How To Be the Student You Deserve To Be – TUB-Thump 015

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We don’t operate on a level playing field.

Some things are up to you, while other things are outside your control.

On today’s TUB-Thump, I look at adopting the mindset to be the student you deserve to be.

University is about so many things. I like to think of it as a springboard to taking action.

That doesn’t make life at university easy. So how do you act in the most effective way?

If you want to do more than jump through a few hoops, listen to today’s TUB-Thump, get exploring, and reclaim the word “learning”. It’s a gateway to keep being awesome…


Here are the show notes for the 9-min episode:

  • 01:00 – To be the student you deserve to be, it’s about thinking how you can use everything as a springboard to further action.
  • 02:20 – The easier it is, and the more opportunities there are, the more likely you could end up procrastinating. It’s a strange situation, so keep a careful eye on it.
  • 02:50 – Not everything is laid out for you. And even if they are, that doesn’t mean you should blindly jump through the hoops without any real understanding or context as to why you’re doing it. I did some of this “hoop jumping” without question when I was younger. And since I didn’t know why I was doing it, I ended up making decisions that didn’t make sense. I had to pivot further down the line.
  • 03:50 – Not everyone gets the opportunities to correct their course or find their context. That’s part of the reason why I want to help open things up through TheUniversityBlog, TUB-Thump and so on. If one person can be inspired or can find context, that’s a worthwhile achievement.
  • 05:30 – It’s never too late to explore more. We’re always learning.
  • 06:10 – Reclaim the word “learning”. And check out another one of my shows, Learning Always.
  • 07:25 – Allow yourself flexibility, so long as you don’t blame others. Take on responsibility where it counts and where you do have control over it.

Music for TUB-Thump is Life, by Tobu, which is released under a Creative Commons license. Check out more of Tobu’s great sounds on Soundcloud, YouTube, and his official site.

TUB-Thump is part of the Learning Always Network.

Keep being awesome!

How to Confidently Refer to Other Texts in Your Writing – TUB-Thump 014

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Talking about other people, concepts, and theories in your coursework doesn’t need to be difficult. But it does need getting your head around.

That’s why Episode 014 of TUB-Thump is a quick-fire round of advice on how to confidently refer to others as you write. And you’ll get my take on what it really means to be original in your writing.

I’ve even got a bell to identify each of the points as I whizz along. What’s not to like?

That said, I was clearly too near the mic in today’s edition of the show, and I said “put” far too many times…a lethal combination! Bonus game: count how many times I annoy the mic by making a P sound.

 


Here are the show notes for the 7-min episode:

  • 00:50 – Originality in your writing isn’t about creating brand new theories and ideas. It’s generally about bringing your voice to what’s already out there and casting your own mark on it. That means referring to other people, other theories, and other works.
  • 01:10 – Explain in your own words.
  • 01:50 – Get the meaning/explanation right when putting it in your own words.
  • 02:10 – Use a direct quotation when making a powerful point or their specific words matter.
  • 03:00 – Don’t spend too long describing in your own words. Distil it so you make the point, then get on with your own point.
  • 03:40 – Refer to a range of texts. Don’t focus too much on a limited number of sources.
  • 04:15 – Let your voice shine through.
  • 04:40 – Make all your references abundantly clear. The most annoying thing is accidental plagiarism (useful video from the University of Reading below).

Music for TUB-Thump is Life, by Tobu, which is released under a Creative Commons license. Check out more of Tobu’s great sounds on Soundcloud, YouTube, and his official site.

TUB-Thump is part of the Learning Always Network.

Keep being awesome!

Hand in a first draft or a draft worthy of a First?

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“Let’s go to work.”

From Reservoir Dogs

One of the best ways to improve your essay writing skills is to draft and redraft.

Drafts let you revisit later, they give you a chance for preliminary feedback from tutors, and they let you consider your mindset at different points in time.

Doing all the work in one go is tempting, but it’s a false attempt at saving time. You can’t produce your best work either.

The problem with an all-nighter, or any attempt to get the essay right in one attempt, is that your first draft is your only draft.

There are other reasons for going with a “one and done” approach:

  • It’s a way of procrastinating;
  • You don’t want it bothering your schedule all over the place;
  • You’re uncertain or unclear about editing;
  • The work stays on your mind until you’ve finished, so you focus on the end more than the process.

Most of the reasons boil down to worry at some level. Take procrastination, for example. When you worry about the task at hand, you put it off. Why bother with multiple drafts when you find it hard enough to muster up the courage to deal with the essay in a single session?

How do you work best?

On one hand, the pressure is huge when you don’t break the work up in chunks. If you’re in that camp, the enigmatic idea to “Write an essay” certainly is overwhelming! Little tasks are much easier to handle. Make a list of what it means to write an essay and tackle the smaller tasks instead.

On the other hand, you may like the pressure. If you’re in that camp, you don’t have to wait until the last minute for a monster writing session. Instead, create a false deadline. You can manufacture the pressure before the actual deadline.

If you’ve got two weeks to write 2,000 words, set a deadline in one week and do your single session before that time is up. Make the deadline as real as you can, otherwise you’ll just ignore it. Take it seriously. If you can manage that, you’ll have another week to go before the hard academic deadline.

During that extra week, you can ask for feedback on what you’ve written, read your attempt out loud for a fresh perspective, make edits, and so on. You get the pressure, but you also get the extra time to re-draft. Bringing the work forward gives you the best of both worlds.


Bit-by-bit

Another issue is writing an essay in chunks, but still focusing on a single draft. So you write an introduction, write a section, write another section, write a conclusion, that kind of thing.

There were times when my friends and I would take this bit-by-bit approach. But in a way, it’s like doing a more spaced-out all-nighter.

We improved our approach by adding an extra task to the process. After writing in parts, we left time before the deadline in order to read the piece as a whole. Unsurprisingly, it could be pretty embarrassing to read through!

The good news is, it didn’t take too much to re-draft again. You can get a lot done with one more assessment of your writing. A second draft can make  a big difference.

My personal sweet-spot, however, is three drafts:

  1. First draft – Get your points and arguments ready. Address the question. Search for good ways to answer and explore. Look for areas you’re not yet clear on or convinced about.
  2. Second draft – Shape your argument. Work on the structure of the essay. Create a killer introduction and conclusion. Make sure references are plentiful and relevant.
  3. Third draft – Ensure the question has been answered properly and in full. Make sure the essay sticks to the point throughout. Check for a good reading flow (reading out loud is a big deal here). Find the clearest ways to state your case. Make sure your most important points aren’t buried away in the text.

After a third draft, we’re probably talking minor edits and nitpicking only. Call that tidying up as opposed to another draft. And remember not to let that perfectionist voice in your head mess you about. Your job is to do well, not do perfectly. It’s not possible to get it perfect, regardless of what that internal editor in your head might be saying!

Too many re-drafts and it may take too much of your time. Too few and you’re liable to miss out on your best attempt. Unless it’s a fluke, you won’t get all the marks you’re capable of from a first draft attempt at writing.

Find your sweet-spot and your process

Keep thinking about your sweet-spot. Work out what each draft means to you. If you don’t agree with my list above, make your own. Keep working on the piece until you reach a stage where any time spent poring over your work won’t yield enough change to warrant it worthwhile.

Put it this way, spending half an hour or more obsessing over the order of words in a single sentence is rarely good use of your time.

Here’s the main takeaway for each way of working:

  • If you get most of your work done through a single session of pressure, bring your deadline forward so you have room to improve (and re-draft) before you hand the work in.
  • If you write in chunks, but don’t tend to re-draft, it’s a similar drill. Bring the deadline forward and re-draft.
  • If you already like to work in drafts, just remember not to go overboard. My own sweet-spot is for three drafts. Whatever you choose, have a clear idea of what your aims are for each draft you work on.

What is your essay-writing process? What would you like to improve?

Understand Essay Titles Better With 3 Quick Questions – TUB-Thump 013

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“You haven’t answered the question.”

Has a tutor ever said this to you?

Hopefully they went into more detail than that. But what is really behind the advice to make sure you actually answer the question that’s been set?

In Episode 013 of TUB-Thump, I’ve got a brief method of working out what a question means. It’s a quick process, and you should get used to it over time.

Essay questions have keywords and details. It’s easy to pick up on the keywords.

Your exercise is to deal with the details too. Stuff like reference and structure. Points that are easy to gloss over when you spot a keyword and think you know loads about that particular area.

It feels good when that light-bulb goes off in your head and you can think of loads of great points to make before you’ve even started writing.

But then…the assignments aren’t:

  • “Wordsworth…Wax lyrical about all you know.”
  • “The history of food…How much can you regurgitate?”
  • “Human geography…What facts can you uncover?”

Today’s episode looks at the three quick considerations that will get you looking at essay questions in more detail.


Here are the show notes for the 7-min episode:

  • 01:15 – What is the essay question actually asking you to do? Assess, discuss, describe, list, analysis, was X right or wrong…find the top-level reason for the question that’s being asked.
  • 02:00 – What is the question referring to specifically? Find the context and the relevant reference points.
  • 03:00 – What clues can you find from the question’s structure? Has the question been written as a challenge to a popular opinion? Is it asking you to look at several different angles rather than give a single perspective? You can often find clues within the questions to help you in writing a great answer.
  • 04:15 – If the question feels misleading after you’ve asked these follow-up questions, ask for clarification. And see if you can describe the question’s meaning in your own words.
  • 05:10 – Summing up the main points from the episode. Your questions should only take you a few minutes to unpack. And they can help you get started quickly once you get used to the process.

Music for TUB-Thump is Life, by Tobu, which is released under a Creative Commons license. Check out more of Tobu’s great sounds on Soundcloud, YouTube, and his official site.

TUB-Thump is part of the Learning Always Network.

Keep being awesome!