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 put in anecdotes and whatever and you think 'good' and you think everything is flowing. So sometimes you think you'll have a go but you know that is wrong and you have to cut it out.

This student's dilemma about his sense that he has to leave out his own ideas for his assessed work because he is 'not an authority', coupled with his satisfaction that his work is 'flowing' when he can 'forget the academic side', illustrates a common problem for students. His difficulty is that he has not yet found a way of bringing his own good work into what he sees as the university requirements. He does not think he is 'good enough' - his work must be 'wrong'. For this reason he is not really giving himself the chance to use what he knows and can do already in his writing.

We will suggest that there are ways in which you may be 'present' in a piece of writing even when it is apparently 'impersonal'. One theme of this chapter is the importance of your personal engagement with what you are studying, so that through your writing you come to have a sense of ownership of what you have produced. As you write assignments you have the opportunity to make the ideas you are engaging with a part of your own thinking and understanding so that each time you complete an assignment, hand it in and hopefully get feedback on it, it is possible to think of it as your own production. This is why we have stressed the importance of using your own words to understand your university assignments and reading. This sense of ownership is important if you are to get satisfaction from your university writing, as well as for learning the subject. The very process of engaging with ideas through writing about them helps to make them a part of your identity as a writer and, in this way, your commitment to the task of writing can result in a much stronger piece of work. This kind of commitment to learning a subject is illustrated in the following students' comments:

I wanted to understand how our political system works.

I need to know about accounting because I want to run a small business.

I cry sometimes when I see a movie and I want to try to understand why.

I need to teach my pupils to read, and need all the understanding that I can get.

Similarly, a university tutor and researcher wrote this about his reasons for doing research and his experience of writing:

The reason I undertake research undoubtedly reinforces my difficulties in writing. For I generally choose subjects because I simultaneously feel that they are important and I am uncertain about my own views on them. I research the subject in the attempt to clarify my own conclusions on them.

(ExChanges 1996)

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