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Panamanians Do It Better Essay

As the government begins its crackdown on essay mill websites, it’s easy to see just how much pressure students are under to get top grades for their coursework these days. But writing a high-scoring paper doesn’t need to be complicated. We spoke to experts to get some simple techniques that will raise your writing game.

Tim Squirrell is a PhD student at the University of Edinburgh, and is teaching for the first time this year. When he was asked to deliver sessions on the art of essay-writing, he decided to publish a comprehensive (and brilliant) blog on the topic, offering wisdom gleaned from turning out two or three essays a week for his own undergraduate degree.

“There is a knack to it,” he says. “It took me until my second or third year at Cambridge to work it out. No one tells you how to put together an argument and push yourself from a 60 to a 70, but once you to get grips with how you’re meant to construct them, it’s simple.”

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Poke holes

The goal of writing any essay is to show that you can think critically about the material at hand (whatever it may be). This means going beyond regurgitating what you’ve read; if you’re just repeating other people’s arguments, you’re never going to trouble the upper end of the marking scale.

“You need to be using your higher cognitive abilities,” says Bryan Greetham, author of the bestselling How to Write Better Essays. “You’re not just showing understanding and recall, but analysing and synthesising ideas from different sources, then critically evaluating them. That’s where the marks lie.”

But what does critical evaluation actually look like? According to Squirrell, it’s simple: you need to “poke holes” in the texts you’re exploring and work out the ways in which “the authors aren’t perfect”.

“That can be an intimidating idea,” he says. “You’re reading something that someone has probably spent their career studying, so how can you, as an undergraduate, critique it?

“The answer is that you’re not going to discover some gaping flaw in Foucault’s History of Sexuality Volume 3, but you are going to be able to say: ‘There are issues with these certain accounts, here is how you might resolve those’. That’s the difference between a 60-something essay and a 70-something essay.”

Critique your own arguments

Once you’ve cast a critical eye over the texts, you should turn it back on your own arguments. This may feel like going against the grain of what you’ve learned about writing academic essays, but it’s the key to drawing out developed points.

“We’re taught at an early age to present both sides of the argument,” Squirrell continues. “Then you get to university and you’re told to present one side of the argument and sustain it throughout the piece. But that’s not quite it: you need to figure out what the strongest objections to your own argument would be. Write them and try to respond to them, so you become aware of flaws in your reasoning. Every argument has its limits and if you can try and explore those, the markers will often reward that.”

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Fine, use Wikipedia then

The use of Wikipedia for research is a controversial topic among academics, with many advising their students to stay away from the site altogether.

“I genuinely disagree,” says Squirrell. “Those on the other side say that you can’t know who has written it, what they had in mind, what their biases are. But if you’re just trying to get a handle on a subject, or you want to find a scattering of secondary sources, it can be quite useful. I would only recommend it as either a primer or a last resort, but it does have its place.”

Focus your reading

Reading lists can be a hindrance as well as a help. They should be your first port of call for guidance, but they aren’t to-do lists. A book may be listed, but that doesn’t mean you need to absorb the whole thing.

Squirrell advises reading the introduction and conclusion and a relevant chapter but no more. “Otherwise you won’t actually get anything out of it because you’re trying to plough your way through a 300-page monograph,” he says.

You also need to store the information you’re gathering in a helpful, systematic way. Bryan Greetham recommends a digital update of his old-school “project box” approach.

“I have a box to catch all of those small things – a figure, a quotation, something interesting someone says – I’ll write them down and put them in the box so I don’t lose them. Then when I come to write, I have all of my material.”

There are a plenty of online offerings to help with this, such as the project management app Scrivener and referencing tool Zotero, and, for the procrastinators, there are productivity programmes like Self Control, which allow users to block certain websites from their computers for a set period.

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Look beyond the reading list

“This is comparatively easy to do,” says Squirrell. “Look at the citations used in the text, put them in Google Scholar, read the abstracts and decide whether they’re worth reading. Then you can look on Google Scholar at other papers that have cited the work you’re writing about – some of those will be useful. But quality matters more than quantity.”

And finally, the introduction

The old trick of dealing with your introduction last is common knowledge, but it seems few have really mastered the art of writing an effective opener.

“Introductions are the easiest things in the world to get right and nobody does it properly,” Squirrel says. “It should be ‘Here is the argument I am going to make, I am going to substantiate this with three or four strands of argumentation, drawing upon these theorists, who say these things, and I will conclude with some thoughts on this area and how it might clarify our understanding of this phenomenon.’ You should be able to encapsulate it in 100 words or so. That’s literally it.”

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A recent trip to Panama City revealed a skyline graced by cranes building high-rises that boast stunning ocean views -- a physical symbol of Panama's growing position as an economic bastion in Latin America. The country's less obvious symbols of economic strength lie in its innovative business policies.

At 6.2 percent, Panama boasts the highest gross domestic product growth rate in Latin America. Its real GDP has expanded an average of 8.4 percent annually between 2004 and 2013. And the country's economy even performed well during the global financial crisis - up 4 percent in 2009, while other countries' economies contracted.

As its influences in the region grows, Panama continues to attract top talent and businesses. It serves as the Latin American base for many multinational companies, thanks in part to its growing infrastructure resources.

The Panama City airport is busy with 25 passenger airlines from around the world flying into and out of Tocumen International. Passenger traffic there grew roughly 300 percent in a little more than a decade - from more than 2.1 million passengers in 2003 to 8.5 million passengers in 2014.

The Panama Canal expansion, nearing completion, will provide future fuel to grow an already strong economy. In the 2015 fiscal year that ended in September, canal cargo tonnage hit a record high and toll revenues were the second-highest ever. When the expanded portion - with its wider locks and deeper channels allowing for passage of larger freighters - becomes fully operational in April, tonnage and tolls are expected to grow.

I recently attended a conference in Panama City on innovation and technology. While there, I was struck by the optimism, professionalism and modernity of attendees and city residents alike.

With a thriving economy, Panama is about growth and success, not politics and protest. Panama's success is not random. It results from a strategy. And like any good strategy, it builds on strength and overcomes weakness.

Here are four reasons why Panama is succeeding:

  1. Panama capitalizes on its historic relationship with the United States. Since the creation of the Panama Canal, Panama's leadership has built on the best parts of its U.S. relationship. Panama has kept the U.S. dollar as its currency, invested in infrastructure and the canal, has high bilingual (English-Spanish) proficiency and strong relations with the U.S.
  2. Panama focuses on free trade and relaxed immigration. Both exports and imports have grown since the U.S.-Panama Trade Promotion Agreement went into effect in 2012. Unlike the walls around Brazil and Argentina, and travel restrictions imposed by many countries, Panama essentially encourages temporary workers to participate in its workforce. This flexible labor supply, combined with the uniquely Panamanian reliability and positivity, is enticing to foreign investors looking to start or expand a Panamanian business.
  3. Panama works with the business community and encourages innovation. The Panamanian Chamber of Commerce and government work together to encourage investment, host conferences and enact policies - such as low taxes - that encourage business investment. Panama even has a former business executive focused full-time on innovation as a government policy. And instead of opposing Uber - standard policy in many other countries - Panama has embraced this beloved ride-hailing service.
  4. Panama has a stable government with a relaxed view on most social issues. Silicon Valley meets Las Vegas in Panama City, with several hotel casinos and an eagerness for investment and new business approaches. Yet, you can still buy a three-bedroom water-view condo for about half the price of a three bedroom home in Washington, DC.

It's clear that Panama's economy is on a roll. Pay attention as the country grows as a hub for the Americas and develops its own reputation as the go-to headquarters for innovative businesses in Latin America.

Gary Shapiro is president and CEO of the Consumer Technology Association (CTA)TM - formerly the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA)® - the U.S. trade association representing more than 2,200 consumer technology companies, and author of the New York Times best-selling books,Ninja Innovation: The Ten Killer Strategies of the World's Most Successful BusinessesandThe Comeback: How Innovation Will Restore the American Dream. His views are his own. Connect with him on Twitter: @GaryShapiro

Follow Gary Shapiro on Twitter: www.twitter.com/GaryShapiro