Friday, June 20, 2008

Basic Principles of Writing

Academic Writing -

Introduction: Before writing, consider your audience, purpose and context. Then attend to the writing process. We address 4 key aspects of writing*:

This covers skills like critiquing the content of a text, or interpreting your research data., developing an awareness of how to use language with greater precision and delicacy (see Language, below).

By controlling the structure of an essay or report - from introduction through to conclusion (including effective paragraph writing) - learn how to demand the least effort of your reader.

Argument comprises skills of problematising issues, articulating a position or perspective, justifying assertions, or referring to other writers' work - citing them and attributing ideas to them - either in support of your own ideas, or as part of a critique.

This section goes beyond conventional grammar to take a critical perspective on language use. It looks at delicacy in language use, and how writers communicate their values and stances on issues. It also looks at problems with tenses, articles, and logical connectors
* Remember, this advice is meant to apply to academic writing in the Arts and Social Sciences in general. If you're looking for specific advice on writing an
essay, literature review, or research report, return to the Home page and go directly to those pages.

Students need to learn to read academic texts as opinionated accounts rather than factual explanations. Even textbooks represent an author's account or interpretation of theory or practice. I.e. they consist largely of an author's attempts either to- explain a phenomenon from a particular perspective, or - critique someone's account in terms of other competing accounts

Interpretation of Content
Interpretation in critical reviews
Interpreting theory
Detecting & describing theoretical perspectives
Applying theory to social problems
Values and perspectives in historical accounts

Organizational Models and Strategies
Planning a ReportBefore doing any writing, you're advised to draw up a preliminary outline of your assignment. Think about any hierarchy in your material - what should come first - and your intended structure. I.e. Do you want to begin with your conclusion or main thesis (deductively) or work your way there gradually (inductively).
Outline structureBefore writing, also consider whether your text should be structured procedurally - methods, results, etc. - or by aspects of your topic - history of the Tung Men Hui, causes of the 1911 Revolution, etc. - or perhaps a combination. Check your headings and sub-headings for appropriate levels of generality - see examples from theses.
The Hourglass: a dynamic organisational modelThe hourglass is a model which shows the dynamic of a text from opening to its closure, shifting from the general introduction, through to the specific argument, and finally back to the general conclusions and implications for the field.
Given-New - a dynamic model of Information StructureThe Given-New model is one which explains the dynamic effect of "end-focus" - placing familiar information before new information.

Where "exposition" is the laying out of information by explanation or description, academic argumentation is the defence or support of a particular position, usually reflecting the writer's perspective. This section covers a number of strategies, notably how to refer to other writers' work, and how to detect weak arguments.
Some strategiesYou need to know how to justify an assertion, and to show balance in your writing, e.g. by acknowledging opposing viewpoints, to offer examples or analogies to illustrate a difficult point, and to problematise an issue, rather than simply describe it
Citation & AttributionCiting the work of others and attributing their ideas to them faithfully is one of the hardest tasks for a student writer, and it requires a sophisticated control of language. We offer examples of how and when to cite and attribute, with a range of vocabulary, and guidelines on writing a biblography.
Illogical reasoning and weak argumentationWe cover a range of types of weak argumentative strategies - easy if you haven't studied the techniques of argument. The "logic" of argumentation varies across cultures, but you are likely to appreciate why the examples offered are problematic.
Summary TaskThis task contains many of the faults in argumentation described; commentary is also provided.

Recommended reading:Missimer, C. (1990: 2e [= 2nd edition]) Good Arguments. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall.
Ramage, J. and J. Bean (1989) Writing arguments. NY: MacMillan.
Spurgin, S. (1992) Strategies for argument: a reader and sourcebook. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Language: A critical perspective
Delicacy and ChoiceSimplicity and brevity can certainly be virtues in writing, but should not be pursued at the expense of reason and the search for the appropriate level of complexity in your assertions
Values and Stance: a Critical Language Awareness PerspectiveWe continue to take a particular social and critical perspective on language and how it can work – and be used – to promote certain interests and viewpoints
A Critical perspective on LanguageA critical perspective emphasises the role of language in evaluating the status of someone's opinion and interpreting what their perspective might be - reading between the lines, and behind the words (e.g. labeling)
For a focus on the issue of plagiarism - and how to learn to avoid it - click
For a grammar task looking at the use of the article (in an Economics text), click here

Dear Friends,

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