Have you ever been told your ‘writing is too descriptive‘ or ‘you need more critical analysis‘? This is common feedback on written assessment and a source of frustration for many students. While some description is necessary most uni assessment tasks require you to produce more analytical and critical writing. This shows that you are engaging in current academic debates and have evaluated the research relevant to your discipline.
So, what does it mean to be critical?
In order to be a more critical writer you need to be critical throughout the whole writing process.
questioning what you read and not necessarily agreeing with it.
looking for reasons why you shouldn’t accept something as being correct or true.
identifying problems with arguments or methods, or referring to criticisms of these.
suggesting ways in which something could be improved (if required).
sometimes reflecting on your own behaviour/attitudes/performance.
Demonstrate your understanding
Your writing needs to show how you have interpreted the unit content and readings, how you have used that information to demonstrate your understanding, and what your position is on the topic. This doesn’t mean that you are including you opinion (unless asked to) but you are building an academic argument based on what you know and the evidence you have.
The way you structure your argument and the quality of the evidence you use to support your claims illustrate your thought process and how well you have understood the issue or topic.
Support your argument with quality evidence
Make sure you always use evidence to help you strengthen your position. Synthesise sources to ensure you answer the reader’s potential questions and counter any opposing arguments.
For most assignments you don’t need to provide a lot of background or historical information so you should keep descriptive statements to a minimum. Focus on providing more analysis and evaluation to demonstrate your interpretation of the facts, and support your arguments by explaining the significance, outlining consequences and/or implications and making recommendations.
Tips for being more critical
Don’t just describe something. Make sure your writing also identifies the significance of the issue/evidence.
Rather than simply explaining what the theory says go further and show why that theory is relevant.
It’s also not enough to outline the method/intervention/treatment. You need to demonstrate how appropriate it is.
Make sure your writing always answers the question so what?
For useful phrases to use in your writing check out Manchester Phrasebank’s section on Being Critical.
And if you really want to learn more try this free online course from Future Learn
Write Up is a wonderful support service for students and I feel so lucky to be one of the facilitators for the team.
We get students to work together, give feedback and provide support for understanding, responding and structuring assignment tasks, checking and integrating research, and help with language.
So far, we’ve had students from a wide array of faculties, and I thought I would share the most common issues that students have asked us for help with.
Here are my top three writing tips
1. Before you even set pen to paper, get organised! Gather all your resources together from your tutes and lectures (especially your assignment task sheet with the criteria!). Now you’re all set to begin. Your task sheet is your treasure map. It is your guide to what you need to cover in your assignment.
2. Keep your sentences short for clarity—if you see any sentences that are running over 3 or 4 lines, it’s time to break them up with full stops!
3. Always be specific about the ‘subject’ of your sentence and who you are referring to. For example, if you are currently referring to your theorists as ‘they’, it’s time to use their name, or be more specific about their role. Make your writing as clear for the reader as you can. If you only use words like ‘they’ or ‘she/he’ the reader won’t know if you’re talking about the ‘nurses’ or the ‘patients’. Don’t make them guess!
We look forward to seeing you in one of our Write Up sessions.
They’re fun and helpful and we can’t wait to meet you all.
Write Up facilitator
Now more than ever we’re being asked to embrace technology and step out of our comfort zones to present information online. There are so many amzaing tools out there to create a presentaion but it takes a bit of work for most of us to actually feel confident in front of a camera. Trial and error can be the best way to get comfortable with new technology but it also helps to have a plan.
Prepare, prepare, prepare
Create a clear focus with 1-3 key message(s).
Revise your drafts and edit out unnecessary content.
Make notes for each screen / section.
Think about how you are going to engage the audience.
Practise timing of spoken presentation.
Like any presentation the key is preparation. This means getting started early and planning.
Become familiar with the technology (eg. Zoom, Viva Voce, Collaborate etc)
Screen sharing and presenter view.
Playing an embedded video (if relevant).
Using a spotlight or highlight on a speaker.
Setting up and testing audio and video.
No matter which web conferencing software you use the key is understanding its features. Make sure you know how to control the following:
Set everything up fully to achieve the best results
It’s also important to choose a suitable location for your presentation. Make sure you find a space which is quiet and has good lighting. This may mean booking a study room in the library or going to a friend’s house when they’re out. If at home let others know that you are presenting live or recording so you’re not interrupted.
Before you start, think about your appearance.
Wear appropriate clothing – smart casual (no PJs!).
Angle your camera just above eye level to frame your shoulders and face.
Keep your face well-lit with natural light, or place a lamp behind the camera, towards your face.
Remove personal items or anything visible in the background.
Do a final check of the technology.
Test earphones, phone camera or webcam.
Close down all unnecessary browsers, windows or apps and turn notifications off.
Have notes ready (printed or in presenter view).
Test slideshare settings in presenter view.
Check the audio and video settings.
Log into the web meeting on another device to check the audience view.
Practise making a short recording then watch it back.
Pause when you transition between slides or present complex information.
Speak from notes rather than ‘reading’.
Breath and smile as you talk.
Follow assessment task instructions carefully.
Don’t forget to hit record!
Tips for pre-recording your presentation
Some assessment tasks require you to record your presentation and upload the file. The same principles apply but you may need to do things a bit differently when pre-recording.
Whether you’re presenting in person or online being a clear, confident and engaging communicator is an essential skill to have so it’s worth investing some time and energy into it. Check out more QUT resources on presenting online.
When writing university assignments you have to acknowledge quotations, information and ideas taken from other authors. At QUT the four commonly used styles for citing and referencing are APA, Harvard, AGLC and Vancouver. APA Style is used in many disciplines but it is most commonly required in Health and Education.
This online tutorial has been adapted from APA’s tool for teaching and learning effective writing. It takes you through the basics of seventh edition APA Style, including format, and organisation; academic writing style; grammar and usage; tables and figures; in-text citations, paraphrasing, and quotations; and reference list format and order.
You can also find more information on seventh edition APA Style in the official Publication Manual (7th ed.) and the Style and Grammar Guidelines section of the APA Style website.
These days there are also heaps of tools that can help you manage your readings and referencing. While they might seem to make things quicker and easier, it’s important to know that they are not 100% reliable. Make sure you fully understand the elements and construction of citing and referencing.
Detailed examples can be found on QUT cite|write which has been designed to help you create references that meet the requirements of the university and your specific units. For EVERY assessment task you do make sure you check the task instructions carefully and ask your lecturer/tutor if you are not sure which style you need to use.
Nearly time to submit that assignment? You’re probably sick of looking at it but don’t let basic errors and typos affect your grade. Proofreading is the final stage of the editing process which focuses on surface errors such as mistakes in spelling, grammar, citation and punctuation. Take time to do a last minute proofread to look for those all-important details. Here are our top tips for proofreading.
Use Tools on Word
As a starting point use the tools available to you such as the Editor (hit F7) in Word which checks spelling, grammar and style. Set your Proofing Language to Australian English (AU) by finding ‘Language’ in the Review menu and selecting the required language. This will underline any words that are not spelled correctly so that you can correct them if necessary. Just remember that some terminology may not come up in a spellcheck so it’s always best to confirm you have it right.
Print a Copy
No doubt you’ve already spent weeks staring at a computer screen so your eyes need a break. It can really help to print your essay out and make changes with a different colour on the hard copy. Changing the format of your writing will help you to pick up all those little errors that you didn’t notice when your were writing and editing.
It sounds simple but reading your writing out loud can help you to identify grammatical errors as well as content that is incorrect or confusing. If you notice any particularly long sentences, think about where they could be split to make your points clearer. Complex sentences may sound impressive, but they often leave the reader wondering what your main point is.
Check your Citations
Always refer to your task instructions and QUT cite|write for accurate citing and referencing information. Check each citation as you go and make sure it follows the examples given exactly. Don’t forget to check the placement of the parentheses, commas and full stops.
Take Micro Breaks!
Writing is hard work so it’s important to take regular breaks throughout the process. Plan to have five-minute breaks every half hour to allow your brain to work at its best. If possible, go outside and get some fresh air to avoid feeling sleepy. Also, make sure you stay hydrated with plenty of water to help you work at your best!
Proofreading can be tedious but it’s worth investing time into ensuring your writing is error-free and meets the assessment task requirements.
It’s safe to say that we’ll all be joining live online sessions through one of the many tools avaiable. Whether it’s through Collaborate Ultra, Zoom, Skype or another platform it helps to know what’s expected and how you can participate successfully.
Before the session
Find a quiet space where you can concentrate fully.
Make sure you have a reliable Internet connection.
If possible use a USB headset with a microphone.
Test the audio and video before you start.
Make sure you are familiar with the platform controls etc.
Add a profile image to create a friendlier more connected environment (nothing too weird!).
In the session
Mute your microphone and turn off your video when you join.
Check to see if there are any instrcutions or starter activities on screen.
Introduce yourself (if appropriate) or say your name when you speak for the first time.
Avoid interrupting other speakers and mute your mic while wiaiting.
Use the platform features such as chat or raising your hand to ask questions.
Audio and video tips
Don’t shout into your mic – just speak clearly in your normal voice.
Only turn on video when necessary or instructed to do so.
Position your webcam so the top half of your body is visible.
Be aware of what is behind you when your camera’s on. We can all see it!!!
Avoid busy virtual backgrounds – a plain background is best.
In some ways it’s easier to hide in an online session but the same manners apply as they do in person.
Be polite, respect others and be prepared to contribute!
Are you finding it hard to study online? Sitting behind a screen can make you feel alone but the good news is that these days you have more ways to connect than ever before. Here are a few things you can do to stay fully connected with your course.
Make a study plan
Study takes time and effort so it’s important to plan your week. Make a weekly schedule of sessions to attend or participate in and the amount of time you plan to spend on each unit. Don’t forget to include deadlines for assessment tasks. Commit yourself to specific times to do the set reading, review your notes, conduct research and prepare for the weekly content in each unit. Be ready to participate in online discussion and ask questions.
It’s so important to log in to Blackboard daily and check your QUT email. Staying up to date with unit announcements, new discussion posts and content will help you learn as well as deepen your connection with the online community. Develop your own strategy for working through the resources and posts so that you keep on top of anything new.
Set yourself up for success by contributing to online discussions, asking questions, and responding to fellow students. The more you engage, the more you’ll feel connected to your peers as well as the content. Make the most of apps, discussion boards, videos and other technology that helps you get involved. Make an effort to interact with your lecturers, tutors and peers whenever you have the opportunity. It’s easy to sit back and remain passive but that won’t get you the results you’re after!
One of the best things about being a student is that you’re never alone! Take advantage of fellow students who truly understand the pressure of study because they’re experiencing it too. Use this opportunity to work with and learn from others. Group work can give you a wide range of perspectives and help strengthen your own knowledge. Make the most of the technology available to set up a virtual study group.
As a QUT student you have access to so many wonderful resources and support networks. It can be easy to feel overwhelmed, but the first step is often just asking a simple question. HiQ Chat is a good starting point for general questions or Chat with a Librarian for information on resources, research and referencing.
So, don’t let sitting in front of a screen prevent you from feeling connected to your study. Make the most of your peers, university staff and technology to successfully study online.
Verbs provide important information to the reader. Deciding on the correct tense can be confusing when writing about research but it’s important to use verbs consistently and correctly to create a logical, coherent flow in your writing. In academic writing there’s no single rule to follow regarding verb tense but there are some basic guidelines to help check your writing for consistency.
Start with the following verb tenses to report information in your writing.
For more tips on grammar and writing style visit the APA Style Blog. If you want to learn more about grammar check out our other posts.
Poster presentations are a visual way to convey information and can help develop your ability to communicate effectively to an audience. The purpose of an academic poster is to present information for others to view easily and to encourage an exchange of ideas between the presenter and the audience. Most poster presentations include the poster itself as well as a short explanation but this may depend on your specific assessment task instructions.
As an academic poster is different from a written report or a presentation you need to approach the task with the key elements in mind. Auckland University’s website, Designing Academic Posters, is a great resource to assist with basic poster design as it steps you through each stage of the process. There are handy tips on planning and designing your poster as well as software for sharing.
We all feel stressed or distressed from time to time. When you’re feeling overwhelmed it can be hard to think clearly and make good decisions. My Coping Plan is a free iOS app from the University of South Australia that helps you to create and update your own plan for coping with stress. It’s really good for anybody who is trying to avoid unhealthy strategies like negative self-talk. Why not try it for managing stress levels throughout the semester?
Don’t forget that QUT also provides free, confidential counselling services for current students!