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Dundalk IT MALT Programme. Seminar on Academic Writing for Research Reports Professor Tony Fell University of Bradford, UK <[email protected]>. Writing Skills. IUA – Communication skills for Research Students The nature of a Research Report / Thesis Key issues in writing Style

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Dundalk it malt programme

Dundalk ITMALT Programme

Seminar on Academic Writing

for Research Reports

Professor Tony Fell

University of Bradford, UK

<[email protected]>


Writing skills

Writing Skills

  • IUA – Communication skills for Research Students

  • The nature of a Research Report / Thesis

  • Key issues in writing

  • Style

  • Etiquette

  • Report / Thesis Outlines.

  • Report / Thesis Planner

  • Structure

  • References

  • Submission


Writing skills iua graduate skills statement 2012

Writing SkillsIUA Graduate Skills Statement 2012

  • Communication skills

    • Demonstrate effective writing and publishing skills

    • Effectively use and decide on appropriate forms and levels of communication

    • Communicate and explain research to diverse audiences, including both specialist and non-specialist

    • Teach and support the learning of undergraduate students when involved in teaching and demonstrating


Writing skills the nature of a research report thesis

Writing SkillsThe nature of a Research Report / Thesis?

A Research Report or Thesis gives a detailed account of a defined area of research with –

  • sufficient background information on what was known earlier, to orientate the general, interested reader

  • a clear statement of the ‘research question’ or problem and the related aims and objectives

  • a clear, logical exposition of the stages you have gone through in order to address the research question – creating new techniques, solutions and results on the way


Writing skills the nature of a research report thesis1

Writing SkillsThe nature of a Research Report / Thesis?

A Research Report or Thesis will also –

  • present your own critical analysis of the originality and significance of the data presented, in relation to what was known or assumed beforehand

  • focus on your proposals for further developments in the field

  • (for a Thesis) be presented in a traditional format as a permanent record for access by all researchers, anywhere

  • (for a Thesis) be published in full or in part as an independent publication under your name after peer review


Writing skills1

Writing Skills

  • A good Literature Review should:

    • Be selective

    • Not be simply a list or summary of publications

    • Have a balance of primary and secondary sources

    • Put published work into perspective, relevant to the Research Question

    • Evaluate and give a critical interpretation of published work, with appropriate reference to the Research Question


Writing skills2

Writing Skills

Ransom’s Rules for Scientific Writing*

  • If it can be interpreted in more than one way, it’s wrong

  • Know your audience; know your subject; know your purpose

  • If you can’t think of a reason to put a comma in, leave it out

  • Keep your writing clear, concise and correct

  • If it works, do it.

    * Nora Ransom (Kansas State University) in M. Davis et al., Scientific Papers & Presentations, Academic Press, 2012


Writing skills approaches to completion

Writing SkillsApproaches to Completion

  • The optimum situation is:

    • Write sections more or less continuously as your research programme moves forward

    • Integrate sections to compile the first draft of your Thesis

    • Track progress systematically

    • Use a Conference, Seminar or Poster paper as the basis for part of the Report / Thesis

      • This important milestone gives independent peer support & validates your Thesis


Writing skills3

Writing Skills

Key issues


Writing skills4

Writing Skills

  • Key issues in writing a Report / Thesis:

    • Who is going to read it?

    • Should it be perfect?

    • How should you write it – writing styles?

      • Issues of style and syntax

      • Academic (“Oxford”) English versus the Personal style of writing

    • How should you plan and structure it?

    • How can you finish in time?

    • Key things to know about good referencing

    • Strategies for survival – the pitfalls to avoid?


Writing skills5

Writing Skills

Readership – Who are you writing for?

  • Researchers in your general area – but not necessarily specialists – intelligent, same general background, not knowing all the literature in your particular topic – ‘the intelligent, informed reader’

  • Someone who may use your thesis/dissertation as a reference work for their own research interests

  • The Examiners, who do have specialist knowledge in the area and will enjoy reviewing your work

  • The next generation of Research Students in your area


Writing skills6

Writing Skills

Who else are you writing for?

  • Yourself – for your own satisfaction in expressing a deep interest in a topic, in a way that is informative and interesting

    Suggestion

  • It can be helpful for an independent person to read sections of your Thesis (eg a friend) to comment on the style, informativeness etc – this can be really useful for the Introduction, Conclusions, and also the Abstract


Writing skills7

Writing Skills

  • Should your Report / Thesis be perfect?

    • If only ... but remember that readers, including the Examiners, r e a l l y don’t expect perfection either in style or content.

    • The typos, mislabelled graphs, missing references will leap off the page at you – just as soon as you’ve submitted your precious tome for examination


Writing skills8

Writing Skills

  • Should your Report / Thesis be perfect?

    • It’s really helpful to compile a list of typos, etc

    • This is then tabled for the Examiners at the Viva

  • It’s worth remembering that:

    • Most Masters and PhD Theses are approved in some form after the examination (70 to 80%)


Writing skills styles

Writing SkillsStyles

How should you write a Report / Thesis?

  • With care … and with sufficient detail to describe the important stages of your research – usually more detail than is required (or permissible) for a published paper

  • Imagine someone tried to repeat exactly what you did – to find where precisely you located a key historical reference or fact; or in what language? – or to adopt special methodology / equipment you used or developed for critical experiments


Writing skills styles1

Writing SkillsStyles

Common sense about writing styles

  • Choose the appropriate style and use it consistently:

    • Write in a uniform, grammatical, fairly formal style – clarity is of the essence, so if the syntax (structure) is becoming complex, consider cutting back to shorter, simpler sentences


Writing skills styles2

Writing SkillsStyles

Common sense about writing styles

  • The personal style versus the impersonal style

    • This is often a question of personal taste or convention:

    • The personal style: I … , my … , we … , our … , etc.

    • or the impersonal ‘Oxford style’:

      The Author noted that …

      These observations were recorded in earlier research reports on …

      Note: in some areas of Social Science, Management etc, when referring to a third person, the use of alternating gender is common: he … / she … & him… / her …


Writing skills styles3

Writing Skills Styles

Common sense about writing styles

  • Use paragraphs to signpost a coherent group of related statements – they should not be too long.

    .

  • Keep sentences at a reasonable length – this helps avoid over-complicated statements and ensures your writing is clear and readable

  • Use the direct form rather than the impersonal form:

    • Based on these data, it would seem that …

      Þ These data would indicate that …


Writing skills styles4

Writing Skills Styles

More common sense about writing styles

  • Consistent use of tense

    • Decide on what tense to use for writing (present, past, etc) and be consistent – if in doubt, read it out or read it to a friend

    • If you use the past tense, you will need the ‘past in the past’ :

      e.g. The device had malfunctioned before this work was started.


Writing skills styles5

Writing Skills Styles

Even more common sense about writing styles

  • Things to avoid:

    • Undefined abbreviations – make a list defining all abbreviations and repeat the definition (at least once) in the text

    • Any form of slang

    • Jargon – if unavoidable, define it

    • Incomplete comparisons: e.g. These data were better.

    • ‘Over the top’ superlatives: e.g. We consider these highly impressive results to have very significant global implications.


Writing skills etiquette

Writing SkillsEtiquette

  • Punctuation issues:

    • The colon is often used for:

      • Introducing a list of items

      • Separating a general statement from a more specific one

    • The comma is often used:

      • For separating items in a list

      • For qualifying or defining a preceding word or phrase:

        The SPSS method, which is now well established, is widely used for the analysis of data in the Social Sciences.

      • Where a natural break occurs in mid-sentence:

        These data seem rather dubious, although they come from a highly reliable source.


Writing skills etiquette1

Writing Skills Etiquette

  • More about punctuation:

    • The semi-colon is often used for

      • Separating items within a list

      • Separating two closely related statements

    • The hyphen is often used:

      • To separate parts of a sentence or to introduce a qualifying statement – as for example here

      • To link adjective and noun in a single phrase

        e.g. long-term therapy

      • To link two adjectives: e.g.red-hot, dark-blue

      • To link adjective and participle: e.g. easy-going


Writing skills etiquette2

Writing Skills Etiquette

  • Even more about punctuation:

    • The apostrophe is used:

      • To indicate possession

        e.g. the system’s features (=1) and

        the systems’ features (>1)

      • For elision or shortening:

        e.g. It’s clear that (It is …) / That’s … /

        NB Exceptionally:

        “its” is possessive (without an apostrophe)

        They noted its significance …

        (They noted the significance of it …)


Writing skills etiquette3

Writing Skills Etiquette

  • Note: one datum point is …

    • and several data points (or data) are …

  • Good referencing is an essential feature of a successful Report / Thesis

    • It’s the hallmark of true professionalism

    • Unfortunately plagiarism is currently one of the big issues in Postgraduate research

    • Increasing reliance by Examiners on “Turnitin” and similar monitors of plagiarism


Writing skills planning

Writing SkillsPlanning

Planning a Report / PhD Thesis

  • Develop an outline time-plan for your writing-up programme

  • Remember that all plans are there to be changed – flexibility is key

  • Complete one section at a time – in many areas it’s not essential to write sections sequentially

  • Ask for feedback on drafts from your Supervisor, a colleague or a friend

  • You might consider using a simplified Gantt Chart, for example – well known to be flexible


Writing skills gantt chart approach to planning a report thesis

Writing Skills Gantt Chart approach to Planning a Report / Thesis


Writing skills9

Writing Skills

Report / Thesis Outlines


Writing skills report thesis outlines

Writing Skills Report / Thesis Outlines

  • A Report / Thesis Outline starts with the following sections, typically:

    • Title page

    • Abstract (written later in the process)

    • Acknowledgements

    • Lists of Contents – Tables – Figures –

    • List of Appendices

    • List of Abbreviations

    • List of presentations made/publications submitted

  • The Chapters or Sections that follow depend on the research area – cf. ‘Science’ versus ‘Humanities’


Writing skills report thesis outlines see printed copy

Writing Skills Report / Thesis Outlines[See printed copy]

  • Typical outline plan for Report / Thesis in Science, IT, Engineering – Part 1

    • Title, Abstract, List of Contents etc

    • Introduction

    • Literature Review

    • Clear statement of Research Question (Project)

      • Aims & Objectives

    • Theoretical background

    • Materials

    • Research Methods

    • Validation of Methods

      [ Continued ]


Writing skills report thesis outlines see printed copy1

Writing Skills Report / Thesis Outlines[See printed copy]

  • Typical outline plan for Report / Thesis in Science, IT, Engineering – Part 2

    • Ethical issues (if any)

    • Results & Discussion

    • Conclusions & Suggestions for further work

    • References (Harvard or numerical system)

    • Appendices


Writing skills report thesis outlines see printed copy2

Writing Skills Report / Thesis Outlines[See printed copy]

  • Typical outline plan for Report / Thesis in Humanities Liberal Arts, Media etc – Part 1

    • Title, Abstract, List of Contents etc

    • Introduction

    • Clear statement of Research Question and related issues

    • Literature Review

    • Framework and rationale for Exhibition, Display, Performance (for Practice-based Doctorates)

      [ Continued ]


Writing skills report thesis outlines see printed copy3

Writing Skills Report / Thesis Outlines[See printed copy]

  • Typical outline plan for Report / Thesis in Humanities, Liberal Arts, Media etc – Part 2

    • Research Methods

    • Justification for selection of methods

      • Sources of information, informants, samples

      • Basis of selection for respondents (eg to Questionnaire)

    • Ethical issues (if any)

    • Results & Discussion

    • Conclusions & Suggestions for further work

    • Bibliography & References

      • Harvard or numerical system

    • Appendices


Writing skills10

Writing Skills

Report / Thesis Planner


Writing skills research report planner

Writing Skills Research Report Planner

  • The Report / Thesis Planner can be developed as follows:

    • To each Chapter Heading add 2 Sub-headings

    • The Headings and Sub-headings are inserted into the Report / Thesis Planner”

  • This simple Project Planning device can be formed using MS Word or Excel

    • It helps keep track of writing progress –

    • At the same time it informs Supervisors /colleagues about progress


Generic research report planner 1

Generic Research Report Planner – 1


Generic research report planner 2

Generic Research Report Planner – 2


Writing skills research report planner1

Writing Skills Research Report Planner

  • The Report / Thesis Planner:

    • Is a very flexible system

    • Gives an immediate overview of the writing

    • Empowers the author

    • Helps monitor progress and identify missing sections – helps check progress

    • Shortens writing up time by ca 10 – 20%.

    • Monitors word count

      .

  • The Planner gives strong encouragement and confidence as writing progresses to completion

  • Helps timely completion


  • Writing skills11

    Writing Skills

    Structure & References


    Writing skills research report structure

    Writing Skills Research Report Structure

    Structure of typical Research Report or Thesis

    • The Outline Plan forms the basic structural template for your Report / Thesis

    • NB Sections / Subsections / Appendices

      • Max number of subsections for readability is 3

        • eg 1.0 – 1.1 – 1.1.1 – 1.1.1(a)

      • Note: If you find that there are too many subsections, a powerful solution is to simply raise the first subsection to Chapter level.

    • The structure evolves progressively as the writing approaches completion


    Writing skills references

    Writing Skills References

    • General issues

      • Computer-based records / traditional systems

      • Harvard system versus Numerical system

      • Section references vs Cumulative Reference List

      • Reference layout – style – page-to-page?

      • With or without titles?


    Writing skills references1

    Writing Skills References

    • General issues

      • Footnotes?

      • Back-up files daily – keep 2 updated copies

        • in d i f f e r e n t places!

      • Ratio of Introductory material to the rest – balance (ca. 1:3)

      • Impersonal vs personal style – check best practice in research area


    Writing skills references2

    Writing Skills References

    • Tracking the references

      • Ethical issues & IPR

      • Citing the competition!

      • Duplication – non-citation – total accuracy

      • Reference to own publications

      • Citing the Internet – give URL and date accessed

    • Citing Personal Communications:

      • A.B. Contact, Personal communication, February 2012 – or:

      • J.G. Friend (Email, 13 February, 2012)

        [using reference style adopted]


    Writing skills references3

    Writing Skills References

    • Tracking the References (cont’d)

      • Citing Unpublished Work:

        • M.Y. Self (Unpublished data September, 2012) orM.Y. Self (Unpublished observations, May, 2012)

        • Avoid: M.Y. Self (in preparation)

      • Citing submitted but so far not accepted work:

        • P.G. Slave and D.R. Supervisor, submitted for publication to X.Y.Z., 12 June, 2012

      • Citing accepted but so far notpublished work:

        • P.G. Slave and D.R. Supervisor, accepted for publication by X.Y.Z., 1 December, 2012


    Writing skills references4

    Writing Skills References

    • Avoiding the pitfalls

      • Proper acknowledgement of sources

        • Verbal – casual – printed but unpublished – published

        • Purple patches

        • IPR – 2-way street

        • Ethics of authorship

        • Mutual recognition – academic generosity

        • Consequences . . .


    Writing skills references5

    Writing Skills References

    • Avoiding the pitfalls (cont’d)

      • Proper acknowledgement of graphics

        • Figures – written permission from publishers for each figure/diagram essential

        • Must add to the figure legend:

          “Reproduced from X.Y. Zymbal, Arch. Data

          100, 1 –20 (2008) by kind permission of the Publishers”

        • A useful work-around is to change some details in the figure itself and add to the legend:

          • “Adapted from X.Y. Zymbal, Arch. Data 100, 1-20 (2008)”


    Writing skills12

    Writing Skills

    • Good Practice

      • Appendix out wherever appropriate (or use DVD or CD-ROM):

        • Sections of supplementary data

        • Parenthetical results

        • Reference materials

        • Protocols

        • Computer programmes

        • Any text / data that distracts from the flow of the main theme / development

        • Cite the Appendices in strict sequential order and list them with the Contents


    Writing skills13

    Writing Skills

    • Good Practice

      • Add a List of Abbreviations

        • really useful

        • always appreciated

      • Include a list of your own presentations & publications (if any), however modest

    • Writer’s block

      • Universal – including the famous

      • Change to doing another section – or some other activity


    Writing skills submission

    Writing Skills Submission

    • Find a friend to read your Abstract / Summary

      • Find another friend to read your Conclusions for clarity

    • Check final version of Report / Thesis with your Supervisor(s) or colleagues

      • NB Make plenty of time in your planning schedule to allow them to give their best shot


    Writing skills submission1

    Writing Skills Submission

    • Check:

      • all pages run sequentially

      • all Figures and Tables are listed in the Contents

      • all Appendices are listed in order of citation

      • There’s no duplication of references

      • Any printed materials (eg short publications, reference materials) are put securely into the end pocket

    • Submit …


    Writing skills14

    Writing Skills

    Developing an Abstract


    Writing skills developing an abstract

    Writing Skills Developing an Abstract

    • Types of Abstract / Summary

    • Function

    • Readership

    • Title / Key words

    • Structure & Organisation

      • Introduction – Aims – Methods – Results – Conclusions

    • Writing Style – tense – sentence length – construction

    • Word count

    • Iterative process for development / completion

    • Initial & concluding sentences / statements


    Dundalk it seminar on academic writing for malt students

    Dundalk ITSeminar on Academic Writing for MALT Students

    Discussion Groups:

    Developing an Abstract

    /

    Drafting the initial & concluding statements


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