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Dundalk IT MALT Programme. Seminar on Academic Writing for Research Reports Professor Tony Fell University of Bradford, UK <A.F.Fell@Bradford.ac.uk>. 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

<A.F.Fell@Bradford.ac.uk>

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 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
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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