How does marking work?

By Gordon Rugg

Humour alert and disclaimer: This article is humorous, with the occasional flash of sensible content. It is not intended to be a guide to exam or coursework technique, so if you try appealing your mark by blaming this article for leading you astray, then you have even less chance of succeeding than with the excuse of only having burnt down the cathedral because you thought the archibishop was inside at the time

I’ll start with a marking criterion that everybody knows, namely that markers don’t like Wikipedia very much. Here’s one example of why we feel that way.

dikdik humour

(Used under fair use terms, as a humorous academic article.)

In case you’re wondering whether that’s just a neat bit of Photoshop, I’ve seen equally interesting claims on Wikipedia, such as an article stating that an ancient Roman politician was married to Marilyn Manson.

So, markers have reasons for mistrusting Wikipedia. What else is going through their minds, and why?

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Why do people treat spelling and punctuation as such a big deal?

By Gordon Rugg

This one has a nice, easy answer: Legal implications. Spelling and punctuation can have huge legal implications that in turn can have huge financial implications.

That, however, raises the question of just what those legal implications are. Again, there’s a nice, clear answer, but unpacking it will involve a couple of examples; one for spelling, and one for punctuation. Here are those examples.

bannerAttributions for images are given at the end of this article

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Life at uni, revisited

By Gordon Rugg

If you’re about to start your first year at university, and you’re feeling unsure and nervous, then you’ve got plenty of company. Most new students feel that way, though not all of them show it. This is a re-post of the first in a short series of articles for people in your situation, about key information that should make your life easier.

This article is about roles at university. The American cartoon below summarises them pretty accurately.

academic muppets

Image from Twitter

So what are the roles other than “Elmo the undergrad” and how are they likely to affect you?

Grad students: In Britain, these are usually “PhD students” or “teaching assistants” or “demonstrators” in practical classes. They’re usually cynical and stressed because of their PhDs. They usually know the university system well, and they’re very, very useful people to have as friends. (Really bad idea: Complaining to the university that they’re not real, proper teachers.)

Post-docs are next up the food chain. They already have their PhD, and they’re working on a research project until they can land a job further up the food chain. You might see post-docs around the department, but you probably won’t have much direct contact with them.

Assistant professor: In Britain, these are lecturers and Senior Lecturers and Readers and (in some universities) Principal Lecturers. These are the people who will deliver most of your lectures. Lecturing is just one of the things they do; they also do research, and income generation, and university admin, and a pile of other things. (Classic embarrassing newbie mistake: Calling them “teachers”.)

Tenured professor: The image says it all; lofty, often scary figures who give the strong impression of wisdom beyond mortal imagining. That impression is often true.

Professor emeritus: Again, the image is all too accurate. Emeritus professors often have ideas so strange that ordinary humans wonder whether they’re brilliant or completely divorced from reality. I make no comment on this.

The other articles in this series cover the main sources of confusion for students, including useful information that would be easy to miss otherwise, but that can make your life much better. I hope you find them useful.

Other articles in this series that you might find useful:

A couple of other articles on this blog that you might find useful as starting points:


Academic Publishing: understanding the options

Guest Post by Daniel O’Neill

Publishing research can be puzzling for beginners. This article looks at academic publishing from the point of view of a PhD researcher.

Publishing for the Researcher

I undertake research in construction and surveying. I wouldn’t describe myself as a veteran publisher of research. I knew nothing about publishing five years ago, and what I now know is limited in comparison to more seasoned researchers. I am currently writing my fourth paper from my PhD. I have written many magazine articles outside of my academic writing. The magazine articles were easy to write. I find it easy to write in an active and informal style. Articles are relatively easy to publish as websites and magazines seek and need free, mediocre to good material for publications. The researcher wants to attract attention to what they know, or what they are researching, and the website or magazine wants free content, or in some cases a fee is paid. The serious, formal, academic papers are more difficult to publish.

Options: Journals and Conferences

There are two options in publishing research papers, firstly publishing in a journal, secondly publishing at a conference. The journal route offers you a chance to present your research in an international journal. If you are interested in the process of publishing in academic journals, Abby Day’s book “How to Get Research Published in Journals” is a great read for beginners and experienced researchers alike. Generally, top publishers do not let the public free access to the online journals, but they will allow restricted access and some free samples. The publishers sell papers online: per issue or per paper. The price varies depending on publication, and popularity. To purchase one paper online can cost around €25 to €32 (approximation).

There is normally a long lead-in time for publishing in a journal. This is due to the number of papers being submitted. Journals publish a number of issues a year: annuals (common in esoteric areas), four, five, six or even ten issues. Depending on the reviewers’ requests for changes and corrections it is common to wait over a year to get published; however, there are calls for papers, when an issue with a specific theme is being published. The journals retain the rights to your material allowing the publisher to publish in an issue; unless you purchase the rights in which case it is openly available online. Publishers may also allow you to publish your own pre-publication version online. See the publishers’ copyright rules online for more detailed information. You will possibly read about ‘Green Access’ and ‘Gold Access’.

The process is not as basic as I have previously described and Day’s book goes into the process in detail. The publisher wants the journal to make money. The author wants their research exposed to the audience. The readers want to obtain information, more precisely cutting-edge research in their field, or they are looking at moving into another field of research and they are looking for samples. There are a number of players on the publisher’s side: the editor of the journal, assistant editors, the reviewers, and publishing support staff. The journal has to earn a profit, and be deemed a high quality publication in order for the reader to desire its information and purchase it, and for writers to want to publish in it. The idea of this is reasonable. Everybody gets something from the first viewing, the writer, the reader, the publisher. The top journals in my disciplines (construction and surveying) have a lot of papers sent to them, there is strong supply, and those not deemed suitable are rejected, and the authors go to another journal, possibly a lesser known publication. However some authors aim for a specific journal due to its readership – maybe experts and professionals in a specific field.

Conferences are great platforms to get “live” feedback from your research findings. When you present at a conference, you generally showcase what you have done in front of other researchers. The crowd can be as small as twenty and as big as a few thousand. Conferences are held all over the world. Journals are generally cheaper than conferences when it comes to publishing your research. Regarding conferences, this cost does not take into account travel to the location, accommodation and food. Lots of conferences have a conference dinner. This is usually lavish, with a three or four course meal, and after dinner entertainment; not forgetting other minor meals and drinks. This extravagance adds significantly to the cost. Conferences give people a chance to interact with each other, network with possible future employers and discuss the research being presented.

I have been thinking of the process of publishing material recently, as I have papers I would like to publish. The cheapest and most effortless answer is to publish it on an online platform for no direct cost (unreasonable/bad idea); however this would not get my research to the general public (researchers and professionals in construction and surveying) that have interest in it, as very few people would specifically search online for my research, but would go to a specified location such as a conference or journal website for such research. This is the card conference organisers and journals have that make them required – they offer you a platform, an outlet, at a significant financial cost in the case of conferences to you the author! The main reason an author would want to go to a conference is to get their research published; some want the extravagant dinner, and the entertainment also, and that’s fine too!

The ‘Reality’

There are people however, who just want to get their research published on a familiar and popular platform. As I have stated journals and conferences can be expensive, specifically for a postgraduate student with a lot of material to publish. The cost of £650 plus, if you have to travel and stay, for a conference might not be much to an established university professor, with a good income, and one paper to publish. However, it may be a considerable sum for a researcher on a scholarship or those self-funded, with four to six papers to publish. I think there should be a recognised alternative. I have been reading a lot about open access and other alternatives, and the models behind them, but I have not found a replacement for the traditional options. It is a time of great discussion in the academic world with regards the best model for publishing. It is difficult to say what would be best for the authors, academic readers, the general public, publishers. There are many sub-areas in this article which could be developed into more detailed articles. I have briefly discussed the traditional options here. The books below cover academic publishing in greater detail. Links are given below to articles on publishing. Do some further reading before deciding where to publish your research.

Daniel O’Neill is a PhD graduate, with academic research interests in construction. His PhD was on the retrofit of local authority housing.

Links and references

Read more about publishing in academic journals in Abby Day’s:

How to Get Research Published in Journals:

There’s more about the realities of a PhD in this by book by Gordon Rugg & Marian Petre:

The Unwritten Rules of PhD Research:

Recommended articles:

Critically reviewing the literature, the quick and dirty way

By Gordon Rugg

I’ve blogged previously about literature reviews, and about the significant difference between a literature review and a literature report. There are links to relevant previous posts at the end of this article.

Literature reviews are an important part of research. They’re how you find out what’s been tried before, and what happened when those previous approaches were tried. They’re a good way of identifying potential problems that you might encounter in your own research, and a good way of identifying gaps in previous research, which might be your chance to achieve fame and fortune by filling one of those gaps with a brilliant new solution.

This article is about one key aspect of literature reviews, which is that literature reviews involve critical analysis of the key issues. That raises the question of just how you set about starting a critical analysis.

In case you’re wondering whether this really is a big deal, then there’s one very practical consideration that can make a difference to the outcome of your time at university. One of the criteria for getting distinction-level marks on most taught university courses is showing that you’ve done critical independent reading. This is also a major criterion for getting through a PhD viva, so all in all, it’s a big deal.

But just what is a critical review of the literature anyway, as opposed to a non-critical one, and how can you possibly do a critical review of a literature that may include tens of thousands of journal articles and thousands of books? It’s not physically possible to read all of that literature in the three years of a typical undergraduate degree or PhD, let alone a one-year MSc or MA.

This blog article is about one quick and dirty way of making a good start on a critical literature review.

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Guest article: Advice for people thinking of doing a PhD

Guest article by Daniel O’Neill.

I am writing this article for the benefit of people considering doing a PhD. This article is written for a general audience, regardless of profession or discipline. It is an account of undertaking postgraduate research, and all views expressed are based on my experience. It should be noted that this is a general brief overview.

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Some modest proposals for educational flexibility

By Gordon Rugg

[Spoiler and standard disclaimer for the literal-minded: This article is satirical, and I’m writing it in my personal capacity, not my Keele capacity. With that out of the way, let the satire begin…]

Whereupon I assured Benaiah that nothing was farther from my mind than the harbouring of wicked thoughts; also, that I was a family man with a positive outlook on the state and its institutions, be they military, administrative or religious.

Stefan Heym, The King David Report. Quartet Books, London, 1977, p.28

Education policy is in flux, so what can a career-minded or survival-minded education worker do to improve their prospects of promotion and/or of managing to survive in post until retirement?

This article contains some modest proposals for ways in which educators can:

  • Show that they have a positive outlook on the state and its educational institutions
  • Ensure that student feedback is excellent, and
  • Ensure that most of their students achieve above average results

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