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The AAA of Academic Writing

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Bairbre Fleming

on 29 October 2013

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Transcript of The AAA of Academic Writing

AAA for PhDs
If only I had known
Bairbre Fleming
Project Management
Academic Writing

Current notions and worries about writing a PhD
What do you hope to get out of the session?

… putting off 'higher-level' writing because I think it will be hard,
… and being worried I won't do it well (the only way to get past this is to do it, and do it, and do it)
… taking ages to write things lack of critical content - most of the writing I've produced is 'this and this and this'
- - more bringing out key points rather that critical treatment - probably because that's the type of writing I'm more used to doing (am going to read Critical Reviews notes)
…lack of self discipline


A blog on the angst of writing a PhD

Start with the end in mind

To do Lists

A story told in file names

Develop a system

Developing a system for referencing


Software for U

Use standard formatting and layout

Why have a dog …

Back up

From Owler’s A ‘problem’ to be managed?
What is it … that makes a PhD such a difficult process, and prevents candidates from completing on time? It seems that ‘self-sabotaging behaviours, including overcommitting, procrastination and perfectionism’ have a key role to play
(citing Kearns et al 2008)

Self-Sabotaging behaviours


How to eat an elephant

Eating an elephant...

… eating the elephant

Locating Your work

The literature’ refers to a specific body
of knowledge known as ‘the corpus.’ It also includes published works and other materials that are accepted by its respective users as essential sources.
Being familiar with the corpus and its boundaries, plus appreciating its relationships to other potential corpus
areas, are pre-requisites for doctoral writers.

Sociology of Education


Locating your work

Social Reproduction

Widening Participation

Task Sheet

Locating your work

The elevator door opens. And there stands your academic hero. It's the chance of a lifetime. But that chance only lasts as long as the elevator ride - you have less than a minute to make an impression.
How would you describe your research?

Elevator pitch

Or ….

The challenge…

Thesis in three Slides

Thesis in Three

It is well known that researchers who are in the early stages of their work often find it difficult to explain to others briefly but specifically what their research is about
(Mason, 1996. cited in Trafford et al

How many times do I have to point out that doing research and explaining to others what you have done, is essential to research itself? If they do not recognise that they have missed the point of it all. Often they are clued-up on theories, philosophies and methodologies but seem unable to communicate this to their readership) PhD supervisor cited in Trafford et al

So what? Clarifying the purpose of your research…

My work is unique because….

Academic Writing

Saying it thrice


The important point is that this principle applies at all levels.
The first and last sentence of a paragraph must introduce and summarise the body of argument in that paragraph.
The first and last paragraph in a section (or subsection) will introduce and summarise the body of the section (or subsection).
The first and last sections of a chapter will introduce and summarise the body of the chapter.
The first and last chapters introduce and summarise an entire dissertation.

Punchline first…

Active writing
Single Clause sentences
Don’t waste words

Use the normal sentence structure: subject, verb, object.
Not: “The insurance mechanisms that agents utilise to smooth consumption in the face of transitory earnings fluctuations are diverse”
Instead: “People use a variety of insurance mechanisms to smooth consumption..”

Due to the fact that = because
At this point in time = now
In order to – to
The question as to whether = whether

More is not better

Poor writing can be caused by trying to avoid responsibility for what you’re saying.
That’s why we resort to passive sentences, “it should be noted that”,
Take a deep breath, and take responsibility for what you’re writing.

“It should be noted that” is redundant - Just say it!
“It is easy to show that” means that it isn’t.
Search for “that” in the document to get rid of these.
Similarly, delete“A comment is in order at this point.” Just make the comment.
Use of superlatives can be redundant – why use very? If it is very good then replace that with one word (superlative?)

Say what you mean

And finally

Table of contents as a guide

Celebrating small triumphs

Take a Break

Summary of Qsts from Trafford and Leshem’s 2002 article

Why did you choose this topic for your doctoral study?
How did you arrive at your conceptual framework?
How did you arrive at your research design?
How would you justify your choice of methodology
Why did you decide to use XYZ as your main instrument(s)?
How did you select your respondents/materials/area?
How did you arrive at your conceptual conclusions?
How generalisable are your findings and why?
What is your contribution to knowledge?
Critique your thesis….

What we call the beginning is often the end
And to make an end is to make a beginning
The end is where we start from.

(Eliot, 1974)

From Trafford and Leshem’s article

Achievable Tasks
Eat an Elephant
Situating your work
Thesis in 3
Academic Writing
Active Writing
Direct Words
Taking responsibility
AAA for today

The elevator door opens. And there stands your academic hero. It's the chance of a lifetime. nut that chance only lasts as long as the elevator ride - you have less than a minute to make an impression. How would you describe your research?
How would you describe your work to your Granny or to a friend?
What is the key feature of your work?
Deciphering Academese
Say what you are going to say
Say what you are saying
Say what you said

This section will review the categorical and modernist approaches to social class
Different social classes can be distinguished and characterised by variables such as power, authority and wealth, working and living conditions, life-styles, life-span, education, religion and culture
This chapter has highlighted the debate on social class and social reproduction. It has challenged the dominant assumptions about meritocracy which ascribes blame to individuals for their life circumstances
The rule of three
Key message
Main part of story
More detail for those who keep going
How would you describe a joke or novel

Set the scene, describe
Put the punchline up front

Present tense is usually best. You can say “Fama and French 1993 find that” even though 1993 was a while ago. The same goes for your own paper; describe what you find in Table 5 not what you will find in Table 5. Most importantly, though, keep the tense consistent.
Don’t start a paragraph in past tense and finish it in the future.

.. and then slowly explain the joke
Passive vs Active Voice

It has been recommended by doctos that more fruit should be eaten daily

Doctors recommend that we eat more fruit daily

Subject - Verb- Object/ Complement

Assume Reponsibility

Say what you mean

Each sentence should mean what it says.
What does “it should be noted?” mean?
IS this just a wimpy way to bring up the topic?
Clothe the naked “this.” “This shows that markets really are irrational...” This what?
“This” should always have something following it.

Finally yield the punchline
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