Monday, January 26, 2009

Winning ways with academic writing

Welcome back to the Purdue students. You are about six weeks ahead of the students at UniSA (in Adelaide, South Australia) who will return to Uni in early March.

We thought it might be useful to give you some 'gold passport' tips towards winning academic writing. Here is a triangle we use here at UniSA which is based on the work of Kaldor, Herriman and Rochecouste (1998). It lists the hierarchy of things you need to get right in writing at Uni. It's not that any of these are any less important than the others, but they generally occur in this order when writing. In other words, you need to get the big picture right first.

Understand the question, task or form

Is it an essay you are writing? Is it a report? Each of these genres will have particular attributes. Essays, for example, are continuous prose which more often than not explore a particular argument. Reports are exemplified by their headings and subheadings - they are highly structured and objective.

Introductions, conclusions, sections - structure

Your work should have a clear introduction (aim or statement of position, purpose, academic definitions of key terms); conclusion (summary, point to the future) and logical 'sections' (topic sentences in the case of an essay; logical headings and subheadings in the case of a report).

Quality sources and citation

You should aim to use for up-to-date sources - ideally from academic journal databases. Wikepedia is generally out (although probably OK for gaining an understanding of a topic). Make sure you know about paraphrasing and reporting the ideas of others.

Your reference list may well be the first place a lecturer (professor) goes before reading your paper and they will be looking at the breadth of sources used as well as their quality.

In text referencing and reference list

The mechanics of referencing are important. If you are using, say, the Harvard system, then find a guide which gives you information about the conventions and layout (where all the punctuation goes).

Clarity, grammar, punctuation

These are also important, as they give your work the professional touch. Without attention to these things your work is demeaned and the meaning of what you're communicating can be compromised.

Be sure to post a comment about your best academic writing tip. What have YOU been rewarded for?

Andrea and Susanna

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