Writing at University

A guide for students

Third Edition

Phyllis Creme and Mary R. Lea

[loll Open University Press


Open University Press McGraw-Hill Education McGraw-Hill House Shoppenhangers Road Maidenhead Berkshire England SL6 2QL

email: [email protected] world wide web: www.openup.co.uk

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First published 2008

Copyright © Phyllis Creme and Mary R. Lea 2008

All rights reserved. Except for the quotation of short passages for the purposes of criticism and review, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of the publisher or a licence from the Copyright Licensing Agency Limited. Details of such licences (for reprographic reproduction) may be obtained from the Copyright Licensing Agency Ltd of Saffron House, 6-10 Kirby Street, London, EC1N 8TS.

A catalogue record of this book is available from the British Library

ISBN-13: 978 0 335 22116 5 (pb) ISBN-10: 0 335 22116 5 (pb)

Library of Congress Cataloguing-in-Publication Data CIP data applied for

Typeset by RefineCatch Limited, Bungay, Suffolk Printed in the UK by Bell and Bain Ltd, Glasgow

Fictitious names of companies, products, people, characters and/or data that may be used herein (in case studies or in examples) are not intended to represent any real individual, company, product or event.

The McGraw-Hill Companies

This book is dedicated to our parents: For Beryl Lea and in memory of Howard Lea In memory of Joan Butler and John Power


Acknowledgements xii

1 You and university writing 1

1.1 Why a book on university writing? 2

1.2 Working with others 3

1.3 You as a writer 4

1.4 Different types of writing 5

1.5 Talking for writing 6

1.6 Getting started, keeping going and dealing with writing blocks 7

Keeping a learning log 9

1.7 Getting help 9

1.8 A note on word processing 10

1.9 A tour through the rest of the book 10

2 Getting started 13

2.1 Bridging a gap: you and university study 14

2.2 Practice writing 15

Fast writing 19

2.3 Brainstorming 19

2.4 Generating questions 21

3 Writing for different courses 25

3.1 Ways of writing 26

3.2 Different perspectives 26

3.3 Unpacking assignments 28

3.4 Key elements of university writing 32

3.5 Different ways of knowing 33

3.6 Structure and argument 35

3.7 The traditional essay format approach to writing 35

3.8 The 'building blocks' approach to writing 36

4 Beginning with the title 39

4.1 Keywords 40

4.2 Disadvantages of just looking for keywords 41

4.3 Analysing the assignment 42

Example A 43

Example B 45

Example C 47

5 Reading as part of writing 51

5.1 Approaching reading 52

5.2 Choosing your reading for an assignment 53

5.3 Working with your reading 55

5.4 Thinking about the different texts 57

5.5 Reading and note taking 58

5.6 Making mind maps from reading 59

5.7 Keeping records 61

5.8 Making meaning through reading 63

'Fitting together' reading 64

'Analytic' reading 64

5.9 Reading your own and other students' work 66

6 Organizing and shaping your writing 71

6.1 Getting the assignment into shape 71

6.2 Different approaches to planning and organizing your writing 72

The diver writer 73

The patchwork writer 74

The grand plan writer 74

The architect writer 75

What kind of writer are you? 76

6.3 Some structures used in university writing 77

Chronology writing 77

Description writing 78

Cause-effect writing 78

Compare/contrast writing 78

Summary writing 79

Analysis writing 79

Evaluating writing 80

Using a range of writing structures 81

6.4 Considering your argument: working out your 'story' and getting your central idea 82

Building on your central idea step by step 82

Constructing your 'story' 83

Formulating your central idea 83

Developing you argument from topics and themes 85

7 Making an argument and persuading your reader 89

7.1 Your reader 90

7.2 What does 'argument' mean? 91

7.3 How students define 'argument' in their subjects 92

Psychology 93

History 93

History/Philosophy 94

Biological physics 94

Law 94

Sciences 95

English 96

Linguistics 97

7.4 Developing a thesis statement 97

7.5 Working from first thoughts 98

7.6 Making an argument by anticipating questions and objections 100

7.7 Making an argument by looking at two opposing versions 101

7.8 Persuading the reader 104

8 Making good use of your sources 110

8.1 Referencing systems 112

8.2 Referencing websites 113

8.3 Referencing other sources 114

8.4 Recording references 115

8.5 Referencing and plagiarism 115

8.6 Thinking about plagiarism 119

8.7 Using your sources creatively 120

Discussion 123

9 Putting yourself into your academic writing 127

9.1 One student's dilemma 128

9.2 'Parrot writing' 129

9.3 Can you be 'original' in your university writing? 131

9.4 Using 'I' in your assignments 132

9.5 From the personal to the academic 133

Commentary on Passage 1 136

Commentary on Passage 2 138

Commentary on Passage 3 139

10 Putting it together 142

10.1 Writing the introduction 143

10.2 Writing the conclusion 147

10.3 Reviewing your work: redrafting and editing 150

10.4 Editing for the reader 151

10.5 Reviewing your work: what are you looking for? 151

10.6 Reorganizing your work: an example 153

11 Completing the assignment and preparing for next time 157

11.1 Grammar and punctuation 157

11.2 Techniques for working on your writing 158

Cohesion 158

Punctuation 160

Reference 165

Coherence 166

11.3 Handing in your assignment 167

11.4 Learning from feedback: grades and tutors' comments 168

Using written feedback 169

Talking with a tutor 169

Understanding tutors' written comments 170

12 Exploring different kinds of writing 173

12.1 Case study: one student's experience 175

Example 1: A practical report 175

Example 2: A collaborative writing project 177

Example 3: A review of an article 179

Example 4: A tutorial presentation 180

Example 5: An essay based on an interview 181

Example 6: A seminar paper 181

12.2 Report writing 184

12.3 Dissertations and projects 187

12.4 Electronic writing 188

Email 189

Computer conferencing 189

12.5 Using the Internet as a resource for writing 190

12.6 Evaluating web resources 191

The URL 191

The publisher 191

Personal web pages 192

The author 192

Authority and reliability 192

Date 192

Purpose 193

Omissions 193

12.7 Visual and written texts 194

13 Learning journals and reflective writing 195

13.1 Learning journals 196

What if your learning journal is assessed? 197

What is a learning journal like? 198

Who is your journal for? 200

Different kinds of learning journal: different titles 200

Hand-write or word-process? 201

How can learning journals help you to learn? 202

13.2 Reflecting on practical work 206

13.3 From journals to reflective essays 207

13.4 The 'learning cycle' and different kinds of writing 207

13.5 A final reflection 209

Further reading and some additional sources



211 214 216


The first edition

The material in this book is based on both research and practice that we have been involved in over the last few years. It would be impossible to acknowledge every source from which we have developed our ideas about university writing, but there are those that do require specific mention. The quotes from students are based on what has been said to us over the years in various university settings, where we have worked with, and researched on, students and their writing. The quotes from staff in Chapter 3 were based on interview data collected during work carried out for the Teaching and Curriculum Development Services at the University of Kent, UK. Research by Mary Lea and Professor Brian Street (Perspectives on Academic Literacies: An Institutional Approach), funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, was particularly influential in our thinking. Some materials collected during this and other research - for example, student essays, handouts and course information - have formed the basis for some of our examples. It seemed inappropriate to reference these directly because they were not 'published material' and additionally they had all been made available for students. We hope that if members of academic staff should identify too closely with particular assignment questions they will accept our use of them in good faith as exemplars.

We would like to thank colleagues and students involved in writing workshops, and other staff, at the University of North London.

There are some individuals who have made their own particular contributions. We are grateful to Martha Radice for her piece on mind maps and to Hannah Knox for her example of note taking and her mind map. Thank you also to Hannah for her useful comments on some of the chapters. We thank Charles Knox for his illustrations. We cannot name all the students who have contributed by giving us their understandings of writing assignments but without them this book would never have been written. We would also like to thank our families for their support, particularly in the last stages of putting it all together.

Lastly, writing this book has been a collaborative project in which we have had to merge ways of writing from our own different disciplinary backgrounds. We have not always found this easy and so we would like to acknowledge each other for being supportive at the times when, for one or other of us, confidence in the writing process was lacking.

The second edition

Nearly six years after this book was first published we are revising it in order to take account of some recent changes. Students are now finding themselves having to do many different kinds of writing at university. At the same time, the use of new technologies is becoming commonplace. Chapter 10 explores both of these issues. On many courses students are asked to reflect on and evaluate their own learning, and the use of learning journals is becoming frequent. We have therefore ended this new edition with Chapter 11 on the uses of 'exploratory' writing, which extends the emphasis throughout the book on the relationship between writing and learning.

We would like to acknowledge the contributions of students and tutors at the University of Sussex to Phyllis Creme's research on the uses of 'New Forms of Writing and Assessment', and subsequent work on writing for learning. This research was initially funded by the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) and the National Network for Teaching and Learning Anthropology 1997-8. Particular thanks go to Jane Cowan, Ann Whitehead, Jeff Pratt, William Locke and Neill Thew. We are grateful to Alys Conran, Madeline Knox and Emily Towers for allowing us to use examples of their work. As always the authors would like to acknowledge each other's encouragement and the support of Shona Mullen at Open University Press.

The third edition

In this third edition we have reorganized some parts of the book and have taken account of both reviewers' feedback on the second edition and current concerns and interests in the field. We therefore include more detailed considerations of plagiarism and further exploration of making an argument. In considering argument in Chapter 7, we foreground the dialogic nature of writing. In Chapter 8, we explore plagiarism against the backdrop of a more general discussion about the use of sources.

Phyllis Creme would like to thank Teryn Evans, for her essay on Socrates in Chapter 7, Suzanne Beeke and the PhD students on the UCL Writing and Learning Mentor Programme for their contributions to discussions about argument. We are grateful to Adrian Chapman, Anne McGee, Colleen McKenna, Sally Mitchell, Stephen Rowland and many others for stimulating debates and discussions. We also thank those reviewers who took the trouble to comment on our previous edition and to give us ideas for this one.

Finally, this edition is the product of our collaboration as colleagues and friends over more than a decade, and many fruitful conversations have helped both of us to deepen our understanding of student writing.

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