Getting to Grips with Academic Writing

Yikes ! I can’t write this assignment! Some students find it difficult to get to grips with academic writing tasks. Whereas they often understand key concepts associated with an assignment or task they find it very difficult to express these in writing. The problem can lead to stress and frustration on all sides as written assessments may not be seen as a fair measure of student learning outcomes. Of course every person is unique and it is not always easy to provide good advice for all situations; that said, I have noticed similarities in the challenges students face and so I hope the advice I provide below can be of help. Technical versus Mindset There are two types of barriers to writing ability. The first is ‘technical’, by this I mean literally the skills of grammar, vocabulary and composition – the kind of stuff you should learn in school. For a various reasons, students often miss out on these skills and need to work on their basic literacy and writing technique. Thankfully, this is not a common problem in higher education but it is important to be mindful that people can get very far in the system by avoiding situations Read More …

Ten Tips for Writing Academic Papers

Completing academic writing assignments is one of the most important skills you will need to develop as a student.  This is true regardless of your subject or discipline. Based on my own experience writing and correcting papers and discussions with students I have compiled these ten tips to help you get going.  I have used these at the Academic Writing Club we set up in National College of Ireland to support students through the challenges of this process. 1 Read the task Spend time reading and analysing the task you have been assigned.  Look for action words such as ‘discuss’, ‘compare’, ‘critique’ and so on.  Check if you need to provide examples or to analyse or deal with a particular context.   Write the task at the head of your essay and make sure you address every component of the assignment. 2 Get on with it! Start writing straight away – don’t keep putting it off.  Many students say they need to read first and write later.  It is better to read and write at the same time (see tip 4 below).   3 Use the opening paragraph as your plan Start with something like “In this assignment I will….” Read More …

How to Write a Literature Review for a Dissertation

Writing a Literature Review Writing a dissertation is one of the great learning tasks of college education. However, many students find it a daunting process. One of the first challenges you face is writing a literature review and the purpose of this post is to help you get started with the process, to keep you on track as you proceed and to provide a means of self-reviewing your outputs when you (think you) have completed. Let’s start with a simple set of questions: What constitutes a literature review? What is it used for? and What distinguishes a good literature review from a poor one? As the name implies, a literature review is a review of other people’s work in a particular field of scholarship. Such a review is always directed and informed by the research question to be addressed. For example, if your research question is related to adult literacy then you will need to provide a review of other works, be they theoretical models, research reports or practice studies, that relate to adult literacy. Most importantly, a literature review cannot be of any value unless it is referenced to some form of research question or problem. It is a common mistake for students to misunderstand the purpose of a literature review – Read More …

Wikipedia as a source in academic writing

Have you ever heard of Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi?Pestalozzi was a Swiss educationalist – he had interesting ideas for progressive education – at the start of the nineteenth century he was advocating an enlightened approach to schooling.   Perhaps in a future blog I will further discuss Pestalozzi but the topic I have set out above is Wikipedia and I have introduced Pestalozzi as an example to support a point I wish to make.Could I invite you the reader to open a new tab and look up Pestalozzi in Wikipedia.   There you will find an excellent illustrated article containing biographical details and illustrations.  It is a good place to start if you wish to find out more about this influential thinker.   Notice that the bottom of the entry there is a list of references and links for further reading (I have inserted these below).  Starting with these references and links you now have a means to explore the writings of Pestalozzi and commentary thereon.For me this is the best use of Wikipedia – I find it a great starting point and signpost to other materials.Is Wikipedia itself an appropriate source?   In other words, if I write an essay should I cite Wikipedia Read More …

Plagiarism Reframed

Mention plagiarism to any third level academic and you are likely to be greeted with groans and laments.This is one topic that gets into people’s hearts – it leads to animated discussions and hard views. It is unwise to be regarded as soft on the issue. It is annoying, very annoying to be reading something presented as a student’s original work when it dawns on you – this is familiar – or – this is not the same style of writing as expected.Plagiarism is genuinely offensive to many academics – it offends one’s sense of academic integrity and is regarded as a dishonourable practice and a form of cheating.Many also feel that the student is trying to make a fool out of them – the tables are reversed – instead of the assignment being a test of the student it is a test of the examiner. Assuming the examiner will not spot the obvious is a form of insult. In most institutions plagiarism is treated as a disciplinary rather than learning or teaching matter – student’s face expulsion, suspension and fines if they are found guilty of the charge.Remarkably, despite clearly stated policies and warnings to students – it seems Read More …