Have questions about your academics that you wish someone could answer while you study remotely? Ask a Queen’s SASS Peer Learning Assistant any question you might have about studying and study skills! Wondering how to stay motivated while completing online classes, how to take notes for a particular course, how to manage large writing assignments, and more? Our upper-year peers have the answers and are here to help you be successful in university. Submit your question(s) using the link below.
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Many students are wondering what the fall academic term will be like. What you can be sure of is that SASS is here to help you, regardless of your year or program. Our FAQs page is one place to start, or you might explore content in the tabs at the top of this page. Welcome to SASS!
Student Academic Success Services (SASS) offers academic support to students who wish to develop their skills in critical thinking, reading, learning, studying, writing, and self-management. We welcome Queen’s undergraduate and graduate students at all stages of program completion and all levels of ability.
We offer individual appointments to enhance students’ academic skills and writing skills, support for students with English as an Additional Language, workshops, outreach events, and online resources. We can help you
Our upper-year volunteers, the SASS Peers (PLAs and PWAs), also post weekly blogs during the fall and winter terms. Check out our archives for candid, helpful (and often funny!) posts on surviving and thriving as a Queen’s student.
By Jessica MacNaught, 3rd year ConEd Linguistics/French student
Take time to take care of the most important person – yourself.
As all students know, it can be hard when you need to balance school, extracurriculars, and a social life. Sometimes it can be difficult to remember to take care of yourself physically – to eat, sleep, and exercise enough to be healthy and feel your best. But what about your mental health?
Mental health is something we all have, and something that it is important for all of us to remain conscious of, even during stressful times such as midterm or exam season. It is very easy to get caught up in a hectic schedule and feel overwhelmed. However, it is always important to remember that your health is more important than anything else, and your mental health is just as valid as your physical health (and sometimes they can be interconnected)!
One way that you can take care of your mental well-being is to ensure that you practice effective self-care. Self-care is the act of doing something that makes you feel rejuvenated and at peace in order to maintain a healthy mind and soul. Self-care can be anything that makes you feel happy – whether it’s going for a jog, watching some Netflix, spending time with your pet, calling a friend, colouring, or more! Try to schedule in some time just for yourself each week, where you can check in with yourself and take care of YOU, the most important person.
There is a great resource from Queen’s Student Academic Success Services (SASS) that can help to reflect on how much you are taking care of yourself. You can find it here. This sheet showcases a number of ways you can care for yourself, and look out for yourself (for example, asking for help from others or saying “no” to requests when you know you don’t have time) and allows you to evaluate your use of these methods. Using this resource made me aware that I wasn’t really taking the time to make sure that I was caring for myself as much as I needed to. When I took the time to reflect and take care of myself, I felt more peaceful and more productive. Another way to improve your mental health is to avoid stressors as much as you can. If you know that a situation makes you feel negatively, work towards avoiding or at least preparing for that situation. For example, If speaking publicly makes you nervous, you can minimize that anxiety by preparing in advance for a presentation – there are some really great public speaking resources here. You can write a script, practice the presentation with friends, or ask your professor if you can present to them one-on-one.
As for myself, I get anxious about forgetting what I am doing next, so I use a schedule on Google Calendar to plan my day so I know I won’t miss anything important! Another way to make self-care a priority is to add it into your schedule. I use cooking and baking as a form of self-care, and it makes me feel relaxed and productive, but you might like to do something else – and that’s okay, because there is no one way to practice self-care! Choose a few hours each week to dedicate to yourself, and make it a date! When you get back to studying, working, and living life, you’ll feel so much more refreshed and ready to face the day.
If you find that you need to talk to someone about your mental health, don’t be afraid to reach out and get help. The Peer Support Centre at Queen’s, which is located in Room 034 of the JDUC, is a confidential, non-judgemental, positive space where you can go to talk to a volunteer about any topic, and they are so supportive! Good2Talk, a hotline for post-secondary students, is also open 24 hours and can be reached at 1-866-925-5454.
Here are some ways to use self-care!
Photo courtesy of Sacha Chua under flickr Creative Commons License 2.0.
By Micah Norris, 3rd Year History/Art History student
It may sometimes feel that the strictures of university essay writing limit our ability to develop our own personal writing style, but this belief cannot be further from the truth. A professor of mine once said that by the end of the school year, he could tell whose essay he was reading without even looking at our names. How? We all have a distinct way of writing that is just as unique as our talking voice. Writing style is the manner in which we express our ideas; this manner includes word choice, sentence and paragraph structure, and tone. An effective style will keep your reader engaged and interested in your essay. Let’s look at three ways to further advance your writing style!
- Write Daily!
The best way to develop your writing style is also the easiest (bonus!). The more you write, the more you are able to understand who you are as a writer and be able to improve. Consider carrying a journal around with you and write about your daily activities. The subject doesn’t have to be complicated. Write about that cute dog you pet, what you ate for dinner, or anything that you think is worth writing down! You will begin to notice recurring patterns in your writing (such as certain phrases or words you tend to use) and can then decide what aspects of your writing work well and what needs to be developed more. Frequent writing will also help you develop skills in conveying ideas concisely and efficiently, which is a major asset for essay writing. I also encourage you to go back and re-read your past writing. You might be surprised at how much you’ve grown as a writer!
To learn more about how to incorporate writing into your daily life, check out Queen’s Learning Strategies advice on time management here: http://sass.queensu.ca/learningstrategies/topic-time-management/
- Pay Attention to Tone
Just as when we speak, there is often more meaning in how we say something than what we’re saying in our writing—this is called tone. When you write an essay, think about the attitude with which you want to approach a given topic. Two important writing tools that help express your desired tone are adjectives and punctuation. Consider the example below:
- Due to the Union Army’s tremendous military success, they valiantly defeated the Confederates on May 9, 1865 and ended the U.S Civil War!
- Despite the efforts of the Confederates, they were defeated by the Union Army on May 9, 1865, thus ending the U.S Civil War.
Using value-laden words such as “tremendous” and “valiantly,” and emphatic punctuation such as an exclamation mark, changes my tone. The second example’s more moderate tone is more appropriate to academic writing. Always remember to make sure that your essay’s language and punctuation match your intended tone.
- Explore Different Writing Styles
Academic writing is meant to be formal and professional, but that doesn’t mean there is only one way to write essays. To figure out a writing style that best suits you, it may be helpful to explore different ways of writing. Perhaps you are used to persuasive writing, where you try to convince your reader of a certain idea or opinion by taking a strong one-sided stance in your essay. If you are looking for a new way to convey ideas, you can approach your writing with an expository style. This style focuses more on revealing facts to your reader in sequential points, almost like walking them step-by-step through your ideas. Keep in mind that different styles work best for different assignments, so being able to write in more than one writing style is very advantageous.
Tip: A good way to explore different writing styles is to pay critical attention to the style of other writers. Next time you’re reading a book or newspaper article, think about how the author is trying to talk to you, the reader. Explore a variety of sources, both fiction and non-fiction. There is no limit when it comes to reading!
Photo courtesy of Lucas under Flickr Creative Commons Attribution license 2.0.
By Cassidy Burr, 2nd year English/Art History
For many years of my life, I was against editing my papers. I thought I did enough editing as I wrote, and that what I had done was “good enough.” Well, let me tell you what a difference editing can make and how “good enough” is no longer good enough for me. Looking at your paper with fresh eyes, and reading it all the way through, can make all the difference, but it can also be intimidating. Here are my top 3 tips on where to start editing your paper.
- The Lonely “This”
Let’s start out with one that a lot of people miss, but is easy to fix. Look for any time you have written the word “this” without anything after it. For example: “The environment is negatively affected by this.” This what? Being specific will help make your argument clearer and get to what you are trying to say faster. “This” needs to be followed by a noun which is clearly connected to a previous idea. The corrected example could be something like, “The environment is negatively affected by this cataclysmic event.”
- Tightly-Packed Sentences
A general rule of thumb is that your sentence should not be more than 4 lines long. Sometimes including a long sentence is fitting, but it still has to be properly punctuated. Even if you use the right punctuation, it still might be confusing for the reader if there are too many ideas in one sentence. Check your writing: how many ideas are you trying to include in a sentence? If there are more than one, try to break it up. If you can’t see the divide in the sentence, maybe ask a friend to read it and look for where the divide could go.
- Common Commas
Most of the time while talking to my friends about editing our papers, we talk about commas, and I think it is safe to say that commas are one of the most common forms of punctuation with which writers struggle. One hard and fast rule to look out for is to never put a comma between a subject and a verb. However, good writers need to know comma rules – for more details check out the Writing Centre’s simple explanation here (PDF).
Even though this list is short, I hope that these three tips will help you get started with editing your paper, or maybe convince you that editing is worth it.
By Michelle Bates, 4th-year English/Sociology student
Figuring out how to transition between all of your strong ideas in a paper can be challenging. For some, it is the biggest road block in effectively communicating an argument! However, topic and concluding sentences in paragraphs are not to be feared. They can help focus your ideas and make all the difference in a paper’s coherence. I have three suggestions worth considering if you want to improve these key sentences in your work.
What is first basic to understand about topic and concluding statements is that they must begin and conclude only one complete thought. So, it is up to the topic sentence (the first sentence of a paragraph) to introduce this point, while the concluding sentence will explain why the information you have provided in the body of the paragraph is important. The next paragraph you write, and any after that, should not try to prove the same point. Once you understand their roles, you can try improving these sentences to be as effective and argumentative as possible through other techniques.
When considering how to make your opening sentences flow, you may try acknowledging the previous paragraph’s conclusions. There is a difference between making the same point and relating a previous point to the current one to make it even stronger. These types of transition sentences are most common in compare and contrast papers. However, in any type of paper they can effectively display an accumulation of valid points, reminding the reader of how these points relate to and support the main argument.
In addition to these two very useful pointers, the most important part of writing these sentences is that they always refer back to your thesis. Specifically, the topic sentence is there to introduce the paragraph’s point and how it supports your thesis, while the concluding sentence states exactly how this is accomplished with your evidence. This explanation is necessary for a great paper, and is most effectively accomplished by being as specific as possible.
Constructing these sentences is a little extra work. However, I can’t stress enough how much it can make the difference between locking down a strong argument, and having a sporadic, weak one. Hopefully these tips help; good luck with your future writing!
For more information on this topic, see:
Photo courtesy of nicodemo.valerio under Flickr Creative Commons Attribution license 2.0.