Library, Teaching and Learning. Writing Essays. and other assignments Lincoln University

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1 Library, Teaching and Learning Writing Essays and other assignments 2013 Lincoln University

2 Writing at University During your degree at Lincoln University you will complete essays, reports, and other kinds of written assignments. These assignments will help you develop a deeper understanding of the subject help you develop research, thinking and communication skills and, of course, allow your lecturer to assess your understanding You might be asked to write an essay a field trip report a case study a business report a critique or review a laboratory report an annotated bibliography What is good academic writing? (What are your lecturers looking for?) Each type of assignment will have slightly different purposes and formats, but all assignments share some common features. Academic writing is 1. Relevant addresses the question which was asked 2. Well-researched shows you have read widely and critically, and selected appropriate information 3. Reasoned includes analysis (i.e interpreting or showing the significance of what you have read, not just describing, or repeating information) presents an argument (or point of view, or academic opinion) uses evidence to support points presents points in a logical order 4. Structured includes an introduction, body or discussion, and conclusion (as well as any other specific sections your lecturer requires) 5. Referenced includes information about the source of the evidence you have used 6. Readable is written clearly and explicitly (academic writers do not imply they write in a direct way) is written in a concise and formal style is well presented (e.g. correct grammar and spelling, required layout) Not sure what an academic opinion is? Or how to write in a formal style? See page 12 for more resources that will help you become a better academic writer. 2

3 You cannot research and write essays and other assignments in a day researching, drafting and editing well takes time. Successful writers work through the five stages below to complete an assignment. Approaching writing as a series of steps can help to make the task seem more manageable: it breaks the writing into a series of smaller tasks, and it can help you to manage your time more efficiently. That doesn t mean it is a neat linear process! You may find you have to return to some of the stages several times. Also, many writers prefer to start writing early, developing a plan as they write and then re-organising the ideas they have generated into a complete first draft. Whichever approach you use, however, careful preparation, thinking and reviewing are essential to produce clear, organised writing. Prepare Analyse the question Make a research plan See pp 4-6 for more detail Research Search for information Read widely and critically See p 7 for more detail Organise Develop a writing plan (key points and evidence or detail to support each point) See p 8 for more detail Write Review Using your writing plan as a guide, start writing Leave your draft for a few days before revising for content Edit for structure and style Proof read for errors and presentation See pp 8-9 for more detail See pp for more detail Having difficulty getting started? Not sure which type of writing process suits you best? See page 12 for more resources that will help you become a more efficient writer. 3

4 Prepare Choose the topic Consider the time and resources available Consider your interests and abilities Analyse the question Identify the topic Identify the focus Identify the instruction e.g. Discuss the effects of the goldrush of the 1860s on New Zealand society and the environment. Topic = the 1860s goldrush Focus = its effects on NZ society and the environment Instruction = discuss Check the marking guide and other criteria for the assignment Rephrase the question in your own words to check your understanding Develop a research plan Identify the related issues and concepts you have encountered in the course so far Generate more specific questions that explore the topic e.g. Discuss the differences between glaciated and stream-eroded valleys. = what are the characteristics of glaciated valleys? = what are the characteristics of stream-eroded valleys? = what are the differences between the two? = why do these differences occur? Develop a tentative writing plan Would you like to find out more about analysing assignment questions? See page 12 for more resources that will help you interpret those tricky questions 4

5 A few hints on interpreting assignment instruction words: Instruction words in assignment questions tell you what type of text to write. It is always risky to try to precisely define, in isolation, the words used in essay instructions; these words can be used in slightly different ways in different disciplines and by different lecturers. When you are interpreting assignment questions, consider also the following: what level is the course? what are the course objectives? what other guidelines have you been given by the lecturer? Finally, don't forget to ask for clarification from your course tutor, your lecturer, or a Learning Advisor, if you are unsure about what is required in an assignment Describe? Analyse??: What s the difference? Instruction words can be categorised into the three general types in the diagram below. Most assignments require both description and analysis. describe / explain analyse / interpret evaluate Describe... Analyse. asks questions such as... who? what? when? where? wants you to... describe summarise outline asks questions such as... how? why? what is the significance? so what? wants you to... interpret synthesise show inter-relationships show the significance of question reason (sometimes) evaluate 5

6 Some commonly used instruction words: Argue: Analyse: Compare: Contrast: Criticise: (or critique; critically discuss) Define: Describe: (or identify, state) Diagram: Discuss: Evaluate: Examine: Explain: Illustrate: Interpret: Justify: List: (or enumerate) Review: Summarise: (or outline) Set out a reasoned case in support of a point of view. Separate the subject into its main parts and discuss the significance of the parts and their inter-relationships. Present and discuss the similarities of two (or more) things. It is usually appropriate to discuss the differences at the same time. Present and discuss dissimilarities or differences between two (or more) things. Often, questions will ask you to compare and contrast. Weigh up the issues and make a judgement. You are expected to discuss the limitations as well as the merits or contributions. Give a clear concise meaning. You should keep in mind the class to which a thing belongs and whatever differentiates the particular object from all others in that class. Give a detailed account of the main features of a subject. Present a drawing, chart, or plan, with clear concise labels. In some cases you should also include a brief explanation or description. Examine and analyse carefully all aspects of a topic. Present considerations for and against. Assess the merits and limitations of something. Weigh up the evidence and give a judgement. Investigate or research a topic and discuss in detail. Clarify or make clear the meaning or significance of something; give the reasons or causes for something; or show how something has developed or occurred. Explain or clarify your answer by presenting a figure, picture, diagram or concrete example. Show the meaning or significance of information. Prove or show grounds for your decisions or conclusions. Give the key points in a concise form. Notes, headings, tables, numbered points may be appropriate. Analyse and discuss the key points or issues. Critically examine ideas and themes. Give the main points or facts in a condensed form. Details, and usually illustrations or examples, may be omitted. 6

7 Research Stay focused Keep the question in front of you while you read Keep reviewing your tentative plan Search for information Read widely Read efficiently - use skills of previewing and skimming to identify potentially useful information Read critically Look for different points of view Question what you read Question the authority of the author Make notes Be selective Summarise and paraphrase (don't just copy!) Begin sorting and grouping information Keep detailed bibliographic information for accurate referencing Would you like to become a more effective and efficient researcher? See page 12 for more resources. 7

8 Organise Reflect / think Try to clarify your central idea or "answer" to the question If you cannot come up with a central idea, continue reading, thinking and talking, or try some "exploratory" writing about the topic Summarise your "answer" Write your answer or central idea in one or two sentences Develop a writing plan Create an outline, a mind map, or flow chart Identify key points to support or explain your central idea Decide on a logical order for the points Identify evidence or detail to support points Write Get the ideas down on paper Start with the easiest section of your plan Don't aim for perfection on this first draft Use paragraphs to highlight logical structure Develop each key point into one paragraph Express the main idea in the first one or two sentences Use the rest of the paragraph to expand, support or explain that point Include the source of all your evidence (i.e. provide a reference) Write an introduction Write a conclusion Having difficulty organising your ideas? Can t seem to get those ideas on paper? See page 12 for more resources that will help you become a better academic writer. 8

9 All types of academic writing (essays, reports etc) include clear introductions and conclusions, and a series of logically ordered paragraphs. An introduction leads the reader in to your essay or report and provides a map of what they will read. Usually it is 5 10% of the total word count. Introduction Introduces the topic (e.g. background, key definitions, problem being addressed) States the central idea (the thesis ) and/or the purpose of the paper Previews the key points Body (discussion) paragraphs Paragraphs are the building blocks of your essay or report. Each paragraph introduces and develops a key point to back up the overall thesis or theme of your essay. Usually the key point is expressed in the first few sentences, and the rest of the paragraph explains the point in more detail and provides evidence to support the point. Para 1 Focuses on a key point related to the theme of the essay Includes supporting detail for the key idea Link word or phrase: Connects 2 consecutive paragraphs Para 2 When you use the opinions and findings of others as evidence, you need to include a reference (citation). (If you are not sure how to reference, check out the resources on p.12) Para 3 Link (Continue with as many paragraphs as needed) A conclusion draws together the ideas you have discussed and provides a sense of finality with a strong finishing statement. Usually it is 5 10% of the total word count. Conclusion Summarises main points Reinforces theme or central idea Finishes with a final comment 9 See page 12 for more resources on structure, including examples of essays..

10 Review If you have time, leave your draft for a few days before revising it. Then ask yourself the following questions about the content, structure, and style of your work. Don t try to check for everything at once! Try to get feedback from someone else on the general clarity and sense of your work. 1. Argument & ideas Focus Have you answered (all parts of) the question? Is the thesis or central theme of the paper clear? Is the purpose or goal of the paper clear? Logical flow Is there a series of clearly identifiable key points? Are all the points related to the central theme? Are all the points presented in a logical order? Use of Evidence Is each point supported by appropriate and reliable evidence? Have you analysed, as well as reported, the evidence? Have you considered opposing views? Relevance Is all the material relevant to the question? Authorship Is it written in your own words? Are other people's ideas acknowledged (referenced)? 2. Structure Paragraphs Does each paragraph focus on one main point? Does each sentence in the paragraph relate to the main point of the paragraph? Does each sentence follow on logically from the previous one? 10

11 Flow Are there clear links between paragraphs and between sections? Introduction Does the introduction clearly identify the topic of the paper? Is there a clear thesis (or purpose) statement in the introduction? Does the introduction give the reader an idea about what is to follow? Conclusion Does the conclusion sum up the main points of the paper? Does the conclusion remind the reader of your thesis (or central theme)? Does the conclusion have a sense of finality? 3. Clarity & usage Clarity Is the meaning of each sentence clear? Accuracy Have you checked the grammar, punctuation and spelling? (Have you used the computer spell check and then re-checked it yourself? Have you checked for the types of mistakes you commonly make?) Style Is your writing concise? (e.g. Have you avoided repetition? Have you avoided unnecessary jargon, clichés and qualifiers?) Have you followed the formal conventions of academic writing? (e.g. Have you avoided contractions? Have you avoided informal vocabulary?) 4. Presentation Are you within 10% of the word limit? Have you met the presentation requirements (e.g. Have you included a title page? Have you used double spacing?) Have you used the appropriate referencing style? (e.g. APA, Chicago) Not sure how best to revise and edit your work? See page 12 for more resources. 11

12 Need more advice? Check out the resources on our shelves and our web page at Workshops, drop-in sessions, and individual appointments are also available. 12

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