A rally call against outsourcing graduate writing support

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Here we have reblogged the first of a three part series on outsourcing graduate student writing support. Although situated in a North-American context, the discussion raises important issues for institutional writing specialists, doctoral students, supervisors and consultants everywhere as cash-strapped institutions increasingly combine with entrepreneurial markets to provide writing support to doctoral scholars. The posts are written by Shannon Madden and Jerry Stinnett in response to an article in College Composition and Communication.  We don’t necessarily endorse all the arguments they advance (how could we, since at least two of the editors at DoctoralWritingSIG occasionally work as consultants?!) but we do think these issues deserve attention.  We hope you find the series stimulating. 

Empowering graduate student writers and rejecting outsourced mentorship

By Shannon Madden and Jerry Stinnett

In this 3-part series of installments on the WCJ Blog, we reject the outsourcing of graduate writing support to inexpert consultants in the private sector and call instead for university stakeholders to attend more systematically to the needs of graduate student writers.

As faculty members and former graduate students ourselves, we like many others have experienced the need for more writing support at the graduate level (see also Caplan & Cox, 2016). Very often, graduate students across the disciplines receive little feedback on their writing projects or instruction in advanced genres even though coursework, conference presentations, job applications, and theses and dissertations are all grounded in specialized disciplinary communication practices (Carter, 2007). As a response to this problem, Daveena Tauber’s (2016) recent article in College Composition and Communication offers a model for private writing consultation as a way to support graduate students as they navigate advanced writing tasks. Tauber advocates expanding the definition of successful academic employment to include writing consulting as a means of helping graduate student writers succeed in the university and of relieving the “job crisis” facing Ph.D. students in the humanities.

While Tauber’s approach attends to some of the problems facing graduate student writers, her model also exacerbates many of the same issues it purports to mitigate. Continue reading

How to make a great Conclusion

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By Claire Aitchison

I love a good conclusion. There’s nothing more satisfying than reading a good paper that finishes strongly, but what a letdown when there is a poor – or non-existent – conclusion!

We know that most of us read the abstract, scan the introduction and then move quickly to the discussion and conclusions sections when we read research papers (Feak & Swales, 2011 p. 40). Whether it is a thesis or journal article the conclusion is really important, so why is it that it is so often badly done? And how can we make sure it’s as great as it can be?

Firstly, I think there are some useful processes that can help ensure a successful conclusion. Especially because a PhD thesis is such a long time in the making, it is useful to begin building the conclusion over months and years – at least from the time data is being collected and analysed. I suggest these steps to students I work with. Continue reading

5th International Academic Identities Conference, 29 June – 1 July 2016

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By Cally Guerin

The International Academic Identities conference at Sydney University this week has been abuzz with discussions about “Academic life in the measured university: pleasures, paradoxes and politics”. Our identities as academics within universities are measured, monitored, surveyed in all sorts of ways, from the time that is allotted to various elements of our workloads, to how much money we can generate through student enrolment and grants, and, of course, our research output.

A number of papers at this conference focused on research writing, and lots of them experimented with various presentation modes. Continue reading

Swamped by data? Time to take control and manage all that information

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By Cally Guerin

In recent conversations with PhD candidates, I am reminded of how difficult it can be to manage all that data generated by empirical research. It’s great when dozens of people are willing to be interviewed for your project; when you receive a 90% response rate to the survey; the chance timing of your fieldwork generates much more material than expected; or serendipity in the laboratory leads to a vast increase in usable results. On the one hand, it’s a gift to have so much material to work with; on the other, it’s easy to feel swamped by all that data and wonder how on earth you will find your way around it, let alone analyse and write about it. The storage and management of data is one of the key aspects of any research project, and finding ways to do this effectively sets up researchers for writing about it later on. Continue reading

Preparing your thesis for submission: what to look for when editing at the whole-of-document level

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By Cally Guerin

As we have discussed elsewhere, the last few months leading up to submitting the thesis for examination can be stressful, inducing anxious – even obsessive – behaviour in even the most level-headed of doctoral candidates. In amongst the repeated re-reading of the thesis with the examiner’s perspective in mind, a checklist can assure the candidate that various elements of the document are definitely in order.

There is a lot of good advice available from editors about what to look for when editing and proofreading. In Australia, the Institute of Professional Editors has very detailed information about the kinds of details that professional editors look for, including the Australian standards for editing practice. This list and the ‘Levels of Editing’ link provide a really helpful range of elements that should be checked before submitting a work for examination or publication.

While many writers think of ‘editing’ as related to clarity of expression, grammar and punctuation, there is another whole area of thesis editing that is focused on the formatting and layout of the whole document. Continue reading

‘But, but…’ Writing for examination and the right of reply

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By Cally Guerin

One of the biggest challenges in submitting a thesis for examination is that it feels so important to get it right the first time. While students may sometimes feel that it is a one-off, make-or-break moment, in reality thesis examination is not actually as drastic as that. There are opportunities to revise and make corrections; there is a kind of ‘right of reply’ to examiners’ comments if candidates feel something might have been misunderstood. Even when further work is required, the vast majority of candidates who do in fact complete the revisions will get their degree. Continue reading

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