Get ahead undergraduate summer programme 2014
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GET AHEAD UNDERGRADUATE SUMMER PROGRAMME 2014. Reading and writing for academic purposes Sara Steinke [email protected] Aims of the session. Reading for academic purposes - coping with the large amount of reading expected of you - increasing your understanding of the reading

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Reading and writing for academic purposes

Sara Steinke

[email protected]

Aims of the session

  • Reading for academic purposes

    - coping with the large amount of reading

    expected of you

    - increasing your understanding of the reading

    - understanding your reading lists

  • Writing for academic purposes

    - what makes English academic

    - the style and conventions of academic


  • Common problems students encounter when reading for academic purposes

  • What is meant by reading for academic purposes - are you a smart reader

  • Reading skills for academic purposes - SQ3R

  • Understanding reading lists and the library catalogue

Writers are not authorities. They are participants in a public exchange of views. Be critical of their work.

Common difficulties with reading

These are some common difficulties mentioned

by undergraduate students. Which of them apply to


  • I read the words on the page but am not taking them in.

  • I spend too much or too little time on the reading.

  • I have difficulty expressing what I have read in my own words.

  • I simply do not understand the material.

  • I find the language used too complicated.

  • I can not remember everything I read.

  • I find the amount of reading overwhelming.

Academic reading

Non academic reading

Reader is:


reads from page one till the end

does not ask questions

expects the author to guide them through the narrative

Reader is:

  • active

  • selective and interacts with the reading material

  • has a particular question in mind

  • re-reads with a purpose

Survey - before you read, survey the entire text, including the table of contents. Read titles, subtitles, introductions and conclusions and review any graphics.

Question - write questions for the key points you have identified. Turn heading and subheadings into questions. Ask who, what, where, when and why.

Read - read through the text from beginning to end, pausing at the end of each section to answer the questions you have created. Highlight key points in the text as you read, or make brief notes.

Recite - answer the questions out loud to reinforce your learning. Make a list of key facts you need to know. Try to stop after each section in the text.

Review - reviewing the concepts in the text after you are finished reading and reciting each section, and come back to it periodically over a few days. Summarise difficult passages and rewrite the major points in your own words.

Scanning Skimming

  • To get particular information from a text

  • Look up a word in an index or dictionary

  • Find a phone number or address in a directory

  • Check what time a television programmes is on

  • Look up details and prices in a catalogue

  • Pick out a website you want from a Google search

  • To get a general idea of the text

  • See what is in the news or on a website

  • Browse through a book to see if you what to read it

  • Look through a television guide to see what is on one evening

  • Flick through a catalogue to see what is on offer

  • Look through the options on a Google search to see what sites it suggests


Can you:

  • select and use different reading strategies (e.g. skim, scan, in-depth)?

  • think about what you need to find out before you start reading (are you reading to verify facts, to understand a subject in general or to analyse a particular argument)?

  • critically evaluate reading?

  • deal with new vocabulary?

Useful sources (for reading)

Cottrell, S. (2008) The Study Skills Handbook, 3rd

ed., (London, Macmillan) Chapter 6 ‘Research

skills’ pp.111-136

Northedge, A. (2005) The Good Study Guide

(Milton Keynes, Open University Press) chapter 5

‘Reading’ pp.101-128

Reading lists

  • Lecturers give out lists of recommended resources to help you gain a greater understanding of your subject

  • Use the reading list as your first ‘port of call’ for a topic

  • These lists include references to:

    - books

    - sections of books/chapters

    - journal articles

    - web sites

Understanding book references

  • Author’s name (surname first)

  • Date of publication

  • Title of book, edition if appropriate

  • Place of publication

  • Publisher

Understanding journal article references

  • Author’s name (surname first)

  • Date of publication

  • Title of the article

  • Name of the journal

  • Volume

  • Issue

  • Page numbers

Understanding web sources references

  • Author’s name or company/organization name

  • Date document was produced or updated

  • Title of the document

  • URL (web site address)

  • Date you accessed the web site

    Birkbeck Library (2012) Birkbeck eLibrary. (Accessed: 25

    June 2012)

Citing references: why?

  • To acknowledge the use of other people’s work

  • To avoid plagiarism

  • So those that read your essays can see how widely you have read

  • So those that read your work can see what influenced you to draw the conclusions you did

Citing references: how?

  • List all the resources that you have read or consulted at the end of your essay in a bibliography

  • List the resources in alphabetical order of surname

  • There are different ‘styles’ of citing references - be consistent

  • Check your course handbook for your department’s preferred style

The Library catalogue

Use the catalogue to

find information


  • books

  • ebooks

  • DVDs

  • print journals

  • ejournals - access via eLibrary

This information


  • Publication details

  • Shelf mark (location)

  • Number of copies

  • Loan length

  • AvailabilityOR

  • Link to access ebook

Library and IT skills

Can you:

  • use the library catalogue and online database efficiently and effectively?

  • undertake research, both primary and secondary?

  • produce documents (essays, dissertations, reports) using Word and Excel?

Useful sources (for library)

Pears, R. and Shields, G. (2013) Cite them right:

the essential referencing guide. 9th ed.

Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan


Why do you think writing gives students the most anxiety?

  • They have not written an essay in a long time.

  • They do not know what an academic essay looks like.

  • They miss deadlines as a result of poor time management.

  • They have no idea why they are writing an essay.

    Answer: A, B, C and D

  • Importance of academic English for undergraduate study

  • What makes English academic

  • Check your academic English

“In my experience the most important thing is to write the

way they want. You can write all kinds of stuff you know

about, but you don’t get good marks unless you write it

the proper way.”

  • Deepens your learning

  • Develops your writing skills

  • Doing yourself justice

  • Enables the reader to understand your point of view

  • Strengthens your powers of self-expression

  • Major medium through which your progress is assessed

    Northedge, A. The Good Study Guide

What is academic English?


‘academy’ = place of

study, university

‘academic’ = doing

things they way they

are done in the


‘academic writing’ =

writing in the way

that is expected of

people at university

What makes spoken or written

English ‘academic’ is not the

ideas, but the way the

ideas are

presented - in a logical order,

with evidence to support them,

objectively and

expressed - using formal

language, using specialist

vocabulary, using words and

phrases that are expected in

writing at university

In a logical order

  • start with a plan

  • jot down any ideas that you have as you think of them

  • group your ideas about the same point together and present them in the same paragraph

  • start each paragraph with a sentence that shows what you are going to write about in that paragraph - the topic sentence

  • put your points in order so that they follow on from each other

  • develop the main idea in the topic sentence with your other points

With evidence

  • read and make notes from different sources

  • use sources that are reliable and/or

    recommended to you

  • make notes of where different writers agree or disagree so that you can compare different views

  • remember that things are usually more grey than black and white


  • make suggestions, not strongly emotional comments

  • avoid stating your personal opinion

  • do not involve the reader directly by asking questions

Use formal language

  • write in full sentences

  • do not use abbreviations or contractions

  • use impersonal forms (not the first person ‘I’)

  • no slang or colloquial expressions

Use specialist vocabulary

  • check the meaning of specialist terms in your subject

  • note examples of how these terms are used in the books and articles that you read

  • do not use terms that you do not understand

Use words and phrases that are expected

  • academic writers are expected to be cautious e.g. ‘this suggests ...’, ‘this might explain ...’

  • readers expect phrases that act as signposts to guide them through the text

    –additional information

    e.g. ‘furthermore ...’, ‘moreover ...’, ‘in addition ...’

    –to move to specific examples

    e.g. ‘for instance ...’, ‘as an illustration ...’

How to annoy your lecturers

A group of lecturers

from different

subjects were asked

what really annoyed

them about

students’ grammar

and language . . .

  • Using apostrophes wrongly

  • Confusing common words, for example there/their

  • Making spelling errors

  • Using informal language

  • Writing sentences without verbs

  • Making every sentence a paragraph

  • Not using paragraphs

  • Writing long convoluted sentences

  • Trying to write too pompously

  • Using run-on sentences/comma splices

Check your academic English skills at



  • Grammar

  • Vocabulary

  • Punctuation

  • Spelling

  • Academic style

Academic writing: conventions (1)

  • Do not use contractions or slang

  • Use the terminology of your field

  • Avoid the first (‘I’) and second person (‘you’)

  • Define key terms you use in a particular way

  • Include only ideas that are relevant to your argument and subject

  • Limit ideas to one per sentence/single point for each paragraph

Academic writing: conventions (2)

  • Use formal style

  • Writing style does not have to be complicated /elaborate

  • Be well organised and present ideas in logical order

  • Present objective analysis that is critical without

    being too positive or negative, be cautious

  • Use clear, precise language

  • Avoid emotive language

Academic writing: conventions (3)

  • Be kind to your reader - give reader clues (transition words, summaries) to let them know where they are in your argument

  • Use subheadings and sections, where appropriate

  • Cite relevant sources

  • Explain, not just describe

  • Use quotes, examples

  • Establish clear connections between ideas

Quick quizWhat is wrong with this piece of critical writing? (Cottrell 2008: 209)

Mount Pepe is going up - it’s going to take

everything with it when it goes. And I mean

everything - villages, farms, trees, the lot. It’s

frightening to think of how powerful a volcano

can be. Think of the damage they cause!

Remember Pompeii and Mount Etna!

What is right with this piece of critical writing? (Cottrell 2008: 209)

In order to assess whether it is necessary to

evacuate the villages on Mount Pepe, three main

factors need to be taken into consideration. The

first, and most important, of these is the element

of safety. According to seismic experts currently

working on the volcano, there is likely to be a

major eruption within the next ten years (Achebe

2007). According to Achebe, the eruption is likely

to destroy villages over a radius of 120 miles

(Achebe 2008, p.7).


Can you:

  • express your ideas clearly in written form?

  • make an outline of what you are going to write?

  • write in clear sentences and paragraphs?

  • link your ideas in a logical order?

  • use correct grammar?

  • develop your own argument?

  • identify your audience and write in an appropriate register?

Useful reading for academic writing

Cottrell, S. (2008) The Study Skills Handbook (3rd edition) (Palgrave

Macmillan, London) chapter 8 ‘Writing for university’ and chapter 9

‘Developing your writing’

Crème, P. (1997) Writing at University(Open University Press, Milton Keynes)

Greetham, B. (2008) How to write better essays (2nd edition) (Palgrave

Macmillan, London)

Northedge, A. (2007) The Good Study Guide (Open University Press, Milton

Keynes) chapter 10 ‘Writing the way ‘they’ want’ and chapter 11 ‘Managing

the writing process’

Peck, J. & Coyle, M. (2005) Write it Right: A Handbook for Students (Palgrave

Macmillan, London)

Redman P (2001) Good Essay Writing (Sage, London)

Rose, J. (2007) The Mature Students Guide to Writing (2nd edition)

(Basingstoke, Palgrave)

Useful websites for academic writing

Get ahead Stay ahead interactive tutorials

Website supporting the Palgrave MacMillan

study skills books

Useful listening

Recap of the session

  • Reading for academic purposes

    - coping with the large amount of reading

    expected of you

    - increasing your understanding of the reading

    - understanding your reading lists

  • Writing for academic purposes

    - what makes English academic

    - the style and conventions of academic


Presentations can be found at


  • Common problems students encounter when note making for academic purposes

  • Difference between note taking and note making

  • Note making skills for undergraduate study -linear notes, mind mapping

Active reading (SQ3R)

and effective note making go hand-in-hand

Common difficulties with notes

These are some common difficulties mentioned

by students. Which of them apply to you?

  • I try to take down everything that is said/on the

    PowerPoint presentation in lectures.

    2.I am unsure what the purpose of note-taking is.

    3.I am uncertain about how many notes to take.

    4.I am unsure what to make notes on.

    5.I do not take time to organise my notes so that I can retrieve them later on.

    6.I only know one way for note-taking.

What is the



note taking

and note


Note taking is when you are

taking notes on material in

class; on what a speaker is

saying; on what is happening

around you.

Note making is when you make

notes on your thoughts; things

you think you should study for,

or remember; your own

individual thoughts or

information that you recall, and

want to write down to remember

or study.

Techniques for linear, sequential notes

  • Make headings and subheadings

  • List key words

  • Number the points

  • Underline, colour, use capital letters for emphasis

  • Use abbreviations. Examples: = for equal, < less than, > more than, increase, decrease, re regarding, cf compared with

  • Only use one side of a page in case you want to add more

  • Note name of authors you want/need to read in margin

Techniques for radial, concept notes or mind maps

  • Turn the paper sideways, A3 landscape

  • Write the topic in the centre of the page

  • Write related ideas around this centre

  • Add secondary ideas to the main ideas

  • Link up these ideas to show relationships

  • Use colours, different line thickness, symbols, pictures

  • Add details to points as you go along

Condensing notes

  • ‘Boil’ notes down to essential information. This is often easier to do a few weeks later, because your understanding of the subject has increased. You can see more clearly what is important information and what is not.

  • Note gaps knowledge, confusions and contradictions in the reading or your knowledge

  • Move from linear notes to conceptual notes (linear notes to mind maps)

Organising and storing your notes

  • By systematic from the beginning

  • Make sure you can (re)read them before filing them away - but do not rewrite them ‘neatly’

  • Condensed notes can be copied and filed in at least two different ways:

    - chronological order (as you go along)

    - topic order (e.g. in anticipation of an assignment)

    - personal interest (for your own research later?)

  • Write subject clearly in top right hand corner; number pages; colour code them; index cards

Note making

Can you:

  • make effective notes when reading?

  • make effective notes when listening (e.g. during lectures)?

  • use more than one note making technique?

  • do you have a way of organising your notes?

Useful sources (for note making)

Cottrell, S. (2008) The Study Skills Handbook, 3rd ed., (London,

Macmillan) chapter 6 ‘Research skills’ pp.111-136

Northedge, A. (2005) The Good Study Guide (Milton Keynes, Open

University Press) chapter 6 ‘Making notes’ pp.128-156

Buzan T. (rev. 2003) Use Your Head (London, BBC)

Buzan, T. & B. (rev. 2006) The Mind Map Book (London, BBC )

Buzan T. (2007) The Buzan Study Skills Handbook (London, BBC) ahead/skills/notetaking

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