Academic writing versus magazine writing

By Gordon Rugg

Academic writing is very different from most other types of writing. There are sensible reasons for this.

Unfortunately, not many students have been taught about those reasons. The result, predictably and understandably, is that most students, and most members of the general public, think that academic writing is dull and heavy because academics either don’t know how to write in an interesting, accessible way, or because they don’t care.

So, why is academic writing deliberately dull and heavy, and what are the implications, and how can you use academic writing style to your advantage? That’s what this article is about.

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Poster design 101

By Gordon Rugg

Every year, students in assorted non-artistic disciplines have to produce a poster. Every year, students who don’t view themselves as artistic complain bitterly about having to do this.

In this article, I’ll look at some of the issues involved in practical poster design at taught degree level, and at how they can be tackled systematically, without needing any artistic skills. The results aren’t likely to win any design prizes, but they should look competent enough to be presentable, and should save non-artistic students from a lot of grief.

In case you’re wondering why I’ve specified taught degrees, the answer is that in research degrees, students often have to produce posters for conferences. The guidelines for these are very different from those for taught course posters, and from publicity posters in the commercial world. This article is just about taught degree posters, and even for those, it comes with the disclaimer that your department may have very different ideas about how to do things, in which case, go with what they want, since they’ll be doing the marking…

I’ll also look at some broader issues in user-centred design, such as the concept of functional distance, which takes us into the origins of the classic command: “Don’t shoot until you see the whites of their eyes”.

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What academic writing looks like

By Gordon Rugg

Students often ask what good academic writing looks like. It’s an important, simple, question. Answering it in words is tricky. However, answering it with words plus highlighter makes answering easier. The answer is that good academic writing features mainly highlighter 2, with some highlighter 1 at the beginnings or ends of paragraphs, and as little grey as possible.

What does that actually look like? I’ll use a worked example to illustrate it, on the topic of the growth of the Internet. This is a difficult topic, because the key points are well known to the general public, so there’s a real risk that your opening text will look like something that a twelve year old without Internet access has hacked together at the last minute for an overdue essay.

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Referencing

By Gordon Rugg

So what is referencing anyway, and why should anyone care about it? What’s the difference between the Harvard system and the Vancouver system and the assorted other systems? How do you choose references that send out the right signal about you?

The answers to these and numerous other questions are in the article below. Short spoiler: If you do your referencing right, it gets you better marks, and you come across as an honest, capable individual who is highly employable and promotable. Why does it do this? Find out below…

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Ways of stating the obvious

By Gordon Rugg

Stating the obvious is an activity unlikely to win you many friends, or to influence many people in a direction that you would like. However, sometimes you have to do it.

So, why do you sometimes have to state the obvious, and how can you turn this problem to advantage? That’s the topic of this post. I’ll use the worked example of risks, both obvious and less obvious. (Reassuring note: I don’t go into scary details…)

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Sending the right signals at interview

By Gordon Rugg

On the surface, a lot of the advice that you’ll see about sending the right signals at job interviews is either pretty obvious (e.g. “dress smartly”) or subjective (e.g. “dress smartly”) or social convention with no relation to what you’ll actually be doing in the job (e.g. “dress smartly”).

Below the surface, however, there are regularities that make a lot more sense of what’s going on. Once you know what those regularities are, you’re in a better position to send out the signals that you want, with the minimum of wasted effort and of misunderstanding on both sides.

So, what are those regularities, and where do they come from? The answer takes us into the reasons for Irish elk having huge antlers, and peacocks having huge tails, and monarchs having huge crowns.

Images from Wikipedia; credits at the end of this article

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Life at Uni: Some tips on exam technique

By Gordon Rugg

Standard disclaimer: This article is as usual written in my personal capacity, not in my Keele University capacity.

Sometimes, the acronyms that fit best are not the ones that produce the most encouraging words. That’s what happened when I tried to create an acronym to help with exam technique. It ended up as “FEAR FEAR”. This was not the most encouraging start. So, I’ll move swiftly on from the acronym itself to what it stands for, which is more encouraging, and should be more helpful.

A lot of people find exams mentally overwhelming. This often leads to answers that aren’t as good as they could be. When you’re in that situation, it’s useful to have a short, simple mental checklist that helps you focus on the key points that you want to get across. That’s where the acronym comes in.

F is for Facts, and F is for Frameworks

E is for Examples, and E is for Excellence

A is for Advanced, and A is for Application

R is for Reading, and R is for Relevance

In the rest of this article, I’ll work through each of the items, unpacking what they’re about, and how to handle them efficiently.

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