Guide to Essay Writing in Media and Communications
One of our teaching aims in the department is to produce graduates who can communicate in numerous genres and forms. Many of your units in news writing and media production are designed to help you do this. We hope that as part of your development as writers you learn to identify different genres and their conventions, and adjust your writing practice accordingly. But scholarly or academic writing is also a genre that has particular rules. Some of these relate to presentation, formatting and referencing. But there are also conventions around the idea of scholarly communication that are important. Indeed, it is often only when students understand more about scholarly communication that they begin to understand the importance of following academic conventions like referencing.
Scholarly communication can occur in a range of genres, from conference papers to debates or forums, to book reviews and essays. The one you experience most as an undergraduate are essays. Essays have a special place in scholarly communication. They are an incredibly compact form for exploring an entire suite of skills: from researching, to formation of an argument, to page formatting and referencing (the latter being crucial to avoid penalties for plagiarism). Essays are a very useful genre for exploring positions and arguments. The term 'essay' has links to the idea of 'assaying', weighing up. The essay is about examination, trial, testing, proving, measuring, adjusting and ascertaining.
For many of your lecturers, having an argument is a defining aspect of an essay. But what exactly does this mean when your lecturer says you need to find an argument, or make it stronger? Some key terms and ideas might be useful here.
An important term to think about in relation to argument is focus. This means addressing the topic or essay question at hand, and formulating a response to it. In some cases the response to the question will be a collection of points that are only loosely organised. This loose collection of points will often be lacking any strong conclusion. A more sophisticated response is to develop an argument and organise your points in a way that strengthens and demonstrates your argument.
2. Defining your terms.
Every concept and term has in built-in characteristics and limitations. One of the key responsibilities of scholarly writing is to define terms that you use. Don't always use a dictionary, as a dictionary tends to give common meanings rather than special or technical ones. Often, the definition promoted by a key figure or theorist in the field is better.
3. Assertions and Claims.
Every time you make an assertion or claim, you are assuming things about the state of the world. One of the dangers students run into is firstly making unsubstantiated claims, and secondly making claims that are far too general. Unsubstantiated claims lack support and evidence. General claims are by nature generalizing (e.g. 'All people [without exception] think X). Look at what claims you are making and whether you have explained them correctly and clearly, and whether you have supported them. A secret of good academic writing is to make claims that are relevant and supportable, but note, restricting your claims to first person 'I' does not always give your claim strong support. 'This is what I think' is not a strong academic argument. Based on these arguments, and these circumstances, backed up by these sources, this is what I think', is stronger.
Making a claim based on the activities of unnamed figures, or basing a claim on generalisations, is not good practice. Common knowledge provides limited justification for statements, but you should be careful in relying on common knowledge. If you find yourself making unsubstantiated claims, you may need to adjust the claim you are making to make it less grand. This might mean going back to what your readings or textbook has said about a topic, and building a claim more carefully, or grounding it more carefully. If you find yourself making claims which are too general, you may need to qualify your statements, or bolster the claim with evidence (sometimes both are important).
4. Structure of argument.
An argument sometimes involves multiple parts; one claim followed by another. Special attention should be given to the structure and logic of the argument. This also means thinking about organisation. In your essay, you will have identified many different points to make. But the issue is, which point should be made where, in which paragraph? A point could work well in two places. This is where organisation comes in, as part of creating coherent paragraphs that deal with similar bits of the argument. A good rule of thumb is to try to deal with all points relating to an issue in around about the same place in your essay.
An important term to think about when thinking about Assertions, Claims and Arguments is 'position'. Every time you make a claim or assertion you are taking or adopting a position in relation to some matter. Having an argument means on one level taking ownership of the position you are adopting. This means more than simply gathering statements from lecture notes or materials together. It means thinking about the position from which you are making meaning. A very important area to think about here is quoting. Students sometimes quote from a text as a way of establishing a particular position. But a key principle here is that quotes are not in themselves self-evident. They need unpacking for the reader. They should be contextualised in your essay.
The issue of position is related to the question of dialogue. Scholarly communication is to a large extent about exploring different positions, and putting positions into conversation with one another. Your reference list at the end of an essay is in a sense a record of such a conversation. One of the amazing things about referencing is that it can allow you to have a conversation with a thinker writing 400 years or more ago. This issue of dialogue is relevant in terms of distinguishing between opinion and argument; a distinction that your assessors will be sensitive to. Opinion is the expression of a perspective or view. It is a response to a topic. Arguments are deliberated on. They are built out of what has previously been said and written about in a particular field (thus the importance of creating a position that sits in a kind of dialogue with what has been said about a topic before). Understanding dialogue is crucial to understanding why plagiarism is such a serious charge. Plagiarism is where you take the position of another for your own. You take credit for someone else's position.
7. Critical Thinking.
This could be a paper in its own right, but for the purposes of most essays critical thinking involves thinking about the claims made by yourself and others, examining the presuppositions upon which those claims are based, and also examining the implications of adopting particular positions (e.g. If I say this about something, does it automatically mean this?). Critical thinking involves an awareness of the premises upon which your argument is based, and which guide your conclusion.
One of the key aspects of scholarly communication is responsibility. After all we (teachers and students alike) are custodians of this thing called a university, and of academia. This responsibility can manifest itself in different ways. We have already mentioned the responsibility of defining your terms. There is also a responsibility to your reader, to present as clear and well-argued piece as possible. There is a responsibility to accuracy, to representing the work of others correctly and fairly. One of the cardinal sins of scholarly writing is getting the quote wrong, which is why ellipsis and square bracket are used to indicate changes or additions to quotes. Another is lack of proof-reading. Proof read your essay, not just spell check. The spell checker will not pick up words that are spelt correctly but are not supposed to be their.
Some might say we have a responsibility to language itself, to construct well formed and aesthetically beautiful sentences. Repetition of words is sometimes frowned on in academic writing for this reason. The English language is diverse and rich and repetition can be regarded as sloppy and unnecessary. Try to avoid one-sentence paragraph”they disrupt the flow of the essay. Consolidate different (but related) smaller paragraphs into larger ones. Smaller paragraphs are ok in reports and some journalism, but in essays the expectation is for paragraphs with greater organisation and coverage.
This is a key skill. Listening starts from the lecture room, extends to the tutorial room where you should be listening to your fellow students, and finally applies to the writing process where you listen to yourself, and think about what you are writing. Listening can assist writing. Many academics read their essays aloud when writing them. Students under time pressure often don't leave time for re-writing and drafting. This means that grammar and proofreading can suffer, but it also means that there is less time to listen to what you are writing. A key part of listening that is worth highlighting is interpretation. Listening involves evaluating and interpreting what you hear.
Scholarly engagement involves engaging with and evaluating the arguments of others. It is a unique form of activity. It involves assessing what the author is trying to do. It often takes patience, and it helps to be curious. It is not always entertaining in the first instance, but this does not necessarily make it uninteresting or unrewarding. The fascinating thing is that you can learn as much from a failed argument as a successful one.
As you proceed through the course, hopefully you will begin to see the inter-relationship between these terms. Engagement is intertwined with position, and a deepening knowledge of the field. Language is linked to responsibility and critical thinking.
Today, not all students attend university to become scholars. But scholarship informs an important set of literacy skills and job skills that you will find useful. As many of you will be entering professional fields, there are benefits in knowing the rules underpinning academic communication. As a professional in society you will be held to a very high standard of communication (and as future graduates of a Communications degree, so you should be). Improving your written and spoken expression should thus be an important part of your personal and professional development.
1. Presentation and Style
Your essay should be typed if possible, if handwritten then the writing must be legible. You should also double space your copy and leave margins of at least four cm on both sides of your page to allow the reader to comment. Text should only appear on one side of the page. For written essays a font such as Times or Palatino 12 pt is usually recommended. Page numbers should be provided.
Your essay should include an introduction (in which you outline the theme of your essay and flag the issues you plan to address), a body (in which you explore the themes of your essay and present arguments supported by evidence, expert opinions and examples), and a conclusion (in which you briefly recap your arguments and draw conclusions). You may divide your essay into stanzas and use subheadings if you wish.
Your goal should be to write as clearly and succinctly as possible. Avoid generalisations and always illustrate abstract concepts with examples taken from media texts where relevant or possible. Avoid jargon and make sure you explain any difficult concepts, quotes or specialist terms in your own words to demonstrate that you understand the concept.
Quotes less than three lines long should be enclosed by double quotation marks. Quotes within quotes should be identified by single quotations marks.
Quotes which are more than three lines long should be separated from the main text and indented. You should omit quotation marks.
In The Elements of Style William Strunk and E.B.White write:
Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer makes all his sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subjects only in outline, but that every word tell
For further tips about essay structure and style consult The Write Site elearning web-site. http://writesite.elearn.usyd.edu.au/
Referencing is an essential component of academic writing and students must make every attempt to adhere to a referencing style. A number of style and citation guides are held by the library. For more information see http://www.library.usyd.edu.au/subjects/readyref/citing.html
When referred to in your discussion, titles of books, films, television and radio programs, newspapers, and websites should be italicised, or underlined if the work is handwritten or produced on a typewriter. Titles of articles, book chapters and unpublished manuscripts or papers should be enclosed in quotation marks. It is not necessary to refer to the title of every text you cite, as usually the author's name and year will be enough to track down the work in the bibliography. Obviously, there may be instances when including the title enhances the quote you are referencing and/or the argument you are making.
You may use any referencing system (footnotes, endnotes, in-text referencing) you wish as long as you use it consistently and you include all of the key bibliographic elements required (author, title, place, publisher, etc.) Use our sample referencing system as a guide to what these key elements are. Because there are many referencing systems out there we have provided one, which is the Harvard author- date system. Please note that there are today many variants of Harvard, and the one suggested here is an example, but the most important thing is that you use it consistently.
The author-date method
b1. References (citations) in the text:
According to Turner (1992).
. . . while others disagree (Turner 1992). [note no comma]
If more than one author is cited, authors are cited in alphabetical order:
. . . disagree (Turner 1988; Williams 1990).
According to Herman and McChesney (1997: 1) 'there has been a dramatic restructuring of national media industries'.
It is notable that 'there has been a dramatic restructuring of national media industries (Herman and McChesney 1997: 1), yet this need not be a cause for alarm.
Three Authors or more:
For three authors or more, the Harvard system notes only the first name followed by 'et al.'. Full names are required in the list of references at the end of your essay or assignment.
One Author quoted in the work of another:
There is no need to put in details of both authors “ rather you reference the work from which the quote was obtained. For example;
According to Hall, this is 'what is meant by saying that the discourse constructs the spectator as a subject' (in Wykes and Gunter 2005: 39).
To suggest 'that the discourse constructs the spectator as subject' (Hall, in Wykes and Gunter 2005: 39) recognises the importance of context in analysis.
In the list of references, only the details of Wykes and Gunter are listed.
Authored Chapter in an edited collection:
If you are citing a chapter from edited collection, then the author of the chapter, NOT, the editors, are to be noted. For example, if quoting The Media and Communications in Australia, a collection of chapters edited by Cunningham and Turner, all references would be to the specific authors within not to Cunningham and Turner (unless of course they author a chapter).
If you wish to make a general reference to an edited collection (not a chapter in that collection), then simply treat the editor/s as the authors, and list the work in the list of references (example provided below). The latter will tell the reader it is an edited collection.
In instances where you are referencing from a newspaper article, report and so on that does not have an author, you should quote the title of the article. For example;
New studies have shown that publishing organisations are keen to explore the digital market ('Emap goes digital' 2002: 33)
The article appears in the list of references under the title, and alphabetically with authors starting with 'E'.
In this instance, work is ascribed to the original author (i.e. Foucault) in text, with the translator noted in the References section.
Use of Page Nos.:
Please note, when you include a reference without a page number, you are referring to the whole of the work. For example:
According to Turner national identity is constructed through popular narratives and cultural myths (1993).
Referencing in this way shows you are summarising the main argument of a book, article, chapter, etc.
A page number must be cited if any material is quoted and/or paraphrased. For example:
. . . Turner argues, 'it can be misleading to expect newspapers to fit exactly into a two-press model' (1992: 45).
Turner argues that the two-press model might be misleading as a model for all newspapers (1992: 45).
Including the reference details at the end of the quote or paraphrased quote signals to the reader where the referenced work ends and your own argument recommences.
No Page Nos.:
Page numbers are not necessary (in text) if the article is a single page. This format can be applied for Internet resources. Please refer below for details relating to end referencing.
Quotes that are 25 words or longer should be indented and single-spaced.
Note: The placement of the period or full stop should always be at the end of the sentence, which is after the bracket. The only exception is with an indented quote.
Within the space of a single paragraph the year of publication may be omitted if you have already provided the details. For example;
At the beginning of a paragraph, you might quote from Hartley (1999: 56). Within the same paragraph, if you are quoting from the same source, you can quote without the year of publication I.e. either Hartley (78) or (Hartley: 78).
While this guide is focussing on the Author-Date system there is a brief point to be made about repeated references and footnotes. In the first reference to a work you must supply full details. But in subsequent references, use minimal references (e.g. Hartley 199: 78). Do not use Ibid or Op Cit.
b2. List of References
All works cited should be listed alphabetically as References at the conclusion of the essay.
Souter, Gavin (1981), Company of Heralds, Melbourne, Melbourne University Press.
Wykes, Maggie and Gunter, Barrie (2005), The Media and Body Image, London, Sage Publications.
Note: Only one publication address, usually the first that appears on the inside title page (not the cover), is noted.
Follow this system for books with multiple authors (i.e. all names are to be listed).
If a work has been translated, include the name of translators:
Habermas, Jurgen (1982), The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere: An inquiry into a category of bourgeois society, Thomas Burger and Frederick Frederick (trans.), Cambridge, The MIT Press.
Lacy, Stephen, Fico, Frederick and Simon, Todd (1991), 'Fairness and balance in the prestige press', Journalism Quarterly, Vol. 68, pp.363-370.
Turner, Geoff (1992), 'Information underload: Recent trends in the Courier-Mail information news content', Australian Studies in Journalism, Vol.1, pp. 43-72.
Note that the titles of journals are italicised and in title case, while the article title is presented in lower case (except for nouns).
There is no need to name the chapter of a book if it has a sole author. If you are quoting from an edited collection, both the author(s) of the chapter and the editor(s) should be noted. For example;
Goggin, Gerard (2006), 'The Internet, online and mobile cultures', in Stuart Cunningham and Graeme Turner (eds.), The Media and Communications in Australian, 2nd Ed., Sydney, Allen and Unwin, pp.259-278
If you are referring a collection as a whole;
Cunningham, Stuart and Turner, Graeme (2006) (eds.), The Media and Communications in Australian, 2nd Ed., Sydney, Allen and Unwin.
Should be cited in the same way as for journals, except for variation around the date/volume nos.:
Porter, Henry (1992), 'Royals and the rat pack', Australian, 11 June, p.11.
For articles with no author given, use the form:
'Editorial', Sydney Morning Herald, 23 January 1998, p.32
The underlying principles for referencing material available through the World Wide Web (Internet) are largely the same as for other formats. The additions for items read or acquired over the Internet are the format, version, file address, and the date retrieved or accessed.
The elements of online reference citations are:
author's surname and initial(s).
year of publication,
title of the article or document
title of the book or publication
name of the publisher,
place of publication.
address or location
date retrieved or accessed [in square brackets].
Not all elements will be present in each reference. For many Internet resources the address will be the Uniform Resource Locator (URL).
This often takes a form similar to that below:
Since the address, format and content of many electronic sources are inherently unstable, it is recommended that the date of your visit to the host site be included along with the publication date of the material viewed where this is given. For example:
Journal article from a database:
Ali, Tariq (2005), 'Globalisation and democracy after Iraq', Arena Magazine, No.77, pp.25-29 [online]. Available: APA-FT: Australian Public Affair Full Text database. [Accessed 15 July, 2002]
Petridis, Alexis (2002), 'Pop of the tots', in the Guardian, 30 August, 2002 [online]. Available: [http://www.guardian.co.uk/arts/critic/feature/0,1169,782431,00.html [Accessed 10 October, 2002]
Goldie, Norman (1999), CSIRO Media Release: Korea, Australia to share environment satellite (online). 20 May 1999. Available:
http://www.csiro.au/news/mediarel/mr1999/mr99107.html||http://www.csiro.au/news/mediarel/mr1999/mr99107.html]] [Accessed 26 May 1999].
Works without known authors are cited by title:
Writing HTML: A tutorial for creating www pages (online). 1995, Version 1.5. Available: http://www.mcli.dist.maricopa.edu:80/tut/ [Accessed 9 Aug. 1995].
Where the publication date is not available use 'n.d.'.
Galimany, Michael (n.d.), A visual aspect: Images of the State Library of Victoria (online). Available: http://www.slv.vic.gov.au/slv/exhibitions/pictures/7/
[Accessed 18 May 1999].
Punctuation must be exact. This is essential for electronic addresses. Since punctuation is such an important part of an Internet address, certain conventions of citation punctuation have necessarily been changed and/or adapted. Addresses are often case sensitive and always require the exact order, spacing and punctuation in order to provide a successful connection to the service. Be particularly careful in recording the position of stops and slashes.
When quoting online material in an online document, you can provide an active hypertext link directly to the source from your list of references, but you must provide the URL as well. The latter is necessary in case someone chooses to print out the document and needs to follow up or verify some of the references.
Electronic and other Non-print sources (TV, Radio, etc)
Specify the medium in brackets immediately after the title and include the location and name of the distributor. Thus:
150 years of photography: An American image (video recording). 1988, Eastman Kodak, New York.
Aborigines of the Canberra region (kit). 1982, Aboriginal studies kit developed by ACT Schools Authority in conjunction with the Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies and the National Aboriginal Education Committee. ACT School Authority, Canberra.
Television productions are identified as video recordings or television programs. Include details of when they were broadcast.
The highwayman: Bill Gates and the superhighway (television program), 1995, ABC Television, broadcast 6 March.
Media Watch (television program), 2005, ABC Television, broadcast April 12.
Referencing for Radio requires you to include as much information as possible. So, for example, if the time of the broadcast is relevant to distinguish it from other programs then it should be included. If you are citing an interview and/or particular program that is part of a series, than details of both should be included. If you are citing from a transcript, then details of where the transcript was located should be included.
'Cash for Comment' (radio program), 2006, Background Briefing, ABC Radio National, broadcast 4 June.
Children and the Internet (radio program), 2002, ABC Radio National, broadcast 2 June. Transcript available at http://www.abc.net.au/rn/tranlist.htm [Accessed 4 June, 2002].
Films can include the year of release, the name of the director and (if known) the distributor.
La Dolce Vita (film), 1960, Director: Federico Fellini.
Where individual authors are identified, treat these as for books.
Adamson, Edward (1988), Trees and rural productivity (microform). Ministry of Planning and Environment, Melbourne.
When the source of information is a database spanning several years, it is not necessary to include the range of years covered, but producer, vendor and frequency of updating should be included.
Medline (database). National Library of Medicine, Vendor: Silverplatter, monthly updating.