Critically discuss the issue of ‘participation’ in conducting research with children and young people.
Presentation of assignments
Please observe the following requirements for presenting your work:
- At the top of every page, include your name, your personal identifier, and the module and assignment number.
- Line spacing should be set at 1.5.
- Margins should be at least 3 cm wide.
- Please present references in the way described in Section 5.6 of this guide.
When you are ready to start detailed work on your assignment, you need to prepare a plan or outline. To begin with, look carefully at the notes given for each TMA. These notes will help you to identify the main areas to be covered and issues to be addressed. When you are asked to write an essay, general principles of essay writing apply. If you have had limited experience of essay writing, you should pay particular attention to the advice given in this guide and, if necessary, ask your tutor for help in putting it into practice. For useful additional sources refer to The Good Study Guide by Northedge (2005) and Good Essay Writing: A Social Sciences Guide by Redman and Maples (2011). Help with essay and report writing is also available on the Study skills website in the Help Centre on StudentHome.
Before making a plan it is useful to remind yourself of the general criteria for marking assignments outlined in Section 4. People vary as to the type of plan or outline they find most helpful. You could begin with a series of subheadings based on your TMA notes, gathering under each subheading your own list of the points you wish to make in each section and the information or evidence you have collected in support of each point. Some people like to use keywords, whereas others find spider or tree diagrams useful. Whichever approach you find most helpful, it is crucial that you decide on the order in which you are going to cover the different points you want to make. You should try to keep your outline brief.
Assignments vary in length (see Table 1 in Section 2). It is a good idea to indicate on your plan the approximate number of words you intend to devote to each section. Normally you should allocate about 200 words to your introduction and a similar number to your conclusion, with the bulk of the word allowance divided between your major sections.
Be realistic about what you can cover within the word length. You will need to be selective and make sure everything you plan to include is directly relevant to the question set. Make clear in your introduction the main choices that you have made about what to cover.
When you have completed your plan, look carefully through it and check it against the assignment question. Ask yourself the following questions:
- Does the plan contain enough material to enable you to answer the question?
- Is all the material relevant?
- Have you covered all aspects of the question set?
- If you are asked to evaluate an approach or a research paper, have you included arguments and evidence from different points of view?
- Can you think of any additional relevant evidence or information?
- Within and between each heading/section, is the material in an appropriate order?
- Does your plan allow you to build up an argument, moving logically from one point to the next?
Writing your assignments
If you have drawn up your plan carefully, writing your assignment should flow relatively easily: you will simply be writing out, in continuous prose, the notes you made under each heading of your plan. (Note that your outline does not form part of the assignment to be sent to your tutor.)
An important function of TMAs is to give you the benefit of your tutor’s comments on what you write. Make sure you leave sufficient space on each page for your tutor to make comments. Margins should be at least 3 cm wide and you should use at least 1.5 line spacing.
In your introduction state in one or two sentences how you are going to approach the question. Some people find it easier to write their introduction last of all, when they know what it is they are introducing. Others prefer to write their introduction first, outlining what they are going to do in their essay, and then refer back to it when writing the rest of their answer.
Do not be afraid to use headings for main sections of the assignment. This may be a departure from conventions you are used to – you may feel that essays should be a seamless whole. However, headings can help you to structure your argument and to see more clearly where you are in danger of including irrelevant material. Even if you do not use headings, try to include signposts to help your reader. So, for example, you should draw points together at the end of a section, and then indicate how you are going to follow on from these in the next section.
At the end of your assignment, include a brief summary of your main arguments with some conclusions which clearly relate back to the question you are answering. Finally, you should prepare a list of references in the same way that there are reference lists at the end of some of the Study Guide units. Go to Section 5.6 for advice on how to construct the list of references.
When you have finished your assignment, read it through carefully. Check that it is clear and provides a full answer to the question. At this point you should also check aspects of presentation such as spelling, punctuation, layout and so on. We strongly encourage you to provide a word count for your tutor.
If you feel that you need additional support with academic writing, or if you have any specific difficulties (e.g. with handwriting or spelling), you should discuss this with your tutor early on in the module and try to work out a way of minimising any problems. You can also contact your Student Support Team for advice.
When you have finished writing your assignment, you may find that reviewing it while considering the following questions can help improve your work.
Have I answered the assignment question?
It is sometimes easy to become carried away with a general area and so miss the opportunity to answer the question directly. Ask yourself:
- Does my introduction set out my assignment objectives with the question in mind or is it very general?
- Do I develop an argument in the main body of my assignment that fully explores the TMA focus area?
- Does my conclusion specifically return to and answer the assignment question fully?
Do the research examples I have used support key points within my argument?
The selection of research examples to support key points within an argument is central to effective essay writing. It is important that your research examples support or illustrate a theme within your argument. Reflect on the following points:
- Do the research examples I discuss highlight specific points/themes, or are they very general?
- Have I included sufficient research examples to support my argument?
- Do my research examples cover the breadth of themes discussed in my assignment?
Have I been critical enough?
It is never sufficient simply to describe the ideas or research projects that are relevant to the question in an assignment. You should always attempt to critically evaluate each argument or piece of evidence you include in your discussion. This does not mean that you should simply find fault with the research projects or ideas. Being critical in an academic sense means asking yourself whether you have engaged with each piece of writing, commented on its strengths and weaknesses, and drawn links between this and other writing on the same subject. Consider the following reflective points:
- Is my assignment evaluative or descriptive?
- Have I identified and evaluated the key concepts or ideas contained in each reading?
- Have I compared and contrasted the examples and ideas that I have used?
In TMA 04, for example, you will need to critically evaluate a dissemination strategy of your own design. This does not mean that you should simply find fault with the research project, or with your own suggestions for dissemination. Instead, you should think about the strengths and weaknesses of your dissemination strategy in reaching the right audiences and communicating useful information to them in a relevant way. You may find it useful to refer to the OU Study Guide ‘Thinking Critically’ available on the OU Study skills website.
Is my argument well balanced?
Balance in a critical discussion only becomes fully apparent after a piece of work has been finished. Being critical requires us to explore the full implications of a question, and support our answer with appropriate examples. Consider the following reflective points:
- Have I achieved a convincing balance in the range and variety of research examples considered?
- Have I achieved a convincing balance in the range of ages and social circumstances to be found among the young research participants?
Have I written the assignment in my own words?
It is important that you learn to write about issues and ideas in your own words (see the section on plagiarism). Even if you do not feel very confident about your own writing, you should not rely too much on the wording used in your sources (whether you are quoting directly or not). Paraphrasing is a key academic skill that you need to learn. Writing about ideas in your own words clearly demonstrates that you have understood the material, and allows you to tailor your answer to the question set in each TMA more effectively. You should still remember to cite your sources, whether you have paraphrased or quoted the material. Consider the following points:
- Are there too many quotations in my assignment?
- Is my wording significantly different from the wording used in my sources?
- Have I cited my sources for all of the points I have made and the examples I have used?
Am I ready to submit my assignment?
Researching and writing TMAs can be exhausting. It can be extremely tempting to simply submit your assignments as soon as you have finished. However, it is always worth checking back over your work and correcting any problems. In doing so you can ensure that you have made your argument clearly and effectively. This can make a big difference to your marks. Consider the following questions:
- Have I proof read my assignment?
- Does it make sense?
- Have I checked that my referencing is correct?
When writing an assignment, it is important that you substantiate your arguments with reference to evidence. Whether you are quoting directly or simply referring to source material, academic convention requires that you should acknowledge where your information has come from. Always cite your sources in the body of your text, and give references at the end, as appropriate.
In 2019 the Open University ran a pilot project to test a new referencing system. (See the modules that took part in the pilot project here.) Following the pilot, the Open University decided to roll out the new referencing system – called Cite Them Right – more widely across the OU from October 2020. As part of this wider roll-out, EK313 is adopting the Harvard version of the Cite Them Right referencing system from October 2020 onwards.
You should, therefore, use the Them Right version of the Harvard referencing system throughout your work. (The module team have begun updating the online materials where they can, but this transition is not yet complete. You may, therefore, notice some minor differences between the references you see in your module materials and those on the Cite Them Right resources.) More information about the pilot project and links to Cite Them Right resources are available in the ‘Piloting Cite Them Right’ section on the OU Library Referencing and Plagiarism web page. A quick guide in the form of a PDF document is available to download from this site.
The University also provides helpful information that will guide you through the issues involved in citing references in your text; see the following link on ‘Referencing’.
All these resources can be accessed through the module website.
For more detailed information on using references in your assignments, you are recommended to consult the OU Library Referencing and plagiarism website.
When referring to the Module Reader in your references, refer to it as follows:
Clark, A., Flewitt, R., Hammersley, M. and Robb, M. (eds) (2014) Understanding Research with Children and Young People. London: Sage in association with The Open University.
When referring to a chapter in the Module Reader in your references, refer to the chapter as follows:
Kellett, M. (2014) ‘Images of childhood and their influences on research’ in Clark, A., Flewitt, R., Hammersley, M. and Robb, M. (eds) (2014) Understanding Research with Children and Young People. London: Sage in association with The Open University, pp.15-33.