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Writing for modules

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John Grey

on 14 December 2016

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Transcript of Writing for modules

E-books in the library

Creme, P. & Lea, M. (2008) Writing at University : a guide for students. 3rd ed. Milton Keynes: Open University Press.  
Kirton, B. & McMillan, K. (2006) Just Write. London: Routledge Ltd.  
Murray, N. & Hughes, G. (2008) Writing up your University Assignments and Research Projects. Milton Keynes: Open University Press.  
Neville, C. (2008) How to improve your assignment results. Milton Keynes: Open University Press. 

Other reading

Chandler, D., (2003) Writing Academic Essays and Reports [on-line]: University of Wales, Aberystwyth: Available: http://www.aber.ac.uk/media/Modules/writess.html Accessed: 14 September 2008

ATHERTON J S (2002) Academic Practice: Writing at Master's Level [On-line]: UK: Available: http://www.doceo.co.uk/academic/m_writing.htm Accessed: 14 September 2008

Redman, P. (2002) Good Essay Writing. London: Sage

Taylor, G., 1989, The Student's Writing Guide for the Arts and Social Sciences. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
Academic Writing (research Methods)
an argument?
What are you being asked to do?
Presenting an argument

If you are presenting an argument it follows that you need:

to have a point of view;

to be discussing something that someone might disagree with (it can be easiest to take something someone says that you disagree with as a starting pont);

to be addressing some sort of issue (as opposed to a topic).

The task is to convince a sceptical audience.

... but also to reflect on what you are finding out and to consider new possibilities
A Bit like a Court Case

You are presenting an argument to a more or less sceptical audience.

You need to be clear what your argument is.

You need to present a case based on evidence.

But as well as presenting evidence you need to explain the argument to the reader and tell them how it demonstrates your case.
What makes a convincing argument?

points in a logical order;

explanation of the argument to the reader;

quality of the evidence:

    from literature;

    from research.
The writing process
If you are doing a piece of research there might be several arguments to make ...

What are the issues? What has been done before and why is the research worth doing? (this is the literature review)

What methods would be appropriate for your work?

Present your results and, you hope, demonstrate that they contribute something interesting or useful.
Critical Writing
It isn't really enough to decide what you are going to write about- you need to decide on an issue to address. In other words a question to answer or a proposition to establish.

Suppose you were going to write about the use of a VLE in a school

What might the issue(s) be that you could discuss and about which you could come to a conclusion?

Best not to choose what are really just practical issues - focus on topics where there are different opinions and ways of looking at things. In the case of VLEs, practical issues like the cost of systems, their reliability or the need for staff training might be important but there might not be much to discuss about these.
Types of writing

Descriptive - describes the facts of a situation, your results, what other research has shown, others' arguments and so on.

These will probably be reporting what others have said in the literature (and need to be referenced).

The types of writing below should be your original ideas.

Critical - raising questions about the literature that you read, questioning the points made in the literature and discussing different points of view. 
Reflective - reflecting on the possible significance of what you have observed or read.
Using Literature
Accurate Language

Be careful with choice of words.  

Think about exactly what what you want to say and make sure this is what you are saying.

The Every Child Matters report believes that ...

Piaget thinks that ...

The government believes ...
Sources of Literature ...

Library 'Discover' service

Google Scholar

If you can't get the full text on-line you can use inter-library loan

increasingly you can find specific papers with a google search
Types of Literature


Academic Journals

  - research reports
  - reviews

- position papers

Professional Journals

Policy Documents

How to use the literature

Be critical of literature that you read.  This doesn't mean criticising in a negative way but you should show that you are able to think about and show some insight into the issues raised in the literature.  

Compare and contrast different authors, identify differences in approach or in the ways in which they define issues and consider the significance of these differences.

What questions do authors leave unanswered?

How might the literature relate to your professional experiences?

(and why is it hard to read?)
Some technical bits...
Structuring your writing

It is important to have a clear logical structure to your writing.

When planning your writing you might try using the outlining functions in Word, or a mind-mapping tool such as Mind42 (a web-based system) or Freemind (Freely downloadable software)

There are a number of videos on YouTube demonstrating Outlining, for example:

Mind42 and FreeMind at at:
Quotations (in my opinion)

Don't include many direct quotes as they break up the flow of what you are writing.  Instead paraphrase what others say, still citing the source using the Harvard system.

Where you do include a quotation you need to explain how it is relevant and how it is related to your argument.  

Don't leave the reader to draw their own conclusions. 

Don't make your argument using other people's words.

    avoid 'as Jones says .....  '
Writing in the third person

Traditionally academic writing has used an impersonal, third person style:

    This report will argue that ...

instead of

    I will argue that ...

This is probably less important these days, but you still need to be careful not to write anecdotally, confusing personal opinion with evidence.

Make sure you use the Harvard system consistently
Use the Library guide (Cite Them Right) 


or use Zotero  

Where you have the choice refer to hard copy versions of sources.


Paragraphs are important to help the reader follow the structure of your writing.  Each should be about a clearly defined point. 

Paragraphs typically begin with a topic sentence introducing the key point of the paragraph. Then there will be a number of supporting sentences which provide more detail. Paragraphs, especially longer ones, might finish with a concluding sentence that sums up the paragraph.
Be specific

Don't refer to vague groups of people;

educationalists agree ...

teachers know that ...

Write about what particular people say, or argue and include accurate references.
Supporting points

Make sure your argument is based on clear evidence, avoiding
unsupported statements and generalisations.

Whenever you make a statement, ask yourself 'How do I know this?' - and explain this to the reader.


Try to use a simple straightforward writing style. In particular shorter sentences are often better.

It is best to use a maximum of two fonts - one for the headings, the other for the body text. A serif font is probably easier to read for body text.

Double space your work and leave wide margins to allow room for markers' comments.

Be careful with spelling and grammar.
You need to do some reasoning

It isn't just identifying facts, reasons and arguments.

You need to engage in reasoning Explain to the reader how the points you make lead to the conclusions you are trying to establish.
A connected series of statements to establish a proposition
Choose an issue or question where there might be different points of view that might depend on things like:

How different people view a problem.

Different moral or ethical viewpoints.

Different ways of explaining something.

These types of question will probably give you more to discuss and reflect on. For example in your groups you might think about the issues in the newspaper article.
The big idea
You should have a central 'big idea' that is the message of your work.

Could you sum up your work in a sentence?
Paragraphs are about a single idea
Each paragraph in your work should be about a single point. This will be the topic sentence of the paragraph with the rest of the sentence filling in more detail and perhaps providing links. Often the topic sentence comes first

Can you represent each paragraph with a single sentence and then check that the order of these flows, or tells a story.

Could you arrange these better
Critical or descriptive writing
Mark your work to indicate descriptive and critical writing.

What is the balance?

The descriptive writing should support thye critical elements which are the important parts of the work.
Accuracy - Some common Mistakes

referring to groups of people

apparently claiming to know what people (governments etc) think or believe.

or that papers believe or know things
Keeping to simple
Pick a paragraph: how may words can you cut out while maintaining the meaning?

(of course when editing for real you might change some words as well)

Could you also use simpler words? Is 'utilise' ever better than 'use'?
Some ways to be critical:

Agreeing with a point of view, but presenting argument and reliable evidence for this. For example justifying a point of view in a news article. (this one might be the most difficult)

Rejecting a point of view in the literature.
Agreeing with a point of view but justifying why this view needs to be qualified.

Proposing a new point of view, or reformulating an existing one.

Reconciling different points of view using a different perspective, or way of looking at the issue.

Connecting different ideas to develop new ways of looking at an issue.
The introduction
There are many approaches two common ones are:

State your conclusion and outline how you will organise your argument, but don't go through your whole plan in great detail.

Use a quote and explain that you are going to discuss the issues that this raises and come to a specific conclusion.
learn to use word outlining!
for research Methods...
Critical Review
What the strengths and weaknesses of each paper are and why
Why your approach and methodology are the most appropriate
If you do use a quote ... (PEE)
Point: Introduce

Example: Quote as illustration

Explain: how is this relevant
“Thought is not merely expressed in words; it comes into existence through them” (Vygotsky, 1934, p.5).
Vigotski highlights the importance of talk by claiming that,
The implications for classroom practice might be wide-reaching. The suggestion is that, if children are not given the opportunity to engage in talk, their mental development will be impaired.
for research methods
For the critical review

You are likely to use mainly research methods literature
For your proposal you will need

about the topic...

Key references about your topic. These should demonstrate the range of views and approaches to the topic

about your methods...

Literature about research methods. This might include both research methods literature and literature where people might have used methods that relate to what you are planning to do.
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