Activity Eighteen Thinking about your central idea

Take an assignment that you are working on or one that you have completed. Write down one or two sentences about what you consider to be the central idea. Write down the topics you will bring in to support your themes. Identify some of the themes that you may write about as part of your argument. You can save time in organizing and shaping your work by using headings for an outline plan. If you attempt to make an outline plan early on in writing the assignment, then it is useful to make theme...

Activity Eleven Thinking about reading

Think about what kinds of things you normally read (novels, reports, newspapers, magazines). First, choose a type of reading that is most familiar to you. Second, choose a book or article that you are having to read at the moment for your studies. You are going to think about the contrast between these two pieces of text. Take a blank piece of A4 paper and divide it in half. On one side of the paper put the title of the familiar kind of reading, for example a novel on the other side of the...

Activity Fifty Identifying components of your dissertation or project

A familiar dissertation or project outline in social sciences might look like this Abstract Introduction Literature review Research questions Methodology (including methods of data collection and analysis) Now make a similar list of what you see as the key components of a dissertation or project that you have been asked to write. A longer piece of writing can give you much more opportunity to put yourself into your work, and to bring together things in new ways which have not been possible in...

Activity Fiftyfive Keeping a learning journal for one course

You may have been asked to keep some kind of learning journal for one or more of your courses. If you have not been assigned a learning journal, or if you want to try out a different way of keeping one, then we suggest you do so for a week as an experiment. As usual this activity will be more interesting if you work with a fellow student, so that you can discuss how it is going. Decide where you will write the journal - for example, in a book or a loose-leaf folder. This will depend on whether...

Activity Fiftyfour Comparing a learning journal with an essay

Look back to your response to Activity Forty-seven in the last chapter, comparing different kinds of writing. Compare the following list with the most common essay you have to do. For example, the 'audience' for an assessed essay would be a 'tutor assessor', whereas for the journal it is a 'sympathetic reader'. The learning journal as a type of writing Form Reflective narrative, often diary-like Purpose To reflect on your progress though your course Audience A 'sympathetic reader' You as the...

Activity Fiftyseven Reflecting on your experience of this book

Take a few moments to think back over this book. It is unlikely that you have simply read it through from beginning to end, so you may want to choose one particular topic, chapter or approach. Write about your thoughts on what you have chosen, as if writing an entry for a learning journal. Now read over what you have written. Underline three or four words or phrases that seem significant to you. Write about each of these in turn for a few minutes. Now look over what you have written and try to...

Activity Fiftysix Writing and the learning cycle

Take each of the stages in the learning cycle and write in a different way for each, using an example of practice from your course. In these notes we will assume that it is an interview you had to carry out, but you could adapt this for other activities. Write in the following different ways, taking not more than five to ten minutes for each stage. Write a short account of the event as if you are 'in' the experience what happened and what it felt like. You will need to write this as 'personal...

Activity Fiftythree Writing a journal entry

Learning journals usually begin with an account of the student's expectations of a course. Read the following extract from one student's first entry for a course about political theory. Note how the student writes about what she hopes to learn on the course and how she relates this to her own background -her arguments with her brother I am looking forward to this course because I feel power and politics are central issues to social interaction and the way society functions. Whilst studying for...

Activity Fiftytwo Thinking about diaries

There are many different kinds of learning journal but they can all be compared to a personal diary. Most people who have kept a personal diary find that a learning journal is different, because the subject matter and situation is different, but there are also similarities. Have you ever kept a diary of any kind Make notes on what it was, why you kept it, who was the intended reader and what you gained from it. Many students find that keeping some kind of learning journal helps their study, and...

Activity Forty Checking for development of an argument in an assignment

Take each paragraph in turn (if the paragraphs are short it might be best to group two or three together) and write down the main point of each in a list. The final list should look like an outline for the whole piece of work. If you are doing this for yourself it allows you to check your final piece against your initial plan, to see if you have left anything out or put something in the wrong place. However, please note that it might be the initial plan that was wrong not...

Activity Fortyfive Learning from feedback

Look at the feedback that you have received on one of your assignments. Try to identify the comments that deal with this particular assignment and those that are more generalizable to future assignments. Which comments would help you for next time You will remember that in Chapter 3 we talked about writing for different disciplines you will probably find that the kinds of feedback and the emphasis given to particular areas vary between your courses. Feedback from one course may not help you if...

Activity Fortyone Checking for cohesion

Take a piece of your own written work. Read the text aloud. Pause at the end of each sentence. Ask yourself the following questions Does the sentence make complete sense Does it relate to the sentence which went before How Does it relate to the sentence which follows How Are too many ideas embedded in one sentence How are the paragraphs related to each other Does each paragraph introduce a new theme How are new ideas introduced Do they relate to other parts of the text Look out for the...

Activity Fortyseven Comparing writing

Now we are going to build upon our student's experiences in order to think about these issues in terms of your own writing. As always it is more productive if you can do this exercise with a colleague. Collect together a number of pieces of your own assessed writing. These do not have to be from your university studies they may be from school, college or a previous course you have done. Now make a list of what you see as some of the similarities and differences between them. You may want to...

Activity Fortysix Different subjects and different writing

Think about the kind of degree you are taking Is it a single-subject degree Do you study modules in more than one subject Is it an interdisciplinary degree in which the things you study come from a number of different disciplines Is it primarily a vocational degree which prepares you for a particular career Do you have to do different kinds of writing in the courses that make up your degree Make a list of the kinds of writing you have to do for your studies. You will remember that right at the...

Activity Fortythree Checking connections and reference

Look at the extract from the student essay below. Can you pick out any connecting devices, words, topics and themes Can you pick out any referring words Do the same exercise on a piece of your own work. Many arguments have been put forward suggesting that violence is an innate quality in human beings a state of nature which cannot be avoided. Sahlins argued that violence occurs in an absence of the state to which the tribe was seen as a forerunner (Harrison 1989). In contrast, he made parallels...

Activity Fourteen Trying out different reading strategies

Choose something that you need to read for one of your assignments. Work through the questions above for 'fitting together' reading and 'analytic' reading. Can you identify which kind of reading seems most useful for you at this stage of writing your assignment You might find that they are equally important. As we said before, the important thing to remember about reading is that you, the reader, are active in making meaning from what you read. Making sense of what you read is your...

Activity Nineteen

Before you begin reading this chapter please write down anything at all that you think making an argument might mean in your subject. This will help you to explore and clarify your own thoughts and compare these with what you read in this chapter. You could do this as notes or in prose, as a piece of practice writing (see Chapter 2). In the last chapter we looked at different ways of organizing ideas and information in your university writing. We also looked at the need to find a central idea...

Activity Sixteen What kind of a shaper are you How do you plan your writing

Reread the above descriptions of writers planning their writing. Note down your answers to the following questions What do you think might be the advantages and disadvantages of these different ways of organizing writing Which way of planning and shaping is most like your own approach How do you think your way may be different from any of these Now try to describe how you plan and organize your work. Of course, you may not always adopt just one way of planning and shaping writing. You may in...

Activity Ten Analysing your own assignment title

Choose a written assignment that you are about to start working on and write the title at the top of a blank piece of A4 paper. Work through the five points above. Use the examples as a guide if you need to. Remember that ultimately it is your analysis and understanding of the title that counts when you come to write. 1. Write down in your own words what you think the assignment is asking you to do. 2. What do you already know about the subject matter of the assignment 3. What do you need to...

Activity Thirteen Focused note taking from reading

Divide the page into one-third on the left-hand side and two-thirds on the right-hand side. Or do the same with a page on your computer. On the wider right-hand side take notes as you read which are relevant to your assignment. You may find it useful to use the same categories or headings as the author, or you may find it more useful to make notes under your own headings. Try to summarize in your own words rather than writing down large chunks of the text....

Activity Thirty

During the 1930s and 1940s Benjamin Whorf wrote various papers about the connection between the structure of individual languages and their speakers' perception of reality. He suggested that the way in which humans view the world is constrained by the language available to them. In this way measurable differences in world view could be discerned between speakers of different languages. This view of the connection between language structure and social reality is called 'linguistic determinism'...

Activity Thirtyeight Investigating conclusions

Look for some conclusions in your own work or in any reading you are doing. Check them against the above list. What are these conclusions doing Do they work well to sum up for the reader the message of the text Sometimes conclusions show what the author considers is important, but you need to have read the whole of the essay to understand this. This is why students sometimes think that the conclusion is the place where the writer can express their own opinion. Beware of this idea, however,...

Activity Thirtyfive Your place in an assignment

Think back to the assignment you chose to think about in Activity Thirty-one. Have you anything to add about your relationship to the assignment, about your use of 'I' and the use of your own thinking Think again Why did you choose this assignment In this chapter we have been saying that you get a sense of ownership of your academic assignment by engaging with it, by your motivation for studying a subject, your choice of topic and material, and your work in organizing your ideas into an...

Activity Thirtyfour The writers place in personal and academic writing

Read the following three passages and check them against the list of 'personal' and 'academic' features in the table above. Answer the questions below about each of them. Does the passage tell us anything about the writer Where does the information come from Does the writer present any of her own opinions Remember that we are asking you to think about these passages in order to think about what you are doing when you write yourself. When I was 9 years old my parents split up and I went to live...

Activity Thirtythree Writing from a personal perspective

Identify an event in your childhood that was important to you. When you have decided on this, write one or two paragraphs about it, indicating what happened and how it was important. Imagine that you are writing for a friendly fellow student or tutor. Note that we are asking you to write briefly on a subject that could be a lengthy piece of work tackled in many different ways. If you can, carry out this activity with another student and discuss each other's writing. When you have finished, read...

Activity Thirtytwo The use of I in course materials

Check some of the books or course materials you have to hand to see whether they use 'I', and, if so, where they use it and what the reason might be. Think about what effect the use or non-use of 'I' has on the relationship between reader and writer. The matter of using the first person in your assignments is difficult to address because conventions vary between subjects. In fact, in some subjects the use of ' I' is encouraged and in others it is actually 'forbidden'. This can also vary between...

Activity Twelve Global reading

Choose something that you need to read for your studies or for completing an assignment. If the text has headings then use these to guide you with your understanding. Read what feels to you a manageable chunk of text. This may be a headed section, a chapter or a complete article. Do not try to read more than you can easily manage at any one time. There is no point just going on and on reading, hoping that somehow the content will sink in. When reading an academic text you will often find that...

Activity Twentyeight How to introduce your sources

Look at an example of one of your own assignments. Make a list of some of the words and phrases you have used which signal the shift back and forth between your words and the words of your source author. Now take an article you have read or one you need to read for a forthcoming assignment. Use words and phrases the author has used to add to your original list. These are some of the ones on our list In order to help you to think a little more about the integration of sources and the different...

Activity Twentyfive Looking at your sources

Take an example of one or two of your own written assignments. (If this is your first term at university you may need to use something you wrote and had assessed before you came to university.) Now make a list of all the different types of resources you have used in these assignments. Do you know how to cite these different sources in your assignment writing These are some of the sources that we have seen students and academics using. How many of these have you listed Books Articles Book...

Activity Twentynine

How many writers can you identify in this text What is telling you who these different writers are Can you identify one or two examples of the 'voice' of the student who wrote this essay During the 1930s and 1940s Benjamin Whorf wrote various papers concerning the connection between the structure of individual languages and their speakers' perception of reality. He suggested that the way in which humans view the world is constrained by the language available to them. In this...

Activity Twentyone

Now apply this idea to the paragraph below by considering possible questions, objections and counter-arguments from an imaginary reader. Read the paragraph (taken from Chapter 6), note down any questions or objections each sentence raises for you as you read, and then compare them with our comments below. An alternative feminist approach suggests that women may stay in violent relationships even when they are not 'weak'. For these women a constituent of being a woman involves being there for...

Activity Twentyseven Which of the following would you regard as plagiarism

Using a direct quote without making the source clear. Paraphrasing or summarizing what you have read and not indicating the citation to the original source of your ideas. Cutting from a source document and pasting it into your own work without making citation to the original source. Changing a few words around in the original source and then using it in your work without indicating where the idea came from. As you have probably guessed all these would be regarded as plagiarism because in all...

Activity Twentysix Learning about citation

Search the Internet for relevant websites which give guidance on citation and referencing for university writing. Choose three different websites. On each one follow the relevant links to find out about citing 'reports'. Compare the differences and similarities between the advice given on each different site. Now make a record of the key elements that you think should be present when citing reports and in what order they should generally appear. When we did this task we found the key elements,...

Activity Twentythree

Consider the following questions, which we discuss in our notes below. First note down your initial responses. For example What does it make you think or feel Do you feel engaged or not by it What does its central idea seem to be Is this actually expressed in one or two sentences Can you grasp this from the beginning Do you find yourself persuaded by the article What do you think the writer wants you to believe We have numbered the paragraphs of this article - some of...

Activity Twentytwo

Read the following extracts from a short student essay called 'Why was Socrates put on trial ' Note how it presents two opposing versions for the reasons for Socrates' trial, the 'official' version, and the writer's alternative version. The official charges on which Socrates was tried were impiety and corrupting the youth. Meletus, his chief accuser, claimed that Socrates was subversive, undermining the authority of the state and its Gods with his unorthodox philosophizing. Furthermore, he...

Analysis writing

Going deeper what is this all about This is the most difficult kind of writing to explain because 'analysis' is a term that is frequently used by university tutors in different ways. It always demands that you say more about, for instance, what you are describing or comparing. It requires you to be searching and to ask questions such as These are just some of the questions involved in 'being analytical', or 'using analysis' use them if they seem appropriate. However, it is equally important to...

Analytic reading

This is less concerned with reading to fit together with what you know already than with analysing what you are reading as you go along. Again, this is an integral part of the strategy that you will need to adopt to read successfully for your writing. To make the most of analytic reading, these are the sorts of question that you will need to be asking How does the author introduce the text Does she spell out what she is going to talk about What do you think that this author is saying Is the...

Approaching reading

With academic reading it is necessary to maintain a constant grip on what the author is saying. Yet, many academic texts are densely written in unfamiliar ways which make them much more difficult to manage than, for example, a novel or a magazine article. Although sometimes there may be reasons why you need to skim-read an article or book, this is likely to be only to get the general gist of what is being said, as a strategy for deciding whether it is appropriate reading material or not. In...

Authority and reliability

Does this person seem to be a reliable authority What organization do they belong to What have they published What kinds of sites do the links on the page take you to Asking questions like these helps you to get a feel for the kind of person who is responsible for a web page. This helps you to make a judgement about whether you should trust the information. People often make links from their own web pages to relevant organizations, groups or discussion lists. Following the links from a web page...

Biological physics

In my subject, argument means the ability to create a believable theory, which is supported by hard data. I imagine this is easier than other disciplines because it is easier to defend yourself when you are backed up by quantifiable repeatable results. It can also be more difficult as you have to place your argument in the context of previous work and results, which may contradict those which you find. Argument is never directly personal. Argument is purely a process of translating specific...

Building on your central idea step by step

Here is a brief paragraph from the middle of an essay on domestic violence An alternative feminist approach suggests that women may stay in violent relationships even when they are not 'weak'. For these women a constituent of being a woman involves being there for their men and being able to maintain a relationship despite obstacles. These women tried to understand their violent partners and felt duty bound to cope the best way they could. For them, walking out would have been an admission of...

Can you be original in your university writing

University teachers sometimes seem to be asking for two contradictory things in their students' assignments. They say that they want to know what you are thinking, and, at the same time, insist that you make use of what academic writers have said. What they really mean is first you have to get into our way of looking at things and then you can begin to say it in your own way. This is not such a contradiction as it sounds, because, of course, all our ideas have 'come' from somewhere else. At...

Causeeffect writing

Why did something happen What were the consequences In practice you will not get far in recounting what happened without bringing in cause and effect, which relate events to each other. Take a simple example the king died the people rejoiced. For this to make sense we need to know why the people rejoiced (maybe he was a tyrant). However, the idea of a straight correlation between two events - that something is caused by something else -is often seen as a bit simplistic. All the same, cause and...

Choosing your reading for an assignment

The initial stumbling block that most students face is choosing their reading. You will remember that this was one element of analysing the assignment. The first thing to do is to consult the reading list for books and articles that seem relevant to your particular assignment. Doing a library search, by keywords or subject, is also useful if the references on your reading list are already on loan from the library. Your tutor should also be able to advise you as to which are the most relevant...

Chronology writing

This structure follows time with a sense of the sequence of events, one following another. You relate or recount what happened. This may, naturally, often be used in history. Chronology can be expressed visually as a 'timeline' which shows the sequence of events during a certain period, as a calendar does. A similar structure may be used to tell the plot of a novel or film. There will often be occasions when you need to use this structure, but you will also need to do more than this and go on...

Cohesion

Cohesion is concerned with the way in which parts of written texts fit together to make a whole rather than a series of disconnected bits. This is particularly important when you are writing an assignment, and you need to pay attention to the connecting devices that you use. These devices connect the ideas in one sentence to the previous sentence and to the following sentence. They also connect the smaller parts of the sentence together, the phrases and clauses. In the same way, they connect...

Commentary on Passage

Passage 1 appears to be a personal' piece because it refers to the writer's own experience as a child and is written as a narrative - it recounts what happened to her and describes the effects on herself as a child, in the way that you might have done in the previous activity. The writer's place is indicated in her use of I'. However, note that the use of I' might not tell us as much about the writer as we might think. It could stand for a fictional character, invented by the writer....

Comparecontrast writing

How are two things different from and like each other This is a very common structure. It shows the similarities and differences between two things and, in the process, it tells you more about each of them. One common feature of university writing is that the 'things' may well be quite abstract or intangible - for example, two different social policies or two different psychological theories. You can handle the compare contrast structure by moving back and forth between both 'things' or by...

Computer conferencing

You may find that your tutor uses computer conferencing as a way of encouraging you and fellow students to work together in groups. This is particularly likely if you are studying at a distance, and do not have the opportunity to meet your fellow students face to face. However, increasingly tutors are also using computer conferencing in face-to-face institutions. It is often set up so that students can work together on a joint project or activity. Computer conferencing is similar to email but...

Conducting a critical review

This complements approaches taken in Chapter 5 on reading but focuses specifically on a critical review of the literature you will use in your studies. It will also help you to write your own critical review and you can do this even if it is not a formal requirement for your assignment. The pages are provided by CAPLITS (Centre for Academic and Professional Literacies) at the Institute of Education, London.

Considering your argument working out your story and getting your central idea

One important element of shaping your writing is concerned with developing your argument. An 'argument' is one of the things tutors are most often looking for when they set written assignments, and they often criticize an assignment on the grounds that it does not have an 'argument'. However, in practice, the term often means different things in different subjects and even to different tutors, as we saw in Chapter 3. It certainly doesn't mean a 'quarrel' (although as a matter of fact academics...

Constructing your story

One way of thinking about developing an argument in your writing is to think of it as your 'story' What is your story Do you have a clear storyline or plot Using the notion of a story may not seem very academic, but we think that it gives a good indication of the 'feel' of developing an argument. It should help you to identify more clearly the process of construction that you have to go through to get to a written argument that feels complete for you. Your work as a student writer is to...

Description writing

What is something - or someone - like What are its characteristics or what are the different parts that make it up Description usually needs to be followed by or linked to explanation. The visual way to represent description may be as a diagram, with labelled parts, as in biology. However, if we are describing something more abstract - for example, the characteristics of the twentieth-century family - then a spider diagram may be a good way to build up our thinking on what it is like, as we...

Developing a thesis statement

When you make an argument you are making a case for a particular point of view that you want your reader to accept. You are taking a particular stance on a subject and often make a claim about it. As we stressed in Chapter 6, and as your tutors will usually tell you, this involves formulating a central idea and organizing your material around this to support it, so that you can justify your claim. A common term for the 'central idea' is a 'thesis statement', which points more to developing an...

Developing your argument from topics and themes

We have talked about how an argument is frequently concerned with developing a central idea and the way in which all the different parts of your assignment will be related in some way to this central idea. In your writing you will be concerned with developing a number of themes which support your central idea and therefore provide evidence for the argument that you are making. One way of thinking about the central idea is that it is at the core of your argument. It is the core structure, and...

Different approaches to planning and organizing your writing

You may remember that in Chapter 3, we introduced the idea of 'building blocks' as a way of thinking about constructing a piece of writing. We can also compare the 'shaping' process with how a child makes a building with bricks. One child might have some idea of the overall structure she wants but she may have to try out different ways of getting there using different arrangements of bricks. She may start off with no idea at all, yet in the end she gets a building she likes. One child might...

Different kinds of learning journal different titles

So far we have been talking about learning journals rather as if they were all the same, looking for what is common in them. In fact, as with all university assignments, tutors use versions of learning journals on their courses for many different purposes, and give a wide range of instructions and suggestions about how to approach them. Tutors also often use different names for them, depending on their purpose. Below are just a few examples. Think about how some of these might fit a course that...

Discussion

In relation to Activity Twenty-nine (above) we have identified nine obvious writers in this extract, including all those authors cited as primary, secondary or personal sources Whorf, Carroll, Pulham, Hargreaves, Chomsky, Hymes, Saussure, Cameron and the student writer herself. We were able to recognize the authors the student had drawn on because she made appropriate reference, either directly to their work, to the work of another author who had cited the original work, e.g. 'Whorf, cited in...

Dissertations and projects

As you approach the end of your studies at university you may well be asked to prepare a long piece of written work such as a dissertation or project. The specific guidance you receive will help you to work out many of the formal features, as projects and dissertations vary according to the subject or discipline, and the two terms may be used interchangeably. In some disciplines a dissertation means a 'long essay', and the only thing that makes it distinctive is its length. You are also likely...

Editing for the reader

It is important to take account of the reader of your work. The main readers of your assignment will be your tutor and perhaps a second marker' and an external examiner. Sometimes students are asked to write as if' for a specialist external reader, particularly on professional courses, but even these are usually simulated, rarely for real'. This means that writing assignments for university is a strange kind of communication. Although she is your reader, your tutor does not strictly need' your...

Editing your work as an outsider

Does the piece of work have a central idea Is this idea apparent for the reader or do you have to 'search' for it Is it clear enough for you to restate in a different way Does the piece of work raise any questions that it does not answer Is there a sense of an 'argument' developing Do points - both within and beyond paragraphs - seem to follow logically Does the whole piece hang together Why is a particular bit of information in the piece What work is it doing for expressing the ideas of the...

English

The argument of an essay in English Literature need not necessarily make or rehearse an argument for or against a particular position or interpretation, though it might do this - it might attempt to make a case for a new reading, or demolish an existing piece of criticism. Very good literary-critical essays can be primarily analytical and descriptive, demonstrating how a particular piece of writing works, or how a writer thinks or feels but an essay of this type would still need a coherent...

Evaluating writing

What is the value of this How is this important In evaluating writing you have to make some sort of a judgement, often about what other writers are saying. This is different from the kind of judgement you might make in daily life, for example, 'That was a good film'. You have to evaluate different positions, perspectives or points of view. You have to do more than say, for example, 'This is a false argument' or 'This is wrong' you have to give reasons for your judgement. Evaluating may involve...

Example A collaborative writing project

Boards of resistance skater-space and the spectacle of a subculture in Bristo Square Three of us did this project together. We took lots of photos because this helped us to visualize the space that we were writing about. We all found the collaborative writing difficult because we really wanted it to have one voice. Because there were three of us writing this we found it difficult to make it coherent. When you are writing on your own it's much easier to have a direct angle on something than when...

Example A practical report

Archaeology of early societies a practical report What the student said about this I'd never written anything like this archaeological report before I came to university, so I just had to try and make some sort of judgement about what was needed and follow that track. My tutor had some examples of past reports he showed us, and also we all discussed it together on our course. With this kind of report they always ask us to answer particular questions, and so I sort of got a feel for what they...

Example A review of an article

The transition between hunting and gathering and the specialized husbandry of resources a socio-ecological approach (Layton et al. 1991). When I did this review of an article I found that I partly summarized it and partly analysed it. I tried to put in what I thought were the important things that the authors were saying. It felt different from an essay because I didn't feel that I was trying to develop an argument. Extract from 'The transition between hunting and gathering and the specialised...

Example A tutorial presentation

When I have to give a tutorial presentation I always write it up beforehand. I wrote this in a very different way from other things I have to write. I tried to write it as if I was explaining something to people who knew nothing. With an essay I might say something in one or two sentences. But with a tutorial presentation you have to explain things a lot more and the same thing applies when you write it up so that you can hand it in. I tend to use the same explanation in the writing up as I do...

Example An essay based on an interview

This was like an essay but it was based on an actual interview I had carried out. What I did was use the things that Andrew had said in the interview and link these to the theoretical things we had been studying on the course. So there were bits of quotes from the interview and then references to reading I had done which seemed relevant to what Andrew had told me about himself and his family in the interview. Extract from an essay based on an interview 'We 're all that hotch-potch' Negotiating...

Exploring different kinds of writing

Case study one student's experience Report writing Dissertations and projects Electronic writing Using the Internet as a resource for writing Evaluating web resources Visual and written texts I have never written a report before. I never really know who I am writing for. I never know how to use something I've got from the Internet. Up to this point we have been talking mostly about essay writing. This is because essays still tend to be the most common kind of assignments that students are set...

Fitting together reading

Approaching your reading so that everything that you are reading and studying fits together helps you to focus on your ideas, and both to synthesize and elaborate them. To help you with what we call 'fitting together' reading, try to answer the following questions as you both read and take notes for your reading How does this material relate to what I already know about the subject How does this material relate to other sources on the same subject What related arguments or theories does this...

Formulating your central idea

In trying to put together your argument it is important to work towards getting the central idea you wish to present. What do you want your reader to know or think by the end of your assignment What position are you presenting or arguing in this assignment Or, in the terms we have been considering above, what is your 'story' or storyline Here are some examples There are disadvantages and advantages to the 'care in the community' policy overall the disadvantages outweigh the benefits. This...

From journals to reflective essays

Sometimes a learning journal may be the basis for an essay. If you are doing a professional course - for example, in the area of health and social work - you will be required to write essays that bring together theory and practice to relate what you have learnt from experience in the field to theories that you have learnt on your university-based course. You will need to relate 'doing' to 'book learning'. This produces assignments that are different from the standard essay. The reflective essay...

From the personal to the academic

One way of thinking about the specificity of academic writing is to compare it with what we can broadly term 'personal' writing, where the writer is obviously at its centre and there seems to be a clear relationship between what is written and the writer. Then you can think of writing for university as a shift from a personal to an academic way of thinking and writing, involving shifts in the writer's sense of 'I' in their writing in specific ways. The following activity is linked to the work...

Getting started

Bridging a gap you and university study Practice writing Brainstorming Generating questions It's like learning a new language - you have to start from the beginning In this chapter we will assume that you are about to begin your university study (whether in an area which is new to you or not) and are asking questions about what you will have to do for writing at university. We will explore what is involved in university writing and will suggest some first steps that you can take towards...

Getting the assignment into shape

In this chapter we will be discussing the structure or shape of your assignment - how it is organized. We are assuming that you have already done a lot of work for your assignment. You have worked on the title and have begun to get a sense of where you will be going, and of your argument. You have gathered together a good deal of information from books, lectures and other relevant sources. You have done various kinds of preparatory writing. You may have made some kind of plan and have done...

Grammar and punctuation

Until now we have not made a specific point of talking about grammar and punctuation in your written work. In our experience academic staff sometimes focus too much on these particular concepts when they are talking about problems with writing, and students themselves often panic about their own feelings of insecurity in this area and lack confidence writing in formal written English styles. Consequently, we have waited until later in the book to start talking about checking your work for...

Handing in your assignment

We have now come to the end of the process of writing your assignment. This will be the point when you will present your assignment to your tutor - and when it is no longer yours. You hand it over and are ready to get on with the next piece of work. At this point you have to accept that you have done the best you can in the time and with the resources available to you. You might bear in mind a piece of advice an artist once gave his pupil 'Remember that the worst paintings of all are the ones...

Handwrite or wordprocess

Can you word-process a learning journal There is no reason why you should not. In fact, seeing what you have written immediately, on screen or printed out, can give you the sense that your ideas are forming very quickly. However, many people find that writing a journal is easier to do by hand - that pen or pencil to paper is a more direct' way of getting ideas down fast. Many students and their tutors find it practical to have a notebook to hand for all kinds of exploratory writing, including...

History

The idea of argument or thesis is quite central to my subject's rationale for its own evidence interpretation and engagement with the work of others is widely viewed as the heart of the distinction between 'history' and 'antiquarianism'. Most historians would say that a work's argument should be explicit and should have a central thread upon which the rest of the content should hang, although how often they follow this instruction is perhaps open to question. Notice this writer's uncertainty...

History Philosophy

Constructing an argument for a historical piece of work is somewhat different from an argument for a philosophical piece. Let's say that an argument in both disciplines is logically derived from a premise and the same goes for a negation of the thesis. However, history is confined to the available sources whereas philosophy rather depends on the logical representation. This student compares their experience of writing history and philosophy and suggests that 'supporting a premise' may be quite...

How can learning journals help you to learn

We have said that writing a learning journal is a good way of helping you to work through course material. Below we look at some of the ways that writing a journal can help you to learn, together with some written quotes from students on their experience. 'It is a good discipline it helped me to recall and clarify concerns.' First of all, keeping a learning journal helps to ensure that you keep up with the course timetable of reading and other activities, by processing one section before you...

How students define argument in their subjects

To find out more about how argument is seen in different subjects we asked some postgraduate students to write brief answers to the question, 'What does argument mean in your subject ' We asked these students because they are quite experienced writers in their subject, they have recently been undergraduates themselves, and are now thinking hard about what it means to become an authority in their subject. As you will see, their ideas and ways of writing about argument demonstrate how different...

Keeping records

One good way of recording your references as you go along is to use record cards. On these you can put the referencing information that you need about a book or article that you have read. You can also record brief notes on why you found it useful, you can refer to important page numbers and even record complete quotes if they seem relevant to you. Figure 5.3 shows an example of one such record card, compiled by a student. When she came to write she had much of the information she needed on...

Law

An argument is an answer to a question - in law it often concerns a normative opinion that one must agree or disagree with (or a part thereof) and justify that agreement or otherwise. It involves typically an analysis of an area of law that says what it is, how it is. At the end you have to state your opinion but never develop an original position. The statement that you must 'never develop an original position' is interesting and might come as a surprise to students working in some other...

Learning from feedback grades and tutors comments

You will get some kind of feedback on your work from your tutor, although how much and in what form will vary enormously. In some cases, you will just get a grade or a percentage mark. This is most likely to be the case when your writing has been done at the end of a course or a unit. The grade may feel like the most important kind of feedback you could get it gives you a point of comparison with other students and it tells you if you have passed this stage. It validates you as a student. It...

Learning journals

Learning journals are more elaborate than most exploratory writing and are sometimes formally assessed, which may alter how you approach them. In this chapter we focus on the learning journal as a non-graded, exploratory kind of writing. Learning journals are a type of writing that give you an overview of a whole course, from beginning to end. If you have to write a learning journal for a number of courses, you will have a record of much of your learning at university, which will help you to...

Learning journals and reflective writing

Learning journals Reflecting on practical work From journals to reflective essays The 'learning cycle' and different kinds of writing A final reflection Journals make the learning process visible. It forced me to explore areas I would normally have shut away. It's good to have a section of work which takes a more relaxed and personal At the beginning of this book we stressed how writing and learning are part of the same process. Whenever you write you make new knowledge for yourself, which is...

Making an argument and persuading your reader

Your reader What does 'argument' mean How students define 'argument' in their subjects Developing a thesis statement Working from first thoughts Making an argument by anticipating questions and objections Making an argument by looking at two opposing versions Persuading the reader I can't do argument - I'm not the arguing type. They are always telling me I have to get an argument but they don't explain how to do it. What do they mean by an 'argument' anyway * This chapter draws on ideas and...

Making good use of your sources

Referencing systems Referencing websites Referencing other sources Recording references Referencing and plagiarism Thinking about plagiarism Using your sources creatively Do I need to reference it even if I heard it in one of my lectures I'm really scared about plagiarizing by mistake. Do you have to put in a date if you use something from the Internet In this chapter we look at the different resources that you might be using in your university writing. Whatever course you are studying and...

Making meaning through reading

It is you, the reader, who makes sense of what you read and the meaning that you will be able to make depends to some extent on how you are reading. We have already illustrated a method of 'global reading', and below we look at two more ways of 'making meaning through reading' and how you may use these when preparing for your assignments. There are likely to be different reasons for the reading you do for your studies at university. You may be reading as background to your course and seminars,...

Notes

Notice if you are repeating yourself, but bear in mind that repetition is sometimes necessary in order to remind the reader of something you have said before. Consider writing the introduction after you have completed the rest of the essay. Don't be afraid to cut when you are reviewing your work. You can keep these cuts to use later. Think carefully about the particular work your introduction and conclusion are doing. Ask someone else to read your work at the editing stage. Try to leave at...

Omissions

What seems to be missing from this website What do these omissions tell you about the story the author of the website wants to tell Institutional websites often go to great lengths to present a positive picture of an activity associated with their institution. For example, the website of an academic department might enable you to access pages about some particular research success, but is less likely to take you to pages which offer a critique of that research. You need to be careful about...

One students dilemma

On the matter of getting himself into his assignment one student said this I try to stick as much to references as possible. I have to have the relevant data In the actual essay I don't interject myself I just go with everything that somebody can actually go back and check . . . because I'm not an authority. In other words, whenever I write something there must be an authority . . . The problem is when you are writing there is always a tendency to forget the academic side of it and you go and...

Persuading the reader

We have been suggesting throughout this chapter that making an argument is about having a position on a topic and engaging the reader - in the end, it is about persuading the reader to adopt your point of view or position. We have been looking at ways of making the argument with the reader in mind and in this final section we look in more detail at how the reader can be persuaded of the author's point of view. Interestingly, this piece of writing persuades not by imagining the reader as an...

Psychology two students

I mostly think of argument when I write essays with the word 'discuss' in it. Then we are expected to take one side of the argument and provide relevant evidence and then take the other side of the argument. We are discouraged from writing about arguments in lab reports because it becomes too opinionated and it is merely meant to be a report and study of a specific experiment. This student points out that 'argument' is only relevant in some situations. In others, it is a question of just...

Putting it together

Writing the introduction Writing the conclusion Reviewing your work redrafting and editing Editing for the reader Reviewing your work what are you looking for Reorganizing your work an example What am I supposed to do about the introduction and conclusion I don't need to know what you are going to say. Do tell your reader what you are going to say. I never really read my work through. In this chapter we come to the final stages of preparing your assignment, when you have it nearly complete but...

Putting yourself into your academic writing

One student's dilemma 'Parrot writing' Can you be 'original' in your university writing Using 'I' in your assignments From the personal to the academic Is the tutor interested in my ideas Do I have to simply leave myself out of my university writing I came to university to explore my own ideas - but are they interested in what Can I use 'I' in my university writing In this chapter we take up work on the topic of the family begun in Chapter 2, to look again at the relationship between your own...

Reading and note taking

One way of approaching a new piece of reading is to break it down into manageable chunks and try to assimilate things bit by bit. There is a close correlation here between your reading and your note taking, and this feeds directly into your writing therefore at this point we are going to deal with these two things together. The trouble is that I read what I have to read and then end up with these copious notes and don't know how to incorporate them into my essay. This is a familiar cry from...

Recording references

It is very important that you keep a reliable record of your references as you come across them in preparation for your assignments. There are a range of bibliographic software packages available for this purpose but these tend to be quite complicated to use and probably only worth considering if you are undertaking postgraduate study. You may find it easier to record your references alphabetically and or by course using ordinary word processing software to build up a database of references....

Reference

Reference is concerned with the ways in which different parts of the text refer to one another. When we are writing we often substitute different words and phrases when we talk about the same subject or topic again. This is how we create a sense of reference in the text. One of the more common ways of doing this is to substitute pronouns such as, 'she', 'he', 'it' for the person or thing previously mentioned by name. A simple example would be 'Pat is coming but she will be late'. The concept of...