Presentation on theme: "Dundalk IT MALT Programme"— Presentation transcript:
1 Dundalk IT MALT Programme Seminar on Academic Writingfor Research ReportsProfessor Tony FellUniversity of Bradford, UK
2 Writing Skills IUA – Communication skills for Research Students The nature of a Research Report / ThesisKey issues in writingStyleEtiquetteReport / Thesis Outlines.Report / Thesis PlannerStructureReferencesSubmission
3 Writing Skills IUA Graduate Skills Statement 2012 Communication skillsDemonstrate effective writing and publishing skillsEffectively use and decide on appropriate forms and levels of communicationCommunicate and explain research to diverse audiences, including both specialist and non-specialistTeach 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 readera clear statement of the ‘research question’ or problem and the related aims and objectivesa 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 beforehandfocus 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 A good Literature Review should: Writing SkillsA good Literature Review should:Be selectiveNot be simply a list or summary of publicationsHave a balance of primary and secondary sourcesPut published work into perspective, relevant to the Research QuestionEvaluate and give a critical interpretation of published work, with appropriate reference to the Research Question
7 Ransom’s Rules for Scientific Writing* Writing SkillsRansom’s Rules for Scientific Writing*If it can be interpreted in more than one way, it’s wrongKnow your audience; know your subject; know your purposeIf you can’t think of a reason to put a comma in, leave it outKeep your writing clear, concise and correctIf 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 forwardIntegrate sections to compile the first draft of your ThesisTrack progress systematicallyUse a Conference, Seminar or Poster paper as the basis for part of the Report / ThesisThis important milestone gives independent peer support & validates your Thesis
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 syntaxAcademic (“Oxford”) English versus the Personal style of writingHow should you plan and structure it?How can you finish in time?Key things to know about good referencingStrategies 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 interestsThe Examiners, who do have specialist knowledge in the area and will enjoy reviewing your workThe next generation of Research Students in your area
12 Writing Skills Who else are you writing for? Suggestion Yourself – for your own satisfaction in expressing a deep interest in a topic, in a way that is informative and interestingSuggestionIt 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, etcThis is then tabled for the Examiners at the VivaIt’s worth remembering that:Most Masters and PhD Theses are approved in some form after the examination (70 to 80%)
15 How should you write a Report / Thesis? Writing Skills StylesHow 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 paperImagine 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 Common sense about writing styles Writing Skills StylesCommon sense about writing stylesChoose 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 Common sense about writing styles Writing Skills StylesCommon sense about writing stylesThe personal style versus the impersonal styleThis 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 Common sense about writing styles Writing Skills StylesCommon sense about writing stylesUse 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 readableUse the direct form rather than the impersonal form:Based on these data, it would seem that …Þ These data would indicate that …
19 More common sense about writing styles Writing Skills StylesMore common sense about writing stylesConsistent use of tenseDecide on what tense to use for writing (present, past, etc) and be consistent – if in doubt, read it out or read it to a friendIf 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 Even more common sense about writing styles Writing Skills StylesEven more common sense about writing stylesThings to avoid:Undefined abbreviations – make a list defining all abbreviations and repeat the definition (at least once) in the textAny form of slangJargon – if unavoidable, define itIncomplete 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 itemsSeparating a general statement from a more specific oneThe comma is often used:For separating items in a listFor 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 forSeparating items within a listSeparating two closely related statementsThe hyphen is often used:To separate parts of a sentence or to introduce a qualifying statement – as for example hereTo link adjective and noun in a single phrasee.g. long-term therapyTo link two adjectives: e.g. red-hot, dark-blueTo link adjective and participle: e.g. easy-going
23 Writing Skills Etiquette Even more about punctuation:The apostrophe is used:To indicate possessione.g. the system’s features (=1) andthe 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 / ThesisIt’s the hallmark of true professionalismUnfortunately plagiarism is currently one of the big issues in Postgraduate researchIncreasing reliance by Examiners on “Turnitin” and similar monitors of plagiarism
25 Writing Skills Planning Planning a Report / PhD ThesisDevelop an outline time-plan for your writing-up programmeRemember that all plans are there to be changed – flexibility is keyComplete one section at a time – in many areas it’s not essential to write sections sequentiallyAsk for feedback on drafts from your Supervisor, a colleague or a friendYou 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
28 Writing Skills Report / Thesis Outlines A Report / Thesis Outline starts with the following sections, typically:Title pageAbstract (written later in the process)AcknowledgementsLists of Contents – Tables – Figures –List of AppendicesList of AbbreviationsList of presentations made/publications submittedThe 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 1Title, Abstract, List of Contents etcIntroductionLiterature ReviewClear statement of Research Question (Project)Aims & ObjectivesTheoretical backgroundMaterialsResearch MethodsValidation of Methods[ Continued ]
30 Writing Skills Report / Thesis Outlines [See printed copy] Typical outline plan for Report / Thesis in Science, IT, Engineering – Part 2Ethical issues (if any)Results & DiscussionConclusions & Suggestions for further workReferences (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 1Title, Abstract, List of Contents etcIntroductionClear statement of Research Question and related issuesLiterature ReviewFramework 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 2Research MethodsJustification for selection of methodsSources of information, informants, samplesBasis of selection for respondents (eg to Questionnaire)Ethical issues (if any)Results & DiscussionConclusions & Suggestions for further workBibliography & ReferencesHarvard or numerical systemAppendices
34 Writing Skills Research Report Planner The Report / Thesis Planner can be developed as follows:To each Chapter Heading add 2 Sub-headingsThe Headings and Sub-headings are inserted into the Report / Thesis Planner”This simple Project Planning device can be formed using MS Word or ExcelIt helps keep track of writing progress –At the same time it informs Supervisors /colleagues about progress
37 Writing Skills Research Report Planner The Report / Thesis Planner:Is a very flexible systemGives an immediate overview of the writingEmpowers the authorHelps monitor progress and identify missing sections – helps check progressShortens writing up time by ca 10 – 20%.Monitors word count.The Planner gives strong encouragement and confidence as writing progresses to completionHelps timely completion
39 Writing Skills Research Report Structure Structure of typical Research Report or ThesisThe Outline Plan forms the basic structural template for your Report / ThesisNB Sections / Subsections / AppendicesMax number of subsections for readability is 3eg 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 issuesComputer-based records / traditional systemsHarvard system versus Numerical systemSection references vs Cumulative Reference ListReference layout – style – page-to-page?With or without titles?
41 Writing Skills References General issuesFootnotes?Back-up files daily – keep 2 updated copiesin 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 referencesEthical issues & IPRCiting the competition!Duplication – non-citation – total accuracyReference to own publicationsCiting the Internet – give URL and date accessedCiting 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, 2012Citing 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 pitfallsProper acknowledgement of sourcesVerbal – casual – printed but unpublished – publishedPurple patchesIPR – 2-way streetEthics of authorshipMutual recognition – academic generosityConsequences . . .
45 Writing Skills References Avoiding the pitfalls (cont’d)Proper acknowledgement of graphicsFigures – written permission from publishers for each figure/diagram essentialMust add to the figure legend:“Reproduced from X.Y. Zymbal, Arch. Data100, 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 dataParenthetical resultsReference materialsProtocolsComputer programmesAny text / data that distracts from the flow of the main theme / developmentCite the Appendices in strict sequential order and list them with the Contents
47 Writing Skills Good Practice Writer’s block Add a List of Abbreviationsreally usefulalways appreciatedInclude a list of your own presentations & publications (if any), however modestWriter’s blockUniversal – including the famousChange to doing another section – or some other activity
48 Writing Skills Submission Find a friend to read your Abstract / SummaryFind another friend to read your Conclusions for clarityCheck final version of Report / Thesis with your Supervisor(s) or colleaguesNB Make plenty of time in your planning schedule to allow them to give their best shot
49 Writing Skills Submission Check:all pages run sequentiallyall Figures and Tables are listed in the Contentsall Appendices are listed in order of citationThere’s no duplication of referencesAny printed materials (eg short publications, reference materials) are put securely into the end pocketSubmit …
50 Developing an Abstract Writing SkillsDeveloping an Abstract
51 Writing Skills Developing an Abstract Types of Abstract / SummaryFunctionReadershipTitle / Key wordsStructure & OrganisationIntroduction – Aims – Methods – Results – ConclusionsWriting Style – tense – sentence length – constructionWord countIterative process for development / completionInitial & concluding sentences / statements
52 Dundalk IT Seminar on Academic Writing for MALT Students Discussion Groups:Developing an Abstract/Drafting the initial & concluding statements