Using academic social networks for literature searching

This ‘perspective post’ is going to look at using academic social networks for literature searching.

Now I want to make it very clear I am not advocating replacing a proper academic search strategy – with a social network. That’s a terrible idea! The University of Hull Library subscribes to some fantastic resources and you can check them out via your Subject LibGuide.

That caveat aside, I can now say that networks like Academia.edu and Researchgate.net can be very useful for collecting literature. I think they have two very specific purposes in any literature search:

  1. Expand your search beyond academic databases
  2. Find papers that you have already identified as useful, but we do not subscribe to

Expanding your search

The University Library has a fantastic guide on How to plan and conduct your searches. This is definitely the place to start any search, focusing your search on the resources identified in your Subject LibGuide.

If you still need more evidence, want to go beyond this kind of search or find more literature. That is where the networks come in. On both Academia.edu and Researchgate.net – you can search for research papers. This is never as precise as an academic database and it doesn’t have the same level of configuration –  but it will potentially give you access to thousands of articles.

One strength of Academia.edu and Researchgate.net, is that it is what I like to think of as a ‘human-curated’. I’ve struggled to find many topics through traditional databases, but come across a trove of papers on networks. The tagging and conversations on these networks allow a different kind of search to the title/keyword/abstract search of most databases.

Academia.edu and Researchgate.net will give you very different results to a database. Often results are lots of peer-reviewed papers, many with full-text available. Where text is not available, you can always ask the author for a copy and I tend to get a 50% success rate. This isn’t as immediate as library subscriptions, but is useful to expand the search. Results are however not always peer-reviewed and reliable. You may find unusable, non-peer-reviewed papers or essays. While you cannot cite these papers, their bibliographies are a treasure trove of potentially useful papers that you may not of already found.

Finding the full-text of papers you have already identified

The University Library subscribes to a large range of journals. Often, if you can’t find the full-text, it may be that you are not searching in the right place. The Library Catalogue will point you in the right direction (search for the journal title – NOT article title). If you can’t find the journal through the catalog, University of Hull staff and students are eligible to request an inter-library loan. This is an excellent service – but before using it, it is often worthwhile checking Academia.edu and Researchgate.net for the papers. Even if the papers are not there – the author may be and you can get in touch with them. This may get you the paper quicker, and lets you save ILLs for when you really need them.

Engaging wider audiences on Twitter

A participant in The Digital Researcher – a course I am running this week raised an excellent point about Twitter engagement and I’ve decided to elaborate on it further here.

When trying to engage with wider audiences, it is really important to use relevant hashtags # and perhaps event @tag in other relevant accounts.

This is essential, particularly when you are trying to engage with wider audiences from an account without many followers – or without followers from the right demographics. A typical example may be that all of your followers are academic peers – and not the public you want to engage. So how do you reach new audiences?

A lot of this comes down to identifying the right hashtags that link posts on similar topics together. Hashtags can be:

  • Based on a subject: #HigherEd #Geography
  • Topical/news-based: #HumberFloods #Brexit
    • Check out Trendsmap to see what is happening where you are
  • Event based: #ALDcon #DigiResHull
  • Tweet-chat based: #LTHEchat #MSFTEdu

While people may not follow you, they may be searching for these hashtags, or using apps to follow them. It’s is therefore important to identify hashtags that your target audiences may be using. Hitting Google for this isn’t a bad idea, for example, a search for: Best hashtags for education provides some excellent results. There are also some useful websites focused on helping you with this:

One prime way to build your audience is with the use of topical hashtags. For example, if you research in politics and you have conducted some research relevant to it, #Brexit is an excellent choice (event if you hate the hashtag). These tags don’t have to be very broad. For example, the last set of flooding in the Humber estuary used #HumberFloods – an excellent tag for hydrologists, geographers and anyone else working in related fields.

Local or specialist media is an excellent way to identify topical discussions here you are based. For us in Hull, the Hull Daily Mail and the Yorkshire Post may be good places for you to start. If you can apply your research to a topic here – you’ll be reaching a new public audience. Directly replying to posts from such media channels, including television is an excellent way to identify yourself as an expert. A lot of big news channels now traul Twitter to recruit experts rather than approaching university departments.

You just need to remember to use them!

The University Library Emerges

Britain’s two oldest universities prove good examples of the first university libraries. The University of Oxford’s first library emerged in 1320 as part of the University Church of St. Mary the Virgin (Bodleian Libraries, 2016). This continues to represent the link between early academic libraries and religion as discussed above. It was not until 1488 that this was replaced with the Duke Humfrey’s  Library and even then, it was housed in the second storey of the Divinity School (Pugh, 2000). This library was named after the Duke for his generous donation of 281 manuscripts (Summit, 2008; Bodleian Libraries, 2016). This early academic library was not the most hospitable place. The room was poorly lit, functionally furnished and all of the books were secured with chains (Pugh, 2000). What follows is a reflection on such spaces and what they would be like to study in.

The lone scholar sat on a hard bench in the poorly lit room. He was using one of the lecterns which were all set at a right angle to the windows. The light this provided varied with the sun and once again he found himself straining to see the hand-written pages in the dim light. The library was not heated so the cold had begun to sink into his aching bones. The uncomfortable furniture of the library was not helping the matter.

He was studying from a large manuscript that was, like all other materials firmly chained to the desk. This was of course to ensure the books were kept save but would not allow him to move the volume to somewhere with more light. He should not complain. No, he would not complain. Access to these precious leather-bound volumes was a real privilege, a luxury courtesy of his membership of the university. Still, it was with some surprise that he realised he was still the only student in the room. The same as the previous day.

While the library presented a valuable resource, it was not the most welcoming place. In fact to anyone not interested in the collection this library was awful. No natural light. No heating. The constant vigilance from the scholars charged with the protection of the books. Everything was make of hard, dark wood and nothing was comfortable. This was not a space that was used by many.

Based on (Pugh, 2000; Bodleian Libraries, 2016)

Duke Humfrey’s Library only lasted 60 years and was purged in 1550 as part of the attempt to clear the English church of all references to Catholicism, it was rescued in 1598 by and offer from Thomas Bodley (Bodleian Libraries, 2016). He pledged to refurbish the university library and procure books for it (Philip, 1983; Pugh, 2000). This was amid the rise of libraries across Europe, with some scholars arguing that this was the “age of the libraries” as it was at this point the focus moved form library as collection to the library as a specific space (Summit, 2008:11). Unsurprisingly Bodley’s offer was quickly accepted by the Vice-Chancellor of the university (Philip, 1983).

Roman Kirillov (CC BY-SA 3.0) – WikiCommons

Bodley’s refurbishments made to the library included the installation of new shelves, chains and locks, with the work completed by mid-1600 (Philip, 1983), enabling Bodley to focus on procurement of books. Much of the initial collection resulted from donations of money and books, demonstrating the importance of philanthropy in the development of such libraries.  The new library opened in 1602 (Bodleian Libraries, 2016; Taylor et al., 2016). To assert the importance of preservation, this new library required readers to take the following ‘Bodleian oath’ before being allowed access:

“You promise and solemnly engage before God… that whenever you shall enter the public library of the University, you will frame your mind to study in modesty and silent, you will use the books and other furniture in such manner that they may last as long as possible. Also that you will [not] steal, change, make erasures, deform, tear, cut, write notes in, interline, wilfully spoilt, obliterate, defile, or in any other way retrench, ill-use, wear away or deteriorate and book or books, nor authorised any other person to do the like.”  (Clapinson, 2006 reproduced in Pettegree, 2015:80-81)

This oath is an interesting insight into the importance of preservation. Over twelve words are used to identify every possible form of damage a book could undertake to ensure the reader swears against it and a version of this oath is still in use today (Goodall & Britten, 2012).  Pettegree (2015) notes that previously, libraries had been places for discussion and it was this oath that introduced the new emphasis on silence. According to Pettegree (2015: 81) it is here that the “long decent into silence” began.

Since then the library has developed over subsequent years, spanning several buildings/libraries, becoming a library of legal deposit and an internationally regarded institution (Bodleian Libraries, 2016). Gained in 1610, the status of legal deposit allowed the library to receive any published volume in the United Kingdom that it requests and this status remains today (Bodleian Libraries, 2016; British Library, 2017).

There is a similar story at the University of Cambridge University of Cambridge (2016), where in the 1300s the university stored its books in chests within the university treasury, with the university building its first library around 1410. Similar to Oxford, Cambridge suffered book purges, but later grew from strength to strength, becoming a library of legal deposit and world renowned library (University of Cambridge, 2016). For both libraries, this growth was slow, especially as heating and artificial lighting were not widely available until 1800-1900.

The problems and purges of the sixteenth century were more troublesome than the brief history above suggests. First, the growth of printed books allowed scholars to easily create their own up-to-date collections of books, often more relevant that the books donated to the university libraries (Pettegree, 2015). The greater challenge perhaps was reflected in the purges hinted at above. As the conflicts between Catholicism and Evangelicals grew, library spaces found the themselves subject to the will of whichever faction was in power (Pettegree, 2015). This led to regular searches for anything deemed heretical or forbidden so such materials could be destroyed. This led to the eventual closures of both libraries in the middle of the sixteenth century, even including the disposal of the books and furniture at Oxford.

Academic libraries have a 700-year history due to these universities and this very brief history has demonstrated that crisis, redevelopment and reconceptualization is something libraries have had to deal with for hundreds of years. It is important however to reflect on what these libraries were like as spaces. There is some evidence that suggests the library customs of Oxford and Cambridge Universities directly followed monastic customs (Mullinger, 1907-21). This would in particular regard the preservation of books and their protections. As suggested in the histories above, as spaces they were not particular hospitable. The early libraries of these two universities defined the very first academic libraries.

 

Bibliography

Bodleian Libraries (2016) History of the Bodleian. Available online: https://www.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/bodley/about-us/history [Accessed 14/04/2016].

British Library (2017) Introduction to Legal Deposit. Available online: http://www.bl.uk/aboutus/legaldeposit/introduction/ [Accessed.

Goodall, H. & Britten, N. (2012) Bodleian Library considers lending books after 410 years, Telegraph.2012 [Online]. Available online: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/educationnews/9327429/Bodleian-Library-considers-lending-books-after-410-years.html, [Accessed 15/06/2017].

Mullinger, J. B. (1907-21) The Foundation of Libraries, in Ward, A. W. & Waller, A. R. (eds), English Prose And Poetry Sir Thomas North To Michael Drayton. The Cambridge History Of English And American Literature. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Pettegree, A. (2015) The Renaissance Library and the Challenge of Print, in Crawford, A. (ed), The Meaning of the Library: A Cultural History. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 72-90.

Philip, I. (1983) The Bodleian Library in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Pugh, S. (2000) The Problem of Light in Duke Humfrey’s Library. The Paper Conservator, 24(1), 13-25.

Summit, J. (2008) Memory`s Library: Medieval Books in Early Modern EnglandUniversity Of Chicago Press.

Taylor, S., Whitfield, M. & Barson, S. (2016) The English Public Library 1850-1939. Available online: https://content.historicengland.org.uk/images-books/publications/iha-english-public-library-1850-1939/heag135-the-english-public-library-1850-1939-iha.pdf/ [Accessed 14/04/2017].

University of Cambridge (2016) History of Cambridge University Library. Available online: http://www.lib.cam.ac.uk/about-library/history-cambridge-university-library [Accessed 14/04/2017].

My digital workflow: Office 365 processes & tools for doctoral students

I thought I would take some time to share the invaluable Microsoft tools that I use as part of my thesis and research. I think the usefulness of Microsoft Office Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Outlook is without question. These programs are an essential part of my work, but I will focus on other tools that I use to support my research.

Pixaline / Pixabay

OneNote

OneNote is a note taking application. OneNote is like my second brain. It stores my notes for absolutely every situation. Instead of a mixture of apps and notebooks, I take a great effort to keep everything in one place. The availability of OneNote on iOS, MacOS and Windows means I can access OneNote on all of my devices: iPad Pro, iPhone, MacBook Pro and Windows 10 computers. This means I can also access my notes anywhere and pretty much on every device. I’m a big fan of handwritten notes and there is a lot of evidence that demonstrates they’re the most effective way to take notes. The awesomeness of the iPad Pro and Pencil mean I can handwrite on-screen just as well as on paper. For any situation in which I do use paper, I scan documents in or use Office Lens (see below).

Technicalities aside, I use OneNote for:

  • Lecture notes, keynotes, conference notes
  • Supervision meeting records
  • Thoughts, thinking, general notes
  • Notes on reading
  • Field notes
  • Shopping lists, recipes and pretty much everything else!

The reason OneNote works so effectively is the wide range of media it supports. Not only can type or hand written notes be used within OneNote, but it supports drawing, maths, images, audio, video, tables, embedded files and a whole range of other special applications. Notes are easy to find as they are organised into sections and notebooks. Everything is searchable, tagable and easy to find.

FirmBee / Pixabay

OneDrive

OneDrive is a cloud storage platform. This means it stores files on a remote server as opposed to any one device. This means you can access anything you store on it anywhere you have internet. I use OneDrive to store all of my important files, with the exception of anything personally identifiable, like research data. While OneDrive achieves the same as Box, DropBox, iCloud Drive, Google Drive or any of platform, the deep integration with Microsoft Office makes OneDrive the most useful. It is also the cheapest platform as you get 1 TB for free included in Office 365, including the edition most universities provide students with.

Not only does OneDrive let you store your files and make them available, it also lets you connect to any computer you’re synced to and pull any file from it. This is really useful if you ever forget to take a file with you. As you’d expect, everything is searchable – but it is important to carefully consider your organisation system. I take great care to never get lazy when saving files otherwise it quickly ends up an unusable mess.

OneDrive is accessible within Office 365 programs, allowing you access to save directly to your OneDrive from within the software. The very latest versions of some even automatically – and constantly save to your OneDrive, ensuring your work is always safe. OneDrive can also be used for collaboration, allowing multiple people to edit an office file in real-time. This can be done with in-browser and in-program. Most people will recognise this functionality from Google Docs/Sheets – but its a lot more powerful in Office.

 

Office Lens

Office Lens is an amazing app for phones and tablets. It allows you to use the devices camera to take photographs, and save them directly to OneDrive, OneNote, your camera stream, PDF, Word or PowerPoint. What makes Lens so special is it’s ability to work with documents, whiteboards and business cards. When pointing Lens at a document, whiteboard, television, projector screen, book or whatever you want to capture, Lens detects the edges automatically and removes the background. This makes it a pretty impressive scanner! For whiteboards it also filters the photo and enhances the picture.

Most of my Lens shots end up getting stored within OneNote, embedded within whatever notebook I am working on at the time. I use it to capture a lot of projector screens – essential for lectures and conference. I also like using it for documents so I can take a photo/image of it away with me digitally rather than  needing to carry a lot of paper. As I suggested above, it is this feature that also lets me digitise any handwritten notes I may take. While I don’t use it, Lens works with Microsoft Immersive Reader so it is fantastic for accessibility purposes.

helloolly / Pixabay

Other useful tools

While I don’t have space to go into too much detail, there are some other essential apps:

Microsoft Translator

Microsoft Translator is a free, personal translation app for 60+ languages, to translate text, voice, conversations, camera photos and screenshots. You can even download languages for offline translation for free to use when you travel!

 

Microsoft Visio

Microsoft Visio is a diagramming software package. It lets you easily draw a whole range of processes, diagrams and maps. It is a lot easier to use than Microsoft Word for making diagrams, with special tools to help you keep elements in line and linked.

 

Microsoft To Do

Microsoft To-Do is a simple and intelligent to-do list that makes it easy to plan your day. Whether it’s for work, school or home, To-Do will help you increase your productivity and decrease your stress levels. It combines intelligent technology and beautiful design to empower you to create a simple daily workflow. Organize your day with To-Do’s smart Suggestions and complete the most important tasks or chores you need to get done, every day. To-Do syncs between your phone and computer, so you can access your to-dos from school, the office, or the grocery store or even while you’re traveling around the world.

How to mindmap a keynote or lecture

I’ve recently just made it back home from a conference. While I was there, I mind mapped the keynotes – something I have done at previous events. I received some really nice feedback on these and thought it would be nice to write up a quick guide of how to do it!

The first thing you need to do is decide on a medium. While you can hand draw them, you generally need a very big sheet of paper – so unless you’ve got a wall to hand, software if your best bet. There are LOADS of mind mapping tools, both free and paid for. Biggerplate has a ranked list of mind mapping software on their website. I personally use iMindMap. While most software has a broadly similar feature set, I feel iMindMap has a couple of unique modes. Most importantly, I think the maps it produces are the most aesthetically pleasing. If you’re going to do this – it may as well by pretty!

If you go digital, you’ll probably find it faster if you have access to a keyboard. This can either be a laptop, or a tablet with keyboard cover or bluetooth keyboard.

Practice the method

No matter what tool you are using, paper or software – you must practice. You need to be very confident with the process of creating a mindmap, especially when you are doing this for a keynote or lecture. This is because you need to be fast. If you’re not used to the software or the process, your notes will be slow and the mindmap will hinder your notes – not help them.

I think mind mapping from existing notes or book chapters is an excellent place to start. If you are using software, it will help you with the map format. If you are going hand-drawn, the iMindMap website has a great page on the technique and a fully detailed PDF guide that goes into the science. Still – I recommend the software!

At some point you need to practice mind mapping a live event. It’s best to do this for something recorded or something that doesn’t really matter. As this is your first event based map – you may miss some points or not be as quick as you need. Don’t rely on this approach until you’re confident with it!

Practice with the software is particularly important. They all tend to be pretty intuitive, but it is best to practice capturing at speed.

 

Mind mapping a live event

This bit assumes you are confident with mapping:

When you are mind mapping an event, you need to focus on getting everything down. You should try and make sure you get things into the correct hierarchy and tree – but don’t worry if you don’t quite manage this. The beauty of software is that you can copy/paste/move things around easily. If you decide to go for a paper map, you may need to make a tidier version once you’ve finished.

Don’t worry too much about the overall structure. As your map grows through the event you will get a better idea of the more important elements. Then you can begin to re-order things as you go. If your software supports multiple ‘central ideas’, or concept mapping, it may be easier to split/move your tree around afterwards.

Whatever you do – do not focus on branch shaping and location. Let your map be messy! At the end of the event you can reshape everything and move it to where it needs to be. Do not let this distract you from capture as you can only do that in the event. Smartening things up is a job for later.

You will find most software has an automatic structuring feature, snapping feature or ‘clean up’ feature. This will keep everything in some form of order as you go. The software I use, iMindMap has a really good clean up feature that tidies things up and makes sure everything is legible and in its own space. If you’re working from a single central idea, it also has a special capture mode that explicitly lets you focus on getting things down – and not on structure.

If you want to include images or photos in your mindmap, these can be done afterward – or as you go along. It tends to be easier to do this afterwards, but if you’re quick, it is nice to capture as you go along to ensure images are in the correct place. I do this a lot when capturing slides that I embed inside my map. As I have an iPhone and a MacBook Pro this is an easy process. I use Microsoft Office Lens to capture board pictures and then use AirDrop to send it to the MacBook and then into the software. That sounds like a fair process – but it is quite quick with practice!

As an example, here is an initial screenshot from the capture and another towards the end:

Initial version:

Final version: 

This final version is finished after the event. I spend time tweaking the branches and central ideas so everything fits. Sometimes I add in a few more links, reflections or questions to further reflect my thinking. Checking spelling and grammar comes at this point too, as does the inclusion of additional images.

 

 

Fitting in exercise around a professional doctorate and full-time work

I’ve just entered my tenth year as a student. While my first three years were full-time undergraduate, its been part-time study ever since. Balancing full-time work alongside part-time study has required a lot of jiggling around activities and the stopping of other things entirely. One of the first things to go was exercise. That pretty much disappeared at the end of my final year of university as the assignments stacked up.

I guess the first mistake I made was not finding time for exercise when I first started work again. I just did not get back into a good routine. In hindsight, I had the time. Loads of time. I just never really realised that until I started part-time study. By that time, all the that time was going on my masters. When that stopped, the time went on the doctorate. Any downtime or study gaps went to CPD. Volunteering quickly hoovered up any spare time left. Finding my soulmate and growing our relationship. Well. That threw time on its head. By this point, I was absolutely convinced I had no time for exercise.

Turns out I was wrong.

After much persuasion from some sporty colleagues to join them, and, assisted by the fact I am getting married, I finally jumped into exercise. It started with a yoga class, followed by spinning the week after. Over the couple of weeks following we were heading to the gym and playing badminton. A couple of months later, we were running outside. Most important of all. I feel great, and, it really didn’t take that much time!

komposita / Pixabay

Turns out, the whole exercise and time thing I had going on was a mental block and not a real one. I’ve made most of this work by fitting in exercise over lunch. Exercise isn’t eating into my mornings when I catch up on work. It isn’t eating into my evenings when I spend time with my fiancé or study. Combined with some more flexibility about how I fit in doctoral EdD work, I’ve even found enough time to nip to the gym or go for a run on weekends.

The best part about exercise, is that I feel great. I’ve feeling fitter, healthier, more awake and I’m loosing weight. Exercise really wakes me up to the extent that I feel I need less sleep. When I am awake, I feel more awake too. I’m kicking myself for not getting back into exercise sooner.

This last three months has made me realise the benefit of exercise for study. Turns out it’s pretty good for the soul too 🙂

Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert (MIEE) Spotlight

I had the pleasure of being yesterday’s Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert (MIEE) Spotlight. This MIEE spotlight is a nice blog that Microsoft uses to highlight the work of MIEEs around the country. On reading the spotlight post, it made me realise I’ve yet to post my portfolio on my own blog. and as such, I’ve just created this quick blog post to share my portfolio from last year. I’d also like to extend thanks to @misskmgriffin for the summary of my portfolio in the spotlight above.

 

I also realise it has been a while since I’ve provided an update on what I am up to with Microsoft in education, so stay tuned for some more updates in the new year!

Using LEGO as a teaching aid for academic essay writing in Higher Education

I conduct a lot of personal appointments with foundation and undergraduate students. For some students, ordering their ideas and structuring them is a real challenge. This problem tends to stem from:

  • not knowing where to start,
  • a sense of being overwhelmed,
  • the volume of information they consult,
  • the volume of information they feel *needs* including in their assignment.

Further, it is not just a case of ordering ideas, but structuring them that can be problematic. I feel that a lot of the poorly structured essays that I see are failing at the paragraph level. This is a real issue for a lot of students, especially those with less writing experience, those who have taken a break from education, or those who have no experience of essay style examination. The later is particularly an issue for international students from countries with different approaches to higher education assessment, often focusing on examinations above course work essays.

This post will detail how I’ve used LEGO to discuss some of these issues with students, and use it to help them outline their approach to academic writing. This starts with a student I saw a couple of weeks ago. I was struggling to communicate the structural elements of an essay to them. The student had lots of ideas, but simply did not know where to start and all the approaches in study skill books were simply not working for them. Instead of just rephrasing, I tried a different approach, running downstairs to grab my tub of LEGO. I think LEGO bricks are an excellent way to visualise some elements of academic writing and decided this was the perfect time to give it a go. I think this metaphor for academic writing structure can really help students struggling to structure their ideas – or more appropriately, to help students who are overwhelmed with their own ideas and sorting them out.

Let me know what you think by commenting below, or getting in touch via @LeeFallin.

Using LEGO as a metaphor for academic writing

When planning your essay, it can be really daunting. You end up with ideas all over the place:

LEGO bricks spread all over a table in no order

 

You need to order these ideas into groups. The act of doing this enables you to identify the major aspects of your essay. As expected, some ideas will be discarded at this phrase too (see the pile to the right side). It is still worth keeping a record of these as they may be useful at a later stage (who would EVER throw a LEGO brick in a bin!?!?!):

LEGO bricks grouped into piles of the same colour. Some to the right are discarded.

Once you have grouped all of your ideas like this, they form the basis of your overall argument. Each brick group is an aspect of this, forming one of the micro-arguments that lead your reader to the conclusion in your overall argument. These micro-arguments (brick groups) may by represented in an individual paragraph, or across a group of paragraphs. This process is not easy. At this idea stage, some of your groups will end up too large and you will need to break them up across two or more paragraphs. When this is the case, it is hard to distinguish which paragraph an idea belongs in. In reality, you are more likely to come across this problem later in writing when you have an oversized paragraph that you need to break up:

A pile of yellow LEGO bricks of subtlety different shades

 

When all the elements of your points, arguments or ideas are grouped into their individual paragraphs, they need further structuring:

A pile of brown bricks come together into a block

A solid paragraph should have a good structure. I recommend TEAL as a good starting point:

  • Topic – A brief introduction to what the paragraph is about. What is your point?
  • Evidence – Academic evidence, reflections, your own research/data
  • Analysis – The ‘so what’? Persuade the reader that your conclusion is the correct one
  • Link – Link this paragraph to the next – or to your overall argument.

(Indeed – this stage may be the *best* starting point for some students, but the route described so far is excellent for those struggle to structure all their ideas in the planning phase)

TEAL is a good way to structure all those ideas into a coherent paragraph:

An assembled block of brown bricks

LEGO bricks are an excellent metaphor for how you need to link all these elements together. The bumps and they way they interlock with bricks above makes this point clear. Everything with a paragraph must coherently link together and make sense:

Photo of lego blocks - demonstrates the

Once you have your individual paragraphs, they need to be assembled into the right order. This is often done as you go along, but as you being to edit, you may realise they need re-ordering. It isn’t just the structure that may change, and as you edit, some smaller points may need removing as you further refine your ideas (and try to get under your word count):

A long block of assembled bricks. Colours are striped in groups to represent paragraphs.

 

All of these elements together can help you rule your own writing:

LEGO monarch with crown

 

Taking this into practice

To put this into practice, I often recommend students grab a stack of post-it notes or use a mindmap to get all of their ideas on the table. The principles above serve as a great framework from which to interpret all these ideas. Working from the ideation phrase, grouping/sorting and through to refining the order and breaking it into paragraphs. If all else fails, literally using the LEGO bricks works well too. Small post-it notes can be used to adhere ideas to the bricks in a way that doesn’t require cleaning them afterwards. This works perfectly with Duplo too.

The model above is designed to help students identify their main points, grouping their ideas under these main points, and then divide those points into interlinked paragraphs. As the bricks represent, these all need ‘clicking together’ to form a stable essay (or stable LEGO model!). This may seem a little obvious for advanced writers, but it is certainly worth trying with those new to academic essay writing. As above, please let me know what you think! I should also note a quick thank you to my colleague Sue Watling. She indicated this approach was interesting when I mentioned it in conversation, so I figured it was worth expanding on my blog.

 


N.B. The main part of this post is also stored on its own page to allow me to continue tweaking it in future. I realise there may be some other aspects of writing that I need to include moving forward.