New book: Academic English for Biological Sciences

It’s this time of year again! Can you help me choose which cover would be most suitable for my new Academic English for Biological Sciences book?

Have a look and let me know. Please. I thought I hated spiders but for some reason these ones seem alright. Am I right?

EfB cover sample 2

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Reflections on “How to write a Review paper” workshop

Today, I completed a series of “technical writing’ workshops for postgraduate chemistry or materials science students with my talk on “How to write review papers”.  I was really happy as I finally managed to use a variety of authentic ‘review paper’ excerpts: one that was rejected, one that was published in a highly esteemed peer-reviewed journal and an open-access one. They all focused on a very similar topic: “Solution based vanadium oxide thermo-chromic films” and they were supplemented by a primary research paper they had all heavily cited.
Writing a review paper is often assumed to be an easy task when compared with primary research publications. Yet, if we consider possible complications, we realise that this is not always the case.

What novice writers often realise when their work is deemed inappropriate for publication is that a review paper is not just a descriptive regurgitation of apparently factual information presented in a objective textbook-like language or style. A review paper goes beyond mere organisation and synthesis of thematically bound representations of a particular perspective and corresponding evidence. More and  more science-related review papers appear to entail critical evaluations of recent methodological or theoretical advances, recent progress or research trends that support or refute a well defined perspective. Effective review paper writers make sure that this  perspective is either supported or refuted by examining specific parameters such as cost efficiency, duration, commercialisation, optical properties, applicability of synthetic routes, to name but a few. By comparing how the same parameters work favourably or unfavourably in each case you are more likely to convince the readers that your analysis is thorough and not biased.

The first few drafts of a review paper and in some cases those that have not been accepted for publication are often criticised for lack of objectivity and thoroughness of literature search.  Novice writers though do not always understand what they need to do when being accused of bias. Some factors that can determine the objectivity rating of a review paper is scope, language and length of content.  In terms of content, it is often the case that biased writers will cite papers in favour of their claim or perspective while neglecting other publications which question its validity. This also determines how thorough your literature search appears to be. Regarding language, novice writers often do not follow academic caution conventions or make sweeping generalisations or statements that seem questionable. Bias can also be reflected on the length of analysis and presentation of each perspective. If, for instance, the synthetic route of solution based VO2 thermo-chromic films is presented in a thousand words whereas that of Chemical Vapour Deposition (CVD)  in two paragraphs, it is reasonable for the reviewers to argue that this paper lacks objectivity.

Critical evaluation skills and avoiding a rather broad agenda are often appreciated by the target audience. The use of cautious and logically supported evaluative language is a skill that needs to be throughly taught in English for Academic purposes classes. Students do not always seem to know how to be critical while being objective. Also, in -depth critical evaluation is not expected to draw a line in others' work. Writers should seem aware of the potential limitations of their own analysis. In fact, clearly stating the scope of a review paper in the very beginning is a requirement met by most writers. Narrowing down though the scope of a review paper can be another source of potential trouble. Although researchers need to justify what is the gap they are about to complete and explain the significance of their niche, what they often fail to do is safeguard and protect their work from negative criticism by stating clearly what is not in the scope of their research.

Below you can find a list of Review Paper Evaluation criteria that might come in handy:

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Scaffolding transition from otherwise formal presentations to scientific presentations

Chemistry (senior) undergaduate students’ presentations in English can be more than satisfactory when it comes to organisation, opening phrases and transitions, academic content and delivery   (pronunciation, pace, volume, posture, eye contact etc.). Yet, it often bugged me that when I had to organise lessons in preparation for scientific presentations, students seemed to nod in agreement with what they were presented with and then most of them deliver an otherwise “good” presentation that did not really meet scientific standards. Not surprisingly, there were many times I felt unable to pin down the exact reasons for their lack of “appropriacy”, and yet every time I did so, I felt I was not explicit enough.

This year, I decided to scaffold their transition to scientific presentations with a series of rather simple classroom activities that involved participatory and collaborative learning, peer feedback and teacher feedback.

The first lesson aimed to help students notice different approaches of “transferring” content from a text to a visual (powerpoint slide). They were provided with the transcript of a speech/presentation and  had to work in pairs to produce visuals they would use if they were the speaker.

The presentation was not scientific (strictly speaking) but it contained many science-related concepts that undergraduate science students would not grapple with.  Given the  time limit, I asked three students to come and draw/write on the board the content or scheme of two visuals only. They did so at the same time so that there was no spillover effects.

Not all students came up with the same “from text to slide transfer” approach. There were students whose visuals were very neat and to the point. Others who had the main idea  but crammed too much content in one place, and others that didn’t know that they shouldn’t really copy chunks of “text” in their visuals.

Not surprisingly, when I asked the rest of the class to say which approach depicted the content in the most succinct, concise and appropriate way there seemed to be unanimous agreement. Following that, students then had to identify and explain what made one visual better than another. Interestingly, senior science students seemed to agree that their preferred visuals were the ones that were to the point or those that contained schemes, figures, tables, word-tables and diagrams and fortunately, this seems to agree with current guidelines and trends.

Students made a few slides ( a,  b) using powerpoint or keynote and apparently, it did not seem very daunting. Even the ones that seemed to struggle at first, hit the nail on the head later on.

Really happy to see  that this deductive scaffolding method worked better than  my usual “conversational” lectures.

 

 

 

 

Greek and Latin Prefixes in Biology

As I am researching for my new book “English for Biology EAP”, I could not help but notice that there are so many words starting or ending with Greek or Latin words, i.e. prefixes and suffixes.

For example, the prefix eu- in this discipline means “true”. Take for example the word “eukaryotic”. As “eu” means true in this context and “karyo” means “core” or “kernel”, these terms clearly explain that eukaryotic cells feature a clearly defined (i.e. true) nucleus protected by a membrane. This feature sets them apart from prokaryotic cells which lack a membrane-incased nucleus.

For more on prefixes and suffixes in Biology visit this link

 

Professors might find themselves replaced by a video…

I recently read this article about traditional lectures being outdated, that engaging learners in actual activities (i.e. active learning) and flipping your classroom are now imperative despite the challenges.

The author explains why professors might end up being replaced by videos. To some this might sound like a threat but I happen to do this very often when I think my students need more time for practice or discussion. Although you can’t convince everyone that they need to study or do homework before they turn up in class, when they do so, you can see the benefits.

For more ideas on how to do this, you can read the whole article here: https://www.wired.com/2017/05/the-mechanical-universe/

 

Research limitations you might want to consider when you write a critical review

Always acknowledge a study’s limitations. It is far better that you identify and acknowledge your study’s limitations than to have them pointed out by your professor and be graded down because you appear to have ignored them.

Keep in mind that acknowledgement of a study’s limitations is an opportunity to make suggestions for further research. If you do connect your study’s limitations to suggestions for further research, be sure to explain the ways in which these unanswered questions may become more focused because of your study.

Acknowledgement of a study’s limitations also provides you with an opportunity to demonstrate that you have thought critically about the research problem, understood the relevant literature published about it, and correctly assessed the methods chosen for studying the problem. A key objective of the research process is not only discovering new knowledge but to also confront assumptions and explore what we don’t know.

Claiming limitations is a subjective process because you must evaluate the impact of those limitations. Don’t just list key weaknesses and the magnitude of a study’s limitations. To do so diminishes the validity of your research because it leaves the reader wondering whether, or in what ways, limitation(s) in your study may have impacted the results and conclusions. Limitations require a critical, overall appraisal and interpretation of their impact. You should answer the question: do these problems with errors, methods, validity, etc. eventually matter and, if so, to what extent?

From
http://libguides.usc.edu/writingguide/limitations 

To find a list of common limitations read the rest of the article in the above link.