Using information

La Trobe University Library La Trobe Library

Using information

Achieve@Uni
La Trobe University Library La Trobe Library

Using information

Achieve@Uni
La Trobe University Library La Trobe Library

Using information

Achieve@Uni

In your own words

In academic writing you usually need to build an argument supported by evidence from your reading and research: 

  • what is original in your writing is the way you explain and evaluate the ideas you have read, your choice of evidence, and your conclusions. We call this your 'voice' in writing.

Example 1 - Essay

You are doing an assessment on the relationship between lifestyle factors such as diet, and the risk of developing cancer.  After checking different sources, you find good evidence for a link between cancer and two aspects of diet: calorie-intake and alcohol consumption.

Evidence for your conclusion:

“Obesity leads to a limited but real increase of cancer risk and mortality, possibly due to an over-stimulation of mTOR-related pathways. Minimising those stimuli by limiting calorie-intake and the number of meals eaten per day is recommended” (Wicki & Hagmann, 2011, w. 13250).

“If we assume causality, among men and women, 10% (95% confidence interval 7 to 13%) and 3% (1 to 5%) of the incidence of total cancer was attributable to former and current alcohol consumption in the selected European countries. For selected cancers the figures were 44% (31 to 56%) and 25% (5 to 46%) for upper aerodigestive tract, 33% (11 to 54%) and 18% (-3 to 38%) for liver, 17% (10 to 25%) and 4% (-1 to 10%) for colorectal cancer for men and women, respectively, and 5.0% (2 to 8%) for female breast cancer. A substantial part of the alcohol attributable fraction in 2008 was associated with alcohol consumption higher than the recommended upper limit: 33,037 of 178,578 alcohol related cancer cases in men and 17,470 of 397,043 alcohol related cases in women” (Schütze, Boeing, Pischon, et al., 2011, d. 1584).

You write:

There is evidence that the incidence and mortality rates for a number of cancers can be traced to specific dietary factors. In particular, alcohol has been shown to be strongly associated with cancer, particularly stomach, liver, colorectal and breast cancer (in women) (Schütze, Boeing, Pischon, et al., 2011, d. 1584).  Another diet-related risk factor is obesity, possibly because of its association with excessive and frequent calorie-intake (Wicki & Hagmann, 2011, w. 13250).

Exercise 1:

Use the same research evidence to write your own paragraph about how individuals can reduce their risk of cancer. Compare your paragraph to the example at the bottom on this page.

Example from a journal article:

When researching for your assessments, notice how authors use sources from the research literature to support their argument.  Noticing how different authors use sources, will help you improve how you do this in your own writing.  In her article, Andrade (2010), uses the research literature to argue that student self and peer feedback, and self-regulation are effective methods for improving learning, see the following example:

  • Research has indicated that feedback tends to promote learning and achievement if delivered correctly, however most students get little informative feedback on their work.

Now notice how the author provides three different sets of evidence, one for each point she makes in the sentence:

Research has indicated that feedback tends to promote learning and achievement (Bangert-Drowns, Kulik, Kulik, & Morgan, 1991; Brinko, 1993; Butler & Winne, 1995; Crooks, 1988; Hattie & Timperley, 2007; Kluger & DeNisi, 1996) if delivered correctly (Shute, 2008); however, most students get little informative feedback on their work (Black & Wiliam, 1998).

(Andrade, 2010, p. 91)

Exercise 2:

Now read the whole paragraph.

Research has indicated that feedback tends to promote learning and achievement (Bangert-Drowns, Kulik, Kulik, & Morgan, 1991; Brinko, 1993; Butler & Winne, 1995; Crooks, 1988; Hattie & Timperley, 2007; Kluger & DeNisi, 1996) if delivered correctly (Shute, 2008); however, most students get little informative feedback on their work (Black & Wiliam, 1998).  Fortunately, research also shows that students themselves can be useful sources of task feedback via self-assessment (Andrade, Du, & Wang, 2008; Ross, Rolheiser, & Hogaboam-Gray, 1999) and effective producers of process and regulation feedback via self-regulation (Boekhaerts, Pintrich, & Zeidner, 2000; Nicol & McFarlane-Dick, 2006; Zimmerman & Schunk, 2001).  Because self-assessment and self-regulation involve students in thinking about the quality of their own products and processes rather than relying on their teacher as the sole source of evaluative judgments (or getting no feedback at all), they are key elements of formative assessment.

(Andrade, 2010, p. 91)

The author makes five main points (or arguments) in this paragraph:

  1. feedback is important for learning
  2. self-regulation can produce useful feedback on learning processes
  3. feedback is only useful if done correctly
  4. self-assessment can provide a useful source of feedback on task performance, and
  5. students don’t get enough feedback from teachers.

Use the relevant number to match each point with supporting evidence, as per first point:

Arguments Evidence
(1) Bangert-Drowns, Kulik, Kulik, & Morgan, 1991; Brinko, 1993; Butler & Winne, 1995; Crooks, 1988; Hattie & Timperley, 2007; Kluger & DeNisi, 1996
  Black & Wiliam, 1998
  Shute, 2008
  Boekhaerts, Pintrich, & Zeidner, 2000; Nicol & McFarlane-Dick, 2006; Zimmerman & Schunk, 2001
  Andrade, Du, & Wang, 2008; Ross, Rolheiser, & Hogaboam-Gray, 1999

Example answer for Exercise 1:

The research suggests two ways that individuals can modify their diet to reduce the risk of developing cancer.  Firstly, it is important to ensure that alcohol consumption remains within the recommended limits (Schütze, Boeing, Pischon, et al., 2011, d. 1584). Secondly, they should restrict the amount of calories they consume as well as reduce the frequency of meals (Wicki & Hagmann, 2011, w. 13250).

Answer to Exercise 2:

Arguments Evidence
(1) Bangert-Drowns, Kulik, Kulik, & Morgan, 1991; Brinko, 1993; Butler & Winne, 1995; Crooks, 1988; Hattie & Timperley, 2007; Kluger & DeNisi, 1996
(5) Black & Wiliam, 1998
(3) Shute, 2008
(2) Boekhaerts, Pintrich, & Zeidner, 2000; Nicol & McFarlane-Dick, 2006; Zimmerman & Schunk, 2001
(4) Andrade, Du, & Wang, 2008; Ross, Rolheiser, & Hogaboam-Gray, 1999

In academic writing you need to refer to the existing research or literature on your topic.  Your first task is to find the relevant literature, then organise your findings as follows:

  • chronologically (arranged by time periods, e.g. from earliest to latest)
  • thematically (arranged by topics, concepts or themes, e.g. environmental effects)
  • compare and contrast (e.g. advantages of X; disadvantages of X compared to Y etc).

For each source, think about:

  • which aspect of the topic does it address?
  • which theory or approach does it use?
  • does the author agree or disagree with other authors?
  • how credible is this source, e.g., is it widely cited by other authors?

Looking at all of the literature you have identified, ask yourself?

  • what do most authors think?
  • are there any gaps in the literature (i.e., where little or no research has been done)?
  • based on what you have read, what do you conclude?

Key steps to take when integrating other peoples’ ideas into your essay:

  • your writing should guide your reader through the different sources on your topic, beginning with a general description of the existing literature, for example: 
    • research into ... has a long history.  However, previous research findings have been inconsistent and contradictory (Smith, 1996; …).
  • you will usually need to indicate how the different sources address different aspects of the topic, for example: 
    • the majority of the studies reviewed in this paper draw on one of three main explanatory theories. The first of these is…
  • you should also highlight any areas of agreement and disagreement between the different authors; for example:
    • these authors agree with each other: Smith argues that …  similarly, Jones (2013) asserts that … OR both Smith (2013) and Jones (2016) agree that … 
    • these authors disagree with each other Smith (2013) found that ... accounted for 30% of ... however, other researchers who have looked at ... have found that Jones (2010), for example, found… OR 
    • a number of researchers (e.g. Jones, Green & Woolly, 2014; Smith and Hoffman, 2015) assert that … on the other hand, Smith (2016) has argued that …
  • remember to include sufficient comment and evaluation of your own, so that your own essay is not dominated by your sources. Your essay should contain a mixture of your sources’ ideas and your evaluation and commentary on the sources and the ideas or arguments (see 'How can my work be original?').
  • you may also need to draw some conclusions about the literature you have reviewed, for example:
    • together these studies provide strong evidence for…

Further information: phrasebank.manchester.ac.uk/referring-to-sources/

 (based on phrasebank.manchester.ac.uk/referring-to-sources/)

 

Where you place the citation in your sentence depends on whether you are focusing on the author, the text, or the idea

  • Is your assignment about a particular topic, for example the history of sectarian violence?  In this case you would have to highlight the ideas rather than the authors, and in this way there is less risk of not adding your voice.  So you would focus on the idea and place the reference at the end, although it’s necessary, it’s not the most important piece of information, e.g.

"The worst sectarian violence in our history occurred in Melbourne in 1846 when Catholic and Protestant mobs fired on each other on the anniversary of the Battle of the Boyne" (Hirst 2009, p. 14).

  • Is your assignment about who has studied sectarian violence? Then the author may need to be the focus:

Hirst (2009, p. 14) claimed that "the worst sectarian violence in our history occurred in Melbourne in 1846 when Catholic and Protestant mobs fired on each other on the anniversary of the Battle of the Boyne". 

  • Is your assignment about a particular research area? Then the actual research work is the focus:

A recent study (Charalambou & Harrison 2009, pp. 48-49) has shown that due to a lack of suitable employment, people are moving from rural communities to the city.

To maintain your own voice in your writing, you will need to have the words to talk about other people’s ideas and you also need to know the way the author is expressing his/her ideas:

  • Are they making a claim?
  • Are they arguing a point?
  • Are they reporting results?
  • Are they making an assumption?

It’s not good enough to simply say that “Bloggs says ….”. Nor is it enough to use different words just to vary your vocabulary, e.g., Bloggs reports/ points out/ claims/ asserts/ assumes/ argues/ notes/ mentions, etc. Each of these words means something different.

  • For example, if you say that Bloggs “asserts” or “claims” that World War Two ended in 1945, you’re going to look foolish, because a claim can be made only about something that is not established fact
  • In another example, if you say that Bloggs “mentions” something that is in fact Bloggs’ main idea, it will look like you didn’t recognise it as her main idea – “to mention” something means to give it only brief attention

These kinds of words are called Reporting Verbs:

  • they are used to demonstrate one of the most fundamental academic processes, that we construct knowledge by sharing, discussing and contesting ideas
  • so it matters who says what, and how they say it, and how it relates to the things that other scholars have said
  • so you need to be aware of how different scholars’ ideas are related, and to reflect that awareness in your writing

Reporting verbs not only differ in terms of the author’s aim or stance, they also differ in strength. Some of these words are rather neutral, and others indicate a stronger attitude by the author. There is a place for all of these when reporting on the opinions and claims of other authors – there are no ‘better’ or ‘worse’ options here.  It just depends on how strongly or lightly or tentatively the writer you are citing is making his or her point.  Here is a table of these different reporting verbs:

For example, there is a marked difference between these two examples:

Jones implies that investors were waiting to see whether the policy would change after the election (Jones, 2012, p. 56).  

Jones refutes that investors were waiting to see whether the policy would change after the election (Jones, 2012, p. 56).  

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