Have academic writing centres for theses
I REFER to the letter “Good writing vital for thesis” (The Star, Feb 1) by Ranjit Singh Malhi and agree with him.
The written works by undergraduates and postgraduates in Malaysian universities leaves much to be desired.
Unlike American universities where a writing centre to help students is usually available, the majority of Malaysian universities do not have such a place where students with writing problems can receive help and advice.
Supervisors are very busy people. If they were to spend time correcting English grammar in students’ drafts they will lack time for the things that matter (structure and methodology issues).
This type of copy editing can be referred to those in the Academic Writing Centre or Academic Writing Unit.
Lecturers also can call on editors at the centre to edit their work before submission to international refereed journals.
To improve the quality of theses and dissertations from Malaysian universities I suggest that the Education Ministry make it mandatory for local universities to set up Academic Writing Centres. Alia Anreen Ampang The STAR Home News Opinion Wednesday 3 February 2016
Good writing vital for thesis
RECENTLY, I conducted a workshop titled “Towards an Error-Free Thesis” for PhD candidates from a local university. The workshop was titled as such because an error-free thesis is most likely yet to be written. None of us is perfect but this does not mean glaring errors in PhD theses should be tolerated.
To prepare for the workshop, I went through a number of PhD theses (from both local and foreign universities based in Malaysia) and was shocked by numerous factual and glaring grammatical, punctuation and spelling errors in them. For example, one particular thesis (2015) had several factual errors, including Malaysia attaining independence in 1957 and the duration of Japanese Occupation in Malaya being 1941 to 1945 (actually 1942 to 1945).
The following example (2015) is representative of the poor command of English by some PhD holders: “Author has started her Bachelor’s degree in (name of local university withheld) at 2001 and continued her Master’s degree at 2006 at the same Universiti. Before pursuing her PhD in 2010, the author has worked as a lecturer in Private University for 7 years. Being expert in Human Resource Development area, author has also developed various modules within the field specifically for part time students in private universities.”
A 2012 PhD thesis from another local university is littered with meaningless sentences such as “Organizational culture is seen as an important factor builds an organisation (Martins and Terblanche, 2003)”; “This study indicates that organisational members perceive their managers/leaders who demonstrate transformational leadership style”; and “The organisational leaders would have discussed the necessity to perform change through his or her teams or followers in multiple ways since it is the art of communication.”
A good PhD thesis is one that provides original and significant contributions to knowledge; has a strong thesis statement with clear aims; reviews adequately the relevant literature; adopts a proper research methodology; is well-argued with primary evidence; and has minimal grammatical, punctuation and spelling errors. In short, a good thesis is one that is worthy of being published.
A few PhD supervisors whom I spoke to surprisingly downplayed the importance of good writing. Perhaps they are not aware that “accuracy in grammar and punctuation forms part of a well-written thesis” as rightly asserted by Paul Oliver in his book, Writing Your Thesis. In a similar vein, Andrew J. Romig of Harvard University states: “Even the most brilliant ideas can become obscured by typos, incorrect citation styles, and bad grammar.”
Good writing is important for four main reasons. First, it creates a positive first impression on readers; remember, you never get a second chance to make a positive first impression. Second, it enhances trust and credibility. Third, it enables readers to focus on your ideas; errors annoy and distract readers. Fourth, it demonstrates that you take pride in your work. Maggie Biroscak sums up well the importance of good writing: “Sloppy writing makes people wonder what else you’re messing up on.”
It is not uncommon for our academics to demonstrate lack of meticulousness in their own writing. Two glaring examples should suffice. A local history professor writing in an international journal (2014) about the 1915 Singapore Mutiny stated ridiculously that “... sepoy Ismail Khan fired the first shot killing the truck’s crew as well as those of the other remaining trucks.” How can a single shot kill a number of people? The truth is (based on primary sources) Ismail Khan’s shot did not even kill a single person.
Another local history professor (until alerted by me) had been writing incorrectly the name of the British company that once governed Sabah as the North Borneo Chartered Company (actually British North Borneo Company) and its date of establishment as 1881 (actually 1882).
In this regard, I would like to pose the following three questions for serious and sincere consideration by the relevant authorities:
(i) Are our universities truly concerned about the quality of PhD theses or has quality been sacrificed for quantity in chasing KPIs?;
(ii) Are the PhD supervisors truly competent and meticulous in their work?; and
(iii) Has education been commercialised in today’s highly competitive business world by awarding “quickie” PhDs of questionable quality?
I trust that my candid views will not only be taken positively but will also lead to a healthy debate regarding measures to be taken to ensure local PhD theses meet the rigorous academic standards. Dr Ranjit Singh Malhi Kuala Lumpur The STAR Home News Opinion Letters Monday, 1 February 2016