Week 5: Writing skills

This week we dug deep into research and writing. When you conduct research for any purpose — whether you are going to produce a written article, blog post, report, presentation, video or screencast — you need to be clear about two things before you start: your purpose and your audience.

For this module, your task in Assignment #2 is to produce a short written report. The purpose is to explain your chosen topic clearly and concisely to an audience of your peers. If during the course of your research you find that your topic is too broad, or too specific, than alter it so that the scope is more appropriate for a 3-page report. The audience is 2nd year IT students at NUI Galway. This will help you to select appropriate language, comparisons, examples, etc. when writing your report.

Once you have clarified the purpose and audience, you can continue your research — i.e. searching to find relevant sources, then studying these. Once you’ve read several articles relevant to your topic, you should be able to map out the key points that you’d like to communicate about that topic. What are the 2 or 3 or 4 most important points? Structure your report around these key points, write a few paragraphs on each. Then write a short introductory paragraph (outlining the report) and a short concluding paragraph (summarising and/or concluding the report). If you want to see examples of how to structure a report, look at any of the journal articles you have used for your sources — usually these will be excellent models of clarity and structure.

How about using source material from those great articles you’ve been studying? They say it so well — how can you possibly say it better, you might wonder. Well, you don’t have to. You are required simply to summarise the research on a particular topic. Read several articles, take notes, identify key themes or topics, structure your report. In each section of the report, explain what’s important and interesting, in your own words, but feel free to summarise, paraphrase and quote from your sources. Summarising, paraphrasing and quoting are essential skills for writers, and here are some guidelines:

WHEN TO USE EXAMPLE (with in-text citation)
Quote directly The author’s words are perfect, or you want to comment on the author’s direct quote. (NOTE: direct quotes should be used sparingly.) “these words are perfect” (Author, Date, page no)
Paraphrase You can restate an idea more clearly or simply, in your own words. Or you can place the information in the flow of your own argument. I can restate this idea more simply. I can place this writer’s ideas in the flow of my own argument (Author, Date) …..OR…..Author (Date) writes that this method works very well
Summarise Short summary of a long passage or article. Use when you want to distil ideas to their essence. I can easily summarise the 3 main points of the article here (Author, Date) …..OR….. Author’s (Date) main premise is…
Use facts, data, diagrams, visual images, etc. You want to specify numbers, dates, diagrams, charts, images, etc. There are 8,000 items (Author Date) …..OR….. It was discovered in 2010 (Author, Date). .…..OR….. Photograph (Author, Date) …..OR….. Statistics (Author, Date)


For more detailed information, see Quoting, Paraphrasing & Summarising from Purdue’s Online Writing Lab.

In the second half of class today, we practiced these skills. There was a choice of 4 articles; one each by Nathan Jurgenson, Alice Marwick, Joel Lovell and the Pew Foundation (links for each are available in Readings & Resources, above).  We had some great discussions about these articles on social media, surveillance, online/offline identities and more, and practiced the forms of writing identified: Quoting, Paraphrasing and Summarising. Some people tweeted their results, which you can find by searching #ct231 on Twitter.

Enjoy your continued research and do let me know if you have any questions or comments. Keep tweeting and keep an eye on the #ct231 hashtag… there are interesting tweets every day 🙂


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