Top 10 Hints for Academic Writing. PG Writing Group 2/12/12

PG Writing Group 2/12/12 Social Science South Rm 2204 Monday 12-1pm

As this the last post for the PG Writing Group for 2012 I thought I would end the year with a list of my Top 10 recommendations for academic writing.

  1. Make use of the abundance of resources available to support your academic writing. Apply your research and reading skills to systematically developing your writing skills. While you learn from practice and from the feedback your supervisors and/or journal editors provide, you can also advance your writing skills by reading about academic writing. Some useful material can be found on Blogs, Websites and in Texts.
  2. When developing your academic writing style, model your work on other people’s work. If this makes you nervous because of the threat of plagiarism, understand the difference between ‘Strategic Language Reuse’ and Plagiarism.
  3. Separate the drafting and editing process. If you try to combine getting your thoughts on paper at the same time as polishing each sentence your writing efficiency will decrease substantially and your writing is likely to be disjointed. Focus on one thing at a time. Freewriting and Conscious Writing Techniques may help you turn off your ‘Internal Editor’ in the early drafting stages. Learn how to draft, revise, edit, and proof your work.
  4. Identify and remove redundancy at the sentence, paragraph and thesis level. There are lists of common redundant phrases, there are methods for making sentences concise, and reverse outlines can be invaluable for examining structure and identifying redundancy at the thesis level. See Redundancy.
  5. Understand how to move between tenses in your writing. Tense can be a powerful tool for shifting your reader from the literature to your work and from other researcher’s conclusions that you support to those that you think is ‘old thinking’. See Verb Tenses.
  6. Identify your errors and correct your mistakes. Errors are made when you don’t know the rules so read a brief academic writing style guide and learn the rules and preferred style of your discipline. If you can’t find a text book in your discipline area, try a general guide to technical editing or follow the instructions to authors in leading journals in your area. In contrast to errors, mistakes are made inadvertently even though you know the rules. So every time someone identifies a mistake or error write it down in your own Thesis Style Guide. Make sure you add in suggestions for corrections from your supervisor – there is nothing worse than repeatedly correcting the same mistake. Before you hand in a draft, check the final version for these mistakes. Common mistakes are listed in the Top 12. See Editing and Proofreading advice.
  7. Be professional. Learn to manage your research program and the relationship between you and your Supervisor.
  8. Develop a system for managing the many drafts of your thesis that you will generate in the course of your candidature. Save your drafts systematically.
  9. Play around with the software that you use on a daily basis and customize the settings and appearance to suit your needs. You probably only scratch the surface of the capability of the programs that you use. Take half a day to work out what you want the program to do for you. Customise Word, Endnote and Outlook.
  10. Take a break every now and then. There are some websites that will help you keep your studies in perspective. See Lighter Side of Postgraduate Research.

Want to know more about any of these recommendations? Follow the link to the corresponding PG Writing Group post and you will find further links to articles and resources.

 If you would like to know more about the Postgraduate Writing Group or receive email alerts when there is a new post, please contact Jo Edmondston ( or post a comment.

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The unpleasant truth about feedback. PG Writing Group 26/11/12


PG Writing Group 26/11/12 Social Science South Rm 2204 Monday 12-1pm

How many times have you been told not to take feedback on your academic writing personally? We all know that we should be grateful when people give us feedback about our academic writing, but why does it feel so personal? Last year, Toor wrote an article for the Chronicles of Higher Education called Shame in Academic Writing that spells out some of the emotions linked to receiving feedback from supervisors. Defensive, upset, ashamed, twitchy, inadequate, anxious, awkward, embarrassed…….. sound familiar? I know I felt all of these things when my work had been revised by someone else. Toor assures us this is normal. She says “Even those who make it look easy – whose work is good and well published – are still struggling with issues of how to get it done, and with the shame of not doing it, or not doing it well enough, or quickly enough, or whatever they think is enough.”

In this week’s PG Writing Session we’ll focus on some of the feelings associated with feedback. But we’ll focus in more detail on different types of feedback. Hill (2012) suggests supervisors usually have 5 different agenda when giving feedback. These agendas include helping the student to:

  1. Correct errors.
  2. Understand and apply disciplinary rules/norms.
  3. Improve critical reflection.
  4. Pay attention to broad issues across thesis.
  5. Think from the examiner’s perspective.

We’ll also discuss how to manage feedback you do not agree with. Vitae have some useful tips about negotiating with supervisors. They suggest you:

  • Plan carefully your negotiation with your supervisor and “pick your battles wisely”.
  • Separate people from problems. Avoid being personally critical of your supervisor and focus on the ‘facts’.
  • Ask questions to understand your supervisor’s motivation and/or reasoning for their position.
  • Aim for an outcome that addresses the needs of both you and your supervisor.
  • Take ‘time out’ if required.

Want to read more? See:

If you would like to know more about the Postgraduate Writing Group or receive email alerts when there is a new post, please contact Jo Edmondston ( or post a comment.

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Why is writing a research proposal so hard? PG Writing Group 19/11/12

PG Writing Group 19/11/12 Social Science South Rm 2204 Monday 12-1pm

Developing thesis writing skills involves blood, sweat & tears for pretty much everyone. To make things just that little bit harder, early in candidature you’ll write a research proposal which has a number of academic writing characteristics that can subtly different to thesis writing and the writing skills required for a journal article. Navigating between these styles in the early stages of study when you are developing your writing skills can be tricky. If it is any consolation, Porter (2007) suggests “When they are new to the grant game, even scholars with fine publishing records can struggle with proposal writing”.

Here’s a brief overview of the writing style of a research proposal recommended in the articles listed below. We’ll discuss how these elements vary in proposals and other forms of academic writing in Monday’s PG Writing Session.

  1. Keep sentences short, clear and concise.
  2. Lists are OK and graphs, tables and schematic diagrams are encouraged.
  3. Use first person, active voice, future tense.
  4. Write with strength and authority.
  5. Understand your review panel and write accordingly for a generalist audience.
  6. Restrict the background literature review to a minimum.
  7. Follow the guidelines exactly.
  8. Understand proposals also assess logistics – can the work be done given the proposed expertise and teamwork of the researchers, the budget, the time allowed, the facilities……

 Want to read more? See:

 If you would like to know more about the Postgraduate Writing Group or receive email alerts when there is a new post, please contact Jo Edmondston ( or post a comment.

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Negative Results: Writing about Dark Data – PG Writing Group 12/11/12

PG Writing Group 12/11/12 Social Science South Rm 2204 Monday 12-1pm

In his article Freeing the Dark Data of Failed Scientific Experiments, Goetze talks about the benefits of publishing negative research results. He argues that in this era of large data sets, number crunching, and meta-analyses, sharing ‘dark data’ may be more important that reporting positive results. Others suggest that negative results may improve research efficiency by distinguishing possible productive paths of inquiry (unsolved problems) from paths of enquiry that will be unproductive (studies that should not be repeated).

Despite increased acknowledgement of the importance of having access to ‘dark data’, there is evidence that publication of negative results is declining. While journals don’t have policies against publishing these papers (in fact the World Association of Medical Editors states that “Studies with negative results despite adequate power, or those challenging previously published work, should receive equal consideration”) negative results are less likely to be published for a range of reasons. Suggested reasons include: lower citation rates, lack of interest in non-significant results, reluctance to admit ‘failure’ and the competition for possible avenues of future research.

While this may sound very ‘dark’ for those of you undertaking doctoral studies, the good news is you can include negative results in your thesis. Conclusive negative results can be just as significant as positive results, although you will need to ensure your ‘unpublishable’ results can be distinguished from low-quality research. So how do you do this? I would suggest reviewing the style and structure of articles in journals dedicated to publishing negative results (yes they do exist!):

The PG Writing Session on Monday will analyse a range of articles from these journals.

 Interested in reading more? See:

 If you would like to know more about the Postgraduate Writing Group or receive email alerts when there is a new post, please contact Jo Edmondston ( or post a comment.

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Challenges in HDR Studies – PG Writing Group 05/11/12

PG Writing Group 05/11/12 Social Science South Rm 2204 Monday 12-1pm

A Finnish research group have recently published a paper entitled Challenges of Becoming a Scholar: A Study of Doctoral Students’ Problems and Well-Being. This mixed methods study explored the perceptions of 669 students enrolled in PhDs across a range of faculties about the problems they had encountered during their studies. While the research focussed on doctoral students, the results of this study could apply equally to students undertaking research masters.

Some interesting points arising from the study include:

  1. The highest proportion of reported problems were related to  self-regulation, motivation & self-efficacy. As previous studies have shown that lack of interest is an risk factor for non-completion of doctoral students, the authors conclude that encouraging students to develop personal study plans and consider the factors motivating them to study may make students’ study more meaningful to them and promote completion.
  2. Just under one third of the students reported discipline specific problems, such as methodology related issues or problems with defining research aims. The authors felt these issues were reported at a lower frequency than the more generic problems of self-regulation, motivation & self-efficacy, because discipline specific may be more easily identified and solved.
  3. Nearly one in five students felt academically isolated.  The authors felt more peer-to-peer collaboration could help students develop a sense of belonging to a research community.

 In Monday’s writing group we’ll use this article as a platform to discuss some of the problems you have encountered yourself or observed in other students during your studies.  

  •  This study is published in ISRN Education which is an open access publication by the Hindawi group.  ISRN Education is peer-reviewed and aims for a fast peer-review process (3-4 weeks). More about this academic publisher and their open access publishing model is available in an editorial for Information Today written by Nancy Davis Kho. The article is called Hindawi Publishing: A Working OA Model.

If you would like to know more about the Postgraduate Writing Group or receive email alerts when there is a new post, please contact Jo Edmondston ( or post a comment.

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Publication Protocols: PG Writing Group 24/09/12

PG Writing Group 24/09/12 Social Science South Rm 2204 Monday 12-1pm

Love it or hate it, publication in peer-reviewed journals is most commonly used to communicate research and judge research success. If you hate it, you may find some comfort in arguments to move towards more open access, incentives to speed up the time taken for the review process, and alternatives to peer review. Until alternatives take over, however, you’ll need to know how to navigate the process of submission for publication.

There are a lot more journal articles giving practical advice about the mechanics of publishing than I would have ever dreamt of. As most of them are written by journal editors I am guessing that they stem from the frustrations associated with managing researchers who do not know publication protocols. This week’s postgraduate writing group will focus on these protocols. I have drawn heavily from two publications: Boellstorff, T. 2011. Submission and acceptance: Where, why, and how to publish your article. American Anthropologist 113(3): 383-388 & Hutchinson, S. 2010. Surviving the review process. IEEE Robotics and Automation Magazine. Dec 2010: 101-104.

The combined advice from these two authors is to:

  • Do not submit the same manuscript to more than one journal at any one time
  • Comply with every guideline set out in the instructions to authors
  • Make your submission anonymous if you are submitting to a journal that has ‘double-blind’ review
  • Submit a cover letter where possible but keep the letter brief, unless the paper is being resubmitted
  • If the journal has provision for preferred or nonpreferred reviewers, provide a list of 2-4 preferred reviewers but carefully consider if you need to provide any nonpreferred reviewers
  • Be patient when waiting for a response from a journal.
  • If contact with the journal is necessary, use the administrative contact details on the website – only contact the editor directly as a last resort
  • ‘Revise and resubmit’ is not a guarantee that your journal article will be published but if your responses to the rejection letter are appropriate and timely, this will significantly increase your chance of publication – so revise your paper as quickly as possible with an accompanying cover letter that indicates how each of the reviewers comments are addressed in the revised paper
  • Do not take criticism from reviewers personally – which is often easier said than done!
  • If you do not agree with a criticism from a reviewer you can choose to argue that a suggested change to a paper is not required – but this will need to be a strong argument and it is an argument you are likely to lose
  • If your paper is rejected outright, it is unlikely that the paper will ever be accepted by the journal so do not revise and resubmit the paper to that journal – revise where appropriate and submit the revised paper to another journal
  • If a reviewer does not understand your paper it is likely that your academic writing needs improving

 If you would like to know more about the Postgraduate Writing Group or receive email alerts when there is a new post, please contact Jo Edmondston ( or post a comment.

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Reporting Statistics in Academic Writing PG Writing Group 22/10/12

PG Writing Group 22/10/12 Social Science South Rm 2204 Monday 12-1pm

If the very mention of the word statistics makes you feel anxious, apparently you are not alone. There are a number of published papers that describe phobic responses to stats. Thankfully at UWA you shouldn’t feel too concerned about using statistics in your research as you’re likely to have someone in your school to support you and the Statistical Consulting Group are always available to provide expert advice.

 In this week’s PG Writing session, we’ll review how statistics are reported and how you can improve the presentation of statistics in your academic writing. Below are 10 tips & hints that will be discussed in Monday’s session:

  1. Before interpreting or reporting a statistic, make sure you understand the underlying statistical procedure used to calculate the statistic.
  2. Before reporting a statistic, consider your audience’s understanding of this statistic. Generally you will not need to justify your choice of statistic if it is commonly used in your discipline area. However, if you think your audience will not be familiar with the test you are using, you may need to explain the statistical procedure in detail.
  3. When reporting statistics from a source, make sure the source is reliable. Make sure the statistics from non-peer reviewed sources are of an appropriate standard to report.
  4. Statistics should ideally appear at end of the sentence. Your statistics support your findings and therefore should appear after your results.
  5. When reporting a significant difference between two groups, where possible report the direction and magnitude of this difference.
  6. If you have lots of statistics to report, consider using a table or figure. Also learn how to summarise statistics in these forms.
  7. Test statistics and p values are usually rounded to 2 decimal places.
  8. All statistical symbols are usually italicised, with the exception of Greek letters.
  9. Percentages should usually only be reported as a summary following the actual numbers.
  10. Statistical terms such as ‘random’, ‘significant’, and ‘correlation’ should only be used for their correct technical usage.


For more advice about reporting statistics see:


For more details about the statistical support that is available at UWA see:


If you’re interested in statistics anxiety see:


If you would like to know more about the Postgraduate Writing Group or receive email alerts when there is a new post, please contact Jo Edmondston ( or post a comment.

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Why Publish? PG Writing Group 17/09/12

PG Writing Group 17/09/12 Social Science South Rm 2204 Monday 12-1pm

If you haven’t seen the movie adaptation of Dr Seuss’ The Cat in the Hat it is worth taking some time out from your studies to have a look. I don’t think you’ll learn anything about research but Mike Myers is very funny as cat……

It was this image from the original The Cat in the Hat book rather than the film that I was thinking about last week as I tried to manage a seemingly unmanageable workload. I felt as if I was juggling far too many tasks at once.

So this week I have made a conscious effort to follow my own advice about productivity – prioritise my day and check my email at the end of the day. It is only Tuesday and I feel more on top of things already. So apologies for this post being a few days late and hopefully the next post will be a day or two early.

Monday’s session focussed on why publishing research is a good thing. It was loosely based on two recent publications:

  1. Stoilescu and McDougall. 2010. Starting to Publish Academic Research as a Doctoral Student. International Journal of Doctoral Studies. 2: 79-92.
  2. Campion. 2011. How to Publish Like Heck and Maybe Even Enjoy It. The Industrial-Organisational Psychologist. 49(2): 43–56.

Stoilescu and McDougall’s paper was by far the most applicable to students from a range of disciplines. The paper discusses the apprenticeship of writing, why it is recommended, how writing is hard work, where to find support and what is ethical. It emphasises that academic writing only improves with practice and while books courses and supervisors can support you, ultimately you need to dedicate time to developing your skills in this area. Just overlook the references to a Canadian-style coursework/research degree and the article is quite good.

Campion’s paper was not so useful and I think some of the advice in the second section “How to Publish Applied Projects” could be misleading for many students. The section that suggests that you “Don’t Ask Permission” for the use of data may be appropriate in the author’s case, but for the majority of our students, “informed consent” should be the principle that is followed.

Next week’s PG Writing Group will be the last in the series of writing academic papers. The session will focus on the mechanics of publishing and how to respond to reviewer’s comments. The following week we’ll be back to some academic writing basics.

If you would like to know more about the Postgraduate Writing Group or receive email alerts when there is a new post, please contact Jo Edmondston ( or post a comment

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Discussing Discussions: PG Writing Group 10/09/12


PG Writing Group 10/09/12 Social Science South Rm 2204 Monday 12-1pm

The one section of a paper that is guaranteed to make your brain ache as you write is undoubtedly the discussion. In this section you’ll need to synthesis and interpret the important results of the study, explain the significance of the results, describe the limitations of the study, and suggest future areas of research. This all sounds very straightforward…but very often isn’t. The PG Writing Group on Monday 10/09/12 will focus on the elements of a good discussion.

Having a framework for structuring your discussion may help you start writing.

  1. Start by restating the research question(s) and answering these question(s) by referring to the main results.
  2. Discuss each of the major findings in the same sequence as the results section. Explain the meaning of these findings, why they are important and how they fit with similar studies. Consider if you need to address alternative explanations for these findings.
  3. Address the limitations of the study.
  4. Suggest new avenues of research. Often can be linked to the limitations outlined above.

Some tips and hints I would like to add:

  • Do not include sentences that purely restate results.
  • Do not include any results that have not been detailed in the results section.
  • Do not discuss every single finding.
  • Consider the strength you attribute to statements (review your modal verbs – may, can, should…).
  • Do not ignore unexpected results – address them confidently.
  • Do include new references if required – you’ll often need to cite studies you have not cited in the introduction to support your interpretation of your results.
  • Remember to shift the reader between your work & conclusions and the work & conclusions of others by changing tense.
  • And as always, make it reader-friendly, concise and specific.
  • Don’t adopt an apologetic style when describing the limitations of the study & don’t write about the imitations in a way that suggests you shouldn’t have done the study in the first place (the reviewer will reasonably believe that if the study was fatally flawed it shouldn’t be published).
  • Don’t make suggestions for future research that could easily be included in your study -  reviewers could very reasonably ask you to undertake this additional research prior to publication.

This post is based on the following materials:


If you would like to know more about the Postgraduate Writing Group or receive email alerts when there is a new post, please contact Jo Edmondston ( or post a comment.

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Getting Good Results – Writing the Results Section of a Paper: PG Writing Group 03/09/12

PG Writing Group 27/08/12 Social Science South Rm 2204 Monday 12-1pm

Once you understand your data and its analyses, writing the results section of a paper can be almost as easy as writing the methods section. Before you start writing the text in any detail, select the data you wish to present, consider the most logical way in which to order this data, and choose the best way to present the data. Once you have this outline of your results section you can begin drafting continuous text that leads your reader through your data, drawing attention to important relationships or points, and clarifying points.

 In principle, there isn’t much difference between writing about quantitative or qualitative data. So this week in the PG Writing Group we are going to follow the recommendations of The University Of Southern California regarding Organizing Your Social Sciences Research Paper. This website suggests:

  1. Restating the research problem that underpins the study.
  2. Summarising the key findings in a logical sequence (generally following order established in the methods section).
  3. Providing a systematic description of the results in text, highlighting observations that are most relevant to the study.
  4. Including non-textual elements (figures, tables, etc) as appropriate.
  5. Allowing the length to be guided by the amount and type of data reported.

 Some tips I think are useful:

  • Do not include introductory material.
  • Do not attempt to interpret or discuss your data.
  • Do not report raw data if it can be summarized.
  • If reporting differences, include the direction and magnitude of the difference.
  • Refer to every Figure and Table in the text.
  • Understand when and how to present tables and figures.
  • Avoid text that directs the reader to the Figure or Table. Use parentheses instead.
  • Use past tense when referring to your results – but use present tense when referring to results presented in non-textual elements (figures and tables).
  • Be as factual and concise as possible in reporting your findings. Do not use phrases that are vague or non-specific and reduce redundant text. Avoid wordiness such as “clearly,” “essential,” “quite,” “basically,” “rather,” “fairly,” “really,” and “virtually”.
  • Know the rules for reporting numerals.

 For those of you who are writing results at the moment and finding it all a little bit boring you may want to have a look at Discoblog for a bit of light relief. Discoblog is DISCOVER e-zine’s collection of quirky science articles. And have a look at the PhD Comics entries regarding results – they are very funny.

 For further advice on writing results sections see:

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