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Academic writing advice for postgrads

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Some academic writing advice for post-graduate students.

Some academic writing advice for post-graduate students.


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  • 1. RESEARCH METHODSWorkshop: Part 2 on academic report writing28 January 2013
  • 2. Importance of writing• “To write well is to think well”.• Writing is a process and the process involves rewriting, usually numerous times.• Written communication forces us to clarify and refine our thoughts, to place them in logical order and to express them in ways that enable others to grasp our thought process and reasoning.
  • 3. 3Report writing• Writing up your research is itself a science and an art.• Always remember that you are answering a question by telling a story: o You need good structure and flow.• But you are writing for academics, so keep it as dry as James Bond’s martinis.• The following structure and guidelines really apply across all written work – essays, paper, reports, dissertations…
  • 4. 4The introductiono Contains a broad outline of the topic.o Describes the importance and relevance thereof.o Leads to a statement of the problem and the purpose of the study.o The final paragraph outlines the sections (or chapters if it is a dissertation) that follow and their contents.
  • 5. 5The theoretical sectiono Describes the theories and models pertinent to the study.o Criticism of these should also be provided.o The literature review discusses recent research in the field.o The presentation of the literature should follow a logical format.o At the end of this chapter give a short overview of the literature, the findings and shortcomings. NB! Do not only describe and discuss – analyse and evaluate.
  • 6. 6The method sectiono Recount the specific objectives of the empirical research.o Describe research design:  Explain the method: comparative, case study, questionnaire, statistical analysis etc.  Describe the research objects, participants, data etc.
  • 7. 7The results section o Describes the findings in accordance with the objectives stated in the methods chapter. o Report interesting, uninteresting, significant and insignificant results. o Link the results back to theory and previous research findings. o You may combine the results and discussion chapters.  The discussion should include the weaknesses of the study and suggestions for further research.
  • 8. The summary and conclusions• You want to finish up your essay or report with a summary: • Briefly state what the problem was. • Why it was important. • Sum up what the literature showed. • Say how you approached the empirical analysis. • Recap the results.• And conclusions • Answer the “So what?” question.• And make some recommendations • For further research, for policymakers etc.
  • 9. Guidelines and tips• The NWU has five pages of technical requirements for the formatting of your document in the Manual for Postgraduate Study – please make sure that you adhere to those.• There are also basic rules of thumb to keep mind: • Block/justify the text. • Number the headings. • Format the headings in a consistent manner.
  • 10. Guidelines and tips• Aim to express your ideas logically and consistently.• Write clearly: • Employ the past tense or present perfect tense for literature reviews and description of research procedure. • Use the past tense to describe results. • Use the present tense to discuss conclusions.
  • 11. Guidelines and tips• Economy of expression: • Use short words and sentences. • Avoid jargon and wordiness. • Avoid writing paragraphs that are too long or too short. • Find logical places in which to break and reorganise the material.• Be precise – ‘this’, ‘these’ and ‘those’ may be troublesome.• Avoid using too many abbreviations in the text.
  • 12. Guidelines and tips• Tables, figures and graphs are useful, but: • Should be easy to read. • Should have only the essential facts. • Should have a number and a heading. • Should be formatted in a consistent manner. • Should be explained and interpreted in the text – just sticking it in there is not enough.
  • 13. Sources and references• When you do academic writing you have to cite your sources in the text and list them in the bibliography.• The Faculty of Economic and Management Sciences uses the Harvard method for this.• The library has a booklet “Quoting sources” that explains the method in detail.NB! If you do not use and reference sources and don’t do it in the prescribed way, you are like to fail any written report.
  • 14. Sources and references• There are general guidelines for the use of sources to keep in mind: • It is best to use primary sources and as few secondary sources as possible. • When you use a source you have to acknowledge it • Refer to it in the text where it was used. • List it in the list of references. • Refer to the source when you use other peoples’ numbers or statistics. • Back your arguments with references when a certain issue is controversial. • Use direct quotes only if they are indispensable.
  • 15. Google Scholar can make it easy
  • 16. Or use a web service
  • 17. Sources and references• More general guidelines: • It is important to not just compile discussions – you have to analyse and evaluate. • When the views or interpretations of other authors are involved, you have to: • Indicate that your view is shared or confirmed by the expert. • Show that you reject the point of view. • Emphasise that the source concerned thinks the same as other sources about the issue. • Or become involved in a critical discussion.
  • 18. Patch-writing and plagiarism• Please note that any and all work that you are submitting with your name, has to be your own.• What does the campus law office say? • If you incorporate contents from any source without reference or acknowledgement, it amounts to plagiarism. • It does not matter how much was copied. Any amount of copying will be a violation. The amount copied might determine the punishment issued. • Changing the words or content will not justify the usage without citing the source. If material is substantially similar to the publication the copying will be plagiarism.
  • 19. Patch-writing and plagiarism• We use www.turnitin.com to determine if your text is substantially similar to other sources.• The process in the School of Economics: • Policy of similarity scores and penalties… • Learning opportunities to empower you… • After that the sanctions.• Academic dishonesty will not be tolerated.
  • 20. In conclusion• Writing is about re-writing. You first draft should never be the one that you submit.• But there are many things that are easy to get right: • Structure your writing – use headings with numbers and subsections – writing linking sentences. • Spell check the document. • Make sure that the references are accurate and done according to prescribed style.• To write well you will have to put in serious effort, but it may be skill that puts you ahead of the rest of the class when you start to apply for jobs.