Writing It Right


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Writing It Right

  1. 1. NACCQ 2007 Research Workshop: Writing it Right! Clare Atkins School of Business & Computer Technology Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology Research is performed in order to be used, and used by somebody else.
  2. 2. Essence of good academic writing is easy communication <ul><li>Understandable : </li></ul><ul><li>Lack of - jargon, abbreviations, obscure words </li></ul><ul><li>Unambiguous : </li></ul><ul><li>clear, meaningful, correct use of words </li></ul><ul><li>Structured : </li></ul><ul><li>creates a straightforward signposted journey </li></ul><ul><li>Readable: </li></ul><ul><li>engages reader, gives them what they expect, reduces ‘noise’ as much as possible, doesn’t make reader work too hard </li></ul>
  3. 3. Overview <ul><li>Building the Foundations </li></ul><ul><li>Making an impact </li></ul><ul><li>Improving your style </li></ul><ul><li>Improving your structure </li></ul><ul><li>Watson, G. (1987) Writing a thesis – a guide to long essays and dissertations . Addison Wesley Longman Inc, New York. </li></ul>
  4. 4. Building the Foundations
  5. 5. So you want to write good?…! <ul><li>We c an divide up this advice into three </li></ul><ul><li>HEAPS </li></ul>Reading Writing Editing What to read? What to look for? What to learn? What to write? How to start? How to write? How to edit? When to edit? When to stop? “ Writing begins in freedom and ends in discipline.”
  6. 6. Heaps of reading <ul><li>What to read? </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Anything! (not just for content) but also </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Journals/conferences you want to write for… </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Articles/books you are interested in </li></ul></ul><ul><li>What to look for? </li></ul><ul><li>Writing that you enjoy reading </li></ul><ul><li>Writing that makes ideas clear </li></ul><ul><li>Writing that seems to flow </li></ul><ul><li>Writing that is easy to read (and all the opposites!) </li></ul><ul><li>What to learn? </li></ul><ul><ul><li>What works and what doesn’t! </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>How to pay attention to the mechanics of good writing </li></ul></ul>
  7. 7. Heaps of writing <ul><li>“ Writing is writing – not preparing to write” </li></ul><ul><li>What to write? </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Anything! Practice, practice, practice….. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Don’t wait for the right topic to write a masterpiece….. </li></ul></ul><ul><li>How to start? </li></ul><ul><li>Warm-up with free-writing ( activity ) </li></ul><ul><li>But do have something to say and know what it is you want to say! </li></ul><ul><li>Articulate your main idea clearly (nutshelling) ( activity ) </li></ul><ul><li>Brainstorming – organise the structure of your ideas </li></ul><ul><li>“ What I really mean is……” sessions </li></ul><ul><li>How to write? </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Write then revise, rather than revise and write. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>(avoid Perfect Draft Syndrome!) </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Not always from the beginning….start at the end? </li></ul>
  8. 8. Heaps of editing <ul><li>Why?: </li></ul><ul><li>to make your work simpler and clearer (more readable) </li></ul><ul><li>Ask …. do I really need that many words? </li></ul><ul><li>is that the right word? ( effect or affect?) </li></ul><ul><li>is that the best word? ( use or utilise?) </li></ul><ul><li>is that sentence needed/too long/meaningful? </li></ul><ul><li>do I really need to repeat that? </li></ul><ul><li>does that really fit under this heading? </li></ul><ul><li>Read it aloud to someone else or yourself (proofreading too!) </li></ul><ul><li>When? </li></ul><ul><li>After each draft ( not after each word or sentence!) </li></ul><ul><li>Make each edit for a particular purpose </li></ul><ul><li>When to stop? </li></ul><ul><li>Put it away for 24 hours, then re-read and do final edit. ( Activity ) </li></ul>“ Most good thoughts are afterthoughts.”
  9. 9. Making an impact or Going Fishing….. Your work needs to have baited hooks! Things that will entice the reader to read on. There are some obvious hooks to bait…..
  10. 10. Making an impact or ‘Going Fishing’ <ul><li>Hook No 1 - The title: </li></ul><ul><li>Encapsulates the topic </li></ul><ul><li>Is clear and understandable </li></ul><ul><li>Does actually relate to the topic! </li></ul><ul><li>Is a reasonable length </li></ul><ul><li>Encourages you to read the paper……( activity ) </li></ul>Now do better! Write a title for your paper! Use no more than 12 words.
  11. 11. Making an impact or ‘Going Fishing’ <ul><li>Hook No 2 – the abstract </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Is an advertisement for the paper </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Is not an introduction </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Encapsulates the paper in five or six sentences </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Should c learly state the problem </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Should c learly state what you did </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Should clearly state what the results were </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Should a llow a reader to gain an overview of the entire paper just from reading the abstract </li></ul></ul><ul><li>A well written abstract is a well baited hook! </li></ul><ul><li>Write it first – then re-write it last </li></ul><ul><li>Ben-Ari, Mordechai (2000). How to get a good review. SIGCSE Bulletin Volume 32. No 2 pp4-5 </li></ul>
  12. 12. Making an impact or ‘Going Fishing’ <ul><li>Hook No 3 - The first sentence </li></ul><ul><li>Needs to be clear and relevant </li></ul><ul><li>Needs to engage the reader </li></ul><ul><li>Needs to be the right length (20-26 words?) </li></ul><ul><li>Sets the tone for the whole paper </li></ul><ul><li>Shouldn’t be a cliché </li></ul><ul><li>Shouldn’t be a generalisation </li></ul><ul><li>Shouldn’t be boring </li></ul><ul><li>Can be provocative </li></ul><ul><li>( Activity ) </li></ul>
  13. 13. Making an impact or ‘Going Fishing’ <ul><li>Hook No 4 The problem statement (hypothesis) </li></ul><ul><li>A very clear statement of the problem/hypothesis </li></ul><ul><li>Articulating it well is the key to the success of the whole paper </li></ul><ul><li>Should be reflected in the title </li></ul><ul><li>Should be referred to throughout the work </li></ul><ul><li>Use it as a reminder when editing </li></ul><ul><li>( e.g. does this increase the readers’ understanding or knowledge of the problem as expressed in my problem statement?) </li></ul><ul><li>Is probably the most important sentence (and most difficult!) </li></ul><ul><li>Often the last sentence (or paragraph) of the Introduction </li></ul><ul><li>(activity ) </li></ul>
  14. 14. Making an impact or ‘Going Fishing’ <ul><li>Hook No 5 - The final sentence </li></ul><ul><li>This is a hook of a different kind. This is the reward, the after dinner mint! </li></ul><ul><li>After reading the final sentence, the reader should be left with a feeling of completeness, satisfaction and closure….. </li></ul><ul><li>or </li></ul><ul><li>… ..very occasionally you can get away with a thought-provoking question….. </li></ul><ul><li>When you read, learn to savour the last sentence! How does it leave you? Does it entice you to go back and re-read? Does it leave you thinking? </li></ul>
  15. 15. Improving your style Style is very individual but here are some useful tips…
  16. 16. Improving your style <ul><li>Experiment with sentence length </li></ul><ul><li>When sentences are all the same length, reading them becomes monotonous. Vary their length. Keep your readers awake! </li></ul><ul><li>Experiment with active and passive voice </li></ul><ul><li>Academic writing often uses the passive voice – this can complicate the expression of an idea and obscure the meaning. Experiment with using the active voice. </li></ul><ul><li>Avoid generalisations and cliches </li></ul><ul><li>“ Nobody these days can live without the Internet….” </li></ul><ul><li>“ Information Technology has changed all our lives….” </li></ul><ul><li>Avoid overuse of acronyms </li></ul><ul><li>“ In the IS/IT area the use of a SDLC methodolgy, particularly when building an RDBMS, is not usually a part of TQM for SMEs….. </li></ul>
  17. 17. Improving your style <ul><li>… ..and some more! </li></ul><ul><li>Avoid paragraphs that are too long or too short </li></ul><ul><li>Should be appropriate to the topic but generally 1 page is too long and 1 sentence is too short . </li></ul><ul><li>One paragraph – one topic </li></ul><ul><li>Each paragraph should be concerned with just one topic unless it is a summary (in which case the summary is the topic). </li></ul><ul><li>Look to create flow from one paragraph to another </li></ul><ul><li>Reading is much easier if one paragraph flows on to the next. You can achieve this by ensuring that the last sentence of one paragraph refers to the first of the next (or vice versa ) </li></ul><ul><li>but wait….. </li></ul>
  18. 18. Improving your style <ul><li>……… ..there’s more! </li></ul><ul><li>Structure of paragraphs is important: </li></ul><ul><li>Make statement at beginning and then support it </li></ul><ul><li>OR </li></ul><ul><li>Make lead-in arguments and finish with statement </li></ul><ul><li>Avoid too many bulleted lists </li></ul><ul><li>They are useful occasionally but interrupt the reading flow. Too many tables (or too large tables) can do the same thing </li></ul><ul><li>Look out for grammatical errors and problems </li></ul><ul><li>Particularly with punctuation, syntax errors and use of inappropriate words ( activity ) </li></ul><ul><li>Work out your audience and write for them…. </li></ul><ul><li>Should you use “I” or “the author”…? </li></ul>
  19. 19. Improving your structure There are three stages to scholarly authorship. The first is finding something to say; the second is arranging it; the third expressing it (inventio, dispositio and elocutio). …writing is not just having something to say and saying it. There is a middle phase.. “
  20. 20. Improving your structure <ul><li>“ Don’t let fuzzy thoughts become fuzzy words. And if thinking fuzzily helps you get started, return to that initially fuzzy first draft and revise it for clarity ” (and for structure). </li></ul><ul><li>A paper should answer the question plainly implied by your title and bluntly posed in your problem statement. Beginning with a specific question it ends with an answer to it. </li></ul><ul><li>“ It is not meant to represent the range of your mental interests….it should not begin with Plato and end with Wittgenstein just because you have something interesting to say about them both .” </li></ul>
  21. 21. Improving your structure <ul><li>“ How you arrange your writing is as important as whatever it is that you are saying. There is little point in spending a long time revising and correcting your style if there is no overall sense of purpose in what you write.” </li></ul><ul><li>Overall generic structure of piece of academic writing </li></ul><ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Introduction </li></ul></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Background </li></ul></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Research Methodology/Process </li></ul></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><ul><li>What you actually did </li></ul></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><ul><li>What you discovered </li></ul></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><ul><li>What your results mean </li></ul></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><ul><li>What you might do next </li></ul></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Summary and concluding remarks </li></ul></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><ul><li>See handout for more details….. </li></ul></ul></ul></ul>
  22. 22. Some final words <ul><li>Take your writing seriously and practise it just like any other skill </li></ul><ul><li>Make friends with a dictionary and a thesaurus </li></ul><ul><li>Read your writing aloud – often! </li></ul><ul><li>Share your writing with others – get together, ask for opinions </li></ul><ul><li>Submit as much as you can for external review – take the criticisms as free advice! </li></ul><ul><li>and remember </li></ul>
  23. 23. The e ssence of good academic writing is easy communication <ul><li>Understandable </li></ul><ul><li>Unambiguous </li></ul><ul><li>Structured </li></ul><ul><li>Readable </li></ul>
  24. 24. Activities
  25. 25. Activity 1 Free-Writing The purpose of free-writing is to loosen you up and warm you up for some serious writing. What you write is much less important than the fact that you are writing. Back Pick up a pen/pencil and a pad of paper When I say “Go” - Write for 5 minutes about your topic without stopping ….If you can’t think of what to write, just write “blah blah blah” until you think of words related to your topic. You don’t have to write sentences, or correct grammar or correct spelling – JUST WRITE! GO! STOP!
  26. 26. Activity 2 - Knowing what to say Nutshelling Nutshelling is a technique for trying to explain a complicated idea in as brief a way as possible. It requires you to create ONE sentence which begins, “In a nutshell……” Lets try it! “ In a nutshell the main problem with my writing is……………………………………………………………………………..”
  27. 27. Activity 2 - Knowing what to say <ul><li>“ How can I know what I think until I see what I say?” </li></ul><ul><li>This may be an exaggeration but it holds a useful idea – that </li></ul><ul><ul><ul><ul><ul><li>articulating your ideas, </li></ul></ul></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><ul><ul><li>putting them into words, </li></ul></ul></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><ul><ul><li>trying to communicate with another person, </li></ul></ul></ul></ul></ul><ul><li>can be a useful way of exploring what you want to say about a topic. </li></ul>You have 2 minutes to think about what you would say to explain your topic to someone……. You have 2 minutes each to explain your topic to the person sitting next to you…. (in turns). Begin by saying “In a nutshell my topic is…” Now the real test! You each have 1 minute to recount to the group your partner’s topic! Back
  28. 28. Activity 3 Editing “ Writing is largely re-writing. All scholarly prose improves with revision” The purpose of editing is to sharpen up and clarify your writing. Often you can cut your word count considerably. You should concentrate on making your writing easy to follow and interesting to read. Back Take 5 mins to revise this paragraph…. “ Objective considerations of contemporary phenomena compel the conclusion that success or failure in competitive activities exhibits no tendency to be commensurate with innate capacity, but that a considerable element of the unpredictable must invariably be taken into account.” ( original )
  29. 29. Activity 4 Titles - <ul><li>“ Antidote for madness: What every grammar school student should know and understand but which very few of our best educated people either know or understand.” </li></ul><ul><li>“ Remarks on the Quantum-Gravity effects of &quot;Bean Pole&quot; diversification in Mononucleosis patients in Developing Countries under Economic Conditions Prevalent during the Second half of the Twentieth Century, and Related Papers: a Summary “ </li></ul><ul><li>“ Training students to intervene in Information Systems inherently involves organisational and technology skill acquisition” </li></ul><ul><li>“ Quality and Rigour of Action Research in Information Systems” </li></ul><ul><li>“ What’s in a Name? Conceptual Issues in Defining Electronic Commerce” </li></ul><ul><li>“ Identifying and Classifying Processes (traditional and soft factors) that support COTS Component Selection: A case study.” </li></ul><ul><li>“ Nice models but where’s the business?” </li></ul><ul><li>“ Experts, expertise and Professional’s explanations.” </li></ul><ul><li>“ The process of eliciting Information Requirement in Executive Information Systems from the perspective of the executive as an expert” </li></ul><ul><li>“ The nature of information” </li></ul><ul><li>“ Critical appraisal guidelines for single case study research.” </li></ul><ul><li>Which would you read? Marks out of 10, Justify! </li></ul>
  30. 30. Activity 4 Titles - Back My favourite so far: Assessment of the quality of copulation partners in the monogamous bearded tit
  31. 31. Activity 5 - First sentence <ul><li>Write at least 3 alternative first sentences for your topic. </li></ul><ul><li>Choose the best and decide why you prefer it </li></ul><ul><li>Refine it if you can (i.e. edit it!) </li></ul><ul><ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Go </li></ul></ul></ul></ul></ul><ul><li>Exchange it with a partner </li></ul><ul><li>Edit your partner’s sentence Go </li></ul><ul><li>Compare notes! – is it an improvement? </li></ul>Back
  32. 32. Activity 6 – Problem statement This is a form of ‘nutshelling’ – the one sentence summary. Imagine you have spent half an hour explaining your work to an audience. What is the one thing you really want them to remember in 48 hours time? Write that one thing as one sentence… Back NOW! Read that sentence out to the group, followed by your title. Do they match? Spend a few minutes, revising your title and your ‘one sentence’. Could your one sentence stand as the problem statement?
  33. 33. Activity 7 – Grammar and Punctuation What, if anything, is wrong with these ? The design of a web-page can effect it’s marketing potential. Frodo killed the orc with a sword I am very adaptable, will eat anything and am very fond of children. Woman without her man is nothing. Back The design of a web-page can a ffect i ts marketing potential. The design can a ffect its e ffectiveness With his sword, Frodo killed the orc (or did the orc have the sword?) I am very adaptable and will eat anything. I am also very fond of children. I am very adaptable. I will eat anything. I am very fond of children. Woman without her man, is nothing OR Woman: without her, man is nothing.
  34. 34. Original - George Orwell Back “ I am going to translate a passage of good English into modern English of the worst sort. Here is a well-known verse from Ecclesiastes: I returned and saw under the sun that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all. Here it is in modern English: Objective considerations of contemporary phenomena compel the conclusion that success or failure in competitive activities exhibits no tendency to be commensurate with innate capacity, but that a considerable element of the unpredictable must invariably be taken into account.” George Orwell , Politics and the English Language (1946) in Shooting an Elephant (1950) quoted in Watson (1989).