Monday, March 16, 2009

Writing tips

Assoc. Prof. Jiuyong Li is a noted researcher in the field of Data Mining who uses English as an additional language. We asked him for his top five writing tips for students who also use English as an additional language. This is what he had to share:

  1. Be confident. If you can write good in your mother tongue, you can write good in English.
  2. Try not to translate. Translation needs much higher skills than writing in English. Just write in English.
  3. Write in simple and short sentences. They are effective.
  4. Use words that you do understand. Try to avoid complicated words.
  5. Try not to use "can" in scientific writing. The word makes a statement weaker than without it.
Simple, easy to follow advice that can be applied to almost any scientific paper.


Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Writing with pictures, voice AND words

An academic by the name of Erica McWilliam (2007) recently suggested something radical. That is, in the new internet age (commonly referred to as Web 2.0), pictures and sound are just as important as words in communicating.

Some first year students in Electrical and Energy Systems here at Mawson Lakes are showing that learning is a fluid and dynamic process. The production of e-clips required the writing up of storyboards and uses the written word for feedback and introductions. The product, though, is visual. Thanks, James, for this one:

The concept of using e-clips at Mawson Lakes was engineered by Diana Quinn from the Learning and Teaching Unit and Course Coordinator, Zorica Nedic.

The students were asked to take a key concept in their course and produce a 3 minute YouTube video which would, in turn, teach other students. Diana said 'the clips were to represent the students personal take on the topic and they were encouraged to put their personalities into the e-clip'.

Now - that's thinking outside the square! AND aren't our students CLEVER! You can see more e-clips here.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Kicking goals with referencing

One of the best ways to attract high marks is to demonstrate your skill, creativity and understanding when it comes to using references.

A favorite starting point for a lecturer who marks your work is often your reference list. If you can show breadth of reading (evidence), use quality sources and show you know how to use the literature critically and constructively, your chances of scoring goals (or marks) will be higher. It's as simple as that.

In all cases, you can regard the literature as the chief defender of your point of view or position on a particular subject. Without good supporting references, properly presented (with a recognised referencing system), your chances of scoring goals are significantly diminished.

Learning advisers have produced some 'must have' resources for referencing:

Harvard Referencing Guide


Reading Log

Avoiding plagiarism

The subjectivity/objectivity scale

Andrea's 'Kicking Goals' PowerPoint

Best of luck with your writing adventures.


Sunday, September 14, 2008

Is your future in research?

The Living Research Book Library starts this week!

Book now for your opportunity to meet a famous researcher and ask for advice on your research career.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Map your way through the 'thought' jungle

From this:

(Zimmer, n.d.)

To this

(Hayes, G n.d. )

Writing in the Sciences devotees were recently treated to Susanna Carter's popular Mind Mapping workshop where she explored the work of Mind Mapping Guru, Tony Buzan.

Mind Mapping is definitely the buzz in planning work and synthesising knowledge at the moment. Susanna described it as 'enjoyable' and 'highly effective because it uses many parts of the brain'. She also explained how Mind Mapping cuts down on words, paper, superfluous notes and wasted time as concepts are chrystalised and simplified into colourful diagrams.

Here are some links from Susanna's homepage:

Tony Buzan's website

Mind map exchange website

Mind Brain Education

Lumosity - games to speed up your brain!

Neuroscience and cognition - an excellent blog

Thanks, Susanna!


Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The 7 C's of highly effective oral presentations for engineering students

A recent workshop with some Advanced Mechanical Engineering students from Singapore (hi guys!) reminded me of the famous 5 C's which I encountered when I used to teach there a few years back.

C= Credit Card C= Condominium C= Cash C= Car C= Career

When I asked the students to come up with some attributes of what they thought were the hallmarks of effective oral presentations, the C's came to the fore again. Here's what they came up with:

Be Concise and Compress what you need to say:

Nobody wants to sit through a boring speech. Eliminate waffle through rehearsal and careful planning.

Think structure in the same way you would for a piece of written work. Rehearsal will enable you to give your presentation to time.

Sometimes it helps to start with a little anecdote or survey the audience with a quick poll to get them involved. The introduction should address each small section of your presentation in the order in which it comes in your presentation. In the summary, it is good to look to the future: what needs to be done next? What does the future hold? What are some of the implications of what you found.


Explain technical terms well - don't make assumptions of your listener. Use everyday anecdotes and examples to show how what you are doing is linked to industry and 'real life' so that it becomes meaningful for your audience. 'Academese' (dense terminology and convoluted language) bores the listener. Simplifying complex terms and applications shows how clever you really are!


Use a mixture of styles. Sometimes it helps to move from PowerPoint slides to overhead transparencies to little stories which move the audience attention from wall to wall to speaker.

Also, make sure you use plenty of modulation in your voice when you speak. Pause for emphasis and avoid the monotone. This can be achieved by not relying on your PowerPoint slides or transparencies too much.


A smile is worth a great deal in a presentation. Connect with your audience so that they feel you value them. Create a respectful environment by dressing for the occasion. (Do avoid leaning on the wall/tables etc - I have seen this. It is NOT a good look! :) ) Also, look as though you are actually enjoying yourself!


One of the most often rewarded aspects of academic writing is where the student can point out limitations, weaknesses or areas where the experiment or project could have been 'done better'.

What worked? What was good? What was surprising? What were the limitations or constraints? What needs to be done for the future? What did you learn about yourself or the project as a researcher?

These questions are the stuff of higher order thinking and lecturers are pleased when they crop up.


Once again - avoid the monotone. One way you can convince an audience of your passion for a project is to make eye contact with the audience. Perhaps the most enduring piece of advice I have ever read about oral presentations is to make eye contact with individuals (not walls!)

In conclusion, nerves befuddle even the best public speakers. The first time I ever had to speak in front of a large group of students (around 250 at City West) I was perfectly composed from the waist up. However, I was grateful for the lectern as my legs shook uncontrollably - thankfully out of view of the students!

I think my best tip is for you to prepare well and rehearse. That way you can be quite CONFIDENT that you will do very well.

Do you have any oral presentation stories or tips for other students? You can post anonymously; use your name or log on as a Google Blogger.

Andrea Duff

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Wynton's waxings on Wikipedia

Wynton Heading, (soon-to-be-retired) Manager of Academic Library Services at UniSA, launched this year's Writing in the Sciences series with a somewhat scathing attack on Wikipedia - the collaborative 'free encyclopedia that anyone can edit'.

'The problem with Wikipedia is the 'anyone' aspect', says Wynton. This has led to lots of discussion about whether it should be used in the University context.

Wynton used an example of the Wikipedia entry on climate change, to highlight the subjectivity involved in the use of Wikipedia:

The excerpt here is clearly full of biases which do not add to the serious debate or body of evidence around climate change.

Wynton readily acknowledges Wikipedia is a useful source for background reading and even praises the mega-website for pointing out parts where 'citation' is needed. However, Wynton points to the more scholarly sources of the UniSA library databases * as being the best way to go for an academic piece of writing.

Here are but a few:
  • Web of Science (a five star database, according to Wynton)
  • Scopus
  • Inspec
  • Compendex
  • IEEEXplore
  • Academic Search Premier
He also mentioned Google Scholar as an 'invaluable' tool because it can trawl through most of what is on the UniSA library web.

Best of luck with your retirement, Wynton!


* Apologies to our Writing in the Science visitors who are unable to get into password protected resources at UniSA

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Writing in the Sciences - Kicking goals, getting the high marks

This blog started out as an accompanying reflection on the Writing in the Sciences series which is usually run here at Mawson Lakes in SP5. As you can see, the reflections have rolled on beyond the purpose for which the blog was originally intended!

Now the face-to-face workshops have returned. Here are the first three offerings, with more to come:

Will I or won't I use Wikipedia?

What is a good source for writing in the sciences and engineering? Where do you find the best sources? Is there a place for Wikipedia and why the controversy? To Google or not to Google...

Mind mapping

Mind mapping is a wonderful tool to organise your ideas and structure your work. Susanna Carter is the resident Learning Adviser mind mapping expert. Book early for this popular workshop.

Kicking goals with referencing

One of the best ways to attract good marks is to know how to use references purposefully, correctly and in ways which add authority to your writing. This workshop is a gold passport to moving your work up a grade!

Book early, avoid disappointment

The Writing in the Sciences team

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Grappling with grammar

Feeling tense about tense? Are you cool, calm and collected about collectives? Are you singular about getting plurals right?

So sorry for the puns - sometimes it's just irresistible!!

We have lots of resources to get your grammar in shape. Regardless of your sphere of writing (engineering, computer science, maths) nothing cheapens a sentence more than glaring grammar errors.

Here is a quick review of some grammar goodies (as you can see, this Learning Adviser is hooked on alliteration).

Andrea (on behalf of Helen)

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Should I do a PhD?