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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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The quiet achiever: ComWriter now being used in 49 countries!

ComWriter, an Australian IT startup, is a cloud-based writing application for students and faculty. It combines the power of Word with the power of EndNote in a single application designed for today’s higher education needs. The product has had a quiet launch over the past 6 months and today hit a new milestone: 6,000 users in 49 countries. So that makes an average of 1,000 users per month and 5 new countries each month. Not bad for a soft entry into the difficult higher education market.

ComWriter hits 6000 users

Dr Linda Glassop, a former academic and the founder of ComWriter said “It is thrilling to get positive feedback on all our hard work”, “Our users seem to have little trouble adapting to ComWriter once they get their mind around our awesome innovation: eliminating formatting!”

Yes, that is correct, ComWriter does all the formatting for you: references AND text, leaving students and faculty free to concentrate on writing content. So, all those challenges with formatting references (you know, commas, colons, italics, all in the right place), not to mention headers-and-footers, have all been eliminated in an easy-to-use cloud-based product.

A Public Library in the cloud: heaven for researchers!

Users can also find references in ComWriter’s Public Library! Linda said their Public Library has access to 2 billion records…now that’s another mind-bending innovation given we aren’t talking about Google! Linda said “ComWriter is capable of writing a first year essay or a full dissertation” “My dissertation has 300 pages, with more than 500 references. We’ve used it as a test case and all the formatting gets done automatically by ComWriter in 1.15 minutes!” “I wish I had ComWriter back in 2000 when I submitted, it would have saved me a very big headache!” Linda sighed.

ComWriter has a free version and can be found at www.comwriter.com.

 

12 February, 2015

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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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15 steps to academic hell: or 5 steps to academic perfection…your decision!

I recently came across this article that explains in 15 steps how to use Citavi (resource storage software) with Scrivener (writing software for a MAC) to format your in-text citations and produce a bibliography.

15 steps to link Citavi with Scrivener to produce an academic paper

Alternatively, you could:

  1. Store your resources in ComWriter [or find them in our Public library]
  2. Write using ComWriter
  3. Write-and-cite as you go
  4. Add a Smart List/Bibliography
  5. Click export

All done!

50x50

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This Old Dog has a New Trick!

Old dog, new tricks

I recently came across an article from Harvard Business Review (see HBR Blog) claiming that CEOs are too old to innovate! Although, the author does acknowledge that older CEOs might have some worthwhile skills:

“Of course, the CEO job also requires more than creativity, and additional years of experience may help with this broader set of duties. For instance, researchers estimated the peak age for good financial decision making to be 53. So while creativity is probably in decline for most people by the time they hit 50, other critical management skills are still improving.” (Frick, 2014)

My reply was this:

“As an academic I praise research, but the problem with this research is that disruptive ‘innovation’ is, generally speaking, atypical. Nobel prize winners are ‘typical’, that’s what they do for a living: scientific research. As a 55+ female with an IT startup (www.comwriter.com), I could only have done this with the experience that I have garnered over the years. Most young entrepeneurs don’t make it because of a lack of business experience (not lack of ideas!).”

I think it is time we stopped stereotyping ‘older’ versus ‘younger’ individuals. Innovation is what some people do, and what some don’t!

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Finally, a bibliographic tool for legal referencing

Legal referencing is pretty difficult, but made even more so by the antiquated approaches taken by the current bibliographic tools. Compare the facts (see Table):

  1. Judicial material: Endnote has 2 types, Mendeley & Zotero 1, ComWriter has 6
  2. Legislative material: Endnote has 4 types, Mendeley & Zotero 3, ComWriter has 11
  3. International material: Endnote, Mendeley & Zotero have NIL, ComWriter has 2
Compare Bibliographic Tools

Compare Bibliographic Tools

If you use Treaty references a lot, we have you covered with: Bilateral, Multilateral and not yet in force being sorted automatically based on the data input into the reference. And, UN Official Document is able to sort through the complex array of details to present a perfect result.

Try now for FREE!email_signature (1)

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Academic writing now in a single platform

ComWriter is an integrated word processor and bibliographic tool; and it keeps your work in the cloud. ComWriter allows you to:

  • store your research library
  • select a pre-defined style (e.g., APA, Harvard, and more)
  • use writing templates (coming soon)
  • write your academic paper or essay using modern tools (smart lists, drop-n-drag), cite your references, add a bibliography, automated numbering
  • export your project formatted professionally based on your pre-defined style (text and references)

Write smarter with ComWriter

 

The referencing in ComWriter is more accurate than any other bibliographic tool! Try it for FREE.

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Referencing accounts for up to 20% of academic grades!

University writing is quite a science, and catches many students and seasoned academics out. The rules are complex, and the range of material that can be referenced makes the task a changing target. Academics that set assignments for their students, often assign up to 20% of the final mark to referencing!

A journal article, for example, is a common reference item, yet referencing depends on:

  • academic style (Harvard, APA, etc)
  • the type of journal material: full article, editorial, supplemental material, abstract, letter, and more
  • the way the journal is indexed: volume number only, volume and issue number, volume as a year, issue as a season
  • whether the item was found online, in a database, or is a hardcopy

If you use Endnote, Zotero, Mendeley or any other bibliographic software, you can’t be guaranteed that the reference for a journal article will be correct, because they have limited types available and they can’t figure out if you have the season, or volume stuff sorted. These software products all work much the same way, so we haven’t had a tool (until now) that outputs accurate references!

ComWriter is a new breed of academic tool that has re-engineered the referencing process…

ComWriter is a new breed of academic tool that has re-engineered the referencing process, from the perspective of the desired output!

  • Pre-defined styles: APA, Harvard, MLA, MHRA, and more (references and text is auto-formatted)
  • A range of reference types that mean you can change a ‘journal article’ to be an editorial, or a book review, or one of the other kinds of journal material
  • simply identify the source: hardcopy, online, database and the details are taken care of
  • whether you have volume, issue, year or season data, it is interrogated to produce the correct output

Here is a sample of APA journal references exported from ComWriter:

Author1, A., Author2, B. & Author3, C. (2013). Abstract only in journal [Abstract]. Journal Title, 6(7), 1-20. doi:12345

Author16, M., Author17, N. & Author18, P. (2013). Editorial in journal [Editorial]. Journal Title, 6(7), 1-20. Retrieved from http://www.comwriter.com.

Author22, R., Author23, S. & J., & Author24, T. (2013). Journal article: With volume only. Journal Title, 6, 1-20. doi:12345

Author34, W., Author35, L. & Author36, M. (2013). Letter in journal [Letter to editor].  Journal Title, 6(7), 1-20. doi:12345

Author40, X., Author41, M. & Author42, J. (2013). Monograph in journal [Monograph]. Journal Title, 6(7), 1-20. doi:12345

Author59, Z., Author60, M. & Author61, L. (2013). Supplemental journal material [Supplemental material]. Journal Title, 6(7), pp. S1-S20.

Author65, R., Author66, S. & Author67, T. (2013). Journal article: with volume and season. Journal Title, 30(Spring), 1-20. doi:12345

Author71, A…. Author80, K. (2014). Journal article: with volume and issue. Journal Title, 7(3), 1-20. doi:12345

AuthorA, A., AuthorB, A. & JournalC, C. (2014). Journal article: with issue only. Journal Title, (23).

AuthorE, E., AuthorF, F. & AuthorG, G. (2014). Journal article: With season only. Journal Title, (January-February), 1-20. doi:12345

Journal-Editor47, D., Journal-Editor48, E. & Journal-Editor49, F. (Eds.). (2013). Section in special issue of journal [Special section]. Journal Title, 6(7), 1-20. doi:12345

Journal-Reviewer10, A., Journal-Reviewer11, B. & Journal-Reviewer12, C. (2013). Book review in journal [Review of Book Title, by D. Journal7, K. Journal8 & L. Journal9]. Journal Title, 6(7), 1-20. doi:12345

Great looking references eh!

(ps., ComWriter will do a hanging indent)

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Writing University Papers is Easy Using ComWriter: watch this

 

 

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March 21, 2014 · 9:46 AM

Accolades for ComWriter @Educause USA

Anaheim, Ca. 15-17 October, 2013

The ComWriter booth in Startup Alley at Educause, USA was kept busy with interest from Universities (MIT, Duke, Georgia, SF, USC, Fort Hays, UNC, Indiana, Penn State and more), Colleges (St Marys, West Hills), Publishers (MacMillian, Cengage, Norton, McGraw Hill, Nelson), and Providers of Learning Management Systems (Blackboard, D2L and Canvas). Visitors stated “awesome”, “this will be big”, “this could go viral” as they got excited by the innovative features of ComWriter. Linda Glassop and Josh Kekwick were kept busy demonstrating ComWriter throughout the Exhibition. Dr Glassop said “We are very encouraged to get such fantastic validation for ComWriter in this important market”

ComWriter Visits @Educause USA

ComWriter Visits @Educause USA

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