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In this post Michelle Bastian discusses how putting into practice advice from Robert Boice’s book on writing has worked for her. She explains her use of spontaneous writing first, to get ideas down, followed by outlining based on what you wrote spontaneously and then restructuring. This process, which she explains in more detail made writing quicker but also more fun.
This article from the Writing Center at the University of North Carolina explains what argument is in academic writing, why you need it, and how to go about it. It covers making claims, providing evidence for your claims, and using counter-argument. There is also a very helpful section on critical reading. It talks about techniques to help you see the arguments that other authors are making instead of taking what they say as statements of fact. This helps in critically evaluating the evidence they present and helps you learn techniques for making effective arguments yourself.
Do you have a tendency to use long words in your writing when you don’t need to? Do you write “commence” instead of just “begin”; “in order that” instead of “so”; “numerous” instead of “many”; “utilise” instead of “use”?
If a simple word accurately reflects what you want to say, then use a simple word. Your writing will be clearer and you will sound less pompous. This document from the Plain English Campaign has a list of simple alternatives to unnecessarily complicated words and phrases.
A problem statement articulates the motivation for your study. It answers the “so what?” question for readers. Just what is the problem you are looking into and why is it important? Articulating that helps lead to your purpose in the research and your research questions follow from that, either directly, or from a review of the literature prompted by your problem statement.
Drafting your problem statement is something you should do early in your research planning. Your problem statement may well be refined as you learn more, but establishing at least a draft one is very useful for orienting your research.
This presentation from the Abraham S Fischler School of Education, Nova Southeastern University gives more information about problem statements and their place in your research report.
Everyone makes mistakes when they write and so everyone has to proofread. But it can be hard to spot mistakes in your own work, because you know what you meant to write and that stops you seeing what you actually did write. This post from The Writing Centre of the University of Wisconsin – Madison has some tips to help you proofread.
The IMRAD writing structure refers to the standard structure for academic writing in papers, dissertations and theses: introduction-methods-results-(and)-discussion. It can be hard to know what goes in each section and how they should be written, but there are lots of good resources online to help you with this. The more you look at, the more you will get the idea to apply to your own work. Here is a great explanation written to help Biology students at Bates College.
Headings are a brief summary of what is contained in a section of work. You can therefore use them to help you get an overview of your document and whether the sections are ordered in a way that makes the most sense.
In this post Pat Thomson describes a few different techniques for using subheadings to guide your writing.
Sometimes we need to qualify what we are saying in order to be accurate. For example we may be reporting an approximation and need to say “approximately”. And sometimes we need to qualify what we are saying, because its truth may not be well established. For example we might say that the results “suggest that…”. But sometimes we are vague because we are unsure of our argument, or have not yet made up our mind. Often in these cases authors are inappropriately vague and this is known as “hedging”. Cautious language can be so over-cautious that it doesn’t really say anything at all. Or the sentence becomes convoluted and unnecessarily wordy. It can be scary to put down on paper what you really think! But in those cases, instead of hedging, work on your argument to ensure it is sound and that you back your claims with evidence.
For more information and examples about hedging, see this post on “Hedging” in Scientific Writing from Barb at the BioMedical Editor website http://www.biomedicaleditor.com/hedging.html
When I am stuck for the type of thing I should say, or the way I should say it, I look at other people’s writing. Look for writing that is written for a similar audience, and not necessarily on the same topic. You can learn a lot from looking at writing on different topics too.
In this blog post Luiz Otávio has collated a whole lot of useful phrases that might help you get started with your sentences. He has really helpfully categorised them into themes.