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March 24, 2014

Final Entry on Introduction to Writing at MA level

Follow-up to First entry on Introduction to Academic Writing from David's blog

Over the last couple months since the workshop on Writing at MA level, I have tried to improve my writing style and my in turn my essay writing. As it is very difficult to show a change in writing styles and then judge such improvements, my three action points were all very similar in their goal to improve my overall essay writing.

My First Action Point was to better understand my essay questions and essay titles.

Looking over old work, I noticed that in the past my essay titles were far too broad and complex and needed a far more concise approach. Thus for my last piece of work I handed in at the end of the Spring term, I concentrated specifically on one aspect of a topic so that I did not trail off course. Although my Theory essay was easier to condense in such a way, I believe that I have learned the advantages of formlating a better question and hope to do the same for my next essay I'm working on.

My Second Action Point was to critically evalutate old work in the hope it would help future essay work.

For this I essentially took more time over my work in order to ensure enough time to look over, edit and re-write it. Having looked over old essays, I noticed much of my work came across as if it were rushed and hence did not achieve as high a mark as it might have done.

Directly linked to the above, my Third Action Point was to improve my overall macro-structure of my essays.

Having over-written many of my old essays with unnecesarily long sentences and paragraphs, for my last essay I decided to take a minimalist approach. This new approach meant my essay was more to the point and in turn every sentence added something to the essay.

Overall, I believe the workshop has allowed me to think about my work in an entirely new way. My new approach to essay writing, described in the above three point can essentially be summed by time management and organisation. By understanding my essay question early on I found I had more time to do the latter stages of the essay writing process. This in turn allowed me to start writing much sooner than before. With more time to write, edit and evaluate my work, I believe my overall essay structure has improved a lot. I hope to use my time wisely for my next pieces of work in order to improve my essay writing even further.


March 18, 2014

Update to Action Point of Writing at MA Level

Follow-up to First entry on Introduction to Academic Writing from David's blog

Closely interlinked with my second action point, my third action point was to improve the overall macro structure to my work by the end of the spring term.

Having just finished my MA History essay for the end of the Spring Term, I have found many improvements in my overall structure.

For this essay, which was a Theory, Methods and Skills History essay, I took a very minimalist approach to my work. Having wasted a lot of time over-reading in the past, for this essay I decided to stop reading excess books and stuck to 11 sources. This approach gave me more time to write my essay and thus allowed me to concentrate more time on planning the overall structure to my work.

By writing my Theory essay of 2,500 words over a week, I found I was much more effective at writing well. With more time to write and look over my work, I could now ensure that every paragraph had a topic and concluding or transitional sentence.

This new approach made me far more relaxed about writing than ever before and allowed for a better essay with no unnecessary sentences or paragraphs. Hopefully this will result in a vastly improved essay-writing style which I can apply to my last pieces of work for my degree (i.e my History of Human Rights essay and my Dissertation).


February 26, 2014

Update to Action Point 2 of Writing at MA Level

Follow-up to First entry on Introduction to Academic Writing from David's blog

Closely linked to my First Action point, my Second Action Point was to critically evaluate old work and help improve my ability to critically evaluate in future work.

Having read my CAS and QRS essays I have noticed that I need to leave more time to go through my work after I have done it. I have noticed that the majority of my work has been overloaded with content and long sentences. Thus, I have also noticed that some passages of my essays could easily have been edited out had I given myself enough time to do so.

With my CAS essay on the Abolition of the Slave Trade, although I got a good mark for it, I feel that my argument waned slightly due to the essay's multiple parts. My tutor's criticisms pointed to the lack of detail in some areas as opposed to others. This in turn made the essay less fluid and more disjointed.

Similarly my Quantitative Research essay on Slave Trade numbers in the 18th century was just too long. Because of the numerous questions I posed about the slave trends at the beggining of the essay, my research became tangential and disjointed. I would have been better off focussing more on certain aspects of the slave trade rather than trying to incorporate them all. That said it was a very hard essay which was hard to tackle in the first place.

In contrast, when re-reading my articles I have written for The Boar Newspaper I have noticed fewer mistakes. Although they are much shorter and are usually topical debates rather than succinct questions, I have noticed that they are usually better organised and more concise. This is perhaps because I am writing to an audience and not to academics, which is a lot easier. However, I probably set aside more time to re-read my articles than I have to my essays, which is something which I try to improve with my next essay.

I am currently doing a TSM essay and I hope to learn from the mistakes I have outlined in the first Two Action Points.


Update to Action Point 1 of Writing as MA Level

Follow-up to First entry on Introduction to Academic Writing from David's blog

My first action point was to improve my understanding of essay questions.

Of course this action point is perhaps one of the hardest areas to gauge improvement and thus it is perhaps an issue that will reveal itself in the long term rather than in a few weeks. That said, I have noticed a few things from looking over old essay questions.

The feedback from my 5,000 word history essay from last term, entitled "What influenced Britain to abolish the Slave Trade in 1807" said that I had argued my points well but that the essay in general had not been that well organised.

Looking back, I believe my question was far too broad and complex. As it was, the question could have been written from numerous angles, three or four of which I tried to incorporate into my essay. Having read through it again, I try to cram in far too many points in the essay which in turn made it feel like it was rushed. In the future I will need to emphasise a particular area in my question's field.

Particularly at Master's level, formulating a concise question is essential in order to achieve a precise structure and conclusion. My essay from last term is my only traditional essay question I have done at Warwick University so far and so it is the only essay I can really look back on. Other works such as my articles for the Boar are more topical conversations rather than questions. However, I am currently doing a question for my Theory Skills and Methods in History module which is due at the end of this term and which my tutor is helping me formulate.


January 23, 2014

First entry on Introduction to Academic Writing

Workshop Tutor: Dr Emma Smith

Introduction

In this workshop we were introduced to the academic writing at Master's level.

To begin with, we were given an outline of the key stages to writing any piece of academic work. From the 'understandng of a title/question' to the 'final proofreading', we were shown the key steps to an academic writing process. The structure was very easy to follow and set out the three most important parts to an academic work: Understanding the question, forming an appropriate structure and critically revising and rewriting an essay. This was particularly enlightening as it showed me perhaps where I was going wrong in some of the essays I had written in the past.

We were then introduced to the most important aspects of master's level work: the ability to critique, evaluate and analyse. Dr Emma Smith then specifically defined these terms in accordance with each other. Being critical was said to involve challenging, questioning or judging a notion, whereas to evaluate had numerical connotations such as calculating, measuring and weighing up theories. To analyse something, was a fusion of the former two: separating theories into sections, before examining and explaining them. I found the distinction between these three particularly interesting and enlightening as they had never been distinguished to me in three years of academia. This distinction also meant that I could distinguish between different types of questions more easily.

The workshop then moved onto the very particular macro structure of essays from introduction to interlinking sentences. We learnt that every inroduction should have context, and outline and most importantly a thesis statement explaining to the reader what it is that will be concluded from the essay. The thesis statement should be true to the entire essay's aim or argument and be returned to in the conclusion. Likewise the conclusion should not contradict the introduction but return the reader's interest to the main argument and also summarise what has been discussed or found out. Although I had learnt it before, the workshop also re-emphasized that every paragraph should begin with a topic sentence backed up with support and end with either a concluding or transitional sentence. The allusion to the reader's interest was also quite illuminating. As highlighted in the workshop, we should not forget that writing is a form of communication and it is therefore imperative to communicate an argument well, inform and keep the reader's interest. The workshop reiterated that at master's level we would be judged by the quality of our ideas, our evidence and our reasoning.

The workshop ended with a good analogy to good referencing. Dr Emma Smith explained that using sources well was like hosting a good dinner party. In other words, the sources you use should be treated with respect and not used for the sole purpose of putting them down.

The workshop summarised that academic writing, particularly at Master's level, should be above all formal, rational, concise, accurate and engaging.


Actions

  1. My first action point will be improving my ability to understanding a question or topic fully before the process of researching or writing (in the next 3 to 4 weeks)

    I will practice by revisiting old essays, analysing their titles before reading them to see if in the past I have understood my questions. In turn I will do my best to understand current essay questions.

  2. My second action point will be to improve my critical revising of work (in the next 4 to 5 weeks)

    I will try evaluating previous bits of work to help improve my critical revising. In turn I will try to ensure I have enough time after finishing my work to read over it and critically evaluate current pieces of work.

  3. My third action point will be to improve the overall macro structure to my work (by the end of this term)

    I will try to improve my overall body of my work by ensuring there's a topic sentence, support and a concluding or transitional sentence to every paragraph.

  4. n.a

To write a follow up, go to http://go.warwick.ac.uk/skills//blog


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  • Hello David, Thanks for writing such a reflective final entry for the WSPA – what a pleasure to read… by Lisa Faulkner on this entry
  • David, Considering the lack of presentation opportunities that you have had over the past few weeks,… by Nathalie Dalton-King on this entry
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