Academic Skills

 CONTENTS

Interaction skills

The study of speech communication skills and academic writing is practising how we get our unique voice heard in the academic community. Through practising communication, we can affect those things we feel are significant.

Interaction skills support your studies in:

  • Group work
  • Presentation situations
  • Justifying, feedback situations, encouraging, asking questions...
  • Introductions
  • Resolving conflicts, problem solving and decision making
  • Promoting and maintaining wellbeing
  • Forming one’s own image as a communicator

Interaction skills provide support for various working life situations:

  • Job interviews
  • Networking and cooperation with stakeholders
  • Working in teams
  • Meetings and negotiations
  • Presenting, training and teaching
  • Supervisor work and leadership

Ryhmätilanne

Reading

It is important that you consider the purpose of your reading. How deeply should you absorb the issue you are reading about? A good reader chooses the reading technique that best suits his or her purpose.

During your university studies, you will read a lot. The reading will include, for example, course material, exam books and scientific articles in your field. Scientific texts are typically many pages long, but the time for reading is limited. Reading texts can also feel difficult if they contain many unfamiliar terms or if, despite your best efforts, you fail to locate the main points of the text or to form an overview of its content. Effective reading is yet essential to the progress of your studies. Thankfully, you can develop your reading technique.

Understanding academic texts is easier when you can

  • Predict and anticipate. Activate your prior knowledge about a text’s subject or subject area:
    • Consider what you already know about the subject. This will also help you while reading – do you understand the issue even though you don’t know every word?
    • Can you guess the meaning of new words based on your prior knowledge?
  • Locate and find information. Understanding the structure of academic texts and choosing the right reading strategy can help you find essential information more quickly:
    • Are you searching for the answer to a specific question? Or are you reading to get an overview? You can find more information on reading techniques in the next section.
    • Do you know what the structure of a research report is? What about a review article?
    • Can you read graphic and visual information (tables, figures and formulas which support understanding of a research report’s results)?
    • Do you take advantage of a text’s linking words, which often indicate cause and effect, contrast and so on (e.g. thus, on the other hand, in addition, instead)?
  • Read critically and evaluate what you read
    • Can you deduce, interpret, distinguish fact from opinion, and make conclusions?
  • Structure information
    • Can you take notes about the main points and essential details?
    • Can you combine and summarise information (orally and in writing) for various purposes?

Information retrieval

Information retrieval skills are an essential part of university studies. They help you identify the information that is reliable and useful among the flood that arrives through various channels. You have to know how to manage, process and select information according to different uses. Information retrieval is made easier by various online libraries, archives and databases, which enable quick, limited and comprehensive searches.

Reading techniques

1. Skimming: getting a general impression of a text

You can make reading academic texts easier if you use the following techniques for a few minutes before you begin actually reading: skimming, browsing and surveying. Skimming will not add to your total reading time – and may even save it. Skimming a text before reading helps to clarify its usefulness for your needs and the main features of its content. You can then use this information to decide what to read and in which order, which parts you will focus on and those you will not read at all. Skimming helps you read selectively. For more on skimming, go to

http://www.uefap.com/reading/efficien/skim/skim.htm

2. Scanning: looking for specific details on the basis of, for example, keywords

With this technique you are usually looking for answers to the questions what, who and when. When you know the question ahead of time, you can concentrate on finding the answer. For more on scanning, go to

http://www.uefap.com/reading/efficien/scan/scan.htm

3. Finding the main ideas

To find the main ideas of a text, you should utilise the structure of the text and look for information about the following things, for example: why the text was written, what the writer’s aim was and what the most important arguments are. For examples of the structure of academic texts and related exercises, go to

http://www.uefap.com/reading/underst/structure/structure.htm
http://unilearning.uow.edu.au/reading/1d.html

4. Critical / evaluative reading (intensive)

If your approach to the text you are reading is critical or evaluative, you probably compare the writer’s views with your own views or those of someone else. Distinguishing facts from the writer’s opinions is also important. Here are some questions to help you read critically:

http://www.uefap.com/reading/crit/critfram.htm

As your studies proceed, your field-specific knowledge will increase and reading will become easier.

Learning vocabulary

Expanding your vocabulary can make reading academic texts easier.

You can study vocabulary in many different ways. When you learn a new word, it’s not enough to learn the translation. Take note of the word’s spelling and pronunciation, common synonyms, collocations and register. In this way you can be sure of the word’s meaning and that you are using it correctly. Remember to revise!

  1. As you read academic texts in a foreign language, you will often come across unfamiliar words. When this happens, use vocabulary strategies: try to form an overview of the text; don’t get stuck on the meaning of individual words.
  2. Decide if the unfamiliar word is essential for understanding the writer’s main idea.
  3. If it’s not essential, continue reading.
  4. If it is essential, try to understand the word’s meaning from context (i.e. the whole sentence, paragraph, surrounding text).
  5. If the context doesn’t help, use a dictionary.

Guessing meaning with the help of context

Guessing can help you find the general meaning of a word, which is often enough for understanding a text. Developing this skill takes practice, but it will ultimately make you a better reader. Guessing the meaning requires you to analyse the clues you find in the context of the sentence. Generally speaking, there are nine kinds of clues:

  1. The situation being described is already known.
  2. The writer’s explanations, examples or descriptions
  3. Cause and effect relationships (e.g. because, so, thus)
  4. Comparison and contrast (but, however, although)
  5. Words with similar meanings
  6. Pointing words (another, this, that kind of)
  7. Descriptive words: identify at the least if their meanings are positive or negative
  8. The definition given by the writer
  9. Parts of words, such as prefixes and suffixes

More information:

Andy Gillete’s website UEFAP (Using English for Academic Purposes) contains, among other helpful hints, advice on expanding your vocabulary and exercises related to academic terminology.

Andy Gillette’s website: UEFAP (Using English for Academic Purposes)

Links to dictionaries:

Working in groups

  • In groupwork situations, everyone is responsible for contributing to the progress of the task and achieving the group’s targets.
  • Groups need a variety of members, competences and personalities.
  • Be considerate, listen to and respect the speaking turns of others – even when you have a different opinion.
  • Share your ideas and do your part.
  • At various points, you may notice that the group needs different things, such as critical questions, a summary of what’s been accomplished, or support and encouragement. Work for the benefit of the group and together you can achieve good results.
  • Groupwork is about cooperation, not competition.

Requesting, giving and receiving feedback

  • Feedback can make your thinking and working processes more appropriate.
  • Ask for feedback – it makes your learning more effective.
  • Give feedback on those things the receiver can do something about.
  • Say what was good and worked well in what you saw or heard.
  • Give constructive feedback: say how the recipients can develop their work.
  • Give alternatives about how to improve performance and, when necessary, justify your suggestion.
  • Give feedback on the basis of your detailed observations.
  • When you receive feedback, listen calmly.
  • Remember that feedback is always subjective.
  • Appreciate that the person giving the feedback is taking the trouble to help make your learning more effective.
  • The learner decides if the issue is meaningful and worth committing to
  • You have the responsibility for what you take into consideration from the feedback you receive.
  • You can respond to the feedback you receive.

Time management

  • Time management is an important part of your study skills.
  • Make sure that work and rest are in balance.
  • Be fair and kind to yourself.
  • Study in moderation – leave time for other things alongside studying.
  • Time management helps you anticipate and prioritise things: plan how you use your time, put work in order of importance and urgency.
  • Unfinished work usually causes the most stress.

Listening

In lectures, you have to understand the speaker’s message and arguments in order to be able to evaluate them critically and write, for example, summaries and notes or answer exam questions. In seminars, you have to understand the positions, ideas and arguments of others so that you can respond to them, justify your position and ask specifying questions. These are typical academic situations in which you need active listening and note-taking skills.

An active listener should be able to:

    • Pick out main elements and central issues
    • Distinguish fact from opinion
    • Evaluate after listening
    • Summarise
    • Draw conclusions
    • Make notes
    • Indicate a difference between a direct quotation and one’s own words while taking notes
    • Summarise and use abbreviations when taking notes
    • Interpret notes afterwards

Information and instructions for listening and taking notes: