where? Queen’s University International Centre (QUIC) in Mitchell Hall

How does it work? Each week, SASS’s EAL Coordinator leads an interactive workshop on a different writing topic, such as articles, critical thinking, or sentence variety. Students can join for the topics which are of interest to them in order to build on writing foundations, evaluate examples, do practice exercises, learn strategies, and ask questions. Registration is not required.

“I have benefited a lot from the English Academic Writing Support workshops! It was like a course for me. The things I have learned from these workshops helped me to edit the writing myself. Although I still make mistakes, I believe I will be better and better! Everyone there are super dedicated in learning.”

“The English Academic Writing Support program was one of the first activities I did after my arrival to Kingston; it really helped me to get engaged in the Queen’s University and to adapt to the new academic environment. It is a perfect space to review the most complex topics in English writing for EAL students and even for practicing conversational English while you are meeting new people. They also provide useful tools and handouts in each class.”

Academic English Drop-In Support

Academic English Drop-In Support

  • What is it? A drop-in program for academic English homework support
  • When? Wednesday evenings, 6pm-8pm
  • Where? Stauffer Library, room 143

How does it work? An EAL assistant will sit down with a student for 15 minutes at a time to answer questions, give feedback, and offer strategies. After assisting other students, they will come back to the previous students to check in and answer further questions. Registration is not required.

English Conversation Group

English Conversation Group

  • What is it? An opportunity to practice English language conversation skills
  • When? Thursday evenings, 5:30pm-7pm
  • Where? Queen’s University International Centre (QUIC) in Mitchell Hall

How does it work? Volunteers help guide English conversation with group activities and discussions. There’s a new topic every week. Learn idioms, expressions, and pronunciations in a welcoming environment. Registration is not required.

QUIC Social and Cultural Activities

QUIC Social and Cultural Activities

  • What are they? Activities at QUIC that offer opportunities to meet other students and practice oral communication skills in a social environment.
  • When? Check the QUIC Events Calendar or QUIC social media for activities throughout the year
  • Where? Usually at the Queen’s University International Centre (QUIC) in Mitchell Hall

How do they work? QUIC plans social and cultural events throughout the year to engage all students. Examples include movie nights, community lunches, and bus trips. Some events have fees and require registration.

Grad Writing Lab

Grad Writing Lab

  • What is it? An opportunity for all graduate students to get writing support
  • When? Thursday mornings, 9am-12pm
  • Where? Graduate Student Reading Room on the 3rd floor of Stauffer Library

How does it work? Both domestic and international graduate students can drop in and work on their writing in a graduate community space. There is a dedicated academic writing specialist on site who can help students with writing questions. Registration is not required.

Practice English online

In addition to SASS’s writing and learning resources, you can use these external links to develop your academic English skills.


Oxford English Dictionary: comprehensive, traditional dictionary

Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English: entries include collocations (i.e. words that go together, like prepositions or common phrases)

Oxford Learner’s Dictionary: entries include definitions, collocations, audio examples of pronunciation, sentence examples, and alternative forms of the word

Linguee: translation tool with concrete examples in both languages, plus examples of the word in external sources

Grammar lessons and exercises

Online Writing Lab, Purdue University: exercises on grammar, punctuation, spelling, sentence structure, sentence style, writing numbers, and paraphrasing and summarizing

Punctuation, Oxford Dictionary: explanation of the different punctuation marks and their uses

Grammatical Terms, Grammar Bytes!: printer-friendly explanations of grammatical topics with examples

Exercises, Grammar Bytes!: interactive or printable exercises on various grammatical topics

Verb Tense Chart, Alba English: colour-coded infographic explaining English verb tenses—link automatically downloads PDF of chart

Verb Tenses, Englisch Hilfen: text-based chart explaining English verb tenses—includes conditional tenses

Academic language

English Spelling, Oxford Dictionary: explanations of tricky spelling trends

Academic Phrasebank, Manchester University: categorized templates of academic phrases to express specific ideas (e.g., “introduce a new topic”)

Understanding Vocabulary in Context, Douglas College: explanation of strategies and corresponding practice exercises

Lexical Notebook, British Council: strategy for creating a new vocabulary notebook

YouGlish: tool that uses YouTube videos on academic / professional / technical topics to show the pronunciation of English words in context

Independent study: work on English by yourself over time

ELC Study Zone, University of Victoria: lessons and practice for English language learners that are categorized by language level—lessons include grammar, reading and listening, and vocabulary

BBC Learning English:

TED Ed: approximately 5-minute videos with corresponding comprehension questions, discussion questions, and extended reading

Grammar Girl: blog on various grammar and language-related topics

Reading List, Queen’s School of English: suggested fiction for English language learners

Reading and computer software

Students have the opportunity to work independently on language and academic writing skills. SASS offers students access to two new computer programs:

  • Inspiration can help students brainstorm ideas, clarify thinking, and organize information using mind-maps and outlines.
  • Kurzweil 3000 is text-to-speech software providing multilingual students with audio and visual aids for reading, writing, and fluency.

If you would like to learn more about how this software can help develop language fluency, vocabulary, and self-editing skills, please contact the Academic Skills Specialist (EAL) (eal.sass@queensu.ca).

Frequently asked questions

Does SASS offer ESL support?

Yes, it does! At SASS, we have switched to using the term, English as an Additional Language, or EAL, instead of ESL. The reason for this is to acknowledge that some students speak more than two languages. If you’re looking for ESL support, visit our EAL page.

What does English as an Additional Language or EAL mean?

When we refer to students with English as an additional language, we mean students who learned to speak English after their first language or who are multilingual.

What does Academic English mean?

Just as there is British English, Ghanaian English, and Indian English, you can think of Academic English as a particular variety of the English language that is intended for a specific audience. Academic English refers to the specific vocabulary, style, and conventions that we consider most appropriate and effective when communicating with an academic audience. We use Academic English in scholarly articles for publication in journals, writing assignments for university courses, presentations for academic conferences, etc.

What academic skills can the EAL program help me with?

The EAL program can help you with reading, writing, speaking, and listening skills as they relate to your academics. For more information about what each of these sessions can cover, refer to our language skills descriptions.

How are EAL appointments different from writing and learning strategies appointments?

SASS has three appointment programs, each offering a different but related service to students. In writing appointments, students can learn general writing skills and get feedback on a particular academic writing assignment, such as an essay or a lab report. Learning strategies appointments are for all of the academic skills students need to be successful outside of writing—time management, note-taking, presentations, etc. The EAL program is an intersection of both writing and learning, but specifically through the lens of academic English.

For example, a student may have a learning strategies appointment to work on reading strategies, and then have an EAL appointment to work on understanding English vocabulary in readings.

Another example could be a student who has a writing appointment to get feedback on an essay for History 122, and then has biweekly EAL appointments to work on sentence structure and verb tenses in academic writing in general.

Can I get someone to edit my paper?

No, there are no editing services offered by Queen’s University. At SASS, our mission is to help you develop the academic skills you need to edit and improve your own work. We can, however, help you identify types of grammatical errors and describe strategies for fixing them. If you would like feedback on a particular writing assignment or advice on general writing skills, book a writing appointment; if you would like to work on your academic English writing, book an EAL appointment.

Do EAL appointments count towards my limit of 6 writing appointments?

No, EAL appointments are separate from writing appointments. Students will decide with the EAL Coordinator how many EAL appointments they will have during the initial consultation. This number depends on each individual student’s needs and the plan that will best support the student in developing their goals.

Does SASS help students in all faculties and departments?

Yes, SASS can help students in all faculties and at all levels of degree. Every program at Queen’s requires strong academic communication skills; the EAL program can help students develop their skills, regardless of their research focus or concentration.

I am an international student. Where can I go for advice on how to be successful at university?

International and exchange students can start by reviewing our resource about the Canadian academic environment.

International and exchange students looking for advice about transition to Canadian culture, immigration, health insurance, housing, or other essential services while studying in Canada can access an International Student Advisor at the Queen’s University International Centre (QUIC).

Students looking for advice related to cultural adaptation, adjusting to a new cultural / academic environment, negotiating relationships with peers or professors, or other wellness-related topics can get confidential support from the cross-cultural counsellor.

Students looking for advice about choosing courses or degree requirements can contact their relevant academic advisor from their faculty. Find a range of academic counselling options here.

What can I do if…

I want to practice on my own?

Students can explore our online modules on a variety of writing and learning topics, or visit these external websites for additional English practice.

I am looking for someone to help me practice speaking?

For practice in conversational English, you can attend the Conversation Group every Thursday evening at the QUIC, or join the English Conversation Partner program, which partners domestic and international students for social English practice. Additionally, you might be interested in the mentoring programs offered by the Student Experience Office to learn about getting the most out of your student experience. Join the Peer Mentor Program or Q Success, if you are a first-year student.

If you are looking for more intensive support, you can book a pronunciation session with the EAL Specialist. For independent practice, SASS has adaptive reading software available for students to use. Book time with the software by contacting the EAL specialist.

I am fairly confident in my English speaking/ writing but want to keep improving?

SASS helps all students—struggling and high-achieving, 1st-year to PhD—improve their writing, learning, organization, and studying skills. The same is true for students at all levels of English proficiency. Our services are not remedial; rather, we are focused on supporting all students in continuing to develop their skills.

I will be away from campus but still want to work on my English?

Registered Queen’s students are able to book online appointments for EAL support. Online appointments happen using an integrated tool in our booking system, WC Online. If you already have access to the Academic English Skills Support schedule, simply choose the “meet online” option when booking an appointment. To get access to this schedule, please fill out this request form.

Students can also practice with our online resources and exercises on external websites.

I’m an Engineering student and have to pass the EPT. Can you help me prepare?

Yes! You can have an EAL appointment to work on strategies for effective writing or practice EPT-style exercises.

I am a graduate student?

SASS supports graduate students in their academic skills development. Graduate students can book appointments for writing, learning, and academic English. Although our professional staff may not necessarily be experts on your subject matter, they will be able to provide you with strategies that will improve your writing and develop your academic skills.

In addition to appointments, graduate students can attend weekly programming, like the Grad Writing Lab, and participate in Expanding Horizons workshops. They should also visit our graduate student page for additional resources.

I don’t know where to start?

If you are a student who speaks English as an additional language (EAL), start by booking an EAL consultation. You will have the opportunity to meet with the coordinator to create a plan that will best support you in achieving your academic goals.

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Academic stress

Every student faces stress sometimes. You may not always be able to avoid it, but you can make choices that can help you stay resilient and positive. In fact, stress management is an important academic and life skill that you can learn.

How can SASS help?Stressors and reactionsAdopt a helpful mindsetPrioritize and planMake a changeResources at Queen's

How can SASS help?

When it comes to managing academic stress, it can be helpful to take a bit of time to look at the big picture and impose some structure on your life. Structure can help you ensure you complete your academic tasks and other commitments, and support your well-being.

At SASS, we can help you manage academic stress by offering information and support on such topics as:

  • time management and organization
  • reading efficiency
  • procrastination
  • understanding academic expectations

and more. If you would like one-on-one help, book an appointment with a learning strategist. There is no need for you to manage challenges without support.

Stressors and reactions

Common stressors affecting students:

  • lack of time or resources
  • financial worries
  • unclear academic expectations (e.g., how to study for tests)
  • homesickness, loneliness, loss
  • language barriers, cultural adjustment stress, and isolation

Common reactions to stress:

  • loss of focus and concentration
  • irritability
  • physical tension and/or illnesses
  • avoidance/procrastination
  • exhaustion, lethargy
  • loss of self-confidence, self-esteem
  • sadness, low mood
  • feeling of being overwhelmed
  • changes in eating, sleeping, and exercise habits
  • social withdrawal

Adopt a helpful mindset

Take stock

  • Identify your sources of distress.
  • Determine which sources of stress may be under own control, and which aren’t. Focus on the things you can change.
  • For stressors that you have some control over, ask:
    • What do I need to handle this problem? (information, help, time, a skill, etc.)
    • Where can I get what I need? (library, TA, professor, SASS, classmate, etc.)
    • When will I take care of this?
  • Reflect on what you have done previously to help you cope in similar situations. What resources listed in this section of our website might help you?

Change your mindset

  • It can help to remember that how we perceive situations is an important factor in our stress levels.
  • Ask yourself, “What’s the worst that can happen? Is it likely?”
  • Keep things in perspective.
  • Determine the most important thing to do right now and start with that.
  • Believe in your ability to figure things out and do your best under the circumstances.

Resources for a helpful mindset

  • Student Wellness Services offers stress-related workbooks, support groups and appointments.
  • It’s common for students to doubt themselves; there’s even a term for it: “imposter syndrome.” Take a look at our  information on a growth mindset if you are feeling doubt in your academic abilities, or book an appointment with a learning strategist or a counsellor.

Prioritize and plan

Add structure

  • Make a task list; make it as complete as possible.
  • Break large tasks into small, specific ones (try our assignment calculator).
  • Prioritize each item on the task list. Consider factors like due dates, how many marks something is worth, its difficulty level, personal priorities, etc.
  • For each task list item, estimate how much time it might take.
  • Make a schedule for the week and block off time for items on your task list and for relaxation and sleep.
  • Reduce, postpone or eliminate your optional responsibilities.

Anticipate stressful events and plan ahead

Make a change

Change your behaviour

  • Acknowledge your accomplishments every day.
  • Promote your health: eat well, sleep enough, exercise appropriately.
  • Break big tasks into smaller, more manageable steps.
  • Make room for some fun!

Change your situation

  • Reduce distractions.
  • Study somewhere else.
  • Go to sleep earlier at night.
  • Review your course or program with your prof, an academic advisor, or a career counsellor.

Bust your stress

  • Try relaxation techniques, yoga, or T’ai Chi, or go for a walk or a run. Watch a comedy. Talk to a loved one.
  • Do what you know works for you: use your own healthy stress-relieving activities.

Get help

Resources at Queen’s

Queen’s offers a wide range of support for students who are managing stress. (You may like to look into getting support from more than one of these resources because stress can have a few different sources.)

There are plenty of resources on campus to help you; please ask for help if you can’t find what you’re looking for.

Read More

Managing your time at university

Managing time well is an important part of university life. Undergraduate and graduate students alike want to do well at school, stay healthy, and do many other things—all within a 168-hour week.

University has its own challenges for managing time: the workload is demanding, there are plenty of distractions, and days are often unstructured. It’s easy to let time slip by.

Stay in charge of your time and your success! Being clear about what’s important to you and using your time intentionally will help you have a satisfying, successful, less stressful university experience.

Setting goalsWhere does your time go?PrioritizingEstimating timeSchedulingHelpful toolsEfficiency tipsTroubleshooting guideGraduate students

Setting goals

It’s easier to spend your time intentionally when you know what matters most to you.

What are 2-3 areas of your life that you want to do really well at this year? You can’t do everything, so make some choices. Take some time to think about what’s important to you, then work on setting goals.

Set goals that matter to you

Thinking about what you value in life, and how these values translate into long-term goals, can help you think more clearly about your short-term goals and make better decisions about how to use your time from day to day.

Values are core ideas you have about the worth of something, and the judgments you make about what is important in life. Our values influence how we use our time. For example, in a spare half-hour, someone who values orderliness may spend that time organizing their desk and work files, while someone who values fitness may go for a run.

You might like to write down your life values. (If you have trouble identifying them, there are lots of places you can find inspiration: online, in books or blogs, talking with family or friends or a spiritual advisor, etc.) Afterwards, you might find it helpful to translate some of your values into long-term goals.

Goals are most effective when they are:

  • specific
  • realistic (can you achieve this goal with your resources, time, etc.?)
  • measurable (how will you know when you’ve achieved this goal?)
  • given a timeline
  • written down and reviewed as needed.

For example:

“I want to further my education” is too vague to assess whether it is realistic or measurable, and it lacks a timeline; but

 “I want to complete a master’s degree in biology at Queen’s within the next two years,” could meet all the above criteria.

Write down your long-term goals—things you hope to achieve in a year, or five years—using the criteria above. You might consider goals related to your:

  • family and friends
  • education
  • career
  • health
  • volunteering
  • finances
  • other interests.

Review these goals at the beginning or end of a school year to see how far you’ve moved toward achieving them, and if they are still important to you.

Next, write down shorter-term goals that support your long-term goals. For example, you might write, “I want to earn at least a B+ on my fourth-year biology research paper due on April 20.” Review these goals every month or two.

Post your goals somewhere visible; remind yourself of them when you’re having trouble prioritizing competing demands on your to-do list, or when you lack motivation.

It’s common for goals to change over time; goals are closely tied to our identities and values, which develop as we move through life. If you’d like to talk to someone as you clarify your values and goals, see an academic advisor, a career counsellor, a personal counsellor and/or Queen’s Faith and Spiritual Life.

Where does your time go?

Start by figuring out how you currently spend your time. Try filling in our weekly time use chart.

Take a look at your results; are you surprised by how little or how much time you have left over, or how you spend some of your time? Do you wish you had more time for some activities? Keep reading for strategies for setting goals, prioritizing activities, and managing your time, or check out our procrastination and concentration pages.

To-do lists

Many students rely on their to-do lists to stay organized and get tasks done on time. A to-do list can help you:

  • achieve your short- and long-term goals
  • reduce stress and feel more in control of your life
  • avoid forgetting things
  • prioritize
  • fill in your weekly schedule and term calendar.

One method for making a to-do list

  • Use whatever tools you prefer: pen and paper, sticky notes, an agenda, an app, a document saved on your laptop.
  • Have on hand a calendar with coursework deadlines and important personal dates.
  • List everything you can think of that you need to do in a month or a term: administrative tasks, projects, readings, laundry, errands, etc.
  • Try not to worry about how much there is on the list at this point.
  • Break down large tasks (e.g., “create COMMS 234 presentation”) into small, specific tasks (e.g., “email COMM 234 group members to set next meeting date,” “choose topic,” “assign tasks among group members,” etc.).
  • Make sure everything on the list starts with a verb, for example, “write methods section of lab report.”
  • If a task has a specific deadline, note it down.
  • You might find it helpful to think of this as a master list, not a daily list. As the week goes by, keep track of new additions to your to-do list on a separate list, and add them to the master list on a daily or weekly basis (use the process below).

What to do with a to-do list

Assess the list:

  • Maybe some of the items aren’t that important or urgent, and could be postponed or deleted. This is a good strategy to use when you’re busy.
  • If an item will take you just a minute or two, do it right away and cross it off your list.

For the remaining tasks:

  • prioritize which should be done first, second, etc.
  • estimate the time needed for each task; be a bit generous with this estimate
  • schedule the tasks into your weekly or monthly schedule according your priorities and time estimates. Be realistic.

Each week, set aside 30 minutes on Sunday night to review your list and the upcoming week. What tasks need to be accomplished? Do you need to add anything else to your list? Schedule tasks into your week. If you have trouble prioritizing, refer to your short-term goals.

Each evening, set aside 5-10 minutes to make a realistic to-do list for the next day. Refer to your weekly goals to help set priorities.

If you don't like to-do lists

Do you find to-do lists stressful? Is it impossible to cross off all the items on your list? Try:

  • making sure everything on your list is specific and starts with a verb
  • breaking larger tasks into smaller ones that you can do in an hour or less
  • keeping a master list and then transferring just 2-3 of your highest-priority tasks from that list onto a daily to-do list
  • checking out some of our strategies for prioritizing tasks and avoiding procrastination
  • instead of a daily to-do list, track your accomplishments for the day as you go, and compare it to your weekly goals.


Prioritizing is difficult to do well at first, but it’s essential for planning your time effectively; if you don’t prioritize you might miss important deadlines, or spend time on one task at the expense of a more important or urgent task. It’s also a skill you can improve with practice. Here are a few methods; try different ones until you find one that suits you.

Matrix method: Use the time management matrix [insert image or link/ use Lindsay’s found version?] to help you identify which tasks you should do first.

Try to accomplish some important, non-urgent goals every week. This habit will keep you out of last minute, crisis mode.

A-B-C method

Categorize your tasks into:

  • A: must do today or tomorrow
  • B: might do today if there’s time, but can delay for a few days or a week
  • C: can delay for more than a week


  • the hardest tasks
  • the tasks due first
  • the assignments worth the most marks
  • the tasks that support your goals
  • work before you relax. Reward yourself each day after solid, sustained effort.

Mark each task with an A, B, or C, then schedule the tasks accordingly.

Estimating time

Estimating time accurately will help you get tasks done on time with less stress, and protect the time you’ve set aside for sleeping, relaxing, eating and exercising—it’s an important skill! You’ll get better at it with experience.

It’s easier to estimate time more accurately for smaller tasks than bigger ones, which is another reason to break big projects down into smaller, specific tasks.

Be realistic. Don’t try to get everything done in a day. It’s better to have a short to-do list and complete it than to feel overwhelmed by a long list of tasks.

On average, students should spend about 8-10 hours per course each week, attending class and labs/tutorials and completing homework. If you’re an undergraduate student taking five courses, you should spend about 45-50 hours per week on school. Think of school as your full-time job.

For example, if you are taking five courses and spend 20 hours total in class / lab time each week, expect to also spend about 25-30 hours on homework each week (5 courses x 9 hours per course = 45 hours per week total for school; 45 hours total – 20 hours in class = 25 hours of homework).

Graduate school has its own rhythm, but try treating school as a full-time job and then modify your time commitment as you understand the demands better.


Watch a SASS peer fill in her weekly schedule!  video, “How to fill in your weekly schedule.”

You can use our weekly schedule and monthly calendar templates to plan how to spend your time. They come with instructions to help you achieve scheduling success!

Use a weekly schedule to:

  • protect time for sleeping, eating, and exercise
  • keep track of classes and other commitments
  • choose when to work on specific tasks
  • plan flexibility and relaxation time.

Use a term calendar to:

  • keep track of due dates and how much assignments/exams are worth
  • see the big picture of the whole term
  • plan ahead for busier weeks.

Here are sample schedules from our SASS peers! [need these from Ian, please]

Scheduling tips:

  • Taking time to sleep, exercise and eat well is critical to your academic success.
  • It’s a lot more effective to do some work every day of the week / term than to cram it in last-minute. Easier said than done; if you struggle with this habit, try a learning strategies appointment.
  • Know yourself. When you schedule tasks, consider what time of day you work best.
  • Do the hard tasks first to set the tone for the day and motivate yourself.
  • University offers wonderful opportunities. Don’t just bury your head in your books for four years; make time to try new things.

Helpful tools

  • Term calendar: use the instructions to fill it in and see the whole term at a glance.
  • Weekly schedule: use the instructions to fill it in to plan your week. See a how-to video here.
  • Weekly time use chart: see how you spend your time. An eye-opener for many students.
  • Steven Covey’s Time Management Matrix
  • Course Planner
  • Assignment calculator: use this tool to break large assignments into small tasks with mini-deadlines; get tips and resources for each stage.
  • Thesis manager: for graduate students; helps you see the big picture and break down the thesis process into small, manageable stages with mini-deadlines.
  • End of term planning chart: fill this in to get a handle on what’s left to do, how long it will take, and how much it’s worth. A helpful tool to regroup and prioritize around Weeks 9-12 of a term.
  • Task Analysis Chart: break a big task into smaller parts and estimate how long each will take.

Efficiency tips

  • Consider school your full-time job.
  • Use the free time between classes to do homework.
  • Do difficult tasks first.
  • Work for a maximum of 3 hours at a time, and then take a break for an hour or so.
  • Work for 50 minutes, then take a break for 10 (or work for 25 and break for 5); repeat.
  • Reduce distractions.
  • Adopt routines. They take the decision-making out of your day.
  • Try mindfulness techniques to stay focused and calm.
  • Work before relaxing. Earn a reward.

Troubleshooting guide

“I make a to-do list every day but never get through it. Then I feel guilty.”

  • Make a weekly to-do list. Then try limiting your daily to-do list to only three items. If you have extra time, tackle the next thing on your weekly to-do list. Or try using a to-do list that covers two or three days. Or keep a list of completed tasks instead.

“I make schedules but I can’t seem to follow them.”

  • Try making your schedule realistic, not idealistic. When are you really going to start studying: 7:00 a.m.? 9:30 a.m.? How many hours a week will you really commit to? Remember to leave room for downtime.
  • Try booking an appointment with a learning strategist.

“I spend too much time on online activities. Then I don’t have time to work or sleep.”

  • Try scheduling specific times for these activities, with a limit of how long you’ll spend doing them. Then, turn off, close, and log out when you’re trying to work or sleep.
  • See our advice on managing distractions or book an appointment with a learning strategist.

“I have trouble deciding what to do first.”

  • Consider due dates, how much time is needed to do the task, and how many marks it’s worth, if others are depending on you, and how important it is for your goals. See our prioritizing strategies.

Graduate students

Graduate school presents its own time management complexities that may challenge your skills. Approaches or habits that worked well for you in other contexts might not work as well for you now. We offer some practical information here.

You may also like to book a learning strategies appointment, or visit our graduate student page or our faculty / TA resources page for more help and resources.

Time challenges for graduate students

  • long-term, complex projects
  • unclear academic expectations
  • multiple competing roles (academic and non-academic)
  • lack of structure in a week
  • distracting negative feelings such as self-doubt, worry, and guilt
  • lack of accountability or feedback on progress.

Time management strategies for graduate students

  • Don’t wait! Create structure as early in the term as possible; see our resources on setting goals, managing time, using to-do lists, prioritizing, and scheduling.
  • Try the thesis manager.
  • Schedule quiet time for thinking and writing.
  • Schedule time for relaxation, sleep, and exercise to stay motivated, happy and healthy.
  • Set daily routines; they save time and mental effort.
  • Organize your work space, digital files, emails and paperwork to save time.
  • Reduce/manage your distractions.
  • Meet with your supervisor regularly; send follow-up emails listing key discussion points.
  • Email your supervisor regularly with updates (accomplishments, challenges, questions).
  • Keep a record of weekly goals and achievements and next intended steps and share these with your supervisor at each meeting. Review the list daily to stay on track.
  • Track your progress on a calendar.
  • Explain your student life to your partner/family/friends, and enlist their cooperation.
  • Schedule time for the important people in your personal life.
  • Check out our procrastination and focus and concentration resources.

Planning large projects

Large projects, such as researching and writing a thesis, may span several years; most graduate students don’t have training or experience in this level of project management.

Even if you have clear goals and solid time management skills, large projects might be daunting. In addition, some aspects of the project might not be in your control (e.g., waiting for your supervisor to read and provide feedback on your work). Large projects may also compete with other tasks, both academic and personal. The thesis manager can help you break a thesis down into smaller steps with timelines.

It can also be helpful to think through some of the following questions, and/or discuss them with your supervisor, as you plan your thesis or another large project:

  • What are my academic and administrative responsibilities?
  • To whom am I accountable?
  • When do I want to finish my project? When are major deadlines?
  • How do my major deadlines translate into smaller tasks from week to week?
  • What happens if I don’t finish on time? Do I need a backup plan?
  • What aspects of the project do I control, totally or to some extent? Who else has control, in what ways?
  • What feedback/support can I expect from my supervisor/others?
  • What are my priorities? How will I manage competing priorities?
  • How will I maintain a healthy balance between my academic and personal life?
  • How will I sustain my energy and a positive attitude to the project?
  • How will I know when it’s time to let go and move onto something else?
  • How can I manage perfectionism and/or procrastination?

Read More

Focus and concentration

Being able to concentrate on schoolwork is critical for learning and studying. It’s also a skill that you can develop. Read on for some strategies that may help.

Set yourself up for successManage distractionsGet to workIn lecturesMore resources

Set yourself up for success

Your work area

  • Do you have a place where you can work uninterrupted?
  • Are your supplies close at hand?
  • Do you have good lighting and a comfortable chair (don’t study on your bed!)?
  • Are your devices off, or on silent, and out of sight? (If you need to be online to complete your work, block distracting websites.)

Create homework habits

  • What time of day do you focus best? Do your most challenging work then.
  • Develop a routine place, time, and approach.
  • Try working for 50 minutes, then taking a 10-minute break, repeated 2-3 times.
  • Or try working for 25 minutes, then taking a 5-minute break, repeated 4-6 times.
  • Try varying the subjects / tasks in each long study session.
  • Break up large projects into manageable sections. Congratulate yourself for completing individual sections.

Support your health

  • Eat regularly to give your brain energy.
  • Sleep enough to feel rested and alert.
  • Exercise to reduce restlessness, manage stress and feel good. Getting fresh air before class or homework time may help you be more alert.

Manage distractions

Distracted by YouTube, WhatsApp, Instagram, and texts? You’re not alone. 23.4% of Queen’s students reported that internet use/computer games affected their academic performance within the last 12 months (see NCHA Student Health and Wellness Survey).

Technology is vital to everyday tasks, but our dependence on technology can turn into a habit that prevents us from getting our work done. Learn to intentionally give your attention.

Here are some strategies to try:

When you need to focus on a task...

Ask yourself, “Do I need my computer / phone / device for this task?”

No, I don’t need it.

  • leave laptop at home
  • log out and close laptop; put out of sight in a backpack or drawer; turn off wifi
  • put phone on airplane mode/on silent, out of sight in a backpack or drawer
  • check for notifications on long (1-2 hour) breaks, not short (5-10 minute) breaks

Yes, I do need it.

  • block unnecessary sites with apps
  • check for notifications on long (1-2 hour) breaks, not short (5-10 minute) breaks
  • when you’re tempted by a distraction, ask yourself, “why am I doing this? Will it support my goals?”
  • challenge yourself to go five more minutes without checking your phone/social media

Increasing the physical distance between you and your phone / laptop, or increasing the time / effort required to check notifications, may help you manage your impulses.

When you want to avoid your phone...

  • With a trusted roommate/friend, lock your phones and swap them for a couple of hours when you really want to focus.
  • Check your phone and social media only at specific times during the day, such as every two hours, or after breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
  • Let your family and friends know you’re not available during work time unless it’s an emergency. Tell them you’re trying to change your online habits to support your academic/health goals and ask for their support.
  • Ask yourself, “Tonight, when I look back on my day, what would make me feel as though it was a good day, well-spent? What can I do right now to contribute to that satisfaction?”
  • Charge your phone in another room, or put it on airplane mode, while you sleep.
  • Try thinking of time away from your phone as liberating, a chance to be yourself and to do things that you love to do.

When you do check your phone...

  • Track how much time you spend on your phone / laptop for non-work activity. Lots of apps exist that help you track phone usage.
  • Set a timer to remind yourself to return to work after a break. Or have an accountability buddy who helps you get back to work after a break.
  • Combine your phone check with a look at your daily to-do list/weekly schedule, to help you remember that you had planned to get something specific done in this time.
  • Remember you can do non-phone things on a break, like stretching, running up and down stairs, taking a short walk, getting a coffee, listening to a song with your eyes closed, etc.
  • If you fear letting down family and friends by not responding to their messages, commit to responding on breaks, or later that day, instead of instantly.

When your thoughts distract you...

Get distracting thoughts out of your head by writing them down on a nearby pad of paper. Set aside a bit of time each evening to review your distractions:

  • some items may be trivial and can be forgotten
  • some items may be important–turn these into specific actions and add them to your to-do list
  • discuss ongoing, distressing thoughts with someone.

Track your attention: if you’re distracted while you’re trying to work, try making a check mark on a nearby pad of paper, then turn your attention back to work. Later, look for patterns. Do your thoughts wander when you are tired, hungry, restless or worried? Think about your improving your health habits and/or talking to someone about your worries.

Minimize or manage distractions that you have some control over; for example, ask your friends and family to help you protect your work time, and reassure them that you will be available to them other hours of the day.

If these strategies aren’t helpful, remember that giving into online distraction can be a very difficult habit to change. Don’t expect to go from constantly distracted to perfectly focused in a day. Try one or two of the strategies above for a week or two, then try a couple more for another week, and aim for slow but solid improvement over time. You might also consider booking an appointment with a counsellor to talk about how to break a habit.

Get started

  • Keep all necessary supplies close at hand to avoid set-up time and distractions.
  • If a large task seems daunting, break it down into several smaller, specific tasks. Still daunted? Make them smaller.
  • Try the “5 more rule.” Commit to working for five (minutes, pages, sentences, etc.) and then do it. Then decide to work another 5 more or not.
  • Start each work session with 10 minutes of review of the most recent material, to reinforce previous learning and boost your confidence.

Work within your attention span

Rather than becoming frustrated about lack of focus, learn to work within the limits of your attention span.

  • First, find the limits of your attention for a particular task or subject. Can you stay focused for 10 minutes? 20 minutes?
  • Try setting a regular 5-minute timer, and when it goes off, ask yourself if you are still engaged in the task. Mark down when your attention begins to wane.
  • Once you have established your attention span for a course, divide your work into chunks that will take that long to complete. For example:
    • You have about a 30-minute attention span for working on a case study in your Commerce class. Divide the project into reading the assignment for 30 minutes, then finding 3 research articles for 30 minutes, etc.
  • Take 5 minute breaks between work sessions. Use a timer to keep you on track, both for your working sessions and for your breaks. You can set up your phone to help you, or search for an online timer that will time your work sessions and breaks.
  • Do your hardest work (the most difficult stuff, the boring stuff) at the time of day when you are most alert.

Motivate yourself

  • Remind yourself of how the task you’re trying to focus on will her you meet a longer-term goal.
  • Set a specific target in terms of time spent on a task, or amount of work to complete.
  • Work before you play. Build in a reward for successfully reaching your goal: a coffee, chat, walk, or something you enjoy that you must earn before you have it.

It is much easier to focus if you’re interested in a task, but what if you aren’t interested? 

Try active studying strategies:

  • Ask yourself questions.
  • Relate the information to your personal experience or to your other courses.
  • Think about the topic’s real-world implications. Ask “what if” questions.
  • Make up your own examples.

Try reminding yourself how this task will help you achieve an exciting goal.

Keep in mind that sometimes you just have to do something you don’t want to do; consider it good for character development and get on with it.

Use self-talk to stay on task

Self-talk can help you get started and stay on track. Congratulate yourself for staying on track, or remind yourself where your attention should be. Keep practicing; over time, you can develop a habit that keeps you motivated and focused.

Examples of encouraging self-talk:

  • If I get started now, I’ll feel less stressed later.
  • I’m really making progress on this paper.
  • I’ve been working for 30 minutes without distraction, yay!
  • What is most important right now?
  • How long have I been on this website? 
  • Is what I’m doing now helping me reach my goals?

Study with a friend

Studying with someone else can help you stay on track and re-focus if you find yourself distracted. Just seeing a friend working can be a great way to stay motivated, and if one of you gets distracted, the other can offer a friendly reminder to get back to work.

You can also hold each other accountable for your progress on weekly goals. Tell each other what you’ve done over the week, and what you want to accomplish next week.

In lectures

  • From the readings or problem sets, come up with questions in advance. You don’t have to actually ask them, unless you want to; just listen for the answers during lecture.
  • Reduce distractions: get to class in time to pick your best seat—whatever works for you.
  • Stay awake: take notes during the lecture, and ask questions.
  • Use a code in your notes to mark things that you don’t understand, or that seem important.
  • If the lecture has a break, try to get outside for some fresh air.
  • Engage your mind by participating in class and thinking actively:
    • offer your opinion
    • think about how the material relates to recent lectures or readings
    • try to anticipate the professor’s next idea
    • ask questions, out loud or in your mind.

More resources

The following campus resources helped create content for this web page, and can offer more support.

  • Check out Health Promotion to learn more about sleep and other health issues affecting university students, or to book a Healthy Lifestyle Consultation.
  • Talk to someone at Counselling Services about distracting and distressing thoughts, or maintaining a healthy relationship with technology.
  • Visit the Faith and Spritual Life Office to talk about distracting and distressing thoughts, or technology from a spiritual and/or community perspective.
  • Student Academic Success Services can suggest strategies that support concentration.

[1] American College Health Association. American College Health Association-National College Health Assessment II: Queen’s University Executive Summary Spring 2013. Hanover, MD: American College Health Association; 2013.

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Assignment Calculator

The assignment calculator is a tool that helps students plan their assignments by breaking them into manageable parts and providing resources and support toward their completion. To begin, select an assignment type and your start and end dates.

After clicking on the submit button, scroll down for the calculator’s output.

Add to Google Calendar

Make SASS appointment


Note that

  • the steps and timing provided by the calculator are only a starting place.
    Each step in the assignment calculator comes with a time commitment estimate, but some steps might take you longer, depending on how challenging the material is, how well you know the topic or process, and your other commitments (e.g., classes, work schedule). Don’t be afraid to tweak the calculator’s recommendations! (Note: when you add the steps to your calendar, they are not fixed–shift them around as needed.)
  • how long any assignment may take to complete will vary.
    If you’re wondering how long you’ll need to spend on an assignment, take a guess based on your past experience—then add a little more time, just in case. For example, if you think you could complete a research essay in two weeks, give yourself two and a half. Assignments usually take longer than you think they will, and you’ll be less likely to feel stressed if you give yourself more time.
  • although the calculator’s output is straightforward, your process will probably be less so.
    The step-by-step output of the calculator will make it seem like you can follow the steps one by one until you finish and submit your assignment. In reality, writing, research, experiments, and group work are all circular, messy, and iterative processes. That’s normal! The calculator is a guide, not a set of hard and fast rules.
  • more support is available.
    If you have any questions or challenges along the way, ask for help. Check with your prof or TA about their expectations, the assignment’s format, and the suitability of your topic and/or thesis statement. Go see a librarian for help with research. You can also make an appointment with a writing consultant or a learning strategist at any point in the process, from topic choice to draft revision to submission.

The Queen’s assignment calculator is based on a similar tool developed by the University of Minnesota. This version is © 2018 Student Academic Success Services, Queen’s University at Kingston, and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.5 Canada License.

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Subject-Specific Academic Resources

Student Academic Success Services provides support in learning and writing across disciplines, to all students. This list is intended to complement this broad-ranging support with academic resources more closely tied to specific subjects.

Have a resource you think we should include? Tell us about it!

This resource is also available as a PDF (last update: January 2019).

General Academic SupportFaculty of Arts and ScienceArts and Science: Departmental SupportFaculty of Engineering and Applied ScienceSmith School of Business (Commerce)School of NursingSchool of Kinesiology and Health Studies

General Academic Support

Student Academic Success Services

  • Student Academic Success Services (SASS) comprises Learning Strategies and the Writing Centre. This free and confidential service, located in Stauffer Library, offers workshops, one-on-one consultations, and practical online tips. SASS helps all students—struggling and high-achieving, 1st-year to PhD—improve their writing, learning, organization, and studying skills.
  • SASS also provides English as an Additional Language (EAL) students one-on-one support in academic language (reading, writing, speaking, and listening). To request an initial appointment, complete the online form.

GAELS Athletics Tutoring Program

  • Tutoring opportunities are available for all student-athletes enrolled at Queen’s University through Athletics & Recreation by contacting the Coordinator, Athlete Services. This service is FREE for all varsity-athletes who are included on the team eligibility certificate.
  • Tutors are available for most first-year courses. Upper-year course tutoring availability will depend on the course. Contact tutor@queensu.ca or the Athletics website for more information or to request a tutor.

QSuccess Mentors

  • This program offers first year students the opportunity to be matched with a knowledgeable upper year mentor who will provide one-on-one support throughout the academic year. First year students can register for Q Success
  • Upper year students who would like to request a mentor can apply for the Student Experience Office’s peer mentorship program.

Subject Liaison Librarians

Queen’s University International Centre (QUIC)

  • The QUIC provides support for International Students in many ways. In addition to International Student Advising and lots of social activities, they provide a number of academic support services. They run an Academic English Writing Skills clinic and a weekly English Conversation Group, and host SASS workshops in academic skills. The Intercultural Awareness Certificate is also a great experience for all students looking to develop their intercultural skills. Check the QUIC Events Calendar for dates and times.

Faculty of Arts and Science

  • Arts and Science Undergraduate Society (ASUS) peer tutoring is a student-organized service that partners student tutors with those looking for a tutor in a variety of Arts and Science courses. Tutoring fees are $15/hour and bursaries are available for students in financial need. Questions regarding tutoring can be directed to academics@asus.queensu.ca. Sign up here.
  • Bounce Back is an academic support program for first-year undergraduate students in the Faculty of Arts and Science who acquire a GPA below 1.6 after the fall term. Eligible students will receive an email in January inviting them to participate.
    • Students who opt into the program will be matched with a trained upper-year peer mentor called a Bounce Back Coach. Coaches will work individually with each participant to help them identify the source(s) of their academic challenges, set new goals, and identify strategies to achieve those goals over the course of the winter term.
    • The program runs for up to 12 weeks (January to April). More information can be found on the Student Experience Office website.
  • Peer Academic Support Services (PASS) is a volunteer service that eases the transition into university and promotes academic success. Peer Advisors address issues such as scheduling, plan requirements, SOLUS, and course selection in confidential, non-judgmental advising sessions. PASS is located on the First Floor of Dunning Hall and is available Monday to Friday from 9:00 a.m. to 12 p.m. and 1 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. No appointment necessary.

Arts and Science: Departmental Support


  • Biochemistry Peer Assistance Program: A program where undergraduate students can get advice from upper year students who are currently in, and understand the demands of, the program here.
  • Peer tutoring services are subject to availability and can be requested through the department. Email lifesci@queensu.ca or biochem@queensu.ca, tell them for which course(s) you require a tutor, and they will send you a list of potential tutors. You and the tutor will discuss your needs and their payment.
  • Occasionally, the LifeSci/BCHM student council runs informal, drop-in academic support sessions.
  • Queen’s University Library research by subject (Life Sciences and Biochemistry)
  • Queen’s University subject librarians (Life Sciences and Biochemistry: Sandra and Sara)



  • Chemistry tutors (peer support)
  • Chemistry references
  • Queen’s University Library research by subject (Chemistry)
  • Queen’s University subject librarian (select “Chemistry” under Subject)



Drama and Music

  • Queen’s University Library research by subject (Drama | Music)
  • Queen’s University Library subject librarian (Drama and Music)


  • ECON 110/111/112 has a free help centre staffed by MA/PhD TAs, 4 days per week in DUN227. The schedule is posted on the Economics website and in the onQ pages for the courses. The room seats about 20 comfortably and often there are two TAs working. They are all trained to ‘teach’ the gaps or go over the potentially confusing aspects of the principles course.

English Language & Literature

Environmental Science/Studies

Film & Media Studies


Gender Studies



  • Geology Help Centre (first floor of Bruce Wing in Miller Hall); student-run peer support, based on availability of peer volunteers
  • Academic Advisor (Dr. Daniel Layton-Matthews)
  • Queen’s University Library research by subject (Geological Sciences)
  • Queen’s University subject librarian (Geological Sciences)

Global Development Studies


Jewish Studies

Languages, Literatures, & Cultures







  • Undergraduate Resources and Links
  • Queen’s University Library research by subject (Asian Studies)
  • Queen’s University subject librarian (Asian Studies)

Indigenous Studies




Math and Statistics


  • Philosophy resources (dictionaries, encyclopedias, summaries, indexes, reviews, philosophical texts)
  • Queen’s University Library research by subject (Philosophy)
  • Queen’s University subject librarian (Philosophy)


Political Studies



Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science

Smith School of Business (Commerce)

  • The Commerce Society (ComSoc) provides a peer-based service called BrainTrust. This service provides academic support, providing one-to-one tutoring and exam review sessions. For more information email tutor@gmail.com.
  • Bounce Back is an academic support program for first-year undergraduate students in the Smith School of Business (Commerce). Eligible students will be invited to participate via email. Students who opt into the program will be matched with a trained upper-year peer mentor called a Bounce Back Facilitator. Facilitators will work individually with each participant to help them identify the source(s) of their academic challenges and to set new goals and identify strategies to achieve those goals over the course of the winter term. The program runs from October to April of each year. More information can be found on the Student Experience Office website.
    • October eligibility: Students who have failed one or more midterm; students who are identified as academically at risk by their professor.
    • January eligibility: Students with an official GPA of 2.0 or below after the fall term and/or students who have failed one or more courses.
  • Queen’s University Library research by subject (Business)
  • Queen’s University subject librarian (Business)

School of Nursing

  • For information on tutoring services and TA support for Nursing courses, contact Barb Bolton, Undergraduate Academic Advisor (bolton@queensu.ca).
  • Bounce Back is an academic support program for first-year undergraduate students in the School of Nursing. Eligible students will be invited to participate via email. Students who opt into the program will be matched with a trained upper-year peer mentor called a Bounce Back Facilitator. Facilitators will work individually with each participant to help them identify the source(s) of their academic challenges and to set new goals and identify strategies to achieve those goals over the course of the winter term. The program runs from October to April of each year. More information can be found on the Student Experience Office website.
    • October eligibility: Students who have failed one or more midterm; students who are identified as academically at risk by their professor.
    • January eligibility: Students with an official GPA of 2.0 or below after the fall term and/or students who have failed one or more courses.
  • Queen’s University Library research by subject (Nursing)
  • Queen’s University subject librarian (Nursing)

School of Kinesiology and Health Studies

  • Queen’s University Library research by subject (Kinesiology & Health Studies)
  • Queen’s University subject librarian (select “Kinesiology” under Subject)
  • Bounce Back is an academic support program for first-year undergraduate students in the School of Kinesiology and Health Studies. Eligible students will be invited to participate via email. Students who opt into the program will be matched with a trained upper-year peer mentor called a Bounce Back Facilitator. Facilitators will work individually with each participant to help them identify the source(s) of their academic challenges and to set new goals and identify strategies to achieve those goals over the course of the winter term. The program runs from October to April of each year. More information can be found on the Student Experience Office website.
    • October eligibility: Students who have failed one or more midterm; students who are identified as academically at risk by their professor.
    • January eligibility: Students with an official GPA of 2.0 or below after the fall term and/or students who have failed one or more courses.

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Adjusting to Canadian academics: Tips for international and exchange students

Welcome, international and exchange students! We are happy to have you here. International and exchange students contribute valuable perspectives and skills to Queen’s University. As you settle in here, you may need to adjust to an unfamiliar academic environment. Here are some tips to help you succeed.

TimeClass structureAssessmentSkillsHabitsRelationshipsLooking for more support?

Time: What should I know about the workload?

  • The 12-week semester goes by quickly, so it is important to keep up, especially when later class materials build on what you learn earlier in the semester.
  • Expect frequent assignments and readings, starting in the first week of classes, in addition to essays and midterm and final exams.
  • Some assignments are worth more grades than others; distribute your work time appropriately among multiple priorities. For example, you might spend only three or four hours on something worth 5% of your final mark, but perhaps 20 hours on something worth 20%.
  • Many professors have specific expectations about meeting deadlines; be aware of these.
  • Look through the sessional dates to get a sense of the important dates in the semester.
  • Use the course syllabus to create a course plan.

On average, expect to spend about 8-10 hours on each course every week, including time spent in class or labs and on homework. Here are some time management tools and ways to stay motivated.

Class Structure: What will my classes look like?

  • There are four main kinds of courses that you might take: lectures, tutorials, seminars, and labs. Each has a different structure and purpose, but they all require regular attendance.
  • Class sizes may be bigger or smaller than you are used to. Some lectures may have as many as 500 students while an upper-year seminar may have as few as six.
  • You may have tutorials or labs, usually led by a teaching assistant (TA), which complement your understanding of the lecture material through marked activities, discussions, and readings.
  • Understand how online systems will be used in each class and get familiar with them as soon as possible. For example, learn how OnQ works.
  • Read each course’s syllabus for important information about communicating with your prof or TA, due dates and grading structure, expectations and learning objectives, etc.

SASS offers tips for success in online courses.

Assessment: How will my prof grade my work?

  • Assignments may take many different forms: essays, presentations, science labs, group work, case studies, reports, problem sets, and creative products.
  • You may also be marked for the quality of your participation in class: i.e., regular attendance, asking relevant questions, offering ideas, etc.
  • If you are unsure how to approach assignments, talk to your prof, visit SASS, or use our Assignment Calculator.
  • In addition to assignments, you are likely to have tests and midterm and final exams.
  • The course syllabus or course website should tell you how much each assignment or exam is worth, and describe the professor’s expectations of your work.

Try our Grade Calculator to determine your mark in a class.

Skills: What are the academic skills I might be expected to use?

  • You may be expected to do a large amount of reading in some courses. Click here for some reading and note-taking tips.
  • Writing and research often take more time than you might expect—start early and get help at the Writing Centre or from a research librarian to save time.
  • Math, engineering and science courses will ask you to solve math problems.
  • It’s very important that you adhere to academic integrity.

You will be asked to think critically, which means analyzing, evaluating and synthesizing information, not just describing it. Speak to your professor or TA if you are unsure of their expectations.

Habits: What should I do regularly?

  • Go to all your classes, labs, and tutorials, and participate: take notes, ask questions, offer your ideas, listen to others.
  • Reduce distractions in class: sit near the front and turn off your phone.
  • Do your homework.
  • After class, write a short summary, in your own words, of key ideas from the lecture and homework.
  • Learn a little every day instead of trying to learn and memorize it all just before a test or exam.
  • Don’t work all the time! Take breaks. Make time for sleep, eating, exercise and fun.

Stress is a common reaction to a new environment, but you don’t have to manage it alone. If stress interferes with your daily life and school, speak to someone. Many people at Queen’s will be glad to help you.

Relationships: How can I connect with my professor, TA, classmates and other community members?

  • Your professors and TA want you to succeed. Go see them during their office hours to get to know them and to ask for help. Here are some tips for communicating with them.
  • In some classes you might work in groups. Here are some tips for navigating group work.
  • Try to develop friendly relationships with your classmates early in the course, to make it easier to share notes, study together, and enjoy attending class.
  • The Alma Mater Society and Society of Professional and Graduate Students can help you find opportunities to get involved on campus and meet people.

Looking for more support?

You are already likely in touch with the Queen’s University International Centre or your exchange office, but here are some other sources of support at Queen’s that you might find helpful:

  1. Need more support with English skills? See our online resources or make an appointment for a consultation with our English as an Additional Language (EAL) coordinator.
  2. Need more help with writing? See our online resources or make an appointment with a writing consultant.
  3. Need more support to help you learn effectively? See our online resources or make an appointment with a learning strategist.
  4. Feeling stressed or in need of advice about course selection, your health, finances, personal challenges, or life as a graduate student? See here for some resources.
  5. Looking for help in a particular course? Here is an overview of subject-specific academic support resources.
  6. Looking for information on each faculty’s regulations, policies, programs, courses, and degree requirements? See the academic calendars.

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Graduate student writing groups

Download a PDF of this resource

Why a writing group?MembershipPurpose and formatManaging feedbackPractical logisticsGroup leadership and rolesAdding new members and ending the group

The ultimate goal of a thesis or dissertation writing group is to help members of the group complete the writing required for a graduate degree, and have as positive an experience as possible.

What do grad students say about the experience of writing a dissertation or thesis?

  • “A writing buddy was essential to staying motivated and productive.”
  • “I felt really isolated before working in a writing group. It was great to see what other students were doing, and how we shared similar struggles.”
  • “My writing group [of people outside my research area] really helped make my work more coherent and improve the logical progression of my thinking, so my supervisor could focus feedback on the content itself.”
  • “Writing the dissertation was such an unbelievably long process. Connecting with others helped me keep perspective, especially when a new member joined who was just starting out. I saw I had made progress, and it felt great to encourage a more junior student.”

Graduate students might create or join a writing group to:

to reduce isolation, to receive feedback, to increase accountability

Another type of thesis writing group is a thesis writing support group, which is often psycho educational in nature and led by a professional counsellor. This article will only focus on peer-driven groups.


There is no formula for creating a group, but here are some things to consider:

  • MA or PhD students?

Given the different expectations in an MA thesis vs. a PhD dissertation or manuscript, it may be preferable to seek members working at the same level.

  • Same research field, or different departments?

If members are in similar fields, they share a general knowledge base, which may be helpful if they offer feedback on each other’s writing. On the other hand, if members come from different fields, they may be more open to divergent interpretations or ideas, more likely to take creative risks in their thinking, and less competitive (e.g., for supervisor’s time, grants, jobs) or less concerned over intellectual property rights.

  • Similar or different stages in the writing process?

Some groups prefer members to be at various stages from proposal writing to final editing, so more experienced students can mentor and encourage less experienced students. Some groups want members to be at similar stages, to share a common experience.

  • Open or closed membership?

An open writing group, with members who just show up to write on a regular basis and then leave, can more readily have an open membership.  These groups often pop up (and disappear) independently in departments, or through the School of Graduate Studies or the Society for Professional and Graduate Students at Queen’s.

Closed groups have a fixed and committed membership that enables trust to develop. These groups may have expectations for adding new members, duration of membership, and departing members.

  • Members who are currently friends or currently unfamiliar to each other?

The person who initiates the group typically will have an influence on soliciting members. It is important that members believe they can be comfortable, trusting and respectful with each other, especially if the group will be interactive.

  • Large or small?

Depending on the purpose served, the group can be very large (60?) or rather small (6?). Other factors, like being able to find available space and a common meeting time, may influence the size of the group.

Determining purpose and format: Types of writing groups

small group of students workingClarifying the writing group’s purpose and structure is critical. For more detailed information on this topic, please see the Stanford University Hume Writing Centre’s Starting an Effective Dissertation Writing Group and the University of Minnesota’s Getting the most from a writing group.

It is also important to establish the group’s boundaries. Completing a thesis or dissertation is very demanding and often challenges a student’s sense of self-worth and professional direction or ambition. A peer writing group is not a therapy group, although there may be emotional and psychological benefits to participating in a writing group.

Students with concerns for their sense of self or well-being should speak to a trusted professor, mentor or counsellor. Counsellors are available to full- and part-time students through the Queen’s School of Graduate Studies or through Student Wellness Services.

Writing groups often fall into one or more of the following categories: community-based, accountability-based, and feedback-based.

Accountability-based group members usually

  • set “public” deadlines for completing specific tasks, in person, an online social media group, or a shared Google doc
  • check in with each other’s progress
  • acknowledge each other’s successes, and encourage each other through setbacks.

One online accountability site is Phinished.org, where writers can make pacts about how much they will finish. Students who want to “show off” their accomplishments might use 750words.com, where students earn points for daily writing and can display their badges on Facebook.

Community-based group members usually develop

  • community norms for noise, conversation, internet use, food, timing, attendance, etc.
  • a structure for breaks, start and end times, social chat time, and perhaps writing exercises

There are no “rules” to follow, but a format for a community-based group might include:

  • A check-in from each member about events of the week, progression on goals, new barriers or issues to be resolved (maybe 2-3 minutes per member).
  • An educational or problem-solving discussion of new or persistent issues (maybe up to 20 minutes). This discussion could include brainstorming solutions, an invited speaker, a group member presenting on a hot topic, or a discussion of a relevant writing technique.
  • Time to set SMART writing goals for that writing session and for the upcoming week (5 min)
  • Writing time (1-2 hours?). The group should agree how much time they would like to spend writing, and when they will take breaks. Breaks support focused, creative thinking. One way to use a longer writing period is to break up the time like this:

Write for 80 minutes, then break for 10 minutes
Write for 60 minutes, then break for 10 minutes
Write for 10-15 minutes to review the writing to identify issues or unclear thinking. Then, write down a question to ponder until the next writing session. Start the next session by writing a response to that question, or discuss unanswered questions with the group or thesis supervisor.

  • Time to socialize after writing (maybe 15 minutes).

Every group needs to work out a format that meets the needs of the members, and is manageable and sustainable.

If your group is designed for feedback, the group

  • shares their work. Some standard systems for writing, editing and collaborating online include Google Docs, OneNote (Outlook) and Dropbox
  • sets expectations and norms for the amount of time any one person will spend on feedback
  • determines the focus of the feedback (content vs writing style) and for when writers need to share with the group
  • members specify what kind of feedback they want, and direct readers to specific concerns.

The Writing Center at the University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill offers a thorough list of questions to help feedback-based groups set expectations and norms.

In addition to the possible elements of a community-based writing group, feedback-based groups include time for writers to share their work and receive feedback.  Some groups will choose to devote their time to feedback only, and save writing time for non-group time.

Managing feedback

students giving and receiving feedbackWriting groups usually include time for writers to share their work and receive feedback.

The following content is based on work by S. Lee and C. Golde.

Asking for feedback

Feedback groups need to consider:

  • how to schedule feedback: sign-up list, regular rotation, informal approach
  • whether to distribute materials in advance or present material during the group
  • clarifying what writing projects might be acceptable for requesting feedback: outlines? first drafts? polished drafts? conference papers? whole works vs chapters or sub-sections?

Writers seeking feedback should offer a brief overview of the piece’s purpose, audience and key ideas, their own current assessment of it, and a specific request for structural, stylistic or other feedback. The piece should be short enough to allow the group members to review it in a reasonable time frame. Writers seeking feedback should not treat their group members as proofreaders.

Giving Feedback

Giving feedback is a skill, but it starts with intention. Are you there to support the writer or show off your own skills? Be sensitive and helpful, and remember that soon it will be your turn to hear what others think of your writing.

It is a rare opportunity for a writer to hear from others in a “safe space.” Respond with specific references to their work, using language that is clear, non-judgmental and leaves room for the writer to further explain themselves. Avoid overwhelming the writer with too much feedback. Offer praise as part of your feedback; every piece of writing has something praiseworthy about it. Speak as a thoughtful reader, not as an all-knowing judge, and stick to the type of feedback that the writer asked for.

Receiving Feedback

It is an act of courage to request feedback and then listen with an open mind to what is offered regarding your writing. You may not agree immediately (or ever!) with all that you hear, but it is a privilege to have people spend time thinking about your work, so it behooves you to pay attention and sort through comments later.

To accept feedback gracefully,

  • listen to the entire feedback first, and try to understand the meaning of the feedback.  Write down notes and questions.
  • be engaged. If anything is unclear, restate your understanding of what you thought the speaker said.
  • be respectful. Try not to be too defensive. Even if a reader’s response is due to a misinterpretation of the writing, their perspective deserves attention. If several readers agree that a section is confusing, the problem probably lies in the writing.
  • keep a feedback log. Keep track of the kinds of feedback you get. Identify common themes. Address problems with your writing group, or visit the Writing Center or your supervisor.

Practical logistics

students around a tableThe group’s planning and organization could be determined in advance by one person who initiated the group, or they could be negotiated among members during an early meeting. Some logistics to consider:

  • Where will the group meet? On campus or off? What facilities will be needed, depending on the purpose of the group ( e.g., tables, white board, data projector, multiple power outlets)? Rooms on Queen’s campus are available:
  • When and how frequently will you meet?
  • What are the expectations around attendance and preparation (e.g., for a feedback-based group)? What is the consequence of failing to keep the commitment?
  • How can new members join, and what is the process when a member decides to leave?
  • What work can be brought for feedback? Initial ideas or outlines or rough drafts or polished drafts? Research proposals? Thesis or dissertation writing only? Conference presentations? Publication submissions? Grant proposals? Job applications or CVs?

Group leadership and roles

three students working at a cafeDepending on the focus of the dissertation writing group, there may or may not need to be a leader. For example, an online accountability group like Phinished.org has a web manager rather than a leader.

A group aimed at increasing community may not require a leader, but may need someone to book rooms and communicate with members.

A feedback-based group will benefit by agreeing on a leadership or organizational model. Members may decide to have a single leader or rotate the leadership, to manage or delegate tasks such as:

  • scheduling meeting times
  • booking rooms
  • communicating among members
  • setting the agenda and facilitating the meeting (e.g., who presents work for feedback, selecting writing activities, inviting quest speakers, etc.)
  • keeping the meeting on track and on time
  • note-making for feedback
  • bringing the cookies 🙂
  • setting up and/or cleaning up the room

Adding new members and ending the group

several students working on one computerAnother logistical decision is: will the group be open or closed in membership?

New members may be added to a closed feedback-based writing group once an established member completes writing their dissertation, or no longer wishes to be part of the group. Generally, the culture of a closed group will be better maintained if a group member talks to a prospective member before inviting them to join, in terms of

  • their writing goals (does this group meet their needs?)
  • their ability to make the same time/space/duration/ possibly “feedback homework” commitments of the existing members
  • whether they appear to be compatible with the existing members

Some groups might choose to vet prospective members for “fit” or have a trial period before the prospective new member has to officially join the group. As new members join, there usually is a period of re-adjustment and a shift in the developmental stage of the group.

Endings are inevitable, and often generate mixed feelings: “YEAH, I did it! But I’m going to miss you so much!”

Individual members of a feedback-driven group will leave as they complete their own projects or the group may disband as planned after some period of time, or just dwindle out. Ending a feedback-based or community-based thesis writing group hopefully signals great accomplishments for members.

Regardless of the reason, the end presents an opportunity for self-reflection, either individually or as a summative exercise by the whole group. Some reflective questions to consider:

  • How did this group help me meet my personal goals?
  • Are there ideas or work habits or activities that would be useful to include in my future large writing projects?
  • What can I take away and quickly put into practice in my academic life?
  • Is there unfinished work (personal or professional writing or activity) that I need to complete? For example- do I need to reduce my fear of speaking in public?
  • Can I get ideas or resources from the group to help solve a particular problem before we end?

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Graduate Writing

Download a PDF of this resource
AboutDeveloping a writing habitOrganizing and managing your graduate workManaging obstacles to writingGetting back on track

Writing, thinking and talking are related, iterative processes. Give yourself time and space for all three.

talking, writing, and thinking: cogs that work togetherWriting, and talking with others, can help you clarify and develop your ideas, think of creative insights and get feedback.

Expect the writing to go smoothly sometimes, and badly or not at all at other times. This inconsistency is normal; don’t let it discourage you, but if you are stuck, get help from your supervisor, supportive colleagues or a writing consultant at SASS.

Academic writing isn’t linear. It involves an uneven, iterative process of becoming curious about a research question, talking about it with friends or colleagues, researching to learn more, writing to develop more questions and insights, researching more, thinking more, talking more, and writing more. When it’s going well, the experience is motivating, but when it isn’t, it can be very discouraging.

Developing a writing habit

student working on a balconyMaking writing a regular, perhaps daily, habit has a number of benefits: you will likely be more productive, more motivated, and less stressed; you will also probably become a better writer and enjoy writing more. Keep reading for tips on developing a writing habit.

  • Take care of yourself: nutrition, sleep, exercise and relaxation aren’t luxuries; they make thinking and writing possible.
  • Set a realistic daily goal and write it down.
    • Many people rely on what Joan Bolker calls the “inspiration method,” which means sitting glued to a chair until an idea comes; most people do not do well with this method.
    • Allocate a reasonable number of hours per day (we suggest two hours per day) or per week to write. Some people prefer to set a certain number of words or pages per day as a writing goal.
    • Remind yourself about your writing goal: stick post-it notes on the coffee maker / bathroom mirror, tell friends, use electronic reminders, etc.
  • Create a writing habit:
    • Write at the same time and place every day, and precede it by the same habits (i.e., wake up, go for a walk, make a coffee and eat, then sit down to write for 2 hours).
    • Writing first thing in the morning can be very effective, but it’s not for everyone!
    • Do the hardest things first.
    • Start with 10 minutes of free writing or perhaps mind-mapping to warm up; it’s much easier to start by committing to these 10 minutes than to two hours. You are likely to keep writing after the 10 minutes are up.
    • During your writing hours, write. Don’t check something on the internet, stop to make some tea, or watch a YouTube video for three minutes. Just write.
    • If you are really stuck writing about one aspect of your work, write about a different aspect. Keep writing.
    • When you’re writing, avoid editing the words, paragraphs or connections between ideas, or proofreading, fact-checking, etc. The purpose is to produce words on a paper or a computer screen. Edit later. Just write, even if it’s not great-quality writing.
    • Keep a piece of paper or Distraction Pad next to you, to jot down anything that you want to give your attention to—then give it your attention when your writing time is up.
    • Consider rewarding yourself after you’ve met a goal, and acknowledge your progress in developing a writing habit.
    • Pay attention to what works for you, and how you benefit when you write regularly; it will help motivate you.
  • Record your insights or ideas when you’re not writing; keep a notebook with you or use an app on your cellphone.
  • Most importantly, find and do what is most effective for you.

For more support with meeting deadlines, organizing your work, or writing, consider booking an appointment with a learning strategist or a writing consultant at SASS.


Bolker, J. (1998). Writing Your Dissertation in Fifteen Minutes a Day: A Guide to Starting Revising, and Finishing Your Doctoral Thesis. New York: Henry Hold and Company.
Elbow, P. (2003). Writing Without Teachers. Oxford University Press.
Pressfield, S. (2003). The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles. New York: Warner Books.
Silvia, P. (2007). How To Write a Lot. Washington: American Psychological Association.
Swales, J. and Feak, C. (2004). Academic Writing for Graduate Students: Essential Tasks and Skills. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.
Sword, H. (2012). Stylish Academic Writing. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Organizing and managing your graduate work

notebook and penResearching and writing a dissertation is a large, complex project to manage. In the years you spend on it, you must manage time, resources, data, and yourself—often with little structure or accountability—and maintain working relationships with others on whom you depend.

This process usually involves:

  • setting short-term and long-term goals with deadlines
  • monitoring your progress, and adjusting goals, resources, etc. as needed
  • anticipating setbacks
  • delegating appropriate tasks, if it’s possible and a good use of time
  • communicating effectively and regularly with your supervisor and others.

Your research and thesis or dissertation might be the first time you have managed a project of this scale and of such a high level of personal and professional importance—and you might feel unprepared. Many graduate students book learning and writing appointments at SASS to help themselves manage their work effectively. In addition, you may like to review these resources:

Tools and resources for planning your research and writing

Managing obstacles to writing

writing mis en placeIn addition to the complex, demanding nature of writing itself, writers also face a variety of obstacles to giving it their full attention. Some common ones for graduate students include:

  • Time and effort required to support relationships with family and friends
  • Demands of paid work, other involvements
  • Need to build professional portfolio (papers, conferences, committees, etc.)
  • Distractions (noise, social media, etc.)
  • Technical issues (computer meltdown, etc.)
  • Physical state (hunger, fatigue, illness, etc.)
  • Distracting thoughts or feelings, etc.

Some of these “obstacles” are actually important, enjoyable aspects of a whole life, sustain students through challenging times, or contribute to professional or personal wellbeing and development; other obstacles distract from the writing process without offering anything positive in return. In either case, it’s helpful to manage these obstacles, finding a balance that will help you protect your writing time. Here are some strategies you might try:

  • Do what you can to manage family and social commitments. For example:
    • Recruit the support of your friends and family—ask them to help you by respecting your work time and by reminding you to take breaks sometimes.
    • Schedule time with family and friends, and keep your commitments. Tell your friends and family that you can be available to them during certain hours, but will be unavailable (except for emergencies) during other hours of the day.
    • Anticipate important upcoming events; be prepared to alter your routine. Include unscheduled time in your week for flexibility.
  • Determine how much time you have available for teaching or professional activities and develop a routine that adds those things to your day without sacrificing your writing or research time. Set boundaries; there are only 168 hours in a week.
  • Manage your technology.
  • Create or find a comfortable writing space that offers minimal distractions and includes all the things you need (reference materials, computer, paper, pens / pencils, etc.).
  • Pay attention to when you’re working well. Do you focus best with some background noise or in total quiet? In the early morning, or later in the day? Work with your preferences.
  • Identify your biggest time-wasters or distractions and have a realistic plan to deal with them. Prioritize the demands on your time, for example by using Covey’s time management matrix.
  • Recognize your personal signs of distress or disengagement. Writing, research and data analysis can be isolating and lonely. Many graduate students doubt their skills and the value of their work at this stage. Speak with someone—a counsellor, your supervisor, a friend—for encouragement or advice.
  • Make a plan for things you don’t have control over, including illness, family issues, unexpected requests from your supervisor, etc. For example, can you schedule some weekly time that has no tasks assigned to it, just in case? Is some of your work portable, in case you need to travel or work away from your home or office?

When writers get stuck: Getting back on track

student working in a busy cafeMost graduate students encounter times when they don’t seem to be progressing in their work, or have little concrete evidence of productivity. Although such times can be an indication of unproductivity, they can also be a sign that students are engaging in richly creative or integrative thought. Know yourself well enough to tell the difference, but consider that graduate students are often unnecessarily and undeservedly self-critical, resulting in a negative emotional state that can interfere with progress. Read on for practical tips for getting unstuck.

Challenges to staying on track

Many factors can contribute to a feeling of being stuck:

  • Competing demands and roles that take time away from writing and research. Graduate students are not just students in demanding programs; they are also family members, caregivers, employees, friends, members of research or professional groups, teachers, practicum supervisors or TAs or lab assistants, emerging professionals giving conference presentations and writing papers, community volunteers, and more.
  • Negative emotional states about oneself or the work, such as isolation, disinterest, frustration, lack of confidence, incapacitating self-doubt, feelings of unworthiness, etc.
  • Unclear direction or uncertainty about next steps.
  • Incomplete understanding of the material.
  • An unhelpful writing process.

Strategies for getting back on track

Set reasonable expectations of yourself

  • Understand the expectations of your program and supervisor, and the terms of teaching employment, so that you can make good choices regarding your time and activities.
  • Assess your personal standards of the quality and quantity of your work, and adjust your efforts accordingly. If you expect more from yourself than you do from others, consider the impact of this attitude on your work and your wellbeing.
  • If you are unsure whether you are meeting the academic standards for your research area and graduate degree, compare your work to published theses or dissertations in your field, and ask your supervisor for specific feedback on the quality of both your work and your writing. The writing consultants at SASS can help too.
  • Set short- and long-term goals based on what you wish to accomplish and what you wish to experience. These goals could include academic and personal goals.
  • Identify small concrete actions that will help you meet your goals or overcome barriers to your goals.
  • Assess the demands on your time to create realistic expectations of what you can accomplish. Mental fatigue interferes with productive thinking and writing, and quiet time enables creative problem-solving. Breaks from work are healthy and productive!
  • Be kind to yourself.
  • Consider this very practical set of suggestions from the University of Melbourne for graduate students who are trying to meet the requirement of “originality” in their work; these suggestions are also helpful for those struggling with academic imposter syndrome, those having difficulty seeing the value of their work or identifying the heart of a thesis, and those who don’t feel clear about academic expectations.

Give yourself some structure

  • Make a weekly schedule based on 1-hour blocks if you have multiple daily commitments, or 3-hour blocks if you have a lot of unstructured time.
  • Establish a regular writing habit.
  • Do the hardest work during your peak concentration time; leave other tasks for less alert times.

Practice self-care

  • Use campus resources to maintain your emotional, mental and physical health. Talk to someone about your situation, feelings and possible course of action. Distress will have a negative effect on your ability to write and think creatively.
  • Support your health by giving yourself 7-8 hours of sleep each night, regular nutritious meals, exercise, and time for relaxation and fun. You are a “human being,” not a “human doing”!

Get some perspective

Consider where you are in your writing, so you can respond appropriately to get back on track.

  • Review your past work to re-orient yourself to your original research question or revised focus. Ask a question to direct your thinking.
  • Re-establish your work routine OR take a day or two off to refresh yourself.
  • Talk to a colleague to get a different point of view on your work.
  • Accept discomfort as temporary, knowing it will pass.

Let stuckness motivate you to persist

Students often hit what seem like stumbling blocks in the research-learn-write cycle, where they feel as though they can’t progress because they don’t yet understand something, or aren’t sure what they want to say, or how to say it, or how it fits in with their broad structure. These threshold points are uncomfortable, but often a good sign of an imminent breakthrough. Don’t give up!

threshold points

Engaging in an effective writing process (talking, thinking, writing) will help you deepen your understanding and resolve methodological or conceptual issues. Booking a writing appointment or talking to your supervisor or other colleagues can be very helpful in this process.

Try keeping a journal or file of your thoughts. At the end of a work period of reading, data analysis or writing, articulate a question or a statement that reflects something you are unsure of or wish to think more about, and write this in a journal or file. Then stop work for the time being.

As you go about the rest of your day or night, your mind will unconsciously process this topic. When you return to work, come back to what the problem, and write down your current thoughts about it.

This file will be an ongoing description of the development of your thinking on a topic, which you can use to remind yourself of your path, direction and growth, and as a focus of discussion with your supervisor or a research or writing group.

Improve your current knowledge base

If you are stalled in your writing because you lack understanding of part of your subject matter:

  1. Use a mind-map to outline material on your topic, to create a hierarchy of information or concepts based on key topics, sub-topics, sub-sub-topics, etc. Think of the map as being like a table of contents, rather than a detailed summary.
  2. Based on the mind map, identify gaps in your knowledge or research, and decide which gaps ought to be filled and which gaps might not matter for this particular project.
  3. Make practical decisions about the scope of your project, and identify any additional learning that you need to do. It can be very helpful to discuss your choices with your supervisor or experienced colleagues at this point.
  4. Develop your understanding of key material, as you need to. Speak to your supervisor for direction if you need it.

Re-engage with your work or writing

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Online Learning

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Online learning is increasingly common at Queen’s, where nearly 3000 students take courses online every year. Whether you’re taking a course entirely online or one that combines on-campus tutorials with internet-based discussion and lectures (a “blended” course), online learning requires special skills.

Online courses are just as intellectually challenging as on-campus courses. You’ll still be asked to read articles and books, complete assignments on time, write tests and exams, and display academic integrity. But in online courses, you may find that your professors and classmates seem distant or absent, that your written communication skills are called on more regularly, and that your ability to motivate yourself to work independently is challenged.

This guide is just an introduction to the keys to success in online courses. You may find our modules on time management and motivation and procrastination useful. If this is your first university course, or you’re returning to education after a long time away, try reading our Academics 101 guide. If you need one-on-one help, SASS offers learning strategies and writing appointments by telephone or on campus.

Keys to successGroup work & discussion boardsWhere do I go from here?

What are the keys to success in online courses?

Review the course syllabus.

As in any other course, your first job is to read the syllabus, which you should find on the course homepage (generally through your onQ portal, although some faculties use different online platforms). If there’s anything that isn’t clear or that you don’t understand, make sure you ask your professor or TA for help. Here are some guidelines for communicating with professors and TAs.

Understand the platform.

Spend time exploring the layout and organization of your online course. Refer to the syllabus, explore menus, and ask questions if you’re unsure. Avoid missing an important resource or losing marks on a quiz because you didn’t know where to find it on the course page or how it worked. You may be asked to write quizzes and exams entirely online, so if your prof plans to do a dry run of an online exam (i.e., run one for no marks), take it. It’s a great opportunity to understand how the real exam will be administered. Prepare for online exams in the same way as you would an on-campus exam.

Be an active participant.

Developing a learning community is vital for success in an online course. Think of discussion boards as virtual class discussions. They’re a chance to share ideas with peers and show professors your critical thinking. Even if the professor doesn’t comment, she is reading the thread to make sure the conversation is staying on track. Making connections with your peers can be more difficult in an online course, but it’s still important. Use online tools and helpful apps to connect with your peers and instructors. Ask questions, share ideas, engage!

Take responsibility.

You’re responsible for all of your own learning in all university classes. In an online course, where you may never meet your teachers or classmates, that’s even more true. It’s up to you to do readings, watch video lectures, complete assignments on time, and work towards mastering the course content. That might take, on average, 8-10 hours a week—more if you’re taking a condensed summer course. You might find our time management guide helpful.

Get organized.

Contrary to many students’ expectations, online courses are not easier because they appear to easily fit into any schedule. They require plenty of work and organization! Treat your online course just as you would an on-campus course by scheduling time to “attend” regularly—3-4 times a week—and to keep up with readings and homework.

  1. Manage your time

Good time management skills will help you get started, stay on task, and finish on time. That’s especially true when grades are increasingly based on a large number of small tasks, rather than a single assignment and exam. If you’re already using a weekly schedule, make sure to slot in times every week to check in with your online course to ensure you’re aware of approaching deadlines and have apportioned sufficient time to tackle them. Professors also post course updates online, so regularly logging in will ensure you’re aware of important news.

  1. Log in and accomplish specific tasks

Reviewing the syllabus and your course pages will help you know what you have to do and when you have to do it. Then, log in regularly (two or three times a week) with specific tasks in mind each time. Think of it like a regular on-campus class: sometimes you attend a lecture, sometimes you block off time for homework or reading, and sometimes you participate in a tutorial or group discussion.

For example this schedule illustrates a possible week’s schedule. In total, the plan below allows the student to spend 10.5 hours on coursework:

Morning Evening
Tuesday Start week’s readings (2 hours) Finish week’s readings (1.5 hours)
Thursday Write week’s notes
Complete weekly quiz (1.5 hours)
Friday Write group project (1 hour) Edit group project writing (1 hour)
Saturday Watch weekly video lecture (2 hours) Write three discussion board posts
Check in with group members for midterm project (2 hours)

Try planning and sticking to a schedule like this one. Your specific tasks might change over the course of the term, but if you make the commitment to log in regularly, you’ll equip yourself for success.

Expect the unexpected.

Be prepared for glitches and issues; that’s just the nature of technology. Have a back-up plan and keep copies of your work, even after you’ve submitted it. If your computer fails, you can use the computers at Stauffer Library. If you can’t get there, contact your professor to let them know about your problem.

Group work

Group work can be tricky in general, but even more so when you’re working online and can’t meet with your team in person. Since professors frequently set group assignments in online courses, try referring to the SASS guide to group work or using a helpful app (e.g., Slack, Google Hangouts, Skype, etc.) to help you manage group work online. When using apps, make sure your entire group agrees to use whichever app you choose and that you all check regularly for updates to chat threads, comments on shared work, etc.

Discussion boards

The following was developed based on the suggestions and strategies in the University of Leicester’s resource for seminar and tutorial participation.

In an online course, you’ll often be asked to explain thoughts and communicate with others solely in writing. Many online courses make participation in a discussion board or forum mandatory. You may be asked to post regularly, comment on others’ ideas, or pose questions about course topics. If this is a requirement, make sure to read your syllabus carefully for your professor’s expectations about what you’ll need to contribute. Participating in fruitful discussions is also a great way to connect with classmates and teachers whom you may never have met in person.

To ensure you are getting the most out of the discussion board format, think of your responsibility as a 3-step process: preparation, discussion, and follow-up.


Keep up with the required coursework (e.g., readings, weekly quizzes) so you’ll be able to understand, analyse, and meaningfully comment in the discussion. In advance of posting anything, try:

  • summarizing the main ideas from that week’s readings and video lectures in your own words. Use our guide to reading and notemaking for help.
  • brushing up on relevant topics from previous weeks when necessary.
  • keeping a list of topics that would make good discussion board posts or that relate to the week’s key themes: thoughts or questions you have; tricky or unsubstantiated issues; topics you found especially interesting or surprising.


What to say

You may be nervous about engaging in public discussion, in person or online. It can feel like there’s a lot of pressure to show the professor you’re a great student, but that’s not what academic discussion is for: the idea of the discussion is to reflect on, challenge, or constructively add to others’ ideas. If you have a thought or a question about the material, someone else may share your ideas—and they’ll be grateful when you post them. Try the following strategies:

  • Reading the whole discussion before you add a comment. It’s much easier to join a conversation if you’ve been listening long enough to know what people are talking about and what’s been said.
  • Adding simple and constructive ideas to a complex discussion is okay. Generally, the best discussions don’t arrive at an answer immediately. They take time to explore different avenues first, so it’s okay if you don’t have all of the answers straight away.
  • Sharing responsibility with your classmates. Don’t dominate or avoid the discussion boards—find a balance between leading and standing aside for others.
  • Being positive and respectful of others’ opinions and interpretations of the material.

Adhering to the following strategies will ensure your posts remain on topic, insightful and appropriate:


Link your comments and posts to what others have said, to show you’re following and building on the discussion, not just interjecting with unconnected thoughts. Use names and short, direct quotes to make it clear to whom/what you’re referring.


Agreeing with your classmates is a nice way to start. Try something like “I agree with Will that…” or “Will makes a good point about…” Having shown where you agree, develop the discussion by adding a new connection, a point of disagreement, or showing the idea in a new context. For example:

“Yes, I agree with Will that Said was taken out of context in that case. The same is true of another text we read…”


Adopting the observation strategy involves commenting on the state of the discussion as a whole, showing that you’re appreciative of all the efforts your fellow discussants are making and that you can take a broader view of the material. For example:

“We began by discussing Noonuccal, but now we’ve moved away from that…”
“It feels like our discussion of this week’s reading has highlighted some of the key course concepts. For example…”

Offer alternative views

It can be tricky to disagree with other students, but presenting a well-reasoned alternative viewpoint shows your engagement with the material. Don’t be afraid to disagree with someone, so long as you remain civil and explain your reasoning. Start by showing you understand the point that was being made, then explain why you disagree. The explanation is crucial: it will show you’re not just arguing, you’re engaging in critical thinking, which demonstrates real understanding of your course.

e.g., “You said that Vygotsky’s theories remain relevant for today’s teachers, but doesn’t that contradict with…”


Outstanding students try to make new points, direct the conversation, and bring other people into the discussion. Explaining the logic behind why you are trying to shape the discussion will ensure that you’re not just cutting other students off, but trying to lead the discussion towards a new and interesting place.

e.g., “I think we need to look more closely at the impact of…because…” or “What Carmen said earlier about lateral violence was really interesting, since… Do you think that..?”

How to say it

Online communication has a reputation for bringing out the worst in people. The lack of face-to-face interaction can make you feel anonymous, granting permission to behave differently from how you would otherwise. That means it’s important to participate in online discussions with a professional tone—that means both what you say and how you say it.

Remember that a discussion board is an academic environment. You are being graded in part on how you interact and communicate your ideas. Remember that once you’ve pressed send on your comment, you can’t take it back. Spend time carefully thinking about content and tone before making your comments public. The following rules usually help:

  • You should always be respectful of your classmates, your professor, and the material you are working with.
  • Find out if your professor has suggested a code of conduct or posted a guide to communication. Follow it.
  • Try to remain objective and don’t get personal. Comment on course content, not the person expressing an opinion.
  • If you feel yourself getting upset, take a break to calm down before responding. Read over your post before submitting to make sure you’re saying what you mean to say.
  • Use the strategies in the table above to keep the discussion on track and defuse potential conflict before it escalates.

If you’re struggling with how to express your thoughts in online forums, contact the Writing Centre at SASS.

Follow-up work

Depending on the purpose of the discussion board communications, your understanding of the course material may be enhanced and/or you may wish to re-examine or extend your readings on a particular topic. Be sure to keep track of any connections, relationships, reinterpretations, problem solving methods, or analyses that require follow-up.

Finally, remember that in an academic environment, you are subject to academic integrity—even if it’s on a discussion board. You cannot use your classmate’s thoughts or words without proper citations. (See OWL Purdue’s citation style chart for an example of how to cite discussion board posts in APA.)

Where do I go from here?

All of SASS’s services are available to students taking online courses. Telephone appointments with writing consultants and learning strategists can be booked online, so you never need to feel like you’re alone.

The following resources are useful guides to some of the content discussed on this page:

Queen’s provides extensive support to both online and on-campus students. The following services may be of use:

Online courses might seem like a challenge, especially if you’ve been out of school for a while, you’re juggling lots of other commitments, or you’re unused to using online tools for communication and study. Try adopting some of the habits outlined in this guide to ensure you’re in top shape for the course and, as ever, if you have questions, just ask—the staff at SASS are a great first port of call!

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