Friday, 4 October 2019

Notes on Academic Writing from Dr Fil

Fil Ieropolous
Dr Fil Ieropolous is the academic lead for our Online MA in 3D Animation.

Fil is the main point of contact for all academic questions on the course, and responsible for the delivery and assessment of the academic content.  Any questions about academic content or academic marking should be directed to Fil (He can be reached on

Below are some of Fil's helpful notes on some of the common problems with academic writing, and how to fix them.

Common problems
Below are some common problems with academic writing, and how to fix them. 

Be Specific
Be as specific as you can be when you choose a topic to write about. The more "zoomed in" is the area you choose, the better the essay will be. The title should clearly describe your topic.

Stick to your theme
Once you choose a topic you need to stick to it throughout the text.  Outside of a small introduction which can be somewhat more general, the text needs to stick firmly to the discussion of the topic stated in the title. Adding more topics does not strengthen your case, but tends to feels like meandering, and occupies space you should be using to discuss your main topic.

Start with an essay structure
Start by creating an essay plan, or essay structure, to plan to work before you start writing. This will will help you plan your work, and help deal with the various parts and sub-parts, and help you to avoid getting lost in the detail.

Avoid generalisations
Avoid generalisations about what animation, art etc is or is not. Try to avoid making sweeping statements, such as "it is generally known that..." or  "animation is...". These things may seem like common sense to you, but will tend to come across as generalisations. Be as specific as you can.

Quote the Text - don't paraphrase
Avoid paraphrasing quoted texts. Paraphrasing quoted texts is difficult to do successfully. Quote the whole passage, using quotation marks, instead.

Explain your terms
Do not take terms for granted as if your audience is an animation specialist and you are already midway through a discussion. When a term such as "the uncanny valley" or the "twelve principles of animation" enters the discussion, you need to explain what it is.

Keep the focus on animation
When you deal with other disciplines that are not the usual approaches to / discussions of animation, you need to make sure that your text keeps referring to animation practices. You can write about any area that relates to animation, but your focus still needs to be animation as such.

Try to avoid quoting online articles 
Where possible, avoid quoting online articles, unless they are peer-reviewed (meaning that some academic editing has been done on them). Uploaded university articles are best avoided, but can be a last resort, anything like blogs and lifestyle magazines should not be used, unless they are used as that - with a commentary. You need to have a critical distance to all quoted material.

Quote the experts
When you need a quote to support an argument, make sure it comes from a recognised authority on the subject.  For example, an animator is not necessarily an authority on the theatre, so if acting is your topic, you should ideally quote theatre practitioners (or better still, drama studies authorities) in support of your arguments.

Get feedback early
Fil is happy to give early feedback. For example, when you choose a topic to write about, do check in with Fil to make sure it's a suitable subject.

Make your introduction and conclusions clear

Your introductions and conclusions are essential to help the reader get into the topic and sum up your ideas. Make them clear and concise, and avoid adding extra topics.

Be rigorous 
When comparing elements and how they work, you have to be rigorous and analytical and not just descriptive. The essence of academic writing is to look 'behind the scenes', behind plot structures, at how a visual language is constructed.

Proof-read your work prior to submission
Make sure you proof-read your essays for typos and awkward language / unclear expression.

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