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The Writing Guide

Planning, researching, writing, referencing and drafting your assignments

Your informed opinion

Remember, your lecturers don't care about your opinion - they care about your informed opinion.

One of the most important things you have to do in your assignment is show your lecturers where your information comes from, so that they can see you are well informed. You do this by making sure you use evidence to back up the claims you make.

A good writer uses a number of techniques to incorporate evidence into their work. Check out the "Referring to Sources" page of the Manchester Academic Phrasebank to get some ideas for how to bring evidence into your paragraphs.

Why do we use other people's work in our writing?

Using the work of experts and researchers in various disciplines is a large part of our university study. Your lecturers want to see that you have been reading widely and well on your topic. You need to show evidence, in the body of your assignment, that you have read a sizable number of sources that are credible, relevant and current.

So you will use other people’s work to:

  1. Get information
    Published work contains useful facts and ideas. Use this knowledge to formulate ideas and opinions that in turn will help you to produce your own written work.
  2. Show that you have done the reading you were supposed to do
    Very often, your subject outlines will have a list of readings that you need to do in order to write a particular assignment.
  3. Demonstrate that you have read widely on the topic
    You need to show that you have used a range of authoritative sources.
  4. Set up an argument
    You might use someone else's idea in order to disagree with it, or as a springboard for your own argument. You are expected to provide evidence to support your points.

However! It is important to integrate the information you have read with your assignment, not just recite it or dump it on the page. Your markers want to see how well you have thought about the information, and the implications of the evidence in regards to your argument, in the course of your work.

Quoting, summarising and paraphrasing

Quoting is when you have used the exact words from your source. You should always put the words that come exactly (word for word) in "quotation marks", and an in-text citation in the correct format for your referencing style.

It is always a good idea to keep direct quotes to a minimum. Quoting doesn't showcase your writing ability - all it shows is that you can read (plus, lecturers hate reading assignments with a lot of quotes).

You should only use direct quotes if the exact wording is important, otherwise it is better to paraphrase.

If you feel a direct quote is appropriate, try to keep only the most important part of the quote and avoid letting it take up the entire sentence - always start or end the sentence with your own words to tie the quote back into your assignment. Long quotes (more than 40 words) are called "block quotes" and are rarely used in most subject areas (they mostly belong in Literature, History or similar subjects). Each referencing style has rules for setting out a block quote. Check with your style guide.

It has been observed that "pink fairy armadillos seem to be extremely susceptible to stress" (Superina, 2011, p. 6).

NB! Most referencing styles will require a page number to tell readers where to find the original quote.

Summarising is when you take a large amount of text (for example, several paragraphs or a whole document) and "boil it down" to the most important facts or the essence of the argument. You then give this "in a nutshell" version in your own words.

It is a type of paraphrasing, and you will be using this frequently in your assignments, but note that summarising another person's work or argument isn't showing how you make connections or understand implications. This is preferred to quoting, but where possible try to go beyond simply summarising another person's information without "adding value".

And, remember, the words must be your own words. If you use the exact wording from the original at any time, those words must be treated as a direct quote.

All information must be cited, even if it is in your own words.

Superina (2011) observed a captive pink fairy armadillo, and noticed any variation in its environment could cause great stress.

NB! Some lecturers and citation styles want page numbers for everything you cite, others only want page numbers for direct quotes. Check with your lecturer.

Paraphrasing is when you take the core idea from the original text, and rewrite it completely in your own words (and "voice").

Paraphrasing often involves commenting about the information at the same time, and this is where you can really show your understanding of the topic. You should try to do this within every paragraph in the body of your assignment.

When paraphrasing, it is important to remember that using a thesaurus to change every other word isn't really paraphrasing. It's patchwriting, and it's a kind of plagiarism (as you are not creating original work).

Use your own voice! You sound like you when you write - you have a distinctive style that is all your own, and when your "tone" suddenly changes for a section of your assignment, it looks highly suspicious. Your lecturer starts to wonder if you really wrote that part yourself. Make sure you have genuinely thought about how *you* would write this information, and that the paraphrasing really is in your own words.

Always cite your sources! Even if you have drawn from three different papers to write this one sentence, which is completely in your own words, you still have to cite your sources for that sentence (oh, and excellent work, by the way).

Captive pink fairy armadillos do not respond well to changes in their environment and can be easily stressed (Superina, 2011).

NB! Some lecturers and citation styles want page numbers for all citations, others only want them for direct quotes. Check with your lecturer.

Keep it relevant

Whether you quote, summarise or paraphrase your sources, you need to make sure you are using information and ideas that are relevant to your argument.

Well referenced "filler" is still filler. Always assume your lecturer is going to look up your sources and see where your information came from. Make sure they find something good.

Academic integrity module

What is "academic integrity?" It's being honest about your work. It's being clear and upfront about what you have done, and when (and where) you have used someone else's work to help you.

People who deliberately cheat, plagiarise or lie about doing something are clearly showing poor academic integrity, and hopefully you never do any of these things. But if you don't acknowledge your sources and give credit where it's due, you are also showing poor academic integrity.

Did you come up with this idea all on your own, or is it based on something you read? Make it clear, cite your sources, and let your readers know where your information came from.

Summarising & paraphrasing activity

play me

Help! There are at least 5 mistakes in the following paragraph. Can you find them?

Writing is a skill and, as such, can be learnt and practised over time. Smith (2012) has shown that students “are able to acquire sufficient writing skills for first-year subjects in a short period of time”. It has been argued, however, that these students were actively supported by key staff and services at university and that it is this element of support, rather than the individual effort of the student alone, that is more integral to a student’s success with writing. Considerable gains have been made with writing success at university by situating the learning within a specific discipline or Faculty. Discipline-specific writing models and support help a student to mor quickly acquire the necessary skills for their chosen area of study (Brown, 2011). Some aspects of effective writing are universal, however, and thus a blend of generic as well as discipline-specific support structures are commonly found at universities.

Click on the "Play" icon to hear Learning Advisor Kylie Bartlett discuss the mistakes in this paragraph.

Paraphrasing and plagiarism booklet

This booklet by the Learning Centre is very useful:

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