Taking Notes

So, as I may have mentioned (I think it’s taking over my life at the moment!), I’m currently writing my dissertation for my MSc Information and Library Studies course. I’ll be doing my research over summer, but in the meantime I’m actually writing it in the correct order rather than leaving the literature review until the end, which I may have been guilty of when writing my undergraduate dissertation (on gender stereotyping in sport, bit of a change of subject!). I’ve noticed during this process though, that it’s incredibly easy to get out of the habit of writing in a more academic style.

I initially set up this blog to record my studying progress, although it developed into something more reflective and practical. Most of my blog posts either report on events I’ve attended, discussions I’ve had, books/articles I’ve read, my experiences… etc. There is usually some reason to my blog posts (although I appreciate at times it may not seem like there is!), and I usually refer to these reasons throughout the post. Most of my posts refer to background information, although these are primarily other websites or blogs to allow ease of follow up for anyone reading the post. I do think that most of my thoughts emerge through consideration of research and evidence, and although in a practical sense my blog posts might not be as detailed as my assignments and I don’t always seek out the opposite point of view, I do generally try to consider other points of view to help develop my own.

As an academic librarian, I spend quite a lot of my time working on an enquiry desk (almost half of my working week!) helping others find research. I’ve learnt to use different databases and use different techniques when searching specific research databases or search engines. I’ve become pretty good at tracking down research, and knowing the best places to start researching different topics (although there’s always more to learn!). So once I’d finalised my dissertation topic (strategic marketing in academic libraries), I was able to go off and find loads of really useful research relating to lots of different aspects of my topic.

Now that’s it’s actually time to write all this research and knowledge I’ve learnt from it up as a literature review, I have to confess I’m struggling a little. It’s not that I find it particularly difficult (although there are times I struggle to get my head around some of the more complicated research analysis despite having a Statistics A Level!), but moreso that the style of writing just doesn’t come naturally to me anymore. I think my time blogging, writing reports at work, and short articles for journals had changed my writing style to be more practical in nature and less formal (I guess more like conversational English). I’m now having to pad out my writing with extra points which I probably wouldn’t usually if they don’t add a lot to the purpose of the article/report/blog post.

I know which I’d rather write, and I know which I’d rather read (give me practical, experienced based advice any day over purely theoretical information), but for academic purposes I have to adapt my writing to prove that yes, I do always research my sources and try to discover alternative points of view, and yes I can critically evaluate research.

I can see the importance of demonstrating these skills, but I’m really beginning to appreciate why I find it easier to blog than to write assignments – of course there is also the fact that I can blog about whatever I choose to, but mainly the issue for me is adapting my writing style to use language I wouldn’t ordinarily use and include more of the theoretical rather than a focus on practical and experience-based information. Don’t get me wrong, I do actually love researching and am really looking forward to starting my data collection for my dissertation, but I’d be a whole lot more enthusiastic if I could write it in a more informal, reflective way.

What do you think? Do you think we may see a shift in the future to more assessed work being written in a similar way to blogs, or is it important to ensure academic writing standards remain the same? Do you struggle to adapt your writing style or is it just me? Am I just lazy and need to kick myself into shape?! I do recognise the irony of procrastinating by writing a blog post about how I’m struggling to write my literature review – almost 800 words added to my blog, zero to my literature review! I’d appreciate other people’s thoughts on my ponderings though.

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  • I quite like putting on different writing hats so I didn’t find it too problematic to switch between blogging and dissertation writing last year, but then the two things only overlapped for a couple of months so maybe that’s why…

    But I do find extremely annoying any kind of contrivance that gets in the way of expressing what you mean. So in my MSc dissertation I wasn’t allowed to use ‘I’ – I had to say ‘this researcher’ and other ridiculous things like that. For me, that serves no academic purpose and does detract from what you are trying to communicate. Interestingly, I didn’t have to do that at York with my MA dissertation, where using the first-person was no problem – I think the more secure an institution is in its own academic status, the more likely you are to be able to break with certain traditions and still receive support for what you’re doing.

    I could write a whole blog post about this it winds me up so much, so I’d better stop commenting or I’ll turn this into a rant… but my view is basically, academic standards exist for a reason and it is overly simplistic to cling rigorously to them in all situations, so I dislike being forced to do so. Perhaps some of the more forward-thinking Universities will in future allow a ‘you need to know the rules to break them – but you *can* break them if its appropriate’ type of approach? That’d be ace.

    As I mentioned before in comments on another blog, I dislike Literature Reviews more than anything – the ultimate construct which actually gets in the way of writing about the literature you’ve used. Grrrr.

    The End