Showing posts from November, 2013

Restricting the Quantity of Citations

Nowadays, so much academic writing is simply a rehash of other people's work. Textbooks, in particular, are prone to the vice of uncritical recycling. Clearly, however, there is a virtue in building on the work of others. Work in the humanities has become very specialised (since the 1970s) and this means that we are standing on the shoulders of an army of scholars, not to mention the proverbial giants and geniuses of the past. Nonetheless, excessive use of citation suggests perhaps a lack of confidence in your own thought and creativity. A literature review may be the starting point of a research project, but it is not the final destination. I was led to these rather banal reflections having recently picked up a copy of John Russell Brown's engaging and thoughtful book: Shakespeare: The Tragedies (2001). This book has four citations, two of which refer to the work of Peter Clark, The English Alehouse: A Social History 1200-1830 . (1983) Now that's perhaps the l

Top Ten Writing Problems - a list

That's my last sentence on this topic. Ever. In your view, what are the TOP TEN problems that students experience in their writing? Obviously, it depends quite a lot on the age group, their experience, and whether English is their first language. In this blog I'm thinking about weaker students, aged 11+. It is clear, however, that many of the problems also affect the work of undergraduates and adult business people. And we're constantly striving to improve our writing, as earlier versions of this informal post would undoubtedly demonstrate. In my experience, many common writing problems are persistent and recurrent. Is a quick fix really that difficult? Do you make of a checklist for your students? How do you empower your students to take more professional care and control of their work? Any ideas? Here is my draft list: Many sentences that need a verb don't have one. There is a tendency to use phrases, or sentence fragments, rather than senten

Life Beyond Writer's Block

Building blocks, or Writer's Block ? You do not have writer's block as such. It's a myth! It’s far more likely that you are stuck in an unimaginative rut, and that you are experiencing a shortage of stimuli, or a lack of variety in the brain and body soup that should be feeding and nourishing your creative mind.  If the situation has been really bad for many weeks you may be depressed. The good news is that creative strategies may help to decrease the depth and frequency of your depressive phases. Increasingly, writing and other creativity strategies are being recognised as therapeutic techniques. Why not change the sex of your main character, and/or make him/her drastically older or younger? Absurd tweaks should initially be treated as harmless fun; but they may, nonetheless lead you in an unexpected direction.  Great art involves patterns and destiny, but the aleatory, random dimension deserves to be better understood. In this case, risk means

Citations and references: the solution to the Kindle / ebook dilemma

If you own a Kindle, Nook, or other ebook reader you will be familiar with the problem that the majority of texts do not have fixed page numbers. They will also display the same text in different way. This means that the location of a quotation in one digital format will be different from another. Obviously if you are downloading a pdf there will be fixed page numbers to refer to. Readers who want to locate and check your quotations can of course simply search for key words within the text. Also, you can indicate which section of the book you are referring to by including a chapter reference. Therefore you ought to write in this style McCormick (2013) outlines the art of disputation (ch. 7) and the art of the supplement (ch. 6). and quotations like this McCormick (2013) argues that 'the use of transition words is highly effective in logical thinking' (ch 1.5). Note that in the example above, the reference helpfully also provides a note of the subsection 5 of chap

Strategies to avoid exam stress and anxiety

As we have noted in earlier blogs on this site, exam stress and anxiety is built into this mode of assessment. That's partly because the exam is typically a two or three hour endurance test in which you are deprived of home comforts and familiar supports. For many students exams present an image of clinical discipline and dehumanisation. Sitting exams may also cause you to revisit similar occasions in the past that involved a traumatic sense of disempowerment, defeat and failure. But despite the huge potential downside of exams presented in these terms they do mimic real life experiences where you may have to work under pressure, use your wits, or demonstrate that you can plan and manage your time. Exams are here to stay! Nonetheless, it will be helpful to recognise that there are some common anxieties that exam candidates experience. They may fear that there isn't a question that they can answer, or they may fear being seized with writer's block as they stare at a b

Drafting a book on the Art of Description in Literature

Scotland 2013 The aim of this as-yet-unwritten book is to explore "description" in terms of  (1) creative craft (2) critical analysis. Proposed Contents The extinction/manipulation of vision Beyond visualization? Description before the era of photography and film The role of conventions and traditions How writers deploy ambiguity and contradiction for effect Making lists: enumeration The romantic description The aesthetics of the sublime The aesthetics of the beautiful Creating a sense of disgust Creating a sense of horror Description of character Employing multiple sensations Communicating mood and tone The Point of View Tilting and Panning The Panorama The Frame The use of zoom control The Guided Tour Towards Abstraction: generality and description Lega

Are you a connected learner?

A quick-reference list of the qualities and actions of a connected learner : Mindful of others’ beliefs and interests Able to step back from conflict and reposition debate Share what you find useful Adopts essential technical and hardware skills for interactivity and participation Updates knowledge of appropriate software and other interfaces Distinguishes between more and less relevant or reliable sources Builds networks Increases valued connections Foster community development Joins and connects in order to make meaning Filters and selects information Asks difficult questions Explores the opportunity to rethink Pushes solutions beyond initial proposal Fosters appreciative inquiry Open to new ideas rather than aloof and disengaged Takes delight in having a responsibility for the direction of your learning

A Quick Guide to Writing an Abstract

But will your abstract fit inside the box? If you have been reading my blog on The Art of the Abstract , are you now ready for the quick guide? FORMAT Use one paragraph. Stick to the word length. Check the format style guides for the journal or awarding body / institution. Employ a professional style STYLE Use language that will be understood by readers in your field. Consider also the needs of the general reader. Think about the most relevant key words that need emphasis Write short sentences. Very short. Employ transitions between the sentences. Use the active voice, rather than passive constructions Use the third person singular. IT. Choose the past tense in the main body. Check your grammar Avoid abbreviations. Provide clear statements: avoid loose opinions. Employ the present tense for the introduction and the conclusion. PROCESS Learn from other respected scholars in your chosen field. Read journal abstracts in order to beco

The Art of the Abstract

  ' Supervisor, I found Yorick's Abstract. ' “ Do you hear, let them be well used, for they are the abstract and brief chronicles of the time. After your death you were better have a bad epitaph than their ill report while you live .” --- Shakespeare’s Hamlet . Nowadays there is more pressure than ever to publish often and early. Such is the plight of the doctoral student and the early career academic; such is the life of any career academic. One of the tricks of the trade that every academic learns is how to write an effective abstract. Typically this activity was undertaken at the end of the third year of the Ph.D and was part of the processing of submitting your work for critical scrutiny. But really we were abstracting all the way along. The ability to compose a quick summary of what you have been reading is the beginning of abstraction. It’s a useful habit to acquire early in one’s intellectual development. What you find in the abstract will als

The Art of Connection: The Social Life of Sentences

Do you find that you waste time wondering how to start the next sentence? Do you find yourself lost for words when you are required to link your ideas coherently and persuasively? Do your sentences flow together and support the larger structure? Do you want your writing to communicate more effectively and efficiently? The Art of Connection: the Social Life of Sentences is an innovative practical book that explains the Nine Arts of Connection: Location, Timing, Comparison, Contrast and Difference, the Supplement, Disputation, Sequence, Example and Illustration, and the Summary. By following the easy to use guides and examples provided in this book, writers can learn how to write fluently and begin to enjoy the process of composition. Whether you are a student or learning English for the first time, this book will assist you to write successfully to achieve your goals. By dividing the common words and phrases used to signal transition and connection into nine cat