I have been supervising dissertation students recently at several institutions.
One thing that has been mentioned several times is the interpretation of the Turnitin Similarity Report. One student showed me her Turnitin report in which she had received a similarity score of 32%. She was worried as she had been told that anything above 20% was problematic. I looked at her work and found that most of the 32% similarity was made up of typical EAP phrases. Examples are “questions have been raised over the ,,,”, “… have received very little consideration” and “this evidence leads us to reject the hypothesis that…” These are kinds of phrases that EAP students are expected to learn and use and are covered in books such as Jeanne Godfrey’s The student phrase book (Godfrey, 2013) and John Morley’s online Academic Phrasebank.
I have been supervising students doing research at both undergraduate and graduate levels recently and many of the students have been doing qualitative studies, involving interviews. In doing so, I have found that many of them find it difficult to report their findings and provide evidence. I am not surprised as there does not seem to be much information available. As Robert Yin (2011, p. 234) has made clear:
At a minimum, a common kind of narrative data would take the form of quotations and paraphrased passages, representing your study participants’ descriptions their own lives, actions, and views. In qualitative research, even these briefer descriptions serve as an important form of data. Not surprisingly, the choices about how to present these narrative data are more than a matter of literary style. Methodological issues also are relevant. Yet, this type of narrative — whether brief or lengthy — has not received much attention in existing guides for doing qualitative research.
I have looked through the publications in the references list below. Most of them are excellent, but none of them provide the useful information that my students need.
There are some useful suggestions, but none of them – apart from Yin – are detailed enough:
In a piece of work that a student handed in recently, I found the following sentences. The assignment was for a research methods course and the task was to analyse some questionnaire data using IBM SPSS Statistics.
I have recently received a large amount of work from my students of international business that is very messy, very badly organised – pages in the wrong order, tables not fitting on the page, even pages upside down and at 90 degrees. I have been wondering why. Most of the students I am thinking of were second or third language speakers of English and there seemed to be an inverse correlation between English language competence and quality of presentation of work, but I do not think it is direct. It has reminded me of several other experiences I have had and I wonder if there is a connection.
I remember a number of years ago, after a morning of evaluating student oral presentations with a colleague and wondering why they sometimes said strange things, I mentioned that it seemed to me that people lost their common sense when they were speaking a language they were not very confident in. My colleague – who was a good linguist and had never experiences such issues – disagreed.
A group of students wrote something for me at the beginning of the semester. They were scientists and their lecturer wanted to see how well they could write so if they needed to develop their writing, we could start early in the year and not wait until they had submitted their first assessed assignments. Much of the writing was not very good and the lecturer was determined to arrange writing classes as soon as possible. I decided I’d try to talk to the students before we made decisions to see what I could find out about their experiences of writing.
I’ve often quoted Frank Smith when discussing writing. In Writing and the writer, Smith distinguishes between “composition” and “transcription” in writing. “Composition” is deciding what you want to say, and “transcription” is what you have to do to say it. His advice is “The rule is simple: Composition and transcription must be separated, and transcription must come last. It is asking too much of anyone, and especially of students trying to improve all aspects of their writing ability, to expect that they can concern themselves with polished transcription at the same time that they are trying to compose. The effort to concentrate on spelling, handwriting, and punctuation at the same time that one is struggling with ideas and their expression not only interferes with composition but creates the least favorable situation in which to develop transcription skills as well” (Smith, 1982, p. 24).
After watching Juzo Itami’s 1995 film Shizukana seikatsu (A quiet life) recently I decided to read Nobel prize winner Kenzaburu Oe – on whose novel the film is based. In his novel The Changeling, he deals with a similar situation: