Coursework

When Academia and Pokémon Collide

academia & pokemon

Pointless can be serious. You can go a long way with pointless.

Look at Pokémon Go. It’s a game.

But it’s a game that sent Nintendo’s market value up to nearly double what it was a week before. It passed Sony’s market value, which wouldn’t have been expected before the Pokémon craze hit.

Pointless can be serious. You can go a long way with pointless.

Even if it starts off as a joke.

Pokémon Go started off as an April Fool, when Google put a video out about a Pokémon Challenge.

Earlier this year, a Durham student submitted a dissertation about the Kardashian family.

It started off as a bit of a laugh too.

Eliza Cummings said, “I wanted to pick [a topic] I would never get bored of”.

And despite having some detractors, Cummings ran with it and took it seriously. Serious fun.

Now she has graduated from Durham… With a first class honours.

None of this is as crazy as it sounds. If you pick a topic that won’t bore you, it’s much easier to find new angles, to keep pushing on with the work, and taking pride in what you do.

Not so pointless now. You can go a long way with pointless.

Understanding the dissertation is serious work, but adding fun and interest is similar to how some academics would view their work. They take matters seriously, yet enjoy what they do. It’s easy to find academics who are enthusiastic about their subject and the specialisms they’re looking into.

I once submitted an essay about writers who viewed the industrial revolution negatively, but instead gave an argument that they were likely in favour of the industrial revolution.

Why?

Because it was fun.

I had to put effort in, because the argument had to make sense. I needed to show the working behind it.

So before you see nothing more than a story about ridiculous dissertations, consider the further possibility behind the subject.

If someone happened to write about the Kardashians for a laugh, they might get bored anyway. The academic side would become a drain.

Cummings may have seen the funny side, but she clearly saw the serious side too.

When I studied postcolonialism, the class were allowed to choose one text to study. I asked if we could study South Park: The Movie. It had recently come out and I thought it would be fun AND relevant AND topical.

So our tutor said yes. Half the class were delighted and had fun with it. The other half thought we were being ridiculous.

All I know is that I was happy to have a laugh, because I knew there was a good reason to take it seriously.

Learning requires emotion. If there’s no fun involved, you may be missing out. Get emotional with your study!

Where could you choose to have some fun with your work today?

Your Minimum Editing Route and How Fonts Can Help You Spot Typos

Your Minimum Editing Route

I work with words all the time. I have to be careful not to gloss over my writing. If I do, I risk missing typos and worse.

Even with a clear focus, it’s bad enough. Your focus is on conveying meaning more than it is on uncovering typos.

But there’s hope. When you edit your work, go through several runs at the text. First, read for overall flow. Second, read for clarity. Third, read for typos. This should be your minimum editing route.

Editing for different reasons each time helps you to focus on the particular task at hand. These tasks require thinking processes that do not gel with each other. If you tackle them all at the same time, it’s like ineffective multitasking.

Read out loud and look at each word, no matter how trivial. When you read with purpose, you’ll trip over sentences that clearly need reworking. When you look at each word, the mistakes stand out.

letter blocks

There’s another magic trick that’s easy and effective. Change font!

Yes, simply change the look of your text so it looks new to you.

Copy and paste your text into another document…You don’t want to mess about with your sparkly live document now, do you?

Then change the font. It doesn’t matter which font you choose, so long as you can read it. As you read through the draft, you’ll notice new things (both good and bad) as your brain is tricked into thinking it’s looking at a new document.

Try with different fonts until you find one that’s a good combination of readable and accessible for you to review. After a few uses, you may want to find a new font so you don’t get too familiar with any particular typeface. Once you’re used to it, you won’t be so effective when reviewing your draft.

My own method is to use a few good fonts and rotate their use. That way, I can use the same fonts and not get too familiar with them. I can even throw a curveball and use a completely different font on a particularly challenging piece of text. Anything to get me focused where it counts.

Which fonts would you recommend?

typefaces

Is “Just Get Words Down” Good Advice When You’re Struggling to Write?

When you’re struggling to get an essay written, should you just write whatever comes into your head? Does the advice to write first and think later really help?

James Hayton isn’t a fan.

My main issue with chucking out words in a rush is when there is a lack of context. Freedom to write anything in a quick burst has a time and a place.

When you’re faced with a blank page, you may be tempted to start writing, no matter what the outcome.

Free writing can work out, but there are caveats:

  • It depends on what you do before and after the free writing – Just like an all-nighter only allows a single draft with simultaneous editing (if you have the time for that at all!), rattling off an essay in a flash without giving it much further attention is a mistake. Rapid writing of a first draft (or any piece of text) should only ever be considered a rough start. If you lose the drive to work with the text after your initial approach, rapid writing is not for you.
  • If you don’t have enough understanding or knowledge beforehand, the rapid writing won’t help – You need to be clued up on the subject you’re writing about. A lack of plan means a lack of content, no matter how quickly or slowly you choose to write.
    If I had to write an essay on the fifteen century, or astrophysics, or igneous rocks, or symbolism in Shakespeare’s tragedies, I would be crazy to blast off some random text in hope that something may work. I don’t know about these topics enough just to start writing. In fact, I’d be unhappy writing an academic text in any field straight away, even if I knew a lot about it. At best, I’d make a few brief notes on what I aim to argue alongside the points I wish to make to support the argument as well as discussion of counter arguments and potential issues that arise.
  • The individual isn’t equipped (for whatever reason) to edit the content once it’s written – This can pose a problem when half the material is rubbish or guesswork or errors or a combination of all these things. Without a clear grasp of how and why you need to edit, a bunch of text spewed out as quickly as possible is not a good place to begin.
  • Should you be writing down whatever comes to your head, or making brief notes and outlines based on what you wish to include in the work? – Preparation is key. The advice to ‘just write’ is problematic because people can assume it means to write stuff without a plan. Even a bare minimum can make a huge impact. Think before you type.

I see no problem with getting the words written down when you are confident that you have editing capabilities (and are not just looking to hit a certain number of words). Likewise, it’s no big deal when you already have a clear idea of what you want to say. As Hayton explains, the writing needs to be tight. Just one misplaced observation or assumption can drastically alter the tone, impact and clarity of your writing. However, the first draft doesn’t have to be a place for that.

Any piece of advice, no matter how popular, is not going to work for everyone. And just because ‘everyone’ does something, that doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do. Getting the words down fast shouldn’t be recommended to everyone, but I’m equally sure that it is a mistake to recommend it to no one.

What do you do?

5 Ways to Get Around Essays Without An All-Nighter

Essays. They’re all about the numbers, right? Get that wordcount and you’re free.

writing essay

What would you do to get rid of an all-nighter, just before the assignment is due in?

Perhaps I can interest you in a few other methods…

Even paced

Deadlines are all different. You may have a week, a fortnight, a month, even the entire term before a piece of work is due in. Let’s say you have a couple of weeks from start to finish for a 2,000 word essay. You would need to write fewer than 150 words a day in order to get to the 2k mark.

Okay, you’ll need to leave time to edit and add more when you need to delete some of the less convincing stuff, but you only need to up your game to 200 words a day and you’ll have several days left to play with.

Quick first draft

This method isn’t given anything like the amount of love it should. When you’re set an assignment, it’s worth writing down what you can from the outset. You may get stuck at 100 words or you may cruise toward the limit. Whatever happens, you’ve started. Work from that place and it’s suddenly less daunting.

Outline in advance

It’s easy to lose track of all your amazing ideas. Start with a plan of what you want to say and the important points you need to get down in your essay.

Your plan can change later. The main reason for the outline is to give you a clear structure to work with. You won’t be left flapping about at the last minute, desperate to remember all the thoughts you had buzzing around your head when you were first given the assignment.

When it seems clear in your head, get those ideas down on paper so you don’t forget later.

Dictate

Gone are the days when you needed a dedicated dictaphone for a quick voice note. Now your phone will record stuff admirably (unless you’re producing broadcast stuff, of course).

Do you express yourself better when spoken out loud? Then start recording your voice! Speak your essay’s first draft and jot it down later. Even better, dictate it to a voice recognition tool that can print the text up on screen for you.

Whatever you can manage, chatter away about the topic and get that essay going now.

Quote first

I’ve never been a big fan of this one, but it might help you. When you’re stuck for ideas, grab some books on the subject you’re writing about and find some juicy quotations to work around. Let the work of others inspire you.

I’m not that keen on this approach because it may set you down a false trail or lead you to take on someone else’s ideas, rather than allowing you to form your own conclusions. There are dangers associated with this method.

Nevertheless, finding some great leads to use in an essay can be a step closer than simply doing some research before you get started. The very fact that you have some choice quotes typed up can form as a way to get words on the screen, stopping the scary blank white page. You may also stumble upon a theme or outline emerging from what you’ve found.

How do you get started on essays? Which approaches work for you?