How to write conclusions

We often hear that the conclusion is where you “tell ’em what you told ’em”. That’s easy advice to follow, but does it really reflect how most essays and articles end? It would be a little odd if that was all there was to it; you can already find a brief summary of what the article says in the abstract, so why would there be another place for doing the exact same thing again? Just for convenience’s sake, so that the reader doesn’t have to flip back to the abstract? I think there’s more that can be done with a conclusion than simply repeating what was in the paper. To be sure, we do need to sum up the paper’s content, but that can be over in a sentence or two. What comes next?

Continue reading “How to write conclusions”

Reducing ambiguity

If you’ve taken an introduction to linguistics, you’ll have heard of ambiguity.  When I say “a cow attacked a farmer with an axe”, there’s some potential for miscommunication about who’s wielding the axe.  The reason is that sentences aren’t just words on a string.  Instead, the words come in clumps, and these clumps can link up in different ways even if the word order stays the same.  It matters if “with an axe” attaches to “attacked” or “farmer”.  This is syntactic ambiguity, but you can also have ambiguity in the words themselves.  If I said “I bought a pen”, you would probably imagine that I’d bought something to write with, but my sentence might actually be about an enclosure for some pigs.  You never know.

In your academic writing, you probably won’t be communicating facts about pigs in pens or cows with axes, but that doesn’t mean that you don’t need to worry about ambiguity.  Here are a few examples that can cause real trouble in essays: Continue reading “Reducing ambiguity”

Why you should never advertise your plans

Students talking in a restaurantMy previous blog post on time management was about how to make your plans easier to implement.  It’s great fun to make plans for yourself. You might be so happy about your admirable new intentions that you want to tell someone else about what you’ve decided to do.  After all, if you say out loud that you intend to learn Bayesian statistics, doesn’t that make you more accountable if you get lazy?  Why not say something to your friends over dinner to stop yourself from backing out?

You might want to think twice.  Gollwitzer et al. 2009 presents four experiments suggesting that when you tell people you intend to engage in “identity-relevant activities”, it becomes less likely that you’ll actually follow through with your plans.  If you want to read that long monograph or get comfortable with R, just do it. Continue reading “Why you should never advertise your plans”

Turn jobs into tasks

Last time I wrote about the problem of multitasking.  The fight to stay focused doesn’t always involve balancing your real work with a distraction; it can also be about juggling multiple projects.  Even if you are working exclusively on important items, it’s still best to do one thing at a time because you’ll get more done that way.

Students writing in the library
[Paul Dodds]
The trick here is to divide your jobs into smaller tasks so they don’t become large amorphous blobs that overlap each other all day.  For each ‘to do’ item on your list, divide it until you are left with tasks that can be finished in a finite amount of time.  See the following for an example of the sort of list I might use to organise and follow up on a meeting: Continue reading “Turn jobs into tasks”

Writing retreat: April 24th 9:00-17:00

Need a quiet place to work? Our writing retreat provides space for writing without distractions. That’s right: no talkative roommates who finished last week and no piped music blaring out of speakers in a café. Instead, you’ll be working beside a handful of your peers in silence. We’ll order tea and coffee for groups of 12 or more. You’ll need to bring your own laptop and lunch.

NOTE: This particular retreat begins at 10 a.m. and ends at 5 p.m.. You can sign up for the morning, the afternoon or the entire day, but when you sign up, you’re making a commitment to be there on time and leave at the break or at the end.

https://www.events.ed.ac.uk/index.cfm?event=book&scheduleID=29223

If you find that there are no spaces available, please sign up anyways. You’ll be put on a waiting list that we’ll use to arrange additional retreats.

April workshops now live

It’s the end of the semester, which means that assignments are due and schedules are open. It’s a great time to take a workshop or two to improve your writing.

Check our Workshops page for a list of events that you can book and attend.

Stop multitasking

The idea of me writing about time management seems like a joke.  But then again, maybe I’m actually well-suited to the task: I need all the artificial props I can muster to keep myself on task.  Even a bad runner can win a race with a bicycle.  I’ll share a few of my tricks with you, starting with how to stop yourself from multitasking.

It can be tempting to multitask. Student listening to music while on the computerIt’d be nice to say that this is because we’re good at it, but those of us who feel the temptation most strongly are probably the worst at it.   That’s because the ones who end up multitasking the most are those with lower executive control and higher impulsivity, which makes them have trouble resisting a second task (Sanbonmatsu et al. 2013).  At the same time, these people find it harder to actually do what multitasking requires: rapid switching between tasks (Banich 2009).  The students you see in the library with one window open to a music video and another open to a journal article might think they’re being efficient, but they’re probably the ones who will suffer the most from what they’re doing. Continue reading “Stop multitasking”

Workshop: Writing in Psychology

The PPLS Writing Centre is organising a four-hour workshop designed to show you how to write psychology essays at the Honours level. The workshop was developed with the guidance of psychology teaching staff and tutors, and will include activities throughout.

We will start by looking at how to structure your response to an essay prompt and ensure that your writing is globally coherent. We will then see how to make your sentences flow into one another and ensure that readers find your essay clear and easy to read. Finally, we’ll learn how to work references into your essay in a way that properly supports your argument.

By the end of this workshop, you’ll know what to do with marker comments such as “awk.”, “relevance?” and so on. You’ll have ways to identify the underlying issues and also strategies to help you fix the problems and even prevent them from happening in the first place.

The workshop is due to be held on March 9th. We strongly encourage students to attend the entire series, but we can accommodate people who have conflicting schedules.

Update: Please register your interest even if the class is full. We will send you an e-mail as soon as an additional session is arranged.

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”