Writing Effective Notes

Monica’s Writing Skills – By Monica Y. Jackson, MBA, Ph.D.

Writing Effective Notes


Monica Jackson, MBA, Ph.D.

Monica Jackson, MBA, Ph.D.

A student recently told me, “I do not know how to take notes. I cannot take good notes, study or complete assignments without spending a lot of time on them. I feel like I overdo things and spend too much time on one task. I never learned how to take good notes. I never learned how to study. I never learned how to determine what is important to write down and what is not.” These sentiments are often echoed by many students, who become frustrated, even though they are able to maintain good grades, but not without a hefty price – spending 20-plus hours on an assignment that should only take one hour, simple because the student does not know where to begin or where to end, taking days off from work to finish a homework assignment and burning the midnight oil at the eleventh hour to meet a deadline, making for a grumpy start to a new day.


My response to this student, discover what works for you and only you. Someone else’s note taking system may not work for you, because it is too intense and overwhelming. However, you may be able to select bits and pieces from different techniques and merge them to help you develop effective note taking skills. Here are a few more tips:


Stop saying what you cannot and do not know how to do. You can be your greatest cheerleader and number one foe. This way of thinking hinders your potential and progress and is a continuous crutch for excuses. Transform your victim mentality and be victorious by seeking solutions to the problem instead of focusing on the problem. Ask others what is available. Speak to an academic advisor about a course or workshop that focuses on success for college. These courses help students discover tools and attitudes for success by learning to manage time better, study and thrive as a student and work smarter, not harder. If your college does not offer such as course, check with extension colleges, community college adult learning resources, Internet or purchase a book. Take complete ownership of overcoming your negative thinking and take action to become a better note taker.


Discover what works for you. I cannot stress this point enough. Note taking should not be complicated. Some people record complete sentences when taking notes, while others use special words and symbols that help them to remember. Others color code and highlight. There are so many techniques, but you have to discover what works for you and be able to understand your notes when you review them later. Personally, I use my own version of shorthand when taking notes, such as using “wrt” for with respect, “2day” for today, “2morrow” for tomorrow, “4ever” for forever, → arrow in the margin for something that I need to clarify or do not understand, ** in the margin for something that is very important, three dots in the pattern of a triangle to indicate therefore etc. By creating shortcuts, I am able to record notes more effectively and efficiently, while continuing to listen to the speaker or lecturer. This works for me and has meaning to me only. Take some time to think about what system and notation will work for you.


Have a purpose for everything. This may go against popular belief, but I am a firm believer that college is not for everyone, and if it is not for you, then you must stop wasting time, money and valuable resources that someone else could use. Revisit the matter when you are ready because you will appreciate it more and thrive, not simply survive. You must have the desire for education and motivation; otherwise you have no purpose for your education. It is one thing to say I want to earn a degree, but actions speak louder than words. Take a moment to examine your action and words and what it will take to bridge the gap.


Going to college because your parents insist, does not necessarily motivate you to do your best. You have to want it for yourself and you have to expect it to provide you something – satisfaction, accomplishment, knowledge, job, advancement, status, new skills, stop nagging parents J, etc. Take time to discover YOUR purpose for YOUR education. You may have to revisit your education when you discover the meaning, value and have the commitment to align your life responsibilities with this purpose, so that nothing prevents you from earning your degree, except a catastrophic event – your death or your major illness. Notice that I said YOUR again, because often times students allow “family matters” and “personal matters” to cause them to get distracted and venture away from their goals. You may have to put your family on schedule and train them to adapt to your commitment – children, spouse, friends and siblings. Although family is important, you have to look at the situation through new lens.


Not to sound harsh, but please bear with me for a moment. If a family member is dying, you cannot prevent it or cure the individual by sitting next to his or her bed all day every day, and you have to ask yourself would the person truly want you sit next to his or her bed all day and night if it jeopardizes your education and future. Sometimes school can be an outlet for life’s trials and tribulations. When I was an undergraduate, my favorite aunt died and almost two years later, my favorite uncle died. It was very devastating. I made drastic changes – stopped attending college and signed up for the Air Force. Well, I took the ASVAB, passed, packed my things, sold other things and was ready to go off to basic training. However, when it was time to go, there were issues with my contract (blank spaces for the position that I was expecting and broken promises) and I refused to sign the contract or enlist. Eventually, I went back to school after taking a year off to deal with my grief. Thankfully, I was returned and finished, because once you stop, it is difficult to resume. I earned my Bachelor of Science degree two years later and my Master’s degree in the midst of a divorce. I shared this, because it is important to know your purpose and remain focused. Sure, we want to be there for our loved ones when we think they need us, but remember life goes on and there are limitations to what we can do. Stress and worry will never change any situation, but perseverance leads to newfound strength and accomplished goals. Remember, many things are out of our control, so stay focused and live without excuses, even legitimate ones. It is not always easy, but practice makes perfect. Take some time to write down your purpose and uncover what you discover along the journey.


Manage your time effectively. Purchase, use and consult with a daily planner and avoid procrastination. I often hear students say that a planner does not work because they forget to review it and they can remember everything. That is a problem. The brain can only retain so much before it becomes overloaded, leading to stress, frustration, procrastination, forgetfulness and poor planning. The problem is that students with this belief system have not created a purposeful planner and their minds become cluttered and distracted when it should be focused and attentive. When you have deadlines, responsibilities and obligations, you need to schedule them – time for family, time to study, time to cook dinner, time to entertain, return phone calls, check emails, visit mom or dad and time to relax. It is so important to know how you spend your time; otherwise you will spend it unwisely. If your mind is on all of the things that you need to do, during the time you are in a lecture, then your notes will not be as effective. Time management allows you keep your mind on the things that are at the forefront. Learn to keep your mind on what is essential, and put your planner somewhere where you walk by frequently or touch throughout the day.


Note Taking Tips. Here are a few tips that may aid you along your note taking journey.


Learn to listen attentively. Focus on what is being said and do not allow your mind to wander. Make sure your mind is where it needs to be; otherwise you waste time. This may require you to turn off the cell phone and respond to text messages later.


Don’t try to write down everything you hear or read, because you will miss what is truly important. It is impossible to record everything you hear and defeats the purpose of note taking.


Notes should reinforce what you heard and trigger your memory at a later time.


Review notes within 24 hours of recording them. This allows you to reflect on what you heard and solidify the information, making corrections or obtaining clarification. It is important to make sure your notes are accurate, which is why it is important to review them promptly.


Read your notes again a few days later to make sure you understood the concepts. By reviewing the notes, you are etching the information into your mind for retention purposes.


Review your notes before completing an assignment or studying for an exam. The more you see the information, the more it becomes ingrained in your mind.


Aim to understand not simply to remember. There is a difference. When you remember, you are only able to regurgitate the information. When you understand the information, you are able to apply what you have learned to practical experiences and assignments which solidify comprehension.


Don’t invent the wheel. There are so many note taking tools available and locating them can become overwhelming.


Finally, a question that student s always seem to ask is what do I write in my notes and how do I know what is important. The first thing to do is to make sure you go to class prepared, by reading ALL of the required material in advance. You may not understand everything you read, but read it to become familiar with the content and concepts. Record specific questions as you read, if you do not understand a concept. As you listen to a lecture, listen for answers or clarification to those questions, corrections to what you thought something meant and introduction of new material that you do not recall reading. This information becomes your notes and should add value to what you have read, what you understood and what you did not understand. If all of your questions were not answered, visit the professor or TA during office hours or ask a fellow classmate, but make sure you validate your understanding, because people are fallible and sometimes say things incorrectly – unintentionally or because they did not have a clear understanding.


Although the content of this article is based on experience, by conducting an Internet search you can locate lots of resources to help you learn to take more effective notes. Here are some sources that I located on the Internet, but have not read them. Therefore, this should not be taken as an endorsement. The aim is to show you that there are tools and tips at your fingertip, if you look for them.


Note Taking: Top 5 Tips by Dennis D. Jerz http://jerz.setonhill.edu/writing/academic/notes-tips.htm


How to Take Effective Notes by Naomi Rockler-Gladen http://www.suite101.com/content/how-to-take-effective-class-notes-a16974


Note Taking Strategies for Success – Alamo Colleges http://www.alamo.edu/sac/history/keller/ACCDitg/SSnote.htm


Dartmouth College – Academic Skills Center (as mentioned earlier) http://www.dartmouth.edu/~acskills/success/notes.html


Now you can stop reciting what you cannot do or do not know how to do and discover what works for you by managing your time effectively, living with purpose for your education and taking the best notes possible, to add value to your learning experience. You can do it and Philippians 4:13 affirms it: “I can do ALL things through Christ who strengthens me.” Focus on the awesome strength and support system that is available to you. Now go to your destiny with courage and confidence to take effective notes!


About Monica Y. Jackson, MBA, Ph.D.:  Monica Y. Jackson is an adjunct college professor, and is also an author and speaker.  She is the author of “I Have A Book Idea: Now What?” Monica also designs and conducts self-publishing workshops that motivate and encourage individuals to complete their book projects.


Are you Prepared to Make the Transition from High School Writing to College Writing?

Monica’s Writing Skills – By Monica Y. Jackson, MBA, Ph.D.

Are you Prepared to Make the Transition from High School Writing to College Writing?


Monica Jackson, MBA, Ph.D.

Monica Jackson, MBA, Ph.D.

A student who will be a college freshman this fall was shocked to hear a Summer Bridge English professor say, “High school does not prepare you for college. Disregard what you have learned. We are going to teach you how to write right.” This student graduated from high school with honors, took AP and honor courses and has been on the honor roll, every semester – in elementary, middle and high school. Although the student acquired writing scores on the SAT and ACT that indicated writing excellence and preparedness for college courses, the university’s English placement exam, revealed otherwise. Needless to say, the student was surprised. Furthermore, this student has also written for various publications and communicates well. So, again, I ask, are you prepared for college writing?


Writing is like fine wine- it gets better with time. The more you write, the better you become. Practice makes perfect. So many students express disdain for writing. Part of the reason is a lackadaisical attitude and part of the reason is that some students have never been adequately prepared to write. As a result, students become frustrated and stress whenever a writing assignment is required. Does this sound like you and how are you going to feel when your professor tells you that a writing assignment missed the mark? If you are like the student mentioned in this article, you may be perplexed and do not know where to turn, especially since you have earned an “A” on 99.9% of your writing assignments while in high school.


There is no doubt that most students expect college to be harder, but when it comes to writing, students panic, because there are clear differences between high school writing and college writing. Furthermore, these differences may not have been conveyed in the formative years. This means you need to prepare yourself for something new.


When it comes to writing in college, you will need to think more critically and analytically. You will need to state your position and write specific, tight and to the point. You will be required to reach logical, sound conclusions. College writing can be described as augmentative writing, not fighting and debating, but where claims are made, supportive evidence is presented, and strengths and limitations are considered, evaluated and decided upon. In other words, you are analyzing a particular situation from all angles, to reach the best possible solution or position for your argument. This is exactly what you will be required to do in the business world, after graduating.


Five Tips


It is important to recognize that each professor is different and it is your responsibility to understand these differences. Take full ownership for your learning. You have the syllabus, book and materials. Understand that some professors are preferred over others. If the professor is not thorough enough for you, then use other means – TAs, study groups and/or tutors. There is a famous passage that is appropriate: “In all thy getting get understanding” Proverbs 4:7 KJV. Here are five tips to help you as you transition this fall:


Tip #1: Do not assume you know what the professor wants and do not make the assumption that all professors want assignments to be composed the same. Ask the professor his or her preference at the very beginning of the course to prevent frustration. Some professors may be very clear and tell you what they want and what they do not, while others may not be as clear. Do not become alarmed. As I stated earlier, “In all thy getting get understanding” Proverbs 4:7 KJV.


Tip #2: If the professor provides a grading rubric, then you have struck gold! Follow it exactly and do not deviate. Why? If the professor went to great lengths to provide a rubric, then he/she is telling you what he/she wants. I have seen students disregard the grading rubric and find themselves stunned at receiving a failing grade on the assignment. I have also seen other students provide so much fluff and extra information, which is great information, but it is not required and will not contribute to the grade, because it is outside the scope of the assignment. Here’s an example of an assignment:


Locate one article for each of the following topics: Topic A, Topic B and Topic C. For each of the topics compare and contrast XYZ. Students must use EBSCOhost database to locate the articles. The names of the article must be stated in the first line, along with the author’s name when the article is introduced. The paper must be in 6th Edition APA format.


Each article will be graded as follows:

Summarize article in 5 to 6 sentences 10 points

Identify the lesson learned 5 points

Identify the limitations 10 points

Identify the strengths 10 points


The student submitted an APA formatted paper, perfectly written, with all of the information in the correct location, using articles that he found on the Internet. The student received an “F” on the assignment. Now, some of you may be gasping and asking why. The assignment specifically stated the source to use is EBSCOhost and the student did not obtain the articles from this source. Yes, professors check references. Make sure you follow instructions, precisely. The goal of this assignment was to get students acquainted with EBSCOhost and how to navigate, while presenting an argumentative paper. The student did not meet the requirements.


Tip #3: Prepare a draft of the assignment and then meet with your professor during his/her office hours to ask specific questions and answers. When you go into a professor’s office, do not simply ask, if your assignment is right, because you may receive a simple “no” response. Instead, share your understanding of the assignment, with specifics, but get to the point, because there are other students in need of professor time, even if they are not lingering in the hallways.


Tip #4: Do not procrastinate. Sometimes new college students underestimate the time requirement to complete an assignment. Therefore, it is important to get started on assignments sooner than later.


Tip #5: Consult with a student who has taken the course with the professor, to gain an understanding of the professor’s expectations. This could help you focus, hone your writing skills and successfully make the transition from high school writing to college writing.


Many new college students are not accustomed to and are unprepared for college level writing. It is nothing to be ashamed about – now that you know better, you can and will do better. If you have been introduced to college writing style during your high school years, then thank those who have guided you along the journey. Otherwise, use these five tips to help you get off to a great start this fall. Finally, it is important to understand that excellent written communication skills are essential and will set you apart from your peers – academically and professionally. Welcome to fall 2010!


Note: Here is an excellent comparison of other differences between high school and college (not related to writing), but I think it make help incoming freshmen become more aware of differences between these learning environments. It is also a reminder for returning students.



Speaking of returning students, if you are required to follow APA format, there is a new, sixth edition with some significant differences from the fifth edition. Here is a link that outlines some of the changes

http://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/560/24 or visit




About Monica Y. Jackson, MBA, Ph.D.:  Monica Y. Jackson is an adjunct College Professor, author, and speaker.  She is the author of “I Have A Book Idea: Now What?” Monica also designs and conducts self-publishing workshops that motivate and encourage individuals to complete their book projects.


Writing A Research Paper

Monica’s Writing Skills – By Monica Y. Jackson, MBA, Ph.D.

Writing A Research Paper


Monica Jackson, MBA, Ph.D.

Monica Jackson, MBA, Ph.D.

I am an adjunct college professor in Southern California. The goal of this quarterly column is to help readers take the initiative to be responsible for improving written communication skills. This will help students become valuable students and allow instructors to serve students, better. This ultimately produces better employees for the workplace and society.


As a college student, writing and researching are tasks that you must do, and do well. There are vast resources at your fingertip, and there are no excuses for not composing a high-quality research paper. The purpose of this article is to help you approach and compose a better research paper and conduct effective research. When beginning a research paper, a student should:


1.    Understand the Assignment

2.    Prepare an Outline

3.    Use Credible Sources

4.    Properly Cite Sources

5.    Proofread, Revise and Edit


Understand the Assignment

Before composing an effective research paper, thoroughly understand the assignment’s requirements. If you do not understand the assignment, then ask your professor. If you still do not understand, ask again and again and again until you understand completely. Proverbs 4:5 says to get wisdom and understanding (New International Version [NIV], 1984). Proverbs 18:9 says, “He who gets wisdom loves his own soul; he who cherishes understanding prospers” (NIV, 1984, para. 1 and 4). So, love yourself (your soul) and prosper (thrive, do well). This means completing the assignment to be the best of your ability for knowledge, not simply to get it over with or to get a good grade.

I have seen many students begin an assignment without a clue and miss the mark, totally. However, remember how you approach an assignment or not approach an assignment is a reflection of character and hinders you from reaching true potential. Your approach to an assignment can project an image of carelessness and non-commitment to your education. This can follow you longer than you desire. You never know whose path you may cross five, 10 or 15 years down the line and this individual may have a recollection of your former years. Therefore, leave a legacy that you will not regret.

Sure, you can write on the surface and demonstrate basic understanding. However, the goal is for you to learn as much as you can from the assignment, not just complete the assignment and earn a grade. Approach every assignment with the intent of gaining new knowledge. Although an assignment may not be challenging, you can challenge yourself. In other words, do not make excuses for not reaching your full potential on an assignment.


Prepare an Outline

After you have an understanding of the assignment, begin the assignment. Pay attention to the assignment’s requirements, deliver it and add a “golden nugget.” For example, your professor might ask you to discuss one of your short-term goals. First, you must understand what a short-term goal is and the components of a goal. Ask questions, research and review the textbook. After gaining an understanding, your outline could produce the following content for your paper:

Introduction – Tell your reader what he/she can expect to read in the paper and the purpose of the assignment. Refer to my opening paragraph as an example. You clearly know what to expect in this article, by reading the first paragraph.

Short-term goal – Identify the short-term goal. Here is where you could provide a formal definition of a short-term goal and the components of a goal, as a golden nugget (i.e. SMART – specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely) and then show how your short-term goal meets the criteria of a goal. Cover the who, what, when, why and how much in the body of your paper.

Justification – Discuss why this it is a short-term goal and why it is important. You could interject the difference between a short and long-term goal to strengthen your paper.

Conclusion – summarize your paper. Tell your reader what they just read. Refer to the final paragraph in this literature for an example.

References – Provide a complete bibliography of sources used in your research. Make sure all in-text citations have an associated reference in this section of your paper.


Use Credible Sources

Just because information is on the Internet, in a book or magazine does not mean it is credible. Examine the source of your material. For example, information from the U.S. Bureau of Statistics’ website is considered credible; whereas information on Wikipedia’s website is not considered credible, because anyone can place the information there and edit it. When evaluating a source for credibility, consider the author or firm providing the information. Ask is it a reputable firm or author? Is the website .com, .gov, .org? Determine the purpose of the material – informational, to make a profit, to present a convincing argument. Consider the date of the material or the last time it was updated. If it is outdated, it may not be relevant and obsolete. Can you contact the author by phone or email, for additional follow-up? This may help validate credibility.

Be careful. If your sources contain erroneous data, they could discredit your paper. To avoid this, look for counterclaims and briefly present them to sustain your position. This is considered a golden nugget – additional, supportive information to validate your paper, but not requested.


Properly Cite Your Sources

In January, the column discussed avoiding plagiarism and citing your sources. Whenever, you use information from a source, you must cite the source in the body of your paper and then include the complete bibliography on the reference page. Most higher learning institutions require APA formatted papers and citations. For more information on APA format, visit http://www.apa.org. As an example, see how I used the New International Version in the body of this article and on the reference page.


Proofread, Revise and Edit

Before submitting an assignment, read it again, put it down and read it a few days later. Also, ask someone else to read it, for clarity and understanding. Revise, update and proof again, before submitting the assignment. Do not forget to run spell check. You never know who is impressed by your writing skills, which could lead to extra income, and what college student could not use a few extra dollars, these days?

To conclude, this paper presented practical and valuable information to help you compose a research paper. It is important to understand the assignment before writing, compose an outline, use credible sources, properly cite sources and proofread the assignment before submitting it for a grade. This could make the difference in the knowledge you gain, grade you earn and your future reputation.



New International Version (1984). Proverbs 4:5 and Proverbs 19:8. Retrieved, March 9, 2010, from


http://www.biblegateway.com/quicksearch/?quicksearch=get+understanding &qs_version=NIV


Writing Resources


One of the things that I see with new and continuing students in the classroom is that many students do not realize that there is a difference between high school writing and college writing. Here is a great link to help you understand the differences:



Another issue that I see is that students have difficulty drafting papers. Here is a helpful source:



Here is a good source for analyzing and revising your initial draft:



This is a source for revising your introduction, conclusion and finalizing your paper:



This source provides some tips if you get stuck with developing your written assignment:



These sources are from the University of Chicago.


About Monica Y. Jackson, MBA, Ph.D.: Monica Jackson is  an adjunct College Professor, author, and speaker.  She is the author of “I Have A Book Idea: Now What?” Monica also designs and conducts self-publishing workshops that motivate and encourage individuals to complete their book projects.




Understand and Avoid Plagiarism

Monica’s Writing Skills – By Monica Y. Jackson, MBA, Ph.D.

Understand and Avoid Plagiarism

Monica Jackson, MBA, Ph.D.

Monica Jackson, MBA, Ph.D.

I am an adjunct professor in Southern California. The goal of this quarterly column is to help readers take the initiative to be responsible for improving written communication skills. This will help students become valuable students and allow instructors to serve students, better. This ultimately produces better employees for the workplace and society.

I require all written assignments to conform to American Psychological Association (APA) standards. Most students moan and groan, but by the time the student submits three or four papers in this format, he or she discovers that it is less painful. The goal of every student should be to avoid plagiarism and to submit high-quality written assignments. This article defines plagiarism, the consequences, provides resources and delivers tips to avoid plagiarism.

Plagiarism and the Consequences

Plagiarism is using or borrowing material, composed by someone that is not common knowledge, and not giving the source credit for the material (Rockler-Gladen, 2006). Plagiarism is a crime and carries hefty penalties, such as failing a course, being dismissed from a college or university, receiving a monetary fine for copyright infringement and may lead to incarceration. Furthermore, plagiarism can be intentional or accidental. Beware. The latter is not an exemption from punishment.

Let us revisit the previous paragraph where I defined plagiarism. Since I did not create the definition and it is not common knowledge, I cited the author and year of publication. At the end of the article, I would also cite the entire bibliography. Both are required to avoid plagiarism. Furthermore, this example is a paraphrased or indirect quote. In other words, the definition is in my own words and not the exact wording form the source. An exact excerpt would be enclosed in quotation marks and the page number where the quote is located follows the year. If the document does not have page numbers, then the paragraph number appears instead of the page number as follows: (Rocker-Gladen, 2006, p. 230); (Rocker-Gladen, 2006, para. 23) or (Rocker-Gladen, 2006, ¶ 23).

You may wonder why plagiarism is such a big deal. Plagiarism harms students and learning institutions. Imagine if students are known for plagiarism at a particular university. The students, may not know the material and will not be able to apply it in the workplace. This may lead to the student, who is now an employee, being unable to perform on the job or meet expectations. Furthermore, if several students are hired, from a particular university, and exhibit these traits, employers will be reluctant to hire any student who graduates from the learning institution. Look at the following statement made by a second-year college student.

“Professor Jackson, I have been thinking about going to another university because I feel that I am learning the same thing in every class. I also heard that the city and county will not hire any student who graduates from ******** University. They do not recognize our degrees…Do you know if this is true and why?”

Imagine being the recipient of this statement and a professor at the university in question. It was an awkward position. I was not surprised, because I had encountered students who did not know the material andcopied and pasted information from the Internet or other source.  I no longer teach at the learning institution in question, because of unethical practices. Sure, unethical practices occur everywhere, but some offenses are greater than others are, and we all have to live with the choices that we make. By the way, I told the student to conduct a thorough investigation and do what is best for his future. No student wants to get to the end of his educational endeavors and discover that his degree is not worth the paper that the degree is printed on. Look at the following direct quote:

“A study by The Center for Academic Integrity found that almost 80% of college students admit to cheating at least once. According to a survey by the Psychological Record 36% of undergraduates have admitted to plagiarizing written material” (iParadigms LLC, 2009, ¶ 1 – 2).

This statistic is alarming. Although we cannot make every student ethical, everyone can be responsible for his or her actions and think about how these actions impact others. It would be horrible to be in the final course before graduation and not be able to earn a degree due to plagiarism. It might be easy to plagiarize and you might even get away with it, occasionally. However, it is not worth it in the end.

Copying and Pasting is Legal

It is okay to copy and paste. I repeat; it is okay to copy and paste, but two additional pieces of information are required: in-text citation and the reference. So what is the difference? The in-text citation appears directly after the material that is used. In other words, it is the actual information that you used directly (word-for-word) or indirectly (paraphrased or put into your own words). The reference is the complete bibliographical information for the source and appears at the end of your paper. Based on these two pieces of information, the reader should be able to go directly to the source and locate the material on the page or in the paragraph that the student specified. Without both of these items, the material is not properly cited and the assignment is plagiarized (APA, 2009).  Also, different sources are formatted differently on the reference page.

Look at the quote that I used in this article that begins, “A study by The Center for Academic Integrity…” At the end of the quote, there is an in-text citation, which includes the author or publisher’s last name (iParadigms LLC), publication year (2009) and paragraph number (1 and 2) where the quote appears. This is the proper format for a direct, in-text citation. If I paraphrase this quote, the paragraph number is omitted.

Now that you know what plagiarism is, the dangers and how to cite sources to avoid this crime, you might need additional reference material.


Numerous sources can help identify plagiarism in a written assignment. The following sites allow students to submit papers that are composed in Microsoft Word (.doc and .docx), Word Perfect (.wpd) , Postscript (.ps and .eps), Rich Text Format (.rtf), portable document format (.pdf) and HTML (.htm and .html) formats, or cut and paste into the provided window:

Each system compares the submitted paper with a database containing billions of web pages, articles and newspapers, then generates a report, indicating areas in the paper that are identical to sources. This allows students make the necessary corrections to a paper before submitting.

For additional information regarding proper APA citation, visit http://www.apa.org then click on the APA Style link to display tips, tutorials and correct examples. Another source is Purdue University’s source:

There are other electronic sources that can help format references and in-text citations properly; however, check the output for accuracy. By the way, Microsoft Word 2007 has a built-in feature to help manage sources, select styles (APA, MLA, Chicago, etc.), create bibliography and insert citations. This can be accessed by clicking on the “References” tab in Microsoft Word 2007. Other APA citation generators are:

To conclude here are five things to remember:

1.      When in doubt, cite! It is better to be safe than sorry.
2.      Keep a reference source handy at all times to help with in-text citations and references.

3.      Plagiarism harms the student and learning institution’s reputations.

4.      Plagiarism is a crime. It is stealing.
5.      Resist the temptation. The consequences are not worth it!


American Psychological Association (2009). Mastering APA Style: Student’s

Workbook and Study Guide. Sixth Edition. Washington, DC.
iParadigms, LLC (2009). Facts About Plagiarism. Retrieved

September 8, 2009, from

Rockler-Gladen, N. (2006, December 8). A Definition of Plagiarism.

Retrieved September 8, 2009, fromhttp://collegeuniversity.suite101.com/article.cfm/a_definition_for_plagiarism 

About Monica Y. Jackson, MBA, Ph.D.:

Monica Jackson is an adjunct College Professor, author, and speaker.  She is the author of “I Have A Book Idea:  Now What?”

Jumpstart Your Written Communication Skills

By Monica Y. Jackson, Ph.D., MBA

The goal of this quarterly column is to help readers take the initiative to be responsible for improving written communication skills. This will help students become valuable students and allow instructors to serve students, better, and help all readers improve writing skills. This ultimately produces better employees for the workplace and society.


Monica Jackson, Ph.D.

Monica Jackson, Ph.D.

In every course that I teach, I am astonished to discover that basic written communication skills are so deficient in first year college students, second, third, fourth and at the graduate level. Students are graduating from college with substandard writing skills. However, higher learning institutions are not the sole culprit. Some students have developed bad habits, over time, and have become apathetic. Furthermore, professors cannot always deviate from course objectives to address this deficiency. Therefore, students may not improve before graduating from college.

In listening to hiring firms, the number one complaint that employers have about recent college graduates is that these new hires cannot compose basic, cohesive sentences. Lacking this important quality, could make the difference between getting a job and keeping the job.

According to doctors Ifte Choudhury, Ricardo E. Rocha and Richard Burt, “Without adequate written communication skills, an employee may be passed over for promotion” (Hutchison & Mills, 2003, p. 183). Simply put, a student may get the job, but may not reap the associated rewards and opportunities.

The authors state, “By not teaching our students to read critically and to write logically and clearly, we unsuspectingly limit their personal and professional horizons (Bradney & Courbat, 1998). An employee’s ability to advance in an organization may be dependent on that person’s ability to communicate both verbally and with the written word (Maher, 1990)” (Hutchison & Mills, 2003, p. 183).

This is one reason why I am adamant about quality writing skills. I bring errors to students’ attention. Students bicker, gripe and resist, but may thank me later. I have observed that some students only aim to succeed in courses that are for their career. I contend that this thought process must change. In March 2009, one student wrote the following comment in an end of term survey for a written communication course, at a major university:

This instructor is insane for trying to make students learn something the students do not care about. This is english, people are here for criminal justice, business, health, construction management, and drafting. No one will really car much about English and to have the goal of trying to make students learn English here is ridiculous.

This comment may shock some and not stir up any emotion in others. Unfortunately, this student’s comment represents how some students feel, think and therefore approach education. By the way, a second-year college student wrote this comment. Somehow, society must bridge the gap and students must learn to approach every course with equal importance. Every successful person has to conform and follow some rules. This does not mean that everyone will write perfectly. It means that every American citizen that matriculates through American learning institutions must possess basic written communication skills to be competitive.

Here is another example. In August 2009, the following sentence appeared in a first-year college student’s paper:

These two chart explain the solution to baby step and problem happen with multiple solution.

The student was attempting to introduce a flowchart representing solutions to a given problem and a contingency plan chart. Did you gain this understanding from the sentence? Imagine what would happen if the student presented this to an employer or this appeared as instructions on a product package that targeted consumers.

This student is not alone. A student pursing her master’s degree wrote, “I had for got ton …” The student should have written, “I had forgotten…” This was just one of the numerous errors that appeared in this paper. I brought this mistake to the student’s attention. She said, “I am not a good writer. Writing is not my strength.” She had no interest in improving. The student was one course from earning a master’s degree and eventually graduated.

These examples are from students who attend California universities, where all high school graduates are required to take the CAHSEE (California High School Exit Exam) before receiving a high school diploma. The test certifies students have demonstrated basic math, reading and writing abilities. How did these students pass? Are students simply being passed through the system? How is America going to compete with other countries, if it continues to produce citizens with substandard communication skills? Now that you are aware that meager written communication skills are widespread, what are you going to do to strengthen your skills? Here are a few suggestions:

Ten Tips to Improve Written Communication Skills

  1. Purchase a Basic English Reference Guide (6 – 8th grade). Students are taught parts of speech and how to construct proper sentences, assure subjects and verbs agree, construct paragraphs, punctuate properly and more. Keep this guide handy when writing.
  2. Invest in a Style Guide. These guides help students to be consistent when writing and to develop a voice, style and tone. Two popular guides are the Associated Press Style Guide and Chicago Style Guide.
  3. Write daily. The more you write, the better you become. Practice makes perfect. You will make mistakes along the way, but you will not continue to make the same mistakes.
  4. Proofread your papers. Run spell and grammar check. Although, they do not locate every error, they flag some errors.
  5. Ask a friend to read your assignments. A second pair of eyes may identify overlooked errors, to correct before submitting to a professor or employer.
  6. Avoid common mistakes. Know when to use words, such as: there, their and they’re; too, two and to; can not and cannot; know and no. etc.
  7. Avoid texting language in written assignments. While technology is great, it negatively affects written communication skills. Each week, students compose sentences in written assignments as follows: “i will tell u bcuz… i will b in class 2….” This is totally acceptable in written assignments. The problem is that students are not recognizing these as mistakes. This has become the norm and a major problem.
  8. Own up to mistakes. When you discover mistakes, correct them. If I find typos in emails, even if they are casual in nature, I send a retraction or say “oops … ‘two’ should have been ‘too,’ for example. I need to slow down and review emails, thoroughly, before sending. Also, it sends a message to the recipient, that he or she should do the same.
  9. Strive for active voice, instead of passive. Active voice is clear and more direct than passive voice. It is easier to understand and gets to the point.
  10. Avoid plagiarism. When researching information and using thoughts that are not your own, give credit where credit is due. See the citations and reference used in this article, for an example. Plagiarism is a serious crime, even if it is unintentional. Because this topic is such an issue, an upcoming issue will address this topic.


Hutchison, M. H. & Mills, T.A. (2003, Fall). The Journal of Construction Education.

Technical Writing for Construction Science Graduates. Vol. 8, No. 3, p. 183. Retrieved,  August 12, 2009, from



About Monica Y. Jackson, Ph.D., MBA:  Monica Y. Jackson is an Adjunct Professor  in Southern California. She earned an Associate of Arts in Liberal Arts, Associate of Arts in Paralegal Studies, Bachelor of Science in Computer Science (Economics minor) and Master of Business Administration. She recently earned a Doctor of Philosophy in Educational Leadership with a concentration in higher education. Monica has taught lower and upper division courses at colleges and universities – Composition I, Composition II, Written Analysis, Critical Thinking & Problem Solving, Project Management, Information Systems and Technology and more. She is also a published author in various genres.