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Learning Enhancement and Development

Poster 11

Using open access peer-reviews and pre-printed submissions to improve students’ comprehension of academic writing.

Dr Phil McAleer - University of Glasgow
Dr Heather Cleland Woods - University of Glasgow
Dr Helena Paterson - University of Glasgow
Dr Niamh Stack - University of Glasgow

This poster presents an approach we have implemented to help improve understanding of journal articles, and scientific writing in general, by students on an MSc Conversion course. As it is about the practice itself, we believe that the sub-theme most appropriate is ‘Sharing practices and approaches’.

One of the most difficult challenges that novice learners face is to read and assess verbose, complex journal articles, filled with a mix of subject-specific jargon and intricate analyses, challenged with understanding the terminology as well as the general concepts of the work. A recent blog captures this frustration, stating, “Nothing makes you feel stupid quite like reading a scientific journal article” (Ruben, 2016); whilst a follow on looks to alleviate this issue by offering insights from experienced professionals on how best to approach articles (Pain, 2016). Yet while numerous rubrics exist for improving general structuring and writing (Derntl, 2014; Hillier et al., 2016; Kording and Mensh, 2016), few if any exist on how to improve conceptual understanding; a key skill required for students to support their own academic writing with evidence-based literature. We looked to address this issue by creating a mock ‘peer-review’ assessment as part of a portfolio of skills in our Masters-level conversion course; a cohort faced with the stern challenge of having to rapidly learn to read and comprehend academic writing from a novel discipline over a relatively short time-span. Our approach involved three stages. First a brief explanation of the peer-review process using freely available online materials from publishers (e.g. Wiley, PLOS). Next an analytical discussion of open access peer-reviews of published articles (via PeerJ, Royal Society Open Science); i.e. a learn-by-example approach. Finally, the student’s own mock peer-review of one of three open access pre-printed journal articles (via PeerJ, PsyArXiv, etc) with specific guidelines to focus on the key aspects of theory, methodology and readability. Here we present qualitative and quantitative feedback from the students as regards to how this task improved their ability to understand complex academic writing, and how it has altered their approach to reading such articles in future.


Derntl, M. (2014). Basics of research paper writing and publishing. International Journal of Technology Enhanced Learning, 2014 Vol.6, No.2, pp.105 – 123. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1504/IJTEL.2014.066856

Hillier, A., Kelly, R. P. & Klinger, T. (2016) Narrative Style Influences Citation Frequency in Climate Change Science. PLOS ONE 11(12): e0167983. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0167983

Kording, K. P. & Mensh, B. (2016). Ten simple rules for structuring papers. bioRxiv. http://biorxiv.org/content/early/2016/12/17/088278, doi: 10.1101/088278

Pain, E. (2016). How to (seriously) read a scientific paper. [online] Available at: http://www.sciencemag.org/careers/2016/03/how-seriously-read-scientific-paper

Ruben, A. (2016). How to read a scientific paper. [online] Available at: http://www.sciencemag.org/careers/2016/01/how-read-scientific-paper