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Comp496/901: Writing Assessment
One of the aims of this unit is to ensure that you achieve a
reasonable degree of
competence in writing about your research. There are two pieces of
writing you have to submit for the unit:
The first of these is used as a diagnostic to determine the aspects of
your writing that require most attention. This piece of work is not
formally assessed, but is used to provide feedback that you can make
use of when you write your three-page project
description. You are assessed on the three-page document.
- a one-page description of your project; and
- a three-page description of your project.
provides some pointers on what your three-page document should be
like, and how it is assessed.
2 Your Intended Audience
The aim of this exercise is to help you develop skills in the kind of
writing that is appropriate when writing about research. There are
many different contexts in which you might write about your research:
for example, papers you submit to conferences; funding proposals;
magazine articles intended for a broader audience; and of course
thesis. All of these have different audiences,
and require different approaches; as
you start on your first attempt at any of these categories of writing,
you should seek advice and help from your supervisor.
The aim of the writing exercise here is to provide you with
practice that should be useful for all of the above categories of
writing. To this end, your intended audience is me. Since I may not
understand the technical details of your project, it is imperative
that you explain your work in a way that is accessible to someone who
has general technical knowledge but is not an
expert in the area. This is not easy to do, but it is an
extremely valuable skill to learn.
Because you are writing for a non-expert, your three-page
description isn't a true test of writing
for your thesis, but it's a compromise between populism and detail
that will exercise skills you will find useful in many contexts.
The structure proposed below for
your three-page document is intended to help you achieve this.
You should think about your document as being something that you
might aim to publish in the magazine of a professional
association; thinking about it in this way
should encourage an appropriately professional and
rather than it being like an undergraduate
essay whose primary reader is a teacher.
Your three-page project description is marked out of 10. A mark of
five corresponds to a pass. Writing well about your research
is not easy: it imposes different requirements from those you would
meet when writing technical
documentation, for example.
Unless you have some reasonable experuence of
writing about research prior to taking this unit, you are unlikely to
achieve a pass mark on the basis of your first submission of this
assignment. That's okay: you are allowed to submit several revised
versions until you achieve at least a pass mark.
Here's the rationale underlying the marking scheme used in this
Although you may feel satisfied with a pass mark here, you are
strongly encouraged to keep revising until you achieve a mark of 7.5
out of 10, since this is the threshold mark at which I consider your
writing to be of a standard that is appropriate for being made
- 5 out of 10: Passable. If you just want to get 50% for this
have done enough: the reader can see what problem you are addressing,
they can see how you intend to address it, and they can see what the
outcomes will be. Improvements might be possible in a number of
regards: you might make the problem statement
clearer, you might provide a clearer summary of approach and
outcomes, or a more appropriate level of detail in explaining the approach.
It should go without saying that, for a pass, you need to ensure that you make proper use of citations
- 6-7 out of 10: Good. This is the best you can get if your
still demonstrates weaknesses in the use of
English, and it requires you to have done a good job of the other
assessed dimensions. A mark of 7.5 is the
threshold that means what you have written could be allowed out in
public: if you achieve 7.5 or above, it means that I would be
comfortable giving what you have written, without further editing, to
a colleague at another institution as a description of what your work
- 8-9 out of 10: Very good: no flaws of any significance.
- 10 out of 10: Top marks: excellent. You convey the story well to an
outsider to the area, you don't use too much jargon, the argument
structure is very good, the use of English is very good. You could
probably publish this in a technical magazine aimed at a broad audience.
4 What Makes a Good Three-Page Project Description?
The aim here is to provide a more detailed specification of what is
required than we have time to provide in class. You are advised to
use this as something of a check list to make sure that what you
submit meets the specification.
You are strongly encouraged to approach the planning of your project
description in top-down fashion; documents written in a bottom-up
`stream of consciousness'
fashion are less likely to read coherently. To that end, you should plan out your
document in line with the sections described here.
You should choose section titles that mean something in the
context of your project.
An introductory section: This should start out by saying what you aim
to do, and what problem you are addressing. It should make clear to
the general reader what the key issues are, and what you are going to
do to address these. It should end by summarizing the content and
structure of the rest of the document.
This section could be anywhere
between half a page and three quarters of a page in length. The important point is
that it should be possible for someone to read this and have a good
idea of what you are doing without reading any further. This is
probably the most important section in your document.
How do I determine if you've achieved this? If I have a clear idea of
what you aim to do by the end of this section. If I don't, then you
haven't met the specification.
- A background section where you explain the problem in more detail,
provide an explanation of key terminology that makes a deeper
understanding of the problem possible for the reader, and explain what
has been done so far, what remains to be done, and what you are going
to contribute. This material should still be accessible to a general
reader (i.e., me). This section should be around a half page in length.
How do I determine if you've achieved this? If I
feel I understand more about the nature of the problem than I did
before; I should learn something new here. But if you have sunk into
technical detail that is only accessible to someone who alraedy works
in the area, then you have missed the mark.
- A section that describes in more detail the approach you will take.
This is where you get to talk to a more expert audience, and it's ok
if I don't fully understand the details here; but I should be able to
understand the structure: what the steps are, how they fit
together, what the outcomes are, and so on. You can achieve that
multi-level understanding either by having an introductory subsection
that sketches the story, followed by more detailed subsections I may
not understand; or you can introduce each subsection with a higher
level description (likely set off in a separate paragraph) then follow
this by the more detailed stuff. This section could be up to 1.5
pages in length.
How do I determine if you've achieved the goal here? If I can
understand what the structure of your approach is, and if the details,
to the extent that I can understand them, look like they make sense.
A concluding section where you summarise the work and revisit the
intended outcomes, making clear what will be achieved. This will
usually repeat the essential content from earlier -- there shouldn't be
anything new or surprising in this section -- but it provides you with a way of
ensuring that the reader can see what the overall picture is, having
just emerged from all the detail in the previous section. The section
should be up to half a page in length, and should be written in terms
that might not have been appropriate at the beginning of your paper,
but are appropriate in the context of the material you have provided.
- A complete and correctly-formatted references section.
Note that this is not included in your three-page limit. You
should provide as lengthy a references section as you are able.
Some of this should be self-evident, but just to be sure:
- Your document should clearly indicate its title and authorship.
- Aim for three pages not including your references, but it's ok if you
go a bit over. To provide enough text for this to be worthwhile, you don't
want margins any greater than 2.5 centimetres; you should use
single line spacing; and a point size of 11 is probably about right.
- Make sure you carefully check your spelling and grammar.
Make sure your document has page numbers; that your sections, figures
and tables are
numbered; and that any internal cross-referencing makes use of these
- Care about the appearance and professionalism of your document.
Sloppiness in any of the above guarantees a low mark.
Please send comments or queries about this web site to Robert.Dale@mq.edu.au
Last Modified: 27th July 2008