Writing Day at Reidsdale on the First Day of Summer

Today staff from Sport Studies at the University of Canberra met the poet Harry Laing at the Old Cheese Factory at Reidsdale to develop our writing skills as part of the Faculty of Health‘s 2010 Writing Week. We visited Reidsdale on one of the wettest days of the year in the wettest week of the year so that the glories of the Monga National Park were obscured by cloud and mist.

Harry was a delightful facilitator and manged to guide us through a great day of writing and voice exercises.

Our day included:

  • Two free flow writing exercises (writing without taking the pen off the paper as a stream of expression).
  • Writing about an object (two truths, four lies).
  • Completing a fifty-word piece that followed from the starting line I stroked the tiger one last time then …
  • Writing about a person we know well.
  • Completing a fifty-word piece that followed from the starting line The stadium went quiet then …
  • Writing about My Left Hand.
  • Writing about an object (description then an imagination piece about the object).
  • Two voice exercises: one to Charles Causley‘s I Am The Song and one as a Chant.
  • Writing a Tanka on the theme of a Hero or Fallen Idol.
  • Exquisite corpse exercise (partners take it in turn to write words: adjective, noun, verb, adjective, noun without seeing what each other has written) to develop unimagined sentences.

Harry interspersed these activities with readings from his own collections, Philip Larkin and Simon Armitage.

There was lots of opportunity to discuss writing and narrative whilst having the most wonderful food and drinks from the Old Cheese Factory kitchen (provided by Gary, Gina, Margaret and Robert).




Writing Week at the University of Canberra 2010

Today is the start of Writing Week in the Faculty of Health at the University of Canberra. We had a preliminary event last week with Robert Brown. His writing workshop provided an excellent stimulus for disciplined writing for publication.

This is the Faculty’s second writing week. There are some blog posts about the 2009 Writing Week in this blog. This year the Faculty has scheduled no meetings for the week in order to create time for writing. On Wednesday staff from Sport Studies are meeting the poet Harry Laing at the Old Cheese Factory at Reidsdale to develop our writing skills. We are in for a treat judging by an excerpt from his poem Wordsmith:

…Cold forgery is impossible,
Words must bleed from a hot core –
They bulb at my fingertips
Exuded like beads of mercury, my sons
Hatched from the ashes and into the blaze with them
See those salt blue flames singing at the margins –
That is spirit, quicker than embers
Thumping, banging smith-spirit.


Whilst the Faculty’s Writing Week is in its second year Meanjin is celebrating its seventieth anniversary. A recent Radio National Book Show (24 November 2010) celebrated the anniversary and discussed the role of literary publications in a digital world. The discussions about a published journal compared to an on-line journal mirrored debates in the academic world about open access.

It was interesting to listen to Jim Davidson and Christina Thompson discuss Meanjin and the role of editors in forging a publication’s identity. I was very interested in Christina‘s discussion of her work at the Harvard Review and the positioning of the Review in a digital age. I noted the importance Christina attached to Laura Healy‘s work with the Review’s website (see too Laura’s Chocolog site).

Just as I was savouring these thoughts, Colm Toibin appeared on the same Radio National program to discuss his Off the Shelf books (Off the Shelf is a regular segment on the Book Show where writers and artists talk about a book or books that have influenced their thinking, or one that they go back to for inspiration). His discussion of Ernest Hemmingway’s The Sun Also Rises and A Moveable Feast explored the art of writing. (James Topham said of the A Moveable Feast “I think there is no author that makes you want to write than Hemingway; every sentence he writes seem to suggest a joy and delight in his craft”.)

I am looking forward to the joy and craft of writing this week.

Photo Credits

Writing Home 1914

D’Aug Days

Writing Week 2010: Robert Brown Workshop 2

Robert Brown facilitated a writing workshop to launch the University of Canberra Faculty of Health’s 2010 writing week. (Information about the first part of the workshop can be found here.) In his handout material for the workshop, Robert asserts his copyright of his materials. I make explicit mention and acknowledgement of his copyright here.

The second session of the day, after lunch, started with Robert’s discussion of Paper Title. He suggested that:

  • A title is the first opportunity to lose a reader.
  • Make a title a sentence and include in it the main benefit reader.
  • Avoid ‘dead boring titles’ (a table of contents)

Robert identified strategies for conveying benefits for the reader in the title of a paper:

  • A direct statement of outcome (a sentence)
  • Indirect statements of outcome
  • Direct questions (also sentences)
  • Indirect questions
  • Moderately intriguing (some are sentences)
  • Highly intriguing (some are sentences)

Robert discussed these issues with reference to Carmer and Walker’s (1981) paper Baby Bear’s Dilemma: A Statistical Tale 1:

An allegorical and satirical, but also, we hope an accurate and humorous expository look at the problem researchers face in choosing a pairwise multiple comparisons procedure for detecting differences among treatment means. The primary objective is to present, from several points of view, some of the arguments and resulting confusion surrounding the use of the least significant difference vis-a-vis Tukey’s w procedure or honest significant difference, Duncan’s Multiple Range Test, and the Waller-Duncan Bayesian k-ratio t test. Particular emphasis is placed on demonstrating that the concept of comparisonwise error rate is considerably more logical, sound, and useful in pairwise multiple comparisons than the concept of experimentwise error rate. As a consequence, despite what researchers may have read in the statistical Literature or what they may have heard from statistical experts, the least significant difference is appropriate whenever a pairwise multiple comparisons procedure is in order.

Robert discussed Abstracts in the next part of the workshop. An abstract:

  • Is the essence of the paper. (Some journals require a summary rather than ‘abstract’). It is a summarised assertion without proof.
  • Summarises the introduction, methods, results and discussion.
  • May not require additional information on methods if the methods may be sufficiently implicit in the main results.
  • Should focus on the overview not the details.
  • Should avoid following a table of contents approach.
  • Varies from 100 to 450 words.
  • Does not have any citations, the abstract is published separately from the main text.
  • Can be a traditional unstructured narrative or structured according to headings nominated by the journal.

Robert shared Nature’s advice about writing an abstract. He provided examples of abstracts that illustrated the key issues he identified.

Robert discussed Introductions next. He suggested an Introduction (between 300-900 words):

  • Shows that a story is worth telling. (Why you studied the problem; the state of knowledge; a defined gap in the literature; informing the reader what you set out to do and give the main finding.)
  • Establishes a compelling question.
  • Has only three or four essential moves.
  • Sets an agenda for the rest of the paper by setting up research question(s) and reminding a reader of your conclusion, answer.

Robert shared examples of Introductions to exemplify these points. He explored ‘moves’ in Introductions. One example used was David Pannell’s (2002) paper Prose, psychopaths and persistence: Personal perspectives on publishing

In the next part of the workshop Robert discussed Methods.

The Methods ‘ section:

  • Is often the best place to start
  • Answers the question ‘what did they do to study this problem?’
  • Provides information on what was investigated, what techniques were used, and what statistical analyses were used.
  • Includes enough details for readers to assess validity of results and to replicate the work.
  • Cites original sources of techniques (and not re-described if well-established)

Robert discussed the Results section next and explored the use of Figures and Tables (use text to highlight the most important parts; do not include a table or graph if they can be replaced by a statement; graphs are often better than tables).  Robert suggested that the Results section:

  • Is the second easiest section to write.
  • Can combine results and discussion.
  • Should be simple and “consistent with keeping readers adequately informed”.

Robert concluded the workshop with consideration of Discussion. The Discussion:

  • Is a place to show the contribution to knowledge.
  • Is a place of no surprises.
  • Steps the reader through each question and lead with your best shot.
  • Delivers the  essentials.
  • Avoids leading with authorities.
  • Makes the significance of results and in the context of the literature.
  • Avoids deep discussions of shortcomings and future research.
  • Concludes with a snappy final paragraph that reminds the reader of the main benefit. As you are leaving, please take these thoughts with you.
  • Conclusions are measured in sentences rather than paragraphs and pages.

Robert finished his look at Discussion with an example from Jones, Gardner and Sinclair (2008) ‘Losing Nemo’: bleaching and collection appear to reduce inshore populations of anemonefishes. He provided a second example of where writing about more work is necessary is acceptable (McCosker et al, 2010)

The day concluded with the group’s thanks to Robert for a fascinating day.

Photo Credit

Old Hermit Roy Ozmer Reading a Book

Views in Sydney and New South wales 1930-1940