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Dundalk IT MALT Programme Seminar on Academic Writing for Research Reports Professor Tony Fell University of Bradford, UK.

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Presentation on theme: "Dundalk IT MALT Programme Seminar on Academic Writing for Research Reports Professor Tony Fell University of Bradford, UK."— Presentation transcript:

1 Dundalk IT MALT Programme Seminar on Academic Writing for Research Reports Professor Tony Fell University of Bradford, UK

2 Writing Skills IUA – Communication skills for Research Students The nature of a Research Report / Thesis Key issues in writing Style Etiquette Report / Thesis Outlines. Report / Thesis Planner Structure References Submission

3 Writing Skills IUA Graduate Skills Statement 2012 Communication skills –Demonstrate effective writing and publishing skills –Effectively use and decide on appropriate forms and levels of communication –Communicate and explain research to diverse audiences, including both specialist and non- specialist –Teach and support the learning of undergraduate students when involved in teaching and demonstrating

4 Writing Skills The nature of a Research Report / Thesis? A Research Report or Thesis gives a detailed account of a defined area of research with –  sufficient background information on what was known earlier, to orientate the general, interested reader  a clear statement of the ‘research question’ or problem and the related aims and objectives  a clear, logical exposition of the stages you have gone through in order to address the research question – creating new techniques, solutions and results on the way

5 Writing Skills The nature of a Research Report / Thesis? A Research Report or Thesis will also –  present your own critical analysis of the originality and significance of the data presented, in relation to what was known or assumed beforehand  focus on your proposals for further developments in the field  (for a Thesis) be presented in a traditional format as a permanent record for access by all researchers, anywhere  (for a Thesis) be published in full or in part as an independent publication under your name after peer review

6 Writing Skills A good Literature Review should: –Be selective –Not be simply a list or summary of publications –Have a balance of primary and secondary sources –Put published work into perspective, relevant to the Research Question –Evaluate and give a critical interpretation of published work, with appropriate reference to the Research Question

7 Writing Skills Ransom’s Rules for Scientific Writing* If it can be interpreted in more than one way, it’s wrong Know your audience; know your subject; know your purpose If you can’t think of a reason to put a comma in, leave it out Keep your writing clear, concise and correct If it works, do it. * Nora Ransom (Kansas State University) in M. Davis et al., Scientific Papers & Presentations, Academic Press, 2012

8 Writing Skills Approaches to Completion The optimum situation is: –Write sections more or less continuously as your research programme moves forward –Integrate sections to compile the first draft of your Thesis –Track progress systematically –Use a Conference, Seminar or Poster paper as the basis for part of the Report / Thesis  This important milestone gives independent peer support & validates your Thesis

9 Writing Skills Key issues

10 Writing Skills Key issues in writing a Report / Thesis:  Who is going to read it?  Should it be perfect?  How should you write it – writing styles?  Issues of style and syntax  Academic (“Oxford”) English versus the Personal style of writing  How should you plan and structure it?  How can you finish in time?  Key things to know about good referencing  Strategies for survival – the pitfalls to avoid?

11 Writing Skills Readership – Who are you writing for?  Researchers in your general area – but not necessarily specialists – intelligent, same general background, not knowing all the literature in your particular topic – ‘the intelligent, informed reader’  Someone who may use your thesis/dissertation as a reference work for their own research interests  The Examiners, who do have specialist knowledge in the area and will enjoy reviewing your work  The next generation of Research Students in your area

12 Writing Skills Who else are you writing for?  Yourself – for your own satisfaction in expressing a deep interest in a topic, in a way that is informative and interesting Suggestion  It can be helpful for an independent person to read sections of your Thesis (eg a friend) to comment on the style, informativeness etc – this can be really useful for the Introduction, Conclusions, and also the Abstract

13 Writing Skills Should your Report / Thesis be perfect?  If only... but remember that readers, including the Examiners, r e a l l y don’t expect perfection either in style or content.  The typos, mislabelled graphs, missing references will leap off the page at you – just as soon as you’ve submitted your precious tome for examination

14 Writing Skills Should your Report / Thesis be perfect?  It’s really helpful to compile a list of typos, etc  This is then tabled for the Examiners at the Viva It’s worth remembering that:  Most Masters and PhD Theses are approved in some form after the examination (70 to 80%)

15 Writing Skills Styles How should you write a Report / Thesis?  With care … and with sufficient detail to describe the important stages of your research – usually more detail than is required (or permissible) for a published paper  Imagine someone tried to repeat exactly what you did – to find where precisely you located a key historical reference or fact; or in what language? – or to adopt special methodology / equipment you used or developed for critical experiments

16 Writing Skills Styles Common sense about writing styles Choose the appropriate style and use it consistently: –Write in a uniform, grammatical, fairly formal style – clarity is of the essence, so if the syntax (structure) is becoming complex, consider cutting back to shorter, simpler sentences

17 Writing Skills Styles Common sense about writing styles The personal style versus the impersonal style –This is often a question of personal taste or convention: –The personal style: I …, my …, we …, our …, etc. –or the impersonal ‘Oxford style’: The Author noted that … These observations were recorded in earlier research reports on … Note: in some areas of Social Science, Management etc, when referring to a third person, the use of alternating gender is common: he … / she … & him… / her …

18 Writing Skills Styles Common sense about writing styles Use paragraphs to signpost a coherent group of related statements – they should not be too long.. Keep sentences at a reasonable length – this helps avoid over-complicated statements and ensures your writing is clear and readable Use the direct form rather than the impersonal form: –Based on these data, it would seem that …  These data would indicate that …

19 Writing Skills Styles More common sense about writing styles Consistent use of tense –Decide on what tense to use for writing (present, past, etc) and be consistent – if in doubt, read it out or read it to a friend –If you use the past tense, you will need the ‘past in the past’ : e.g. The device had malfunctioned before this work was started.

20 Writing Skills Styles Even more common sense about writing styles Things to avoid: –Undefined abbreviations – make a list defining all abbreviations and repeat the definition (at least once) in the text –Any form of slang –Jargon – if unavoidable, define it –Incomplete comparisons: e.g. These data were better. –‘Over the top’ superlatives: e.g. We consider these highly impressive results to have very significant global implications.

21 Writing Skills Etiquette Punctuation issues: –The colon is often used for:  Introducing a list of items  Separating a general statement from a more specific one –The comma is often used:  For separating items in a list  For qualifying or defining a preceding word or phrase: The SPSS method, which is now well established, is widely used for the analysis of data in the Social Sciences.  Where a natural break occurs in mid-sentence: These data seem rather dubious, although they come from a highly reliable source.

22 Writing Skills Etiquette More about punctuation: –The semi-colon is often used for  Separating items within a list  Separating two closely related statements –The hyphen is often used:  To separate parts of a sentence or to introduce a qualifying statement – as for example here  To link adjective and noun in a single phrase e.g. long-term therapy  To link two adjectives: e.g. red-hot, dark-blue  To link adjective and participle: e.g. easy-going

23 Writing Skills Etiquette Even more about punctuation: –The apostrophe is used:  To indicate possession e.g. the system’s features (=1) and the systems’ features (>1)  For elision or shortening: e.g. It’s clear that (It is …) / That’s … / NB Exceptionally: “its” is possessive (without an apostrophe) They noted its significance … (They noted the significance of it …)

24 Writing Skills Etiquette Note: one datum point is … –and several data points (or data) are … Good referencing is an essential feature of a successful Report / Thesis –It’s the hallmark of true professionalism –Unfortunately plagiarism is currently one of the big issues in Postgraduate research –Increasing reliance by Examiners on “Turnitin” and similar monitors of plagiarism

25 Writing Skills Planning Planning a Report / PhD Thesis  Develop an outline time-plan for your writing-up programme  Remember that all plans are there to be changed – flexibility is key  Complete one section at a time – in many areas it’s not essential to write sections sequentially  Ask for feedback on drafts from your Supervisor, a colleague or a friend  You might consider using a simplified Gantt Chart, for example – well known to be flexible

26 Writing Skills Gantt Chart approach to Planning a Report / Thesis

27 Writing Skills Report / Thesis Outlines

28 Writing Skills Report / Thesis Outlines A Report / Thesis Outline starts with the following sections, typically: –Title page –Abstract (written later in the process) –Acknowledgements –Lists of Contents – Tables – Figures – –List of Appendices –List of Abbreviations –List of presentations made/publications submitted The Chapters or Sections that follow depend on the research area – cf. ‘Science’ versus ‘Humanities’

29 Writing Skills Report / Thesis Outlines [See printed copy] Typical outline plan for Report / Thesis in Science, IT, Engineering – Part 1 –Title, Abstract, List of Contents etc –Introduction –Literature Review –Clear statement of Research Question (Project)  Aims & Objectives –Theoretical background –Materials –Research Methods –Validation of Methods [ Continued ]

30 Writing Skills Report / Thesis Outlines [See printed copy] Typical outline plan for Report / Thesis in Science, IT, Engineering – Part 2 –Ethical issues (if any) –Results & Discussion –Conclusions & Suggestions for further work –References (Harvard or numerical system) –Appendices

31 Writing Skills Report / Thesis Outlines [See printed copy] Typical outline plan for Report / Thesis in Humanities Liberal Arts, Media etc – Part 1 –Title, Abstract, List of Contents etc –Introduction –Clear statement of Research Question and related issues –Literature Review –Framework and rationale for Exhibition, Display, Performance (for Practice-based Doctorates) [ Continued ]

32 Writing Skills Report / Thesis Outlines [See printed copy] Typical outline plan for Report / Thesis in Humanities, Liberal Arts, Media etc – Part 2 –Research Methods –Justification for selection of methods  Sources of information, informants, samples  Basis of selection for respondents (eg to Questionnaire) –Ethical issues (if any) –Results & Discussion –Conclusions & Suggestions for further work –Bibliography & References  Harvard or numerical system –Appendices

33 Writing Skills Report / Thesis Planner

34 Writing Skills Research Report Planner The Report / Thesis Planner can be developed as follows: –To each Chapter Heading add 2 Sub-headings –The Headings and Sub-headings are inserted into the Report / Thesis Planner” This simple Project Planning device can be formed using MS Word or Excel –It helps keep track of writing progress – –At the same time it informs Supervisors /colleagues about progress

35 Generic Research Report Planner – 1

36 Generic Research Report Planner – 2

37 Writing Skills Research Report Planner The Report / Thesis Planner:  Is a very flexible system  Gives an immediate overview of the writing  Empowers the author  Helps monitor progress and identify missing sections – helps check progress  Shortens writing up time by ca 10 – 20%.  Monitors word count. The Planner gives strong encouragement and confidence as writing progresses to completion Helps timely completion

38 Writing Skills Structure & References

39 Writing Skills Research Report Structure Structure of typical Research Report or Thesis  The Outline Plan forms the basic structural template for your Report / Thesis  NB Sections / Subsections / Appendices  Max number of subsections for readability is 3 –eg 1.0 – 1.1 – – 1.1.1(a)  Note: If you find that there are too many subsections, a powerful solution is to simply raise the first subsection to Chapter level.  The structure evolves progressively as the writing approaches completion

40 Writing Skills References General issues –Computer-based records / traditional systems –Harvard system versus Numerical system –Section references vs Cumulative Reference List –Reference layout – style – page-to-page? –With or without titles?

41 Writing Skills References General issues –Footnotes? –Back-up files daily – keep 2 updated copies  in d i f f e r e n t places! –Ratio of Introductory material to the rest – balance (ca. 1:3) –Impersonal vs personal style – check best practice in research area

42 Writing Skills References Tracking the references –Ethical issues & IPR –Citing the competition! –Duplication – non-citation – total accuracy –Reference to own publications –Citing the Internet – give URL and date accessed Citing Personal Communications: –A.B. Contact, Personal communication, February 2012 – or: –J.G. Friend ( , 13 February, 2012) [using reference style adopted]

43 Writing Skills References Tracking the References (cont’d) –Citing Unpublished Work:  M.Y. Self (Unpublished data September, 2012) or M.Y. Self (Unpublished observations, May, 2012)  Avoid: M.Y. Self (in preparation) –Citing submitted but so far not accepted work:  P.G. Slave and D.R. Supervisor, submitted for publication to X.Y.Z., 12 June, 2012 –Citing accepted but so far not published work:  P.G. Slave and D.R. Supervisor, accepted for publication by X.Y.Z., 1 December, 2012

44 Writing Skills References Avoiding the pitfalls –Proper acknowledgement of sources  Verbal – casual – printed but unpublished – published  Purple patches  IPR – 2-way street  Ethics of authorship  Mutual recognition – academic generosity  Consequences...

45 Writing Skills References Avoiding the pitfalls (cont’d)  Proper acknowledgement of graphics  Figures – written permission from publishers for each figure/diagram essential  Must add to the figure legend: “Reproduced from X.Y. Zymbal, Arch. Data 100, 1 –20 (2008) by kind permission of the Publishers”  A useful work-around is to change some details in the figure itself and add to the legend:  “Adapted from X.Y. Zymbal, Arch. Data 100, 1-20 (2008)”

46 Writing Skills Good Practice –Appendix out wherever appropriate (or use DVD or CD-ROM):  Sections of supplementary data  Parenthetical results  Reference materials  Protocols  Computer programmes  Any text / data that distracts from the flow of the main theme / development  Cite the Appendices in strict sequential order and list them with the Contents

47 Writing Skills Good Practice –Add a List of Abbreviations  really useful  always appreciated –Include a list of your own presentations & publications (if any), however modest Writer’s block –Universal – including the famous –Change to doing another section – or some other activity

48 Writing Skills Submission Find a friend to read your Abstract / Summary –Find another friend to read your Conclusions for clarity Check final version of Report / Thesis with your Supervisor(s) or colleagues –NB Make plenty of time in your planning schedule to allow them to give their best shot

49 Writing Skills Submission Check: –all pages run sequentially –all Figures and Tables are listed in the Contents –all Appendices are listed in order of citation –There’s no duplication of references –Any printed materials (eg short publications, reference materials) are put securely into the end pocket Submit …

50 Writing Skills Developing an Abstract

51 Writing Skills Developing an Abstract Types of Abstract / Summary Function Readership Title / Key words Structure & Organisation –Introduction – Aims – Methods – Results – Conclusions Writing Style – tense – sentence length – construction Word count Iterative process for development / completion Initial & concluding sentences / statements

52 Dundalk IT Seminar on Academic Writing for MALT Students Discussion Groups: Developing an Abstract / Drafting the initial & concluding statements


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