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Writing for Academic Success - Book Review

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by Erin Connelly (subscribe)
I am a medievalist in the process of completing a PhD (involving medieval medicine). I travel as much as possible at home (UK) and abroad. I'm always ready for new experiences!
Published January 26th 2013
Writing for Academic Success: A Postgraduate Guide by Gail Craswell is a practical and informative manual designed to assist postgraduate students with the uncertainties of academic writing. The book provides comprehensive coverage of a variety of writing styles in order to aid students from a range of different disciplines. The author discusses general issues, such as fear of failure and unclear expectations, then moves on to a focused discussion of specific types of writing (e.g. research essays, article reviews), and concludes with advice for presentations and publications.

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In her role as senior adviser to graduate students, Gail Craswell gained valuable insight into common questions and concerns about writing and she supplements the text with successful case studies from her experience. The book covers several topics, including overcoming writer's block, working with tutors, gathering information, understanding a text, and protocol for diverse writing types. The major strength of the book is that it addresses the fact that many postgraduate students have never received formal training in academic writing and may be unclear about expectations and protocol.

Each chapter has developmental objectives and practical exercises designed to help the reader incorporate the new material into their study routine. Illustrations enhance the text for the visually inclined and a sample thesis outline gives clarity to the textual explanation.

The first section of the book deals with general writing concerns. The beginning exposes the pressures and fears faced by a majority of postgraduate students and lists possible sources of support and encouragement. However, the inclusion of discussions on the use of spell check, the need for accurate punctuation, and the dangers of plagiarism tend to be overly simplistic for a postgraduate audience.

The second section provides information on specific genres of writing, such as reports, literature reviews, exam essays, and thesis writing, and provides practical guidelines for each style. The strength of this section is in the clear definitions of each genre, discussion of expectations and conventions, and systematic instruction on how to actually write in a chosen style.

The final section on oral and visual presentations does seem out of place in a writing manual and may not be relevant for some students. However; the section contains helpful advice for assessing an audience and dealing with nervousness.

Writing for Academic Success: A Postgraduate Guide is clear in style and reassuring to students who may feel isolated in their struggle to write academic papers. The author is particularly encouraging to students just beginning their postgraduate coursework, because they may struggle the most with the unstructured and demanding environment of postgraduate study. This is a useful resource for students moving directly from undergraduate study, those who have been away from academia, or those inexperienced with research and written work.
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Why? A useful resource for students entering postgraduate study and seeking to become more accomplished academic writers.
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