Category Archives: Research

The Keys to a Successful Conference Submission Process: Part Two, Choosing a Topic

Steven V. Cates, DBA SPHR, SHRM-SCP, Purdue University Global Professor, School of Business and IT

In our first discussion, we looked at the value of doing research and presenting our findings at a conference. We also began to think about how to get started. Now we are going to look at how we go about picking a topic to concentrate on.

First of all, always pick a topic you really have a lot of passion about. Otherwise, you will not have the drive and focus to commit to doing the work necessary to complete this research project. Conducting a research project takes time, energy, and effort. There are no shortcuts to completing good sound research projects. So, you must commit yourself to practicing sound time management and spending time daily in working on your research.

So, what are the “hot topics” in your field of specialization right now? Where do you find these “hot topics”? You can start with the journals, trade publications, magazines, webinars, seminars, blogs, and any other forms of forums and media in your field. What are authors saying are the “cutting edge” issues that are being discussed and problems surrounding these topics? This is a great place to pick a “hot button” that has not been researched extensively.  This will allow you to do research and then provide solutions to those problems and issues, which is your starting point.

You also might want to join and attend associations that represent your field of study.  Some meetings and conferences are held locally, regionally, nationally or globally. At each of these you will hear presentations made on the “hot button” topics, as most presentations will be on issues that are current and presently being discussed in your field.

Another great way to get your research started is by networking with your academic and professional contacts. You may find that you have similar interests with a colleague on a given research subject. This could lead to a collaboration on a great research project.

Next month, in Part Three of this series, we will begin to construct a research paper and look at the specific parts of that paper.



Mood Music for Writing

Molly Wright Starkweather, Kaplan University Tutor

Recently a group of writing center workers from the Southeastern Writing Center Association put together a collection of music titled “Write It Like Disaster,” which was composed by writing center tutors from across the Southeast. The creators of this album were inspired by the natural connection between writing and music making, sparking a discussion among various writing center tutors and students about what music means to their writing.

It has been proven that there are significant overlaps in the parts of the brain that process language and parts of the brain that process music (Brown, Martinez, & Parsons, 2006). It makes sense, then, that writers are drawn to music, and musicians are drawn to writing. By using the keyword “study” in a search of iTunes, Spotify, Pandora, or a similar streaming music service, one can find several options for playlists and radio stations meant for peacefully (but actively) thinking and writing.

Is there a correct genre of music, an ideal artist to listen to while studying and writing? That seems to depend on the type of academic work being completed and the stage in the reading or writing process one is in. Some writers prefer widely recognized classical music, like Debussy’s “Clair de Lune.” Other writers find it helpful to tune into more minimalist pieces, preferring recent artists like Philip Glass. These are contemplative styles that move slowly, offer repetition, and/or feature soft tones, making it easier to absorb the words on the page and form reflections on the assignment at hand. The effect is probably what many think of when they hear the term background music.

There are other types of background music, too, depending on what activity level the music is meant to background. For some students, listening to a subtle dance beat or even house mixes can help when it comes to banging out a first draft. The fast rhythms, punchy melodies, and repetitious refrains make for an almost aerobic writing experience. No matter what type of music is being listened to, if the writer is given a choice to listen to a preferred genre, that writer is likely to be more productive, according to one study conducted by researchers Donohoe and McNeely (1999).

The best advice for writers in all academic avenues is to try to find good mood music for writing as part of identifying an ideal study setting. Considering the powerful potential that the human brain has to increase activity based on hearing music, it certainly seems worth a try.

Music Listening

(c) 2015



Brown, S., Martinez, M., & Parsons, L. (2006). Music and language side by side in the brain: A PET study of the generation of melodies and sentences. European Journal of Neuroscience, 23, 2791-2803. Retrieved from

Donohoe, R. & McNeely, T. (1999). The effect of music choice on writing productivity. Available from

Why Isn’t My Personal Opinion Good Enough? How to Establish an Educated Opinion in Academic Writing

Terresa Fontana

Kaplan University Faculty, Department of Educational Studies

I’ve served as a professor in the online college environment, teacher in the high school English and literature classroom, and student through various degree programs. In most academic arenas, what you “feel” might be limited to personal narratives, essays, or discussions within the physical classroom, depending on the course content and the individual professor. But, one thing I’ve learned in all my time in the classroom is that professors do, indeed, want to know what you think.  They just want your thoughts to become more focused on what you’ve learned – your education – rather than on your own personal feelings or beliefs.

book with glasses


According to, a personal opinion is: “a belief or judgment that rests on grounds insufficient to produce complete certainty” (, 2014). The key words in this definition are insufficient grounds. One of the goals of higher education is that you begin to establish your understanding of the world (or at least the concepts within each course) based on information that has been researched by experts in the field – information that will support your newly formed and developing opinions on the subject under discussion. An educated opinion, then, might be described as “a belief or judgment that rests on grounds sufficient enough to produce some degree of certainty” on a particular topic. These “sufficient grounds” would be the research you’ve conducted or the learning you’ve experienced during your studies.

Within each course of study at the college level, you’ll be required to do some sort of research of your own – reading the course textbook or other required materials, doing research in the library or online, or even conducting experiments or doing activities that conclude with some sort of measurable results. Whatever the process may be, the product is that you become more familiar with the topics and concepts that you study and research – that you develop a more educated opinion that either expands, supports, or even changes your own personal opinion on those concepts.

So how do you establish your personal opinion versus an educated opinion in an academic paper written to meet course or school requirements? The most straightforward way of doing so is to simply cite the research that exists to support your statements.

As you do your readings, research, or experiments, keep notes of specific statements or results that stick out to you, those that challenge your thinking or make you say, “Hmmm.” Whenever you have one of these “a-ha” moments, make note of what ignited the spark inside your mind.

Then, when you write your paper(s), go back to those notes and remind yourself what triggered such a personal reaction – simply cite the source of that spark within the text of your paper. Whenever possible, include a summary of the information in your own words or, if necessary, quote the information directly from the author of the source of your inspiration. And always remember – whether you paraphrase using your own words or quote the words of another – cite your sources.

In just a few short steps, you’ve gone from relating your personal opinion to establishing and reporting an educated opinion “that rests on grounds sufficient enough to produce some degree of certainty,” a skill that will serve you well in all your academic pursuits.

For more information on personal writing in the online classroom and writing at the college level, check out these other KUWC Blog posts:

Personal Writing in the Classroom

Learning to Write at the College Level

Reference (2014). Define Opinion. Retrieved from




Reflections on Tutor Research and Lessons Learned

By Chrissine Rios, Kaplan University Writing Center

Woman sitting at computer

© 2014 Jupiterimages

I took a Teacher Research course during the first semester of my graduate program. I would be teaching composition as a graduate assistant the following semester, so I had thought learning the latest trends and methods of teacher research would prepare me for the vigor of being a scholarly Composition instructor and lifelong academic. But course descriptions tend not to cover everything about a class, and like many students at one time or another while pursuing their degrees, I was immediately overwhelmed by what I had signed up for.

The big research project—the one that would last all semester and account for the entire grade required the use of our current students as subjects. Apparently, my classmates had earned their bachelor’s degrees in education and were already teaching at primary and secondary schools, so while they collected release forms for using their students as research subjects, I with my bachelor’s in Spanish—speaking, reading, and writing it, not teaching it—faced my greatest fear at the time: not acing a course. I couldn’t bear it, so I came up with a plan, or more actually, I realized the most obvious solution: I would conduct a tutor research project.

I had been tutoring since my sophomore year, and one of my tutees at that time had a reading disability and was failing Composition I because of it. She couldn’t understand abstractions, so if a word did not represent a physical object, she had difficulty knowing what it meant, and she especially couldn’t synthesize what she had read to identify a theme or main idea. Using her as my research subject seemed ideal not only for me but her. The project would give me more opportunity to learn how to better help her.

I proposed my tutor-research idea to my professor who also headed the graduate-level teacher education program. She was somewhat skeptical but approved of my project, and the semester went swimmingly until the end, specifically, until the day I had to present my findings in front of my class of fellow teacher researchers.

The presentation began well enough. I spoke about my tutee’s reading disability and how recording the sessions enabled me to analyze my methods such as her out-loud reading and our discussions. I remember that she had responded well to annotating context clues as she read to determine a paragraph’s organization and purpose. Paragraphs with words such as first, next, then, and finally, for example would be a chronological organization used for narrating events over a period of time, and paragraphs with words such as because, consequently, and for this reason would indicate cause and effect. I also cited research on active reading and strategies for boosting comprehension, and then I presented my conclusion:

The best tutoring methods to help my student were first to listen to her verbally summarize what she read and second, to talk with her about her impressions, observations, and understanding until she was able to determine a theme, purpose, or point and finally be able to say something about it in her own words and writing.

And that’s when the heat from the projector lighting my PowerPoint behind me intensified. The looks on the faces of my peers as I stood before them seemed to ask, “That’s it? A semester of research and you discovered that you just have to listen and then talk about it?” Even to me, my conclusion was anticlimactic. But I’ve now been tutoring for 20 years, and there remains no better tutoring strategies than active listening and student-led, tutor-facilitated discussion. The methods may seem basic, but they require skill too when you consider the tutor’s job isn’t to tell students the answers but help students uncover the answers on their own: to learn them.

My professor gave me an A- for my tutor research in her teacher research course, which at the time, I felt, tarnished my perfect GPA, but my student who had been failing? She earned a C+ and went on to Composition II. I also went on to teach Composition knowing to give students not only time to complete the assigned readings but time to talk about them among one another. If I could go back and defend my results again, I’d share my ultimate finding: true learning goes further than any grade, and it lasts a lifetime.

June is Research Writing Month in the KUWC

Welcome to June in the Kaplan University Writing Center.  This month our Writing Workshops will focus on Research Writing.  We have a series of three hour-long workshops that focus on different aspects of the research writing process.   This series along with some of our other workshops are listed below.

Girl at computer KUWC

© Jupiter Images 2013

Don’t forget to visit the new public Kaplan University Writing Center website.  Watch as the pages build with resources and get to know the Writing Across the Curriculum Faculty.  You can also connect with our Plagiarism Faculty resources.

Research Writing Tips I: The Research Question and Plan
Monday, June 10, 2013 @ 9:00 pm ET

Research Writing Tips II: Resources & Focus
Tuesday, June 18, 2013 @ 9:00 pm ET

Research Writing Tips III: Writing the Paper
Thursday, June 27, 2013 @ 9:00 pm ET

Quick Tips: Get Help With Your Writing
Thursday, June 13, 2013, 6:00 pm ET

Quick Tips: Cure for Writer’s Block
Monday, June 17, 2013, 2:00 pm ET

Quick Tips: Avoiding Plagiarism
Thursday, June 20, 2013, 2:00 pm ET

Top 10 Writing Errors and How To Avoid Them
Thursday, June 20, 2013, 8:00 pm ET

For the full list of Workshops, see the June Workshop Schedule on the Writing Workshops page.

by Melody Pickle

The Paraphrase Daze

By Kyle Harley

In the not-so-distant past, I encountered an overly-downtrodden student that, among other issues, came to a Live Tutoring session with his tail between his legs regarding a failed assignment. Few markings were found on the page; in fact, just two stood out aside from the daunting “0” that read: “Citation?” and finally “Plagiarism.” The student expressed concern over plagiarism, especially in this class, most notably due to not understanding how he plagiarized in a writing class where he learned about plagiarism. On a surface level, the paper looked great: the sources were all accounted for, the reference page was impeccable, and I did not even have to explain how to cure a disembodied quote.—In sum, this student was a dream to work with. Unfortunately, and much to the student’s surprise, I found that some of the information, though differing drastically from the original source, was, in fact, paraphrased. Taking the issue one step further, I found myself stunned that this student did not even know what the word “paraphrase” meant .  .  .  And so the plot thickens.

Fast forward a few weeks ahead and I am again faced with another student—same issues, minimal markings, zero credit, and morale down the tubes. Instead of going through the motions as I did with the last paper, I simply asked the student to define paraphrasing for me. My question turned into his question with the simple response: “What’s that?” I then realized, just before giving a workshop presentation on paraphrasing, that a large percentage of plagiarism may well come down to the lack of paraphrasing practice.

Simply put, and to the chagrin of students around the university, paraphrasing does not wholly revolve around placing proper citation at the end of each paragraph where students rephrased information from their selected source. While direct quotation remains rather obvious to most students, the act of rephrasing, reconstructing, and meanwhile maintaining the original author’s intent appears to be a mystery to many students.  Are students missing teaching moments in classes or is there a presupposed expectation riding on students to already understand concepts they never knew existed?

To further keep with the motif of Plagiarism Month, I find myself wondering where we stand as educators when we place these failing grades on papers. While some plagiarism cases are clearly plagiarism, others may demand a closer look at the writing and the writer.  Research writing is a learned skill.  Students must be given the opportunities to practice these skills in order to master them.  Are we giving students a chance to practice and master these skills without the fear of failing? If not, how can we to hold students accountable?  While it may seem difficult to teach writing in a course that is focusing on other content, learning to effectively write within a discipline is going to best be taught by professors in that discipline.  Sometimes, simply reviewing citations skills and expectations before a graded assignment can help. Try using these two videos for review:

As students grapple with both new content knowledge and new forms of writing, mistakes will be made.  Providing students with resources and reviews will help students succeed and avoid plagiarism.

Evaluating Academic Resources – Effective Writing Podcast 22

20120809-171159.jpg (c) 2012 Jupiterimages

(c) 2012 Jupiterimages

The Kaplan University Writing Center announces –

 Episode 22 of the Effective Writing Podcast series is now available.

Once again, Kurtis Clements delivers a clear explanation of a key concept. In just over 8 minutes, this podcast assists students in understanding quality research resources.  Students and faculty alike will enjoy this humorous and well done podcast.

Listen here:

Effective Writing Podcast 22 Evaluating Sources

Use this podcast with your students as they learn to identify quality and credible sources with the help of JimBo’s used car lot!

You can find this and other Effective Writing Podcasts here:

Melody Pickle