The Good Writing Guide INTRODUCTION

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The Good Writing GuideINTRODUCTIONGood writing is important. The ability to write clear and accurate text is the most useful skillthat you will learn at university. Whatever subject you specialise in, and whatever career youchoose after you graduate, a command of language is a valuable asset. When employersoffer a job to an MA graduate they are sometimes interested in how much he or she knowsabout the details of their subject, but they are always looking for someone with good analyticand communication skills and an eye for detail. In almost any job, you will spend time workingwith a range of texts. You may produce written reports, letters or marketing copy. You mayalso give lectures or presentations. If you are aiming for a career in which you can uselanguage stylishly, such as journalism or creative writing, it is equally important that you knowthe rules of good plain English.This booklet will help you to think about how you write. It will also improve yourreading skills. While you are a student you will often be a reader, absorbing information fromother sources or analysing the structure of a text. When assessments come along, you willbe a writer, and someone else will read and analyse your work. Reading and writing areclosely connected. Improving your skills in one area will have a knock-on effect in the other.Set yourself high standards in both these areas. One of the simplest ways to improve yourown writing is to read actively and to look at how authors mould the language to their ownpurposes. Try to develop an eye for style and sentence structure as you read. This will helpyou to assess your own writing and expand your language skills.While you are at university, ‘good writing’ means being able to produce a clear,grammatical, logical argument to answer a question in an exercise, an essay or an exam.This is not the place to be innovative or poetic. Chances to be creative with language areavailable elsewhere. Academic writing should be clear, clean and correct. It should displayyour knowledge and express your ideas. Good writing is always aimed at a particularaudience. Your audience is the teacher(s) who will mark your work. Your teachers are highlyqualified, and are likely to be the kind of people who have an obsessive interest in grammarand spelling. They will consider a command of language as important as any ideas you mightwant to share. If your grammar is so poor that it obscures your argument, you may fail theassessment. Markers cannot give credit for what they think you might have wanted to say.What is on the paper is all that counts. Good writing is not an optional extra to a degree; it isthe core of the education system. Make this your primary goal at university. Everything thatyou study can be channelled towards making yourself a more perceptive reader and a moreaccurate writer. Get this right and you will understand more of what you read. You will alsobe able to express your own ideas with force and clarity.This booklet is divided into three sections. Section A contains advice on reading a text foranalysis, and on setting up your answer to a question. It looks at planning, structure andparagraphing, and it explains some technical terms. Section B deals with language. Ithighlights some common problems, and it offers advice on how to sharpen up your prose.Section C deals with using sources. It explains referencing and how to use critical material. Ifyou are studying more than one discipline you may find that there are slightly differentexpectations about referencing between departments. Use the Quick-Fix pages as checklistsevery time you submit a piece of writing. Each section also has some recommended furtherreading. At the back of the booklet there is an index so that you can find things in a hurry.Many of the points have been numbered so that your marker can point you to the relevantsection when things go wrong.1

If, after all that, you would like some more advice about good writing there are severalthings you can do: Consult your tutor, lecturer or Personal Tutor. It is remarkable how few students takeadvantage of this opportunity for some individual advice. Remember to reread the commentsyou have received on your previous essay before you write the next one. You will find thisvery helpful. Contact the Student Learning Service (SLS), tel: 273030, or visit www.abdn.ac.uk/sls to findsome helpful advice online. SLS runs workshops and courses on study skills and can alsooffer individual consultations, including support for dyslexia. Use your own network. Ask a friend or flatmate to proofread your work before you hand it in.So long as they do not change the content or borrow your ideas this is not cheating. Choosesomeone you can really trust. A friend on a different course is ideal. You can return thefavour and improve your own proofreading skills. Develop an interest in writing, and discusswith your friends what works and what does not. This is one of the best ways to learn.This is The Good Writing Guide. I hope it is useful.Dr Hazel Hutchison, 2005(Adapted by Department of Anthropology staff - latest version 2016)CONTENTSSection A: Planning1. Reading for writing2. Reading the question3. Structure: Making a planIntroductions &conclusionsSubheadingsParagraphs4. Layout5. SubmissionFurther ReadingQuick Fix: PlanningSection B: Language6. Register7. esQuotation marksExclamation marks3348. Grammar:56677889. Spelling:Common errorsCapitalsUS v UK spellingFurther ReadingQuick Fix: ion C: Sources10. Choosing sources11. Using sources12. Layout of quotations13. Referencing:14. PlagiarismQuick-Fix: Sources262628293133ClausesAgreementTensesPronouns2

SECTION A: PLANNING1. READING FOR WRITINGEveryone has their own way of approaching a text. Some people like to take meticulousnotes as they go along. Others prefer to read through swiftly and then return to look at thetext in depth. Develop your own style of reading. However, here are a few things toremember.Keep an open mind about the text. One of the most valuable things you can learn as youstudy anthropology is the ability to suspend your own preconceptions as you read. Learningto see things from different perspectives is a vital part of the reading process. Do not attemptto make a text fit your own agenda as you go along, or dismiss it because it challenges whatyou believe. You do not have to agree with the text, but give it a chance to speak for itself. Ifyou react strongly to something, try to work out why. Alternately, do not accept uncriticallyeverything a text is trying to convey. Identify the assumptions and critically asses theargument as you read.Think about language. It is easy to be carried away (or confused!) by exotic ethnography orintriguing theoretical perspectives, but keep one eye open for the language the author uses.Develop an eye for style. What makes Geertz different from Levi-Straus, or Sapir differentfrom Radcliffe-Brown? What kind of words do they choose? Do they use a lot of adjectives ora lot of verbs? Is their language formal or colloquial? Is their language abstract andphilosophical or concrete and particular? These simple questions give you an insight into theauthor’s underlying concerns and preoccupations. Language does more than tell a story. Itcreates a world of ideas. What makes a degree in Anthropology really worth having is anunderstanding of how this process operates. Do not just look at what the text says. Try towork out how it conveys ideas and elicits certain responses.Think about structure. This will depend on what kind of text you are reading. The rules ofform for ethnography, social theory, and anthropology are constantly evolving. However, ithelps to have some idea of conventions and techniques, so that you can see whensomething interesting or unusual is happening. Compare the text to what you already knowabout the area, or problems being discussed. Ask yourself how the text is put together andwhether it seems to be following a convention or defying it. If something jars, or seems out ofplace, there may be a good reason for this. Explore it.Read between the lines. Be careful about this, because you could end up supplying ideasthat the text does not support. However, authors often manipulate the unspoken and theunseen as carefully as the things they tell. Identify the author’s assumptions. What are theirkey terms? Are they explicitly defined, or can you identify implicit definitions? What timeperiod is covered in the description? Have things changed since then?Take notes. This is obvious, but vital. If you see something interesting, write it down and notethe page number. You will save hours trying to find it again later.2. READING THE QUESTIONThe easiest way to fail an exam or assessment is not to answer the question. Make sure youunderstand what the question is looking for. Be especially careful if the question includestechnical terms such as ritual, kin, culture, etc. These vary among anthropologists and arerarely used in the same way as in common parlance. Thus, a standard dictionary can be3

misleading. If you are unclear about this you can discuss it with your tutor or lecturer andclarify exactly what they want. Alternatively you can look the terms up in anthropological textsfor the course or previous courses you have taken. Make it clear in your essay exactly howyou are using the term, and back this up with an outside source if possible.Think about the kind of course to which the assessment belongs. Anthropologists are lookingfor evidence of anthropological thinking. Insight from psychology, sociology, art history, andother subjects may be helpful, but make sure you are writing anthropology and notsomething else.It is often worth considering more than one question while you are doing somebackground reading for an essay. You can then choose the one that you find most interestingor stimulating as you go along. This way you avoid heading up a blind alley and then havingto start all over again. Keep your question in mind as you write. Everything you say should beconnected to it. Avoid rambling. You will not get credit for including irrelevant information,however interesting you may think it is. Indeed, excessive rambling will count against you.Answer the question.3. STRUCTUREMarkers often complain about poorly structured essays, but by then it is too late to doanything about it. Bad structure in an essay is usually the result of a failure to read thequestion carefully, a lack of understanding of the subject, or a rushed job. Taking time to planout your work helps in many ways. It ensures that you connect your essay with the question.It reduces the stress of writing, as you know where you are going next. It produces a wellrounded piece of writing.3.1 Making a planHowever you like to take notes and marshal your ideas, at some point you are going to needa linear plan for your essay. It is always worth doing this, especially in exams when time istight and nerves are likely to make you forget a good idea which seemed very clear fifteenminutes ago. The classic layout for an essay is an introduction, followed by three sections,followed by a conclusion. This is based on the rules of Classical rhetoric, in which thespeaker offered an introduction, a statement, a counterstatement, a resolution between thetwo and a conclusion. There is not a set rule about this, but this tried and tested systemworks well and usually produces a satisfying read. In anthropology essays, this plan oftenevolves into an introduction, three sections dealing with relevant ideas and ethnographicexamples and a final section tying these together. But, remember that you are not just makinglists of what you know. You are answering a question and the whole thing should form alogical argument.A plan should operate as a skeleton for your essay. Ideally it should be possible for areader to reconstruct your plan from the finished article. This is basically what you are doingwhen you take lecture notes. Paying attention to how this process works will make planningyour own written work a lot easier. Lecturers think carefully about how they want to presentmaterial to the class. It might seem random, but if you listen they will give you markers aboutwhat the main headings are, and when they are filling out these sections. Look over yourlecture notes and think about some of the techniques lecturers use. Try to see the shape ofthe lecture. Is the lecturer moving outward from the text to the wider historical context? Orperhaps they are focusing in, beginning with background information, looking at a particularpolitical problem or cultural issue, and then exploring how one text contributes to this debate.Alternatively, are they working through the text section by section?4

Or are they offering a spectrum of views on the text? These are all approaches you can usein structuring your written work. A clear plan makes it easier to fulfil your intentions.Look at the contents page of this booklet. That is a tidy version of the plan I am usingas I write. Ideally you want something that looks a bit like that, but shorter. You should alsohave a good idea of what goes in each section. I have chosen a plan that moves fromgeneral principles that you should think about before you start, through useful tools that youneed as you go along, to some details that apply specifically to anthropology and which willgive your work polish. Sometimes you will have information that could belong in more thanone section. For example, you will find information about choosing secondary sources inSection C, although it would also have been useful here. Use your judgement about wherethings go and what belongs together. Try to give your essay direction, and keep thinkingabout the question.3.2 Introductions and conclusionsHave one of each in every piece of work. Avoid repeating the question in the introductio