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Academic Essays & Report Writing
Southern Cross University
Objectives Analyse and outline key points in preparing and writing academic essays Identify types of reports and the principles of report construction Identify techniques for collection and organisation of data Objectives Analyses and outline key points for preparing and writing academic essays Identify the types of reports, purpose and funtion and understand the principles of report construction Identify techniques for the collection and organisation of data
Readings Dwyer, Chapter 12 and Chapter 18
Academic Writing Background What is academic writing
- need to convince reader - give details and explanations - take a stance - explain or define terms - use literature - use paragraphs Result – ‘academic’ logical, clear writing Important to distinguish between writing for business context and writing academic essays and assignments. So in this section going to again go through information re academic essay writing, and report writing. What is the purpose of uni? A major purpose of universities is to create, store and record new knowledge2. So, when you begin your course you become an apprentice, being trained to think, write and read in particular ways that will prepare you to conduct research. In order to create new knowledge we have to become aware of the knowledge that already exists, because, to create new knowledge we either have to be able to identify a gap in the existing knowledge or we have to be able to examine existing knowledge from other perspectives. Therefore, reading widely becomes important so that you become aware of a variety of viewpoints. So, knowledge is important in the uni culture. It is the currency of the culture and is highly valued and protected. Sub cultures – disciplines –built around subjects and different fields of study – Science, Social Sciences, Humanities - each build knowledge in different way because each has different purpose. These affect thinking , reading and writing. Social Sciences eg describes and explains world of human experience eg sociology, management, communication. Essays and reports that explain human phenomena and argue and justify the explanation. Language - focus on explanation: references – focus on source of information- references highly valued to support the argument. -What is academic writing? Academic writing is writing that is highly organised, formal, logical and contains evidence that the writer has worked with the knowledge to create his/her own ideas. These ideas are developed in paragraphs. In the academic context, you are writing to be graded on an assessment. Therefore you have to convince the reader that you know what you are writing about. Several techniques can be used (and are expected) in order to be convincing. Some are: Give details and explanations. Ask the ‘how’ and ‘why’ questions to help explore ideas beyond the more descriptive ‘when’, ‘where’, ‘what’ and ‘who’ questions. Take a stance in the essay and state it clearly in the introduction. Explain, or define terms to show your understanding, and your perspective. Use the literature to demonstrate your knowledge and to support your perspective. Use paragraphs to help to explain, to give details and to discuss. Using these techniques will help you to produce 'academic' (as well as logical and clear) writing. When commence do not forget to go through written communication formula. Prepare to write, write, review written material
Essay & Report – What’s the Difference?
Purpose, Physical difference There are two main differences between essays and reports: * their purpose and * their physical appearance. The purpose is the most important difference because it determines how you organise your ideas and how to think about the assignment. The purpose of an academic report is to report information that you have gathered either by reading, by carrying out field research (through interviews and surveys, for example) or by evaluating some workplace activity. You will probably have a perspective, but that might not become clear until later in the report. * the purpose of an academic essay is to take a perspective in relation to the assignment task, develop and support that perspective. That perspective will be apparent from the first paragraph and, in fact, it will help you to 'shape' your response to the assignment task because you will select knowledge and evidence that will help you develop and support your perspective. Reports and essays look different. Reports usually have headings, sub-headings and dot points * essays are constructed in paragraphs and usually without headings (unless you are requested to insert them). The reason that essays usually do not have headings is because your viewpoint, or perspective, acts like a 'thread' through the essay. Headings can break the 'thread'.
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The Process Prepare to write Write Review your written material
Stop and think of purpose eg are you presenting an argument, reporting information, making a proposal or reviewing information written on a particular topic. Purpose help decide - how interpret and present information Eg essay or a report etc. Writing essays for University study expected to take a position, make your position clear, argue for it and present evidence to support it. However you should not present just one side of argument.
Process of assignment writing
- interpret assignment task - begin reading - take notes/organise ideas - further reading - develop plan - write first draft - rewrite to link and develop ideas - Rewrite/read/add ideas - Edit and final reading (PittmanJ. 2002) What is the process for writing an assignment? The assignment task is evidence of your learning, not only of the content of the unit, but also of the conventions expected of you at university. Writing for university does not happen quickly or easily. It takes time to think, write, rewrite, do further reading, rewrite and polish. It is a process that, very generally, can be outlined in the following way: * interpret the assignment task; * begin reading to understand the task, to gather ideas and to form your viewpoint; * take notes as your read, keep a record of your sources of information, perhaps organise ideas; * more reading until you reach a point where you are either ready to write or you have to begin because you are running out of time; * sketch out a rough structure for your assignment, or just begin to write (whichever suits you best); * write, keeping in mind the assignment task; * rewrite to link or develop ideas * rewrite, maybe more reading to add ideas, rewrite until finally begin reading * polish attending to punctuation, spelling, typos, presentation and * hand in the assignment and wait. Do you notice that this process is not a neat and organised one? It does not develop in a sequence, but you often will find yourself going back over previous steps.
Interpreting the Assignment Task
Focus of topic Are you being limited to think of topic in certain way? What are you being asked to do with knowledge gathered? How are you being asked to organise ideas What is idea or concept of the assignment (Pittman J.2002) What do I look for when interpreting the assignment task? Assignment tasks are meant to be read more than once. Begin with the obvious aspects: * What is the topic? (Try to summarise it in one - two words.) * Are you being limited to think about this topic in a particular way? (For example, by relating the ideas to a particular case, or workplace or form of management.) * What are you being asked to do with the knowledge that you gather for the assignment? Examples are to discuss, evaluate or critically analyse. What do these words mean? Go to Appendix 1 for a list of these direction words and their definitions. *** How are you being asked to organise your ideas? Sometimes you will be given instructions to write an essay or a report. Do you understand the difference between them? What is the idea or concept (the abstract idea) that underlies the whole assignment? Do you need to explain or define this concept?
Analysing The Question
In this stage you carefully read and analyse what is meant by the assignment task and the criteria that will be used to mark your essay. This is important because it helps to give you a focus for gathering relevant information.
Bloom’s taxonomy Evaluation Synthesis Analysis Application
Comprehension Knowledge BLOOM'S TAXONOMY Implications for students Evaluation The student is asked to provide qualitative and quantitative judgments about the extent to which material and methods satisfy certain criteria. Synthesis The student is asked to work with pieces, parts or elements and to arrange them in such a way that a pattern or structure is devised that was not clearly there before. Analysis The student is required to indicate how a subject/topic is organised (main point, parts) and how that message is conveyed. Application The student is asked to select an idea, a rule of procedures or generalised method that is appropriate to a situation and apply it correctly. Comprehension The student is required to paraphrase or summarise knowledge accurately without necessarily being able to relate it to other material or see its fullest implications. Knowledge The student is asked to recall appropriate material e.g., specific facts, universal procedures, structures or settings.
Expectations in Assignments
Words such as: analyse, compare, contrast, judge, criticise, evaluate, argue, discuss, review, interpret and examine convey expectations in relation to the higher order thinking skills EXPECTATIONS IN ASSIGNMENT QUESTIONS It is important that you analyse the assignment wording carefully, particularly in relation to the instructional words, so you understand more clearly what is expected of you. Words such as: analyse, compare, contrast, judge, criticise, evaluate, argue, discuss, review, interpret and examine convey expectations in relation to the higher order thinking skills whilst words such as: describe, illustrate, summarise , outline, define, identify, demonstrate, how? and what? convey expectations in relation to the lower order thinking skills. So check the direction words in your assignment questions. Sometimes the directions in assignments are for lower order skills e.g., 'describe' but the expectation is for a higher order skill. University assignments are rarely meant to be just descriptive. You are almost always expected to analyse and critically evaluate. well written question convey clear expectations poorly written questions often contain underlying assumptions
Expectations in Assignments
words such as: describe, illustrate, summarise , outline, define, identify, demonstrate, how? and what? convey expectations in relation to the lower order thinking skills. So check the direction words in your assignment questions. Sometimes the directions in assignments are for lower order skills e.g., 'describe' but the expectation is for a higher order skill. University assignments are rarely meant to be just descriptive. You are almost always expected to analyse and critically evaluate.
Critical analysis Analysis means breaking down a process/model/concept into its parts and then weighing up each of these parts by making a judgement about the strengths and weaknesses/ pros/cons in a context.
The Academic Essay - Construction
Interpret the task Begin reading-efficiently, critically Decide on perspective or stance Write introduction Write the body Write the conclusion Construct the reference list (Pittman J.2002) Constructing an Academic Essay Interpret the task Go back and apply the section What do I look for when interpreting the assignment task? to your task, then continue to interpret the task with the following questions: Does the assignment task contain an opinion, or a proposition? What is it? Are there any assumptions in the assignment task that you need to deal with? What is your viewpoint/perspective in relation to the proposition? What reasons do you have, or can you find from your reading, to support your viewpoint? What evidence can you find from your reading to support your perspective and reasons? Is there any evidence against your perspective that you need to acknowledge? How can you demonstrate that this perspective is not as credible/strong/effective as the one that you will take? Begin your reading. Apply the ideas from How do I read efficiently? and What is ‘critical reading’? As you read you need to decide what you think, and gather reasons and evidence. 3. Decide on your perspective or stance Deciding what you think is expected in every assignment task, but especially in essay writing. You do not have to totally agree or disagree with the proposition that you are given. Most often you will find that you think 'mostly I agree but …' or 'I don't really agree with this even though …'. There is no right answer (sometimes there might be a more appropriate one). You will gain your marks in your assignment for having a viewpoint, having reasons and evidence to support it, writing in a logical and organised way and using others' ideas to help develop your own. The three questions below will help you to develop your perspective and to organise your essay: What do I think? What reasons do I have for this perspective? What evidence can I use to support this perspective? 4. Write the Introduction When you have done enough reading that you feel ready to write begin by writing a rough draft of the Introduction The Introduction The purpose of the Introduction is to give direction to the essay. This is usually done by telling the reader some of the decisions you have made about your essay, usually in one paragraph (4 - 6 sentences) for a word essay. Some of these decisions are: your position or perspective that you will take in relation to the assignment task; the main ideas that will be covered; how you have interpreted a term or idea that is the basis of the whole assignment (this is the definition) and how your are limiting the topic (if relevant), for example to a particular organisation, a time frame or to a particular set of communication skills. EG
Structuring a critical analysis essay:
Break the process/model/concept into its parts. Identify these parts. For each of these parts consider: What is the point you want to make about the parts? Explain and develop this point by considering: What do you mean by this? What evidence is there for it?
Structuring a critical analysis essay:
How does your point/comment fit into a wider context? How does it compare (similarities and differences) with what other writers have written? What is your comment based on the evidence and comparisons you have given for this point?
The introduction Locate the topic in the general area of study
Define terms (if definition is short, otherwise use a separate paragraph) Limit the scope of the essay (if applicable) Give the reader a clear indication of what is to follow. State your position / viewpoint / interpretation / thesis. This enables the writer to develop an argument and puts the reader/marker in a position to be able to judge the quality of the argument. INTRODUCTION The INTRODUCTION sets the scene for the essay and informs the reader (marker) about what direction the essay takes. In general it should: locate the topic in the general area of study define terms (if definition is short, otherwise use a separate paragraph) limit the scope of the essay (if applicable) give the reader a clear indication of what is to follow. State your position/viewpoint/interpretation/thesis. This enables the writer to develop an argument and puts the reader/marker in a position to be able to judge the quality of the argument.
The body: paragraphs Paragraphs can be used to: list examples
introduce some new ideas that you intend to explain further present one point of the argument with reference to the literature compare, explain and/or report These different purposes will alter/determine the structure of each particular paragraph. When you are arguing, justifying and/or explaining a point, the paragraph will consists of a group of sentences (so no single sentences!!!) that state, develop, support and conclude that point.
Paragraphs Note the paragraph structure. Note how:
the first sentence contains the point of the paragraph, that is, one of the reasons being given to substantiate the overall argument 'smoking is a health hazard'. the subsequent sentences give an explanation of the point (with in-text referencing) and evidence to substantiate the point (with in-text referencing). the final sentence makes a critical comment, i.e., acknowledges the limitations of the explanation and evidence, but draws a conclusion which supports the opening sentence (the point of the paragraph).
The conclusion Complete Succinct Mirror plan CONCLUSION
The CONCLUSION is the last part of the essay that your lecturer (MARKER) reads so it is important that it leaves the reader with a COMPLETE but SUCCINCT reminder of the whole essay. It should also mirror the plan of the essay as stated in the introduction.
Types of Reports Research report Evaluative report
Research by reading report Report types: Research report: use this structure if you have gathered your own data via interviews etc and it is important to report the method and results. Evaluative report: use this structure when you have to evaluate a workplace activity. Research by reading report: use this structure when you are only expected to gather the information for your report by reading from Books of Readings, text books and other materials you find in the library.
Constructing an Academic Report
Interpret task Decide on report purpose Begin reading Begin writing Concentrate on organising and developing ideas in paragraphs Constructing an Academic Report Interpret the task Go back and apply the section What do I look for when interpreting the assignment task? Reports are more complex forms of assignments because their structure will vary depending upon your writing purpose. They will always have an introduction, body and conclusion, but organisation of the body will vary depending on the assignment task, and therefore the writing purpose. There are a variety of reasons for writing reports for academic assignments. Some are to: Plan a project and therefore, the report structure is appropriate to outline the stages of the plan. * Research report - Reports information that you have gathered by conducting surveys and questionnaires, or through observation. In this report you must tell the reader how you gathered the information (or data), what the data is, and then you are expected to interpret the data, usually by also referring to the literature to support your interpretations, or to offer explanations that you can explore further. * Research by reading report - Report what you have read about a topic. The focus is on the knowledge, not on how you gathered it. * Evaluative report - Report to evaluate a behaviour or workplace practice - where you have to use some criteria from the literature to help you to make the evaluation. 2. Decide on your report purpose The questions below provide some guidance for structuring particular types of reports. Use these as a guide only and modify your report structure if necessary so that it achieves your writing purpose. INSERT REPORT WRITING – QUESTIONS TO ASK Begin your reading. Apply the ideas from How do I read efficiently? and What is ‘critical reading’? As you read keep in mind your assignment task. Use the Questions to Ask to guide you. Begin writing Sometimes with reports, it is easier to write a section at a time. Decide on headings to use to guide you, and remember that you can always change the order of ideas if they do not seem logical to you. Keep referring to the Questions to Ask. 5. Concentrate on organising and developing your ideas in paragraphs Paragraphs are chunks of information – several sentences that state and develop a point. There is a common pattern for paragraphs that explain, argue and justify in the body of an essay. These types of paragraphs are usually found in the discussion sections of reports. Use these questions to help you construct paragraphs: What’s the point I want to make? This is the topic of the paragraph. What do I mean by this? Expand and explain So? Why have I written this? How is it relevant to the assignment topic, to a sub-point that I am making? An example is:
Report Format Title page Table of Contents
Executive Summary or Abstract Introduction Main Body of Report Conclusion Recommendations (only if required) Reference List Appendices (Optional) Other - Letter of transmittal, Acknowledgements, List of Figures and Tables, Glossary * Title page – identifies report title , your name, student number, date and to whom report directed. * Table of contents – outlines each specific section of report with relevant page numbers. Usually organised into major and sub headings (numbered) * Executive summary/ abstract - a summary of report purpose and overview of specific and actual findings and reports recommendations no longer than a page. Only written after you have completed the report. If an executive summary well written a reader should be able to understand the main points, findings, conclusions of actual report without having to read whole report Introduction – statement of report purpose, scope of report, outlines what is to be presented: provides any general background to topic that can assist reader in ‘setting scene’: Main body – major and sub headings used to organise analysis and information. Follow any format as long as logical. Complete sentences, paragraphs to ensure good communication * Conclusion – provides an overview of main points or answers to the analysis. VIP DO not bring in any new information at this stage only that discussed in main body of report
Executive Summary / Abstract
Gives the reader a logical overall view of the report Has to be able to stand alone!! 10 % length for a long report Short report: a sentence for each of these aim, procedure/methodology, results, conclusion (or discussion) and recommendations. WRITING AN ABSTRACT, EXECUTIVE SUMMARY OR SUMMARY An abstract is a summary of the whole report which gives the reader a logical overall view of the report. It has to be able to stand alone!! A long report of 2000 words or more often has an abstract of about 200 words. A short report contains a summary sentence for each of the following parts of your report: aim, procedure/methodology, results, conclusion (or discussion) and recommendations.
Editing your report #1 Firstly - Have you addressed the question/task?
Check for the organisation and development of ideas Have you included all the relevant sections for your report type? Is your report in logical order? Does each paragraph have a topic sentence? (Note that point form is often used in reports).
Editing your report #2 Is each paragraph developed appropriately for your purpose? Have you reported facts before you begin to discuss them? Have you tried to include some critique of others' work when appropriate? Have you taken your information beyond the level of 'this is what I found and this is what I (or others) have to say about it'?
Editing your report #3 Have you answered the questions:
'What are the implications of this finding/information?' 'What are the strengths/weaknesses or pros/cons of this information? You can lead yourself to these answers by asking yourself 'so what?' after you've written the points in the discussion.
Check your structure/layout
Do your sub-headings reflect the information that follows? If you remove the sub-headings will the information in the first sentence still make sense? Are the headings consistent in their use of capitals, font size etc? Note that in short reports there is generally no need to start a new page for each section.
Final checks Check the consistency of any numbering system
Check for spelling, grammar and referencing Have you spell-checked your work? Do you know the difference between affect/effect and it's/its? Is your punctuation appropriate? Is the verb tense appropriate for each section? Have you supported your discussion or evaluation/interpretation with reference to the literature? Have you referenced accurately?
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