Refining Technique in Academic Writing

Typewriters

 

I wrote briefly last week about the importance of technique in academic writing.   Academic writing is, above all else, a specialised form of communication, which remains true whether we are teaching essay writing to first year students or working on a journal article addressing our research. Articles, essays, theses, and dissertations are all modes of communication that serve to share with readers how we have approached our topic and the conclusions to which we have come. And the success of this communication is dependent each writer’s display of technical mastery. This does not, of course, mean mindlessly following the model, although many writing teachers would agree that is preferable to write with good technique and be a bit monotonous than to write with no technique and lose the reader from the outset.

The aim of good technique is to create a fluid and organic microcosmic structure. What this means is, simply: 1) each paragraph is a self-contained unit, 2) which contributes to the argument of its individual section, 3) which contributes to the argument of its chapter, 4) which contributes to the argument of the work as a whole. No matter the length of the writing, these key building blocks will always stay the same, and should always help your reader to enter into your analysis with the tools to engage meaningfully with what you have to say.

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Making It New: Innovation in Arts & Humanities Research

English: A drawing of index cards with tabs. T...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Research” in the early days—and by that I mean in the days of elementary school—was a straightforward affair.  Or it was until the revolution of the parenthetical citation marked a turning point in the yearly convention of the spring research paper.  In those early days, “research” also looked quite  different, in that it was largely done by looking books up in a card catalogue and then writing notes on index cards. Continue reading

Making the Most Out of Experiential Learning: 5 Things That Work for Me

Experiential Learning

Over the past several years I have experimented with experiential learning in my teaching: how it’s presented, how it’s managed, and how it’s evaluated.  This semester I have rolled out a full-scale experiential learning component for my module on the Twentieth-Century British Novel–and this has only come after a great deal of trial and error.  For this part of the module assessment, students are required to write an essay reflecting on one of the several experiential learning activities taking place over the course of the semester.  In this essay they must first identify how they understood one specific aspect of a text we studied before the experiential learning activity, and then how their understanding of that aspect changed or was modified after the activity.  This type of critical analysis demands a great deal of self-reflexivity from students, but I have been extremely pleased with how the work has gone so far.  In previous years, students haven’t so easily taken to the challenges of self-reflexive thinking, but there have been five key lessons that I have learned along the way:

1) Explicitly introduce the goals of experiential learning

It is often students–rather than faculty boards or senior colleagues–who are most resistant to innovation in learning and teaching. Students generally begin university with a clear preconception of what learning will entail (e.g. read book, listen to lecture, discuss in seminar, write essay), and breaking from this anticipated course of learning can quickly create confusion or concern.  This confusion is an issue that I address head-on.  When introducing experiential learning assignments or activities, I very explicitly explain the goals and objectives.  ‘We are working on recognizing that the literature we study doesn’t exist in a vacuum–it is still being molded and changed by our perceptions of the world around us.  As we begin to recognize how our daily lives impact upon our understanding of literature, we not only become stronger readers of literature, but stronger readers of everything that surrounds us.’    This big-picture overview really does help students to understand how experiential learning fits into their programme as a whole, and what they might hope to get out of it.

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