Writing and study skills

In order to write well, we must read. As the module will explain, we need to read critically, and read with a view to how people write; we should seek out writers who communicate to us clearly and with enthusiasm. New media – such as blogs, twitter, etc – demand new writing strategies and styles, alongside old well-developed ones. Ideally, we should feel equally confident about writing 140 characters – or 140 pages. We must also be confident in how we combine text and image to communicate. In this module we can only scratch the surface of design writing – but hopefully it will motivate you to refine your writing over your career.

Writing is a craft. Like any craft, it demands that we have the right tools to apply it and learn the methods that will enable our intent to be realised precisely and expressively. Some of the tools are detailed below; the methods will be addressed in the module workshops.

Key texts

There is one essential book that we ask you to get hold of (as a University of Dundee student you are entitled to a free copy of it by using the form you were given at the start of Semester One).

The Smarter Student: Study Skills and Strategies for Success at University by Jonathan Weyers and Kathleen McMillan (2007), Pearson Publishing, ISBN: 9780273714491 This is a highly useful book for all students, and you will find that Section D provides some essential advice and guidance on academic writing. It is written by two highly experienced academics at the University of Dundee.

How we write: writing as creative design by Mike Sharples (Routledge, 1999) is not essential to read – but if you are serious about understanding how and why you write then you should refer to it. The book is highly readable, and covers many different aspects of writing, but most essential (for the purposes of our course) is Chapter 4: writing as design. As the author explains: “writing (and design in general) is a conscious and creative communication with and through materials to achieve a human effect.” It covers aspects of planning, composing and collaborative writing.

All students – whether English is their first or second language – should have a good dictionary and thesaurus to help develop appropriate and expressive vocabulary. Software versions are generally not as good as published versions, and those handheld electronic dictionary/translators are useless. However, to really discover and learn the effective use of the English language, one dictionary stands out.

The Oxford Collocations Dictionary for Students of English (Oxford University Press, 2009) provides a vital reference on collocation: “the way words combine in a language to produce natural sounding speech or writing”. Language that is collocationally rich is far more precise – this is essential for design writing (indeed, any form of writing). This dictionary is not cheap, but then it may well help you swing a job or a contract, so on balance is probably worth the investment. There are a couple of online versions available, which are no substitute for the real thing, but will give you an idea of what the dictionary does.

Useful links and sources

The University of Dundee provides exemplary support to students in terms of developing their writing skills. The University provides one-to-one tuition sessions and other tutorials that can help address your specific needs. Further information is provided here. We would strongly encourage you to make use of this University service.

Tips for Increasing Reading Speed http://www.coun.uvic.ca/learning/reading-skills/speed.html

Speed Reading http://www.mindtools.com/speedrd.html

Reading Strategies http://www.mindtools.com/rdstratg.html

University of Manchester – How to take notes http://www.humanities.manchester.ac.uk/studyskills/essentials/note-taking/taking_notes.html

Reading and Analysing Essays http://www.ucc.vt.edu/stdysk/essays.html

General help with reading http://www.lifelearning.utexas.edu/l_readingassistance.html

What kind of writer are you? What strategies do you use? David Chandler has written an interesting analysis of writing strategies. Read this and think how it applies to your own approach. Are you a bricklayer or a water colourist?

Five reasons you should be writing for design blogs.

Don Norman on writing as design, design as writing.

Alan Macfarlane is Emeritus Professor in Social Anthropology at the University of Cambridge. This video is his thoughts and reflections on writing, especially dissertations. Of specialist interest to students, it is appropriate mainly for those who intend to pursue an academic direction in the future:


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