China Girls Abroad


Essay, Essay, Essay!!!!With Christmas and winter, the weather in Britain becomes increasingly cold and wet. In this season, many people will suffer from the winter syndrome, which is clinically known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Here is a list of SAD symptoms for self-diagnosing: (1) difficulty waking up in the morning (2) tendency to oversleep and overeat (3) difficulty concentrating on tasks (4) social withdrawal. (Quoted from Wikipedia). On the magazine, many of us have these symptoms even in the summer, especially over-eating and over-sleeping!


But how many symptoms do you have? All of them? If this is the case, you should really take it seriously, especially when you have a dissertation to work on. While the local British can assuage their low moods with alcohol binges and the yearly reunion with their family, Chinese students studying in Britain seem doomed to suffer. Homesickness will definitely exacerbate depression, so will a dissertation at the end of the term. Exams may not be a problem for those hard-working Chinese students, but a dissertation is really tough.


The fact is that we don’t write a lot back in China and our training does not equip us with the necessary skills for critical writing. Most articles produced by Chinese academia consist of only statements of facts instead of any meaningful arguments. And frequently we find lots of “copy and paste” going on, some people don’t even bother to work out their own titles. As a result, Chinese students only learn how to echo, repeat, summarise, but not to take a stand and defend it. What’s worse, the widespread plagiarism in China makes us feel there is nothing much wrong in stealing other people’s intellectual work.


But now we are in Britain. The basic requirement of a dissertation is that it must have arguments. You must voice your own opinion and use facts and other people’s opinions to buttress it. The British love arguing and watching other people argue. Just look at their parliament. If you turn in a dissertation only with dry facts and other people’s thoughts, your professor will be severely disappointed.


Learning arguing skills takes time and efforts. I cannot give advice on how to make an argument in the dissertation because I am struggling with it too. But I have found some useful apps to share. The greatest thing in our era is that everyday whacky apps are being developed. As a research student, I have to admit that they make my life much easier and less SAD.


1. Evernote-Manage Random Materials

Evernote. Source: Wikimedia CommonsEvernote is a free note-taking app which can be used on your computer and devices and will synchronise them. That means you can take notes any time and have access to them anywhere you are. You can also organise your notes by notebooks or tags. If you are a compulsive organiser like Monica in Friends, this app will make you thrilled. If you are as slack as me, you will like it too because you can find what you need by searching keywords. You can use Evernote to take notes in class, record lectures, clipping websites, or just jot down some whims. In a word, Evernote is very handy to collect and manage random materials.


2. Google Scholar and Databases-Search for Academic Materials

Google Scholar. Source: Wikimedia Commons.Based on all the random materials you have, you must have a vague idea on what you are going to write. Then you will try to find some articles which are interesting to you. Most people already know they can use Google Scholar to find academic articles. But it should be noted that some databases (for law students the most familiar ones are Westlaw and Lexis) deny access to Google. This means that Google Scholar will not show the materials contained in these databases. Thus, you have to do additional searches in these. The most convenient way to log onto them is through the school library page, which will redirect you to these databases using the username and password provided by your school. Alternatively, you can go to those databases directly, choose the institution you study in, and enter the username and password.


3. MindMeister-Brainstorm and Work Out an Outline

MindMeister. Source: Wikimedia CommonsAfter reading some articles, you will feel that you may know about what you are going to write. The problem is that you don’t know where to start. At this stage, we can put our thoughts randomly on a piece of paper and consider what we are going to do by developing an outline. If your handwriting is terrible, which is illegible even to yourself, you may prefer to write up your outline on a computer. The app I use is MindMeister, an online mind mapping tool.


4. Papers/Endnote-Read, Write and Cite

Quotation marks. Source: Wikimedia CommonsNow you are all set up to write a dissertation. But there is one tricky thing we should handle carefully. Many Chinese students are confused about the citation system in British schools. Some of them think using other people’s opinions must amount to plagiarism since the British put so much emphasis on originality and protection of intellectual property. However, it is not the case. You can and must use other people opinions in order to develop your own. However, first, you should be very careful in quoting others word for word. There is usually a maximum limit on how much you can quote in a dissertation, so if you can paraphrase, don’t quote. If you have to quote some very important words that you feel unable to rephrase, for example something said by Adam Smith, you should use double quotation marks for quotation since single quotation marks cannot be recognised by Turnitin (a plagiarism-detecting software which is used by most schools.)


Second, when you use other people’s opinions or findings, you must acknowledge the source. The difficulty here is that you may forget where you have read certain things. This may lead to inadvertent plagiarism, which will be subject to the same punishment as intentional plagiarism. So the best approach is to cite while you write. There are many apps can be used here. Most schools provide you with access to Endnote, which can help you collect articles, import reference information, produce citations while you write, and format your citations as required. It is perhaps the most widely used citation app in the academic world. But regrettably, it does not look very good and is not very user-friendly in my opinion.


Personally, I prefer using Papers, a citation app that is easy to use and pretty to look at. You can read and take notes on the articles you import into Papers, and insert citations while you write. The downside is that most schools have not purchased it, so you have to pay a license fee if you want to use it (there is a student discount).


In the end, I want to stress that those apps are just picked up based on my personal preference, so you may find better ones by yourself. Also, they are actually just tools and not that important. What is central to your dissertation is to have arguments. Even though we don’t always care for their jokes, we must admit the British are really good at making arguments. Since we have come across the Asian-European continent and flown over the British Channel to study in this rainy island, we must have hoped that we could learn something here.


Perhaps making arguments will be the most valuable thing we can learn from the British. Because they like making their own arguments and proving themselves to be right, they don’t accept opinions without reservation and no single philosophy can dominate their society. Moreover, because they are accustomed to winning arguments by logic instead of by force, there will be less chance for violence and conflicts arising from the difference of opinions. This is really something we badly need in our society.


You have no rights to post comments