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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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