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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5 ways to fail University

 

5 ways to fail university

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February 2, 2015 · 9:01 PM

Write-and-Cite: 5 Tasks to Complete Your Academic Paper

Writing an academic paper doesn’t have to be a drama. Just follow these five steps and you are on your way. Even more exciting is that these five steps can be undertaken within the one software application: ComWriter has been built to help you write-and-cite your college paper.

Write-and-cite todo list
1. Make sure you know what academic style you need to use (e.g., Harvard, APA, MLA, or others). Your teacher should inform you about this. [in ComWriter it’s a single click to add the one you want into My Styles]

2. Conduct some research on your topic to find approx. 5 resources (e.g., books, articles, websites). [with ComWriter you can search their public library and store what you found in My Library]

3. Start writing your project: [ComWriter has a template called ‘My First Project’ that looks a bit like this]

  • Cover page (title, your name, date, etc)
  • Introduction (what are you writing about, what did you find and in what order are you going to present your findings)
  • Key point #1 (the first main thing you found)
  • Key point #2 (the second main thing you found)
  • Key point #3 (the third main thing you found)
  • Key point #4 (the fourth main thing you found)
  • Conclusion (what you set out to do, what you found, any recommendations, any limitations or concerns)
  • Bibliography (list of resources)

4. Cite your resources in your paragraphs as you write (citing resources means you can verify what you are saying; i.e., back up your findings) [ComWriter makes citing a resource as simple as adding a link]

5. Take a look at what you have produced to make sure it is in the right format (the tradition is: double line spaced, 12 point font, times new roman) [ComWriter does this all automatically; just click Export]

 

If you need some help with grammar, you can also use Grammarly in ComWriter (for free).

grammerly

 

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January 30, 2015 · 6:00 PM

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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ComWriter automatically overcomes 50% of common APA problems

Common APA Errors

EndNote has published an infographic to help students avoid the pitfalls of formatting to APA. So, we took a look and found that ComWriter can automatically overcome 50% of these problems.

The most common APA errors [ComWriter’s style automates more than 50%]

  • No running head / incorrectly formatted head (86.3%)
    • the running head has been placed in the template [included in the ComWriter’s style]
    • save style as new to customize the running head
    • the running head is a short title
    • add the running head in capitals
  • Errors with in-text citations (84%)
    • multiple citations of the same author are managed automatically  [included in the ComWriter’s style]
    • make sure to order multiple citations with different Author names alphabetically (as they would appear in the bibliography)
    • incorrect use of ‘et al’  [included in the ComWriter’s style]
    • incorrect use of commas and ampersands (&) [included in the ComWriter’s style]
    • incorrect use of double-spacing between lines [included in the ComWriter’s style]
  • Did not have page numbers / page numbers weren’t properly formatted (75%) [included in the ComWriter’s style]
    • page numbering has been added to the ComWriter APA style, so they will be accurate
  • Abstract was missing or heading wasn’t properly formatted (72.7%)
    • add your abstract to the Preliminaries, and it will be formatted properly
    • add a Heading 1, and it will be formatted properly [included in the ComWriter’s style]
    • make sure your abstract is no more then 120 words
  • Did not include keywords (61.3%)
    • add keywords in a Long quote (to ensure it is indented and block) in the Preliminaries
    • italicize the word Keywords, but do not bold
  • Incorrect margin format (52.2%) [included in the ComWriter’s style]
    • The margin is formatted automatically to 1 inch
  • Incorrect quotations (50%)
    • short quotes should be added in-text with quotation  marks at either end “…”
    • quotations of 40 or more words should be placed in a ‘Long Quote’, with no quotation marks at either end
  • First line of paragraphs not indented (43.1%) [included in the ComWriter’s style]
    • APA (6th edition) stipulates that all paragraphs should be indented (APA 2010, p.229)
  • More than 120 words in the abstract (34%)
    • this is a manual task

APA’s 10 Commandments:  [ComWriter’s style automates 50%]

According to the blog, the APA has ten commandments. The following explains how ComWriter can automatically mange these issues.

  1. Font: 12 point font for all text, except tables and figures, which can use 8 point type [included in the ComWriter’s style]
  2. Spacing: doouble line space all text  [included in the ComWriter’s style]
  3. Margins: set to one inch  [included in the ComWriter’s style]
  4. Page numbers: appears in upper right-hand corner [included in the ComWriter’s style]
  5. Running Head: appears in the upper left-hand corner in capitals  [included in the ComWriter’s style, but customize the style to add your short title]
  6. Boldface and Underlines: do not use underline, bold or italics (except for headings)
  7. Punctuation: add a comma (,) at the end of each item in a list that contains three or more items (shorter lists should be added in-text)
  8. Capitalization: Job titles are not capitalized, nor are names of theories, diseases, models or conditions
  9. Numbers: nine and lower are written in full, others are presented as numerals (unless they begin a sentence)
  10. Percentages: always appear as numbers (unless they begin a sentence)

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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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IT Startup Poised for International Success

After just 3 months on the market, the ComWriter startup hits 5,000 registered users from 39 countries. ComWriter is a cloud-based writing application for students and faculty to write assignments, dissertations and journal articles. This innovative product combines a word processor, a bibliographic tool, and an online library within the same platform. ComWriter’s primary innovation is the auto formatting of references and text to academic standards with one click of the mouse using pre-defined styles.

ComWriter hits 5000 Sign Ups

Dr Glassop, a former academic and IT executive, is the founder of ComWriter. Linda said “This is a very exciting milestone to reach for our fledgling company.” “It demonstrates that there is a significant need for an innovative writing tool in Higher Education.”

Linda has had her fair share of dissenters. After all it requires a lot of courage to take on Microsoft Word AND Endnote in one hit. Linda explains “Word is 22 years old, and Endnote is 17 years old.” “It is about time we had a product designed specifically for academic work.”

The productivity gains with ComWriter have seen undergraduates getting High Distinctions for their assignments, and PhD students flocking to the  app. While ‘app’ seems to be an understatment for this behemonth platform, the future looks rosie for this Australian innovation.

There is a FREE version for High School students to get University-ready. Looks like Linda has thought of everything!

Issued: 2 December, 2014

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Writing a Thesis Statement

Academic writing is generally associated with researching something. When we conduct research, we must first identify what the focus of our research might be. This is achieved with a thesis statement. A thesis statement is a proposition (proposal), a theory about how something works; e.g., Gravity makes Apples fall down to Earth, the Earth rotates around an axis.

Newton-apple

  • thesis: cause followed by effect
  • cause: gravity
  • effect: objects, such as apples, fall down to Earth

 

In the case of Newton, he observed apples falling from trees, and wondered why this happened. He then developed a theory about what he observed: “Gravity makes Apples fall down to Earth.”

The difference between a proposition and a hypothesis, is that a proposition is generally untested; whereas a thesis statement is part of a research program that you are setting out to test. Data are collected to verify/refute the thesis. For example:

  • Thesis statement: “Students leave assignments until the night before they are due.” This is my theory about student behaviour.
  • The problem with a thesis statement is that it makes an assertion about fact: ‘the night before’. Someone else might have another theory that they start assignments 2 days before. Different hypotheses (theories) make a thesis contentious. If something is contentious, then it needs to be investigated to find out which theory is correct.
  • The research question associated with either thesis statement is: “How many days before an assignment is due, do students start their assignments?” Your research is going to set out to find the answer to this question, thereby testing the thesis.
  • Data to verify: We can survey a bunch of students and ask them: “How many days before an assignment is due, do you generally start?” This is a survey question to collate data for finding out the answer to the research question, thereby testing which theory is correct.
  • Results: Some students might say “10 days”, some might say “1 day”, when we average the results, we have a conclusion: “On average, students start assignments 2.7 days before it is due.” This represents the findings from our research (asking students about their behaviour with regards assignments).

Thesis satements that have been tested, data collected and analysed, are also subject to bias. For example, if you only asked one student, then this data would be insufficient to reach a conclusion. If you asked 100 students in a specific Faculty, on a specific Campus, then this data would be more reliable. Generally speaking, the more answers you receive for your research question, the more reliable your findings are going to be.

Academic research is a tricky business, but finding out how the world works has been the subject of academe for centuries. Today we know a great deal about how our world and its inhabitants work. All from researching and finding reliable answers to our theories!

 

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