Tag Archives: discipline

Level Up: Writing Strategies for New Undergraduates

By Desiree Fields (University of Sheffield), Matt Finn (University of Exeter), and Yvonne Oates (Cornwall College)

As an undergraduate just starting out at university, you already have loads of writing experience, but university requires some new and different writing skills. Perhaps the most fundamental difference is that your task will often be to use your writing not only to demonstrate that you can find relevant information and report it back, but that you can use the information you find to offer new insights and raise critical questions. In other words, you will be producing knowledge yourself by drawing on existing research. At university you will likely write more, and more often, than at school, and you will have to work more independently. This entails developing the ability to self-direct your writing, from breaking down the essay question to searching the academic literature, planning your essay, and organizing your time to write (and edit, proofread, and polish, plus prepare a reference list or bibliography).

 

Here, we offer some strategies to ‘level up’ your writing for university. Becoming a stronger writer is important for practical reasons: employers desire workers who can communicate effectively and think critically, and postgraduate opportunities will hinge to a large extent on the same skill set. But strengthening your writing will also help you become a more articulate person, one who knows what they think and how to say it effectively.

 

Developing your ideas

Whereas lecturers want students to develop original arguments based on academic literature, in their essays students often rely too heavily on reporting what the literature says, with little of their own voice coming across. It can be tempting to try and sound ‘academic’ but it is often better to write in a straightforward way, using short sentences and aiming to be as clear as possible. To develop your ideas and write essays that show more independent thought, we recommend taking some time to try to answer the essay question in one sentence before you even start reading, reviewing your notes, or researching it further. This can be the kernel of your argument and help you identify where there are gaps in your knowledge or understanding (and therefore where you need to read more). Starting with what you already know (or think you know), rather than going straight to what other people have said can support you in finding your own voice. Once you have written a sentence in response to the essay question and developed a plan for what you need to read to build up your argument, come back to your sentence after each text you read: what do you need to add or change? We should caution that ‘confirmation bias’ is a potential limitation of this strategy; that is you run the risk of only reading texts that support or confirm your initial thinking. However reading should change how you think. If your argument does not change after reading, you probably want to seek out some texts that explicitly challenge your argument. After all, acknowledging alternative views is a crucial way of strengthening our own arguments.

 

Understanding plagiarism

Plagiarism refers to using someone else’s work—not only their words, but also their ideas—without properly attributing it to them. Most undergraduates are fearful of committing plagiarism, yet many of them will in fact do so, often inadvertently rather than as an act of deliberate deception. The consequences of plagiarism can be severe both in terms of official penalties that affect your marks and in terms of the respect lecturers accord your future work. A recent study at the University of Otago found that while university policies frame plagiarism in moral and legal terms of dishonesty and intellectual property, students were often confused about what constitutes plagiarism and how to avoid it. The skills needed to avoid plagiarism include proper referencing and the ability to paraphrase the work of others, both of which take practice and will grow stronger as you become more familiar with your discipline and with reading academic texts and preparing academic writing. In other words, avoiding plagiarism is not simply about what happens (or does not happen) on the pages you submit, it is bound up in the broader process of becoming a geographer. Academic writing is about producing knowledge, and knowledge is not created ‘from scratch’. Instead, it is about how you combine the ideas of others to raise new questions or create insights of your own. As an author, you should therefore be able to trace the lineage of your work back to the ideas and authors that inspired your own thinking.

 

Conclusion

 

Writing can be a challenge and, given the other priorities you will have at university, it is easy to think, ‘just get it done’. However, writing, and writing well, can be very rewarding and many students find their understanding of an issue increases not just through listening to lectures or their own reading but as they write. To write clearly you need to think clearly so allow yourself the time to work through the challenges of how to order your thoughts and how things fit together. Everyone, including academics, can learn how to write more effectively and there are a wealth of underused books and resources available to you about how to improve your writing. The promise of writing is that over time and with practice it will allow you to know yourself and the world around you better as your thinking develops but also to know how to communicate in an engaged, informed and persuasive way.

 

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Reading Landscape – a collaboration between Geographers and Artists

By Hope Barraclough, Anna Bond, Felix Hall Close, Lucy Ewers, Alexander, Hitchinson, Joanna Hooper, Anna Monkman, James O’Connor, Flora Parrott, Leonie Rousham, Greta Sharp, Dr. Mike Smith, Robin Tarbet, Issy Veysey, Anna Vlassova-Longworth, Stanley Welch, Natalie Wyle

‘Reading Landscape’ is a collaborative project between Kingston University Geography and Fine Art students.

Picture Flora Parrot

Dr. Mike Smith (Department of Geography and Geology, Kingston University) and Flora Parrott (Artist in Residence at the RGS-IBG Collection 2016 and Fine Art Department Kingston) invited students from both departments to respond to the concept of ‘Reading’ a landscape or an environment and to develop an individual method of collecting data.

Central to the collaborative work was the use of a site or location as a focal point: it would be viewed and analysed through the “lens” of each discipline. In doing so the group would have a new perspective on their methodologies, recognise parallels between what initially appear to be polar disciplinary approaches and understand how methods of teaching and learning can be expanded and challenged through collaboration between fields.

After an introduction to the brief in the Fine Art studios, selections were made from proposals submitted by the students and in March 2016 the group began to meet regularly to discuss methodologies and definitions.

A selection of potential sites were proposed and the Grand Entrance Hall to the Thames Tunnel at Rotherhithe selected. This chamber, on the banks of the Thames, was designed by Marc Brunel and opened in 1843. It is a space with visible traces of it’s past on the walls, an evocative interior, suburban, location starkly different from the surface level at which it is accessed. The group developed plans outlining how the wide-ranging ‘data’ might be collected and pooled in order to develop a collaborative response to the site.

On the field trip to the Grand Entrance Hall the group had limited time to collect their data. The techniques used included sound recording, frottage, pin-hole photography, plane tabling, photogrammetry, poetry and drawing.

“Whilst in the shaft I observed and recorded the different range of activities going on in the space. It seems the breadth and depth of different people’s interpretations and readings will be vitally important when reviewing our time there and trying to retell and interpret the space as we remember it.” Anna Monkman, Fine Art student

The day was energetic and dynamic, the students were fascinated and possibly slightly intimidated by each others’ techniques. The results were recorded on a blog (http://rotherhitheshaft.tumblr.com/) which became the foundation for a follow up workshop in the Stanley Picker Gallery in May 2016.

During the workshop we had the opportunity to reflect on the site visit. The students had become more familiar with each other by this point and felt more able to ask direct questions about the processes used in the space without feeling that lack of knowledge in another field was a barrier.

Fine Art practice encourages ‘thinking through making’ and so in this spirit the students worked on small tasks in break out groups for the afternoon. The tasks had no specific rationale but in carrying them out space for discussion was created. For example, one group took the results from the plane tabling and used them to map the Grande Entrance Hall at 50% scale in the gallery car park. During this time we overheard conversations between students about the importance of practical application and field work in both disciplines. Another task was to map a section of the 3D photogrammetretric model on to the wall in the gallery space using the point cloud data. The pipe from the wall was detached from the model and simplified – this became a pivotal discussion in the making of the final short film and also presented a challenge for PhD student James O’Connor who found new ways in which to work with technologies that he uses on a daily basis.

“Within computer science a very typical task undertaken is to try and structure data by dividing it’s contents into various groups sharing some common information (classification). In the case of the shaft, this task can be done manually as it’s not a huge amount of work, but during the discussions yesterday I noted a few people interested in the fact that science looks to always patch out errors, whereas artists can embrace them.” James O’Connor PhD Geography

This type of exchange, although difficult to quantify, helped both staff and students to deepen their understanding of their own approaches.

One of the most profound conversations to emerge from the site visit was around our own personal metrics and gauges and how they alter our perceptions of space. Leonie Rousham (Kingston Fine Art Foundation) instructed us all to measure our bedrooms prior to the field trip and to then reapply these dimensions within the Grand Entrance Hall using tape on the floor.

The non-exacting and elusive ways in which we a perceive space as individuals is the central theme of the short film. The ideas that we bring to bear, employ consciously and sub-consciously and merge to form our own set of parameters are key to our response at each and every location and that this is uniquely formed encompassing and employing the historical dimension that is embedding there. The tensions between these streams of information are what the project attempts to make transparent.

In the final meetings about the film, the group discussed the site and how to combine the readings; there was no sense of hierarchy or of ownership, it was simply about how best to communicate the sense of place and to include as much of the information as possible. There was very little discussion about the differences between Geography and Art practice, instead there was a sense of symbiosis and shared intent.