Tag Archives: Writing

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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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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5 reasons to get rid of Word if you do academic writing

Academic writing is difficult enough without the ‘tools’ making life harder. MS Word is 22 years old! Any system this old would generally be called a ‘legacy’ system. Here are my top reasons for replacing Word.

1. Referencing does not work

The referencing function in MS word is very simple, and generally does not format to academic standards. If you use bibliographic software (e.g., Zotero, Endnote, Mendeley) then you have to manage a plug in, which often fails. Also, the reference types used in these applications (they are pretty much all the same) are mostly ‘not quite right’ forcing you to have to edit the reference in Word. This means you need to (a) know the intricate details of academic referencing, and (b) allow sufficient time for re-formatting.

2. Contents and captions must be re-numbered constantly

Move an image or add headings requires the user to re-number the caption label (for images), or ‘update’ the table of contents when new headings are added. This constant annoyance means continually checking what you are writing, wasting valuable writing time.

3. Formatting often takes longer than writing

Aside from the above two issues, headers & footers, page numbers, bullet alignment, often can get ‘out of whack’, and if you do not know how to manage Word Styles, then formatting can take longer than actually writing.

4. Collaboration requires cut-and-paste assembly

You cannot write collaboratively using MS Word. Which means if you are working on a group project, someone has to take charge to be the cut-and-paste assembler. This person then ends up with all the formatting to do. When it is finally assembled, the  text can seem disjointed because the members have used different writing language, and  then one person needs to edit to fix it up so that it reads ‘as if’ written by one person.

5. Version control is manual

If you are writing over an extended period of time, or writing a large document, then you need to keep different versions of your history ‘just-in-case’ of a system crash, or a hard-drive fail, or because you want to retrieve something you wrote last week.

ComWriter logoThree reasons to use ComWriter for academic writing:

  1. It is in the cloud, saves every 30 seconds, stores history (3-in-1 reason)
  2. Reference and text formatting are done automatically, including numbering, after you hit ‘export’
  3. I can spend more time on researching and writing content, thereby improving the quality of my work

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Linda talking about the future of comwriter

Listen to @LindaGlassop being interviewed by @MatBeeche for Kochies Business Builders StartupLabs: Comwriter

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August 17, 2013 · 11:23 PM

Common Rules for Capital Letter Usage

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Grammar Goofs That Make You Look Silly

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Finding your voice

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ComWriter functionality leaves old ‘word processors’ behind

ComWriter is the only writing platform to provide the breadth of functionality actually needed to write to academic standards (see diagram).

ComWriter functionality outstrips the competitors

ComWriter functionality outstrips the competitors

While Microsoft suggests they support the education market, all they do is provide discounted licenses to an old product. Even their new cloud-based subscriptions (MS365) are a cutdown (and clumsy) version of their tired product. Microsoft’s real target is large corporates.

Likewise Google also suggests it supports the education market. But, realistically Google Docs is not different to MS Word, except that it is a stripped down version that is cloud-based and free. Google’s primary target is small-to-medium enterprises (SMEs) and individuals they can advertise to.

Neither of these suppliers/products actually delivers the functionality required by students and academics to meet academic standards. All the word processors that we have investigated, all seem to work much the same as MS Word. So there has been no real innovation in writing products since the inception of referencing software about 10 years ago!

We think it’s time to change that scenario. And, our mapping of ComWriter’s functionality against these two giant word processors, suggest we have hit the mark.

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Emphasizing words or phrases

Em dash (–), or elongated hyphen
  • An em dash (–), or double hyphen, is used to highlight a phase; for example, “I went to the market–in Petersburg–to see what the fuss was about.” In this case, you are wanting the reader to clearly understand that Petersburg is important.
  • If read aloud, the reader would read the phrase ‘in Petersburg’ with a highlighted tone from the rest of the sentence, to draw attention to the phrase.
  • A double em dash (or four single hyphens) can be used to obscure an obscene word; for example, “It was a d___ shame.”
  • An alternative, is to use brackets (); “I went to the market (in Petersburg) to see what the fuss was about.” In this case, you are not so concerned about the reader understanding where the market was.
  • If read aloud, the reader would read the phrase ‘in Petersburg’ with the same tone as the rest of the sentence.
Italics
  • To place emphasis on a specific word or phrase (e.g., make it emotive) you can italicize it; for example, “Justin went crazy when he heard about the event.”
Underline
  • Underlining a word or phrase also draws the readers attention to the emphasis added. However, today, underlining tends not to be preferred in academic writing.
  • Check your official style guide before using underlining; if in doubt, don’t use it.
Exclamation!
  • Use exclamations (!) sparingly in academic writing to highlight emotion (academic work is meant to be objective, and, therefore, emotion free). For example, “Finally!”

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Quoting and Paraphrasing

When you quote work from other people there are a few rules:

  1. If you leave a word/s out, replace it/them with ellipses (…) “…when you leave a word out of a quoted sentence insert three dots…”
  2. If you change any word/s in a quote (sometimes to make it easier to read), then put the new word/s in square brackets  “…when you leave a word out of a quoted sentence [make sure you include] three dots…”
  3. Always include the reference source, with the page number (if appropriate)
paraphrase is a quote that you re-state in your own words, so you need to include the reference source.

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