Showing posts with label writing. Show all posts
Showing posts with label writing. Show all posts

13 March 2017

Stay ahead with Research and Learning Online

Want to get the best marks for your assignments? Worried you might not know how to write an academic essay or a lab report? Never fear! Check the tips in this article.

At Monash, you are independently managing your own learning. Arm yourself early on with the necessary skills to achieve your learning goals by using our online modules. Designed to help you keep on top of your studies, the modules have strategies, advice and examples of writing in subject areas.

Our learning skills advisers and librarians have been hard at work creating tutorials, guides and activities for the Research and Learning Online (RLO) website, providing you with the tools you need to stay ahead of the game.

These RLO e-learning materials cover effective study strategies including note taking in lectures, reading critically, and how best to tackle your labs to get the most out of them. There’s advice on brainstorming for assignments, thinking critically, communicating clearly and which citing and referencing method you’ll need. They also have heaps of tips on how to write academically, manage your time, and approach your exams with confidence.

See? We’ve got you covered.

Stuck on that BusEco essay? No worries! There’s a sample assignment for that for you to refer to, with lecturer’s comments and activities to enhance your understanding. There are guides for whichever field you’re in, with detailed instructions and advice.

For research and postgraduate students, there’s plenty of information about how to manage your research process, the trick to writing a great proposal, navigating copyright and demystifying the peer review process.

And the best part? It’s totally free, and accessible by you around the clock! Just visit and find the help you need. Don’t forget that if you have any questions about your assignment or need some clarification, our learning skills advisers and librarians are available at our drop-in sessions.

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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!

Image: Pixabay, CCO Creative Commons licence
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.

Image: Pixabay, CCO Creative Commons licence

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

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1 August 2016

Avoid assignment delays: get moving with effective preparation

So you’ve settled into the start of semester and have discovered all the assignment tasks you’ll need to complete in the next couple of months. Sometimes it can feel like you just don’t know where to start, or need to keep reading before you can start writing, or maybe you just start writing straight away on whatever you can think of. Don’t fall into these traps - good assignment writing needs good preparation. Here are some tips to get you pumping out your assignments effectively from Learning Skills Adviser, Emma Price.

  1. Analyse your task

The first step in any assignment is to make sure you clearly understand what it is asking you to do. You may think you’ve got the idea from a quick read over, but you could miss out on some important details or misunderstand the question if you don’t spend a bit of time on task analysis. Comprehensively covering what is asked will usually add more marks onto your grade. Here’s some pointers to get you started: 

  • Think about whether or not you understand all of the terms involved - what might you need to look up?
  • You should highlight or scribble on the task itself for words or phrases that give you direction (what you need to do), content (topic or context) and limits (to set the required scope).

As you complete your assignment, you should always return to the task to make sure you are answering the topic and sticking to what was asked.

  1. Brainstorm and plan

Now that you understand what you need to do, a good next step is to spend a bit of time brainstorming. You might like to try creating a mindmap or just jotting down your thoughts on a page to record your ideas as you go.

  • What do you already know about this topic? What knowledge gaps will you need research?
  • How does this task fit into what you’ve covered in class?
  • What is your initial position towards the task? How will you approach what it is asking you to do?

This brainstorm is a great way to develop a plan. With your task analysis and initial thoughts on the topic, you can plot out how you will complete the assignment. This could be a skeleton structure outline noting down what the main sections or paragraphs should cover, or just some broad headings and subheadings of the areas you want to find out more about. You may want to write your approach or argument at the top of the page to keep you on track in your plan. Remember: this plan is not set in stone and you should adapt it as you do more research and start writing - but always make sure you are answering what the task is asking you to do!

You may also want to plot out a timeline between now and the due date to keep you on track with your research and writing.

  1. Research

Using your thoughts from your brainstorm and initial plan, it should now be pretty clear where you are headed and what you need to research for your assignment. Remember: 

  • Google is not the answer.
  • You should use the enormous amount of materials available to you through the Library. This way you get informed, credible and useful resources to help you in your assignment.
  • Try your faculty Library guide for some starting points on databases or key resources.
  • Your textbook or unit readings might help give you some background knowledge or starting points to expand your research.

From this, you can add in more ideas to your plan and get a better picture of how you will write your assignment. Keep on track by knowing your focus in the assignment and sticking to relevant reading - don’t get too lost in unhelpful tangents that will just use up precious time!

Remember to note down all the details for any sources you use for your referencing. And don’t get caught thinking you have to read more before you can start writing - you can always research as you write if you find there are some gaps to fill or you don’t have a good example for a particular part of your assignment.

By following these steps to get you started, you should have a really strong sense of your assignment. Use your expanded plan to avoid any writing procrastination - you know what you want to say and have the research notes to help you say it! Some students find sitting in front a blank screen and starting with their introduction makes their brain go blank. If this is the case for you, why not try starting at the next paragraph to get you going. You can always return after you have got your main argument paragraphs on the page, and this might help you write a clear and relevant introduction in the end anyway!

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 get started on your assignment writing or research.

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18 April 2016

How to write critically

Have you ever been told that your writing is “too descriptive”, or that you need to “show more analysis” or “adopt a more critical approach”? You may need to work on your critical thinking skills or be more direct in your academic expression when writing about your arguments, writes Clinton Bell.

In an academic context, being critical means going beyond explaining information, theories and ideas that you have learned in your studies. There is more emphasis on you clearly demonstrating your considered point of view.

To do this, you need to go beyond just describing what other people have said and thought, and start asking questions. There are a lot of questions you can ask, but let’s start with two big ones: “What do I think?” and “What does that mean?”

What do I think?

Critical analysis involves considering all viewpoints and then deciding what you think. This means two things for your writing:
  • You need to explain why your reader should agree with your point of view
  • You need to consider how credible your sources are that you use to support your point of view.
As a student, the most common way to support what you say is by referring to evidence from other sources and making a logical argument based on that evidence. This leads directly into the second point – you need to choose your sources carefully, because the strength of your own argument depends on them.

If you’re not sure how to do this, check out the "Evaluating sources" section of the Library’s Academic research on the internet tutorial. Although it’s aimed at internet sources, it’s a useful guide in general.

What does that mean?

So you’ve got some high-quality sources. Great! But remember, we’re trying to make an argument based on evidence, not just provide a big list of information. That means you need to link your sources back to your topic and to each other. Again, asking questions is a great way to do this:

How does this information relate to the topic at hand? What conclusions can we draw from it? Are there any alternative explanations? These two sources disagree. Why is that? Should we believe one over the other – or perhaps they both have some merit? What are the implications of accepting one or the other?

Don’t be afraid to show original thought! If you just repeat what someone else has said, what do you accomplish? Why wouldn’t I just read the original source? Instead, you need to build on your sources and add value through analysis critique, or interpretation.

Further reading

If you’re still not sure where to start, there are several resources on the web that can help!

Dr Joe Lau at the University of Hong Kong has produced an excellent series of online tutorials which cover critical thinking and logic in detail.

If you prefer something more audio-visual, try this video introduction to critical thinking from QualiaSoup.

You can also chat to a Learning Skills Adviser at one of our Research & Learning Points. Bring along your assignment (either one you have completed, or one you’re writing), and they can give you some tips about how to improve your critical voice.

Do you know of any other useful resources? Let us know in the comments or on Twitter @monashunilib

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4 April 2016

Incorporating research into your assignment

Ever wondered how much of an assignment should consist of your own ideas on a topic and how much should be ideas you’ve found through research? How do you show this in your assignment?  Read on for some tips from a Learning Skills Adviser.

CCO Public Domain
How about when your assignment feedback says ‘where is your voice’? What should you do?

The key to incorporating research into your assignment is working out your argument on the topic, and how your sources can be best used to support it.

Here are four strategies:

It’s your paper (mostly).  

Your lecturers and tutors will most likely know what the experts in the field have written in your topic area, and they may well have contributed to this themselves.What they are interested in reading in your assignment is your response to the topic.

Your ‘voice’ is your response to the topic, not just what others have said, and this needs to be evident throughout your assignment. But be careful here: academic writing is about informed argument, not opinion. Use your research to give credibility and authority to the argument you are building on the topic. Of course, any sources you use in your assignment must be cited and referenced appropriately.
Use your sources wisely.

The research you incorporate into your assignments could be for facts or statistics, as supporting evidence or examples, or to provide different perspectives on a topic. Just always make sure the research you include is relevant to your topic so it gives you the best possible support in your argument.

Keep in mind you should always evaluate your sources for their quality and usefulness. The Library Guides in your subject area can help direct you to academic databases and strategies here.
It’s all about structure.

Ideas from other sources should generally not appear in the first sentence of your paragraph. Rather you should use the first sentence to set the theme for that paragraph. This shows greater command of the assignment topic too.
Here’s a simple guide to paragraph structure for incorporating research:
  • A ‘topic sentence’ summing up the main point of the paragraph,
  • Further explanation of that main point,
  • Evidence and examples to demonstrate the point in action (your research), and
  • A link back to the topic and your point’s relevance to it.
As you can see, your research features in just one part out of the four here. Mastering this kind of paragraph structure can help you develop and illustrate your assignment ‘voice’.

Summarise, paraphrase or quote?

Summarising and paraphrasing are preferred in your assignments as it shows your deeper understanding and engagement with the research you’ve done. You can use ‘reporting verbs’ to help introduce and discuss your sources, and this also is part of good academic writing. For example, ‘Smith (2010) argues...’ or ‘Jones (2012) states…’. Remember, keeping effective notes as you research will help you out here when you start to write your assignment.

You may need to check if you can include quotes in your assignments (not all faculties or units let you). If you can use them, it’s best to keep any direct quotes to a minimum. Overuse of quotes might suggest that you have rushed your assignment and just cut and pasted to save time. Any quotes should be situated in your sentences to give them some context and explanation. This way they work for your argument rather than making the quotes speak for themselves.

And again, of course, any sources you use in your assignment must be cited and referenced appropriately. Stay tuned to the study blog for more tips on referencing.
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.

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9 March 2016

Get started on your writing task

Sometimes just sitting down and starting to type is the toughest hurdle to clear when you are submitting an assignment. The steps in this blog entry will help you fly over it, leaving it far behind you, write Tami Castillo and Damian Gleeson.

You’ve been working for days now and you still don’t have one word of your essay or report written. You really have worked hard but have nothing to show for it. Fear not! All the groundwork has prepared you well, and the writing should take nowhere near as long as the preparation. Sometimes just sitting down and starting to type is the toughest hurdle to clear. The steps in this blog entry will help you fly over it, leaving it far behind you!

Have you fully analysed the topic?

If you don’t analyse it fully, you may not avail yourself of all marks on offer. Assessment topics always have the same key ingredients: direction words that tell you what to do, topic words and limiting words that set the required scope. Be very clear that you understand what your topic is asking you to do and what your tutor requires from you. There are several possible genres that might form part of your writing assessment. Be sure that you know what each genre entails. The Library’s Research and Learning Online is a useful resource to guide you. Several faculties at Monash have their own style guides, like BusEco’s Q Manual and IT’s Style Guide. Check your unit guide and Moodle sites for further information.

Have you done your research?

This does not mean using Google - anyone can do that. The Library spends millions of dollars on subscriptions to databases and journals, and it is your privilege as a Monash student to use them. So use them! Library Guides are a good starting point for finding discipline-specific databases and journals, but a librarian can help you choose some great databases to start with, and also work with you to build your skills so you can get the most out of your searches. Also, don’t forget your lecture and tutorial notes and required/recommended weekly readings. When you start writing you’ll probably find you’ll need to go back and research some aspects of your topic more. This is normal and to be expected. It means you are becoming suitably focused on key aspects that require rigour. Good for you!

Make a plan, Stan. Then use it to structure your work, Björk.

An unplanned essay is potentially a recipe for disaster. As a bare minimum, note your academic position/thesis and the subject of each body paragraph. This should assist you in maintaining a clear, structured response to the assignment question. Remember that each paragraph should consist of one idea that is explained in detail, supported by evidence and examples and linked back to the topic in order to prove its relevance. To do this in 1 - 3 sentences is impossible. If your paragraph is longer than a page, there is probably more than one main idea or there is too much detail. Don’t forget a clear introduction that
  • provides a general intro to the topic
  • tells your reader about your particular focus
  • offers a thesis statement indicating your academic position
  • previews your work’s structure, showing how you intend to achieve your stated goal. 
A conclusion is also necessary, summarising what you achieved and how you achieved it in your assignment, as well as providing a big picture statement of what is all means in the wider context.

Ready? Set? Write!

There are countless excuses to stop you from sitting down and typing your assignment. None of them is likely to justify your inertia. Once you actually start writing, you should find all that research, reading, planning and thinking has put you in a position where the flow quickly becomes a torrent. Get it all out of you as fast as you can! You can edit and proofread it all later. Go!

You may have doubts about whether your work is at the level your tutor expects or not. This may be because you are new to university, the first in your family or your friends to undertake tertiary study, or you are returning to study after a long break. See our Librarians and Learning Skills Advisers in your library’s Research and Learning Point -- they are available a few hours a day to see students or groups. At drop-ins, experts can provide tips, advice and feedback on all the research and academic work you need to do. There is no need for an appointment and you’ll be seen on a first-come, first-served basis.

Tami Castillo is a Learning Skills Adviser and Damian Gleeson is a Research and Learning Coordinator.

Images: Monash Image Library

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