Academic Writing – Aims & Objectives Revisited


You are writing a research proposal/thesis/paper where you have been asked to state the aims and objectives. Can both words be used interchangeably? When is it appropriate to use them? In this article, Nadia Anwar revisits the debate around aims and objectives and sheds more clarity as to their appropriate use.

‘Aim’ and ‘objective’, the two ever confused words, terms, lexical items, research markers, or whatever you may prefer to call them, are as ambiguous conceptually as their tagging is. Being a novice in research (which I believe I will always be because of my aversion to being called an ‘expert’), I happen to have a very inquisitive nature about how words become a norm and attain an established status, especially in the alleyways of the academic world. This, rather annoying, and somewhat debilitating curiosity, as it constantly diverts my attention to academically most ignored or termed as worthless pursuits, led me to make a distinction between the overused and overly done words frequently employed in research thesis, proposals, dissertations, and projects etc.

Blogging Q and A – A Writing workshop for Early Career Scientists

EDI.jpgLast week, Amara and I had the pleasure of sharing a platform with other blogging “experts” at the Society for Applied Microbiology (SfAM) summer conference at Edinburgh to chat all things blogging with a group of early career scientists… Edinburgh itself is a really good welcoming city, with great sights to see and lots to do and if you are a big fan of shopping, well, you might quite like it..oh and the scottish shortbread biscuits..enough said there!!..

The conversation about blogging was varied and went from the simple to quite complex. I’d like to share some of the questions which were asked and responses from the session and for the benefit of our readers, some extra useful information Enjoy reading!

Starting from the basics, what is a blog?

There are different definitions of what a blog is – according to the Oxford dictionaries, a blog is “A regularly updated website or web page, typically one run by an individual or small group that is written in an informal or conversational style.” Blogging can be formal or informal –  blogging can be as simple as having an online diary where you share your thoughts or experiences on a regular or irregular basis (whatever is convenient for you) or it could be something much bigger e.g. blogs run by University departments, biopharma companies sharing information with shareholders and consumers or simple trivia blogs with lots of fun things. In effect, a blog could be whatever you want it to be and that is what makes blogging an exciting and often rewarding activity.

I have a personal blog, is there a space for it out there and how do I grow it?

The Art of Acting II – Impact of ‘Type’ and ‘Casting Choices’ in Finding Roles and Honing Your Craft

Recently, we featured an article on the Art of Acting by Shauna Blaize, an actress, model and film producer. In the article, Shauna shared her perspective and the “reality” facing budding actors in the film industry. In today’s post, Shauna reflects on how type and often race play a part in casting choices and how she is showcasing her own abilities as an actor and a producer.

We all have a type and when casting directors look at us they see the girl next door, the sassy girl, the best friend, the leading lady, etc and quite frankly it may not be what you or your friends/family see when they look at you.  But again we are not looking at our personalities or our inner essence; we are looking at ourselves with a critical eye, knowing the type we fit into and how we can sell that type. In other words how our type fits in with the need they are trying to fill.

Type has a few branches; it’s not only if you have straight or curly hair, if you wear glasses, or if you are short or tall or have a “look” that is more on the “businesswoman” side versus a “hippie chick.” It goes deeper than that. For instance I need to know that as a Black woman I will be viewed for certain roles. Roles such as the neck twisting/”around the way” type girl. If you want to go even deeper, I am a woman of mixed ethnicity and “light skinned” so I will be viewed as that “pretty light skinned chick” from the projects that is considered a “prize” because let’s be honest, I have a lighter complexion.

We look at Kerry Washington (Scandal) and recent Emmy winner Viola Davis (How to Get Away With Murder) and it seems that it’s all good for actresses of color but we are still quite far behind.

“Writing is Fun and Escapism.” -A Journey into the World of Fiction

Are you thinking of writing your first novel or have you started writing but need that bit of inspiration to help you complete your first manuscript?  In this article, John Hancock, Associate Professor of Molecular Biology and Author of several academic textbooks in Molecular Biology and Cell Signalling shares his experience of writing fiction. John also shares some advice for prospective authors on taking the plunge into writing that first novel. Enjoy!

Writing is both fun and escapism. Having written quite a lot of non-fiction having the chance to write a story is refreshing. There is no right or wrong way to do fiction, by which I mean you can write about anything as long as it, hopefully, comes across as engaging and enjoyable. 

#CareerChat: Getting into Writing & Publishing

Tolulope Photo
Image – Tolulope Popoola

Would you leave a relatively secure job that you weren’t passionate about to develop a career in an area that you absolutely loved even though there were no guarantees of how well (or badly) things would go? Is your dream worth the risk of finding out? We have been inspired by Tolu’s career journey – and absolutely in love with her ‘Flash Fiction’ stories – and couldn’t pass up the opportunity to share her story with our readers. Enjoy!

APH: Can you tell us about your educational and professional background? 

Tolu Popoola: I studied Accounting and Business Economics for my first degree, then took a year out to gain some work experience before going back to university to study for a Masters’ degree in Finance and Investment. When I graduated, I started working in an Accounting role while studying for the CIMA professional exams. I was halfway into the professional exams when I decided that I was in the wrong profession and I needed to make a career change.

You are a qualified accountant who now makes a living as a writer. Please can you share the story of your transition? 

It’s a long story, but I’ll try. Towards the end of 2006, I started getting frustrated with my career. Every morning was a struggle to motivate myself to get up and get to work. I wasn’t fulfilled in my job, even though it paid well and the company was a great place to work. I knew I had creative talents that I wasn’t putting to good use and, the more I thought about it, the more I was filled with horror at the idea of working in accounting for the next forty years of my life.

Then, one afternoon, I met a lady who was an accountant and working on a major finance project for her company. Even though it was a Saturday, and we were visiting, she was glued to her laptop, working on some financial data. When I asked her about it, she started telling me about her job, talking about the project she was working on, describing every single detail. She sounded so excited, passionate and enthusiastic. She said, ‘I love accounting, I love finance and I love working on exciting projects.’ In my mind, I was thinking, ‘Wow! She actually loves her job!’

It was eye-opening, because I hadn’t imagined that there were people who absolutely loved what they did for a living. After that meeting, it became clear to me that I didn’t have that same passion for accounting. It was just a profession I trained for and a job to keep some money coming in – nothing more. And, if I was to leave the job, I wouldn’t miss it one bit. So, I started to ask myself: what job could I do that would make me passionate and excited about getting up in the morning? Around that time, I discovered blogging and started writing short fiction as an experiment. The more I wrote, the more I enjoyed doing it. It became clear, before long, that writing was what I was meant to do with my life, not accounting.

In your opinion, what are the important skills and personal attributes to create a career out of writing?

Dedication, persistence and creativity. You have to read a lot, and you have to write a lot to continually improve. You need to be able to handle criticism and receive feedback with grace. You need to be passionate about it because you may get discouraged sometimes, and you need to believe in yourself even if your work gets rejected a few times.

What advice would you share with anyone interested in getting that first book published?

First, write the best book that you can write. Make sure your story is as interesting as you can make it, make sure the plot is intriguing, and you have believable characters. Read it over and over again until you have absorbed every sentence. Then, you need to give it to a professional editor. Many first-time writers make the mistake of thinking that they don’t need an editor but we all do. Once your manuscript has been professionally edited, you will notice the difference in quality. Now you need to decide if you want to try to get published traditionally, or you want to self-publish. Whichever option you choose depends on your goals, but you are first and foremost responsible for writing a great book.

Can you describe a typical working day? What do you like the most and least about your job? 

At the moment, my job consists of writing as well as running my own publishing, consulting and coaching company, so my typical day is quite varied. If I don’t have a client appointment, I usually do the admin stuff in the morning – so that includes responding to emails, updating the company’s website and blogs, reading industry-related materials, keeping my social media accounts updated, bookkeeping, etc. I focus on publishing and creating content for my coaching classes in the afternoons, and then in the evening I do my own writing stuff.

What was the inspiration behind starting your own business – Accomplish Press? 

Becoming a publisher was always something I wanted to achieve when I decided to leave Accounting. When I was researching, I found a lot of things wrong with the traditional publishing industry, things that were so obviously inefficient. I wanted to do something different. Secondly, from my experience, I knew there were not many mainstream publishers willing to take a chance on new writers like me. I had met a few publishers who found my work interesting, but they always said that it wasn’t commercially viable because it was regarded as ‘ethnic fiction’. But, I believe that I have to tell my stories and there are readers who want to read about people like them in books. So, I did a lot of research and decided to take the chance and become a publisher myself. That way, I can reach my audience directly, as well as creating an avenue for other writers like me to get their work published.

What do you wish someone else had told you before you embarked on your professional journey? 

There’s no such thing as an “overnight success” so you have to be patient and consistent with your work. Most people you see who are successful now, have been quietly working in the background for years. Secondly, make sure you are constantly striving to do better.

Do you have any mentors? 

Yes I do. I have many people I look up to for inspiration. I follow their works and I’m inspired by their achievements. Abidemi Sanusi, Joanna Penn, Chimamanda Adichie, etc. I even have a coach who helps me with achieving specific goals.

How important has having a mentor been for you? 

I think it’s very important to have mentors. You need to surround yourself with people who have achieved what you’re hoping to achieve. My mentors are all successful people in their own right. They inspire me, encourage me, motivate me, give me ideas, and help me to see what’s possible.

What achievements are you most proud of? Have you made any mistakes you are happy to share and what did you learn from them? 

I’m proud of every single book I publish for my clients. I still feel a sense of wonder that people trust me with their manuscript, and I help them to turn it into a proper published book.

One of the mistakes I made was when I first published the series ‘In My Dreams It Was Simpler’ through Lulu, which is an online publishing company. It was a fairly straightforward process and I had a lot to learn, but I was fairly impatient, and I didn’t weigh all my options properly. I underestimated the importance of professional editing, properly formatting and typesetting a manuscript. So, I ended up publishing several editions, which was a costly exercise.

How do you maintain a sense of balance while juggling your different roles – both personal and professional?

It’s a constant balancing act, juggling family life, personal goals, and career goals. Most working women and entrepreneurs have to find what works for them. Sometimes I have to put in more hours at work, and sometimes I pull back on work so that I can relax and spend time with the family. It’s not easy and it’s not a static thing. Life changes and life is in stages, we’re always having to adjust.

Tolulope Popoola is an Author, Publisher and Book Writing Coach. She’s the founder of Accomplish Press, and the author of “Nothing Comes Close”, a novel, and two collections of flash fiction stories, “Looking for Something” and “Fertile Imagination”. Tolulope grew up in Nigeria, moved to the UK for her education and early part of her working career. She is passionate about writing, and literature and helping other writers achieve their dreams. She now lives in Nigeria with her husband and two children.

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Reflections: The Emotional stages of a Research Journey

EmotionsReflection can be defined as the act of giving serious thought or consideration to something. It is amazing how many powerful lessons we can learn from ‘reflection on action.’ Sharing these lessons can help others currently going through what we have deal with the situations they find themselves in. We are so grateful to our guest writers for sharing their stories with us.  In this ‘Reflections’ article, Nadia Anwar discusses emotions associated with the different stages of a research journey.

Every research project passes through eight important phases: Euphoria, Realisation, Shock, Disillusionment, Acceptance, Depression, Revival, and Completion. The following narrative is dedicated to all my friends, colleagues, and students who are currently engaged with some kind of research – be it an MPhil dissertation, PhD thesis or monograph writing and are struggling to comprehend the volatility and psychological diversity of changing scenarios which come natural to any research process.

Euphoria is characterised by passionate involvement of a researcher with his/her research. This stage presents an idealistic vision of what one can achieve with hard work and commitment. At this initial stage all ideas seem original, all propositions unprecedented, and all perspectives fool proof. Very soon, however, it dawns upon the researcher that despite his or her unquestionable trust in the quality and potential of his/her research and supervisors’ initial approbation, there are fault lines which if not bridged in time can create serious obstacles in the research process. More often than not, students associate this problem with a lack of understanding on the part of their supervisors or with issues that exempt them of any fault on their part. However, the burden of this realization – of faults in the perfect proposal – can be too heavy and leads to a state of shock. In cases where the researcher possesses prior expertise or/and experience in teaching or guiding other people, the realisation of one’s deficiencies and ignorance can sometimes be extremely intolerable and emotionally painful.

At this stage disillusion sets in. The initial euphoria evaporates in the air like steam and the researcher is left with plenty of work, no sense of direction, anger, and annoying fear of failure and subsequent embarrassment. These feelings continue to haunt the researcher for some time, triggering eonian internal dialogues, which if ever come to an end makes the researcher blame everything and everyone else associated with the research rather than one’s self. John Burroughs thoughts neatly sum up implications of such scapegoating: ‘A man can fail many times, but he isn’t a failure until he begins to blame somebody’. Human mind, nevertheless, cannot nurture the same feeling for long. Besides, the critic that sits inside the researcher’s mind soon begins to argue about the practicality and reality of his/her narcissist thought processes, compelling him/her to conduct a thorough self-analysis.

At this stage, the researcher realises that s/he has been overly and unduly justifying her/himself. This is termed as the acceptance stage.  It is important to note that by this time the researcher should have already integrated him/herself in the dynamic research environment, establishing useful links with peers and imbibing the subtle but helpful suggestions coming from senior researchers. Therefore, the feeling of being an active member of a research community infuses a new spirit and taking full advantage of this new state of awareness the researcher formulates new research strategies, revise ideas, and starts working with overhauled vigour.

This newly conceived exuberance helps the researcher achieve plenty in terms of research and writing up – preliminary drafts are made, previous notes are updated, and fresh perspectives are formulated. As a general rule, every emotionally elevated stage, however, heralds a period of depression. After some productive and useful time the researcher too starts feeling low, unable to figure out how and when his words will become mature enough to go straight into the final draft. This is a crucial and emotionally dangerous stage. The researcher may also experience psycho-somatic symptoms such as palpitations, fluctuating blood pressure, and sinking heart along with feelings of futility, inadequacy and worthlessness of all s/he has remained involved with during her/his research journey. I would strongly advise my friends not to get upset by the appearance of these symptoms for there is nothing physiologically wrong with them. These are actually auspicious signs helping a researcher regain lost energy levels and boost creative thinking. Besides, in a more general sense this state is an ostensible evidence of how far and with how much effort you have covered your research journey. These apparently negative feelings are blessings in disguise for they emotionally prepare you to experience a wonderful sense of achievement in the times to come.

Struggling with one’s emotions is hard but after each effort one becomes stronger than before. The autoimmune capacity of the researcher gradually works to revive passion in research that helps the researcher swim through the troubled waters of psychological depression. Coming back to active and engaging research life has its own benefits as it sheds new light on the meaning and vicissitudes of life per se. This revival stage is imbued with fear, nervous expectations and excitement all at the same time. I used to get butterflies in my stomach during the final wrapping up of my thesis. Perhaps I was in love with my research the way people fall in love with human beings.

That feeling when you see yourself printing out the final draft or sending the final email to your supervisors or reviewers! The very act of submission gives you a fresh lease of life, a new hope for future and a wonderful sense of completion. The final count-down that entails waiting for viva after submission or for feedback on research is hard and demands plenty of patience. However, all hard times are forgotten once results are announced and glory is achieved.

Kudos to all my friends who have remained steadfast during all the stages of their respective research journeys. All the best.

About our writer – Dr Nadia Anwar has a PhD in Nigerian drama from the University of Northampton, UK. She is a Senior Lecturer in English at the Education Department in Pakistan and is a visiting faculty member at the University of Management and Sciences. Her primary areas of interest are African literature in general, specifically focused on Nigerian theatre and drama.

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