Category Archives: Tips for Grad Students

The #1 Prerequisite of Good Writing: Exhaustive Research

If you are not good at researching and making use of your researched information in writing an essay, then now is the time to get up to speed in this vitally important area.

Why Should You Research Before Writing?

  • To know your subject.
  • To be informed.
  • To become educated.
  • To formulate a fresh thesis statement.
  • And to write a well-supported essay.

You need to ask yourself: Why would your professors want to spend their valuable time reading an essay that’s clearly not professional or publishable? They wouldn’t…and they shouldn’t have to. Good essays are well-researched essays. In fact, very few professional writers and scholars write anything off the top of their heads. Almost all of them spend at least a little time doing more research into their subjects before writing an essay for publication, even if they are already considered experts in their fields. And that should be your goal: every essay you write should be written for possible publication.

Aim High: Aim To Publish

I’m aware that’s a lofty and probably unattainable goal for many people. However, that’s the standard to which you need to aspire. If you play baseball and you think you’re pretty good at it, you don’t aspire to a career in the minor leagues, do you? Not likely. Your goal is to be a major league baseball player. Whether or not you make it remains to be seen. But that’s what you aim for. The same thing should apply with academic endeavors. Aim high. Aim to be an expert, a professional, a scholar. When you pick a subject, research it, and write your essay—aim for publication. Find a good editing service to polish it for you. But first, always aim to write an essay that could be published in a scholarly journal.

Be a Professional Writer or Don’t Write at All

What’s the point of writing garbage? There’s enough of that already. Furthermore,  you’re far more likely to get an article published when you sound like you really know what you’re talking about. Your essay or article has to positively overflow with knowledge, authority, and credibility—both in the strength and originality of your thesis and the depth and detail of your supporting evidence. Thus, without rigorous, extensive research into the topic, you cannot possibly hope to know enough to formulate and convincingly support a fresh thesis statement on the subject.

The #1 Key to Successful Self-Publishing

In grad school, I studied the publication and history of texts. The prevailing assumption was that the author’s original version, warts and all, was inherently more interesting than what had been conformed by editors to printers’ “house style,” corrected by proofreaders, and silently changed in subsequent reprints (e.g., to modernize spelling). Only late in my doctoral program did the premium on original authorial versions begin to be challenged, as critics pointed out that publishing itself was what gave us access to most authors’ work. Nevertheless, the preference for the naked authorial document, stripped of all the wardrobe provided by the publishing process, still held the upper hand at the time of my exit from academia.

I exited academia to become a publishing professional. I became part of the manufacturing process that massages and tweaks a text to the point that it is considered publishable. I made this career move originally to pay my bills, but as I progressed from proofreader to production editor to editor to writer, increasingly I appreciated the need for this assembly line to ensure a good final product. Someone’s cherished final draft clearly had to pass under many eyes–be queried, conformed, and corrected–so that no one who had a stake in the final product, including the author, would have occasion for embarrassment or regret. I accepted readily this quality control process even when I myself was the author, and my own draft under someone else’s scrutiny.

The notion that the traditional publishing process gets between authors and their readers is not a dead idea. It still lives and is experiencing renewed vigor with the current gold rush to self-publish, inspired and enabled by the World Wide Web and its parvenu publishers such as Amazon and Apple. Casual reading about the exploding e-book phenomenon easily gives the impression that many authors now think that they can leave behind editors and other publishing production (and distribution) personnel as expendable “hidden costs.” They are so wrong.

Precisely because editors and other publishing personnel are not expendable, the production of e-books costs about as much as that of paper books. For a clear and simple explanation, see this blog post by the chairman of one major publishing company, “Why Do eBooks Cost So Much? (A Publisher’s Perspective).” If publishers must continue to invest so much into the making of e-books, then can self-publishers afford to neglect these functions? Self-publishers often fail to hire professionals with the needed skills, and the results speak for themselves to the reading public. Note the first reason given in this article for readers’ low expectations about self-published texts: “The Big Reasons Indie Authors Aren’t Taken Seriously.” The cost of not hiring editors and other publishing professionals extends way beyond dollars.

Becoming your own publisher means that you need to take on the responsibilities of a publisher. You need to be sure a text is ready for its public. Securing the services of editors and professionals with other necessary skills is as essential to publishing your own work as securing copyright. To be professional, you must use professionals. No one can do it alone. So come on: be a player.

—  Dr. John C. (Staff Editor,

The World Needs Important Dissertations

What would make a good dissertation topic?

In a perfect scholarly world where all research and writing is done by intelligent, diligent, inspired and inspiring people, a dissertation would be a) a great read about b) a very important topic that c) has been rigorously and thoroughly researched and d) thoughtfully and brilliantly developed to e) instruct, edify and inspire a wide-ranging audience into f) action that thereby solves or, at least, moves in a positive direction toward solving a major problem or issue in the world or field about which the doctoral candidate has studied and with which he/she has engaged.

That’s a perfect world dissertation, anyway.

Sadly, it’s been my (vast) experience that few dissertations achieve those admittedly lofty goals. Most of the 4000+ dissertations I’ve seen are good, but not great. Adequate but not outstanding. Worthy but not noteworthy. Good enough but not enough to do any good.

Pick an important topic, if you’re a serious doctoral student that is.

This is very serious, folks. No less than the future of higher education rests–in a very large sense–on the seriousness, scope, and importance of the research, arguments, and conclusions of this generation’s doctoral students. I say to this current legion of doctoral students: don’t settle for writing tripe. Pick a big and crucial subject. Do your dissertation diligence as if your life and the future of humanity, the world or at least your field depends on it.

Write a great dissertation, I challenge you.

As a PhD and owner of one of the world’s most experienced dissertation editing services (having edited over 4000 of them since 1999), I am an authority on this subject. I hereby challenge all universities and all doctoral candidates to raise the bar far higher than it is now. Raise it to Olympian heights. Demand of students and of yourselves to tackle the world’s problems with your research and writing. Make your dissertation make a difference. Don’t settle for merely obtaining your PhD with it. Make it so good it can be turned into a book that everyone should read.

Now that’s a worthy goal. You can do it, you doctoral candidates. You can make a difference. You can write a great dissertation that might even change the world. All that’s stopping you is yourself.


Critical Thinking Part 5: When is a Fact not a Fact?

Ultimately, analysis comes down to discriminating between facts and opinions. This relates to the preceding discussion in two essential ways. First, objectivity seems to imply you are dealing with facts, whereas subjectivity implies you are dealing with opinions. Second, the debate about absolute vs. relative truths and perspectives is itself contingent on the distinction between facts and opinions.

Since, as I mentioned in an earlier blog, the first step in analytical critical thinking is to define your terms, how might we define a fact? “Some thing, some issue, some belief that almost every rational person everywhere would agree is a true and accurate representation of reality.”

But that’s a might slippery definition! Note the “almost,” which allows for exceptions. And how do we define a “rational” person? Or “a true and accurate representation of reality”? What is “true”? What is “accurate”? What is a “representation”? And what the heck is “reality”?

We just can’t get away from subjectivity—from relativity! We must struggle endlessly, it seems, to arrive at a definition we can all agree upon. So, undeniably, viewpoints, positions, terms, words themselves are agonizingly complex and difficult to settle. They can always be “traced” further back, as the deconstructionists note.

Thus, even the very first step of defining terms often hangs us up in analysis. But let’s go with that definition of Fact and add to it the definition of Opinion (or inference) as: “Some thing, some idea, some belief which may or may not be true, and needs factual support to prove it’s a fact.” That’s easier than a fact. Because what isn’t a fact is an opinion. Of course, what’s a fact to you is just an opinion to someone else who holds the opposite viewpoint. And vice versa. It’s very frustrating, isn’t it, to believe something is an absolute fact and to be confronted by someone else who believes it’s not a fact at all?! Thus, the necessity for a rigorous analysis and discriminating critical skills.

The point is that those who have been raised on the tolerance and non-judgmental propaganda of the radical relativists and p.c. crowd need to be reconditioned. In the interest of us “all getting along,” many people have had it drilled into their heads to not discriminate, not make judgments, not think that one thing is any better than any other thing, not criticize, and to be tolerant of every opinion and every viewpoint. But such an approach to life is not only counter-productive, it’s hypocritical. We all make judgments and discriminations all day long. It’s what our minds do. We have to in order to survive.

To be continued…

Critical Thinking Part 4: Political Correctness

In today’s politically correct climate, you are at once free to think and believe anything you want, without discriminatory judgments against those thoughts. All must be tolerated. However, if you hold politically incorrect opinions or beliefs—no matter how valid or heartfelt—you will not be tolerated.

So there’s a fundamentally contradictory irony in the radical relativists’ position. If they hold that all is relative, then that sentence itself is contradictory because “all” is an absolute. Furthermore, as I noted above, the politically correct crowd and the radical relativists are generally one and the same. They scoff at the notion of any Absolute moral or philosophical “Truths” while simultaneously insisting that their politically correct positions are absolutely correct.

They attempt, in other words, to enforce tolerance through intolerance of dissenting viewpoints. I elaborate on the above points not just as a primer or warning, but to make a profound point about analysis: to analyze is to discriminate, to make judgments, to say that one thing is better than another, to determine what is true and what is false, and to suggest how best to act upon those conclusions.

Therefore, if you subscribe to the radical relativist, politically correct way of “thinking,” then your analytical hands are tied and you run the risk of being ostracized and condemned for having an opinion that does not correspond to the “correct” one. By its very nature, Political Correctness is counter-productive to a healthy society. So, there’s a fundamental contradiction in such a position.

To be continued…

Critical Thinking Part 3: Absolute vs. Relative Truth

Let’s discuss the sticky issue of absolute vs. relative truth. This is a most problematic philosophical, theological, political, and sociological issue. The debates rage throughout academia and the world at large over how many, what, and even whether or not there are any absolute “Truths” or if everything, every idea, every principle, every notion, is relative to one’s perspective, paradigm, or culture.

This debate is fundamental to analysis and critical thinking. Why? Because what may be true for you, may not be true for someone else. Let’s take just two examples for now: First, how about the statement that “Welfare is good.” Well, perhaps it is for you, if you’re receiving government assistance. But for those who are not, yet are paying higher taxes because of welfare, it’s not so good, is it?

Let’s take another example: “Eminem is better than Bruce Springsteen.” Again, if Eminem talks to you, if he’s where you’re comin from, and Springsteen doesn’t talk to you, he’s not where you’re comin from, then for you it’s a truth that Slim Shady’s better than the Boss. However, if you’re a little older and relate more to Bruce, he’s better than Marshall. Note that I’ve used three different names for them both, which seems to call into question their own relative identities, doesn’t it?

A little American history is in order here (I can’t speak for the rest of the world, but I do know a few things about  U.S. history). Prior to the 1960’s, it was believed by the vast majority of people that there were quite a few Absolute Truths. Then came the sex, drugs, and rock and roll revolution, along with the rise of feminism, the Vietnam War, and the deconstructionists in philosophy. The rise of the New Left liberalism tore at the fabric of nearly every Absolute moral and social “Truth.”

Whether these were positive or negative changes is not for me to say. As Fox News Channel says: “We report; you decide.” My point is, however, that from thence forward, radical relativism has been in fashion. Perhaps you’ve heard of the Cultural Relativists, who suggest that nothing is better than anything else, that all cultures are equal, and that to judge is to discriminate and be guilty of racism, sexism, specieism, etc. etc.

This movement against making any discriminatory value judgments gained strength and credibility when associated with the Civil Rights movement and, a little later, the Gay Rights movement. So that today’s generation and today’s politically correct thinking, for better or worse—you be the judge—accepts as ‘Truth’ the notion that there are few, if any Absolute “Truths” and that all “Truths” are relative and all opinions are valid if shared and espoused by some culture or “lifestyle.”

To be continued…

5 Ways to Write Like a Modernist

Modernism was an artistic, cultural, and even philosophical period from approximately 1885-1935 or so.  Why should that matter to a writer? How could knowing a little bit about Modernism help you write a better novel or story? Because knowing the history and lessons learned and imparted by those who came before us in any discipline or field can only make us better at what we do. The application of knowledge and education works cumulatively and synergistically. The more we know, the better we are at what we do. Does anything make more sense than that?

#1 Foster and express a rebellious spirit

The Victorian world was no longer. The old values were gone or exposed as false or hypocritical; the feeling was that new values must be created. The philosopher Fredrich Nietzsche had a profound influence, scorning the idea of getting at truth, believing that there is no truth, no reality, no absolute. All is relative and a matter of individual perception.

He believed in “undecidables”—in life, language, and art. Writers who rebel, creating new ways of writing or thinking about things, are always in demand. Risk takers win big. Writers who play it safe lose.

#2 Understand, recognize, and shun decadence

When a form of something (art, lifestyle, fashion, culture, civilization, government, etc.) has gone as far as it can and no one can think of another direction for it, that’s decadence. So much writing today is decadent. It’s so derivative and redundant. Do we really need another wizard, vampire, or dragon fantasy novel? Decadence stresses the invalidity of structure, believing that there can be no such thing as a coherent, truly workable design in nature or society. Revolt by writing something absolutely fresh and radical. Don’t be an imitator; be an innovator.


#3 Think and write like a Romantic

The Modernists loved Romanticism. Study it as they did, to learn its lessons and borrow its timeless aspects for your own writing. Self-consciousness, self-reliance, and the imagination’s power to create are almost obsessions of Romanticism. Though concerned with the commonplace—what’s natural, simple, real—Romantics sought the absolute by transcending the actual. It’s ironic that the Modernists, like the Romanticists, searched for the “Ideal.” Lace your story together with that paradoxical thread—characters realistically seeking what’s idealistic—and you’ll have a winner that will captivate readers.

#4 Experiment with what were then new notions of the nature of consciousness

Freud and Jung were Modernists who posited that consciousness is multiple; that the past is always present and coloring one’s present reaction; and that people are their memories. In literature, these ideas were manifested in Faulkner’s “stream of consciousness” style and Hemingway’s “iceberg principle.” Writers developed a new kind of reality, one preoccupied with the inner life, the subjective.

#5 Play with the then new views of time itself

Thanks to the Modernists Einstein and Bergson [there sure were a lot of monumentally great Modernists, weren’t there?], time was beginning to be seen not as a series of chronological moments in sequence, but as a continuous flow in the consciousness of the individual, with the ‘already’ merging into the ‘not yet.’ Read Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying andSlaughterhouse-5 by Kurt Vonnegut (a 60’s post-Modernist) for what can be done with time-out-of-joint writing. You do not have to write in a chronological order.

The Modernists were a great bunch of artists and personalities. Writers would do well to consider how to incorporate or use for inspiration these five aspects of Modernism in their own work.

Pragmatism & Belief: Where’d You Get Those Ideas Anyhow?

Before we inflict our writing on the world, it might be nice if we examined our ideas and opinions. Where’d they come from, exactly—our beliefs?  Some people are locked-in on and even obsessed with their own point of view, positions, and dispositions. As if they can’t be wrong and you can’t be right. Maybe, just sometimes anyway, we’re both right or wrong, or partially so at least.


Pragmatism is a pretty cool philosophy—especially if you like to keep morality and questions of right and wrong out of the way you look at things. If you have a strict moral code and look at things through right-vs.-wrong lenses, then you likely despise pragmatism. Don’t get me wrong: morality’s a good thing. But various religions conflict so radically on some issues of moral behavior that it aids communication to leave morality aside when first analyzing certain subjects. You can always overlay a moral analysis once the terms have been defined and the perspectives understood, if not aligned.

What’s It All About, Alfie?

So, how do people get and keep their ideas or beliefs? One of the two Fathers of Pragmatism—if you will—is Charles Sanders Pierce (the other is William James, brother of Henry, Daisy Miller’s creator). He noted that people affect a “settlement of opinion” or a “fixation of belief”. Great phrases! People settle on opinions—like settlers or homesteaders building their thought-houses and moving in for a lifetime. They fixate on their beliefs, seeing little else through the haze of their own thoughts but their own dim reflections. One whose own fixated beliefs so easily please him is easily pleased indeed.

Four Ways of Settling & Fixating

People perform this settling and fixating in four basic ways:

1)      Sheer tenacity: they just have that opinion and cling to it, rigidly and stubbornly, like a bulldog clamping down on a pants’ leg, or a drunk shouting in a bar. You can’t talk to them. Can’t reason with them. They’re beyond hope.

2)      Because some authority figure sold them on it. Their parents, their pastor or rabbi, their teacher, their favorite celebrity, or someone they “looked up to” said to them “This is a fact” and they’ve carried that opinion with them ever since, unblinking, unquestioning. They can be swayed, but only if they accept that there are, indeed, other viewpoints that just might have some credence if only given a chance.

3)      A priori, from Latin, meaning “existing in the mind prior to experience.” Essentially, a priori means that some belief just seems right or natural or true. We look at a situation or issue and decide what to think about it based on common sense or how we feel, not on experience, evidence, or facts. It works pretty well if you’re fairly smart, informed, and well-balanced. If you’re a bit dim, uninformed, or treading a thin bipolar line, forget it.

4)      Evidence derived from experience, investigation, or scientific study. The first three ways for having opinions are touchy-feely and may be enough for some people, but they’re not solid methods upon which to construct a convincing argument, let alone communicate effectively with your fellow human. Going by the facts of life, by what really takes place and what has been “proven”—to some quantifiable and/or qualifiable degree, anyway—is profoundly more defensible and supportable than the alternative ways and means.

What we all need is a good brain editing service: cutting the crap and cleaning up our thought processes. Guess what? We can be both pragmatic and ethical by deconstructing our own ideas before presuming to judge those of others.

1000 Words Over? The Art of Cutting Copy

Many writers have specific word counts they are forced to abide by in their writing. However, writers tend to be so tied to their material and have spent so much time writing that it can be difficult to cut copy to fit the word count. The following are some tips for cutting back.

  • Start with the big picture. Look for entire sections first, then paragraphs, sentences, and words. It is much easier to cut an entire subhead or section of your writing that just doesn’t seem to fit or seem necessary in a smaller word count. Large sections can be easier to save for later use and may form the basis for a follow up work.
  • Look for long examples. Illustrations are great. They make writing come alive. One professor told me only to illustrate the points you want anyone to remember or get anything out of! But sometimes illustrations must be cut when copy is long. If you have three illustrations, keep the one that works the best. Or look to keep shorter illustrations. Summarize an illustration in a few sentences (see the next bullet).
  • Summarize, summarize, summarize. Cutting also is about more than merely chopping words. Summarization is a huge part of the cutting process. Graduate students often include long quotes in writing. Sometimes a sentence or two can summarize what is otherwise a word count hog. Anything that can be summarized in a few sentences and still prove effective is a must do when cutting copy.
  • Cut out repetition. Many writers follow the pithy presentation model of telling what you are going to say, say what you want, and then tell again what you just told your audience. That’s great for a speech but in a limited word count, unnecessary repetition is a great place to lose some copy.
  • Chop ancillary topics. When writing, keep your thesis or main idea in front of you. Post it on your computer screen if necessary. Resist the urge to keep anything that does not accomplish the goal of addressing your main idea. Not sure if it is on target? Send it packing!
  • Look for unnecessary words (e.g. that or very). Editors usually have a list of words they think are completely unnecessary and cut every time they see them. Personally, I chop the wordvery every time I see it. Very does not add a great deal to writing. The difference between a fast car and a very fast car is minimal. Otherwise pick another more descriptive word! Keep a thesaurus handy if necessary. Bottom line: Look for unnecessary words that don’t add to your argument.
  • Look for colloquial speech. Speaking of useless words, many times in the southern USA, we use words for emphasis that can be tossed as well. We might say that the car in the last example was really fast. No need for the extra words when it is time to cut copy. Pick a more descriptive word.

At Edit 911, we are always willing to edit or cut down to word count for you. Let us know how we can help!

Be Romantic: 7 Imaginative Tips for Writing like the Romantic Poets

Romanticism was born in 1799 with the publication of ”Lyrical Ballads,” a collection of poems by William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Those dudes could flat out write.

Don’t reduce Romanticism to just love. Love can be romantic, but romance is so much more than just “come on baby, light my fire.” (Yes, it’s true, Jimmy boy was a Romantic, through and through. But that’s a subject for another day.) Romanticism is larger than life—a wistful, world-weary, wise, and wonderful way of looking at ways of looking at things.

So let’s have a look at the 6 main aspects of Romanticism that could inspire your imagination and light your writing fire.

Be a seer, a New Visionary

Easier said than done, but that’s what the Romantics did. They innovated. They broke all the rules.

Write about the commonplace, about the world around you: your hood, your job, your friends, your experiences. Write them new. Say what’s never been said before.

Listen for, as Wordsworth said, “the unheard melodies” of your imagination.

You’ve got words inside you. You just have to listen for them, hear them, and write them.

Be an idealist rather than a materialist

Write stories about people sticking to their ideals and principles.

“The world is too much with us,” said Wordsworth. “Late and soon/ Getting and spending we lay waste our powers;/ Little we see in Nature that is ours;…..”

I’d say there are probably at least 100 stories all around you of people who fit this bill. People wasting their lives “getting and spending.” People lost in material pursuits—empty headed, self-centered , out of touch with what’s really important in life.

By Nature, Wordsworth doesn’t just mean flowers and forests. He means human nature: what we think, feel, understand; how we behave, relate, cope. The basics.

Study and write about the basics. .About “The human heart in conflict with itself,” as Faulkner put it.

It’s a matter of mind over matter

The artist recreates a new reality. Try to rearrange the world. Make your reader see things in a new way.

Take your subject, whatever it is, and look at it upside down and sideways. It’s all just stuff. Throw it up in the air and see where it lands.

Chill and then write

On some days, you’re all fired up or pissed off. Something happened to you that would make a good story.

Chill first. Here’s Wordsworth’s writing method: “emotion recollected in tranquility.”

You felt a strong emotion—fear, anger, embarrassment, despair. You wanted to kill somebody, you were so mad.

Wait until you calm down. Get into a tranquil mood. Then recollect that strong emotion. Bring it back inside your head. Imagine that feeling all over again.

Then write the story that triggered the feeling.

Take a long walk

The Romantics did just about every day.

Seriously. When was the last time you took a long solitary walk? It focuses you, clears your head, helps you introspect.

Take a notepad and pen with you. That’s right. No iPad or laptop. And no texting! No interruptions.

Ideas will come to you. Walking releases imagination. It’s true. Try it.

Just walk and think. When you get ideas, stop and write them down.

Plot around contradictions

People have trouble with contradictions. They usually get all self-righteous and scream: “You’re contradicting yourself!” As if that automatically makes you wrong and them right.

In many cases, the contradictions are great conflicts. Great conflicts are the essence of great plots.

Look for contradictory people, topics, events, experiences. Examine them.

Maybe you’ll discover there’s a logic in the contradictions: the logic of multiple perspectives. Of our inherent confusion over what to think and how to feel.

Contradictions, mixed up people, confused situations—they all make for good characterization and plot elements

Contradictions abound. Life isn’t all unity and harmony.

Grow an organic writing garden

Coleridge had an organic theory of writing: like a seed in the imagination, the idea grows out of itself; self‑originating and self‑organizing.

Start with a seed and just write. See what branches take shape. Let them grow where they go. Let your leaves sprout where they want to. Like a tree, all the branches and leaves of your writing are connected to the whole tree.

Coleridge wrote some crazy good stuff, such as “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” about sailors on a ship lost at sea with “water, water every where/ Nor any drop to drink.” And “Kubla Khan”: “His flashing eyes, his floating hair!/ Weave a circle round him thrice,/And close your eyes with holy dread,/For he on honey-dew hath fed/And drunk the milk of Paradise.”

What poetry. Written by an idealistic seer who stirred his imagination on long walks, chillin after bad experiences, and then writing organically about life’s contradictions.