Building your argument

Building Your Argument

In this section we’ll be exploring in detail the underpinning thinking and good practices we need to employ in order to truly master our studies.

In addition to the material here, substantial  additional content will be added during the course of 2014-15, including videos with staff and students advice and tips, and quizzes … so do check back periodically for new material.

The above image is intended to demonstrate something of the sheer complexity of studying in an academic context. We need, in time, to master all of the concepts that Pilgrim is juggling (… and several more besides).

There are many ways in which we can conceptualise and break down key components essential to ‘being academic’, but arguably it is most helpful to centre the concept of ‘Building OUR argument’, and to spin off other key concepts from this, as in the image above.

Building OUR Argument’, crucially with the distinction that we ‘draw on the ideas of others’ as a core part of this process, is useful conceptually as it emphasizes both the continuities (building on what has gone before) that are so important to academic study (the ‘drawing upon the ideas of others’ bit, which is a bedrock of ‘being academic’), but also stresses the importance of ourestablishing our voice as the author of our own work (making sense of the information in order to build our argument … that is, not being an ‘invisible author’ relaying the expressions of othersuncritically).

Building my argument: establishing my position

Building argument is fundamental to the very nature of academic writing: the idea that we use the ideas of others, crucially: to build and develop carefully considered arguments of our own.

The notion that we are building argument ‘of our own’ is critical. It is not about simply relaying the arguments we find in source evidence, but evaluating the importance and significance (the ‘value’) of those arguments, and making these arguments work for us (whilst, of course, staying true to the intended meaning of the original source we are quoting or summarising) careful utilisation of the ideas of others to build our argument.

This plays a major role in allowing us to ‘find our own voice’ in our academic writing and take ‘ownership’ of our work as something that is genuinely ours, something in which we can be justifiably proud.

Key concepts to bear in mind at this point:

  • The need to ‘build our argument’, via drawing on the ideas of others.
     
  • The understanding that knowledge is a fluctuating thing, that we cannot accept information as ‘Truth’ just because it is print.
     
  • The importance of ‘comparing and contrasting evidence’ and of looking for ‘similarities and differences’ of argument and/or emphasis.
     
  • The significance of assessing ‘fit’, or the relative compatibility, of the competing arguments we’ve been able to locate: explanations and theories that we encounter during our research.
     
  • The importance of ‘establishing our position’, in relation to this evidence we encounter.

So much rests on our understanding that assignment topics will always tend to focus on an issue or issues where there is some level of debate, where ideas and assumptions are in some way contested … as opposed to there being universally-accepted truths shared among all who have previously researched the subject.

Therefore, bearing all of the above in mind, we need to think seriously think about how … and to what level … we need to ‘engage with “the debate”’, in order to be able demonstrate ‘true academicness’ in our studies.   

‘Engaging with “the debate”’ in our thinking and writing
Let’s examine some examples of student writing, to explore different levels of engagement with ‘the debate’.

Students were set the following task, examining a painting by 20th Century Abstract Expressionist artist, Jackson Pollock (the guy responsible for the large scale ‘drip paintings’) ...

The students were given short extracts from two published texts:

The students were then instructed to answer the question, using up to 300 words.
Here are four representative answers (for our purposes we don’t need to read the original texts ourselves).

Example 1:

Lavender Mist by Jackson Pollock is a large painting made by splashing paint onto a canvas. Even though it looks quite easy to do it is interesting because the pattern looks very energetic. I don’t really like the painting because the colours are a bit dull. I don’t think it is very significant because although I like the pattern I prefer brighter things.

Read this carefully. Is it any good? Jot down your thoughts first.... then click below:

Click to reveal information

It’s just not academic! The student is not afraid to express his opinion, but without reference to any evidence, this opinion has no value. We need to develop our argument through careful evaluation of the ideas of others who have investigated the topic before us (and more often than not, published on the subject).
If we can’t demonstrate we have considered the ideas and expertise of others in our writing, we risk our own arguments being superficial, as is the case here.
EPIC FAIL!
  Pilgrim

Example 2:

The only thing significant about Jackson Pollock’s Lavender Mist is that he had the nerve to try and pass it off as art. There is no skill or craftsmanship involved in painting like this. Nine years after the painting was finished people still weren’t fooled. As the headline from theReynolds News wrote at the time, ‘This is not art--it's a joke in bad taste’ (Reynolds News).
Information in bibliography:

Molyneux, John (April 1999) ‘Expression of an age’, in Socialist Review, 229, available:http://pubs.socialistreviewindex.org.uk/sr229/molyneux.htm (accessed 9 Dec 2013).

Read this carefully. Is it any good? Does it improve on example 1? Jot down your thoughts first.... then click below:

Click to reveal information

Illuminator

  This is also not academic. The student’s opinion is very forthright and the language unsuitable for an academic register: ‘had the nerve to try’, ‘people still weren’t fooled’ ...
The student appears to have made up her mind beforehand, and just found ‘evidence’ to support her dislike of the work: there’s no sense of balance or ‘being considered’, no sense of ‘engaging’, academically, with ‘the debate’.
The student gets in a reference – to Reynolds News, a newspaper published at the time – but did the student really go to a newspaper archive to find this information or find this original 1950s newspaper online? (No, because the student only had access to the two sources provided). Our references must reflect the sources we have actually examined. When we reference material that someone else is referencing, this needs to be clear, e.g.: (Reynolds News, quoted in Molyneux, 1999) or – because in this example Reynolds News is already cited in-text by the student, just (Molyneux, 1999) would suffice.
EPIC FAIL!

Example 3:

Pollock’s Lavender Mist is often considered one of his most impressive works. It was completed in 1950, the period that Hughes describes as ‘The best Pollocks of his best years’ (1996, 313-314). The Socialist Review notes how the influential critic Clement Greenberg regarded the work of Pollock as ‘simply the best painting of its day and the culmination of an art tradition going back via Cubism and Cézanne to Monet’ (Molyneux, 1999). However, Pollock is not without his critics. For example, the idea of Pollock as some sort of hero is rejected by feminists who dismiss his work as a ‘phallocentric male fantasy’ (Molyneux, 1999).
Information in bibliography:

Molyneux, John (April 1999) ‘Expression of an age’, in Socialist Review, 229, available:http://pubs.socialistreviewindex.org.uk/sr229/molyneux.htm (accessed 9 Dec 2013).

Read this carefully. Is it any good? Does it improve on examples 1 & 2? Jot down your thoughts first.... then click below:

Click to reveal information

Much better! The student attempts to identify and convey ‘the debate’, comparing and contrasting arguments from than one source.
It’s an articulate piece of writing. The tone of the discussion is much more balanced, in contrast with example 2. It just reads more academically, more considered!
Additionally, the referencing fulfils its function: to provide crystal-clear transparency as to where any evidence is being drawn from, at the point of use, in our writing.
Unlike the last example, these references actually refer the reader to the genuine sources examined, allowing the reader to examine these sources if he or she so wishes to delve further (i.e., by cross-referencing with the full information about the sources as listed in the bibliography).
Note also how thorough the student is with his referencing: in this case, no less than three references in the space of the paragraph!
There remains one issue, however: the (relative) absence of the student as author. What does the student think, based on careful consideration of the evidence? We don’t know!

This answer demonstrates the effective relaying and contrasting of the thoughts and arguments of others, but there is not yet any sense that the student is attempting to build his own argument through the careful consideration of this evidence.

  Pilgrim

Example 4:

Despite dismissive ‘predominant interpretation[s]’ – which the Socialist Review attributes to ‘the columns of the Sun’ and condemns as ‘comprehensively refuted by any serious scrutiny of the paintings’ (Molyneux, 1999) – serious critiques of Pollock’s dripped paintings are overwhelmingly in favour of the artist.

The significance of Pollock is perhaps highlighted by the revelation of his sponsorship and promotion by the CIA as ‘a “weapon of the Cold War”’ (Molyneux, 1999), namely in the presenting of his work as the embodiment of US freedom, in opposition to the more formal, constrained  Social Realism of Soviet art.

Yet, does Pollock’s Lavender Mist truly embody a significant moment in art history? Despite Hughes’s regard for Lavender Mist as among ‘The best Pollocks of his best years’ (1996, 313-314), that seminal moment must surely be when, in the late 1940s – as Hughes puts it – Pollock first ‘began to drip paint onto a canvas laid flat on the floor’ (1996, 313-314).

Any subsequent US propagandising or ‘the culmination of an art tradition going back via Cubism and Cézanne to Monet’ (Molyneux, 1999) began with this moment when the artist first took the canvas to the floor. Pollock’s subsequent exploration of this technique is merely refinement of the original decisive act. Indeed even the provocation and feminist rejection of Pollock’s alleged phallocentricism (cited in Molyneux, 1999) can be traced back to this moment, and certainly to works that preceded Lavender Mist.

Information in bibliography:
Hughes, Robert (1996), The Shock Of The New: Art And The Century Of Change (London: Thames and Hudson), pp 313-314.
Molyneux, John (April 1999) ‘Expression of an age’, in Socialist Review, 229, available:http://pubs.socialistreviewindex.org.uk/sr229/molyneux.htm (accessed 9 Dec 2013).

Read this carefully. Is it any good? Does it improve on example 3? Jot down your thoughts first.... then click below:

Click to reveal information

Illuminator

  This is excellent! Not only does the student attempt to draw on evidence from the literature to convey the ‘debate’ about Pollock’s work (similar to example 3), but we see that the student is using this evidence with a clearer sense purpose: to build her argument, via careful consideration of the ideas of others.

In short, the author is no longer absent: the student has ‘a voice’ in her writing and ‘establishes her position’. The student engages with the debate in a constructive and meaningful way, in order to build her argument: namely, that Pollock’s seminal moment in fact occurs earlier than 1950’s Lavender Mist, in the late 1940s.
FIRST CLASS!

Here’s the passage again, but this time with the student’s argument highlighted (in brown) with annotations [in green]now click below:

Click to reveal information

Despite dismissive ‘predominant interpretation[s]’ – which the Socialist Review attributes to ‘the columns of the Sun’ and condemns as ‘comprehensively refuted by any serious scrutiny of the paintings’ (Molyneux, 1999) – serious critiques of Pollock’s dripped paintings are overwhelmingly in favour of the artist. [not the main argument, but the student does take the opportunity to dismiss any criticism of Pollock’s work as simply rubbish, as unsupportable – using the arguments in Molyneux to make her case].

The significance of Pollock is perhaps highlighted by the revelation of his sponsorship and promotion by the CIA as ‘a “weapon of the Cold War”’ (Molyneux, 1999), namely in the presenting of his work as the embodiment of US freedom, in opposition to the more formal, constrained Social Realism of Soviet art.

  Pilgrim
Illuminator   Yet, does Pollock’s Lavender Mist truly embody a significant moment in art history? [Here the student poses the key question she intends to address: she has identified this as an angle worthy of discussion]. Despite Hughes’s regard for Lavender Mist as among ‘The best Pollocks of his best years’”(1996, 313-314), that seminal moment must surely be when, in the late 1940s – as Hughes puts it – Pollock first ‘began to drip paint onto a canvas laid flat on the floor’ (1996, 313-314). [The student presents her argument: Hughes may identify with Lavender Mist as one of Pollock’s best works, but the real significance was achieved one or two years before this, when Pollock first began employed his revolutionary painting technique. Note how she contrasts Hughes as part of her building of her argument (‘Despite Hughes’s regard ...’)].

Any subsequent US propagandising or ‘the culmination of an art tradition going back via Cubism and Cézanne to Monet’ (Molyneux, 1999) began with this moment when the artist first took the canvas to the floor. [This is confident argument-building: in this paragraph, she integrates points, made in the other source, to reinforce the argument she is making]. Pollock’s subsequent exploration of this technique is merely refinement of the original decisive act. Indeed even the provocation and feminist rejection of Pollock’s alleged phallocentricism (cited in Molyneux, 1999) can be traced back to this moment, and certainly to works that preceded Lavender Mist. [Again, we see the student reinforcing her central argument, making her case as persuasive as she can].

(Pollock exercise developed in collaboration with James Steventon, CASS faculty).

Note about these examples: these examples use the ‘Harvard’ model of referencing, the predominant model of referencing used across the University. For more information on Harvard referencing, and alternatives such as Footnote referencing (a model preferred by some schools and most – but not all of – the CASS faculty), see the Library guidelines here.

So what can we take from having examined these four examples?

Click on The PDF image on the right for important additional considerations with regard to ‘building our argument’ and the importance of ‘in-text signposting of authorship’ in the articulating and commenting upon the ideas of others.

 

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This all raises questions about the way we gather and make sense of evidence/information. In order to confidently articulate – primarily in our own words – the ideas of others, in order to identify and be able to discuss in our work the relevant points of debate, and to accord these ideas relative significance and value, it suggests the absolute necessity of adopting a robust critically-analytical, questioning approach at the information-gathering stages when we are researching for any assignment.

Thus, we need a model of critical information-gathering that’s fit for purpose: one that really does invite us to critically think, one that assists us inmaking full sense of the information, that allows us to identify issues of debate, argument and theory relevant for discussion in our writing, and encourages us, ultimately, to identify a position: establish where we stand (our ‘position’) in relation to the body of knowledge we’re examining.

What we want to avoid is a situation where the way in which we make notes is essentially passive. Accumulating a body of information that we think will be useful to us, but leaving most of the critical thinking to after we’ve amassed these notes risks our failure to ‘develop our argument’ and ‘establish our position’ and places too much pressure on us when it comes to writing up our assignments. 

When we make notes while researching for our assignments, it is worth reminding ourselves what these notes are ultimately for. For sure, we need to demonstrate our knowledge of the topic, and we also need show we understand variances of perspective, argument – the debate. Ultimately, however, we need to collect content and make sense of that content in a way that allows us an opportunity to ‘build our argument’ (via the careful consideration of the ideas of others, primarily experts who’ve written on the subject before us).

We only want to bring in evidence from any source if it allows us to build our argument. We could keep a checklist like the following beside us when we are researching our assignments (this will be familiar to those who’ve already checked out the PDF handouts in the Understanding Plagiarism section), but it’s worth returning to this here.

A checklist like this can assist us as a useful ‘gatekeeper’, by helping us to determine whether any information from any particular source has any real value to us.

There may be other reasons as to why we may choose to bring in information into our discussion (for example, ‘Does it allow me to contextualize my discussion, i.e., consider the “bigger picture”/issues of wider applicability?’ or, perhaps, ’Does it allow me to say something about the nature of research conducted on the topic?’) and there are may be arguments for breaking down categories differently. Nevertheless, these six criteria do address the key reasons by which we may check the suitability of any information we are thinking of bringing into our work.


All we need is to satisfy one of the six criteriato justify that a point is worth introducing, whether as a direct quote or in our own words. 
So, the chances are, if any information cannot be justified by at least one of the above, it probably doesn’t have a place:DROP IT!

 

An organic relationship between writing and researching

In lectures, the process of making notes, if undertaken effectively, helps us not only to keep a meaningful record of what was discussed but also to focus our concentration on, and understanding of, the discussion at hand (see http://learning.londonmet.ac.uk/epacks/studyhub/note.html for advice on effective note-making strategies).

Equally important is the process of making notes when researching our assignments: effective note-making for independent study is essential for developing our understanding of the topic and, establishing our position.

 


Note-making … not Note-taking?

The term ‘note-taking’ has become unfashionable in educational circles in recent years because, it is argued, the ‘taking’ implies a passive role for the person recording the information (e.g., primarily involving the recording of information delivered by rote). Thus, learning developers often prefer to use the term ‘note-making’, the ‘making’ being seen to emphasise a more active role for the person making notes.

What do we mean by the note-maker needing to have an active role? The process of making notes should be the process by which we make sense of information, and, out of this: order, attach values, priorities, significances … and ultimately establish our position. Thus, ‘note-making’ is meaning-making, or at least an essential component of meaning-making. Hence the need to make sure our note-making is fit for purpose!

Active, critical note-making can help us to bridge the gap between the researching and writing-up aspects of working on assignments, creating a beneficially more organic and interlinking relationship between these two component parts, as will be discussed below.

Moreover, it can help as eradicate chances of the following scenario occurring when it comes to commencing writing (a problem with which many students will identify):

Thus, ideally we want a model of note-making that not only compels us to critically engage with the evidencebut one which also facilitates for the organic interaction of our critical-thinking and writing.
The critically-analytical model of note-making we’re going to focus on here is an adaptation of Cornell note-making, applied to independent research.

Cornell Note-Making:The Basics - Click to reveal information

 

Cornell Note-Making was invented in the 1950s as a lecture note-making tool by Walter Pauk, an education professor at Cornell University, and published in How to Study in College.
In Cornell, the student divides the page vertically in two, the right hand column being twice the width of the left-hand column. Additionally a third section is created at the bottom of the page, usually containing about 5-7 lines (or two inches) from the bottom of the page.

In the right-hand ‘note-taking column’ the student records notes during the lecture – not trying to write everything down, but paraphrasing and summarising while trying to listen carefully for understanding.

Immediately following the lecture, or as soon as possible, the student should then fill in the ‘cue’ column. The purpose is both to supplement the content to the right and to mark up key points in relation to that content. The section can be used to do a number of things, but the main aim is to ensure that all the information in the larger column makes full sense, for example:

  • filling-out (expanding upon) information, filling-in any gaps;
  • Identifying key points, key questions, or clarifications, or adding headings so we can see the main topics at a glance;
  • Identifying points we are not sure we fully understand or are incomplete, and therefore needing further investigation.

This process of reviewing our notes in this way and supplementing these with the ‘cue’ information in the left-hand column is seen to enhance our understanding of the topic.
Finally, within 24 hours, while information and memory of the class is still relatively fresh, the student must review and reflect on the content in the two columns and write a summary of this content, mainly in their own words, in the section at the bottom of the page. This process, it is argued, further enhances the student’s understanding of the topic.

Crucially, the addition of content in the left-hand column, along with the summary at the bottom, should ensure that the notes will make very clear sense when viewed later, whether weeks, months or even years after attending the class.

Now let’s think about the potential for a Cornell approach in the context of independent study.

Cornell for independent study
The image below demonstrates how, when note-making for assignments, our critical thinking can be enhanced if we develop a system that compels us to think deeply and to record this thinking at the point at which we acquire the information. 
This is in direct contrast to the tendency many of us have to collect information, and only when beginning to write up really seriously think about how we will use that content.

With this adaptation of Cornell, we divide the page in the same way as before, though note the slightly different section headings. Oh, and do whatPilgrim says below...

 

Click here for a print-friendly version (opens as three-page PDF)

A key aspect of all this is that this adaptation of Cornell puts us through a formal process of three distinct but interlinked stages of writing, and through the process of writing we learn. It doesn’t have to be Cornell that helps us achieve this: we can achieve this through more conventional forms of note-making, provided we are disciplined enough to ask the critical questions and get our thinking down on the page
Writing To Learn

What this is, therefore, is a writing to learn justification for adopting a method like Cornell. To read about Writing To Learn,

Cornell Note-Making:The Basics - Click to reveal information

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Writing To Learn: a quick note
In the truest sense, Writing To Learn (WTL) in practice takes place in the classroom as directed writing-based learning activities. In order to facilitate students’ understanding of their subjects of study, typically,

writing-to-learn activities are short, impromptu or otherwise informal writing tasks that help students think through key concepts or ideas presented in a course (WAC Clearinghouse, Colorado State University).


Yet, the same principles are at play in the Cornell model advocated above (despite the process of researching for our assignments being much more longer-form and self-directed), because:

Although how writing fosters critical thinking is not clear (Appleby), theoreticians and practitioners alike agree that writing promotes both critical thinking and learning (See Adams, Britton, Bruner, Emig, Herrington, Knoblauch and Brannon, Odell, Parker […]) (WAC Clearinghouse).

With WTL, ‘the goal of writing to learn exercises is learning rather than a finished writing product’, built on the assumption that ‘being able to explain or express concepts in ones’ own words both builds and reflects understanding’ (Writing Across the Curriculum, Wikipedia).

Therefore, in class-based writing activities, tutors are ‘discouraged from paying attention to grammar and surface mechanics’, concentrating instead on how students develop understanding (Writing Across the Curriculum, Wikipedia).

Applied to the Cornell note-making model as advocated above, the tutor-assessor will of course never get to see our research-notes (unless submission of our notes forms a component of the assignment), and so all three component sections of Cornell, and especially the third ‘summary’ section, afford us a safe space to use our writing to develop our understanding.

Want to read more? Really?!?
WTL as a framework for enhancing understanding sits alongside/belongs within Writing In the Disciplines (WID). WID typically involves formal assignments that are designed to develop students’ understandings of specific discourse conventions in their subject of study.

Both WTL and WID belong within the Writing Across the Curriculum (WAC) movement that emerged in the 1970s and remains a strong force in US HE institutions to this day, often formalised within dedicated Writing Centres.

While there are several such formalised outposts of WAC-thinking within UK HE institutions, WTL and WID approaches can be seen as having a wider influence on educationalists in the UK and an influence in the development of the Academic Literacies (AL) movement.

WAC itself fits within the Constructivist learning theory tradition (which, in essence, recognises that all knowledge is constructed) and can be seen as one of numerous frameworks and models that accord with principles of Student-Centred Learning (where the student is ‘active’ – that is, centred in, and central to, the learning experience – and constructs meaning via a combination of prior learned experiences and new information, instead of being a ‘passive’ recipient of knowledge as per traditional, ‘transmissive’ models of teaching and learning).

There’s a lot more to all of this than there’s space to go into here, including recognition of power relationships that WAC and other models of Student-Centred Learning seek to redress as part of foregrounding the student in learner-centred models of education.

By power relationships, this means recognizing the inherent power held by ‘specialized discourse communities as knowledge-making entities’ (Writing Across the Curriculum, Wikipedia), which in traditional models of learning place the student at a disadvantage as novice outsider.
Hence the emphasis on student-centred learning in which the student is valued as a participant member of the learning community.

WID and WAC seek to provide the tools via which students can become proficient writers within the academic and professional discourse conventions of their discipline; other models of Student Centred Learning arguably go much further (for example, Problem-based Learning, Students As Producers), as they can be seen more actively seek to centre the student in the generation of new knowledge through inquiry, but it is through this understanding of traditionally unequal power relationships requiring some redress that WAC and other models of Student-Centred Learning may also be seen to accord to models Social Constructionist educational theory.

(However, this information is really just intended to provide background context, the main point here being to emphasise the value of understanding the importance of our writing as facilitating our learning).

It does however help to explain how students with no prior familiarity with learner-centred approaches, i.e., used to ‘soaking up’ knowledge through transmissive/passive models of teaching/learning, may experience frustrations when first encountering more student-centred approaches that explicitly require students to understand they are agents of inquiry and knowledge-creation.

Phweww!!! Don’t blame me! You chose to click to open this box!
The Wikipedia page cited above offers an informed summary of the WAC movement, with links to serious sources. Never let it be said that all information on Wikipedia is untrustworthy!

An example of this approach in practice: Watchmen

So far, we’ve looked at all this purely in the abstract. Time, therefore, for an example to demonstrate the benefits of a system like Cornell in-action.
Click on this 2-page PDF for an example of the use of Cornell-in-practice; this shows how detailed our critical thinking can get using Cornell for close analysis of a topic, even if we know little or nothing about that topic when we begin our searching.
Here, the student is making critical notes for the following assignment topic:

To what extent, and why, should Alan Moore’s Watchmen graphic novel (1987), be seen as important or significant?

Watchmen book cover

Alan Moore (writer) and Dave Gibbons (artist), images from Watchmen.
Left: cover of Watchmen graphic novel (1st edition, 1987);
source: Destroy The Cyborg (accessed 28 Aug 2015).
Right: cover of Watchmen graphic novel (unknown edition, unknown date);
source: The Comic Book Teacher (accessed 28 Aug 2015).

Both images copyright ©1987, 2015, DC Comics, a Warner Bros. Entertainment Company.

 

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Critical questioning: a few hints
“OK, I get this critical questioning malarkey, but what kind of thoughts and reflections should I be recording ...?
That will very much depend on the nature of your enquiry and exact topic-in-question …

however, Click here for a few tips that may help you get going.

This whole section on building our argument and being academic is very much concerned with how essential it is to understand that we cannot truly write academically if we do not engage with evidence academically.

So much hinges on our ability to engage in a meaningful, in-depth, critical way with the evidence.  How we engage with evidence to develop our knowledge and understanding of any topic is critical to how successfully we may write academically. If we don’t engage meaningfully – in an academic way - with the evidence, how can we hope to write academically about a topic, other than to ‘ape’ academic writing in only a surface-level, superficial sense?

Iceberg image  

The Iceberg image emphasises the intrinsic interrelationship between, on the one hand, ‘academic writing’ in a formal stylistic sense (the ‘tip of the iceberg’: surface-level-considerations: category 1) and, on the other hand, genuinely making sense of information in an academic way (developing our thinking, so that we can ultimately building our argument through careful consideration of the ideas of others: category 2: the ‘hidden’ part of the iceberg).

It’s important to stress that the iceberg is still one single object. It’s just that we often obsess about the visible tip of the iceberg, to the point that we risk neglecting consideration of the hidden aspects below the surface.

It’s also important to emphasise the organic relationship between writing and making sense of information. Writing is an essential part of how we make sense of information: we write to learn. The process of writing – how we take notes, how we feel our way into understanding of topics, how we evolve our thinking – is critical to our ‘being academic’.

 

Our success is very much determined by this: we need to be writing as we evolve our assignments, from initial planning right through to our final drafts. Thus, writing is integral to what we do in category 2, not just category 1.

That stated, we do also need to think of academic writing ‘in-and-of-itself’: category 1. It’s important that we communicate in an appropriately academic style, as this helps us to reinforce the genuinely academic approach we have adopted in engaging with our topic.

In other words, we don’t want to invest our time and energy into developing a detailed understanding of the complexities of any debate, only to undermine the ‘academicness’ of our investigation through shortcomings or inappropriate forms of written communication.
So, let’s think about this now.

Click on the PDF image on the right (‘Academic Writing In Practice’) for a detailed discussion around ‘3rd’ versus ‘1st person’ writing (‘passive’ versus ‘active voice’), which addresses some of the complexities ... including choices some of us may have in introducing selected 1st person elements to enhance our academic writing.

 

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