Writing to learn and writing to communicate

Write twice: once to discover what you think and once to present what you’ve learned. Committing yourself to writing twice may look like a burden, but you’ll probably find it to be liberating instead.

The first time through is when you find out what you think. You can’t skip this; you won’t know what you have to say until you get it out. No matter how many times you read through your sources, you’ll find that your ideas and concepts will always have something ethereal about them until they are sitting on your computer screen. Continue reading “Writing to learn and writing to communicate”

How to write an introduction

There are a few well-worn pieces of advice on introductions that get passed around. “Tell ’em what you’re going to say” is probably the most popular of these. Another one is “grab their attention”. I haven’t found either to be very helpful in my own writing. After all, most authors tell people what’s going to be said in the abstract, which covers the whole paper and its conclusions. The introduction is really for leading people into the essay, not reproducing it in compact form. And while you can grab people’s attention through short, shocking statements, surely that isn’t the only way to open things up. Look at the essays you admire. Some may aim to surprise, but probably not all.

Then there are the traps that students fall into over and over. Many undergraduates open by repeating the essay prompt or quoting from the dictionary. These are hackneyed approaches, and they call to mind an unsure student sitting in front of a blank computer screen. Others try to puff things up with grand statements of the cosmic importance of what’s to come in the essay (“Ladies and gentlemen! What you’re about to see will astonish you. Ever since the dawn of humanity, we have wrestled with…”). That’s an exaggeration of what I’ve seen, but only just.

A better approach is to use your introduction to set the right environment for your argument. You can do this by (1) establishing the context, (2) identifying a problem, and then (3) providing a response. The context is where you introduce the topic that will be under discussion, usually in a fairly neutral way. The problem can be either a gap in existing knowledge or a point of academic contention. And the response is your contribution or judgment, the argument that you will be supporting over the rest of your paper. You might have found a different approach to the problem, or something new to consider. Or maybe new evidence has come along from a different field that should be taken into account. Continue reading “How to write an introduction”

Upcoming courses for international students

International students should have a look at the courses that English Language Education will be holding early next year.

Some of these are on topics of particular interest to PhD students, such as annual reports, literature reviews, and the actual writing up of your dissertation. There are others that would be suitable for both undergraduates and postgraduates. These are on topics such as seminar discussions, pronunciation, presentations, academic writing, and social speaking.

Two appointments per semester

Until now, students have been able to book two appointments per year. We’ve decided to provide two appointments per semester instead, effective immediately.

There are a couple reasons for doing this. We want to make sure that you don’t feel as though you have to save up your appointments for classes that have you worried, for one. It’s also important that you feel free to spend more than one hour on a single assignment.

As always, if you find yourself in need of further appointments, contact us directly and we can try to accommodate you.

What other options are there?

Our tutors will help you work on your essay’s argumentation and organisation, but you may be in search of something else. If so, the University of Edinburgh provides a wide range of support options:

Do you want advice about the actual content of your essay? The best person to talk to is your teacher during his or her posted office hours.

Are you a non-native speaker of English? Take a look at the services offered by English Language Education and the Peer Proofreading Scheme run by EUSA.

Do you have a documented disability? The Student Disability Service offers proofreading services as well.

And if you need more general help with study skills, the Institute for Academic Development offers a variety of resources and workshops designed to help you achieve your goals.

Please note that you are still welcome to use our services in addition to other help. It’s just that our help will be centered around the presentation of ideas rather than proofreading, for instance.

PPLS guidance documents

The PPLS Student Hub contains many of the reference documents produced over the years to guide you through studying material, writing assignments, and taking exams. These documents include writing advice specific to each of the disciplines (philosophy, psychology and linguistics).

Of course, this hub should be seen as a supplement to whatever material your teacher provides you with in your class.

What does good student writing look like?

It can be hard to get a feel for what your teachers expect from you as you advance in your academic career. Your essays are clearly going to have to explore topics in greater detail than your earlier efforts did, but it can be quite daunting to compare what you write to published articles written by professional scholars.

If you’re a sociolinguistics student, that’s where Lifespans and Styles comes in. Edited by Lauren Hall-Lew, this journal is published by the University of Edinburgh in order to promote good undergraduate writing. There are some excellent essays (including one co-written by our very own Victoria Dickson back in 2015) that are well worth your time.

If you’re ready to move on to your dissertation, the Edinburgh Research Archive is for you. The PPLS dissertation collection might be be a good place to start. When you click on the sub-community that’s relevant to you, you’ll have access to a variety of collections. The only thing to watch out for is that not all students have made their dissertations available to the public. A black lock icon by the filename means that you’ll have to look for another piece of writing.