Sunday, May 27, 2012

These are a few of our favourite things

Dear Gramm-o-philes (or Grammarphiles, or Grammarians if you prefer)

'Sound of Music', 1965  National Publishers Inc

Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens
Bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens
Brown paper packages tied up with strings
These are a few of my favorite things (Rodgers and Hammerstein, 1959)

Those readers who participated in our our little poll about how they used the Grammar Gang, gave the most number of votes (34) to the question which said 'to help me with my academic writing'. 

We did our own whip around and - in no particular order - made a selection of our favourite 'writing at university' resources.

From our colleague Lisa at Massey University in New Zealand:

APA interactive

From Julia at Adelaide University:

Adelaide University Learning Guides

Julia particularly likes the ones on articles and literature reviews.   She also recommends Oshima and Hogue's 'Writing academic English' and Murphy's 'English grammar in use'.

And I really like these simple resources from the University of South Australia:

Linking words and phrases

Objective and subjective writing

Reading log

I hope you like these as much as we do.  Please add your own comments and contributions.


David Cox said...

I read some of the resources, including one about subjective and objective writing. This got me thinking about the difference between objective and impersonal writing.

I understand that some academic publications require impersonal writing, and that it is vital that we train students to write in a style which is acceptable to editors and appropriate for the task. However, most of our students will not end up in academia, but in professions where clarity and engagement are critical. We regularly hear complaints from industry about our graduates’ inability to write clearly or to convey what it is that they want to happen.

I see a great deal of writing that is handicapped by the author trying to write impersonally. This results in a proliferation of the passive voice and text that is very difficult to read. This is partly because the passive voice leads to much more complex structure and partly because removing the actor reduces the reader’s engagement. I also suspect that it makes it very much harder for the author to think clearly about what it is they want to say.

Writing in the first person does not necessarily imply subjectivity. ‘I conducted an experiment’ is an objective statement. It is true or false. A statement such as ‘I found that 15 out of 20 lizards had only three legs’ is as much an accurate reporting of data as ‘it was found that 15 out of 20 lizards had only three legs.’

Even in journals as prestigious as Nature, authors use the first person quite regularly – for example, from a recent article – ‘After decoder calibration, we assessed whether each participant could use the robotic arm to reach for and grasp foam ball targets of diameter 6 cm.’

e-purser said...

yes interesting points! You got me thinking how much silly advice is given to the hapless student - of course as you say, it is often perfectly appropriate to use first person at the stage in a report of 'methods followed' in research that is simply recounting what steps the investigator took - that is just descriptive of what the writer did. But it is equally unhelpful to tell students to never use the passive. That grammatical option evolved for a number of good reasons, the most important of which is that it enables the writer to choose Theme - that is, what to place first in the sentence and thereby indicate what the message is about. Whether or not there is reference to personal information is another consideration, but the most important thing in academic writing is: are we talking about a problem, a solution, a complex situation, an important idea, or are we talking about ourselves and everyday items? It usually ought to be the former, so some noun group representing that needs to come first - and sometimes (often) the passive is the best way to achieve that placement.priority. The problem is that students and teachers alike don't really understand the main function of the structure and use it poorly (thinking its main purpose is to avoid a personal pronoun, or reference to any person) and end up with mangled nonsense sentences that could and should have been half the length!