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Advanced Writing Skills: Dissertation for a Masters of Science Degree

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  1. Advanced Writing Skills: Dissertation for a Masters of Science Degree Íde O’Sullivan and Lawrence Cleary Regional Writing Centre, UL

  2. A typology of genres in Nursing & Midwifery • Reflective essays • Care plans • Case studies • Care critique • Portfolios • Article reviews • Argumentative Writing Regional Writing Centre, UL

  3. Dissertation writing • How will you organise your approach to this seemingly sublime, looming task? Regional Writing Centre, UL

  4. Ways of Ordering 4 Regional Writing Centre, UL Writing Process—Planning, Drafting, (Discussing / Consulting), Revising, Editing and Proofreading. Rhetorical Situation—part of the planning stage and includes an assessment of the occasion for writing, writer, topic, audience and purpose. Writing Strategies—cognitive, metacognitive, affective and social.

  5. The Composing Process • Prewriting • Drafting • Revising • Editing and Proofreading • Logical Choice and Unity Regional Writing Centre, UL

  6. Prewriting • Planning • Evaluating the rhetorical situation, or context, into which you write • Choosing and focusing your topic • Establishing an organising principle • Gathering information • Entering the discourse on your topic • Taking notes as a strategy to avoid charges of plagiarism • Evaluating sources Regional Writing Centre, UL

  7. Planning: Assessing the Rhetorical Situation • The Occasion • The Audience • The Topic • The Purpose • The Writer Regional Writing Centre, UL

  8. The Occasion • What has prompted you to write? • What do I need to know? • What are my obligations? • What are the procedures? • When is it due? How much time do I have? • What’s involved? Regional Writing Centre, UL

  9. The Occasion • My guidelines tell me about procedures that I must follow. • When do I submit a proposal? • Do I need to submit project reports? When? • When do I submit my finished document? Do I need to defend my discoveries orally? Regional Writing Centre, UL

  10. The Occasion • What kind of project will I choose? • How do I write about it? Regional Writing Centre, UL

  11. The Occasion • When we consider the occasion for writing, we think about • What has prompted me to write? • How much writing do I have to do? • How much time do I have to do it? • How much time should I allot for planning and organising, and for drafting and revising? • What tone should I adopt? Formal? Informal? Authoritative? Conciliatory? Assertive? Regional Writing Centre, UL

  12. Audience • Your audience affects how you write. • Terms that need not be explained for one audience, may need to be explained to other audiences. • General audiences may not have your subject knowledge, but they are usually thought of as intelligent, thoughtful readers willing to be informed or persuaded. • Your classmates make good audiences. Write for them. Let them read your dissertation and give you feedback on the ease with which they were able to read and understand it. Regional Writing Centre, UL

  13. Audience • Who am I writing for? • Can my peers understand what I’m saying? • Am I fulfilling the criteria established by my instructors? • How much revising and polishing will be necessary to meet the instructor’s standards? • What format appeals to my audience? (from [Ebest et al. 1997, 9]) Regional Writing Centre, UL

  14. Topic • Your topic is something that will have your supervisor’s approval. • Some things to think about: • How much do you already know about this topic? • How much am I going to have to know in order to do this project and report on it? To say something meaningful? • How much research am I going to have to do? • How much time do I have to do it? Regional Writing Centre, UL

  15. Topic • Strategies for choosing topics and narrowing or broadening the coverage you will give it. • Taking suggestions from your supervisor • Brainstorming (individually or in groups) • Listing • Clustering or mind-mapping • Free-writing or discussing • Asking wh-questions—who, what, when, where, how and why? Regional Writing Centre, UL

  16. Topic • Topics do not stand in isolation. They exist in a context. • What is the relationship of your topic to your course of study? • What are people saying about your topic in the literature you have read? • What are the issues of concern? Regional Writing Centre, UL

  17. Purpose • What is your purpose for writing? • To express your feelings? • To inform? • To persuade? • As you draft, revise and edit, make sure that every contribution to your report works to realise that purpose. Regional Writing Centre, UL

  18. Purpose • If informing is the purpose of your report, then the point of order is a triangulation of your audience, your topic and your purpose. • Audience analysis • Relevance • Rhetorical appeals Regional Writing Centre, UL

  19. The Writer • What do I already know about this topic? • How quickly do I learn? Read? Write? • How much writing have I already done? • Have I developed an academic or authoritative voice? • Have I addressed this audience before? • What are my weaknesses? What are my strengths? Regional Writing Centre, UL

  20. The Writer • Knowing who I am, how much time will it take ME to write my dissertation? Am I a ditherer? A procrastinator? • Having assessed and prioritised my weaknesses, what should I work on first? • Knowing my strengths, how can I turn this strength to my advantage? Regional Writing Centre, UL

  21. Rhetorical Appeals • Logos—persuade by appeals to reason • Ethos—persuade by establishing your own credibility • Pathos—persuade by appealing to your audiences emotional attachment to your topic Regional Writing Centre, UL

  22. Appeals for Credibility • Use credible sources of information • Be authoritative • Do not use personal, self-reflexive pronouns • Do not refer to your own mental processes (“I feel…”; “I think…”; “I be loving it…”) • Do not use conversational markers (“…, you know?” or “Okay, so.”) • Avoid quoting—paraphrase and summarise instead • Avoid vagueness; don’t hedge. Regional Writing Centre, UL

  23. Appeals for Credibility • Persuasive elements in a report like this are largely restricted to the presentation of sound evidence, explicitly stated. • If you need to justify conclusions, use observable evidence obtained through sound scientific principles such as observation and reason. • Methods of analysis and those used for obtaining data should be repeatable (verifiable) and should be valued in your discipline. • Conditions under which data is obtained should be free of environmental variables (reliable). Regional Writing Centre, UL

  24. Drafting your Report • Try to visualise your report. Work toward that vision. • Begin to structure it—establish your section headings; give them titles. These do not have to be permanent. • Examine the logical order of ideas reflected in those titles. • Do not get hung up on details; elements of the draft are subject to change in the revision stage. • Start to write the sections that you are ready to write. Don’t try to write the Introduction because it comes first. Regional Writing Centre, UL

  25. Drafting • Continue to reassess your rhetorical situation. • Does what you have written so far contribute to the achievement of your purpose? • Experiment with organisation and methods of development. • Don’t get bogged-down in details; focus on the big issues: organisation and logical flow. Regional Writing Centre, UL

  26. Drafting • How should it look? Do you have a vision? • What should the dissertation look like? • Do you know what goes in each chapter? • What chapters can you already title? • Do you have a general idea of what they will contain? Regional Writing Centre, UL

  27. Revising • Is your dissertation logically organised? • A good way to check the logical flow of your ideas is to outline your report AFTER you’ve completed your draft. • How did you introduce your topic? By giving it definition? Describing its development? Explaining what it is? • Does each section contribute to your reader’s understanding of your topic? Does your report service your purpose, aims, and objectives? Regional Writing Centre, UL

  28. Revising • Outline each section. How does each paragraph contribute to our understanding of the topic of that section? • Take a close look at paragraphs: Does each paragraph have a central idea? Does it have unity? Is it coherent and well developed? • Is there a correspondence between the title of your report, your section headings and sub-headings and the central ideas in your paragraphs? Regional Writing Centre, UL

  29. Revising • Do the methods used to illuminate your topic lead to logical discovery? • No truths are self-evident. • Claims have to be defended with evidence. • Processes have to be described and explained; • Design features and research methods have to be justified; • The justification for generalisations and conclusions need to be made explicit; • The criteria used to qualify our results also needs to be explicitly put forward and evaluated for objectivity; • Underlying assumptions need to be evaluated for their objectivity. Regional Writing Centre, UL

  30. Editing and Proofreading • Once the report is cogent, it must be made to be coherent. • Work methodically, checking one feature at a time. • Do not exclude formatting issues. • Editing and proofreading is more than just grammar and punctuation; it is also about voice, rhythm, tone, style and clarity. Regional Writing Centre, UL

  31. Editing and Proofreading • Check for ambiguity • Check for comma splices, run-ons, stringy sentences and fragments. • Check for how sentences introduce new information: is it in the beginning of the sentence or at the end? • Check that you use sentence types that are appropriate for your discipline. Regional Writing Centre, UL

  32. Editing and Proofreading • Check word order and usage. Are you using an indefinite article when a definite article is more precise. • Check for agreement: Subject / verb; pronoun or noun substitute / antecedent or concatenation. • Check for bias (gender, race, religious, creed, persuasion, etc). Regional Writing Centre, UL

  33. Editing and Proofreading • Check for obstacles to clarity: • Poorly chosen words • Vague references • Clichés and trite language • Jargon • Inappropriate connotations Regional Writing Centre, UL

  34. Editing and Proofreading • Check for clarity: • Effective subordination and emphasis • Sentence variety • Parallel structures • Choppy writing • Explicit logical links Regional Writing Centre, UL

  35. Editing and Proofreading • Check formatting issues (appropriacy and consistency): • Margins • Font (size and style) • Section heading numbers • Paragraph style (block, semi-block, indented) Regional Writing Centre, UL

  36. Editing and Proofreading • Check for plagiarism • Check the form of your in-text citations and of your full references in your References page. • Check the content of your citations. Is everything that should be there there? • Check that paraphrases are not too close to the original. • Check that all figures, tables and graphs are captioned and cited (below figures and graphs; above tables) • Check that any borrowed ideas, words or methods of organising information are referenced and clearly marked. Regional Writing Centre, UL

  37. Logical Choices and Unity of Purpose • Every choice serves to defend a claim, answer a question, or confirm a hypothesis • Word, phrase, sentence-structure • Does the choice satisfy audience expectations • Does it speak to your authorial credibility • Does it further your argument, analysis, Regional Writing Centre, UL

  38. Writing is a Social Activity • Lexical-grammatical choices affect the culture of register, which in turn affects the culture of genre. • Illustration: (Martin & Rose, 2003, p. 254 cited in BALEAP 2007). Regional Writing Centre, UL

  39. Arguments & Logic • A good argument will have, at the very least: • a thesis that declares the writer's position on the problem at hand; • an acknowledgment of the opposition that nods to, or quibbles with other points of view; • a set of clearly defined premises that illustrate the argument's line of reasoning; • evidence that validates the argument's premises; • a conclusion that convinces the reader that the argument has been soundly and persuasively made. (Dartmouth Writing Program 2005) Regional Writing Centre, UL

  40. Literature Review & Logic • The Lit. Review that you wrote for your proposal will not necessarily be the same review that you submit as part of your dissertation. • Think in terms of your argument and the support that you provided for claims: • Include a review of all the literature that you read to learn about your topic and the particular aspect of your topic that you focus on. • Include a review of the literature on the methodologies that you used. Regional Writing Centre, UL

  41. Methodologies & Logic • When you know what you need to know in order to answer a question, then it is logical to choose methods of inquiry that will supply the reliable verifiable data that you need in order to answer the question. • Don’t forget to qualify your data—what does it tell you and what is it unable to tell you? Regional Writing Centre, UL

  42. Methodologies & Credibility • All data has to be analysed. You need a methodology for analyses as well. • Quantitative data: can it be generalised? • Qualitative data: what criteria will be used to establish its value? • Do not overstate your results. An honest, quality analysis will speak volumes about your credibility, regardless of the quality of the data. Regional Writing Centre, UL

  43. Unity and Coherence • If information included in your dissertation does not contribute to an understanding of the value of your conclusions and recommendations, then it only serves to befuddle the logic of your piece. • A unified text is a more coherent text. Regional Writing Centre, UL

  44. Writing Strategies • Map your paper • What sections or subsections are completed (keeping in mind you still have to revise), • Pick one or two of the holes in your paper that you would feel comfortable filling, • Assess the reasons for any anxiety you have over the unfinished parts that cause you anxiety • Do you need to read more? • Do you need to rethink your paper? Regional Writing Centre, UL

  45. Writing Strategies • Outline your paper • Devise headings and subheadings for uncompleted sections • This helps you see the logical progression (or lack of it) of your ideas • It identifies the main ideas • It helps detect omissions Regional Writing Centre, UL

  46. Writing Strategies • Write about why you are having difficulty making advances in your paper • It gets the fingers tapping and the cerebral juices flowing • An awareness of fears and anxieties helps you to develop strategies to overcome those emotional roadblocks • You may discover that the reason that you are having difficulty is that there is some chink in the logic of your argument that you must either fill or that requires a major rethinking of the line of reasoning. Regional Writing Centre, UL

  47. Writing Strategies • Don’t allow yourself to freeze up. When you are feeling overwhelmed… • Satisfy yourself with small advances until you feel more confident and unstuck • Seek help. Talk to friends. Talk about how you feel, but talk about your ideas as well. • Eat lots of ice cream and candy Regional Writing Centre, UL

  48. Works Cited • Dartmouth Writing Program (2006) “Logic and Argument” [Online], available: student/toc.shtml [accessed 08 Jan. 2008]. • Discourse Community Analysis (n.d.) “Discourse Community Analysis Assignment Sheet”, Center for Writing Excellence, West Virginia University [online], available: [accessed 20 Aug. 2008]. • Ebest, S., R., Brusaw, T., Oliu, W., and Alred, G. (1997) Writing From A to Z, Mt. View, CA: Mayfield Publishing. • Glucksman Library (2007) “Cite It Right: Guide to Harvard Referencing Style”, 2nd edition; University of Limerick’s Referencing Series [Online], [accessed 08 Jan. 2008]. Regional Writing Centre, UL

  49. Works Cited • University of Hertfordshire (2008) “Describing & Analysing Language: Handouts”, University of Hertfordshire, School of Combined Studies, BA (Hons) in English Language for Commercial Communication [online], available: [accessed 08 Jan. 2008]. Regional Writing Centre, UL