College Tutoring Advice

Contributing to the Conversation When It Seems Pointless

When there’s a lot going on in the world, school can feel like a waste of time. Learning to write arguments and engage with conversations when protests are getting violently repressed doesn’t feel right. I get it, but I’m here to tell you it matters.

Not every class will prepare for you the outside world (duh). But, that reading and writing class you hate will. Sure, you are reading and writing about topics that don’t interest you when historical events are happening all over the world. Not to mention, you have navigate their emotional tolls.

Motivation sucks when school is happening during gut-wrenching, stressful world events. While I don’t know which classes you’re taking or how thoroughly you feel the events around the world, I do know understanding how people talk to each other is important.

Understanding the Conversation

Conversations happen everyday, big and small. Most of the conversations with which you are involved happen in your home with your loved ones. Maybe you observe and even comment on social media posts. These are all forms of conversations. On a bigger level, there are countrywide conversations around controversial issues such as Roe v. Wade, which was recently overturned by the Supreme Court. Furthermore, there are worldwide conversations like the protests over Women’s Rights in Iran. These types of conversations likely take a toll on you because they’re happening all around no matter what you believe or know.

School still matters under these conditions for one reason. Education is the best way to turn extreme debates and violence into fruitful discussions. Right now, when you google any controversial issue, you get lots of opposing, strong views. And, to be clear, part of having a conversation is understanding there might not be a right answer. We are simply arguing with our version of right—regardless of how right you know it is. The trick to making these conversations useful is bringing evidence and reason into your argument.

Not everyone will agree with your perspective no matter the degree to which your evidence proves your strong argument points and claim. But, the important part of entering the conversation is doing your part right and understanding how to evaluate the other part. This is precisely what your argument classes should be teaching you; this is why they matter in spite of what’s happening in the world.

Essay-Writing Tutoring Advice

Everything You Need to Know About Citing Evidence

Evidence is the key to any essay because, without it, no one will believe you. Whether you’re writing an argumentative essay or not, you need to include strong evidence to convince your reader of your main claim/thesis. So, how do we make sure our evidence is strong? We want to make sure it has a strong CORE:

  • Cite: Should you summarize, paraphrase, or quote your source?
  • Original: Do you credit the words to the author of the original source?
  • Relevant: Does it relate to your argument?
  • Expand: Do you analyze the evidence and explain how it supports your argument?

Citing Evidence

Any time you want to use words in your essay that belong to someone else, you need to cite them by summarizing, paraphrasing, or quoting.


It’s most effective when you want to cite or refer to a section from another source. Perhaps, you want to include one or more paragraphs in your essay. Summary is best when you want to take ideas from the author without using the exact way they said it.


It’s the middle-ground between summary and quoting. You should paraphrase when you want to use a few key words from your source, but you don’t want to quote an entire sentence. For instance, your author might introduce a key term that is unique to their writing. This means it didn’t come from you and you need to make that clear. But, you don’t want to include any of the stuff around it. Consider the following example:

Original source: “People should understand the benefit of paraphrasing over quoting.” I want to include the word “paraphrasing” (Alyssa) from this document. So, I paraphrased it in the previous sentence and cited myself in parentheses.


It’s most useful when you like the exact way an author said something. The way they provided you with the information was uniquely important and you have a reason to include every word. Keep in mind you should quote two to three times per paragraph of pretty much any essay you write.

When Do I Cite Evidence?

Summary and paraphrasing are most useful when you want to provide background on a source (in your body paragraphs) or provide background on your topic (in your introduction). So, it’s best to limit your summary and paraphrasing to a sentence or two before you go into a quote—also known as a signal phrase.

Every time you quote, you want to make it clear you are using someone else’s words. Along with that, you want to tell the reader whose words they are and give them the necessary information to read the quote. When you cite a quote, you are generally familiar with the article you’re citing. You want to make sure the reader is just as familiar before they read a quote from it.

Cite Juicy Quotes

You only want to quote sentences that are most important to proving your point. Perhaps, you’re writing an argument that requires you to gather evidence in support of your answer to a prompt or research question. You might be writing a literary analysis that requires you to bring in evidence from the book or story you’re analyzing. Maybe you’re writing a rhetorical analysis, in which you need to provide examples of when the author using rhetorical devices.

No matter what type of essay you’re writing, you will need to choose your quotes wisely. You probably have about six to nine quotes in an essay, which means those quotes have to matter to prove your point. Plus, your quotes should only be a sentence or two long—don’t bore your reader with excess information. Any information that doesn’t have to be in your quotation should not be in it. Still want the ideas even if the words aren’t important? Paraphrase them.

General Fiction Prose

Floating Away

Sometimes, I look up at the California night sky and feel disoriented. It’s almost like if I stare up into that vast black abyss of an atmosphere for any period of time, my feet lose faith that I’m standing on solid ground. My head spins and my body tries to float up and join the stars with every breath I take. When I exhale, I find my feet still on the ground.

In high school, I had a boyfriend who always tried to get me to memorize the different constellations in the night sky. So, I did because I thought it’d be romantic. I imagined us cuddling on a blanket in the middle of the forest and pointing up at that pure night sky. We would trace constellations with our fingers and find ways to relate them back to the stars in each other’s eyes.

However, this dream didn’t last very long because I realized I found the constellations more interesting than him. Neither of us really knew what we were doing because, when he told me he loved me after 3 weeks of platonic hangouts, I told him I loved learning about constellations. That was enough for him to break up with me. For the next three years, everyone at school thought I was gay because that was the only way he could fathom me not sharing his feelings.

After this, I became some sort of prize. If a guy could score me, a so-called lesbian, then (Damn!) they really were the hottest guy in the school. Even though people tell you they don’t pay attention to rumors, especially people who are close to you and care about you and are supposed to only define you by how you treat them and what you tell them, sometimes the rumors get too loud for any one person to ignore. At a certain point, I didn’t even blame my parents for the split-second, suggestive eye contact I got whenever I mentioned a girl even though I’d never given any hint of liking girls. They didn’t react the same way when I mentioned a guy.

In college, I had the chance to make myself a new identity. I even met the love of my life because he was best friends with a girl who I went on a few dates with. She was cute and enjoyable to be around, but, when my heart squeezed my lungs at the mere sight of him, I knew that it wouldn’t have been fair to go on any more dates with her. Part of me still wonders if the only reason I broke up with her was to up-end my high school identity.

He and I both fell hard. And we were fine with it. He said he’d never been this serious with anyone else and I felt so special. He thought of me as a person and it felt good. We spent all our time together when we weren’t in class. We studied, ate, and slept together because we couldn’t bear to be apart. We were inseparable to the point where we didn’t feel it right to take a breath if the other person wasn’t around. I knew that we should have had our space and that spending all of our time around each other probably wasn’t healthy, but I couldn’t drive myself to separate from him. I began to realize how little I called home; when I visited for holidays, all I talked about was him and I could tell that everyone was getting annoyed with it. So, I called and visited less and less, chalking it up to individuating.

On our third anniversary, he looked me in the eye and asked me to marry him. I was barely twenty-one years old. All I could think was that no future bride’s first thought should be that they’d be able to drink at their wedding.
I said no.

He didn’t say anything. And just like that, our third anniversary was our last. I went home without any obligation for the first time in two-and-a-half years. I’ll never forget the looks on everyone’s faces when they saw me. Their mouths said kind things, but their eyes told the truth.

When I graduated a year later, I moved across the country to work for a New York newspaper. They told me that I’d be able to work remotely and fly in every few months. I told them that I wanted a change of pace.

Now, I’m sitting in my shoebox apartment and can’t help but question how I let myself get here. It’s so bad that my sister called the other day and I got so excited that I cracked my phone trying to answer. When I finally swiped across the shattered glass, all she wanted was the Netflix password. After downing half a bottle of wine, I googled my ex-almost-fiancé. Turns out, he’s engaged to the person that I wanted to be. I don’t want to be his wife; I just want to feel like I have a choice in who I am. I guess I still haven’t let others stop defining me.

College Tutoring Advice

Student Loan Forgiveness is the Only Beginning

Student loan forgiveness is a step in the right direction, but it doesn’t target the core issue. The truth is that college isn’t worth it if you’re in the working or middle classes and can’t reasonably pay your tuition. When taking on student loans, the goal is for you to get a return on that investment. You need your money to work while you study, so you can eventually work for more money post-graduation.

I say this as someone who is only now, in my third year of my master’s, having to pay the majority of my tuition. I got lucky in my undergrad and luckier still during the first two years of my master’s in spite of my lack of financial literacy.

What Your Mentors Tell You

Teacher after teacher, counselor after counselors. Parents, too. Everyone told me that college was the next step. But, as someone who couldn’t vote in the presidential election the year I graduated, I had no clue what it meant to sign on for that much debt.

I lived off-campus with family for free, which saved me half of my tuition. The other half was paid by Cal Grants, aside from a couple thousand I paid out-of-pocket. If I hadn’t gotten room and board free, received state funding, and chosen a “cheap,” public institution, I’d be stuck. I’d be one more of countless people stuck in debt.

Hot Take on Financial Literacy

Financial education is underrated. From the moment we’re born to deciding on college, we are not prepared for the huge decision that is college. When I said I’d attend, I wasn’t thinking about the price tag I’d likely be paying for thirty years. Most of us made this decision in the middle of our senior years before we can drive without an “adult,” buy alcohol, or probably vote.

Student Loan Forgiveness

With all of this talk about “forgiving student loans,” we’re putting a (much-needed yet insufficient) Band-Aid on the problem rather than doing the work to fix it. Higher education takes too much from young people before they’re old enough to understand the weight of their actions. It’s “the next step” rather than considered as seriously as marriage or buying a house. We don’t have the same visceral fear or stress about taking that debt on until we’re seeing our barely-there net-worth’s plummet.

College is a Privilege

It’s a privilege to attend college, and I’m grateful that I did. But, I see the effects of debt on the people around me; I see the way it affects their decision to get a house now or later. They decide between twenty people at their wedding or a hundred, to go to their dream destination or one an hour from home.

Just like it’s a privilege to attend college, it’s also a privilege to understand what student loan debt means. We tell our high school students that it’s “the way out.” Yet, we don’t tell them how they should avoid incurring debt as much as possible. Instead of spending time educating young people about debt and student loans, we have them take quizzes about which college is right for them. We invite speakers to talk about the benefits of college. We even tell students to take classes solely designed to prepare them for college.

We See the Problem, Now What?

Student loan forgiveness acknowledges the problem that we all know exists, but it doesn’t solve the problem. It doesn’t educate young people on the severity of making a decision before they’ve graduated from high school.

Student loan determines the amount of money you’ll allocate away from the life you want and toward the life you left behind. College is only worth it when that one four-year decision you made at eighteen doesn’t limit what you can do with the opportunity that degree gave you. If the point of college is to open up job opportunities for financial security, then any student loans that keep you from achieving financial security outweigh the benefits of getting a degree.

To Attend or Not To Attend

As a college graduate who has always loved learning, I’d tell everyone to attend college if it aligns with their goals. Get a degree to give you financial stability. Get a degree to qualify you for your dream job. Don’t get a degree if the university charges more than any mortgage you’d be willing to pay. Paying tuition is an investment in yourself and I’d argue it’s a necessary investment, but it shouldn’t be your only investment.

Diversify your investments and understand that college isn’t the only path. Sometimes, the best option is to put it off for a better time in your life. Choose an institution that fits your needs financially, academically, and logistically because, no matter what the college entrance season makes you think, colleges should fit you.

Finding a Tutor Tutoring Advice

How to Make Sure Your Tutor Works for You

Knowing which tutor to choose should be easy when you have the added stress of surviving a difficult course. A tutor should make your life easier when you get the right one for two reasons. They have a mastery over the subject you’re struggling with. Plus, they should have the teaching skills to adapt their plans and approaches on the spot according to the student’s need.

What Your Tutor Should Do For You

The typical tutor will walk into a session with an idea of what the student is working on in class. But, the tutor likely has no idea what the session will become by the end because it depends on what the student needs. That’s where teaching skills come in: tutors should be able to adapt to student needs.

Some sessions can have us looking deeper into your essay to determine what its fundamental issues are. Other sessions could have us going over readings to make sure you understands them before (or after) you’ve started your essay.

What Else Your Tutor Should Do For You

Beyond mastering writing and teaching skills, however, your tutor need be a person. There are lots of smart people that cannot communicate that to others, which is fine and also a good reason to not be a tutor. Your tutor should be someone who makes you feel comfortable with asking questions because that’s the only way you can learn. Tutoring should adapt to the student and that can only happen if you feel comfortable enough to say what you need help with. Or, if you talk to your tutor enough they can figure that out for you.

The moment your tutor becomes scary to approach with questions is the same moment they are no longer the right tutor for you. This might be someone you admire, befriend, and value; none of that matters the moment you can’t ask them questions.

What You Should Look for in a Tutor


Your tutor should know their stuff, specifically the stuff you need help with. If you need help with more than one subject, there are a variety of tutors who can help you (depending on grade level). It’s worth remembering that the more subjects in which you need help and the higher the grade level, the more you will need compensate your tutor for their knowledge and time.

Happy to Help

Your tutor should be a people person. They can be introverted or extroverted. You should look for a tutor who enjoys helping you (because that’s their job). Yes, your tutor should be able to answer your questions and help you learn to solve problems without their help. But, a tutor won’t be right for you until they enjoy working with you.

Risk-free Introduction

Before you commit to paying them money, get them to meet with you for free. Good tutors will understand this is the best option for both of you because tutoring a student you don’t work well with is painful. Use this time to get to know them and talk to them on a friendly level; avoid bringing up specifics about your courses. You should certainly discuss what you’re struggling with because this a point of connection between you and your tutor. However, don’t talk about your specific assignments until you’ve seen whether you two are compatible. Register how you feel around this person.

As hard as it is to focus on anything other the class you’re struggling with, you need to be sure you can trust and befriend your tutor. Otherwise, it won’t matter how much you struggle; they won’t help you without adding to your stress. It’s important that you take the time to make sure this person will work for you (because that’s exactly what they’ll be doing).

Reflect on Previous Tutoring Experience

Lastly, you may never have worked with a tutor before and that’s perfectly fine. But, if you have, take that invaluable experience and reflect on what worked best with them. Consider what didn’t work for you as a learner or person. Think about how you want your tutor to approach a session, bearing in mind they might have a better idea based on their experience.

If this feels like an overwhelming task, then rest assured that every experienced tutor will have an approach they take to each session and student. If you’ve never been tutored before, you do not have to know to approach private tutoring; it is not your job. Though, this might be a good indication that having an experienced tutor will work best for you.

On the other hand, take whatever experience you have being tutored in the past and use it to think about what you might want in the future. For instance, you might prefer live feedback on all of your written work. Or, you might want your tutor to have read through before. Keep in mind that this approach might cost more since they will be doing work outside of your tutoring time. While all of this information is useful to consider and possibly shape future tutoring sessions, it’s equally useful to know when your tutor can draw on their experience with other students to shift the direction of the session to better fit your needs.

Your Tutor is Your Friend

Your tutor should make you feel comfortable; you need to be able to ask question after question until you get the help you’re paying for. Your tutor should be knowledgeable and make the knowledge easy to understand without making you feel less than them. When you seek out tutoring, you have to approach any tutor with the understanding that everyone has different strengths.

The hardest students to work with are the ones who only see their weaknesses. These same students have spoken multiple languages, grown up in different countries, and majored in the hard sciences. Part of tutoring can be developing student confidence. It’s hard to believe in yourself when you can’t do something. But, it’s equally hard to remember all of the things you can do that you should focus on just as much.

Asking for Help is Hard

If you’re not used to needing help or asking for help, then seeking out tutoring might make you feel uncomfortable–and that’s normal. In my experience, part of tutoring is helping your students see their potential, strengths, and intelligence. But, it’s important to work on that within yourself as well.

Your first meeting with your tutor should help determine if this person help with your stress; if they don’t relieve that anxiety, find a different tutor.

General Fiction Prose

A Version of Myself Who Lies

When my sister called, we could all feel it. No one wanted to say it out loud because the first person to say “death” is the bad guy, regardless of which euphemism they dress it up with. There’s something about the way my mom answers the phone when my sister calls at a strange time—this time, it happened to be after 9 o’clock, when both my mother and sister are typically asleep. The subdued stress in her voice cues me into what’s happening. G’s stomach flipped, again. My sister’s first dog survived two stomach flips before she died, and we knew this was G’s third. Through the phone, I could already see my sister going through the motions that she knew well. 

Every time her dogs ate, she’d watch them nibble and swallow their first bites because that meant she was safe for another day. There would be no squirting the medicine into their squirming mouths nor would she have to get them into a carrier by gentle nudging turned into forceful, stressed-out shoves. This time, I could tell she had already administered the medicine before she got onto the phone and my brother-in-law was ushering G into a carrier, packing for the vet. Her voice was measured where it had been frantic in the past. Somehow, we’d all accepted what was happening long twelve hours before it would be confirmed. Twelve hours before I’d find out there’d be no more walks around the triangular pool in the middle of the complex to exhaust G enough that he’d stop barking. The next time I’d go over to their house, no dog would get his fur all over my black sweatpants nor would he leave red lines all over my neck and arms because he can’t contain his energy, and somehow I still love that dog so much that I couldn’t imagine a world without him. He was part of our family, but he’d be gone the next time I went to visit him.

My mother hung up the phone and stuffed whatever clean clothes she could find—and probably some dirty ones, too, since she’d just gotten back from an overseas trip—into a bag. Within half an hour, she was gone and I was left to handle the house, take care of Apollo, tend to the father. I wrapped Apollo’s night meds in a slice of chicken and gobbled them up the same way that G would always nip at the floorboards. We never understood his obsession with them and my sister frequently took him to the vet because there was no way all of that paint could be good for him. Every now and then, you’d hear scraping and a “Quit it, G” before someone inevitably had to get up to part him from the wall.

The next day, I opened my laptop. I had already dosed Apollo with his morning medicine and texted my mom to update me about G, but I still felt useless. Out-of-place. I’d never get to give G a treat or scratch him in that perfect place right behind his ears again. When he wanted attention, he always bowed his head so that you’d pet him in that perfect spot; it made me melt every damn time. 

I knew we were all doing what we were supposed to be doing: my mother was in San Diego with my sister for emotional support and I was taking care of our geriatric dog, no matter how silly or stupid I felt. I was taking out my laptop and putting in my password like this was any other day. I felt like I should say something to her, something that showed her nothing else was on my mind except for her and my nephew. Even if I was two-hundred miles away, the only damn thing I could think about was the fact that I’d never get to see G again and I had to be okay with that because my sister was the one losing her dog and, no matter how much I cared for that dog, her pain had to come first right now. 

I could start by saying I know she doesn’t want to talk, not that I should assume that—add a probably. Then, I could say something about death being really hard to understand and try not to make it about that time when my dad made me look at my grandmother in a casket and I could only say no and try to squirm out of his hands so many times before I gave in because my father was asking me to say goodbye—I think?—to his mother. Or how, on some level, I really don’t think my brain can process death properly because it can’t handle something that looks the same on the outside without being the same on the inside. Maybe I could say that I don’t know what to say when someone dies because I’m bad with death, or that I wish I had something better to offer her. I could end by telling her that I’m here for her, even if that means two-hundred miles away and fucking lost. 

I pressed send and set my phone screen down, then I checked the clock—I still had another hour before Apollo’s next dose—and put on my earphones. A minute later, my phone started vibrating. I grabbed it, ripped off my earphones, and answered. My sister was calling me; she had actually called me. The day when she was losing her dog for the second time in two years, she called me. When she had her husband and mother in the same room. 

“Hey” felt like a pretty subpar way to greet her, but I couldn’t think of anything better to say and I didn’t want her to have to speak first. 

“They’re coming in like an hour,” she said. She’d already told me she didn’t want G to be in a vet office like her first dog was; she wanted someone to come to the house and do it in a place where G would be comfortable, not hyperventilating. 

I don’t really know what to say when it comes to this kind of stuff. I’m sorry. I wish I could make you feel better. How’s G? 

I couldn’t decide what to say and nothing seemed good enough. 

However, one of the best things about talking to my sister is that she doesn’t leave silence for long; she nearly always has something to say. So, we talked. For an hour. We had one of those conversations that you manage to completely forget after it ends. You go back and try to summarize it for yourself, mostly to know that you can, and nothing you think of sounds like it could encapsulate what that conversation meant to the two of you. 

The only reason the call ended was because the doorbell rang. It rang through her phone into my ear and, suddenly, I could see myself standing in her living room watching the whole scene. I imagined an executioner walking in with a sickle, his face covered in black leather to hide everything but his eyes. When he walked, his black robe flowed behind him; he moved in slow motion and I felt sick. She said she had to go, I told her a measly bye and slammed the phone down on the couch. I hoped I could regain composure, situate myself on the couch in the living room two hundred miles away, and breathe. I failed on all accounts.

Usually, when I lie, I lie by omission. I leave out the details that will tarnish my precious reputation while emphasizing what makes me look better because my mistakes typically fit in the cracks between the good decisions I’ve made in my life. When I write, I do much of the same. I try to emphasize the details that people will respond to, the ones that keep people reading even if that means shifting the truth around to make room for the interesting. 

Details like the fact that G wasn’t a dog—he was a bunny—and he didn’t die from his stomach flipping; he died from stasis. These are the harmless white lies I tell as a writer. Lying about my sister losing a dog rather than a bunny could be an insult to G’s memory, but consider me telling you about a bunny dying from stasis while you pretend to care. Logistically, I’d have to explain what stasis means and I’d have to get you invested in the relationship between a bunny and a human the same way you’d invested in the relationship between a human and a dog because I’m guessing most people have not encountered a bunny in stasis. Exchanging the simple terminology of “bunny” for “dog” gives me space to focus on what the story is actually about. Fudging other details, such as my mom getting back from an overseas trip, added interest and maybe even increased the stakes; I say “fudging” because, during a previous bunny emergency, my mother had been returning from a trip, but she didn’t end up driving herself due to jet lag. 

These are innocent lies that do nothing but deceive the reader (which is arguably how you could define fiction). It’s when the mistakes that I need to hide get too big to fit between the better parts of my life that omitting and fudging aren’t enough to create a story people want to read—or if I’m honest, a story I’d want to immortalize on the page. There are a lot of memories I wish I could lie away, dress them up so that I could make myself look better. And honestly, that’s true for some of my mishaps. I can chalk up my college bitchiness to “individuating” and getting to know myself away from my family identity. My childhood stupidity is forgivable because I was a child. It’s the times when I’m supposed to be an adult, supposed to know how to be an adult, that are a little harder to disguise as something else. 

In this story, I’ve lied outright. In fact, the only true part of this story that matters is death. G’s death and how I handle it. That’s why I never texted my sister. There was no drawn-out phone call to tell me how much my sister needed me on that day. Instead, there was the moment I decided whether I should text my sister. That moment when I could have sent that heartfelt message but decided that my sister didn’t need me; it was the same moment that I envisioned my sister with our mother and her husband. She didn’t need another person. 

It would take me two weeks and three days to be told that I was, in fact, needed—not as another person to crowd the room but as an adult sister who could be there for her (also) adult sister. It would be after two weeks of my sister avoiding my texts and limiting our conversations that she would tell me how much she needed me, how much she needed her adult sister to be there for her. Even a year after this happened, I wrote this story because I needed a version of myself like this to exist, one who was there for her and one that started feeling long before her sister could no longer speak to her.

Research Essay Tutoring Advice

How to Create the Perfect Research Question

Chances are you’ve been asking research questions for as long as you can remember. They might not have been as strong as a level-three research question, but you’ve likely asked how things work, why the world is the way it is, and how one thing affects another. These are all budding research questions waiting to be developed into a fully-fledged essay. Most importantly, many, many essays can answer that question in different ways.

Writing a Good Research Question

A good research question is open-ended without being too open-ended. I’ll get to what that means in a second. A research question, therefore, requires you to find one answer to it. (Tip: a good research question should at least three answers to it.)

Getting overwhelmed? Here’s a visual:

  • Level One: The question has a clear answer that you’d likely already know.
    • For example: “What does the Apple logo look like?” (I know I gave you a hint in the question, but you get the idea.)
  • Level Two: The question has one answer that you’d need to look up.
    • For example: “When was Google founded?”
  • Level Three: The question has at least three answers (three or more) and there’s no clear “right” answer. In other words, each answer could be considered the strongest based on the evidence that supports it.
    • For example: “What are the effects of the Greenhouse Gas Effect on the Earth’s climate?”
  • Level Four: The question has an endless amount of answers. This type of question are far too broad to cover in one essay (or dissertation).
    • For example: “What is the meaning of life?”

Pop Quiz: Which level of question are we aiming for when writing a research essay?

If you said Level Three, you’d be correct. A Level Three research question is perfect for research. This type of question can be fully argued within the scope of an essay no matter how long it needs to be. A Level Three research question doesn’t have a “right” answer and depends entirely on the argument points and evidence supporting it. The most important step of developing a research question, and by far the most overlooked, is narrowing your question.

Narrowing your research question is typically the hardest for students because students can generally avoid a research question that has fewer than three answers. However, the difference between Level Three and Level Four is much more difficult to apply to your own research question. Before we get too deep into narrowing your research question, let’s begin with how you start a research question.

Most of the time, you’ll want to start with “How,” “Why,” or some version of “What are the effects.” I recommend these options because they rarely lead to Level One or Level Two options; they get your brain thinking in the right way. Why don’t we try it?

We will start with a “How” question and make it a Level Three research question.

Let’s take this example: “How does the electoral college operate?”

This is a level two question (unless you can explain it off the top of your head). So, how can we change it to make it Level Three? First of all, let’s complicate it a little. Instead of focusing on the factual information—how the electoral college works—let’s focus on how the electoral college affects the United States.

Let’s try this: “How does the electoral college impact elections?”

What do you think? It’s getting closer to becoming a research question; now, we need to do the infamous job of “narrowing”. When we look at the question, let’s point out all of the general terms that we can make more specific. In this case, I’d say we can get “impact” and “elections” more specific.

The question becomes: “How does the electoral college harm presidential elections?”

Before we fall into the trap of calling this done because it is a Level Three question, let’s imagine we’re writing this essay. We want this essay to be valuable and we want our contribution to be thorough, so we should narrow our timeline down too.

How about: “How has the electoral college harmed the past three presidential elections?”

This question is a strong place to start, and you might limit it as you begin researching and finding what interests you to write. You might decide that you want to focus on a certain demographic like “How has the electoral college disadvantaged Black Americans during the past three presidential elections?” Or you might choose a slightly different niche to focus on. This is all okay because you need to explore to know what you want to write about. So, if you know you have a research essay coming up and you’re nervous about it, start early. Plus, you could always get some help from me.

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We Need to Change How We Think of the Rebuttal

Nearly every academic writing course you will ever take will tell you that a rebuttal is required for a well-supported argumentative essay. But, the moment you take a course that requires you to write without the rigid academic standards of writing courses, that discourse changes entirely around rebuttals.

The Rebuttal is Still Useful

Before you throw out the idea of writing a rebuttal, bear in mind that there’s a method to the madness. They’re a necessary skill to build despite how little how you actively create them after writing courses. Academic writing courses tell you to explicitly include a rebuttal to your main thesis (and usually it’s supposed to come after you’ve stated and defended all of your sub-theses) in your essay for good reason.

While it’s annoying that different teachers and professors define rebuttal differently, the process of writing a rebuttal is still important. It forces you to look into other perspectives and understand the broader context around your essay. The further you advance in your writing courses the less your teachers and professors will emphasize writing “rebuttals.” Instead, they will talk more about how you should develop a well-defended argument, whatever that means in your case.

A Rebuttal is Confusing and Frustrating

You have to argue someone else’s point as ardently as you would yours and then come back even stronger with another sub-thesis (after you’ve already argued at least two!). They force you to think even harder when your brain probably already hurts. You’ve done all of the research in service of your own essay and own mini-thesis points. But, it doesn’t have to be more work. In fact, it can be (dare I say) fun.

Writing a rebuttal can work with your existing work. Rather than completing an entirely different set of research, chances are you’ve already done the research you need. Not to mention the amount of thought you’ve put into your topic already. You know how you’re going to argue your thesis, so why not make your argument work for you?

Reframe the Way You Think of a Rebuttal

When you finally finish your writing courses, you’ll take other courses that require writing. Whether it’s a history class or sociology class, you’ll likely have to write long-form essays. In these courses, you’ll reframe the way you think about rebuttals from “how the heck do I write from another perspective then prove how it’s wrong?” and start thinking “where are the places in my argument where other perspectives would have a reason to disagree?”

This way of writing your rebuttal also changes how you think about your essay overall. Rather than considering your essay as the right answer, you realize there are other right answers. In fact, the question you are answering is complex and can be answered in a variety of ways. Furthermore, your response to the question is one super strong answer—that you might not agree with—to a complicated question.

The Ongoing Conversation

The rebuttal trains us to think of our essays as weak. Let’s change that and think of our essays as part of an ongoing conversation, within which there aren’t wrong answers. All answers are simply interesting with their weaknesses. In a world where there are few certainties, it’s easy to see that nuanced answers to complex research questions are easily stronger in some places and weaker in others. Take advantage of the strengths and weaknesses of your answer when you write your rebuttal. Once you start to think of your argument as one answer, your rebuttal writes itself.

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Why You Need to Learn How to Identify Bias

Misinformation has nothing to do with your essays in school, right? Bias doesn’t play a role in the essays you read like it does in Facebook and Twitter articles. Right? Every essay you write is probably about some dead author or a few articles from the internet that you don’t care about. Misinformation and bias have nothing to do with the work you produce for your English classes in high school or college. Right?!

Wrong. In fact, misinformation is the reason you write the essays you write. Sure, you talk to your teacher and professor and they might give you a reason closely tailored to their Student Learning Outcomes. But, essay-writing is essential to you developing your voice and understanding how to enter ongoing discourses.

How This Applies to You

Whether you’re writing an essay about Shakespeare or you’re writing an essay on a New York Times article from ten years ago (definitely not speaking on my own frustrating experience with the American education system), you are strengthening your critical reading skills. Critical reading, one of the most important skills you learn in school, is defined by CSU Ohio as, “a reader applies certain processes, models, questions, and theories that result in enhanced clarity and comprehension.” In other words, you do this whenever you read for class. When you are required to write an essay on something you read for class, you’re automatically using critical reading skills.

You learn critical reading with every new text you come across. Since you first started reading, you have had to make sense of it. You read on a daily basis, whether you read social media captions or News headlines. You’re equipped to read for bias even if you’re not actively doing it.

No one wants to reread the same text multiple times as if it’s the first time every time—that’s the opposite of what we’re trying to accomplish when we are working to develop incredible outlines for our budding essays. We want to work efficiently and be kind to our future selves; that means we are annotating in useful ways to clearly indicate how the text we’re reading is constructed. We want to deconstruct the text the author worked so hard to put together for us.

Why Care About Bias?

Every conversation in a writing and reading course comes back to the question “so what?” whether that happens in the essay we’re writing (and spoiler alert: it should always happen in the essay we’re writing) or the class we’re writing the essay for. So, what’s the purpose behind all of these essays? Why does critical readership matter?

Misinformation has become increasingly prevalent in our society and it’s convincing; anyone anywhere can put out words on the internet. Some websites are reputable, while others clearly merit further inquiry (think the National Public Radio versus Facebook). The good news is that your critical readership helps you see the difference.

But, bias gets more complicated.

Spotting the difference between vetted information and demonstrably false information can sound easy when you compare reputable news sites with social media platforms; however, this gets more complicated when we take a closer look at news articles.

How To Deal with Bias

Everyone has it; it’s the preference of one thing over another in its most basic form. It can be difficult to keep it out of your writing when you are trying to make an argument because you likely want your audience to believe what you believe—especially when the issue is controversial. To be clear, argumentative writing is not inherently biased and, most of the time, it shouldn’t be. Instead, argumentative writing should solely focus on creating a logical flow of ideas to persuade your reader through reasoning and evidence to back that reasoning. An argument that relies on bias is weak but can still be convincing—which is the problem.