How to Use your Reading in your Essays

Second edition

by Jeanne Godfrey

The response of How to Use your Reading in your Essays to the student context

HUR responds to the student context outlined above, first by giving students an overview of how sources can be used in an essay; most students will not have looked at a piece of academic writing in this way before. The book then takes them through the stages needed in order to successfully select information, read critically, and make meaningful and useful notes. It then looks at the ways in which sources are used explicitly in writing (quotation, paraphrase and summary) and the intellectual and mechanical processes for doing this effectively. Once students have raised their awareness of these processes and have practised them, they are then asked to look at how use of source is integrated into a written assignment. Key points here are using sources to support their own point, and making clear distinctions between source and student 'voice'. HUR emphasizes throughout that deep critical thinking is required at each stage, and that paraphrasing and summarizing should be used as a tool in reaching a critical and independent reinterpretation of information within their own argument, rather than merely being about finding synonyms to replace words from the source text. HUR is a short introductory book for students and so only covers the generic, standard approaches and formats for essays and for using sources, as a first step from which they can develop more discipline-specific ways of using their reading in their writing.

Importantly, even when students have grasped the real point of reformulation and reinterpretation, they will still in fact be unable to do this well if they lack an adequate formal vocabulary to confidently and accurately re-express and discuss information. Each academic discipline has its own specialised vocabulary and form of expression and style, but novice undergraduates or college students may not even have an accurate command of the vocabulary that is common across all disciplines. A key point in vocabulary use is precision. Students often have an adequate passive vocabulary (they more or less know what a word means when they read it) but they lack a large enough active formal vocabulary and so often use words that are almost but not quite right. They therefore need to revise and practice key vocabulary and language before they can effectively use their source material to support their own argument. Thus the main aim of HUR Part B is to give students a 'way in' to understanding formal vocabulary and to using it to re-express information. It gives them examples of how key words and phrases are used (connected grammatical points are explained briefly when necessary), synonymous alternatives and practice in using and correcting common mistakes. Finally, in order to polish and take pride in their finished product, students need practice in editing their work, and so Part C comprises brief sections on spotting and correcting 'last stage' surface errors in language use, with key grammatical points that are common causes of error explained briefly but clearly.

HUR then, enables and empowers students to use their sources in their writing. It shows the student the deeper intellectual reasons for referencing as well as the surface technical requirements, and gives them practice in using formal vocabulary. Empowering students with the knowledge, skills and confidence needed to use their sources effectively will help to remove the need or desire to plagiarise. HUR demystifies the writing process and uses real student writing in a book that is as short, practical, to the point and 'text-light' as possible, rather than being 'just another book to read' for students who may already feel overwhelmed by the amount of reading they have to do.

© Jeanne Godfrey, 2009, 2013, How to Use Your Reading in Your Essays, Palgrave Macmillan.