Category Archives: First Year Writing

How to Be a Better Writer

Some excellent tips on writing from Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker.

I admit that as a freshman I tried to increase the complexity of my vocabulary. I wanted to use lots of big words (which is what I thought ‘smart’ people did). I did not use most of those words correctly. First tip — don’t increase the complexity of your vocabulary.

“…imagine that you are in a conversation with a reader who is as competent as you are, but happens not to know some things that you know.”

New book: Human Trafficking part of the Current Controversies series

Current Controversies is a series of books published by Greenhaven Press, a division of Gale, Cengage Learning. Books in this series discuss and examine social and political issues that are of concern both in the United States and around the world.

HumanTraffickingHuman Trafficking, edited by Dedria Bryfonski,  includes four chapters that ask the following questions: “what factors contribute to human trafficking?” and “should internet sites used for sex trafficking be shut down?” and “does globalization promote human trafficking?” and finally “how can human trafficking be addressed?” Each chapter has sub-sections that offer pro and con arguments as well as general overviews of the main subject of the chapter. These sections, written by scholars and experts in the field of human trafficking, contain details and debatable information that will challenge your point of view. The book also contains an organization listing and a bibliography students can use to find further materials about human trafficking.

Who would use this book? Well, it definitely is a place to start if you are working on your MIOP (my informed opinion paper) paper. Students also taking communications or speech classes will also find the book useful. Other students studying political science, international relations, and even business will also find the book helpful when beginning research on the topic of human trafficking.

Human trafficking is also a hot button issue locally, Florida ranks third in the nation when it comes to human trafficking. Take a look at this story  from WUSF – you can read or listen to it. The article also notes that while Florida’s numbers are high in human trafficking, the state is working just as hard at combating the problem.

Of course, you can also find even more information on human trafficking on the library’s databases. Clearly there is much out there on this topic, making it a research project that is doable and with a local tie in. If this seems like something that interests you, the book Human Trafficking is on the New Book Shelf across from the Reference Desk, call number: HQ 281 .H832 2013.

Search Smarter, Search Faster

Here’s a nice intro on search strategies from down under.

New Arrivals: Women in Politics and Medicare, The Current Controversies Series






An assignment that frequently brings students into the library involves researching a controversial topic and presenting either a pro or con position. Current Controversies is an anthology series that explores a variety of such topics ranging from police brutality, assisted suicide, to alternative energy.  According to the publisher’s fact sheet:

“The series expertly introduces the reader to all sides of contemporary controversies in an objective and comprehensive way. Each anthology is composed of a wide spectrum of primary sources written by many of the foremost authorities in their respective fields; the authors represent leading conservative, liberal, and centrist views. This unique approach provides readers with a concise view of divergent opinions on each topic. Extensive book and periodical bibliographies and a list of organizations to contact are also included.”

To find out which issues the library has in the series search the library’s catalog. Go to and follow the Online Catalog link. Search for “current controversies” using a Keyword Relevance Search and the Quick Limit function to restrict the search to Main. Limiting your search to Main will restrict the results to only those items located in the Main section on the 2nd floor of the library where the majority of non-reference books, both fiction and nonfiction, are located.

See this Reference Question of the Week post about finding information on controversial issues.

Reference Question of the Week: Where can I find information about works of literature?

When I’m trying to find information about a work of literature, or about an author, my first stop is to see what books by or about the author we have in the library collection. Since someone told me recently to read James Dickey, I’ll use him for my example. All I know about this author is that the movie Deliverance (1972) was based on one of his novels.

The best book source would be a collection of critical essays about the particular work I’m researching (in this case, the novel Deliverance). But I also want to take a look at other critical works, because they may address certain themes that appear over and over in his work. Using the online catalog I’ll search for the author’s name, and then do another search for the work of literature I’m researching. Using James Dickey as my search terms I see that we carry the book James Dickey by Richard James Calhoun. This is definitely a book I want to get for my research. Even if I can’t tell from the record online if this is a book that will help, I’ll still locate it on the shelf, because there may be a book next to it that I can use in my research.

I also see there is a memoir by the author’s son. I’ll probably check in the index of this book to see if he writes specifically about the book or movie Deliverance. This might be helpful, perhaps giving me some insight to how the author felt about his work. I also see that there’s a collection of interviews and essays about Dickey (James Dickey: splintered sunlight: interview, essays, and bibliography). I’ll spend some time looking over this book as well. I’ll also look to see if we have a copy of the novel and check to see if it has any introductory matter that may help with my essay. I’ll check to see if the library carries the DVD because there may be a documentary, or some commentary on the movie that can give me insight into the work.

Once I’ve looked through the library’s collection of books, then I’ll turn to the databases. (Ubiquitous reminder: log in to Esearch before using the databases.)

One of my first stops for finding information on works of literature is the Literary Resource Center. When I search for James Dickey I get hundreds of results, so I then restrict my search to just peer-reviewed articles (by checking the box ‘peer-reviewed’ underneath the tabs). Then, on the left-hand side I have more options to restrict my search again, this time I choose the link for Deliverance. Now I have 3 papers, two of which are on-target, and one about the parallels between the writing of James Dickey and Coleridge. (This last paper I’ll skim, but I probably won’t read the whole thing since I don’t enough about Coleridge to include references to him in my paper. On the other hand, I’ll skim it because there may be some insight that can help me with my paper.)

The next place I look is Literature Criticism Online. Here I get some substantial information that addresses themes, symbolism, and critical reception.

I’ll also check LION (Literature Online). Here I got a lot of results, but not much full-text.

Three other databases I’ll search are JSTOR, Academic Search Complete, and ProQuest.

At this point I have found quite a few articles, so I need to focus my essay. Do I want to write about the role of nature in Deliverance? Rusticity? Gender? By looking at the criticism that’s been written I can get a good idea of which of these themes are significant to the critics. Then, once I’ve chosen my theme, I re-read Deliverance looking for that theme and thinking about my interpretation of that theme in this work.

Good luck with this assignment! It’s always fun to read a work of literature with a particular theme or idea in mind, and notice how it plays out over the course of the work. If you have any questions don’t hesitate to stop by and talk to one of our reference librarians.

Reference Question of the Week: Where can I find information on genetically engineering humans?

When it comes to looking for information on contentious or controversial issues there are two databases at the top of my list – CQ Researcher and Opposing Viewpoints in Context (formerly Opposing Viewpoints Resource Center). I also always check for books on the subject.

Be sure to login to Esearch before beginning your research. You can find both of these databases on the databases page.

At Opposing Viewpoints I always like to check the Issues tab to see if they’ve already made a page for my topic. The search engine will work as well, but finding a page already laid out makes my research easier.

In this case they have a page on genetic engineering. On this page I have access to OpEds (opinion editorials) both supporting and opposing genetic engineering. I will also find statistics, scholarly articles, news articles about my topic, magazine articles, and websites. Often there will also be video and audio news reports.

At CQ Researcher when I search for genetic engineering my top result is “Genes and Health,” but as I scan the top results I see an entry for “Designer Humans,” which seems more on topic. Even though the report on “Designer Humans” is from 2001 one of the nice things about CQ Researcher is that it provides a list of related reports. So, even if the report you find is a little dated the list of related reports will let you see if a more recent report is available. In this case the newer related reports cover the “Cloning Debate,” “Reproductive Ethics,” and “Genes and Health,” all of which might help provide more information. At the end of each report a short bibliography is included which will guide you to books, articles, and websites on the topic.

There are a few things I’m looking for when I start doing background research on a broad topic like this. First, I’m looking for unique words, short phrases, and people’s names I can use for search terms. I’m also constantly generating questions that I’ll want to answer. Some of the questions I will want to answer are straightforward factual questions (maybe about the history of genetic splicing, or the first mammal to be cloned). But, I’m also working on coming up with a viable research question, or a question I can turn into a thesis statement. “Is it possible to clone humans?” for example will prompt me to ask the factual question “What is cloning” and may lead to a thesis like “Cloning has many health care benefits,” or “Cloning creates a dangerous precedent.”

In addition to searching the above databases I will also look in the online catalog to see if the library holds a book on the topic that interests me.

At the online catalog I search first for genetic engineering. I see that I’m getting a lot of government documents, but what I really want is a book I can check out, so I restrict my search (by using the ‘Quick Limit’ drop down menu on the right-hand side of my search results) to Main collection. This will restrict my search to only those books books on the second floor that can be checked out.

When I scan the new results list I see (by looking at the dates on the right-hand side) that the top results are older than I’d like. I use the ‘Sort by’ drop-down menu to re-sort from newest to oldest. Now I see several books I want to take a look at: Mutation: The History of an Idea From Darwin to Genomics by Elof Axel Carlson, Gene Control by David S. Latchman, and Human Performance Enhancement in High-risk Environments: Insights, Developments, and Future Directions From Military Research edited by Paul E. O’Connor and Joseph V. Cohn. I’ll go look for these books on the second floor of the library. Sometimes the book may not be exactly what I’m looking for, but I’m always careful to look at the other books I find nearby. Often one of those books will hold some of the information I’m looking for.

And, as always, if you need more help finding information don’t hesitate to ask one of the librarians at the Reference Desk or send me an email — David Davisson.