Sunday, February 9, 2014

A flying start to university - language know how

Starting university (and even returning to university) is a time of great celebration.   There are many new things to explore and learn as you enter this new phase of your life.

In South Australia, new students will shortly start their orientation to university, ahead of the first week of the semester (in March).

There will be much to learn including where to get the best food on campus; how to buy books; who are the key people in your program of study.

There will also be new ways of doing which can take a while to learn.    As I reflect on my own journey as an undergraduate and postgraduate student, I remember it took me lots of twists and turns before things fell into place with regard to understanding the types of assignments and the style of language required.

By the time I became a Learning Advisor who worked in our Language and Learning services area, I was aware there were some language fundamentals to grasp in order to become successful at uni.   I would like to share these with you.

Firstly, be aware of the different types or genres of writing required.   The free-flowing form of essay writing, with its arguments and justifications, is quite different to the highly objective tone of a report - with its headings and numbered sections and sub sections.  

Secondly, no matter what the genre, structure is also an important part of making yourself understood; ordering your points of difference and giving credibility to your work.   A well structured piece - whether within the whole assignment; at the paragraph or sentence level - is a key way to earn marks.   Linking words - simple or complex - can aid this process.

Thirdly, the tone of writing also plays an important role.   Where an informal tone and use of the first person 'I' might be appropriate for a reflective writing piece, a technical report will let the data speak and create more distance between the reader and the author.   An essay - which may have strong points of justification - will sit somewhere between the two.    Mostly, the tone of your work at university will require objectivity.

Finally, we end with where we really ought to start.   Whenever you approach an assessment piece at university, seek help.  Clarify any points with your lecturer and - if you are able - take your early pieces of writing to your student support unit (they are called various things in different universities).  

We wish you all the best for a flying start at university OR a successful new year.

Andrea and the Grammar Gang

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