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  • 00:10

    KATE COWAN: My name is Kate Cowan.I'm a researcher at UCL Institute of Education.And my research involves young children's playand communication and digital technologies, in particular.I'm currently working as a senior teachingfellow on the early years MA in education.And together, with Dominic Wyse, we'vewritten the fourth edition of The Good Writing Guidefor Education Students.

  • 00:31

    KATE COWAN [continued]: So today we're going to have a bit of a conversationabout what good writing involves,what writing involves, and how to improve academic writing.

  • 00:39

    DOMINIC WYSE: And I'm Dominic Wyse.I'm professor of early childhood and primary educationat UCL Institute of Education.I have a longstanding interest and have done researchinto writing and literacy.And I've just spent four years in a rather broader lookat writing than is my traditional focus.

  • 01:02

    DOMINIC WYSE [continued]: But I've also been very much lookingat academic writing for students.

  • 01:12

    KATE COWAN: So what are the best ways to research and understandwriting?

  • 01:16

    DOMINIC WYSE: From my point of view,I think we need to approach any topicin a multidisciplinary way.I often begin with philosophy, and so with the topicof writing, philosophy, I think, is an important place to begin.And of course, the alphabet was bornin the time of the ancient Greeks,and so the philosophers started talking about it straight away.

  • 01:39

    DOMINIC WYSE [continued]: But also linguistics is an important partof how we think about writing, and educationis an important part of how we think about writing.And I think one final thing I wouldthrow in to this multidisciplinary wayof thinking is music.

  • 01:60

    DOMINIC WYSE [continued]: And I think music is a particular form,some would say even a language.But because music is both oral and writtenand because writing or language is both of those,it seems to me to be quite an important comparator.So within philosophy, history, social cultural thinking,

  • 02:26

    DOMINIC WYSE [continued]: within that multidisciplinary focus, I think perhaps,can emerge new knowledge about writing.

  • 02:37

    KATE COWAN: Do you have any good stories about writing?

  • 02:40

    DOMINIC WYSE: Well, this period of workthat I've done on writing, one little parts of itwas uncovering things that I thoughtwere curious or sometimes quite revelatory.And I'm going to choose a musical example,but it brings together nicely the writing of musicand the writing of text and the stories.

  • 03:02

    DOMINIC WYSE [continued]: So there's a beautiful moment in the film, Amadeus,where Amadeus Mozart, the great composer, is in his deathbed,literally dying, and dictating the wordsand music of the "Requiem," and it'sbeing called the "Requiem" for his own deathbecause sadly, Mozart died while composing the "Requiem."

  • 03:24

    DOMINIC WYSE [continued]: it was then completed by two of his pupils.It's been completed, I think, five times nowup to the present day.It was a mysterious commission.The stories around the "Requiem" are legion.There are many, some of which bear no factual basis at all.So the facts are not very many, but it's a work

  • 03:46

    DOMINIC WYSE [continued]: that, obviously, it has the words of the Requiem mass.So it has words, of course.It, of course, has music.It has some of the most sublime music ever written.It's stood the test of hundreds of years,so is regarded as an exemplary piece of creativity.And then there are stories within the stories.So one story which is pretty tragic, really,

  • 04:09

    DOMINIC WYSE [continued]: quite apart from the tragedy of Mozart's deathis the one of only two original scoresthat we have left in the world wereput on display in a big exhibition,I think, in 1850, as I recall.And somebody tore out the very last wordsthat Mozart wrote before he died.And the words were, "Da capo," which means

  • 04:31

    DOMINIC WYSE [continued]: go back to another part of the score.So somebody tore it out.And I've got the image, permission to use the image,and you can see there's is a little bit of tear in the page.And it's really heartbreaking that somebodywould do that and just presumablyfor their own satisfaction to keep the very last words

  • 04:52

    DOMINIC WYSE [continued]: that Mozart wrote.So there are lots of stories like that.And there's a really brilliant bookthat's been written about what's calledthe reception of the "Requiem."So this person is taken seriously all these storiesand relate to them to their factual bases or otherwise.So for me, it's such a powerful example

  • 05:12

    DOMINIC WYSE [continued]: of how writing is combined in so many wayswithin one artistic artifact.

  • 05:24

    KATE COWAN: What would you say aresome of the most interesting momentsin the history of writing?

  • 05:29

    DOMINIC WYSE: Well, I've discoveredjust so many fascinating aspects of how writing developed.The birth of the alphabet and how, obviously, itdidn't just suddenly happen.It was preceded by other scripts and things.So one thing I found was on a study trip to Toronto.

  • 05:52

    DOMINIC WYSE [continued]: Opposite my hotel, there was a museum and National Museum.I went in and I said, well, have you got anythingabout writing in the museum?And the information staff said, oh, no.We don't think so.So I went and had a look around, and I found a 4,000-year-oldclay tablet with what you could say is the first ever pupil

  • 06:14

    DOMINIC WYSE [continued]: exercise book in inverted commas because obviously it's a claytablet.And the pupils that imprinted the cuneiform ABC usingread, repetitively making these marks.But it was such an extraordinary-- and theexhibition in the museum was fabulous as well,small but really fascinating.And I went back down.

  • 06:35

    DOMINIC WYSE [continued]: I asked the people at the desk, Isaid you've got a fantastic display of writing.And they said, well, if you'd said language,we would have pointed you there.Now that's part of the story, actually, of writing.It's been neglected in research forever.And even now other things such as reading, for example,continue to attract more attention.

  • 06:56

    DOMINIC WYSE [continued]: There is much more research for writing now but, anyway,So that clay tablet was one amazing moment for meto discover it and see it and nowhave the permission to use an image from the museum.

  • 07:07

    KATE COWAN: And thinking about todaywould you say that writing is changing still?

  • 07:11

    DOMINIC WYSE: Absolutely.Well, of course, an area that youknow a great deal about, the digital forms,absolutely fascinating to me.My feeling is having done the workon writing is that there's more than ever of it,it's just in a wider range of forms.Absolutely, when we say writing, we

  • 07:32

    DOMINIC WYSE [continued]: don't just mean text or words.We mean images and you would say, no doubt, gestures,and I would agree with that.So yeah, absolute explosion of writing.And the English language is part of that explosionaround the world, and it's being constantly modified.

  • 07:57

    KATE COWAN: Do you think there areinteresting comparisons between writing and other forms?

  • 08:02

    DOMINIC WYSE: Yes.So I think, as I said at the beginning,music for me is a particularly interesting comparisonwith write-- so the composition of music,the composition of written text.Let me give an example.So one of the things I've done isanalyze great writers' interviews,so interviews with great writers and what do

  • 08:24

    DOMINIC WYSE [continued]: they say about how they write.And it's amazing how frequently they use metaphors about musicor they talk explicitly about music in orderto try and explain their craft.And there's a reason for that, I think,because it helps them make sense of what they do.And what they do is not always easy to get hold of

  • 08:45

    DOMINIC WYSE [continued]: because it's a mental process.So I think one of the concepts that emerged from thisis the idea of the ear of the writer, where, obviously,the ears are incredibly important in terms of music.But the ear of the writer is a metaphor,and for me it means things like the abilityto when searching for ideas, creative ideas,

  • 09:09

    DOMINIC WYSE [continued]: you have to find the right sourcesand reject the ones that are not going to be helpful in the end.And the ear, metaphorically speaking, helps that process.And then also, it helps the actual writing of the words.So to give a small example, so many writers say things like,well, I always read aloud part of what

  • 09:30

    DOMINIC WYSE [continued]: I've written to get a feeling for eventhe harmony, the rhythm.And they use these musical words to describe it.So I found multiple examples of where music is oh, well, let'stake philosophy.So even Wittgenstein in his famous works

  • 09:51

    DOMINIC WYSE [continued]: uses music directly to try and explain language.So it's present, this comparison,in many philosophical works.It's practically joined together with song, for example,in song.So it's, for me, being a really fruitful sort of exploration.

  • 10:08

    KATE COWAN: And with the ear of the readerand writer, something we spoke about in the book as well.And so what would you have to sayabout that ear for academic writing, in particular?

  • 10:18

    DOMINIC WYSE: Each different form of writing,yeah, it requires a different way of listening if you like,looking.Doesn't it?And I think the particular language of academic writingis really demanding.In fact, I was talking just yesterdayat a conference about methodology,about how the academic tribes, if you like,

  • 10:42

    DOMINIC WYSE [continued]: they frame and they build the ideas and the waythe ideas should be expressed.So I think the language of academic writingis particularly challenging.I mean, you've got examples that springto mind in terms of our work together.

  • 10:59

    KATE COWAN: I think often when students, maybestart a course it's overwhelming because there'snew terms, new vocabulary, even the sort of the phrasing that'sused in academic texts, it's different.It sounds different.It looks different.So I think for students and ourselves, actually,when we go into other disciplinesthat we're not familiar with, it's

  • 11:21

    KATE COWAN [continued]: about developing that familiaritywith the form and the norms and the terms that areusual for that type of writing.And I do think academic writing is particularlydemanding for people.So I think reading is a process, not justfor gathering information about the background of a subject,but it also helps you to tune into the way

  • 11:42

    KATE COWAN [continued]: it's been written about, but thatthen informed your own writing.

  • 11:46

    DOMINIC WYSE: Yeah.And that reminds me coming back to the academic writing.The ear of the writer, yes, it's the abilityto not only really, frankly, enjoy.It's fantastic, isn't it, when youread a piece of academic writing and you think,oh, I've never read that before.That's fantastic.It's quite exciting.But then also that ability to detach

  • 12:07

    DOMINIC WYSE [continued]: and the emotional engagement.And really, it's about how does that writer do that?What structures are they using?What language are they using?What evidence, data?Yeah, so.

  • 12:18

    KATE COWAN: Particularly when writing is very convincing.And I think, initially, students sometimesfeel convinced by everything they read because it's writtenin such an authoritative, compelling way, oftenwith some very strong opinions, but they'reput forward critically.And it's finding that balance, I think, sometimesbetween the writing persuasively and with confidence and also

  • 12:41

    KATE COWAN [continued]: having it backed up with critical evidence and careful,articulate use of language.

  • 12:46

    DOMINIC WYSE: And that reminds me of the concept of voice,where I'm constantly saying to students you need to use,frankly, a stronger voice or establish what your voice is.And you use the word authoritative,and I think you have to learn to beable to write in a way that's authoritative,but without being overconfident or with due recognition

  • 13:11

    DOMINIC WYSE [continued]: of the stage of career one is at or the level of knowledge.

  • 13:15

    KATE COWAN: And sometimes I've explained itas being like a balance.The more evidence you have for a claimthe more authoritative you can be about it, whereas,if there isn't that evidence there then itcan tend to sound like an opinion or an assertion.So it's finding the evidence for the authoritybehind those words.

  • 13:33

    DOMINIC WYSE: Absolutely.And that's where, I mean, voice is a strong ideain other types of writing.So in fiction writing, it's massively importantthat all the great writers have established their own voice.And it reminds me of Gabriel Garcia Marquez,who, before he wrote One Hundred Years of Solitude,

  • 13:54

    DOMINIC WYSE [continued]: he reckoned he'd had basically a writer's block for five years.Unusually, he knew the idea.So he had the idea for One Hundred Years of Solitude,but he said he couldn't find the right voice, even though thisis an experienced writer.And he said the thing that did itfor him was remembering how his grandmother told stories

  • 14:15

    DOMINIC WYSE [continued]: to him as a child.And he said when he adopted the voice of his grandmother,he said he then sat down, and he wrote it very quickly.

  • 14:28

    KATE COWAN: So do you think for people writing in academia,it's finding the voice of an academic?

  • 14:33

    DOMINIC WYSE: Well, I think it is.Yeah, I think that's part of the--and it's the tone, isn't it?It's the again that's the use of language.We do pay a lot of attention to single words, don't we?It's not just the job of, for example,writing coherently, which is demanding enough,

  • 14:53

    DOMINIC WYSE [continued]: but also, yes, we'll agonize, won't we? defining our terms.And we'll say, well, everyday peoplemay use that word in that way, but in this field,we use it in several different ways.So you have to say which way you're going to use that word.So yeah.

  • 15:10

    KATE COWAN: And I think sometimes defining termsis something we ask students to do,what we expect when we're readinga piece of academic writing.And it's not just to know that there'san understanding of the field, but it'sto know where people positioned themselves, isn't it?How do they understand that term and thenhow it's used throughout the writingor position, the writer.

  • 15:29

    DOMINIC WYSE: I like the positioning ideabecause it reminds us of the academic writingis not just some arcane, detached thing.Is it?It's happening in a social context.We have, let's say, students or relatively inexperiencedacademics who have to understand that the people they're citing

  • 15:51

    DOMINIC WYSE [continued]: are real people who've had careers of varying degreesand as real people, therefore, are fallibleas well as have incredible knowledge, in some cases.So yeah, I think that understanding the social sideof academia is something that Pat Thomson does very well, Ithink, and that kind of social side of academia.Pat Thomson has written some really nice work

  • 16:13

    DOMINIC WYSE [continued]: some PhD students and supervisingand also has a blog.It's a very prominent blog with loads of advice,so it's been interesting to read her stuff.So if we turn to some of the broad features,

  • 16:34

    DOMINIC WYSE [continued]: first of all, of what makes strong academic writing,what are your ideas on that?

  • 16:39

    KATE COWAN: So when I'm marking assignments and dissertations,I will always be looking for a grasp of the topicand some understanding of the subjectthat they're writing about.Alongside that, those ideas have to be put forward clearlyand structured coherently.So that's where it's not just about havingan understanding of the topic, but beingable to express that in a coherent piece

  • 17:01

    KATE COWAN [continued]: of academic writing.And key to that is always going to be strong referencing.It's a tradition that, as we know,is a huge part of academic writing.And it can be fiddly and time consuming,but it's key to show where studentsare positioning themselves, that's sortof a social side to writing.

  • 17:22

    KATE COWAN [continued]: The idea is to have informed a piece of writingcan tell you an awful lot about wherethat person's perspectives and arguments are being developedfrom.And then having that accurate referencingand the wide reading and the grasp of understanding,I would always be looking for a senseof an argument developing.I think you can patch work together interesting quotesor references or other people's arguments.

  • 17:44

    KATE COWAN [continued]: But if it doesn't somehow develop into a coherent whole,then I would feel that there was something missingfor me in a piece of academic writingthat didn't put forward an argument.But do you have other suggestions on academic--

  • 17:56

    DOMINIC WYSE: Well, I just want to underline straightaway,the line of argument, it's so fundamental.It's fundamental to academic writing,but it's fundamental to any writing in any composition,actually.There has to be a driving sort of heartor-- that's the wrong word, but somethingthat drives down the middle that holds it together.So I remember-- coming back to great writers--

  • 18:20

    DOMINIC WYSE [continued]: Philip Roth saying he wrote 200 pages.And then he said, ah, that paragraph, that'swhere the book is going to go.He then deleted the 200 pages and started from that paragraphbecause he found the kind of--the topic in music, we'd say leitmotif,and in academic writing, we say lines of argument, don't we?

  • 18:41

    DOMINIC WYSE [continued]: So the single line of argument, I think, evenin a PhD dissertation, to be honest,the 80,000 words in the social science subjecthas to be anchored around one main line of argumentsand then probably two or three around it.So I think that massively important, isn't it?And it's linked with cohesion.

  • 19:02

    DOMINIC WYSE [continued]: That's one of the main devices, isn't it, for making cohesion.Personally, it drives me slightly crazy whenI see, for example, numbering--1.2, 1.2a, 1.-- whereas, I think a good piece of writing coheresby careful placement of paragraphs and sentencesand subheadings.

  • 19:23

    DOMINIC WYSE [continued]: I think good coherence is avoiding undue repetitionor knowing when to deliberately repeat either ideas or evenoccasionally precise wording.So if we come back to the idea of defining your terms,one of the reasons define your termsso you can then just use that phrase throughout exactlythe same again and again.

  • 19:44

    DOMINIC WYSE [continued]: And I think some students, it's interestingthat they, in fact, some of them getadvised that you should vary the language,say of introducing a paragraph or whatever.It's only partially true, isn't it?Because if you're squirming to avoidusing a perfectly reasonable phrase that can be repeated

  • 20:06

    DOMINIC WYSE [continued]: without destroying the cohesion or the line of argument,then I think it's OK.

  • 20:11

    KATE COWAN: One of the ideas that wetalk about in the book is asking does it belong here,whether that's a particular word or a particular section or evena particular chapter.So I would also say that the flow of an argument, the flowof writing is what sustained that critical line of argumentall the way through.

  • 20:31

    KATE COWAN [continued]: Sometimes it can feel like you'rejumping from a topic to a topic without a clear bridgebetween them.So sometimes the writing is about crafting and makingthose links and developing, taking the readerthrough your line of argument.

  • 20:43

    DOMINIC WYSE: And this just reminded me of something.Given that you are currently finishing your dissertationand given I'm in the middle of writing a paper that I've justhad the reviews back and there's some work to do,and it just reminded me of how difficult it is, even for us,I presume, to keep this good advice in mind.Because I think when you're embedded in the process,

  • 21:05

    DOMINIC WYSE [continued]: you can't be thinking abstractly about, for example,the ear of the writer.Perhaps it's difficult to have the ear working constantlyall the time, isn't it?And it's that thing of, I think, producing text and thenbeing really good editor.That's the massively challenging thingthat you have to be able to reflect

  • 21:27

    DOMINIC WYSE [continued]: and be able to almost put a different hat on, I'd say.

  • 21:30

    KATE COWAN: And also for different audiences.So when you're writing that teachesor you're writing for an academic audienceor for students, there's likely to bea different reader in mind, whichmeans you might have to switch your ear,do you think, between--

  • 21:40

    DOMINIC WYSE: I absolutely do.Yes.

  • 21:41

    KATE COWAN: --who's listening, who's reading.

  • 21:43

    DOMINIC WYSE: Yeah.In fact, that reminds me of an experienceI had writing a piece for the conversation, which isquite a nice media outlet for--they cover a lot of research and academic work in veryattractive ways, I think.And you have to pitch an idea, and the journalistshave to accept the idea.

  • 22:04

    DOMINIC WYSE [continued]: But working with a journalist was a revelation to me.And I'm used to writing for practitioner audiences,for broader audiences reasonably successfully.But this journalist was able to shape this 1,000-word pieceso well.It was a real pleasure to work with that personwith that level of skill.

  • 22:27

    KATE COWAN: So is good academic writingmoving beyond its traditional confinesin the journal on the shelf in the libraryto differently accessible format?

  • 22:34

    DOMINIC WYSE: Absolutely.We were talking about how to communicateresearch findings, the idea that it's not justbolted on at the end.It's much more part of the overall process.Engagement is a really important part of research, so of course,elongating the timelines for research.And think, yes, I think you're right.

  • 22:55

    DOMINIC WYSE [continued]: I think there's a very sophisticated and noisy worldof communication when you draw in social media and so on.And controlling all those forms is a massive challengefor us all.

  • 23:15

    KATE COWAN: So can you say somethingabout originality in academic writing?

  • 23:19

    DOMINIC WYSE: Well, let me-- before I get directlyto academic writing.So let's think about originality in the wider world of writing.So I'm thinking fiction, play writing, screenplays, poetry.And for me, that's about creativity.So two key things for me really, important in terms

  • 23:40

    DOMINIC WYSE [continued]: of creativity.One is originality and one is the valuethat is described by viewers, listeners,audience, in some cases, over hundreds of years.So originality is obviously somethingthat has to be new to some degree,

  • 24:01

    DOMINIC WYSE [continued]: and these are all consensual opinions or judgments.So there's no absolute truth about what is original.It's just that society, in some cases, or a group of peopleagree that something is original.And nor is originality something where suddenly, out

  • 24:21

    DOMINIC WYSE [continued]: of the blue, an idea is created that no one has everthought of before.So originality, for me, is more about the very carefulselection of influences, but then genuinelymaking something that's new that buildson prior work or prior examples.

  • 24:43

    DOMINIC WYSE [continued]: So academic writing is similar in the sensethat the PhD, for example, and to a lesser degreea master's dissertation, but the issue is always in the ear.But the PhD, of course, has to make an original contributionto a defined field.

  • 25:04

    DOMINIC WYSE [continued]: And so that means however modest the contribution is,the examiners must say, yes, that's a new contribution.And then for candidates who do really well,that new contribution is then tested again insay a journal article or maybe a book,if they're fortunate to get a contract.

  • 25:24

    DOMINIC WYSE [continued]: And of course, that journal articlewill be read by referees who will say, is this original?Is it a new contribution to the field?Oh, and finally I should mention, of course,that in the UK, the Research Excellence Framework, oneof the key criteria for judging outputs, is originality.

  • 25:44

    KATE COWAN: It's often also in the A-grade criteriafor examinations, for assignments.So a very robust, wide-ranging critical argumentmight be developed even further by addingin some level of originality and creativity to it.But I think that's challenging, isn't it?

  • 26:04

    KATE COWAN [continued]: I think, on the one hand, we're expecting academic writingto contain lots of references to the existing fieldand attributing ideas to other people,but not always just standing on the shoulders of giantsto also put themselves into that and to makeinnovative connections, I think, can be a real challenge.

  • 26:26

    DOMINIC WYSE: And you've reminded me, yes,that was Einstein, I think, the standingon the shoulders of giants.But it reminded me of how just one tiny device that I oftensay to students is don't start a sentence with a citation.Put forward your idea, and then make the citation

  • 26:47

    DOMINIC WYSE [continued]: at the end of the sentence to pay due account to the personwhose ideas you're building on.And it's back to voice as well.I think your voice is weakened if you're always saying,OK, Cowan said this, or Dominic Wyse said that.Rather than saying, my view is this point, and by the way,it's also been supported by these other academics.

  • 27:10

    KATE COWAN: And I think drawing together, drawingon multiple arguments and still be creative,it can be in the way that you see connections between writersthat maybe hadn't been seen beforeor you problematize something that'sbeen written from a new angle.I think that creativity sometimes scarespeople in academic writing.I think they have to come up with a new theoryor an entirely new perspective, but sometimes it's

  • 27:32

    KATE COWAN [continued]: about seeing things in a slightly different way,would you say?

  • 27:35

    DOMINIC WYSE: I would.I think it's also about the diligent work that'shappened before.So you have to know what's already out there, don't you?Now, given there are thousands and thousands of articlesand books are being published over the decades nobodycan be on top of everything.But you have to have done sufficient workto be able to say, oh, I'm just making

  • 27:56

    DOMINIC WYSE [continued]: this small, different idea or contribution.And that's all right.You're quite right.We're not expecting to reinvent the wheelor to invent something that literally saves the planet.Although some people are doing that.

  • 28:22

    KATE COWAN: So do you think thereare any other reasons why academic writing particularlychallenging?

  • 28:27

    DOMINIC WYSE: I think it's about controllingthe language, the structure.I think this word criticality is one very challenging partof academic writing, which, obviously,you've done a lot in the book.I mean, what's your sense about criticalityis part of academic writing.

  • 28:47

    DOMINIC WYSE [continued]: Do you think that's a challenging feature?

  • 28:49

    KATE COWAN: Absolutely.It was consistently something that we were advising studentsto work on when we were marking their master's dissertations.And it's there in the mark scheme.It says provide a critical evaluationand a critical analysis and a critical reviewof the literature for the very highest grades.And I think it's a feature of writing at postgraduate level,

  • 29:10

    KATE COWAN [continued]: in particular, but some undergraduate coursesmight also have a requirement for critical writing.And yet it seems to be an elusive ethereal sortof quality.It was very hard for us to pin downwhat we were asking for, I think,and for students to be able to see how their writing was not

  • 29:30

    KATE COWAN [continued]: being critical.So that's why in the newest edition of the bookwe've put in those two new chapters that reallytry to pick apart what is critical writing,how can it be improved, what are the typical challengesfor critical writing.And I think it comes down to a mindset,I would say, actually, towards everything,

  • 29:50

    KATE COWAN [continued]: every piece of information that you encounter,every article that you read.If you have a critical mindset, youare thinking about that information from a questioningstance.You're asking, what's the evidence for this?Am I convinced?Do I believe it?What else do I know about this topic?And I think that's a really healthy stance

  • 30:11

    KATE COWAN [continued]: to have towards anything, any information weencounter, generally, but particularlyin academic writing where argumentscan be really persuasive and use lots of jargonand be put forward very authoritatively.If we always have a critical disposition for the thingsthat we read, I think that's a very healthy starting point,but then being able to write critically too.

  • 30:33

    DOMINIC WYSE: I also think one of the common traits of peopledeveloping academic writing is just to write descriptively,and some description is absolutely necessary.So we do need to know in the methodology sectionsome basic information about how many participants were thereor how many survey questions were there

  • 30:53

    DOMINIC WYSE [continued]: or how many tests were run, and that'sbasic descriptive information we have to have,and there's nothing wrong with it.But of course, then if you look at say,the literature review, then the first stepis reading, noting, and describing,and those may be personal notes for the student.

  • 31:15

    DOMINIC WYSE [continued]: And then some students when they write up the literature review,it's still too descriptive.It's list like.So what they've not done is start to synthesize, we'd say,and even critically synthesized.So synthesis is about bringing togetherdifferent studies or different theoriesinto themes, then critical synthesis, it seems

  • 31:35

    DOMINIC WYSE [continued]: to me is being able to raise questions, problematizeas you've said, and also have a personal voice,an opinion about which particular theoriesor studies are more compelling.And often, parts of that argumentshould be about rigor because some studies are

  • 31:57

    DOMINIC WYSE [continued]: more rigorous than others, whether they'reempirical or theoretical.So yeah.

  • 32:01

    KATE COWAN: And I would say that critical readingand critical writing are two sides of a similar process.So when you're reading a text criticallyasking questions of it, asking whether you're convinced,asking what the evidence is, I think then when you're writing,you should expect that same dispositionto be applied by the reader of your own writing.So when I'm reading and checking,

  • 32:22

    KATE COWAN [continued]: if I've been critical, I'm imagining a critical readerwho might take issue with some of the argumentsand ask whether there is sufficient evidence there.So I think it's a kind of holistic dispositiontowards writing, but it's definitely a challenge.

  • 32:45

    KATE COWAN [continued]: So following on from that discussion of voiceand developing a line of argument,I think the issue of quoting is sometimes quite challenging.Because we're asking students to read widely and referencewidely, but sometimes, I think, particularly if you're notsure on the topic or if you're notsure of your own academic voice yet,

  • 33:05

    KATE COWAN [continued]: then there's a tendency to includelong chunks of quotation because youfeel that somebody else has said it much better than you evercan.And so you'll see large blocks of writingbreaking up the flow of the writer's own arguments.So do you have any kind of suggestionsfor how to deal with that?

  • 33:23

    DOMINIC WYSE: Yeah.I think the main one is don't quote directly too much.So too many long quotes breaks up the flow.It's a bit weak, really because it's describing.It's not being synthesized and critically synthesized.So I think use direct quotes very sparingly.

  • 33:47

    DOMINIC WYSE [continued]: I think if we're honest, sometimeswhat we do is we need to, especially if it'scomplex theory, for example, we needto write down the quotes in orderto understand them and think about them.The process of writing them down, I think, is helpful,but that's work done behind the scenesas it were, the planning that leads into the final writing.

  • 34:10

    DOMINIC WYSE [continued]: So I tend to recommend more paraphrasing, to be honest.Because then, to paraphrase, you haveto have taken a view on and understoodwhat the other person, the other writer has said.You then have to select from that.And the language you use indicates your selectionof which bits of the idea you like and so on or don't like.

  • 34:31

    DOMINIC WYSE [continued]: Yeah.So I think that's the main thing,avoiding too many long quotes.And another thing I say is if you'regoing to have a long quote, because occasionally, there'ssomething particularly significant to the lineof argument, then you should spendat least the amount of text addressingthe quotes as the same length as the quote itself,it seems to me.

  • 34:51

    KATE COWAN: So it's not just droppedinto a piece of academic writing, but it's explained.It's relevance is explained.And that, again, perhaps comes back to the descriptionand interpretation that we were talking about,but it's being interpreted for the reader.The key term is being used purposefully,because it's a particularly central idea,or it's key to the flow of the argument,but it's also embedded within the flow of the writing.

  • 35:13

    DOMINIC WYSE: Yes.And down to even the grammar.So the grammar of the way the quote is integratedhas to work completely.And sometimes students struggle with that,but there are ways, obviously, of working out the tenses fitand that the flow of sentences works even though you'redoing something that is putting in another bit of text,

  • 35:36

    DOMINIC WYSE [continued]: which, obviously, it's a bit of a technicalityto get that right, isn't it?

  • 35:40

    KATE COWAN: And if you're paraphrasing,you're not only putting the ideas into your own words.but it potentially helps you inadvertently avoidplagiarizing too, doesn't it?Because if you put something into your own wordsin your note-making stage, then there's less of a chance thatyou would accidentally take a quote,and it might end up in an assignment or in a pieceof writing--

  • 35:59

    DOMINIC WYSE: Very good point.

  • 35:59

    KATE COWAN: --or unattributed, which maybelead to some to referencing.Why is referencing, so important,do you think, in academic writing?

  • 36:07

    DOMINIC WYSE: Well, I think we're backto the lines of argument, aren't we?Because essentially, what referencesdo-- well, first of all, they allow the reader to checkhis sources and to make an independent judgmentof whether what you're quoting, citing does, in fact,add to your argument in positive ways.

  • 36:28

    DOMINIC WYSE [continued]: So that's a very basic necessary requirement.As you've already said, in order to avoid allegationsof plagiarism, then you have to acknowledge the sourcesof the ideas you're using.But actually, I think that's a rather nice, human process.Essentially, you're just acknowledgingthat someone's had a good idea that you've used?

  • 36:49

    DOMINIC WYSE [continued]: It's a strength of academic writing, not a weakness.I think students sometimes worry that it's not their work,but of course, as we've said, it'show they orchestrate, another musical term, orchestratethe text in order to put forward a convincing line of argument.

  • 37:08

    KATE COWAN: On this topic of referencing,there's all sorts of new digital technologiesnow available that report to make it really easy.We know that referencing is the kind of fiddly, time consuming,but often gets left to the last moment, if people are honest.And this software, I think, is interestingbecause they do provide tools that can perhapssupport the storing of references

  • 37:30

    KATE COWAN [continued]: and then embedding them into your writing.But I think it's worth just flagging upthat they're not magic.They don't do all of the hard work for you.So it's about using them systematically and rigorously.And one way that I suggest students to use itand I use it myself in this way, actually,is to help with my critical understandingof the body of literature that I'm working with.

  • 37:51

    KATE COWAN [continued]: So the ways in which I store the references in my citationmanagement software helps me to groupthem into different clusters and sometimes seeconnections between different aspects of a fieldor different parts of a field.And then through making connections between themthat helps me to structure my argument around writing.

  • 38:18

    KATE COWAN [continued]: Do you want to say something about the literatureof your process and perhaps the ideaof making connections between different pieces of literature?

  • 38:25

    DOMINIC WYSE: Yeah.I mean, I think, obviously, one really important partof preparing for the literature review is clearly reading,that means collecting sources.And it means recording carefully as yougo all the necessary reference information because there'snothing worse than you found this brilliant quote

  • 38:45

    DOMINIC WYSE [continued]: or this brilliant idea that you've paraphrased.And then when you can't find the particular article or bookand so much time can be wasted, can't it?So yeah, I've for years used citation software to help.I think the main thing is these days I find just the ability

  • 39:09

    DOMINIC WYSE [continued]: to be able to put it into your reference list fully formedas it were.I mean, I have used the thing whereit can put both the citation and the referencein automatically for you.You've obviously got to input the reference informationinto the software, but actually those fieldsthat appear in your document can be a bit tricky

  • 39:31

    DOMINIC WYSE [continued]: to handle when you're editing.So I sometimes use quite straightforward copyand paste-type actions.So I think you're quite right.The clustering of themes, grouping togetherdifferent empirical studies, grouping together theories

  • 39:52

    DOMINIC WYSE [continued]: is absolutely necessary to organize a true view.I mean, as we're on sections of the dissertation,I mean, the next one is the methodology.What's your sense of that?

  • 40:02

    KATE COWAN: So I think the methodology can be a challengebecause it's not just what you did,but it's also incorporating why you did it.And that sometimes involves movingto a whole different realm of literature.So you'll have the substantive topic of the dissertation,but there will also be the methods literaturethat informs what you do.Why did you choose to do interviews and not

  • 40:23

    KATE COWAN [continued]: observations?Why did you choose to do 10 interviews and not 20?Why did you choose to do participatory interviews thatwere very flexible and not a very structured interviewschedule?All of those choices will have different consequences.And I think they require really careful reflection on the whysbecause they will have different consequences,and they reflect different assumptions about the world.

  • 40:45

    KATE COWAN [continued]: So I would always want to see in a methodologythat that why has been given careful consideration allthe way through.

  • 40:53

    DOMINIC WYSE: And I think one of the really, perhaps, the mostchallenging section is the findings chapter where,of course, you have to have done rigorous and exhaustiveanalysis in order to be able to portrayrelevant, meaningful, and in the end, original findings.And there are smaller questions about whether the findings

  • 41:16

    DOMINIC WYSE [continued]: chapter should include citations or not.My personal feeling is not, but people differ on that.Of course, it does depend very muchon the kind of research design you've used.So the reporting of quantitative statisticsis very different often from the reporting

  • 41:37

    DOMINIC WYSE [continued]: of say, qualitative research.Then you've got mixed methods approaches,which require the balancing between the different elementsthat are mixed.So I do think findings chapter is a real challenge.

  • 41:51

    KATE COWAN: It's not a simple case of just describingwhat you did either.Probably will be more descriptive,but it's still finding the way to takethe reader through your findings and explainingthe significance of them.

  • 42:04

    DOMINIC WYSE: And then it comes down to in the end, of course,I was external examiner to a PhD the other day,and what did we ask the candidate?Well, in the end, we asked what is your original contributionto the field.And one of the minor edits we asked the candidate to do

  • 42:24

    DOMINIC WYSE [continued]: was to make sure that right at beginning of the discussionchapter the original contribution was very explicitand was really clearly stated.It was there, and the student clearlyfound something really interesting,but they were not doing themselves justiceby being very clear.

  • 42:44

    DOMINIC WYSE [continued]: This now is what I found.And that is hard because you've really you'vegot to have the confidence to say, I think this is original.I think it's sufficiently original.And then it's got to be a certain way thatwill convince examiners and others that it is original.So the discussion and conclusions, obviously,and it's also typically the last thing

  • 43:05

    DOMINIC WYSE [continued]: that the student will write, so they're probablygetting quite tired.But looking forward, again, to the endof the whole dissertation, aren't we?

  • 43:13

    KATE COWAN: And so the discussion and conclusionare where those points about the field made in the literaturereview and the points that emerged through the findingconverge, and you look at the two together and think,what have I added?What has this shown?What has this problematized?

  • 43:28

    DOMINIC WYSE: Absolutely.And then, of course, right at the end,you have to write the abstract, which shouldn't be forgotten.It's an incredibly challenging piece of writing.Maximum of let's say 500 words, hasto sum up the whole dissertation in 500 words,so all the different sections, I think that's reallyquite a challenge.And it's very important to an examiner

  • 43:48

    DOMINIC WYSE [continued]: because the first thing we read, itgives us an overall sense of the dissertation.A well-written abstract predisposes us straightawayto be in a bit of a better mood.So we've written the dissertation or the essay.

  • 44:09

    DOMINIC WYSE [continued]: Let's think about how it's assessed.What are your thoughts on assessment?

  • 44:13

    KATE COWAN: So assessment will be a bit different.It will look a bit different for undergraduate or mastersor PhD study.The piece of writing will be of different lengths.And I think one feature that I would draw particular attentionto is that idea of critical writing.At an undergraduate level, it wouldbe sufficient probably to have a good grasp

  • 44:34

    KATE COWAN [continued]: of the field of study and to reallyshow a depth of understanding.That would be likely to get a good gradeat undergraduate level.But at master's level we're looking for somethinga little bit more.We're looking for that critical angle in the literature,really, that we've discussed alreadyand we discuss in the book.And then at the PhD level, I would

  • 44:56

    KATE COWAN [continued]: expect there to be an original contribution to knowledge.So it would be some slightly new development in the field.Maybe that would be fairly small,but it would be a significant outputof outcome of that research.And when I'm marking master's dissertations,

  • 45:16

    KATE COWAN [continued]: I find myself looking for that grasp of understanding,but also something that runs throughout the whole pieceof writing.I think it's a really challenging aspectto academic writing, but there needsto be a flow, a coherence to it over all.There needs to be clarity so that youknow what meanings are being expressedand that there is that understanding there, but also

  • 45:38

    KATE COWAN [continued]: that idea that the points are well structured, that theydevelop in a sequential and logical way.

  • 45:42

    DOMINIC WYSE: In the book, we talk very specificallyabout how criteria can be met by students,and we give examples of students in the waysthey've addressed criteria.I want to add as an examiner, all different levels,the first thing I do is really carefully read the first page.

  • 46:03

    DOMINIC WYSE [continued]: I probably read the first page and the first few pageswith maximum critical attention.And if that goes well--so for example, if the student has written coherently,is doing all the challenging detailed things,but is also attracting my interest

  • 46:23

    DOMINIC WYSE [continued]: through careful argument and the use of interesting sources,then I begin to relax a little as it were.And then I'm looking for very particular thingsfor each section.So if I'm in a literature review, for example,obviously I want to see a convincing, theoretical

  • 46:44

    DOMINIC WYSE [continued]: framing.And that's a challenge in its own right.Or if I'm looking at a methodology section,I really do want to see not only what methods we used,but I also want to know why they were used.And I also want the student to show me that they're aware,that there are people who are writing about howto use these methods and that the student

  • 47:06

    DOMINIC WYSE [continued]: has benefited from that advice.And so it goes on.And we are, of course, looking very carefullyagainst the criteria we're given by the course, by the program,by the institution.

  • 47:19

    KATE COWAN: And it will vary from course to course as well.

  • 47:22

    DOMINIC WYSE: Yeah.And of course, one of the criteriais always the standard of written English.Let's say for the sake of argumenta student might lose 10% of their marksif there is errors, including referencing errors,grammatical errors, and so on.So yeah.

  • 47:38

    KATE COWAN: Do you think assessment will ever move awayfrom the written essay model?

  • 47:43

    DOMINIC WYSE: Well, of course, that brings us backto the wider world of writing in a waythat students can do presentations.There are lots of quite imaginative waysof being assessed.But despite that, writing is always key,and it reminds me of in my career

  • 48:04

    DOMINIC WYSE [continued]: we've had assessments that have involved say,the creation of something, a creative outputor could even be say, a presentation.But it's always accompanied.It has to be accompanied by a rationale or a piece of writingthat explains the academic significance.So I don't think writing is ever going to go away.

  • 48:26

    DOMINIC WYSE [continued]: I think increasingly, digital formswill be used to be part of these processes.Writing will be still at the heart of it all, I think.


Dr. Dominic Wyse and Kate Cowan discuss the development of academic writing and its prevalence in higher education. Wyse and Cowan also explore the most common issues in academic writing.

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Dominic Wyse and Kate Cowan Discuss Academic Writing

Dr. Dominic Wyse and Kate Cowan discuss the development of academic writing and its prevalence in higher education. Wyse and Cowan also explore the most common issues in academic writing.

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