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ABP Study and Research Guide

This guide will help you with your studies in the Bachelor of Design, MSD and beyond.

Developing an argument

What is your key message? 

High quality work clearly communicates the creator's key message. At university, the key message can be referred to as the:

  • contention,
  • position,
  • thesis, or
  • argument.

The word 'argument' in everyday language is associated with a clash of opposing views, often between individuals or groups who each believe that there is only one 'right' response to a situation.

Arguments in academic work can be much more nuanced, but it is still important to be able to state your argument as clearly and concisely as possible. This helps you communicate your ideas more effectively to your audience, and makes it easier for you to select content to include in your work based on how well it supports your argument. 

Cyclists must wear helmets (wrong) Although road design and driver education have important roles in improving safety for bicycle riders, cyclists should still be encouraged to wear helmets to protect themselves from head injuries (right)

 

Academic writing

In academic writing, the 'thesis statement' contains a concise summary of your key messageThe thesis statement is often found towards the end of the introduction or introductory section. 

 

Design work

In design work, you should ensure that your audience knows:

  • what you are doing
  • where you are doing it
  • who you are doing it for
  • why you are doing it, and
  • how you are doing it. 

 

Presentations

In presentations, speakers often start by introducing the 'problem' they were trying to address (or a hypothesis), and conclude with their solution (or what they now know about the problem). 

 

The following resources all contain advice about developing and articulating your argument.
Even if you are not writing an essay, you may still find the advice useful for crafting an argument in any of your work: 
For examples of presentations with a clearly defined argument, browse the video archive of the Three Minute Thesis Competition

 

Structuring your work

One of the best ways to become familiar with the structure of the genre of work you are expected to produce is to seek out good examples of similar work. Consider:

  • How is the work laid out? Does it have different sections? How are these differentiated?
  • What information or content is included? What is left out? 
  • Is it discursive, informative, persuasive? 

 

Writing paragraphs

Typically, academic writing follows a linear style of argument and remains closely focused on the topic throughout the text. 

To achieve this, an author's points are usually structured in paragraphs that each present one main idea, supported with details, facts and examples that elaborate on how that point contributes to the overall argument. 

To maintain this focus in your own writing you need to carefully select what evidence you will use to support your main ideas, and clearly show how main ideas are related to your argument. The main ideas explored within paragraphs can be linked back to the argument either in:

  • the first sentence, which should also capture the main idea for the reader, or
  • the last sentence, which may also provide an indication of what the next paragraph will cover. 

 

In addition to the essay writing and editing resources noted in the section above, resources that can help you improve the structure of your work include: 

 

Connecting ideas

In addition to showing how main ideas are related to your argument, it is important to explicitly state the connections between ideas throughout your work.

Words and phrases that indicate the connection between ideas may seem unnecessary to you when you think your point is obvious, but it is better to state those relationships explicitly than rely on your audience to guess what you mean. 

Example showing linking words

Other ways to make your work more cohesive and easier to follow include using: 

  • words and phrases that refer back or look forward to something (e.g. this, these, below, next)
  • parallel structures that are used to combine lists into one sentence or connect ideas with conjunctions (e.g. and, or, but, so)
Resources that can help you improve connectivity between your ideas include: 
For a range of other words and phrases that are commonly used to show the relationships between ideas in academic writing, refer to the University of Manchester's Academic Phrasebank.  

 

Academic style

Objectivity

Your position on a topic should be based on research and your logical evaluation of the evidence, rather than your personal biases or preferences.

The range of evidence you use to support your ideas, along with the way you use that evidence, is the key factor in making your work objective. 

Personal pronouns (e.g. I, me, my, we, us, our) tend to be associated with expressing personal 'feelings' rather than objective positions, and as a result they are often avoided in academic writing. 

To avoid using personal pronouns, you can substitute them for another word or phrase or use the passive voice. 

The, I (personal pronoun) will present the results of the analysis (wrong); The next section (substitution) will present the results; The results of the analysis will be presented (passive voice)

Keep in mind that this is a style choice; it is not the lack of personal pronouns that makes work objective, but what evidence you use and how you use it. Personal pronouns are more widely accepted in some disciplines than others, and some genres of writing (e.g. reflective writing) may require you to use them. If you are not sure what is acceptable in the work you are doing, check with your instructors. 

 

Formality

Academic work avoids informal words, slang and colloquial terms because they could be interpreted differently by different readers. 

It also uses the full form of words instead of contractions and shortened terms. 

Informal: The site's not large enough for resi; Formal: The site is not large enough for a residential tower

 

Precision

Words that are used in many contexts (e.g. have, get, do) or words that are vague (e.g. lots, big) can give the impression that your work lacks sufficient analysis, or that you don't really know what you mean.

Phrasal verbs or multi-word verbs (e.g. 'figure out') are often considered less precise than single-word verbs (e.g.discern). 

The research brought up a few things about the site that could cause problems (wrong). The research revealed three aspects of the site that made it unfavourable (right).

If you are not sure about a word, look it up in a learner's dictionary. If it has a number of meanings or is frequently used in idioms, this could be an indication that you should choose a more precise word. You can use a thesaurus to find synonyms, and then check the results in a dictionary until you find a more suitable word. 

For more information about writing style at university, refer to Four key features of academic style
Other resources you can refer to when writing or editing your work include: 
Online dictionaries with clear definitions and examples of words in context include the Oxford Learner's Dictionaries and the Cambridge Learner's Dictionary