Academic Tips and Tricks

All the help you need for good essay writing


How to Make Transcribing SO Much Easier

Don’t thank me for this post, thank my boyfriend, who is a genius.

This innovation actually changed my life. As a linguistics student I’ve done A LOT of really complicated transcriptions over the years, and I’ve done many many hours of simple transcription as a paid transcriber. My set-up used to look like this:

transcription set up 1

I imagine that looks familiar – you can quickly access the media player to stop and start it and if you’re doing a simple two-person transcript you’ve done what you can to make everything quicker. But you still have to waste time taking your fingers off the keyboard to click between the two programmes and manually start and stop the audio. You might even be clumsily clicking the bar on the audio player to skip back to listen again.

Now my set-up looks like this:

transcription set up 2No media player. And you don’t need a laptop with built in media controls to make this work. If you use VLC (which is free to download and has a lot of great features) you can configure the global hotkeys so that you never have to click back and forth again!

Here’s How

transcription set up 3Go to tools and click on ‘preferences’, then:

transcription set up 4Go to hotkeys. You will see two columns ‘hotkey’ and ‘global’. Hotkey will only work when VLC is the active (selected) programme. Global will work from anywhere, e.g. from Word, if you’re browsing the web etc. The settings you want to create are global ones. Your global column should currently be blank like mine. This is what you need to do next:

Double click in the ‘global’ column on the setting you want to change, I clicked on ‘play/pause’

transcription set up 5You should get a pop-up box asking you to select a new key combination. You now need to choose keys which:

1. You can easily remember mean ‘play/pause’

2. Are not another shortcut

E.g. don’t pick ‘p’ as every time you type the letter p during transcription, your audio will stop or start. I choose shift+right arrow, as this combination is easy to press and isn’t already used as a shortcut/hotkey in Word:

transcription set up 6Once you’ve done this, your new combination should appear immediately in the global column, like this:

transcription set up 7These are the four hotkeys I have programmed specifically for transcription (image below). I find they are enough and make the whole process easier, the slow down command is especially useful when people are talking really fast! You can even slow down the audio so much that you can type as fast as the speakers are talking, but this can make the sound pretty distorted.

transcription set up 8When you’ve chosen all your commends, you will need to press ‘save’ then exit VLC completely and restart the programme before the changes will take effect. There is no need to restart your whole computer. When VLC is restarted, you should find you can use almost any programme while listening to VLC and control the audio remotely without having to click onto VLC to make the change.

Happy Transcribing!


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Learn Your Latin

You might notice in your reading that a lot of old-school (or in some cases just plain pretentious…) academics like to scatter their work with Latin (and French) phrases and acronyms. In some cases the Latin phrase really is the most pithy and exact way to get your point across, and sometimes they’re just unnecessary. However, you will encounter them, and if the text is recommended or compulsory reading you’ll have to get to grips with Latin just as you would any other discipline-specific terminology. You can also use them in your own writing, but never do this just to try to sound more intelligent, trust me, your tutors will see right through that.

So here’s a quick Latin guide for some frequently encountered terms:

  • i.e. and e.g.

These two Latin abbreviations (standing for id est and exempli gratia) are often confused. i.e. means ‘in essence’ or ‘in other words’ and e.g. means ‘for example’. Here are the examples Grammar Girl uses for clarification:

Squiggly loves watching old cartoons (e.g., DuckTales and Tugboat Mickey). The words following e.g. are examples, so you know that these are just some of the old cartoons that Squiggly enjoys.

Squiggly loves watching Donald Duck’s nephews (i.e., Huey, Dewey, and Louie). The words following i.e. provide clarification: they tell you the names of Donald Duck’s three nephews.

  • par exemple – this is not Latin, it’s French, but I include it here because it’s yet another way to say ‘for example’
  • a priori – this one is actually useful as it’s a very succinct was of expressing a tricky concept. it means ‘from what comes first’ – it means something not supported by factual study or personal experience in the physical world. It means that something is a deduction – something that exists in the mind. Here is a quote from Wikipedia describing a priori reasoning:

Galen Strawson has stated that an a priori argument is one in which “you can see that it is true just lying on your couch. You don’t have to get up off your couch and go outside and examine the way things are in the physical world. You don’t have to do any science.”sic – this is a really important one you will need to know and use

  • sic – this is a really important one you will need to know and use. It means ‘so’ or ‘thus’ and is used predominantly in quotes to show where something incorrect or odd-looking appeared in the original quote – this shows you haven’t transcribed or copied something wrongly. It is inserted into quotes in square brackets like so: ‘he signed his name e. e. cummings [sic]’
  • per se – for lovers of South Park, this conjures up an undeniable image of vampire kids. However, it does actually have a meaning and a correct usage. per se means ‘fundamentally’, ‘of itself’, ‘in itself’, ‘inherently’. It’s often used to make mild negatives ‘it’s not illegal per se’ (it’s not fundamentally illegal, but it’s probably not advised) ‘I wouldn’t say that per se’ (I wouldn’t say exactly that, but I might say something similar).
  • vis-a-vis – (pronounced veez-ah-vee) – this is also French. It literally means face to face, but is often used in context to mean something like ‘in relation to’ or ‘compared with’. In this quote from it means ‘when compared to’:
Traveling by sea ferry offers certain benefits regarding personal comfort and transporting luggage vis-a-vis  air travel.
and in this one it literally means ‘opposite’:
They were now vis-à-vis the most famous painting in the Louvre.
  • fait accompli – this means ‘an accomplished fact’ or ‘a thing already done’:

The enemy’s defeat was a fait accompli long before the formal surrender.

  • vice versa – this is a very common phrase meaning ‘and the other way around’ e.g. she dislikes me, and vice versa – meaning ‘she dislikes me and I also dislike her’
  • bona fide – something presented in good faith, something truly authentic: ‘a bona fide example of William Shakespeare’s handwriting’
  • quasi – meaning ‘resembling’ or ‘having some of the features of’ – often used disparagingly almost the opposite of bona fide. For example ‘ she has written a bona fide scientific paper’ vs. ‘she has written a quasi-scientific paper’ (the first paper has all the rigor of proper scientific writing, the second is pretend or pseudo-scientific – perhaps it’s about lay-lines or homeopathy)
  • verbatim – ‘word for word’ a verbatim quote has no alterations or improvisations.
  • et alii – the full form of et al. meaning ‘and others’ used in Academic writing when a list of authors is longer than two, e.g. ‘Smith et al. (2009)’. When using this remember you’re talking about plural authors (not just Mr Smith) and always put the full list of authors in your bibliography. et al. should only be used for in-text references.
  • ad nauseam – literally means ‘until nausea’ and usually used figuratively to mean something that has been going on forever until everyone is sick of it.
  • ergo – is a direct substitute for ‘therefore’ ‘I think ergo I am’.
  • ad hoc – a thing put together quickly to fill a particular need

I hope this is useful and hasn’t gone on ad nauseam. The quotes used from Grammar Girl et al were all verbatim and hopefully have been supported by evidence as opposed to being a priori. I admit this was a fairly ad hoc entry vis-a-vis Latin terms and ergo I may have omitted some. If so let me know. And don’t do what I’ve just done; never use Latin when English will do!

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One letter is all it takes…

To reiterate simply what I have said many times, one letter really is all it takes.

Editor Afloat

I saw a message on a social media site today that made me stop what I was doing and create this little message. We all know (or hope we know) what she meant to say to her BFF but the missing letter turned the meaning quite upside down! Just a reminder that even if your spell-checker isn’t telling you anything is wrong, you’d better read your letter one more time.

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Noun-Verb agreement when using paired dashes, commas and parentheses

This might sound like a very complicated title, but it’s for a very simple problem.

“noun-verb agreement” is what you get when you conjugate verbs correctly depending on whether you have a plural or singular noun. Let me give an example:

‘The man’ is a singular noun, there is one man. So if you wanted to say ‘the man jumps’ you use the singular verb form ‘jumps’ not the plural form ‘jump’:

the man jumps

Similarly, if you have plural (more than one) men, you would use ‘jump’

the men jump

This initial problem is very like the one I explained when talking about referencing multiple authors by using ‘et al’ and what verb forms to use in this circumstance.

However, problems can occur when you start to use more complex sentences and it’s very easy to muddle up your verbs. For example, often what you’re trying to do with paired commas, paired dashes, or parenthesis is combine two simple sentences to make a point that contains additional information for supporting or clarifying the argument, but which is not essential to understanding the sentence itself, e.g. you might want to combine:

Most surveys generate a large amount of data


The National Student Survey generates a large amount of data

The problem here is you have a singular noun ‘the National Student Survey’ and a plural one ‘surveys’, and the two corresponding verb forms of ‘to generate’. So if you combined them like this:

Most surveys, such as the National Student Survey, **generate/generates** a large amount of data

Which form of ‘generate’ would you use?

The trick here is to imagine that the bit in between paired commas (or in parenthesis – or between paired dashes – )doesn’t exist, the verb should agree with the essential part of the sentence, not the additional part. So the verb here should be ‘generate’.

The same trick of ignoring the additional sentence part is also really useful for making sure your sentences are grammatically complete. Just don’t read additional parts and make sure what’s left still makes sense.


A note on ‘et al.’

Using et al. is a really good way to reference multi-authored books. It is Latin for ‘and others’ so a reference for this book:

Biber, D., Conrad, S. and Reppen, R. (1998) Corpus Linguistics: Investigating Language Structure and Use, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Could be referenced in text as (Biber et al.: 1998).

There are just two important things to remember:

  1. You MUST list all the authors in your bibliography reference
  2. You need to remember that if you’re writing about what the authors of a multi-authored book have said, remember you need to use plural verb forms. E.g. Biber et al. state that…, not Biber et al states. Biber et al. discuss, not Biber et al. discusses. This can be hard to remember, so try to say in your head whenever you use ‘et al.’ “and others” that way you’ll get the verbs right. You wouldn’t write Biber and others hypothesises – you’d write Biber and others hypothesise.

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Tips and Tricks 17: How to Write a Good Introduction

Writing an introduction can be very tricky, I certainly didn’t get the hang of it until at least the end of my first year at Uni – and I was on a very writing-heavy course. Introductions are at least as difficult to write as conclusions, and people who have difficulty with one will almost certainly struggle with the other too.

It’s probably easiest to write an introduction if you think about if from the reader’s perspective, and what they need to know to make sense of your analysis/assignment/essay. A good introduction should:

  1. Introduce the topic of the assignment
  2. Introduce what you’re going to analyse – are you looking at primary data, are you evaluating someone else’s tool/theory, are you summing up research on a particular topic
  3. State the type of argument, – is it a discussion, a critical analysis, a comparison, an analysis of primary data etc.

(the three points above may amount to only one sentence between them)

4.  Give some clue as to how the analysis will proceed, e.g. what specific features you will analyse (refer to your essay’s sub-headings or paragraph themes), what methodology you will be using, any really key theorem/tool you will be applying.


As in this fictional example

This essay will examine the difference in happiness levels between people who own dogs and those who own cats. This paper will use a qualitative method of analysis, and Smith’s (1994) seminal work ‘Cats vs. Dogs’ to investigate data from over 300 surveys undertaken in the Greater Manchester area. This essay will first analyse existing literature surrounding pet ownership, then move on to identify reasons for buying a pet, pet psychology and a pet’s affect on the human psyche.


Or this real one:

During the course of this essay I will be attempting a stylistic analysis of an excerpt from To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee to determine what techniques the author has used to achieve the effect of bewilderment and fright that pervades this extract. I will begin by making some general observations about the text, then do a detailed analysis using various techniques:

I will use Short’s ‘fingerprinting’ technique (1996:334) which uses the Ellegård Norm to determine the frequency of different word classes within the text. This technique should show any areas which are very deviant from the norm in style. The essay will also look at M. Halliday’s theory of transitivity (Simpson 2004:75) and apply it to the text by looking at the verbs in the text and categorising them into the six classes of verb identified by Halliday. The essay will then conclude with a look at speech and thought presentation.


A similar approach can be taken when writing conclusions, which I will describe in my next blog entry.