references

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!

Get to Grips With Your Essay Writing: TUB-Thump 005

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I’m talking essays for episode 005 of TUB-Thump.

There’s mixing up the order of your writing, knowing when to stop researching, finding texts that talk to you, and much more on today’s show.

Whether you’ve got weeks until the deadline, or it’s due in a few days, check out these tips and find something that suits you.


Here are the show notes for the 15-min episode:

  • Write in whatever order you like while you draft. (01:10)
  • Keep thinking about how you feel, from the moment you get the assignment to the point of finishing (and reading through). Has your opinion/argument changed? How has it changed? Have you reflected this? (02:30)
  • Know when to stop reading and researching. If you’re starting to feel overwhelmed or you’re going over the same ground, it’s probably time move on. (04:10)
  • Find the clearest, most relevant references that make your point. (05:20)
  • There’s no need to be offended by help. There’s always more to learn. (05:35)
  • Discuss your drafts as you’re going along (07:40)
  • More on telling you to stop doing all-nighters! (08:20)
  • Think critically. Reason and references rule. (10:00)
  • Use/Find your own academic voice. And why the word ‘clever’ doesn’t mean much. (11:10)
  • Bullet-point planning. (12:10)
  • Check out what’s going on at your uni. (12:50)
  • Not all books and texts will talk to you. So don’t stop at one text and simply give up. (13:15)
  • Gaps in your knowledge aren’t weaknesses; they’re challenges. (14:30)

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!

Everyone Needs To Stop Doing This

Plashing Vole tweeted:

“As the Dissertation God for one of my subjects, the words ‘everyone’ and ‘everything’ are now banned due to unthinking abuse.” [Source]

Apparently, some dissertations that had been submitted for marking contained this type of saying:

  • “Everyone is on Twitter.”
  • “Everyone knows X.”

It’s best to leave these sayings behind. Here’s why:

Crowd (photo by Redfishingboat (Mick O))

“It was amazing. Everyone was there.” – No. Not everyone. (photo by redfishingboat (Mick O))

Everyone is on Twitter

No. Not everyone. You know that really. It’s just a way of saying how popular Twitter seems to be. Surely everyone is using Twitter? But academia needs to be pedantic. Your coursework is not the time for casual remarks.

This isn’t the same as stating information that is generally regarded to be the case without need to explain further. More on that below.

To make a point, you need a reference. Twitter statistics are hard to come by in any up to date and accurate measure, especially in academic papers and textbooks. However, go to the source and you can make a good start.

Twitter’s own Twitter account posted on 18 December 2012 that there are more than 200 million active users per month. They give no further evidence, so it isn’t definitive (even if they say so themselves), but it is a good start if you want to talk about how many people use the service.

Similarly, if Twitter announced that everyone was using Twitter, you could reference that and find examples of people who do not use the service. That’s what research is all about…Although I’m pretty sure Twitter aren’t about to say that the entire human population on earth is now using Twitter.

Everyone knows X

Some information can be referred to and used without referencing. Usually when there is wide agreement, nothing controversial, and generally understood far beyond academic circles.

In these rare cases, I’m pretty sure the information won’t involve ‘everyone’ or ‘everything’. That’s another clue not to use those words.

If the detail is genuinely accepted and requires no further referencing, you can get rid of “everyone knows” anyway. First, because it’s not literally true (it’s unlikely to be stored in a knowledge bank in the brain at birth), and second, because they are pointless words. If everyone accepts it, why do you need to tell us? After all, you’re telling us what we already know.

But why am I telling you about this? I thought everyone knew not to do it… 😉

There are variations on this. When you start writing things like, “People say…” and “Many researchers note…“, remember that you need to be specific. Give examples. Refer to the researchers. Don’t call them ‘people’ or ‘researchers’ at all. Name them outright and give them pride of place.

Every time you find yourself writing along these lines, you have a way forward. Take the offending remarks and look for a way to reference the information instead. You’ll get a useful footnote in and you’ll show that you’ve looked for the detail. What first looked like a throwaway comment has suddenly become potential for a better mark. Not a bad incentive for dropping ‘everyone’ from the writing.

Use Wikipedia by going beyond Wikipedia

Adam Coomer asks on The Guardian, “Should university students use Wikipedia?

No, if you want to cite directly from it or get all your sources from the article’s references and nowhere else.

Yes, if you want a starting point or if you want to familiarise yourself with general concepts.

Of course, there is a proviso: always expect mistakes, controversy, and vandalism. Just in case.

The subject matter may look like a boring source to add jokes, false information, and opinion, but it happens all over the place. Take everything with a pinch of salt.

By the time you’re at the stage of writing essays and completing coursework, Wikipedia shouldn’t be top of your list. But it’s a great place to start when you’re researching and gathering notes.

libri8 (photo by rezdora70)

Here are three major reasons Wikipedia will work for you:

  1. Off to a Great Start – A wiki entry isn’t good enough for gathering references, because it only skirts the surface. Even an in-depth article won’t cover everything to the extent you’re expected to dive into. You are expected to look at academic articles and books from many sources. But Wikipedia is great to use at the beginning. Get stuck in when you start out, not when you finish up.
  2. Convenience – A quick look online is easier than taking out the textbooks. You may even want a simple outline of a topic. Enter Simple Wikipedia. Brief explanations when even the original Wikipedia article is too much hassle. A great way to remind you of the core information.
  3. Jumping Off Point – Don’t think of the Wiki footnotes as a set of articles to add to your own references. Go further and read the references within those referenced articles. Also, find key words that the Wikipedia piece makes a big deal of and look them up in recent scholarly articles. That way, you get the important older papers, plus a look at more up to date stuff. And all off the back of a Wikipedia page.

Talking of jumping off points, there are others close to home. Use your textbooks in the same way. Yes, Wikipedia is convenient, but you probably have your textbooks close to hand much of the time. You don’t have to do much to get the treasure. Grab the books, find the topic you’re researching, and look at the references given in the book (usually at the end of the chapter, or at the back of the book). Voila! More books and academic papers for you to dig out to study and reference. And not the same ones that everyone else looking at Wikipedia will dish out either. Win!

The point of all this is that Wikipedia has a place. As the Guardian piece states, “the default response of academics to simply advise against using the site is unlikely to have much effect”. After all, why not use the site?

I say go ahead and use it. But use it wisely. The key is to use Wikipedia to your advantage and not merely for shortcuts. Make the site part of your wider scholarly plan and there shouldn’t be a problem. It’s when you rely on it as your major go-to that you’ll end up with issues.

Wikipedia is your friend, even at uni, so long as you treat it right. How much do you use it?