How to Brainstorm When You’re Out of Ideas

We’ve all experienced the mental block that occurs when the well of ideas has run dry. Snap out of staring-into-space mode with these brainstorming tips for infinite ideas generation.

Switch Up Your Method

There are lots of different brainstorming methods to choose from—so if one isn’t working for you, try switching to another. Examples include:

1. Free Writing

Free writing means picking up your pen (literally or figuratively!) and writing continuously for a set time period. Don’t worry about your spelling or a grammar check for now—just let the ideas flow! The goal is that you free yourself from the constraints of over-thinking or deliberating whether an idea will work or is ‘good enough’. Forcing yourself to continue with a train of creative thought could take you somewhere unexpected.

2. Mind Mapping

Also known as clustering or creating a spider diagram, this method basically involves branching points out from a core idea. Each point can connect to further branches, letting your core idea lead you somewhere that might have been too much of a leap to make otherwise.

3. Bullet Method

The bullet method is great for those who prefer a more ordered brainstorming session. It involves breaking a topic down into subtopics, which are then broken down further into bullet lists of connected ideas. It’s essentially a more structured-looking mind map! This method is ideal if you wish to note down any sources of inspiration that you might later need to create a works cited page for your MLA or APA style citations.

4. Venn Diagrams

Venn diagrams are a good method for comparing two or more things, and can be especially useful when planning compare and contrast essays. They involve drawing a circle for each thing that needs to be compared. In each circle you write the ideas, traits or characteristics that are relevant to that item. The circles should have an overlapping section for their shared characteristics.

Focus On Quantity, Not Quality

This might go against all your academic instincts, especially if you have perfectionist tendencies. However, allowing yourself the freedom to simply create ideas, without worrying about them further at this stage, could lead you somewhere that you wouldn’t have otherwise got to.

Set A Time Limit

Setting a timer can be an effective way to focus the mind on the task in hand. A time limit will also help prevent you from getting stuck on over-thinking your ideas, and will encourage you to just get as much down on paper as possible before your time runs out!

Change Your Surroundings

Sometimes, a change of scenery can work wonders for creativity. You could physically change your surroundings by taking yourself off to the library, a coffee shop or somewhere else you wouldn’t normally work. Or you could go for a more subtle change such as switching from your computer to good old-fashioned pen and paper. Or try playing background music, if you’re used to working in silence.

Find A Friend

Adding another person to the mix can be really effective in sparking inspiration and unblocking the flow of ideas. Why not try getting some of your class peers together to brainstorm in a group (check with your tutor first). Alternatively, having an impartial third-person to bounce ideas off can be useful as their questions could lead you to consider a new perspective.




Which Citation Format Should I Use?

So, you’re writing a paper and want to make sure that you’re citing your sources correctly. Great! Ensuring that you properly cite and reference your sources will prevent lost marksor even a failed paper, or worsefor accidental plagiarism. However, in order to correctly cite your sources, you first need to know which citation format to use.

There are numerous citation styles, although MLA format, APA format and Chicago/Turabian are the most commonly used.

The bottom line, when deciding which citation format to use, ask your teacher or professor. They’re the person best placed to advise you, as the preferred style often depends on the subject in question. Therefore, you shouldn’t expect a university or college to ask for the same citation format across the board. You should also be careful not to assume that assignments for your major and minor subjects require you to use the same style of citations. If in any doubt, ask!

To give you a general idea, here’s a breakdown of citation formats and the subjects that they’re usually used for:

Popular Formats

APA Format (American Psychological Association) – Used for social science subjects such as psychology, criminology, business and journalism.

MLA Format (Modern Languages Association) – Used for literature and humanities subjects such as literature, philosophy, religion, theater and communications.

Chicago Manual of Style – Used in humanities and social sciences such as anthropology, art history, business, computing, criminology, history, philosophy and religion.

Turabian Style – A variation of Chicago Manual of Style used across humanities, social sciences and natural science subjects such as art history, history and music.

Less-Commonly Used Formats (single subject specific)

Harvard Business School — business

ACS (American Chemical Society) — chemistry

AIP (American Institute of Physics) — physics

ALWD (Association of Legal Writing Directors) — law

AMA (American Medical Association) — medicine

AMS (American Mathematical Society) — math

APSA (American Political Science Association) — politics, international studies

ASA (American Sociological Association) — sociology

AP (Associated Press) — journalism, PR

Bluebook — legal studies

CSE (Council of Science Editors) — biology

LSA (Linguistics Society of America) — linguistics

Maroonbook — legal studies

NLM (National Library of Medicine) — medicine

As you’ll note from the above list, there’s some subject crossover with the popular citation formats. Others are very subject specific. Whichever subject you’re studying at your college or university, check your teacher’s preference before undertaking the task of creating your citations — time is precious as a busy student, and the last thing you want is to have to complete the same task twice, or lose marks unnecessarily.

Once you know which citation style you need to select, head over to the BibMe’s citation generator for help with their creation.

New: Check Any Paper for Grammar and Plagiarism with BibMe Plus

We’re excited to announce the release of our brand new BibMe Plus grammar and plagiarism tool! It’s simple to use and provides you with the writing help you need, when you need it.

We’ve all been there. Those strenuous hours, pouring over research assignments, compiling notes, creating APA or MLA style citations, and writing until our fingers throb. We feel for you! That’s why we’ve made the research process significantly easier for you with BibMe Plus’s new grammar and plagiarism checker!

Wondering how to use our newest tool? Get a grammar check for free! Just copy and paste your paper or upload it into our smart proofreader. In just a few clicks, BibMe Plus instantly analyzes your paper for grammatical errors. Up to 20 errors are free to review, or you can see them all with a subscription.

BibMe grammar and plagiarism checker
Our grammar check evaluates spelling, punctuation, writing style, verb tense, sentence structure, and more. In fact, it is capable of checking for 1600+ grammatical rules! With our personalized grammar suggestions, you’ll be on your way to keeping your paper free of those dreaded red error marks. The first 20 suggestions are complimentary, though you can get unlimited checks and suggestions with a BibMe Plus subscription.

BibMe Plus’s plagiarism check is included in that subscription. It scans your paper and helps to flag for any missed or inaccurate citations. Using BibMe’s well-love citation services, create a properly formatted MLA or APA in-text citation, a reference for multiple source types, or cite in any one of our thousands of citation styles. Let’s face it, showing you’re an ethical student who cites their sources accurately is important to exhibit to your teacher, but it also makes you feel like an honest and responsible citizen too! Win win!

Try BibMe Plus’s grammar and plagiarism checker now and see how simple and easy it is to get the writing help you need to succeed!

What’s the Difference Between an Abstract, Summary, and Annotation?

With so many different terms related to citations (e.g. MLA format, footnotes, abstract, etc.), it can be difficult to understand how each one could fit into your paper. Let’s take a look at a few of the most commonly confused citation terms, and ways that you can properly use them in your work.

What is an Abstract? When do I use it?

An abstract is a condensed overview of a paper that usually includes the purpose of the paper/research study, the basic design of the study, the major findings, and a brief summary of your interpretations of the conclusions. Abstracts are usually used in social science or scientific papers, and are generally 300 words or less.

What is a Summary? When do I use it?

Like an abstract, a summary is just a condensed write-up on the topic discussed in your paper. However, summaries are more open ended than abstracts, and can contain much more varied information. They can be included in virtually any type of paper, and do not have a specific word count limit. Always check with your instructor for those types of guidelines before handing in your summary and paper.

What is an Annotation? When do I use it?

Annotations, otherwise referred to as annotated bibliographies, are contextual blurbs that are placed underneath the citation that they refer to within the bibliography of a paper. Each annotation is usually about 150 words, and is a descriptive and evaluative paragraph. The purpose of the annotation is to inform the reader of the relevance, accuracy, and quality of each source cited.

Before including any of these options in your paper, be sure to check with your instructor about their specifications for your assignment. It might also be beneficial to run it through a grammar checker in case there are any errors you may have missed in the abstract, summary, or annotation.

If you need to create APA citations, learn how to cite a book, or are looking to for a way to review your paper, try BibMe Plus’s plagiarism and grammar checker.

Is it Effect or Affect?

Writing a paper has many challenges. You may wonder, what should my topic be? Are my sources credible? Should that be an APA or MLA website citation? How’s my grammar?

Have you ever faced the dilemma of whether to choose “effect” or “affect”? Perhaps you thought you selected the correct one but were informed it was the wrong choice after all. Or perhaps you didn’t even realize you made an error in the first place.

Whatever your concern over these two very similar words, it’s important to understand the difference. After all, their correct usage can improve your credibility with your reader, whether that means a fellow classmate or an instructor. Let’s take a look at these commonly confused words by first defining them.

Defining “Effect”

The word “effect” is a noun that means “a change which is a result or consequence of an action or other cause.” The word “effect” is used in the phrase “cause and effect,” which you may be familiar with if you’ve ever been asked to write that type of essay. In general, “effect” can be singular or plural, sometimes changing its definition when plural.

When it appears as singular, it may be used like this:

The young woman was dizzy from the side effect of the medicine.

In this example, you can see that “effect” functions as a noun–a thing that, in this sentence, occurs because of medicine.

When it appears as plural, “effects,” there may be several definitions. In one usage, the definition remains the same and there is simply more than one effect, such as “side effects.” In another usage, “effects” are someone’s personal belongings. You may have heard people talk about their “effects”; this probably  included things like their hats and briefcases. In yet another usage, “effects” are devices used to enhance a stage or film performance, such as special effects.

No matter how you use the word “effect,” make sure you’re using it to match the sentence where it’s used. (If any of your sentences contain a quote, don’t forget to cite your sources.)

Defining “Affect”

Think about how “effect” is a noun—this is important for understanding the main distinction between it and “affect.” “Affect” is a verb (not a noun) that means to “have an effect on; make a difference to.” The word “affect” can be used to show how one thing creates change in something else.

For example, you might write:

The hot sun affected the sunbathers in such a way that they soon had to go inside.

In this example, you see how the sun caused a change for the sunbathers—they had to go inside. “Affect” can be a very handy word when composing.

What’s the Difference?

As we have discussed, these words have both different definitions and parts of speech. As mentioned above, “effect” usually functions as a noun, and “affect” usually functions as a verb. The bottom line is this: knowing whether you need a verb or a noun in a sentence can help you determine which of these words to choose for your next piece of writing.

Here is an example of these words used correctly in the same sentence:

The effect of the rain was that I caught a cold, which affected my singing performance in the evening.

Which One Should I Use?

When you’re faced with the decision between “affect” and “effect,” think about what your sentence says. If you need a noun, use “effect” in most cases. If you need a verb, use “affect” in most cases. Either way, these words are important for clear communication, something that gives your reader confidence in your words.


Check your paper before turning it in! Use BibMe Plus’s grammar check and plagiarism check feature to receive editing suggestions and search for unintentional plagiarism. BibMe Plus’s citing services can also help you build a bibliography in MLA or APA citation format, a Chicago style in text citation, or format your citations in thousands of citation styles. Try it today!

Writing for Fun & Money: Spring 2018 Essay Contests

As 2018 gets underway, students may be looking to bolster their resumes or earn some extra cash. For students who enjoy writing, essay contests offer the perfect opportunity to hone those writing chops, get work published and even win prize money.

Although sorting through the many online writing contests and determining your eligibility can be challenging, we’ve got you covered. Below, find a handy-dandy list of essay contests you can enter this spring, complete with deadlines, eligibility guidelines and information about prizes.

*This is not an endorsement for any specific event. Details of the events are subject to change, therefore please check with each event’s individual website for further information. Thanks!

When you do write your essay, don’t forget to use BibMe as a MLA formatter, resource for citation guides, bibliography maker, APA in text citation creator, or tool with thousands of citations styles.

Jane Austen Society of North America (JANSA) Essay Contest

Deadline: May 20
Age Range: High school through graduate school students
Students are to submit essays addressing Jane Austen’s novel, “Persuasion.” First prize is a $1,000 scholarship, while the second-place winner gets $500 and the third-place winner gets $250. Winners (and their mentors, if named) earn a year-long submission to JANSA, and the winner receives a set of Norton Critical Editions of Austen’s novels.

New York Times Student Editorial Contest

Deadline: April 5 (opens Feb. 28)
Age Range: 13 to 19 year-olds
Students are tasked with writing a 450-word editorial and submitting it to the New York Times for judging by the paper’s editorial staff. Individual and team entries are both acceptable. Winners have their work published to the New York Times’ website.

AFSA High School Essay Contest

Deadline: March 15
Age Range: 9th-12th graders
In a 1,000-1,250 word essay, students are to address questions posed by the AFSA on important international issues. The first-place winner will earn $2,500, a trip to Washington, D.C. to meet the Secretary of State and a semester’s paid tuition for Semester at Sea. The runner-up gets $1,250 and full tuition for the NSLC International Diplomacy Summer Program.

American Society of Human Genetics Essay Contest

Deadline: March 9
Age Range: 9th-12th graders
In honor of National DNA Day, which will be celebrated on April 25 this year, the Society of Human Genetics will announce the winners of its essay-writing contest. Entries must answer the question of whether consumers should have direct access to predictive genetic testing. The first-place winner will receive $2,000, while second place comes with a $1,200 prize and third place comes with $800.

The Norton Writer’s Prize

Deadline: June 15
Age Range: College students
Undergraduate students are encouraged to submit 1,000 to 3,000 word essays to this contest. Essays must come with a letter from a nominating instructor. Students can write their essays on a wide range of topics and in several different styles. First place comes with a $1,500 cash award, while the runner-up gets $1,000.

Trying to figure out how to cite? Do you need a works cited? Maybe an APA citation? How about an annotated bibliography? Or creating citations that adhere to the Chicago Manual of Style? BibMe can help you do all of that and more!

What’s the Difference Between They’re, There and Their?

By Devon Brown

Say the words aloud and they all sound the same, which can mean big trouble in writing. Even a master can make a mistake because we often write what we hear in our minds unconsciously. Below are a few tricks to help you remember the differences between this tricky trio. 

They’re: A Contraction of They and Are

Apostrophe to the rescue. Let that tiny mark of punctuation be your guide on this one. Just like can’t is a shortened version of can not and don’t is the condensed version of do not, the apostrophe in they’re has the important job of joining two words together: they and are. When writing, you should be able to replace your they’re with the words they and are without changing the meaning of the sentence.

They’re Examples:

  • Who are those two girls?
  • They are my sisters.
  • They’re my sisters.
  • They are actors
  • They’re actors. 

There: Noun, Adjective, Adverb and Pronoun

There has so many uses, keeping them straight can be a challenge. One simple way to remember most is to think about location. There is often used to answer the question: Where?

There Examples:

  • Please stand there.
  • We would like to go there.
 An exception to this is when you use there to introduce a phrase or noun.
  • There is a mouse in the kitchen.
  • Is there a pool at the hotel? 

Their: The Plural Possessive Pronoun

Their has the simple job of showing a group’s ownership and because of this, it is almost always followed by a noun.

Their Examples:

  • Where are their shoes?
  • Their dog is beautiful.
  • The monkeys love their tree.

 Now that you know the differences between they’re, there and their, all it takes is a little practice to remember them forever.

Quick Tip: When editing a paper, use the find function of your word processing software to look up their, they’re and there individually. This allows you to check if you used the correct word with ease.  

Need help? BibMe Plus’s bibliography tools and grammar check looks for edits that could strengthen your paper and helps you automatically generate citations in MLA format (it also does APA citations).

What’s Prewriting?

It would be awesome if you could produce the perfect final draft of your assignment, the very first time you sat down at your laptop. Unfortunately, as the saying goes, “Rome wasn’t built in a day!” If you’re aiming for that A, you’ll need to go through several important processes before you reach the final editing stage — the first of these being prewriting. Otherwise, it’s like trying to ice a cake before you bake it. Impossible, right?

 Why Do I Need To Prewrite?

 As we all have our own individual learning styles, prewriting can mean different things to different people. But whatever your method, the endgame should be the same. At the end of the prewriting process you should be clear about what you are trying to communicate, how you are trying to communicate it, and who you are trying to communicate it to. Forget using a grammar checker at this point — checks, tweaks and edits can come later. At the prewriting stage, it’s all about coming up with as many ideas as possible to see what will work best — and ultimately get you the best possible grade!

 What Are The Different Prewriting Techniques?

 Popular ways to get the prewriting process going are outlining (where you list your ideas), diagramming, storyboarding, and clustering (also known as mind mapping). Clustering involves taking your central idea, circling it in the middle of the page, then writing down all the things you associate with your idea around it. For example, if your broad topic is ‘climate change,’ then the phrases you write around it could include ‘CO2 emissions’, ‘plastic pollution in our oceans’, ‘deforestation of the rainforest’ and ‘intensive farming methods’. Another great idea is to freewrite, where you hone your idea and gain focus by writing freely about any thoughts you might have around the general topic.

 What If I Don’t Have Any Ideas?

 Prewriting is intended to help with exactly this problem. None of your fellow students or tutors will see what you come up with during the prewriting process, so you are free to let your imagination run wild. It’s not a problem if 99% of what you come up with in your brainstorming session ends up in the trash can — it’s the 1% that you can work with that you need to focus on. With any of the techniques above, it’s useful to set a timer and keep going until the time is up. That way, you can make sure you push past the obvious ideas to find something more original.

 What Comes After Prewriting?

 Finding your subject, planning how you are going to communicate it, and taking into account who you are going to communicate it to is only the first part of the paper-writing process. Next, you’ll move on to your first draft, which you will then need to keep editing until you’re happy with your work. Only at that point are you ready to do a final edit in preparation for handing in your assignment. Keeping a note of all your sources as you work will help when it comes to creating APA citations or citations in another format.

 Checking that all the sources you have used to back up your argument have been correctly cited is an important factor in making sure your paper is ready to submit. Luckily, whether you are using the APA, Chicago/Turabian or MLA format, the BibMe citation tool can make this a stress-free part of the writing process.



What Exactly is Plagiarism?

Perhaps your school librarian or teacher assigned a research project and warned you not to plagiarize. Or, maybe you’ve seen the word appear on a news report that accused a famous person of plagiarizing a song or book. Plagiarism is a word that has some pretty scary consequences, but don’t worry. We’re here to show you the ropes so you know what plagiarism is and how to avoid it, so let’s get started:

What Exactly is Plagiarism?

Plagiarism is the act of taking information from a source and placing it in your own project without properly sharing where you found the information. If you add information from a book, website, newspaper, or another resource into your project, you can! You just need to provide credit to the original author.

Think of it this way, if your friend let you borrow a cool hat and someone stopped you to ask about it, you’d mention that it’s your friend’s hat, right? You’d maybe even share where they bought it (if you happened to know). You wouldn’t tell the person it’s yours and you bought it on your own. This is kind of similar to research projects.

The difference between the hat scenario and research projects though is that in research projects, you’re required to share that you borrowed information and also share where you borrowed it from. You share who the original author is, where you found it, and some other pieces of information. If you don’t show the reader that you’re including another individual’s words or images in your paper, and you’re trying to pass it off as your own, you’re plagiarizing! There are other ways to plagiarize too. Read the next section to learn more.

What counts as plagiarism?

Plagiarism includes all of the following:

    • Using someone else’s work in your assignment and passing it off as your own
    • Changing the words of a quote
    • Using a quote from a source and not putting quotation marks around it
    • Taking a line of text from a source and substituting many of the words for synonyms. For Changing the book title The Cat in the Hat to The Feline in the Cap is plagiarism! They’re essentially the same book title!
    • Including incorrect information about the original source, such as changing the name of the author or including an incorrect URL
    • Submitting a paper that was entirely written by someone else
    • Submitting your work from a previously taken class or assignment and using it again for a different class or project. This is called self plagiarism.

What can I do if I don’t want to plagiarize?

      Plagiarism is happily avoidable! One of the easiest things you can do to not plagiarize is to create citations for all the sources (i.e. books, journal articles, videos, etc.) of information you used to write your paper. That means creating a bibliography. You also need to cite quotes or paraphrases using in-text citations. For example,
MLA format
      uses parenthetical citations after a quote to indicate where it came from.

        If you need help creating citations, BibMe has tools that can help you create
APA citations
        , MLA citations, or citations in several other styles. If you need writing help, try our
grammar check 
      on BibMe Plus.

Why Are There So Many Citation Styles? offers students the option of using literally thousands of citation styles for their papers. You might be thinking to yourself, “Why do we need so many styles?,” or “Who could possibly want to use a citation style called ‘Yeast’?” Let’s take a look at some of these styles, and learn how each one plays a specific role in academic writing and research.

Different citation styles support different areas of study

Over time, different disciplines in academia have come to prefer certain citation styles over others. For instance, MLA format is widely used in the humanities, since the style is well-suited to citing literature and archival sources. Conversely, APA format is widely used in the social sciences, since the style performs well with quantitative studies and analysis.

Certain styles can have multiple citing systems

One reason that it appears that the number of citation styles is so vast is because of the possibility of different formatting systems within the same style. For example, Chicago style actually has two different sub-styles: author-date and footnote-bibliography. The footnote-bibliography system can be commonly found in humanities courses, whereas the author-date system has a more broad application.

Different papers appeal to different types of audiences

One reason that we can’t simply have one uniform citation style is that each academic paper can appeal to a vastly different audience than another. Since researchers working in different areas are writing for a specific audience, such as a science professor or fellow scientist, they want to make sure that their citations clarify information and sources that are most highly valued in their subject area. A writer in the social sciences would be more likely to cite a scholarly article than a writer in the humanities focusing on archival materials, so their citation system should match this.

There is an element of tradition in citation styles

One of the many reasons that there are so many citation styles is simply that many have been in publication for generations. The Chicago Manual of style, for instance, traces its roots back to 1906. That means that writers and researchers in these disciplines have come to rely on a specific citation style when creating their work, and could be reluctant to try a different one.