UWC writing workshop

Image from Wikipedia article on writing

Last week UWC hosted a writing workshop for academics. I always enjoy writing workshops because there’s always something I find in them that makes me think about my own process a little bit more. I wasn’t able to attend the full sessions every day, but managed to make a few notes while I was there.

Writing an Introduction

CARS model – Create A Research Space (John Swales). Using the Introduction as a way of creating a space, or a context that the research will take place in. Publishing as a way of creating a conversation in a field. I write the Introduction last, as a roadmap for the reader rather than as a roadmap for my writing. I can’t change the Method and Results, so I use those sections as anchors and go back to the Introduction to make sure that there’s alignment between the major sections.

Genre – ways that members of a community agree that certain discourses within that community will be presented

Writing as a process of learning about what you’re writing about. The process changes you and changes itself as it moves forward. Sometimes you don’t really know where you’re going or how you’re going to get there, but the act of writing creates can create a pathway from where you are to where you need to be.

Try to avoid:

  • Repetition
  • Unnecessary background and context
  • Exaggerating the importance of the work
  • Weak statements
  • Assumption that the reader knows where the research is located i.e. context is lacking
  • Not focusing on a clear and compelling research question i.e. it is too broad

Establish a niche by showing that previous research is not complete (can be negative evaluation of other studies, or positive justification for your own)

Using the Introduction as a way to establish authority and situating yourself and your own work within a context.

Knowing the steps in this model can be used to give feedback to other people’s writing. The tacit understanding of good writing can be made explicit. Is also a good way to actually read articles.

Keeping track of sources and versions as part of the Literature Review

Three uses of sources

  1. Making notes: Help formulate the question; Quick read to spark interest; Recording general ideas
  2. Reading for an argument: Help to make a logical argument; Look for similar arguments to what you want to make i.e. a logic checklist; Use the literature to make points that you want to address; Turn major points into questions that you want to answer
  3. Reading for evidence: Most common reason but not necessarily the most important; Reporting evidence completely and accurately, cite source carefully; Try to locate the original source; Don’t try to collect everything (we often feel a need to gather and read as many sources as possible. Rather try to be selective about a few good sources)

Preserve what you find. Record bibliographic information and notes accurately. When taking notes from literature, summarise the main points, highlight issues/data/methods that are important. Identify when you quote, when you paraphrase and when your notes trigger a new thought.

Share you resources with colleagues. Discuss what you’re reading with others, and discuss why what you’re reading is useful (or not). How does your reading shift or shape your topic or questions. Use sources to revise your question and topic (check with your supervisor).

Saving versions

  • Understand the concept of versioning
  • Use file sharing rather than email e.g. Dropbox
  • Rename files with dates, supervisor names
  • Keep an archive folder with older drafts (don’t delete anything)

Imagination and writing creatively

I sometimes feel like not writing because it’s like I have nothing to say. Sometimes you  who don’t write because the ideas aren’t there but it’s important to understand that ideas don’t emerge from nothing. Being embedded within conversations is one way for the seeds of ideas to be planted. Over time, and over many conversations, the seeds begin to grow and you feel like you have all these ideas that came from nowhere, overnight. As a writer, it’s important to keep track of all of these seeds and add to them over time. For example, keeping drafts of blog posts with links back to original sources, or keeping notes of books being read, or just keeping a short audio note reminding yourself that “this is an interesting idea”.

How do you deal with having too many ideas?

Think of note-taking and reading as a critical conversation with the author, rather than just reading and making notes. Being critical of the writer / writing style open us to further avenues for thinking about the topic.

What is the purpose of the review? This influences how you approach it.

  • Find published research
  • Read and skim: identify major points, important contributors
  • Map the literature: outline the major topic with sub-topics, highlight themes, narrow the boundaries of what to focus on
  • Read and critique smaller portions to identify exemplars
  • Write a focused review that introduces the perspective you want to use

Writing is not a linear process.

Think about beginning locally and then moving globally. Usually we write to narrow the focus e.g. by beginning globally and moving locally.

Data analysis and reporting

What are some of the challenges you experience with data analysis and reporting of results? I find it difficult to only use the data. There are experiences that exist outside of the data, tacit knowledge, that I find difficult to integrate with the “formal” data.

Avoid simply listing quotes under categories, try to create links between the major concepts.

Data analysis is shaped by the research methods you choose.

Depending on whether the data is quantitative or qualitative, the presentation will be different.

Ensure that the discussion of the data goes further than simply repeating the results. The role of the author is to interpret the data in the context of the literature, to go further and unpack what can be inferred. Acknowledge that analysis is an act of creation, informed by personal beliefs and biases. We can try to reduce bias but should be aware that how we interpret the data can’t really be separated from ourselves.

Discussion of findings, conclusion, submission and peer review

Go back to the beginning. Review the research question. Remember that the process is not linear.

In quantitative research, it makes sense to separate out the results and discussion of those results. This isn’t the case in qualitative research where the discussion of the results are usually best done together.

Make sure that themes are logical and that they build on each other. These themes should also speak to the key questions and ideas that were presented in the Introduction.

Unpack the quotes and narratives clearly. In qualitative research, avoid using too many quotes to illustrate the same point.

The presentation of the findings should follow a logical flow. Guide the reader through the piece so that they feel like they are moving through a process. Try to integrate the results into a narrative.

Consider using pseudonyms rather than “Participant 1” in order to avoid objectifying them. You could even ask participants to provide their own pseudonyms.

Conclusion: Here is what I did, what I found, what it means and some things that might happen next.

Finalising the document: check on content and alignment. Is the context and rationale clearly outlined? Are the questions or problems clearly stated? Is appropriate and comprehensive literature reviewed? Are you joining the conversation with familiarity? Have you outlined your methodology clearly and in appropriate detail? Have you summarised, concluded and drawn out key contributions of your work? Are your references in the correct format? Do you need to acknowledge anyone? Is the work formatted according to the journal requirements?

Resources

Note: This was originally published at Unteaching.

Twitter Weekly Updates for 2011-01-31

  • @damianrice Not sure what you mean 🙂 #
  • @EranEyal no problem, talk sounds interesting, u know the URL? Would like to attend if possible #
  • @gavdavis Thanks man, now we just have to get funding so that everyone can go 🙂 #
  • 8 out of 9 abstracts submitted from UWC physio dept accepted for presentation at #WCPT congress. I’m just saying… #
  • Just found out my abstract was accepted for the #WCPT congress in Amsterdam in June http://bit.ly/fLzPms. Yay me! #
  • RT @daveduarte: RT @huddlemind: Blog post: “Your Tweets, Legalized”: http://bit.ly/gDvtVq #creativecommons /thanks @MaxKaizen @paulscott56 #
  • RT @eraneyal will be doing a TED talk @ TEDx Cape Town 26 March. A study on how our Internet Social anthropology mimics that of our species #
  • @mrgunn good point, will add a line to my bio mentioning the CC license. Not sure how else, unless u add to individual tweets? #
  • @sbestbier thanks man, much appreciated #
  • I have just licensed my tweet stream! Would you like to do the same? @ccsa http://tinyurl.com/4btb55f #
  • RT @paulscott56: @justinspratt I would like to invite you to license your tweets http://tinyurl.com/4nyw9hq <-Very cool, thanks #
  • @taravs84 Got back from writing retreat late yesterday afternoon. Back at work now. Will reply to email re. camping asap. #
  • @taravs84 You have mad chair building skills 🙂 #
  • What is it with researchers and peer review? http://ow.ly/1s0ebT #
  • Social presence supports cognitive presence http://ow.ly/1s0ebv. Saw evidence of this in a wiki-based assignment I ran last year #
  • A Future Without Personal History http://ow.ly/1s0e8u. Makes a good point re. self-archiving of personal digital communication #
  • World’s Med Students Declare for Open Access http://ow.ly/1s0e7M. Will someone tell management at SASP, cause they’re not listening to me #
  • Why Using 2 or 3 Simple Words May Be the Best Password Protection of All http://ow.ly/1s0e7p. Interesting #
  • How to Fund Open Educational Resources: Department of Education or Kickstarter? http://ow.ly/1s0e6X #
  • PHD comic: ‘Relationship status’ http://bit.ly/fg3kYF #

Twitter Weekly Updates for 2011-01-24

Twitter Weekly Updates for 2010-03-01

  • Revisiting the Purpose of Higher Education and Courses. Why teaching content isn’t enough http://tinyurl.com/yg7ttj8 #
  • First two weeks of OpenContent at UCT http://tinyurl.com/ygtm9wx #
  • The Open Source Way: Creating and Nurturing Communities of Contributors http://bit.ly/bTDcGp #
  • Why technology is not disrupting the university sector http://tinyurl.com/yhk3boy #
  • @weblearning I like it, thanks for the heads up 🙂 #
  • RT @weblearning: “key difference between informal and formal learning is .. permeable classroom walls” writes @bfchirpy http://bit.ly/90f17e #
  • Establish Authority by Creating Value. A few suggestions on ways to better establish yourself within your field http://tinyurl.com/ygv2nfl #
  • Highlighting E-Readers. Short comment by Downes on a post highlighting issues with e-readers for scholarship http://tinyurl.com/yghqbnf #
  • Short post on the predominantly content focused nature of course planning http://tinyurl.com/y9v4u64 #
  • RT @melaniemcbride: one of the downsides of fewer [bloggers] is a preference for the shotgun-share over [hard work & analysis/commentary] #
  • @KEC83 #Diigo ed. acc? Been trying on/off for 6 months with not even a single response from them. Very disappointing #
  • @RonaldArendse looks interesting, but I think it’s going to be a while before we’ll see anything like that locally 🙂 #
  • Policing YouTube: Medical Students, Social Media and Digita Identity http://bit.ly/crA5yi #
  • Sunset at Mont Flour in Stellenbosch is beautiful #
  • apophenia » Blog Archive » ChatRoulette, from my perspective. Thoughts on the video service by danah boyd http://bit.ly/9TU4O3 #
  • Johannes Cronje: Wendren’s PPC Bag. Cool example of South African innovation http://bit.ly/aKdy3O #
  • @meganbur welcome to the revolution 🙂 #
  • At http://montfleur.co.za/ for UWC writing retreat. There are worse places to be. Some good insight into the writing process #
  • @sbestbier Thanks for the suggest, much appreciated 🙂 #
  • Science in the Open » Blog Archive » Peer review: What is it good for? http://bit.ly/cxzR6o #
  • It’s not peer review if you aren’t familiar with the subject « Connectivism http://bit.ly/1PIqDK #
  • elearnspace. everything elearning: Scholarship in an age of participation (Siemens) http://bit.ly/bigAMm #

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UWC writing for publication retreat – day 3

Today is the last day of our writing retreat. We had a short session this morning briefly going over the Method, Results, Discussion and Conclusion, before going back to our rooms to spend the last few hours writing. Coming from a more quantitative background, I’m having some difficulty writing up my qualitative responses, so looking forward to feedback (via Google Docs) from my group members.

Here are my notes from this morning.

Data interpretation and alignment

  • Go back to the journal review and decide if this journal accepts your type of paper
  • What type of data is typically presented in that journal?

Method

  • Recognise that there’s a wide range of methods
  • Make sure your methods are aligned with the literature review
  • Explain why that method was used
  • Summarise → “this is what other people have said about this method”
  • “This is what I did” → descriptive account

Data presentation

  • Use only data that is aligned with your introduction and literature review → aim for congruency
  • Let the data speak for itself
    • It should be comprehensible on it’s own
    • It should indicate a general trend
    • Save extended interpretation for the Discussion
  • Avoid data density and overkill
    • Select appropriate data; emblematic data
    • Avoid repetition and tedious prose explaining what is already evident
  • Group data into themes or patterns
  • Think about what sort or data you have e.g. interviews, survey results, observations, and how best to present that. Present data in user friendly ways e.g. graphs and other visuals

What will you do with your data to make sure that you “surface” the message you want to convey?

How do you convince your readers that you’ve designed a rigorous study?

…we collect minds and then we can…” (Student response in an interview about groupwork, a direct translation from another language)

Qualitative studies

  • What can we do to reduce the power differential between students and lecturers, and what strategies did you put in place e.g. focus groups?
  • Be transparent about the process i.e. make issues visible so that the reader can be aware of them
  • How do you get around the problem of interpretation? What is real and what is the researcher creating connections where none exist?

Discussion

Make a compelling argument. What this means and why it’s important

  • Validate and defend your findings
  • comparisons and interpretations
  • Find your niche

Conclusion

“This is what I did, what I found, and some things I might do next”

  • Summary and argument
  • Possible avenues for future research

Return to rewrite the Abstract and Introduction to ensure alignment

How will I align my analysis of the data to the rest of the paper?

What do you think are the best ways of presenting your data?

UWC writing for publication retreat: day 2

Today has focused on the practical aspect of publication i.e. actually writing, so we didn’t have as many presentations. We began by reviewing some of what was discussed yesterday and adding a few reflections and comments from participants.

Yesterday, one of the presenters suggested the CARS (link downloads PDF) model for structuring an Introduction. Today, someone suggested that that particular model is based mainly on English language publications from the UK,USA and Australia. Some have suggested the OARO model as an alternative, based on a synthesis of publications from other countries:

Open A Research Option (OARO) model

  • Attract a readership
  • Establish credibility
    • Share background knowledge (own research / anecdotal experiences)
    • Justify the need for the research (answering the “why” question)
    • Present interesting thoughts (who decides what’s “interesting”?)
    • Introduce the general goal
  • Offer a line of enquiry (open questions and explore)
  • Introduce the topic

Remember that it’s difficult to build a model that is based on cross-disciplinary publications.

A review of the writing process

“An increasing number of references in publications may point to a form of academic insecurity”

How well are you telling your own story?

Instead of using pre-defined headings e.g. Discussion, try to highlight the major finding / point and use that for the heading instead

Each phrase should be used to advance your argument. Make sure that the pieces fit together to create a coherent whole.

Writing about the topic begins broadly (macro view) and then narrows to get to the crux of the article (micro view), then expands again to place the results into a broader context e.g. hourglass shape

Review of the literature (because it’s a process, not a thing)

Entering occupied territory” → can be intimidating

Be wary of absolute statements about the review i.e. what it should or shouldn’t do or be

Working with literatures:

  • Locate the work in a field
  • Create a mandate for the research
  • Informs the methods and theorisation
  • Specify the contribution

Learning to speak with authority, adopting a critical yet generous stance to the scholarship of the field, and establishing authority to speak, is an enormous challenge (Kamler & Thomson, 2006)

Find patterns in the literature

Patterns:

  • Chronological
  • Geographical
  • Definitions
  • Genre
  • Concepts
  • Methods
  • General → specific
  • Policy / practice

Try to avoid “Smith et al (2000) have suggested that…”, “They emphasise the following…” Rather, try to put your take on their research first, and then credit the other researchers

Trying to convince the reader that there’s an organising mind at work (Swales, 2004)

Literature review isn’t about constructing a thing, it’s a process that’s embedded throughout the article