By Dr Anaise Irvine (Auckland University of Technology) and Dr Ian Brailsford (University of Auckland)
Anaise works as a researcher development coordinator at Auckland University of Technology, ensuring that the university offers opportunities for researchers to develop their skills. She has been providing writing tips via AUT’s Thesislink blog for a few years, and gives writing feedback to all students who submit abstracts for AUT’s Postgraduate Symposium. Ian works as a postgraduate learning adviser at the University of Auckland, supporting postgraduate student learning. He has had a long career working with postgrad students in mostly workshop and orientation sessions.
In her new book Developing Research Writing: A Handbook for Supervisors and Advisors (co-edited with Susan Carter), Deborah Laurs points out that learning advisors like ourselves “see many more instances of postgraduate writing than any one supervisor” (p.43). While supervisors become well-versed in the writing standards of their discipline, we witness the writing struggles that occur across disciplines. This equips us to engage in ‘big picture’ thinking about principles of good academic writing that transcend disciplinary norms.
We find it useful to translate these big picture ideas into metaphors and heuristic techniques that enable students to process the discipline-specific advice they are already (hopefully) receiving from their supervisor/s. If supervisors are giving detailed feedback on thesis drafts, then these heuristic techniques can help students to make sense of details by understanding the general writing principles underpinning the feedback they receive.
Through recent collegial coffee conservations, we’ve devised a metaphor to help students grasp the fundamental notions of thesis form and thesis function. We offer it here, in the hope that it can be useful in our colleagues’ conversations with students. Continue reading