Library

23 August 2016

Assignment tips: how to use research and give it your voice

So you’ve done all your research and you’ve found a lot of great information, but how do you use it in your assignment while still presenting your own ideas? How can you toe the line between using the research for authority, while still having the assignment project your ‘voice’? This blog post will answer your questions!



Is your voice being heard?
Pixabay/CC0
When writing an assignment, it’s no use simply summarising what all the experts out there think. The person who marks your assignment wants to know what argument you are putting forward, which will be supported by the research you have done. Be confident that what you have to say is important!

What are your thoughts?

The best place to start is by reading through the literature. When you read the author’s opinions, what do you think? Do you think “that sounds unfair” or “I totally agree with that”? Perhaps you think of something that hasn’t been addressed by any authors but is important to discuss. From these thoughts, you can start to develop what you are going to argue - this is called your ‘voice’.


However, it is important not to just waffle on about what you think without any support from experts and authoritative sources. What you say should be supported by what you have read, this gives your argument authority. Remember that your lecturers are experts in this field - they know what the literature says and probably even wrote some of it!


Organise those thoughts

Now you know what you want to say, and you have research to back up your opinion. It’s time to structure these ideas so that your ‘voice’ comes out clearly. Let’s look at some steps to success:
  1. The first sentence is called a topic sentence and sets the tone for the paragraph's main point. It should therefore reflect your voice and ideas. It’s usually not a good idea to begin a paragraph with someone else’s ideas. For example, you shouldn’t start with a quote.
  2. After you've written a topic sentence that states your point for the paragraph, you can now explain further. The resources you have found should be used as evidence to support your argument. The resources you are using to support your arguments and topic sentence must be relevant, as well as of high academic quality. Use the Library Guides in your subject area to direct you to academic databases and strategies rather than just relying on Google!
  3. Make sure to link this argument back to the main topic to bring it all together. You need to make it clear how your point is relevant to the overarching topic. Explain how your evidence supports your point, argument, or explanation.
  4. The dominant voice in each paragraph should be yours. You need to show that you are interpreting the research not just regurgitating it. If you start and end each paragraph with your points and ideas, you make your voice clearer.


Using the expert's thoughts

You have three choices when you want to incorporate information from another source. You can quote, paraphrase, or summarise.


  • Quoting should not be overused, as it shows the least amount of interpretation. If you do use quotes, make sure to explain them and what their relevance to your argument is.
  • Paraphrasing means you express the author’s ideas in your own words. It does not count if you copy over the quote and then change a few of the words to synonyms! Paraphrasing should demonstrate your understanding of what the author is saying. Writing out key ideas in your own words makes it less likely you will plagiarise and helps develop your own academic voice as well.
  • Summarising involves reducing the amount of words used by the author but still expressing their main points. You can add your own comments to provide analysis.


You can read more information about these techniques on the UNSW website.


For each of these techniques, you can introduce the author’s thoughts using ‘reporting verbs’, For example, “argued”, “claimed”, or “observed”. You can find a handy list of these online.


And of course, any sources you use in your assignment must be cited and referenced appropriately. This helps differentiate between what is your voice and what is from your resources, as well as avoiding plagiarism.


Don’t forget the friendly librarians and learning skills advisers at the research and learning point! Drop-ins are available if you have any questions on how to incorporate research into your assignments.




Michelle De Aizpurua, Librarian
Emma Price, Learning Skills Adviser
Damian Gleeson, Learning Skills Adviser


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