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Write with authority

A research degree is usually the first step towards independent research. As you carry out your research you become an expert on your topic, ready to engage in discussion with other experts in your field. While you don't want to overstate your claims, the knowledge you acquire does allow you to adopt a particular position in relation to other researchers' work.

Develop your position

Taking up your position as a scholar in the discipline is not always easy, particularly when you read the work of highly esteemed professionals. Before you can actually write authoritatively you will need to develop confidence in your work and your opinions.

Here are some ways to help:

  • Have a good understanding of the field - read relevant literature
  • Define your stance in relation to the issues - justify your opinions
  • Discuss your work with peers, colleagues, academics and your supervisor
  • Get good feedback from your supervisor on written drafts - what is good and what is lacking
  • Identify your contribution to the discipline

In this process you will be critical of other authors and judge their writing, using your intellect and reason, of course, rather than making emotive responses.

You may, for instance, make a judgment that an author's conclusions are well-founded, or you may feel that there are weaknesses in their position. Furthermore, as a graduate researcher you are engaging deeply with what you read, and taking into account the author's own attitude to the knowledge they are presenting. Your own writing gains authority when you are able to convey these positions.

Signal your position

You can signal your position by the words you use when referring to other authors. (Please note, for the following examples no specific referencing system is used in order to focus attention on the reporting language itself).

  1. When you think that the author's conclusions are correct: Acknowledge, demonstrate, prove, identify, eg:
    • Brown acknowledges that this is typical behaviour amongstudents...
    • Carroll identifies this as typical student behaviour...
  2. When you think the author is incorrect: Confuses, disregards, ignores, eg:
    • Brown confuses this behaviour with typical student activities...
    • Carroll ignores the typical behaviour of students...
  3. When you think the author is unsure/unclear , or is not being explicit: Suggests, implies, intimates, eg;
    • Brown suggests that this behaviour is typical
  4. You can, of course, simply refer to the information without expressing an opinion: Notes, proposes, believes, eg:
    • Carroll notes that this is typical student behaviour...
    • Firbas proposes that this is typical behaviour...
    • Note that, in engineering and the sciences, authors tend to present previous research in neutral terms, preferring to demonstrate knowledge and awareness of what has been done without allowing judgment to intrude (Hyland, 1999), eg:

    • A further solution was developed by Brown...
    • Caroll and Firbas reported that...
  5. When you are conveying the author's own attitude:
    • The author is positive: Accept, emphasize, note, point out, subscribe to, eg:
      • Brown accepts this behaviour as typical of her student population...
      • Carroll points out that this behaviour is typical...
    • The author is negative: Attack, dismiss, dispute, oppose, question, reject, eg:
      • Brown questions whether this behaviour is typical of students...
      • Carroll dismisses this behaviour as atypical...

      Adapted from Thompson and Ye (1991)

  6. When you want to indicate the current relevance of the author's findings or conclusions, this can be conveyed through the verb tense you use:
    • The findings are still relevant: present tense, present perfect, eg:
    • Brown concludes that this behaviour is typical of students...
    • Carroll has found this behaviour to be typical...
    • The findings have been replaced by more recent work: simple past, eg:
    • Brown saw this behaviour as typical of students, but more recent work has nuanced this view...

See also Your presence in the text.

If English is not your first language, you might want to find out more about the grammar of reporting verbs Opens in a new window.

Hyland's (1999) article "Academic attribution: Citation and the construction of disciplinary knowledge" is also well worth looking at.

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