Intended Learning Outcomes
- Your tutorial studies will extend your knowledge of your degree subject and help to put the information you receive in lectures and practicals into perspective. They will also provide an opportunity to discuss your work in lectures and practicals with your Advisor.
- The work you do for tutorials will help you to develop new and improve existing skills. Employers value these 'transferable skills' and they will also help you with time management during your degree course and improve your technique in examinations (see Appendix 1).
Your tutorial assignments will be assigned and marked by your Academic Advisor. Feedback will be provided for all exercises you undertake during tutorials. Your overall tutorial mark will be based on five marked assignments given over the course of the academic year and therefore, if you deliberately or accidentally skip an assignment, your mark will be brought down. Your tutorial work and attendance contribute to your marks as described below:
Students who fail to attend all their tutorials or who have a mean mark for their tutorial assignments of less than 40% will fail the Tutorial unit. Compensation for partial failure of the examinations is available only to students who have passed their Tutorial unit. In addition, students who fail their Tutorial unit are required to complete an extended essay during the summer vacation.
For further details see the Second Level Handbook.
Attendance at tutorials is compulsory and will be monitored by your Advisor. If more than one tutorial has been missed over the two semesters, without an acceptable reason (see below), then you will fail the Tutorial Unit. Some tutorials will be delivered to larger groups of students as ‘Workshop’ sessions. Details of which sessions you should attend are provided on the BIOL20000 Blackboard site. You should bring a device capable of accessing the internet to the Workshop sessions to register your attendance. Some tutorials may be ‘student led’. That is, students may meet in the absence of their Advisor. You are expected to arrange venues and times with the other group members. Attendance should be taken at these meetings by a person chosen in advance and the attendance list passed on to your Advisor. Attendance at the Workshop sessions and student led meetings is also compulsory and will count towards your tutorial attendance.
If you are absent from a tutorial or unable to complete a tutorial assignment through illness, make sure you follow the guidelines on ill-health set out in the Second Level Handbook. Importantly, you must alert the Student Support Office and your Advisor BEFORE the time of the tutorial AND submit a self-certification note or medical documentation promptly to the Student Support Office on your return to University (within one week of your absence). It is your responsibility to provide this information.
If you are unable to attend for any other good reason, you must supply documentary evidence to your Advisor strongly supporting your reasons for absence. Unexcused absences from tutorials may lead to the issuing of a formal warning letter. Unexcused absences may have detrimental effects on decisions on progression to subsequent years of your degree programme, or even lead to exclusion from study in the Faculty.
For further information on this and other related matters, please read relevant sections of the Second Level Handbook.
In order to help us maximise the benefits that you gain from tutorials, we need feedback from you, both on the tutorial activities and on your Advisor’s performance. For this purpose you will be asked to complete a unit survey at the end of each semester. It is important for us to have your opinion, as these surveys will be used to determine how tutorials are constructed and conducted in future years. Details of how to access/complete the survey will be given to you each semester.
You have your own online ‘Employability Skills Record’, which is located on the intranet within your personal profile. Your Personal Advisor can also view this. The aim of this record is to help you monitor and take an active part in the development of your employability skills (e.g. presentation skills, leadership skills). You should update your ‘Employability Skills Record’ on a regular basis, and at least once per semester. The Skills Record offers you links to useful suggestions to help you to develop your employability skills. You should discuss your ‘Employability Skills Record’ with your Personal Advisor during your 1:1 meetings. There is space on your record to set targets and you should review these regularly to chart your progress and think of strategies to develop your skills further.
What you write in your Employability Skills Record should prove extremely valuable when you apply for industrial/professional placements, summer internships, further study or graduate jobs, as the topics covered reflect those you are likely to be asked about in many application processes.
Employability Skills Development in Tutorials
One of your tutorials in Semester 3 will be a Workshop session delivered by the Careers Service. Information about which session you should attend is provided on the BIOL20000 Blackboard site.
Within the tutorial unit on Blackboard (BIOL20000), you will also find a resource entitled ‘Developing your Employability Skills’. This resource contains useful information about:
- Writing a good CV (including template and example CVs)
- Writing a personal statement for your CV
- Interview guidance
- Writing a covering letter
- Choosing a referee
Careers Advisory Service
The role of the Careers Advisory Service is to help you with all your career needs, whether you’re looking for:
- the chance to talk over what options you might have after graduating, such as jobs, further study, voluntary work or time out
- help in searching for possible jobs, for work experience during your degree or after graduation
- practical help in making sure your CVs, applications and interviews persuade employers that you’re the one they want
- an extensive library of factual information on types of work, employers, courses and current vacancies
They offer a personalised service with booked appointments with specialist advisers (particularly useful for those “I don’t know what I want to do/where to start” queries, which are quite normal), a drop-in quick query service, a specialist “over the counter” information service, and 24-hour access to careers information and vacancies through their website.
The locations of the Careers Advisory Service and other information can be found at their web site - http://www.careers.manchester.ac.uk
You are strongly advised to make use of this service prior to the end of your 3rd semester.
Second Year Discussion Groups
The faculty has two student-led support schemes:
Peer Assisted Study Sessions (PASS) - volunteers from second and final year help first year students with their transition into higher education.
Discussion groups – second and final year students help each other to process, digest and expand on challenging lecture and further reading material.
The aims are to:
- enable a clear view of course expectations
- promote a non-threatening environment
- provide an effective method to:
- assist learning
- develop interpersonal/transferable skills
- develop self confidence
- increase responsibility and motivation
- increase peer interaction
- obtain inside knowledge
- allow students to give real-time feedback
- generate real-time feedback for the teaching staff
Groups of second year students will form if and when volunteers come forward to act as a student coordinator of a second year discussion group for a particular unit.
If you would like to volunteer for this important and rewarding role, please contact the Student Support Office.
To some extent, the nature and content of the tutorials will depend on your degree programme and the interests and preferences of your Advisor, but you should expect to participate in most of the activities listed below. One of your first tasks will be to draw up a programme using the tables on the following pages. Fill in the dates/times of the tutorials, make a note of which tutorials will be held with your Advisor, which, if any, will be student-led, and write down the deadlines for your marked assignments.
- Reading scientific papers. In Semester 3 you will concentrate on reading primary research literature. You will be referring to original articles (papers) in scientific journals rather than textbooks when you carry out your Dissertation in Semester 4. In addition, your lecture units will be increasingly referring you to original papers as you progress on your course. Although scientific papers are normally set out in a logical and fairly standard format, first encounters with the literature can be daunting, particularly if the terminology is unfamiliar to you. Research papers that relate to your degree programme will be selected by your Advisor. You will be asked to write an abstract for a research paper and carry out a GBL session based on a research paper. These exercises should give you a chance to think about and discuss the principles of experimental design. The Critical Writing Skills module you completed in year 1 should help you to move from reading and understanding primary scientific literature, to writing your own.
- Employability. In week 5 or 7 you are required to attend a Workshop session on employability delivered by the careers service. You should bring a device capable of accessing the internet and your student ID number to this session to register your attendance. You should attend the session assigned to your degree programme – further details are listed on the BIOL20000 Blackboard site. You will not have a small group tutorial the week of the Workshop session. The Workshop session counts towards your tutorial attendance record. If you are ill on the day of the workshop session, you must contact the student support office prior to the workshop start in order to obtain an excused absence. Contacting your academic advisor instead of the student support office will result in your absence being unexcused.
- Group Based Learning (GBL) session. In Semester 3 you will carry out a GBL session based on a research paper related to your degree programme. The GBL sessions will be organised according to Appendix 2, but will usually cover the research paper you used for abstract writing. You will be required to give a group presentation on the research paper in the final GBL session. The presentation should be a seamless, unified delivery of the research paper, presented cohesively by all members of your group.
- Experimental Design Module (EDM) write-up. In the first semester of the second year, all students are required to write a report on one of the EDM practicals. This report contributes 20% of the final EDM unit mark. The practical to be written-up has been chosen by your Programme Director and in some cases may be finalised by your Academic Advisor. This report should be written in the style of a short research paper. Your Academic Advisor will briefly discuss the report and marking criteria with you in tutorials. Further instructions for the format of this report, submission deadline, and marking criteria are available on the EDM unit blackboard sites (BIOL21041/21051/21061).
- Exam preparation. At the end of Semester 3 your exams will be mostly short answer and/or essay based. To gain experience in this type of examination you will be asked by your Advisor to review one or more topics related to your lecture units. You will then be given a question, or questions, from which you will have to write an essay or short answers under exam conditions during a tutorial session. You Advisor will mark this work and provide you with feedback that should be helpful in your preparation for January exams.
SEMESTER 3: Timetable
Suggested Tutorial Programme – Advisors or Programme Directors may provide an alternate schedule at their discretion.
|1||Small Group Session: Introduction to scientific literature, discuss literature searches, paper for abstract writing and GBL assigned|
|2||Small Group Session: GBL on research paper|
|3||Small Group Session: GBL on research paper|
|4||Small Group Session: GBL presentations|
|5||Workshop Session: Employability (½ groups)|
|6||No Tutorial: Reading Week|
|7||Workshop Session: Employability (½ groups)|
|8||Small Group Session: Programme-specific activity (ethics option)|
|9||Small Group Session: Programme-specific activity (ethics option)|
|10||Small Group Session: Programme-specific exam technique/preparation activity|
|11||Small Group Session: Exam technique feedback, programme-specific activity|
|12||No tutorial; EDM write up due|
- Data handling/problem. An exercise will be assigned during this semester to help you improve your skills in handling data, applying statistical tests and problem solving. This exercise will give you practice in the types of problems you may encounter on your final Degree Programme specific Problem Paper.
- Oral presentation on Dissertation topic. This semester you will be assessed on an individual 10min oral presentation to your tutorial group on your Dissertation topic, which will be marked and count as one of your tutorial assignments. Preparing for this presentation will help you in your research for your Dissertation topic. In addition, the feedback you receive from your Advisor and the rest of your group should be helpful for writing your Dissertation. Guidelines for oral presentations can be found in Appendix 4.
- Programme specific activities. To provide additional experience within the area of your degree programme your Advisor will run programme specific activities. These could include oral presentations, group based activities, data handling/problems, and reading/discussing primary research papers. These activities should help you consolidate your knowledge within the area of your degree programme.
- Exam preparation. At the end of Semester 4 your exams will again be mostly short answer and/or essay based. To gain more experience in this type of examination you will be asked by your Advisor to review one or more topics related to your lecture units. You will then be given a question, or questions, from which you will have to write an essay or short answers under exam conditions during a tutorial session. Your Advisor will mark this work and provide you with feedback that will be helpful in your preparation for the summer exams.
SEMESTER 4: Timetable
Suggested Tutorial Programme – Advisors or Programme Directors may provide an alternate schedule at their discretion.
|1||Small Group Session: Programme-specific activity (ethics option)|
|2||Small Group Session: Programme-specific activity (ethics option)|
|3||Small Group Session: Programme-specific activity (ethics option)|
|4||Small Group Session: Programme-specific activity (ethics option)|
|5||Small Group Session: Programme-specific activity (ethics option)|
|6||Small Group Session: Programme-specific activity (ethics option)|
|7||Small Group Session: Programme-specific activity (exam preparation)|
|8||No tutorial - Disseration Deadline|
|9||Small Group Session: Dissertation Presentations|
|10||Small Group Session: Dissertation Presentations|
|11||Small Group Session: Dissertation Presentations|
|12||No tutorial (Advisor's discretion)|
|Dissertation Oral Presentation|
Should you need help with English language skills, you can contact the University Language Centre at: http://www.ulc.manchester.ac.uk/
Appendix 1: Employability
The following table outlines the transferable skills employers seek and how you can develop these. You should record examples of how you have developed and applied these skills in your Employability Skills Record so that you can use them on job applications and in interviews in the future.
|What are employers looking for?||What does that mean?||How can you develop this skill?|
|Ability to articulate what you have to offer.||Reflect on the skills you have gained throughout your tutorials and other units AND develop good communication skills so that you can talk about your skills and provide evidence that you have them to potential employers.||Reflection
Update your Employability Skills Record on the intranet
Oral presentations (tutorials; some lecture units; lab meetings)Essays (tutorials; many lecture units)Debate (some tutorials; some lecture units)
|Self awareness||Know what your skills, strengths and weaknesses are and have examples of how and when you have demonstrated this knowledge.||When you have completed a task (e.g. formal presentation, essay, exam) reflect on your performance, write examples and state what you intend to do differently next time in your Employability Skills Record.|
|Self management/ability to manage learning||Effectively manage your time and complete work within deadlines.||Your final year project will hone this skill, and will need to fit in with all your other demands, such as coursework essays, reading for lecture units.|
|Self efficacy||Belief in your capabilities to achieve a goal or an outcome effectively. If you have a strong sense of self efficacy you are more likely to challenge yourself with difficult tasks and be intrinsically motivated.||You will be supported to undertake challenging activities, successful completion of which should boost your self efficacy, especially your project, but also essays on unfamiliar topics, individual and/or team presentations.|
|Self esteem/confidence||Have a good opinion of yourself and confidence in your abilities.||You will have the opportunity to rise to the challenges provided by completing independent work to deadlines (eg dissertation) and to learn from constructive criticism (eg peer review in tutorials; discussion groups and feedback from advisors/project supervisor).|
|Critical thinking||Able to analyse an idea or a piece of work objectively and weigh up its strengths and weaknesses. Recognise your own biases and be open to new ideas if evidence supports them.||Essays, and oral presentations will include structured presentations of a logical argument. In tutorials you will read and critically analyse primary literature in preparation for your dissertation, and will present your work in oral and written form.|
|Teamwork||Proven ability to work well within a team AND an understanding of the role you take within a team.||Most projects and tutorial activities involve some teamwork, some final year lecture units also do, so you should take different roles such that you experience as many as possible and reflect on your strengths and development needs.|
|Project management||Project management requires effective planning, and management of resources to bring about the successful completion of specific project objectives.||Your project will be the main opportunity to develop this skill, but you may also manage smaller projects in some lecture units, within the Manchester Leadership Programme, or within the role of PASS leader or PASS co-ordinator.|
|Problem solving||Grasp what needs to be done and reach a satisfactory solution to a problem.||The tutorials will include practice of problem solving in preparation for data handling in practical write-ups and the final programme specific problem paper.|
|Cultural sensitivity/awareness||Experience of interacting with individuals from a range of different backgrounds and ability to adapt your approach to suit the needs of the people you are working with.||We have a diverse staff and student body so you are likely to interact with individuals from a range of backgrounds during your tutorials and project, or as an ambassador or PASS leader. The MLP and any volunteering you undertake (see http://www.manchester.ac.uk/study/experience/student-life/university/volunteering/)provide opportunities to work within the local community, which is also diverse.|
|Leadership skills||Proven ability to lead a team effectively.||You may have the opportunity to act as a leader within your project or as a senior ambassador, but if not can seek the opportunity in a final year discussion group, in the MLP or as a PASS Leader. Good listening skills are essential to this role.|
|Innovation/Creativity||Being able to come up with new ideas, approaches and solutions. Thinking ‘outside the box’ and being able to suggest new/improved ways of doing things.||You will have the opportunity to be innovative in terms of your approach to topics, ideas for GBLs in tutorials, mini projects and in how you present your work and overcome problems. Your main opportunity to improve these skills will be in your final year project.|
|Written Communication||Being able to use correct spelling, grammar and punctuation. Effectively organising your ideas and communicating these in a coherent manner.||Throughout your degree you will develop your written communication skills through your assignments such as essays, dissertation and project write ups.|
|Research skills||This may refer to researching literature, searching databases, identifying appropriate resources and extracting key information or may refer to practical scientific research. Research is also an important skill when looking for and applying for jobs.||You will have the opportunity to carry out research throughout your degree. You should do extra reading around your lectures including reading recent primary literature and review articles. Research will be required for essays, your dissertation and literature review. Your main opportunity for research will be during your final year project.|
|Numeracy||Being able to work with numbers is a key skill and may range from basic mental arithmetic to being able to analyse and interpret data.||Data Handling modules and most practicals/projects are designed to help you develop your numerical skills and ability to use statistics. Numerical skills are required in your lab work to work out concentrations and dilutions and to calculate whether results are statistically significant.|
|Presentation skills||Proven ability to communicate your ideas both visually and orally.||You will undertake presentations in tutorials, field courses and as part of your final year projects. Becoming an ambassador, PASS leader or student rep gives you further opportunity to develop your presentation skills.|
For further help see http://www.careers.manchester.ac.uk/experience/skills/
The section on “Develop your skills” contains ideas on how to develop these skills beyond your degree (plus guidance on how recruiters assess for them).
The My Learning Essentials training programme offers careers advice through face–to-face workshops and online resources, visit the link below for more information:
Appendix 2: Group Based Learning (GBL) Tutorials
What happens in a GBL tutorial?
- The students run the tutorials themselves. The Advisor is the facilitator and does not take part, other than to provide guidance if needed.
- A specific topic, short article from a journal or a research paper is given to, or chosen by, the students.
- In the first session students decide on the primary learning objectives of the topic and how they are going to go about researching these. This should be done using a wide variety of information resources focussed on the primary literature.
- At the second session (student-led with Advisor not present) the group have a full detailed discussion of the topic, focusing on the primary learning objectives. During this session one of the students should act as chairperson. During this session students should also decide on how the material will be presented the following week to the Advisor.
- The final session is a formal presentation/discussion of the topic between the Advisor and students.
- Attendance at all sessions is compulsory as a primary aim of GBL is to develop an awareness of teamwork skills and increase the knowledge base of the whole group. Non-attendance jeopardises the learning of all other group members as individuals. For this reason recordings of attendance and minutes of meetings in the absence of the Advisor must be taken and be open to review by the Advisor at any time.
Guidelines for the running of GBL tutorials
- A chairperson must be appointed at the beginning of each GBL to control the running of the discussion. Attendance must also be recorded.
- Another student is appointed as secretary, to produce an agenda and write out the agreed learning objectives using a whiteboard or overhead projector if available.
- All students make a record of the agreed topics to be researched.
- Group communication is essential and everyone in the group should have input (this is strongly dependent on the chairperson).
- The sessions should cover set one-hour time periods. This aids to focus the group and develops time and resource management.
- The research information should come from a range of sources (for example, primary literature, textbooks, internet, reviews, personal experience etc.).
- In GBL sessions based on a research paper the chairperson may want to split up the paper by figures and assign a figure or figures to one person to present the data.
Appendix 3: EDM Write-up Guidelines
Experimental Design Module (EDM) write-up. In the first semester of the second year, all students will be required to write a report on one of the EDM practicals. This report contributes 20% of the final EDM unit mark. The practical to be written-up has been chosen by your Programme Director and in some cases may be finalised by your Academic Advisor (as shown below). This report should be written in the style of a short research paper. Presenting and discussing data is an essential feature of the final year research project and indeed of research in general.
To assist in this exercise, it is strongly recommended that journal articles appropriate for your degree programme be consulted to see how research is normally communicated. This will indicate, for example, how the research is summarised in the abstract and how the description and discussion of data is normally separated into two distinct sections.
More information on writing laboratory reports and scientific papers is available on the Blackboard site for your EDM unit: BIOL21041 Molecular & Cellular / BIOL21051 Organismal Biology / BIOL21061 Human Sciences Experimental Design Module. The marking criteria used to assess the lab report are also available on Blackboard.
The EDM to be written up is determined by your degree programme. You should check the EDM blackboard sites for any changes to this information.
|Degree Programme & EDM Unit Code||EDM (Practical Number)|
|Anatomical Sciences (BIOL21061)||Microscopic Anatomy of the Spinal Cord (Practical 2b)|
|Biochemistry (BIOL21041)||Nucleocytoplasmic Shuttling (Practicals 4-5)|
|Biology (BIOL21051)||Advisor’s Choice (Practicals 1-5)|
|Biomedical Sciences (BIOL21061)||Advisor’s Choice (Practicals 1-5)|
|Cell Biology (BIOL21041)||Nucleocytoplasmic Shuttling (Practicals 4-5)|
|Developmental Biology (BIOL21041)||TBC|
|Immunology (BIOL21061)||Using ELISA to Measure Hormone Levels (Practical 3) PCR & Molecular Cloning (Practicals 4 & 5)|
|Medical Biochemistry (BIOL21041)||TBC|
|Microbiology (BIOL21051)||Microbiology (Practical 4)|
|Molecular Biology (BIOL21041)||Nucleocytoplasmic Shuttling (Practicals 4-5)|
|Neuroscience (BSc) (BIOL21061)||Microscopic Anatomy of the Spinal Cord (Practical 2b) Effects of Ethanol on Performance (Practical 2a)|
|Neuroscience (MNeuroSci) (BIOL21061)||Microscopic Anatomy of the Spinal Cord (Practical 2b) Effects of Ethanol on Performance (Practical 2a)|
|Pharmacology (BIOL21061)||Effects of Ethanol on Performance (Practical 2a)|
|Pharmacology & Physiology (BIOL21061)||Effects of Ethanol on Performance (Practical 2a)|
|Physiology (BIOL21061)||Effect of Glucose & Sweeteners on Glycaemic Response (Practical 1)|
|Plant Science (BIOL21051)||Plant Ecophysiology (Practical 5)|
|Zoology (BIOL21051)||Embryonic Anatomy & Physiology (Practical 3)|
Practical 6 Bioinformatics is not included in the list of practicals to write-up.
The mark for your EDM write-up contributes to your EDM unit mark and NOT your tutorial marks. The Full Practical ‘Write-up’ must be submitted online by Thursday 14th December 2017 4pm. Each practical will also have online pre-lab and post-lab assessments. Refer to the EDM Blackboard site for details of all assessments and submission dates.
DEADLINE: Thursday 14th December, 16:00 via the EDM (BIOL21041/21051/21061) Blackboard site; NOT the BIOL20000 Tutorial site.
Appendix 4: Oral presentations
Nervous? Everybody is nervous at the idea of giving a talk. The good news is that you will undoubtedly get less nervous as you become more experienced and more proficient. The bad news is that nobody ever quite gets over the jitters. This appendix will provide you with a few tips to help you design your first oral presentation and hopefully make it a good one.
A talk is normally divided in much the same way as a scientific paper with an Introduction, Methods, Results, Discussion/Conclusion and Acknowledgements. You don’t need to actually have slides labelled as such but this structure should be evident in your talk. Try to remember the following piece of advice. If you understand its message it will stand you in good stead: “First you tell them what you are going to tell them, then you tell them, then you tell them what you told them”
Tips for public speaking
- Start and end well. You will be most nervous at the beginning of your talk and here is where you must set the talk moving in the right direction to capture people’s attention. It is therefore absolutely critical that you know exactly what you are going to say in the first few minutes. Rehearse your opening lines thoroughly. When you have finished the main part of your talk how do you end? Never, never find yourself having to say “Well that’s it” to a sea of puzzled faces! They need to know when you are going to end, so again this must be prepared in advance. Spend a disproportionate share of your preparation time on starting and finishing well.
- Look at the audience. This is a difficult one for beginners since it really requires you to learn to speak mainly from notes. Most students are so terrified on giving a talk that they seek the security of a written script. Throw your script away. A script, in a single swoop, cuts the speaker off from the audience and bars any interaction between them.
- Practice Like everything else, oral presentation is a skill which improves with practice.
- Enthusiasm. If you appear bored you will automatically convince your audience that what you are talking about is boring.
- Your voice. You need to speak loudly enough so that the person at the back of the room can hear you. Project, don’t shout!
- Humour. Some of the most accomplished speakers entertain while at the same time informing. However, for the beginner the vast majority of jokes, silly drawings etc. can fall flat on their proverbial faces. Introducing humour into a talk is really very difficult and is really best avoided by the beginner. If you are in any doubt leave it out!
- Time keeping. Stick to it. Even experienced speakers often fail to understand that the extra ten minutes taken to display some fascinating new data that just must be shared, is actually an indulgence imposed on a (nearly always) unwilling audience. The only way you will know that your talk is the right time is to practice it beforehand.
- Projectors and props. How many times have you been to a lecture where the speaker wrestles with the visual aids, has no idea how turn down the lights, can’t a find pointer etc ? Before the session in which you are giving your presentation, go to the front and find out how to switch things on or off.Keep them simple. Be scrupulous in removing extraneous detail. Avoid complicated diagrams and putting too much information on a slide.
- Slides should be simple to follow and informative. Mark both axes of every graph and always state the units. Mention in words what each axis shows. Do not expect the audience to be able to read all the detail you have on the slide and listen to you and interpret both. One slide per minute is a good general rule for keeping to time.
- Check your presentation before your talk to determine that the slides convey the information you want them to and that they are legible from the back of the lecture theatre/seminar room.
(Adapted from article by Prof. N. Gow, Aberdeen University)
Appendix 5: A practical guide to writing essays
Writing an essay is a big task that will be easier to manage if you break it down into five main tasks as shown below:
An essay-writing Model in 5 steps
- Analyse the question
What is the topic?
What are the key verbs?
Question the question—brainstorm and probe
What information do you need?
How are you going to find information?
Find the information
Make notes and/or mind maps.
- Plan and sort
Arrange information in a logical structure
Plan sections and paragraphs
Introduction and conclusion
- Edit (and proofread)
For sense and logical flow
For grammar and spelling.
My Learning Essentials offers a number of online resources and workshops that will help you to understand the importance of referencing your sources, use appropriate language and style in your writing, write and proofread your essays. For more information visit the writing skills My Learning Essentials pages: http://www.library.manchester.ac.uk/services-and-support/students/support-for-your-studies/my-learning-essentials/
- Analyse the question
Many students write great essays — but not on the topic they were asked about. First, look at the main idea or topic in the question. What are you going to be writing about? Next, look at the verb in the question — the action word. This verb, or action word, is asking you to do something with the topic.
Here are some common verbs or action words and explanations:
|Analyse||Take to pieces and determine what makes up the various parts. This involves examining something minutely and critically.|
|Compare||Liken one thing to another, and discuss the degree of likeness or unlikeness.|
|Contrast||Set things in opposition so as to show the difference between them.|
|Criticise||Weigh up all aspects by careful examination, and deliver an opinion upon them.|
|Define||Give the exact meaning.|
|Describe||Set out the features, qualities or properties of what is asked, in detail.|
|Discuss||Consider or examine by argument, investigate for and against.|
|Enumerate||Specify the items by numbering the points.|
|Evaluate||Interpret, analyse (take apart the whole), then synthesise (put together) the significant points and make a judgement upon them.|
|Examine||Inquire into, investigate by considering critically, thereby weighing and sifting information/opinions.|
|Explain||Make plain, clear; unfold and illustrate the meaning of.|
|Illustrate||Make clear, explain by means of description, examples, diagrams and figures.|
|Interpret||Explain the meaning of - which generally involves translating information from one form to another (for example, putting a graph into words), thereby showing a complete understanding of it.|
|Justify||Prove or show to be just or right; to show grounds for.|
|List||Number the items or ideas down the page.|
|Outline||Give the main general features, facts or principles.|
|Prove||Demonstrate by argument or reasoning, test.|
|Relate||Tell, recount; establish relation between.|
|Resolve||Separate into its component parts (analyse) and explain.|
|Review||Go back over and look carefully and critically.|
|State||Set out the facts with explicitness and formality.|
|Summarise||Give a concise account of the main points.|
Once you have analysed the question, start thinking about what you need to find out. It’s better and more efficient to have a clear focus for your research than to go straight to the library and look through lots of books that may not be relevant.
Start by asking yourself, 'What do I need to find out?' Put your ideas down on paper. A mind map is a good way to do this. Useful questions to start focusing your research are: What? Why? When? How? Where? Who?
- Refer to the advice given in Writing and Referencing Skills for methods to search for information.
- Plan and sort
First, scan through your source. Find out if there's any relevant information in what you are reading. If you're reading a book, look at the contents page, any headings, and the index. Stick a Post-It note on useful pages.
Next, read for detail. Read the text to get the information you want. Start by skimming your eyes over the page to pick our relevant headings, summaries, words. If it's useful, make notes.
There are two rules when you are making notes:
- Note your source so that you can find it again and write your references at the end of the essay if you use that information. Use Endnote (see the section on Referencing), or note down the following:
- page reference
- date of publication
- publisher's name (book)
- place where it was published (book or journal)
- the journal number, volume and date (journal)
- Make brief notes rather than copy text, but if you feel an extract is very valuable put it in quotation marks so that when you write your essay, you'll know that you have to put it in your own words. Failing to rewrite the text in your own words would be plagiarism.
- For more information on plagiarism, refer to the Second Level Handbook and the My Learning Essentials Plagiarism Resource http://libassets.manchester.ac.uk/mle/avoiding-plagiarism/.
Everyone will make notes differently as it suits them. However, the aim of making notes when you are researching an essay is to use them when you write the essay. It is therefore important that you can:
- Read your notes
- Find their source
- Determine what the topics and main points are on each note (highlight the main ideas, key points or headings).
- Compose your notes so you can move bits of information around later when you have to sort your notes into an essay.
- Write/type in chunks (one topic for one chunk) with a space between them so you can cut your notes up later, or
- write the main topics or questions you want to answer on separate pieces of paper before you start making notes. As you find relevant information, write it on the appropriate page. (This takes longer as you have to write the source down a number of times, but it does mean you have ordered your notes into headings.)
Sort information into essay plans
You've got lots of information now: how do you put it all together to make an essay that makes sense? As there are many ways to sort out a huge heap of clothes (type of clothes, colour, size, fabric…), there are many ways of sorting information. Whichever method you use, you are looking for ways to arrange the information into groups and to order the groups into a logical sequence. You need to play around with your notes until you find a pattern that seems right and will answer the question.
- Find the main points in your notes, put them on a separate page - a mind map is a good way to do this - and see if your main points form any patterns or groups.
- Is there a logical order? Does one thing have to come after another? Do points relate to one another somehow? Think about how you could link the points.
- Using the information above, draw your essay plan. You could draw a picture, a mind map, a flow chart or whatever you want. Or you could build a structure by using bits of card that you can move around.
- Select and put the relevant notes into the appropriate group so you are ready to start writing your first draft.
The essay has four main parts:
- main body
People usually write the introduction and conclusion after they have written the main body of the essay, so we have put them in that order.
For more information on essay writing visit the My Learning Essentials web pages:
Structure. The main body should have a clear structure. Depending on the length of the essay, you may have just a series of paragraphs, or sections with headings, or possibly even subsections. In the latter case, make sure that the hierarchy of headings is obvious so that the reader doesn't get lost.
Flow. The main body of the essay answers the question and flows logically from one key point to another (each point needs to be backed up by evidence [experiments, research, texts, interviews, etc …] that must be referenced). You should normally write one main idea per paragraph and the main ideas in your essay should be linked or 'signposted'. Signposts show readers where they are going, so they don't get lost. This lets the reader know how you are going to tackle the idea, or how one idea is linked with the one before it or after it.
Some signpost words and phrases are:
- 'These changes . . . "
- 'Such developments
- 'In the first few paragraphs . . . "
- 'I will look in turn at. . . '
- 'However, . . . "
Figures: purpose. You should try to include tables, diagrams, and perhaps photographs in your essay. Tables are valuable for summarising information, and are most likely to impress if they show the results of relevant experimental data. Diagrams enable the reader to visualise things, replacing the need for lengthy descriptions. Photographs must be selected with care, to show something meaningful. Nobody will be impressed by a picture of a giraffe - we all know what one looks like, so the picture would be mere decoration. But a detailed picture of a giraffe's markings might be useful if it illustrates a key point.
Figures: labelling, legends and acknowledgment. Whenever you use a table, diagram or image in your essay you must:
- cite the source
- make sure that the legend and explanation are adapted to your purpose.
For example: Figure 1. The pathway of synthesis of the amino acid alanine, showing... From Bloggs (1989). [Never use the original legend, because it is likely to have a different Figure number and to have information that is not relevant for your purposes. Also, make sure that you explain any abbreviations or other symbols that your reader needs to know about the Figure]
Checklist for the main body of text
- Does your text have a clear structure?
- Does the text follow a logical sequence so that the argument flows?
- Does your text have both breadth and depth - i.e. general coverage of the major issues with in-depth treatment of particularly important points?
- Does your text include some illustrative experimental results?
- Have you chosen the diagrams or photographs carefully to provide information and understanding, or are the illustrations merely decorative?
- Are your figures acknowledged properly? Did you label them and include legend and explanation?
The introduction comes at the start of the essay and sets the scene for the reader. It usually defines clearly the subject you will address (e.g. the adaptations of organisms to cold environments), how you will address this subject (e.g. by using examples drawn principally from the Arctic zone) and what you will show or argue (e.g. that all types of organism, from microbes through to mammals, have specific adaptations that fit them for life in cold environments). The length of an introduction depends on the length of your essay, but is usually between 50 to 200 words
Remember that reading the introduction constitutes the first impression on your reader (i.e. your assessor!). Therefore, it should be the last section that you revise at the editing stage, making sure that it leads the reader clearly into the details of the subject you have covered and that it is completely free of typos and spelling mistakes.
Check-list for the Introduction
- Does your introduction start logically by telling the reader what the essay is about - for example, the various adaptations to habitat in the bear family?
- Does your introduction outline how you will address this topic - for example, by an overview of the habitats of bears, followed by in-depth treatment of some specific adaptations?
- Is it free of typos and spelling mistakes?
An essay needs a conclusion. Like the introduction, this need not be long: 50 to 200 words long, depending on the length of the essay. It should draw the information together and, ideally, place it in a broader context by personalising the findings, stating an opinion or supporting a further direction which may follow on from the topic. The conclusion should not introduce facts in addition to those in the main body.
Check-list for the Conclusion
- Does your conclusion sum up what was said in the main body?
- If the title of the essay was a question, did you give a clear answer in the conclusion?
- Does your conclusion state your personal opinion on the topic or its future development or further work that needs to be done? Does it show that you are thinking further?
In all scientific writing you are expected to cite your main sources of information. Scientific journals have their own preferred (usually obligatory) method of doing this. The piece of text below shows how you can cite work in an essay, dissertation or thesis. Then you supply an alphabetical list of references at the end of the essay. The Harvard style of referencing adopted at the University of Manchester will be covered in the Writing and Referencing Skills unit in Semester 3. For more information refer to the Referencing Guide from the University Library (http://subjects.library.manchester.ac.uk/referencing/referencing-harvard).
Citations in the text
Jones and Smith (1999) showed that the ribosomal RNA of fungi differs from that of slime moulds. This challenged the previous assumption that slime moulds are part of the fungal kingdom (Toby and Dean, 1987). However, according to Bloggs et al. (1999) the slime moulds can still be accommodated in the fungal kingdom for convenience. Slime moulds are considered part of the Eucarya domain by Todar (2012).
Reference list at the end of the essay:
List the references in alphabetical order and if you have several publications written by the same author(s) in the same year, add a letter (a,b,c…) after the year to distinguish between them.
Bloggs, A.E., Biggles, N.H. and Bow, R.T. (1999). The Slime Moulds. 2nd edn. London and New York: Academic Press.
[Guidance: this reference is to a book. We give the names of all authors, the publication date, title, name of publisher and place of publication. Note that we referred to Bloggs et al.(1999) in the text. The term "et al." is an abbreviation of the Latin et alia (meaning "and others"). Note also that within the text "Bloggs et al." is part of a sentence, so we put only the date in parentheses for the citation in the text. If you wish to cite the entire book, then no page numbers are listed. To cite a specific portion of a book, page numbers are added following the book title in the reference list (see Toby and Dean below).]
Todar K. (2012) Overview Of Bacteriology. Available at: http://textbookofbacteriology.net, [Accessed 15 November 2013].
[Guidance: this reference is to a website. We give the name of the author (or organisation if there is no author or write “anonymous” if no other option is available) and the full URL (web address). It is important to state when you accessed the site, because the information on web sites can change.]
Jones, B.B. and Smith, J.O.E. (1999). Ribosomal RNA of slime moulds, Journal of Ribosomal RNA 12, 33-38.
[Guidance: this is a reference to a published scientific paper. We give the names of all authors, the date, title of the paper, the journal name (in italics), volume number and page numbers (first and last) of the paper.]
Toby F.S. and Dean P.L. (1987). Slime moulds are part of the fungal kingdom, in Edwards A.E. and Kane Y. (eds.) The Fungal Kingdom. Luton: Osbert Publishing Co., pp. 154-180.
[Guidance: this is a reference to a chapter in a book edited by Edwards and Kane. We give the names of all authors, date, title of the article, editors of the book, title of the book, first and last page numbers of the chapter cited, publisher and place of publication. Note how we cited this reference (Toby and Dean, 1987) in the text. We put the whole reference in brackets because it was not part of the sentence. If we wanted to put two references in brackets, we would write: (Toby and Dean, 1987; Todar, 2012). Typically, we would use chronological order (1987 before 2012) and separate the two references by a semicolon.]
Endnote: This is an electronic system for storing and retrieving references that you will learn about in the Writing and Referencing Skills (WRS) unit. It is very powerful and simple to use, but you must always check that the output is consistent with the instructions given in this section.
Visit the My Learning Essentials online resource for a guide to using EndNote: https://www.escholar.manchester.ac.uk/learning-objects/mle/endnote-guide/
(we recommend EndNote online if you wish to use your own computer).
Note that journals have their own house style so there will be minor differences between them, particularly in their use of punctuation, but all reference lists for the same journal will be in the same format.
When you write your first draft, keep two things in mind:
- Length: you may lose marks if your essay is too long. Ensure therefore that your essay is within the page limit that has been set.
- Expression: don't worry about such matters as punctuation, spelling or grammar at this stage. You can get this right at the editing stage. If you put too much time into getting these things right at the drafting stage, you will have less time to spend on thinking about the content, and you will be less willing to change it when you edit for sense and flow at the editing stage.
The style of your essay should fit the task or the questions asked and be targeted to your reader. Just as you are careful to use the correct tone of voice and language in different situations so you must take care with your writing. Generally writing should be:
- Make sure that you write exactly what you mean in a simple way.
- Write briefly and keep to the point. Use short sentences. Make sure that the meaning of your sentences is obvious.
- Check that you would feel comfortable reading your essay if you were actually the reader.
- Make sure that you have included everything of importance. Take care to explain or define any abbreviations or specialised jargon in full before using a shortened version later. Do not use slang, colloquialisms or cliches in formal written work.
When you are editing your essay, you will need to bear in mind a number of things. The best way to do this, without forgetting something, is to edit in 'layers', using a check-list to make sure you have not forgotten anything.
Check-list for Style
- Tone - is it right for the purpose and the receiver?
- Clarity - is it simple, clear and easy to understand?
- Complete - have you included everything of importance?
Check-list for Sense
- Does your essay make sense?
- Does it flow logically?
- Have you got all the main points in?
- Are there bits of information that aren't useful and need to be chopped out?
- Are your main ideas in paragraphs?
- Are the paragraphs linked to one another so that the essay flows rather than jumps from one thing to another?
- Is it about the right length?
Check-list for Proofreading
- Are the punctuation, grammar, spelling and format correct?
- If you have written your essay on a word-processor, run the spell check over it.
- Have you referenced all quotes and names correctly?
- Is the essay written in the correct format? (one and a half line spacing, margins at least 2.5cm all around the text, minimum font size 10 point).
School Writer in Residence
The School has three ‘Writers in Residence’ who are funded by The Royal Literary Fund.
Susan Barker - Monday and Friday
Tania Hershman - Tuesday
Katherine Clements - Wednesday and Thursday
The Writers in Residence are based in the Simon Building. Please see the BIOL20000 Blackboard site for further information about the writers’ expertise and instructions for appointment booking.