Effective Writing at the Graduate Level: Overview - Student ...

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Effective Writing at the Graduate Level: Overview - Student ...

Effective Writing at theGraduate Level: OverviewStudent Development ServicesWriting Support CentreUCC 210www.sds.uwo.ca/writingHere, we will outline the expectations that graduate schools have of graduate student writing.1


Effective WritingKnow your audienceGeneral/specific audienceAlways determine appropriatenessThe final product is the mostimportant partThe most important aspect of any writing is knowing the audience that you expect to be reading your text. The same information can be communicated to different audiences, but you must beaware of the expectations and degree of prior knowledge of your audience. No matter the audience, your readers only see your final product. They do not care how long it took or how hard youworked on a text, they can only judge what is put in front of them. Therefore, the final product must be as complete and polished as possible.2


Layers of Effective WritingLayer 1: AppearanceGrammar, Formatting, Etc.Layer 2: Writing StyleSentence FlowLayer 3: OrganizationConnecting the IdeasLayer 4: ContentThe IdeasMost readers look at the same text in many different ways. The first thing that a reader might notice about a passage is it’s general appearance. How is the text formatted? Are there manyspelling or grammatical errors? If this checks out, a reader then moves on to look at writing style. How do the sentences flow and fit together? Many grammatically correct sentences maysound awkward and impede readers from extracting meaning from them. If accomplished successfully, readers can start to see the general shape of a text. Is there an overall argument? Howdo the paragraphs connect? What kind of broad organizational scheme is being used? Polished sentences that are in an illogical order will confound readers. Now, if all three of thesecomponents are mastered, the purpose of writing the text is clear. The content and ideas that the author wants to communicate are hidden underneath all of these layers.3


Reader vs. WriterWhile appearance, then style may be the first thingsnoticed by a reader, this should not be your firstconcern when writingStart with a clear idea of the content and how you willorganize itNow, while the reader may read a text in this order, a writer must consider them in the opposite order. An author must first understand the content he or she is trying to communicate, beforebeing able to connect them or write clearly and correctly. We will now address each of the these components in more detail.4


4: ContentThe foundation of effective communicationNeed a clear understanding to be able to communicateeffectivelyThe content is the foundation of effective communication. If you don’t have solid ideas to stand on, you are wasting your and everyone else’s time. Before writing, you should have a clearunderstanding of what you’d like to say.5


3: OrganizationPresent your ideas in a logical (not chronological) orderEssential at the micro (paragraph) and macro (paper)levelsYour reader does not understand your topic as well as you do, so you must present evidence and material in a way that allows your reader to begin to understand. You should not just writedown material in the order that you first read it, or that just pops into your head, you must synthesize the material, and present it in a logical order. This is important at different scales: theparagraph all the way to the whole paper.6


3: Paragraph OrganizationEach paragraph should cover one Topic that isSupported by clear evidenceAll about Topic Sentences and SupportFollow a logical order (A-B, B-C, C-D)Use transitions to connect sentences and paragraphsEach paragraph should be treated as a unit. It should cover one topic that is supported by evidence. If you are trying to do too much with a paragraph, you should consider breaking it up intomultiple paragraphs. To make it clear what the paragraph is trying to accomplish, you should have a topic sentence (usually the first sentence) that establishes what the paragraph will cover.The rest of the paragraph should just be used to support that statement. As always, the support should follow a logical order so that your reader can follow the development of your idea. Finally,only at the end should you worry about how the paragraph fits in with other paragraphs by using appropriate transitions.7


Paragraph Example1. Determining tissue-diet discrimination may suggest theisotope composition of an animal’s diet, but there isconsiderable intra- and inter-species variation. 2. The 13 Cand 15 N bone collagen-diet values of red-backed voles fed diets withdifferent amounts of protein varied by as much as 3 and2.5‰ respectively, while hair varied by as much as 3.5 and3‰ respectively (Sare et al., 2005). 3. Moreover, analysisof the gut contents of several small mammal species showedconsiderable inter-species variation in 15 N absorption and 13 Cvalues that differed from ungulates by approximately 3‰(Hwang et al., 2007). 4. Blood, liver, muscle and hair tissuesare most commonly used in ecological studies to infer diet,and the tissue-diet discrimination values of these must bemeasured in a controlled setting before making conclusionsIn this paragraph, we see an example of a paragraph that starts with a statement about the content of the paragraph (1), two sentences that support this statement (2 and 3), and a concludingsentence that summarizes the evidence and introduces the content of the next paragraph (4).8


3: Paper OrganizationSee the “Research Paper Organization” and “EssayOrganization” presentations for detailed advice onorganizing larger written worksThere are two presentations available from the GradWrite page that examine how two different types of papers should be organized.9


2: Writing StyleDiscipline specificMost areas encourage a clear and concise writing styleSee “Academic Writing Style” Presentation for moredetailed adviceDifferent disciplines encourage students to write in different writing styles, but most people promote a clear and concise writing style that encourages careful use of words to maximizeunderstanding. There is another presentation available from the GradWrite page that examines this topic in more detail.10


ClarityIf it can be misinterpreted, then it is wrongWord choice is keyMany clarity issues are caused by inappropriate wordsIn the academic setting, where words have so much power and can not be clarified once published, if a text can be misinterpreted by a reader, regardless of the author’s intent, it should beconsidered wrong. Using the correct words is essential.11


ConcisenessShortening the text without impacting clarityNot the same as brevityUsually improves clarityIf a word or phrase can be removed or shortenedwithout losing meaning, do itWriting concisely involves shortening the text without impacting its clarity. It is not the same as brevity, since some very long texts can be written concisely and many short texts are not asconcise as they could be. By removing excess words and shortening a text, it is usually easier to read, so it has the added bonus of improving clarity. In general, you should remove any phrasesor words while keeping the original meaning.12


Many people consider Strunk and White’s “Elements of Style” the standard guide to write with a clear and concise writing style.13


1: Spelling, GrammarThere are rules, learn themSloppy writing indicates sloppythinkingSpellcheck helps, but it can be acrutchThere are many rules to writing that must be learned. Many academics feel that sloppy writing indicates sloppy thinking or sloppy research. Technological advances have helped reducemistakes, but if you rely to heavily on spell or grammar check, you will no doubt miss errors that these programs cannot pick up. Having flawless writing is often the first concern of novicewriters, when in fact it is the other three layers that are more important for effective communication. In the case of individuals for whom English is not their first language, readers are often able tooverlook minor errors provided the organization of the text is clear and logical, owing to the fact that the many unwritten rules of English can confound novice writers.14


1: FormattingKnow the required formatDifferent for almost every sciencejournal, grant and scholarship and classThe author’s final concern should be formatting the text for the intended audience. Audiences often have very specific ideas of how a text should be presented, so before handing in the finalproduct, learn these expectations.15

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