Whether this is your first week in a graduate program or you are a seasoned grad student, we welcome you.
The Centre for Academic Communication (CAC) offers a wide range of services to grad students: from one-to-one tutoring and coaching to workshops and English conversation café. However, in this brief post, I’ll focus on just two of the services we offer: our Brightspace self-enrolling resource hub, called CAC Online, and our weekly Grad Writing Room.
CAC Online in Brightspace
We’ve created an online version of the CAC that you can access 24/7. Our CAC Online Brightspace is self-enrolling—once you are signed into UVic Brightspace, go to “Discover” in the top menu and find “CAC online.” Once you are in the site, explore multimodal material about all types of academic communication plus resources just for graduate students on how read critically, write strategically, present effectively, and publish your work.
Grad Writing Room
Writing can be a lonely enterprise. Would you like quiet companionship as you think and write? Sometimes, just sitting next to other students who are also on the graduate school journey can make you feel part of a community. Our weekly grad writing room makes the solitary act social. We’re all in this together!
On Wednesdays from 1 to 3 p.m., meet other grad students at the CAC grad writing room. Bring your laptop or pen and paper. We’ll work on our individual writing projects alone, but we’ll be together for solidarity. A CAC tutor will be available for consultation from 1 to 2 p.m. No registration required.
We’re located in the McPherson Library. Walk down the main hallway and turn right just after Classroom 130; we’re at the end of the Learning Commons. On the map you’ll see CAC staff members’ offices marked with hearts. Can’t wait to meet you!
Tip of the day: Did you know the CAC now offers appointments in time management? When making an appointment (first, create an account), select the schedule, “Time Management + more.”
A well-crafted personal statement has the power to open doors, whether you’re applying for graduate school, applying for funding, or seeking career opportunities. In this transformative workshop on writing effective personal statements, participants will gain insight and receive practical guidance to create compelling narratives that showcase their personal and professional journey and their unique strengths, experiences, and aspirations. Participants will learn how to align their narratives with the expectations of admissions committees or potential employers, ensuring their applications stand out from the crowd.
In this workshop on Wednesday, July 26, 3 to 4 pm in Library room 129, we’ll cover the following components of writing a killer personal statement:
Crafting a Captivating Story: Writing a personal statement is an art form. Through engaging exercises and examples, attendees will learn how to structure their statements effectively, capturing attention from the very first sentence and maintaining engagement throughout while being concise and accessible to a wide range of potential readers.
Showcasing Experiences and Achievements: A standout personal statement highlights the writer’s unique experiences and accomplishments. In this workshop, we’ll discuss techniques for identifying your most compelling qualities, skills, and experiences, enabling you to articulate their individual strengths with clarity and conviction. Participants will explore effective ways to communicate their achievements, emphasizing their relevance to the desired academic program or professional field.
Demonstrating Genuine Passion and Fit: Admissions committees and employers seek individuals who are genuinely passionate about their field and who will be a good fit for the existing culture and values of the institution or workplace. In this workshop, participants will learn how to convey their enthusiasm and demonstrate their alignment with the values and goals of their desired program or organization. They will gain tips for researching their target institutions or companies, showcasing their knowledge and skills, and illustrating their fit within the larger context.
Writing a powerful personal statement is a transformative process that enables you to present your unique narrative in a compelling way. This workshop equips participants with the necessary tools to craft personal statements that stand out, leaving a lasting impact on admissions committees and potential employers. With confidence and practice participants will be ready to take the next step towards their academic and professional aspirations and know where to get further help if they need it.
Looking forward to seeing you there!
P.S. This blog post was co-written with ChatGPT! We’ll also cover ways you might use AI and other handy tools to your advantage for ideas about how to organize your statement and ways to optimize your language for accuracy, concision, and other things the people who are in charge of hiring you or approving your applications and proposals like to see!
Professional Writing Step 1: Write a Killer Letter! 3 to 4pm, July 26 in Library room 129
Step 1 of writing professionally is to enter into a “profession” by getting a job! In this workshop, you’ll learn about and practice writing a killer cover letter and analyze resumes and CVs for academic and non-academic purposes. We’ll also review samples created by AI tools and discuss how these can help and hinder standard writing tasks. Contact Gillian (firstname.lastname@example.org) for more information.
What is “voice” in writing? Is it some magical, authentic quality that captures and conveys the author’s identity? Well, sometimes it seems that way. Just as babies can pick out their mother’s particular timbre and register from a cacophony of female voices, we recognize the writing of our favourite writers before we even see the byline that identifies them.
Yet there is nothing mysterious or magical about “voice” if we consider it to be the combined effect on the reader of features a writer chooses from (deliberately or not). That package of features comprises a writer’s style or voice and thereby make it possible to imitate them.
Think of a fiction writer with a unique voice or style, such as Ernest Hemingway. He is famous for using few adjectives and employing lots of repetition. He was also a great fan of “and” and what’s known as polysyndeton (using lots of coordinating conjunctions between clauses). Here’s an excerpt from his short story, “After the Storm.”
I said, “Who killed him?” and he said, “I don’t know who killed him but he’s dead all right,” and it was dark and there was water standing in the street and no lights and windows broke and boats all up in the town and trees blown down and everything all blown and I got a skiff and went out and found my boat where I had her inside Mango Key and she was all right only she was full of water.
These recognizable features of Hemingway’s writing—few adjectives, repetition, and polysyndeton, among others—mean that it’s easy to imitate and even parody his writing.
Over the past 50 years, research on authorial voice has shifted from thinking of voice as the property of the individual to voice as a societal phenomenon (our society, in part, writes us), and finally, to the “dialogic” view where the freedom of the individual voice is in tension with the constraints of society (Mhilli, 2023). The “dialogic” view on voice captures the push-pull of many academic writers—I want to write like this (in my voice), but academic genres constrain me; I must write in a standardized style determined by my discipline.
These constraints do indeed exist, but there are academic writers who push against them. It depends on the discipline, of course. There is more leeway in the humanities and social sciences to infuse writing with personal style, whereas scientific and technical writing often—but not always—demand an impersonal style. And graduate students, of course, have many more writing-style-gatekeepers than do faculty members and independent researchers.
In her book Stylish Academic Writing (2012), Helen Sword argues that academic writing can be engaging and stylish, and she gives numerous examples where authorial voice is clear and identifiable, whether through humour, detail, vocabulary choice, or syntax or a combination of all of these. And no, use of first person isn’t required to convey voice. For example, Sword writes,
Some authors, especially in the humanities, craft third-person prose that is nonetheless imbued with subjectivity and character: “Settled by an extraordinarily literate people and long privileged by the American history establishment, colonial New England’s every square inch has been seriously scrutinized. Or so the conventional wisdom has it. Consider this: Scholars have missed only 100,000 square miles, more or less, of terrain known intimately to seventeenth- and eighteenth- century villagers—the coastal ocean and its seafloor. The irony is superb, for the area seaward of the shore was the first part of the northwest Atlantic reconnoitered by Europeans.” [History] (p. 42)
What about your academic writing voice? Do you have one? Where does it reside? Take a couple of pages of academic text you’ve written and analyze it. What sentence structures do you use? Take note of vocabulary. Do you have writing “tics,” for example, the same transition or phrase (“in other words,” or “moreover”) used over and over? Do you have favourite punctuation marks that you employ frequently, for example double em dashes? These elements are the features that make up your academic voice / style, and you can manipulate them if you wish. Think about the choices available to you. Are you constrained by disciplinary expectations? Could you experiment? Do you want to?
You are invited to a workshop on Writer’s Voice to share your ideas on this topic:
Voice is a contested notion in writing studies. Do you have an authentic voice, or does society prescribe how you write? We are socially constructed beings, but at the same time, we can create voices that bring our personalities to the page. During this workshop, we’ll talk about what it means to write in your own academic voice. Contact Madeline (email@example.com) for more information.
Two of our learning strategists, Brodie and Hannah, offer their thoughts on the timely topics of procrastination and stress. If you want to consult with a learning strategist about time management or goal setting (in-person or on Zoom), book an appointment: https://uvic.mywconline.com/
Some Thoughts on Procrastination
If you are anything like me, at this time of year just after reading break, it is easy to put your writing on the backburner and procrastinate. I am sure that we are all master excuse-makers by now! So, let’s see if I can give you some ideas about how you can put your writing back on the front burners and get cooking again (or writing, but you know what I mean!).
Build some awareness about your patterns with procrastination. When do you procrastinate? How, or in what way, do you procrastinate? Or maybe why? Understanding these questions will help you to put in place strategies that will reduce this pattern.
Feeling overwhelmed with your writing? Try breaking it down into smaller chunks. I am always reminded of the ancient Chinese philosophy of Lao Tzu “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” Sure, I admit that sounds cheesy, but practically, taking smaller steps toward your writing goal is a good way to reduce those overwhelmed feelings and build a little momentum.
What about your environment? Is there a particular space that tends to support you staying focused and on task? Or do you try writing in spaces where there are lots of potential distractions? Knowing the kinds of distractions that curb your focus can also support you in creating a writing space that is beneficial to being productive.
Not sure exactly what or how you should be writing? It can be easy to procrastinate if we are not confident about what we need to do. Try taking a moment and explain to yourself what the purpose of your task is and what needs to be included in your writing. Next, ask yourself what aspect is confusing or unclear about your writing task and use that information think about the resources (i.e., supervisors, classmates, library supports, textbooks, etc.) that you can access that will help fill in some of your missing gaps and encourage you to regain your confidence with your writing task.
Hopefully, a few of these ideas will get your brain thinking. If you want to talk more, try booking an appointment for an individual consultation and explore personalized strategies to help you take back some control from the procrastination: https://uvic.mywconline.com/
Stress Management for Graduate Students
Stress is a fact of life. It is especially significant when one is a graduate student facing academic, professional, and personal challenges. Balancing academic rigors, professional demands, and personal life can be very challenging and stressful and if left unmanaged, it can disrupt life. What coping strategies can a graduate student use to keep stress at bay? Here are six strategies to start with.
Assess your stress. Identify your sources of stress. Is your stress academic or non-academic? Being aware of your stressors is the first step to keep stress at bay.
Find what works for you. Now that you have identified your stress, check what works for you. Does exercise help? A warm bath perhaps? A walk outside? Or meditation? Physical and mental activity such as mindful meditation is beneficial in combatting stress.
Manage your time. Graduate studies is not just academics. It’s a delicate balance between academics and non-academic factors in your life. Master time management, stop procrastinating, take control of your calendar, and simply just do what needs to be done.
Remind yourself of your long-term goal. Keeping track of your long-term goal help with motivation. Remind yourself why you are in graduate school and the opportunities you have received and will continue to receive in this journey.
Celebrate small victories. A thousand miles always begin with one step. Your small victories are steps you take towards your long-term goal in graduate school and beyond. Celebrate them.
Seek help. Various help services are available on campus. As graduate student, you have access to help services that will help you in when your academic journey becomes stress ridden.
Brodie grew up in Ottawa, or the traditional unceded territory of the Algonquin Anishnaabeg people. As a certified teacher, he has worked with young people and families in a wide variety of contexts including outdoor experiential education, school-based support, substance use counselling, and inpatient mental health. If he is not working or studying, you can find him playing disc golf, and mostly likely, contemplating how he can apply SRL theory to improve his game (much to the chagrin of his disc golf partner!).
Hannah was born and raised in Surigao City, Philippines. She is currently in Victoria, working on her Master in Education International Cohort degree. She is passionate about teaching and has been teaching in a state college in the Philippines for 15 years. Her free time is spent with her family exploring and integrating in the Canadian way of life.
Gillian, Nancy, and Madeline share one tip each. We hope you find them useful.
How to get started with a writing genre or assignment that’s new to you
If you’ve been asked to write an “annotated bibliography,” “summary,” or “critical analysis,” and these types of assignments are unfamiliar, there are TONS of resources and samples online to guide you. Search “how do I write a…” and choose sites that end in “.edu” (American universities) or that belong to Canadian or UK universities. YouTube can also be a great “how to” resource. Another option is to ask an AI tool, like ChatGPT to show you what that type of assignment looks like. It can’t access a lot of the information and sources that you can, and doesn’t have any critical thinking skills, but it can serve as a good starting point and show you what kind of language is standard for the genre and type of assignment.
How to write the final sentence of your paper
I struggle with writing the final sentence in the conclusion of a paper. Over time, I’ve learned a few strategies from observing other writers. Strategy #1: Make a prediction: Explain what might be gained or what might happen if your argument is heard or your solution is enacted. Strategy #2: Complete the circle. Return to the first sentence of your introduction and highlight the connection or show the impact of your discussion. If you began with a question, what is the answer? If you started with a gap in knowledge, what information has emerged? Strategy #3: Briefly comment on a broad implication or next step. Who could join the conversation? What small direction might the research take? Who knows? Maybe following these strategies will work for you, too.
How to ensure your language is inclusive, empowering, and respectful
Language is constantly evolving. We are aware of how language can oppress and marginalize, and we are committed to writing in a way that is respective and inclusive. Pronoun identification, people-first language around disability, inclusive vocabulary to describe people experiencing homelessness (instead of “the homeless”): These are just a few language shifts we’ve seen in recent years. If you are writing a paper, thesis, article, or dissertation and want to check that you are writing in a conscious style, you may want to consult this guide: https://consciousstyleguide.com/
For a very long time, writing a single book-length manuscript was the only way to complete a PhD. In the past few decades, however, the traditional manuscript-style dissertation has been recognized as somewhat of a “strange” and “ungeneralizable” genre: its audience is limited, and dissertation-writing skills are minimally transferable to the real world (Duke & Beck, 1999). The possibilities for variation in dissertation structures and genres has quietly expanded, and other options are becoming more acceptable and even preferred (see, for example, Anderson et al., 2020; Anderson & Okuda, 2021; Anderson et al., 2021; Dong, 1998; Paltridge, 2002; Paltridge and Starfield, 2020; Paltridge et al., 2012; Paré, 2019; Thomas et al., 2016).
You have options! One of those is the “article-based” dissertation, also known as the “manuscript-style” dissertation, or “dissertation by publication.” In the sciences, a lot of dissertations are now completed by publication—as many as 40%—and in the field of education, around 10–15% of dissertations might contain at least some published or publishable work.
Here, I’ll weigh some pros and cons of writing your dissertation in this genre and attempt to answer some questions you may have if you’re considering this structure. As always, you should consider which format best suits your research questions, methodology, and discipline, and consult with your supervisor about how to proceed.
What is an article-based dissertation?
An article-based dissertation consists of several articles (usually three or four, but I’ve heard of there being as many as nine) that either have already been published during the course of a student’s PhD studies, or are ready to publish. The PhD candidate should be the first author or first co-author, if co-authorship is permitted (but this varies across disciplines, so check with your supervisor first if you’re considering co-writing any parts of your dissertation). Each article should be a stand-alone document that can be understood independently from the rest of the dissertation, with its own introduction, literature review, methodology, results, and discussion sections, as applicable. In order for the final product to be a cohesive “dissertation,” though, it might also need sections or chapters that introduce the overarching research questions, topic, and methods, as well as “bridging” sections to link the articles.
Reasons to write one:
You want to continue on in academia, and having publications will help you get a job.
Your supervisor wrote one and will be good at helping you navigate writing your own.
Your topic and/or discipline lend themselves well to this type of structure.
It’s super cool to see your name in print and get notifications that your work has been cited by others in your field! Publishing is a great way to assess the impact of your work and to see your research grow and be appreciated by others.
Reasons not to:
Your supervisor did not write one, or isn’t very familiar with that genre, and would therefore not be comfortable guiding you through the process.
You want to finish. A single manuscript is the shortest route to completion. It’s familiar and will encounter minimal pushback from the faculty of graduate studies or committee members.
Your topic, research questions, methodology, etc. are better suited to another format.
You’re not planning to continue in academia, and publishing won’t benefit your career.
Your discipline and/or the intended audience or end user of the work doesn’t value publishing in academic journals as highly as sharing your work in other ways.
Anderson, T., Alexander, I., & Saunders, G. (2020). An examination of education-based dissertation macrostructures. Journal of English for Academic Purposes, 45, 1–12. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jeap.2020.100845
Dong, Y. R. (1998). Non-native speaker graduate students’ thesis/dissertation writing in science: Self-reports by students and their advisors from two U.S. institutions. English for Specific Purposes, 17(4), 369–390. https://doi.org/10.1016/s0889-4906(97)00054-9
Paltridge, B., & Starfield., S. (2020). Change and continuity in thesis and dissertation writing: The evolution of an academic genre. Journal of English for Academic Purposes, 48. 1–16, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jeap.2020.100910
Paltridge, B., Starfield, S., Ravelli, L. J., & Tuckwell, K. (2012). Change and stability: Examining the macrostructures of doctoral theses in the visual and performing arts. Journal of English for Academic Purposes, 11(4), 332e344. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jeap.2012.08.003.
Thomas, R. A., West, R. E., & Rich, P. (2016). Benefits, challenges, and perceptions of the multiple article dissertation format in instructional technology. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology, 32(2), 82–99. https://doi.org/10.14742/ajet.2573
I’ve been working at UVic as an English as an Additional Language Specialist in the Centre for Academic Communication since 2014, where I’ve helped hundreds of students in first-year academic writing and literature courses to become more skilled and confident writers. I have also taught English for academic purposes, English literature, business English, and TESOL in various contexts in Canada and abroad for many years.
I’m currently a PhD candidate in Curriculum and Instruction at UVic, writing an article-based dissertation, and my research focuses on the experiences of undergraduate students accessing and using different forms of academic writing support.
We are offering several workshops on Zoom this semester to support your academic success: everything from time management to how to publish your paper. No registration required. We look forward to seeing you at one or more!
This workshop will help students learn the importance of time management by providing students with time-management tips, practical techniques, and self-applied resources on key topics, such as allocating time for exam preparation. No registration required. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Setting up for a successful semester starts with establishing your academic priorities and discovering campus resources. In this workshop, we will share tips to get your semester started and tour available CAC programs/services/bookings systems. Contact email@example.com for more information.
This workshop reviews the main qualities of academic research and how those are translated into the main qualities of academic writing. This knowledge will help you have a better idea of common requirements and expectations in terms of research-based academic writing. We will also introduce and practice some fundamental skills and strategies to write in a way that follows these expectations. Contact Kaveh for more info.
How many quotations is too many?! What does it mean to “put something into my own words?” Organizing a research paper or an argumentative essay and deciding how to use evidence can be tricky. This workshop reviews how to structure at the sentence, paragraph, and essay levels, and how to effectively integrate evidence in the forms of quotations and paraphrasing to support your arguments. Contact Gillian at firstname.lastname@example.org for information.
In this workshop, we’ll talk about how to create flow in your writing by looking at global flow (cohesion) and local flow (coherence). We’ll review five effective approaches to creating coherence (organizational patterns and colour coding) and cohesion (known-to-new sequencing, transitional expressions, and getting to the verb). Everyone is welcome! Contact Madeline at email@example.com for information.
Are you aspiring to publish an academic paper, thesis, or dissertation? Participants in this hour-long workshop will learn how to select a reputable journal, compose an effective cover letter, create a captivating abstract, and polish their manuscript for submission. No registration required. Contact Emily at firstname.lastname@example.org for information.
Are you aspiring to publish an academic paper, thesis, or dissertation? Participants in this hour-long workshop will learn how to navigate copyright permissions, how to address reviewer feedback, how to track submissions for publication, how to publish for an academic career, and how to promote published work to increase its impact and reach. No registration required. Contact Emily at email@example.com for information.
The lit review is a common genre in academic writing. An effective lit review shows your reader you know the literatures surrounding your research and you can position yourself within the field. By the end of this one-hour workshop, you will be able to 1) describe two ways to start organizing your sources: matrix & map, 2) identify three ways to organize a lit review, 3 )identify an integral and non-integral citation, and 4) describe one strategy for inserting your own “voice” in your literature review This workshop is intended for graduate students, but everyone is always welcome! Contact Madeline at firstname.lastname@example.org for information.
Wondering how to strategically polish a final draft? Join us for information about prioritizing sentences and grammar issues when making changes. Discover approaches and tools to streamline the self-editing process. Contact Nancy at email@example.com for information.
Hello, returning and new graduate students. We know that graduate school involves lots of reading, writing, listening, and presentations. We offer one-to-one assistance with your academic writing challenges in three modes: Zoom appointments, in-person appointments at the Centre (in the Mearns Centre for Learning) and in the form of same-day written feedback. Create an account and make an appointment here: https://uvic.mywconline.com
As you embark on your courses and start researching and writing assignments, theses, and dissertations, we’d like to share our team members’ favourite writing resources. Perhaps one or more of these resources will provide knowledge or perspective that makes a difference to you.
Please leave a comment for us, letting us know your own favourites. We wish you well as you embark on your studies.
Emily’s favourite links
For graduate student writers
University of Minnesota “Graduate Student Writers” Resources:
The Center for Writing at the University of Minnesota boasts numerous “quick tips” resources for graduate student writers, including how to write thesis/dissertation/conference proposals, as well as how to organize, write, and present a thesis/dissertation, with specific emphasis on compositional cohesion and self-editing strategies:
For undergraduate student writers and for everyone
“EAL Learner Agency” WordPress Blog:
Below is a link to the WordPress blog I co-created with Jing Mao’s thoughtful input. The blog contains helpful information for EAL students on how to exercise greater learner agency by leveraging available academic supports as well as concrete tips for communicating effectively with course instructors and peers:
The University of Minnesota has produced a high-quality repository of resources for EAL learners including practical tips for improving speaking, listening, confidence, reading, writing, vocabulary, and grammar:
Writing Resources for Graduate Students (Yale University)
Yale University’s Graduate Writing Lab has a series of writing resources for graduate students on topics such as “Dissertation Writing” to “Prospectus Writing” that can help guide new graduate students navigate various forms of academic writing.
From their own site: “DoctoralWritingSIG is a forum where people who are interested in doctoral writing can come together to share information, resources, ideas, dreams (perhaps even nightmares!) in a spirit of building knowledge and skills around higher degree research writing.”
There are few students who do not know about this huge repository of information on general writing and grammar support. This is exactly why I make sure those few students also know about the Online Writing Lab at Purdue University.
A great collection of writing advice on fundamental questions about academic writing such as “how to overcome a writer’s block?” or “how to write an abstract?” These “advice files” are created by writing instructors at U of T based on the most common questions students have asked over the years and so cover a wide range of writing issues. The site is organized in a few categories, such as “Planning,” “Researching,” “Using Sources,” and so on.
Carlton University’s Online Writing Resources for the Humanities and Social Sciences
Carlton University’s graduate writing resources page is home to a comprehensive repository of resources for writing, from guides on work-life balance and common problems in thesis and dissertation writing to video workshops and blogs like The Thesis Whisperer, Three Month Thesis, and more.
For undergraduate student writers and for everyone
English Use for Academic Purposes (EUFAP)
EUFAP is a long-time favourite, despite its somewhat basic and outdated appearance. It’s a site dedicated to everything related to English for Academic purposes (EAP), which is typically an area of instruction for English language learners, but this site really has information that can benefit writers of all backgrounds and skill levels. It addresses the “four skills”: reading, writing, listening, and speaking.
The University of Manchester’s Academic Phrasebank
The Academic Phrasebank provides the “nuts and bolts” of writing a research paper, organized by function. It’s a great resource for when you need to make a connection between ideas or argue a point and you’re at a loss for words.
Helen Sword hosts writing retreats and workshops that focus on enjoying academic writing, being productive, and writing with style. Her books are helpful as well, particularly, The Writer’s Diet and Stylish Academic Writing.
Pat Thompson’s website has fresh posts coming all the time about timely topics for grad students: how to write the literature review, how to start a doctorate, how to manage your time effectively, and much more.
Wendy Belcher is another writer on academic writing for grad students and faculty. Her writing advice webpage has links to some valuable material, such as how to write a journal article (she wrote the book on it!), how to write a book review, and how to read journals.
For undergraduate student writers and for everyone
I don’t know, maybe it’s the silly video with the guy playing a guitar and singing about transitions? Or maybe it’s because this is where I learned about “adversative transitions.” In any case, this is my go-to for transition information and suggestions.
By Madeline Walker, EAL Specialist, Centre for Academic Communication
Did you know that the Anti PowerPoint Party (APPP) is the eighth largest political party in Switzerland? Their platform has one message: Stop using presentation software because it wastes time and money. Instead, the party “advocates the use of flip-charts for all presentations. Compared to PowerPoint (PowerPoint is always mentioned as the representative of all presentation software), the use of flip-charts creates a multiple effect for the audience in terms of impact, excitement, and comprehensibility. This is not a hypothetical assumption but can immediately be proven through comparisons.”
The APPP claims that PPT presentations not only waste time and money, they also bore the audience, block energy flow, impede emotion, encourage writers to turn vivid verbs into inert nouns, and destroy motivation. The APPP are calling for a national referendum for a law prohibiting PowerPoint during presentations. Sounds wacky, but it’s true.
Members of the APPP are not the only ones protesting PowerPoint. Designer Edward Tufte has long argued that PowerPoint presentations are the wrong medium for serious technical reports. He uses the destruction of the Columbia Space Shuttle as an example of crucial technical information being lost on a PowerPoint slide—you can read his fascinating report. He recommends serious presentations start with the audience silently reading a six page narrative (no bullet points). As a result of Tufte’s work, Amazon stopped using PowerPoint and started using his method and say it’s a “miracle in communication”
Perhaps you’re not a PowerPoint fan either. But the expectation of your supervisor or department is that you use it for your presentations. Well, if you can’t use flipcharts (APPP) or have your audience read six pages (Tufte), you might consider this compromise: prepare an Assertion -Evidence (AE) talk. There are three basic principles of an AE talk: (1) build your talk on messages or assertions (not topics); (2) support these messages with visual evidence (not bullet lists); and (3) explain this evidence by fashioning words on the spot.
This method, developed by Michael Alley at Pennsylvania State University, has two advantages. First, although it takes more effort to build an AE talk than a conventional PPT talk, you will feel and project confidence as you speak to the visual content on the slides and “show ownership” of the material. Second, tests of audience comprehension show this approach leads to the audience understanding and remembering more than they would in a conventional PowerPoint presentation.
Although this method was developed specifically for engineers and scientists, I think it could be effective in any discipline. If textual material is essential to your talk, you can use Tufte’s idea of distributing a handout before the talk for a few minutes of silent reading.
The next time you present, consider exploring the AE method. Avoid those mind-numbing bullet lists and slides loaded with too much text. Engage your inner public speaker, fashioning words on the spot in response to the assertions and evidence on each carefully crafted slide. Who knows, it could become your new way of presenting!
And don’t forget to book an appointment with a tutor to create your slides and practice your talk. We are here to support you on your university journey.
“The well of inspiration is a hole that leads downwards” (Atwood, 176).
Margaret Atwood and Hélène Cixous suggest that all writing is motivated by a compulsion to explore the deepest parts of ourselves. Both authors argue that writing serves to illuminate “an underworld” to draw unacknowledged or unexamined insights back into the light (Atwood, xxiv). Whereas Cixous compares writing to plunging deep into the earth or ocean (5), Atwood compares writing to entering a dark labyrinth or cave with no opening:
“Obstruction, obscurity, emptiness, disorientation, often combined with a struggle or path or journey – an inability to see one’s way forward but a feeling that there [is] a way forward, and that the act of going forward eventually [brings] about the conditions for vision.” (xxii-xxiii)
For Atwood, writing is midwifed in darkness through which inspiration appears as a flash of light (176). Simply put, writers who enter this underworld serve to illuminate that which is already present but unseen.
For Atwood and Cixous, the process of reading shares many of the same properties as writing: a reader enters a text from a place of darkness, unsure of where that text may take them, and temporarily loses then regains their sense of self in the process. As Cixous describes, to be a reader is “to lose a world and to discover that there is more than one world, and that the world isn’t what we think” (10). Ultimately, both authors acknowledge that writing-as-self-discovery is not an easy process – that any attempt to write with integrity is “an exercise that requires us to be stronger than ourselves” (Cixous, 42). It is perhaps for this reason that Kafka once compared writing to “an axe” to break “the frozen sea inside us” (as cited in Cixous, 17). Whether understood as a beam of light, a mirror, or an axe, Atwood, Cixous, and Kafka teach us that the process of writing, however imperfect, may gift the writer with the means to ascend towards a more luminous, expansive, or magnanimous awareness of self.
Atwood, Margaret. Negotiating with the Dead: A Writer on Writing. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2002.
Cixous, Hélène. Three Steps on the Ladder of Writing. New York: Columbia University Press, 1993.
About the author:
Emily Arvay completed her PhD at the University of Victoria in 2019 with her thesis “Climate Change, the Ruined Island, and British Metamodernism.” Since then, she has worked as a Learning Strategist and EAL Specialist at the University of Victoria. She is currently conducting further research on the intersections between literary metamodernism and contemporary climate fictions.