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Tips and tricks to improve academic writing.

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Top Tips for Citing Books

Getting your references right is always a challenge, but here are my top tips for citing books.

Citing Books

 

To find out more about getting your reference data correct, visit our ‘cheat sheet‘.

 

 

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PREP your Paragraphs

 

 

PREP is an acronym for Point, Reason, Example and Point. These four keys enable a writer to construct logical prose. Without a logical method, writing is a hit-and-miss affair. PREP ensures that your listener will take notice of what you have to say.

Every time you want to make a point, you need to:

  1. Describe the Point (P) you wish to make (e.g., business students need to learn how to conduct research).
  2. Explain the Reason (R) why your point is important so the reader knows why they need to know the point (e.g., proper research generates reliable and objective data on which management can base decisions).
  3. Provide an Example (E) that illustrates your point (e.g., incorrect information about a competitor could lead to a costly and inappropriate advertising campaign).
  4. Describe the Point (P) you have made (e.g., research that is accurate and up-to-date ensures that management decisions will be successful).

The result is a coherent paragraph:

Business students need to learn how to conduct research. Proper research generates reliable and objective data on which management can base decisions. For example, incorrect information about a competitor could lead to a costly and inappropriate advertising campaign. Therefore, research that is accurate and up-to-date ensures that management decisions will be successful.

 

 

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Finding a Journal to Publish your Article

By Dr Linda Glassop

@lindaglassop, @comwriter

 

Reputation is built on the back of publication activity and/or teaching performance. It is, therefore, an objective of most Faculty members to raise their profile by publishing research work. Trying to identify which journal to target can feel like a hit-or-miss affair, and targeting the top tier journals can seem onerous. However, there is some science that can be applied before you even put pen to paper.

Scimag ranking data

Figure 1: Scimago stores a range of data for ranking journals

Five tips for selecting the right Journal

  1. Use the journal ranking information to find the top 10 journals in your subject area. The following indicators can be used to compile a list of candidates. This data is available from Scimago (see Figure 1).
    1. SJR (an overall measure of a journal’s impact, influence or prestige).
    2. H-index (number of articles receiving citations).
    3. ‘Cites per doc’ indicates the journal’s impact (i.e., are people taking notice of their articles).
  2. Match your proposed keywords with the list of potential journals. There is no data available on the keyword trends for a specific journal. So, you will need to do a little homework by looking at the kinds of articles that were published over the last year. Revise your top 10 list to have at least 5 with your proposed keywords.
  3. Number of Authors. There is no data available on the number of authors for articles in a specific journal. So, you will need to do a little homework by looking at the articles that were published over the last year. If the Journal has trended towards 2 or 3+ Authors, then you will need to ensure that your article has an appropriate number of co-authors. Hint: having at least one international author does increase your likelihood of being accepted.
  4. Identify a target for the number of references to include in your article by looking at the Journal’s history. Scimago lists the number of ‘Refs per doc’ for each Journal for 2015.
  5. Have a prioritised list of 5 journals. As you write your article, you may find that it is more suited to a different journal than when you started out. Also, it is wise to ensure you have some alternatives in mind and are meeting their criteria.

#happywriting

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Misconceptions about academic writing

By Dr Linda Glassop

@lindaglassop

 

Writing a paper for a university assignment can be a daunting task. It often appears that University Professors are asking for rather strange things and appear to allocate marks randomly. However, writing for University is not something ‘special’ to catch undergraduates out. Writing at University is first-and-foremost about good communication and involves:

  • creating a logical argument (Does your line of discussion make sense?)
  • ensuring you have conducted research and that it is up-to-date (Does your argument consider what is already known?)
  • setting your argument out in a coherent and readable form (Can I read it?)
  • providing citations to the sources of your research (Are your sources legitimate?)

Common misconceptions include:

  1. If I add colour to my headings, borders, background, and the like, it will ‘look’ awesome
  2. Content is what matters; I have the required wordcount
  3. Citations are something the Professor tries to catch me out on

These misconceptions couldn’t be further from the truth. Color can muddy the appearance and make your paper look jazzy, but it is a distraction from actually reading what you have found out. This is a simpler response that requires minimal effort for students:

  1. Professors want students to develop their writing skills, not their graphic design skills (unless of course you are studying graphic design). Black and White looks crisp, clean and often more professional than color.
  2. Content is important, but it is the logic of the argument that counts. Quality of discussion, not quantity. Cutting and pasting the words of others means you have nothing to say for yourself. Professors are interested in what ideas students can develop, not what others have already written. Also, plagiarism is easy for Professors to detect, so avoid the problem in the first place and develop your own ideas and thoughts.
  3. Referencing is about acknowledging whose ideas you have relied on in order to develop your own ideas. This informs your Professor about the depth of your ideas and whether they are informed (by literature) or naive (assertions).

The formatting for citations and bibliographies can be quite complex and is different for each ‘discipline’ (field of study). This is why Professors use tools like ComWriter to do the reference formatting for them. Professors don’t waste time trying to remember how to do references, they use available tools.

Here is a marking guide that I used to use for first-year Management students undertaking a simple review of the literature. It provides an excellent guide for what University Professors are looking for.

 

Learning objective
Performance Indicator
Poor
(0 point)
Needs Improvement
(1 points)
Acceptable
(2 points)
Well Done
(3 points)
Excellent
(4 points)
Find information appropriate to the task
(max. 4 points)
·  No journal articles selected or the articles selected are of poor quality (not on listing)
·  Articles are out-of-date.
·  An inadequate range of journal articles (C) selected
·  Some articles are out-of-date (pre 1980)
·  A reasonable range of journal articles ( B, C) selected
·  Articles are up-to-date (2000 and onwards).
·  A good range of quality (A, B) journal articles selected
· Articles are up-to-date.
· A good range of high-quality journal articles (A) selected
·  Articles are up-to-date.
 
Evaluate and organise information in a logical and coherent way
(max. 4 points)
· Poor Introduction, no background, objectives or conclusions
· Headings not provided and/or inappropriate.
· Information provided does not relate to the task.
· Discussion is disjointed and fragmented.
· Introduction provides  little  information
· Some headings not provided and/or inappropriate.
· Some information provided relates to the task, but is incomplete.
·  Discussion lacks flow and is somewhat disjointed and fragmented.
· Introduction provides  some  information
· Headings and sub-headings are appropriate.
· Information provided relates to the task but is cursory.
·  Discussion flows well, but is disjointed or fragmented in some places.
· A good introduction with background, objectives or conclusions
· Headings and sub-headings are appropriate.
· Information covers the breadth of the task, and shows some depth.
· Discussion has a logical flow, but is a little fragmented.
·  Excellent Introduction, clear background, objectives or conclusions
· Headings and sub-headings are appropriate.
· Information clearly covers the breadth and depth of the task.
· Discussion has a logical flow and coherent line of argument.
 
 
Critically analyse and synthesise the  information gathered
(max. 4 points)
· The essay is mostly descriptive.
· No constructive analysis of the information.
· No conclusions draw.
· No recommendations made.
· Some attempt to provide a balanced discussion has been provided.
·  No constructive analysis of the information.
· A summary rather than conclusions is provided.
· No recommendations provided.
· A balanced discussion has been provided.
· The constructive analysis is cursory.
· The conclusions drawn have a relationship with the information presented.
· Some recommendations made but they are inadequate.
· A balanced discussion has been provided.
· A constructive analysis is present but lacks depth.
· The conclusions drawn have a clear relationship with the information presented.
· Recommendations are adequate and show some knowledge about the subject matter.
· A balanced discussion has been provided.
· The constructive analysis shows depth of knowledge and insight.
· The conclusions have a clear relationship with the information presented.
· Recommendations show depth of knowledge about the subject matter.
 
Communicate information accurately
(max. 4 points)
· Extensive spelling and/or grammatical errors.
· References do not use the Harvard method correctly.
· In-text citations not utilised or inaccurate.
· Paraphrasing closely resembles a quote.
· Too much quoted material provided and presented incorrectly.
· Some spelling and/or grammatical errors.
· An attempt to use the Harvard method has been made, but not entirely correct.
· In-text citations are mostly inaccurate.
· Paraphrasing uses too much of the authors own words.
· Too much quoted material provided, and some presented incorrectly.
· Few spelling and/or grammatical errors.
· References provided under the Harvard method are accurate in most cases.
· In-text citations are accurate in most cases.
· Paraphrasing correctly portrays another’s ideas in student’s own words.
· Too much quoted material used, but presented correctly.
· No spelling and/or grammatical errors.
· References provided under the Harvard method are accurate.
· In-text citations are accurate.
· Paraphrasing correctly portrays another’s ideas in student’s own words.
· Fewer quotations could be used, but presented correctly.
· No spelling and/or grammatical errors.
· References provided under the Harvard method are accurate.
· In-text citations are accurate.
· Paraphrasing correctly portrays another’s ideas in student’s own words.
· Quotations used sparingly and presented correctly.

 

Posted: January 28, 2016

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The Inadequacy of Word Processors for Academic Writing

There are more than 130 million students and faculty in Higher Education worldwide. Every one of these individuals needs to write academic papers and articles. However, the tools we have for academic writing are extremely limited (see Table 1):

  • Microsoft Word is, primarily, desktop with a wide range of features making it difficult to learn and demands too much time to manage the formatting, and also causes version control issues
  • Google docs is a cloud-based product with excellent collaboration features, but is limited for most academic work
  • Scrivener is a Mac product that has some nice note features, but has a very confusing user interface
  • Authorea is a relatively new cloud-based word processor, but it is a latex product that requires knowledge of this technical language

The top 5 limitations are:

1. Reference data must be interfaced with a third-party tool (e.g., Mendeley, Endnote, Zotero)

Integrating third party tools to manage reference data often causes issues, and the limitations of these tools is also problematic. Google docs enables footnote citing with Google Scholar and web searches, but its inability to produce in-text citations renders it useless for most undergraduate writing.

2. Formatting often takes up more time than writing (i.e., it is difficult to get consistency)

What-you-see-is-what-you-get (WYSIWYG) editors are great for visualizing the end product and generally offer a wide range of tools to achieve most things. The disadvantage, however, is that it becomes difficult to get consistency, and more time is often spent on formatting  rather than on content development. Frustration with formatting is generally the end result.

3. Functionality is missing (e.g., a list of images, image captions, equation editing)

When writing academic reports there is the need for a list of figures and tables. Google docs is inadequate in this regard, and MS Word requires that you update image numbers before the list is generated, making it a tedious time-waster if you have a lot of images.

4. Notes and comment need to be deleted before printing

In line comments and notes are very useful for keeping track of what is required to be done or for recording feedback. However, all these tools require inline comments to be deleted before output can be created, thereby losing valuable information.

5. Collaboration requires control over different versions

While Google docs has excellent collaboration features, it becomes ineffective due to its other limitations for academic writing. MS Word has no history functionality, so the only way to manage collaboration is to share files with your collaborations. Sharing files has been made easier with products like DropBox, but this generally causes the need to maintain different versions of the same document, which can be a nightmare.

Compare Writing Products

Table 1: Comparison of Word Processing tools

 

ComWriter is a cloud-based writing tool dedicated to the needs of students and faculty. Here are five reasons to make the switch:

1. Formatting (headings, text, captions) is contained in pre-defined styles ensuring everything is formatted consistently and quickly based on academic standards (or customize your own style)

2. Numbering is done as you export allowing you to make as many changes as you like without the need to re-format (image numbers, page numbers, heading numbers)

3. Cut-and-paste is replaced with drop-n-drag making it easier to restructure writing

4. History is saved allowing you to go back in time to see changes

5. Templates are structural rather than design-based providing a head start on writing that next paper

Future functions include notes & comments that do not need to be deleted, collaboration, automated glossary, history slider, and more.

 

About the author: Dr Linda Glassop is a published author and the founder of ComWriter, a cloud-based writing application for students and researchers. Linda has made it her mission to make writing to academic standards easy.

 

 

 

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ComWriter has more theology journal styles than Endnote or Zotero

Theology journal style guides

Australia, 5 June, 2015

Today ComWriter released 21 theology journal style guides to their bank of styles, making it a more robust site for theology writing than either Endnote or Zotero. Of special interest is the ability of ComWriter to style references and footnotes to biblical literary standards.

Dr Glassop, founder & CEO of ComWriter said “Theology writing is complex given its historic origins”, “nonetheless, biblical literature deserves the support of modern technology”.

Other features unique to ComWriter include the use of biblical fonts (Greek, Hebrew and Lit), enabling Old Testament researchers, and other specialty fields, to compile accurate text online.

Dr Glassop said there were ten other journal style guides under development that would be released shortly. Currently, ComWriter supports:

  • AJS Review (Association for Jewish Studies)
  • Australian Biblical Review
  • Australian Ejournal of Theology
  • Church History
  • Communio: International Catholic Review
  • Harvard Theological Review
  • Heythrop Journal
  • History of Religions
  • International Journal of Practical Theology
  • International Journal of Systematic Theology
  • Irish Theological Quarterly
  • Journal of Beliefs and Values: Studies in religion and education
  • Journal of Biblical Literature
  • Journal of Early Christian Studies
  • Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
  • Journal of Ecclesiastical History
  • Pacifica: Australasian theological studies
  • Review of Biblical Literature
  • Semeia Studies
  • TC: A Journal of Biblical Textual Criticism
  • Theological Studies

These styles are primarily based on Chicago footnotes or the style developed by the Society for Biblical Literature (USA).

ComWriter is a cloud-based writing application for Faculty and students: write, reference, manage your library online, search more than 2 billion records for ready-made referencing. ComWriter is re-writing the way we write in Higher Education.

For more information visit: comwriter.com  or theology.comwriter.com

 

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Writing Proficiency Threatens the Success of Every Student

By Dr Linda Glassop, Composeright Pty Ltd

Academic writing is a critical success factor for University because it relates to assignment work. While many assignments might include other activities (e.g., presentations, demonstrations, or the development of physical items), writing is the predominant mode of communication for assignment work. To lack proficiency in academic writing threatens the success of every student.

Stressed student

Most Australian universities provide little support to students for academic writing. It would appear that Universities assume students have the skills when they arrive, or will figure it out on their own. Typically, University support is provided thus:

  • The library: Librarians are an excellent resource for helping students find research material, and for assisting with referencing. However, students generally need to take advantage of this resource on-campus during library hours
  • Style guides and other help sheets: the libraries at most universities provide a number of online help sheets for reference styles, writing tips and other issues related to writing. However, in this modern technology era, the idea that students will read a help sheet or indeed come on campus during library hours, is ill-informed
  • Study Skills: Most universities offer some sort of study or academic skills support. A student can make a booking with an advisor, attend a short course or seek out help sheets.

What is sadly lacking, however, is access to:

  • tutoring; specifically targeting academic writing, during the hours a student needs it (more often than not, in the evening or week-end)
  • online support, for seeking assistance (e.g., how to search the library databases)
  • tools that assist with writing, such as bibliographic software

On this last point, most Australian Universities do provide some bibliographic software support (e.g., EndNote), but this tool is primarily geared towards seasoned researchers (rendering it complex for an undergraduate to use) or not provided to undergraduates at all. Also, referencing is only one aspect of the complex process related to academic writing:

  1. Understanding the assignment (i.e., what is being asked)
  2. Finding research material related to the assignment task
  3. Knowing the difference between a thesis, a proposition and an assertion
  4. Structuring a story relevant to the assignment question
  5. Understanding the essentials of writing structure (e.g., introductions, conclusions)
  6. Quoting and paraphrasing to avoid plagiarism
  7. Providing a grammatically correct communique
  8. Referencing research material appropriate to the discipline (citations, footnotes, bibliography and image captions)
  9. Formatting a document relevant to the task (e.g., preparing an essay versus a report)

1. Understanding the assignment (i.e., what is being asked)

If you fail to clearly understand what is being asked, then the answer a student provides will miss the mark. Work done will go for naught. Examining a research question involves unpacking the keywords and identifying the aim or purpose of the question (i.e., getting to the heart of the matter).

Tools available: None that I am aware of, except blogs, help sheets and books explaining ‘how to’

2. Finding research material related to the assignment task

Libraries themselves and library databases have a wealth of information. Sorting through all that data requires knowledge of researching using keywords, understanding the value of current information compared with older information, constructing a review of the literature in the field of inquiry and knowing how to manage what you find, so it doesn’t get lost.

Tools available: None that I am aware of, except blogs, help sheets and books explaining ‘how to’

3. Knowing the difference between a thesis, a proposition and an assertion

The ability to convey meaning is indeed a craft rather than a science. But, the ability to carefully build a story around a central theme requires intimate understanding of the role of language. To make an ill-found claim is an assertion, to suggest something is to make a proposition, to state how something might behave is to posit a theory. Research work is important to our world. It helps us understand what is going on and our position in that world. A lack of understanding about the fundamentals of our own thoughts fails to provide the skills that will challenge beliefs. Challenging our beliefs constitutes progress, but it must be done in a thoughtful manner if anyone is to take notice. Beliefs that have evidence are theories we can all subscribe to. Beliefs that are forced upon us tend to get rejected outright.

Tools available: None that I am aware of, except blogs, help sheets and books explaining ‘how to’

4. Structuring a story relevant to the assignment question

Education was founded on philosophy. The great philosophers had an intimate understanding of the art of forging an argument. Politicians are also great orators, but the difference is that Politicians tend to ignore the question, speaking of what they want you to hear rather than what is being asked about. Great orators know how to stay on task, and weave their story into a convincing argument supported by good evidence.

Tools available: Some templates can be found in various word processors; ComWriter has more structured templates; otherwise it is blogs, help sheets and books explaining ‘how to’

5. Understanding the essentials of writing structure (e.g., introductions, conclusions)

Starting and finishing your story can is like welcoming your guests and bidding them farewell; it is not something you would ignore or overlook. But the customs of welcome and farewell are learned from our peers and mentors.

Tools available: None that I am aware of, except blogs, help sheets and books explaining ‘how to’. ComWriter templates have a structured approach.

6. Quoting and paraphrasing to avoid plagiarism

Many people have said many things. It is important to acknowledge the great writers in our field and use them (politely) to support our arguments. The ability to weave another’s words into our story is quite challenging. I once heard a well qualified Professor say “I call this…” I was shocked, because what he claimed was ‘his’ (I) were the words of another well-known author in the field. Plagiarism is theft! Stealing other’s ideas without acknowledgment is appalling. But building on what has gone before is evolution. Evolution is founded on history (previous knowledge that we must acknowledge).

Tools available: TurnitIn, Grammarly

7. Providing a grammatically correct communique

English is fast becoming a generic language, but there are different flavors (or is that flavours)! For many students undertaking study in the English language poses a real problem when it is not their native language. I have my regular grammar mistakes that seem to haunt me, but trying to make sure our words can be understood is the central goal to communication.

Tools available: Grammarly, can be used in any word processor but is free for online product like ComWriter

8. Referencing research material appropriate to the discipline (citations, footnotes, images, bibliography)

Acknowledging our resource sources is something we learn at University or College. The rules are complex and, quite frankly, antiquated. But rules are there for a reason and we must try and obey. There are many tools available to support referencing, but they are generally antiquated and complex to use. Further, they must be integrated with our word processors or use copy-cut-and-paste. Writing is central to academic work, so it is crazy that we have not a single tool to assist with this. Although ComWriter is one such new tool working towards this goal.

Tools available: EndNote, Zotero, Mendeley, Papers, BibMe, ComWriter

9. Formatting a document relevant to the profession and the task (e.g., essay versus report)

Word Processors all work the same and have endless features and menus. It requires a significant amount of time to become acquainted with these tools, let alone become an expert. Students can spend endless hours formatting documents rather than concentrating on structuring their story.

Tools available: There is only one tool that I am aware of that will automatically format text: ComWriter

A happy stundet concentrating on writing good content

Conclusion 

Students enter education for one purpose: skill development. Our role as teachers is to evaluate their skills. Written communication is still the primary mode for evaluating a student’s skill development. Yet we provide little by way of innovative support in this area. Tools are fragmented and old, the rules are complex and difficult to understand, support is lacking, and stress is high. Student Evaluation Surveys tell us about these problems over-and-over again. ComWriter is an innovative new writing platform dedicating itself to enhancing academic writing proficiency. Imagine: a library that acts like a google search, a word processor that has modern tools, the absence of formatting, and the ability to get assistance online. Imagine a learning environment where the pain of evaluation has been eliminated and I am free to explore my own ideas and creativity. Imagine no longer, compose right with ComWriter: NOW AVAILABLE.

 

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ComWriter is now Grammarly Enabled

Write-and-cite, then check your grammar; all online. Academic writing has never been easier!

The #1 Writing Tool

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5 ways to fail University

 

5 ways to fail university

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February 2, 2015 · 9:01 PM