2.2 Developing writing styles

If any of the statements on the previous page rings true, let us reassure you: many other students are feeling the same as you. Writing skills can be learned. We want to emphasise straightaway that this is a process that can be continually developed.

There is no single ‘correct’ way of writing: different academic disciplines demand different styles. This can be confusing if you feel that you've mastered what is required for one course, only to find that something different is
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Introduction

Most academic courses will require you to write assignments or reports, and this unit is designed to help you to develop the skills you need to write effectively for academic purposes. It contains clear instruction and a range of activities to help you to understand what is required, and to plan, structure and write your assignments or reports. You will also find out how to use feedback to develop your skills.


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Acknowledgements

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Grateful acknowledgement is made to the following sources for permission to reproduce material in this unit:

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8.6 Research skills

This kind of work teaches some very valuable skills:

  • how to set about an enquiry

  • how and where to find source material and information

  • how to make your own investigations

  • strategic planning

  • time management

  • cutting corners and being pragmatic

  • analysing and interpreting primary and secondary source material

  • forming your own conclusions<
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8.5 Writing a project report

Finally, you write up your project report. It is important to recognise that this will go through several drafts. You can't just sit down and write a report on this sort of scale quickly or easily. You will have gathered far too much material for that. And it may take you a little while really to get into the writing. Towards the end of the research phase, as you face up to writing proper, you may reach a kind of plateau where nothing much seems to be going on. The excitement of the pl
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8.4 Carrying out research

During this stage you get down to the business of analysing and interpreting the meanings of all your primary and secondary source material (documents, reports, newspaper accounts, books and articles), in the ways outlined in the previous sections of this unit. As you do so you will be making notes towards your project report. In this connection, it is very important to write down full references for all the material you use as you read each item. Then you can easily find partic
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7 Beliefs and theories

‘Authorities’ – critics, historians, philosophers and so forth – of course argue from their interpretations of what a work of art, an event or an idea means. And their judgements are based on certain beliefs – about the nature of the objects they study and about what they themselves do as readers and interpreters of them. From our discussion of ‘Meeting at Night’ you have seen what my beliefs are: that people can reach some understanding of a text through the proce
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6.1 Making a convincing case

If you were talking to a friend about a picture hanging on your living-room wall, you might say: ‘I really like that portrait because the man looks so lifelike’. That is, you'd make some kind of judgement about the painting. (I've never heard anyone say ‘I really like that portrait because of that little white brush stroke in the top right-hand corner’.) So, in effect, you turn the process we have just been through on its head. When you are communicating your ideas to other peo
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5.3 A ‘circle’ of understanding

It may seem as if analysing, interpreting and evaluating a text are ‘stages’ we go through, one after the other. But it's nothing like as mechanical as that. You do not analyse a text into separate parts, then ‘add up’ those parts to produce some interpretation of the whole, and then evaluate it. Rather, analysis–interpretation–evaluation are overlapping processes. They are different kinds of activity, as we have seen by looking at them separately. But when you try t
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4.2 Meaning and ‘form’

The question remains, what is this poem ‘about’? Or, rather, we should ask, ‘what kind of poem is it?’ Poems (paintings, ideas, music, buildings, historical documents) are not all ‘one kind of thing’. As we become familiar with poetry we learn to distinguish between different kinds of poem, or between different poetic forms.

Epic poems, for example, are extremely long stories about the doings of a noble warrior, voyager, or similar ‘hero’. Other char
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4.1 Knowledge about context and author

After you had read the poem a few times, you no doubt pieced together that the ‘I’ of line 5 in the first verse, the speaker, is rowing in a boat at night. We probably realise that with the word ‘prow’. By the end of the first verse the boat is beached in a cove. The journey continues over the beach and fields to a farm (by foot, presumably, since we hear about no other means of transport). There the traveller meets someone. It appears that they exchange signals – the tap on the pan
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3.1 Why analyse?

Whatever kind of text you study, one of your main tasks is to try to understand it ‘as it is in itself’. That means analysing it. You have to examine it in detail so that you can see what it is made up of and how it ‘works’.

Just as you read, view or listen to different kinds of text in different ways, so you approach your analysis of them differently. In each case, you ask particular types of question using a specialised analytical language. We have
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2.1 Reading

Before you begin your interrogation of a text, though, you have to get to know it in a general way. In a sense, you can ‘see’ visual texts (such as paintings, sculptures and buildings) all at once; there they are before you. You can move around them, looking at them from different angles. But with written, aural and moving image texts – in which words, sounds or images follow on from one another – you cannot become familiar with the whole thing until
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1.1 Analysis, interpretation and evaluation

When you study a painting, for example, you take it apart to see how it ‘works’ as a painting. You analyse it ‘as it is in itself’, because this gives you many clues to what it might mean. But that analysis is complicated by the fact that the way we understand a painting itself changes over time. For instance, what a religious painting might have meant to the artist and his contemporaries in sixteenth-century Italy cannot be the same as it means to us now. We do n
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2 Relationships

In reality, a message like the one just referred to above is just one of many which forms part of the ongoing relationships we have with the people we work with. How we get on with each other can have a huge impact on the interpretation of a given message, and the subsequent effects that might have on their motivation or morale.

The next idea we will introduce is a framework for assessing how relationships are established and evolve, based on the states of mind of those involved
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1 Communication

The basis of good communication seems very simple, it is speaking or writing clearly such that any message you (the sender) intend to send to someone else (the receiver) is exactly the one which they receive. This means that as well as the detailed content of the message, we have to give some thought to the language we use e.g. ask ourselves if the receiving person might misunderstand any words or phrases we use. We must also be aware of the way we deliver the message –
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9.8 Drawing ideas together

This key skill has used a three-stage framework for developing your skills. By developing a strategy, monitoring your progress and evaluating your overall approach, you take an active role in your own learning. But learning does not necessarily follow a path of steady improvement, it involves change: revisiting ideas, seeing things from different perspectives, tackling things in different ways.

You are unlikely to be able to complete your work by working through it from beginning to end
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9.7.2 Assess the effectiveness of your strategy

When you come to make a final assessment of the effectiveness of your strategy, you need to consider aspects such as how progress was made, the quality of the work, the working relationships of the group members, and how difficulties and problems were addressed. If you have been able to maintain good records from meetings, progress reports, and your own reflective comments, you should be able to look back and be objective about the work and strategy that the group developed. Use the goals you
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9.4 Activity: Developing your strategy for using skills in working with others

Develop a strategy for using skills in working with others over a period of time. Your strategy should include:

  • an identification of the opportunities you can use to practise your skills in working with
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