November 24, 2009, by Teaching at Nottingham

Learning academic writing and skills of argument

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Iain Coyne: “Our good students really get the element of discussion and critical debate and argument into their essays and coursework, you can clearly see that they’ve thought about it. And I think that most of our criteria that we mark and assess, that one distinguishes the excellent from the less good students, or the good and the average students, it’s that critical analysis.”

Chris Ennew: “Well, I think there’s an interesting tension between saying we want original ideas, we want to see original thinking. But we then have a definition of what is academically rigorous and that requires full and extensive referencing and how do you deal with that if you say, This is my idea and it’s mine and it’s what I’ve concluded from reading around so how do I reference it? And so I think there are some, you can, almost inherent tensions in the way in which we ask students to do their work”

Swetha Akhnoor: “What you’ve learned is so different from what it is here. It does need some time to get adjusted to, and it’s not that your system is not right and this system is correct or this system’s not right, it’s just a different system, different way of doing things.

“If writing a real essay was Mount Everest, this is only base camp one, you know, this formative essay. So, that’s, I think that’s what the essay was for. I think to just get the students used to the system, UK system of education.”

Rebecca Moor: “I try to explain to students, who are they not to have an opinion? Who are they not to have an argument? The only way you’re going to get good at making arguments is to make them. And no one expects you to be an expert on day one or in your first year or indeed, your final year at law school. But, you’re never going to get used to having, you know, opinions and backing them up if you don’t try. And I always try to relate it back to their lives. So I say, if you were just talking to your friends, and let’s say you were talking about films that you’d seen or music that you liked, you would have no problem having an opinion, you would have no problem backing it up,

“And so I try to show them that making an argument in let’s say, a law essay is not fundamentally different on some level to making the kind of arguments that you make in everyday life. They can do it. There’s no reason they can’t give it a go. Just because they’re dealing with a topic that’s new to them, law, doesn’t mean they don’t have the skills, they just need to have the courage to put pen to paper and give it an attempt.”

Peter Yeandle: “I asked them to write me a model introduction to an essay title on a topic I’d knew they’d all be reading around. And their model introduction was very much there’s two ways to answer this question in this essay where I will address this side of the story and this side of the story and then summarise the different arguments. And I said that’s only half an essay. If you look at the marking criteria one of the things is critical reading which confused them. So I explained carefully that what they think, what do you think about the reading. Do you think historian X is right to say that example, example, example, example. And they were more than happy to talk about their ideas, and they were more than happy a few weeks into the course to talk about their ideas in seminars of what they thought. So it’s just a matter I think of bigging them up, giving them the confidence to say what they wanted to say.”

Ting Lu: “I didn’t expect I had to read so much and talk so much in the seminar, but I think it’s good cos it help you to organise your mind and speak up. That was cos if we study law we supposed to be lawyers or judges or what kind of legal related work so that really demands you need to speak out what you thought to your client. I think that was a very efficient way to train you in a skill and help you to gain the legal skills better and quicker as you graduate. They help you to, how do you say, to adapt to the future working environment. That’s good.”

Peter Yeandle: “We had the question on the board and we were brainstorming. And then we got them to colour code bits that thought were joined together and then to rank out of ten what factors account for, what other factors we’ve come up with. Now get into groups and allocate which factors you think are the more significant. If you think it’s the most significant give it a high number out of ten. If you think it’s least significant. So it’s just games in a way, playing around with it like that. And then taking your list of factors from lowest to highest and saying how will you then, convert that into an essay structure. It’s kind of good tips that I use with the home students as well but it’s going through it a bit more slowly and a bit more cautiously but building it up that way. And when it came to their second essays they generally did much better.”

Rebecca Moor: “Learning how to write well is not something that you can just get in a, you know, one hour session, it involves a huge amount of practice and, and I always say to students, Part of my role isn’t just to give you the advice, but to encourage you to keep practising your writing.”

Swetha Akhnoor
Institute of Work Health and Organisations
Iain Coyne
Institute of Work Health and Organisations
Chris Ennew
Nottingham University Business School
Ting Lu
School of Law
Rebecca Moor
School of Law
Peter Yeandle
School of History

Extracts from interviews with staff and students about experiences of internationalisation. This video was originally published as part of PESL’s Learning from internationalisation collection. Produced November 2009.

Posted in Academic integrity and plagiarismInternationalisationStudents' academic development