Writing Essays by Pictures – A Workbook: Review

writing-essays-by-pictures-workbookGröppel-Wegener, A. (2016). Writing Essays by Pictures – A Workbook. Huddersfield: Innovative Libraries.

Writing Essays by Pictures – A Workbook, by Alke Gröppel-Wegener, offers a novel approach to the formalities and frameworks of academic writing, from the initial search and retrieval of relevant information sources to the interpretation of that literature through one’s own argumentation. Though primarily written for the neophyte scholar, for whom independent research and essay writing may engender no small amount of trepidation, there is also much benefit to be gleaned by those generally au fait with concepts of information literacy.

What differentiates this guide from others similar in objective is its colourful and almost playful approach to the formalities and rigour expected of degree-level essays. Once through the process of higher education, it is easy to forget how unfamiliar many aspects of writing within a scholarly tradition can initially seem. To the seasoned academic, citations, bibliographies, the need to define the essay’s parameters and the occasionally-awkward predilection for avoiding personal pronouns are all second nature. To many beginning their academic careers, the etiquette of this style of writing can seem at best obscure and at worst entirely overwhelming and unnavigable.

The book guides the student through a logical, step-by-step framework, beginning with the initial consideration of the task ahead and ending with the all-important (though often overlooked) process of feedback and its application to subsequent work.

Along the way there are practical activities to get the creative juices flowing, or simply to instill new way of considering a familiar process and its purpose. The representation of an essay as an iceberg, with a clear point supported by a vast depth of below-the-surface research, captures the importance of extensive preparation when planning an academic essay. Poorly-researched work is akin to an ice-sheet, which offers a shallow argument liable to capsize. This and similar approaches to why certain academic practices are in place are useful refreshers no matter how conversant the reader may feel in the language of academic prose.

The book makes no claim to be applicable to all styles of learning, and indeed reiterates throughout the lack of a universal approach to academic study. While there are conventions to be followed, and guidelines on best practice, the way the student conceptualizes the ingredients needed in academic prose is more flexible. The reader is invited to take from this handbook what they feel will suit their own style of learning.

This is, as the title indicates, a workbook. Visual analogies are interspersed with practical tasks suited to a variety of learning styles. This approach is that which is advocated throughout: one of active reading, and of engaging with professional writing both academic and non-academic (indeed, leisure reading is lauded as a valuable way to assimilate the qualities of professional writing more generally). To research existing literature is shown not to be a matter of mindless skim-reading or verbatim note-taking. Rather, it is about reading actively by absorbing information and representing it in your own words, in a format perhaps different from that of the original text, or different from the way you might traditionally record information yourself, including drawing, mind-mapping, making flash cards – anything, in fact, that communicates or organises your data so that you can use it efficiently and effectively to construct a clear and concise argument of your own. For those approaching the academic writing for the first time, this book offers points of access that can help the uncertain student find their footing on unfamiliar terrain.

Writing Essays by Pictures has a fundamental precept at its core: that to engage with and produce academic writing is to join extant dialogues, which can seem inscrutable to the uninitiated. This handbook offers alternative strategies to help writers not only access but evaluate and interrogate these existing dialogues. The handbook guides the writer through the processes that translate their own thoughts into an argument that accords with established practices. It is also a novel approach to information literacy intervention, and offers fresh and creative ideas to those intervening.

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