SLA Topics   Vivian Cook 

Presenting Applied Linguistics Research:
a guide for students
 

Vivian Cook, Newcastle University

Draft chapter for a manual in progress 2012; comments/suggestions welcome. vivian.cook@ncl.ac.uk
Other links: What is applied linguistics? Starting applied linguistics research
Typing essays etc in Word

Note this version does not work well on the web as the fonts, line spaces, etc do not seem to display in all browsers. A better text is at academia.edu.

Once the research has been carried out and the evidence collected, the researcher can start to think about presenting the research to others through writing or speaking. Of course this is more a logical progression than an actual one; by this stage elements of the research will already exist in written form whether as the rough outlines of the research questions, as a draft sketch of the research background, as preliminary tables of figures of results, and so on. It is indeed dangerous to wait till this stage to start any writing; few people can dash off a complete thesis from beginning to end. Academic writing is a genre all of its own and it takes practice to master; the sooner this starts the better.

It is also important to realise that the order in which the parts of the thesis are written does not necessarily correspond to the presentation order of the thesis. One convenient starting point is the research background that has to be included to justify one’s own research. This might as well be committed to paper as soon as possible, with the realization that it will never be finished till the thesis itself is finished as research always generates new background needs as it progresses. In the final moments it is necessary to check whether something new has recently appeared in the field.

Some people make an early start on writing parts of the results chapter so that they can test out different ways of presenting the data. Others concentrate on parts of the research design chapter to get their Research Questions in a usable form before they write up anything else. Often the introduction is written last as only when the other chapters are written is it clear what needs to be put in the introduction. Writing is not just reporting on the research; it is doing it in that it is working out the ideas and arguments of your research.

But none of the chapters can be regarded as finished until the rest of the thesis exists. In writing the results chapter you may come across a vital article that needs to be fed back into the research review. Indeed there are often vital things to say in the conclusions that need to be justified by introducing new material in the research survey. Sometimes even the Research Questions may need tinkering with in the light of what comes later. Writing a thesis is not a steady progression of writing one chapter after another but means continuously cycling through writing new material, and rewriting and checking old material.

Aristotle (333 BC) saw the plot of a tragedy as having a beginning, a middle and an end. The beginning presupposes nothing; the middle naturally follows on from the beginning; the end naturally follows on from the middle but has nothing naturally following it. So a thesis has a beginning which sets up the research design, a middle which carries it out, and an end that reports what has been done.

Alternatively a thesis can be seen as a detective story, known indeed as a mystery in the USA. The beginning sets up the cast of suspects and describes the murder puzzle. The middle tells how the detective assembles all his clues. The end involves the detective producing his evidence and denouncing who committed the crime (it is fairly safe to assume the detective is male, apart from Miss Marple). The beginning of a thesis assembles all the ingredients of the puzzle, alias the research questions and their rationale; the middle works out the alternative solutions to the research question; the ending announces just how the research question has been answered.

At one level these metaphors simply remind us that a thesis is a long piece of written language, longer than most people have written before and longer than many of them will ever need to write again. It has all the properties of a long text and probably takes as much time, effort and perseverance as writing a novel.

At another level they remind researchers that the point of a thesis is constructing a narrative for the reader step by step. These are steps in building up a picture in the reader’s mind, going from complete ignorance of the topic in the reader’s mind on the first page to complete knowledge on the last. To make the reader read on to the end there has to be a continuous consecutive build-up. The last thing you need is spoilers in earlier chapters that give away later solutions; if Chapter 2 reads ‘This research has shown conclusively that clouds are made of water’, there is little motivation for the reader to read on to Chapter 7. What is needed is something more like ‘We will see later whether it is correct that clouds are made of water’.

The reader may well have an overall knowledge of what is coming, for example gained from the abstract, but this is not the same as specific things anticipated later in the thesis. Someone going to a film of the Titanic has a pretty good idea of the ending in general terms but no idea how the particular plot of the film will develop. So the earlier steps should not give away what is going to happen later. And in reverse things which are introduced in later chapters should not add to or amend the foundations in the earlier chapter. A common fault is for the discussion or conclusion to bring in new research sources: if they are important enough, they need to be fed back into the research survey.

With a thesis, as with any writing, the writer has to picture the kind of reader who will read the text. The immediate objective is the examiners, the long-term objective readers expert in the same area of research. So enough of the particular background to the research has to be presented on the one hand to justify the research undertaken, on the other hand to show you have sufficient knowledge of the relevant background of the field to be trusted. It is obviously fatal to underestimate the reader’s level; ‘Our starting point is that clouds occur in the sky’. It reads particularly oddly when commonsense widely known information is justified by being given a source ‘As Ariel (2009) points out, clouds are in the sky’ – one of the odd quirks of Wikipedia being is that a citation is needed for everything. There is then a delicate balance between the needs to explain everything and to avoid insulting the reader’s intelligence.

Nevertheless a thesis has a duty to the truth as well as to the reader, just as the Times newspaper is a journal of record which has to list the diary of the English royal court for posterity. All the information has to be presented that is necessary to prove the point even if this results in boredom for the reader. This is particularly true of the results chapter where for example a large amount of similar information may have to be reported. This is inevitably repetitious as the same information may have to be repeated about results and statistics etc over and over again. Even the best of writers may not be able to vary this sufficiently to make it interesting – but it is still necessary.

As with any writing, the style has to conform to the demands of the particular genre. Academic theses are a specific type of writing, liable to be conservative and neutral in style as they are have to be formally judged by experts at some stage. Writing something for a newspaper involves a quite different tone and approach and is usually edited by a professional to make it more effective for the reader rather than evaluated as pass or fail. Examiners, proofreaders and publishers act as gatekeepers forcing the people who enter their gates to behave in a particular way (Cameron). A reviewer of a paper I had submitted to a journal wondered if I was a native speaker because I used sentences without verbs. Like this. Such sentences are common in the spoken language, and in most novels; clearly however they are to be tolerated by academic gatekeepers. Reversing the roles, as editor of a journal I asked a contributor to rewrite a paper in a more academic style, and was refused with cries of indignation. Cameron for instance comments on the gatekeeper’s demands for consistency; what does it matter if sometimes we have a capital letter after a colon rather than before or we have a full stop after the date in a reference rather than a comma? Who except for a pernickety proofreader is going to notice? Yet break the taboos of academic style at your peril; examiners and editors see it as their job to insist on them. And usually have very traditional ideas of grammar and punctuation from their own schooldays rather than from any modern linguistics sources, such as the idea that a sentence has to have a verb, probably discarded in linguistics in 1933 with Bloomfield’s idea of the minor sentence.

A central feature is the influence of scientific reporting. The tradition is that research has to be objective and replicable. The author is reporting a scientific investigation which would have come out the same way whoever had carried it: the author is reporting true things about the world not dependent on his or her own observations, personality etc. So ‘I think the sky is blue’ is improper science; ‘Most observers concur that the sky is blue’, ‘Observations suggest that the sky’s radiation wavelength between 440 and 490 nm corresponds to blue’ are scientific statements where the person writing is not visibly involved in the research. It is proper then to say ‘The results show that…’ as the facts speak for themselves; ‘I found that …’ is improper as the author is a fallible human being. This is the reason then for the lack of first person ‘I’ in most academic writing and indeed for the occasional use of ‘we’ for sole authors. Or indeed the reliance on the passive in academic writing; ‘It was discovered that …’ sounds more neutral and positive than ‘I discovered that …’  Occasionally the first person may come in when the author’s personal experience is at stake. In the box it was clearly necessary for Gibbons to report ‘In 1996-7 I was given the opportunity by the New South Wales Police Service to work with them …’ since this is crucial to the project.  But usually the first person is not used to make a major point or contribute a crucial piece of evidence.

First person I/we  in papers
In this article, I adopt the high and low applicative classification. Oh
In this paper we pursue two such directions, the study of the affective foundations of task performance and the systematic analysis of the task situation in relation to task performance. Dornyei
In the second part of this paper I will present examples of my empirical research into EIL phonology … Jenkins

In an earlier paper for Applied Linguistics I discussed the complexity of police cautions …In 1996-7 I was given the opportunity by the New South Wales Police Service to work with them … Gibbons
I would like to thank María Luisa Zubizarreta and Tania Ionin for extremely helpful comments and valuable discussions, … Oh
I would like to thank the Psychology of Language students who participated so willingly in the many tasks. Kemp

The examples above show two main uses of first person I. One reports a choice that was made by the researcher ‘I adopt the high and low applicative classification’. The other is giving thanks ‘I would like to thank María Luisa Zubizarreta and Tania Ionin for extremely helpful comments’.

Elements common to differenT writing tasks

In this section we look at some of the common features of presenting research in writing more or less regardless of whether it’s for a thesis, paper or book. Of course some of this may be out of your hands. You have to follow whatever a university, journal or publisher prescribes. Usually, you need to take account not only of the specific guidelines for the particular publisher but also of which underlying scheme the publisher assumes, whether APA, MLA, BPS or whatever. Don’t worry too much about mastering all the pedantic details; a quick short-cut  is to find a recent article, thesis or book from the particular university or publisher you are submitting to and copy as many of the conventions as you can. Only when your work doesn’t conform to the model do you really need to check what their rules lay down.  While many of their guidelines are arbitrary and meaningless, some do have a clear practical rationale in helping the reader to understand the text better.

A written manuscript may have different forms:

- your work in progress, changing constantly, probably read mostly on screen and sometimes printed out. Work in progress can be done in any font that suits you. For example I find single spacing for lines, extra blank paragraph between paragraphs and the Garamond font suit me both onscreen and in printing. For publication I have to change them to the required style, often double spacing, indented paragraphs and the traditional Times New Roman font.

Printed page size
Printed single-sided, on white A4 paper within the range 70g/m2 to 100g/m2. (Newcastle)
Each copy of the thesis must be printed in white A4 size paper. (Singapore)

Pages should be standard US letter size (8.5 x 11 inches). (Stanford)

The final manuscript, obeying all the conventions laid down for it, which will be submitted as a thesis or as a book or article. For a thesis this needs to be conceived as hard copy print-out. Publishers are going to convert your manuscript from the submitted .doc or .pdf files into their printing requirements. Over the years however publishers have done less and less at this stage in terms of formatting and layout so it is worth thinking how your pages would look in print, since your layout may well survive largely intact.

Page readability

Margins

The left hand margin should be 40mm (1.5”); all other margins 20mm (0.75”). (Newcastle)
The left margin should be 1½ inches. Margins on the remaining three sides should be not less than 1 inch each. (Singapore)
Typescripts should be double spaced, with adequate margins. (WSR)

The layout of text on the page plays an important role in helping the reader to read easily. For theses in Europe these are usually on A4 paper (8.27 ×11.69 in), in North America on "letter" size paper (812 × 11 in or 215.9 × 279.4 mm).

One aspect of page layout is margins. Try to observe the requirements laid down by the university for your thesis or by publishers for book or paper production as much as you can. The practical implications from the choice of margins are that a wider left margin may be needed so that the thesis can be bound together or so that proof annotations can be inserted. The size of right margin is governed by the size of the human thumb which holds the book or thesis: too narrow and the text will be obscured while reading. For printed works the layout of the printed page may have little connection to the layout of the submitted manuscript.

Line spacing
The text … must be double-spaced. Long quotations, footnotes or endnotes, and bibliographies may be single-spaced or double-spaced….  (Georgetown)
One and a half spacing between lines, including appendices and bibliography … (Newcastle)
The text should be double-spaced throughout with the following exceptions:… (Singapore)

A key component in page readability according to typographers is the amount of white space on the page. The eye of the reader works better when there is plenty of white space to make the text stand out. In word-processing it is perfectly sensible to use single line spacing for working drafts that only your eye will see [NB spacings do not seem to work in all browsers]:

How, then, might the analysis and explication of L2 learning be approached from a social-interactional perspective, one that places contingency, contextuality, dialogue, and liminality at its core? We shall attempt to answer this question by offering cursory analyses of language learning-in-action. Our focus here is not learners in a formal sense of the word—that is, persons engaged in purposive activities principally in order to develop skills, knowledge, and competences. … Firth & Wagner

But any other reader will need a higher proportion of white space, whether using space and a half line spacing:

How, then, might the analysis and explication of L2 learning be approached from a social-interactional perspective, one that places contingency, contextuality, dialogue, and liminality at its core? We shall attempt to answer this question by offering cursory analyses of language learning-in-action. Our focus here is not learners in a formal sense of the word—that is, persons engaged in purposive activities principally in order to develop skills, knowledge, and competences. … Firth & Wagner

Or double spacing:

How, then, might the analysis and explication of L2 learning be approached from a social-interactional perspective, one that places contingency, contextuality, dialogue, and liminality at its core? We shall attempt to answer this question by offering cursory analyses of language learning-in-action. Our focus here is not learners in a formal sense of the word—that is, persons engaged in purposive activities principally in order to develop skills, knowledge, and competences. … Firth & Wagner

The tight single spacing may look ok on your computer screen but will undoubtedly be too dense when printed out even if you save a bit on paper.

The appearance on the page is also affected by your choice of how to show the beginning of a paragraph. One option to indent the beginning of each paragraph:

How, then, might the analysis and explication of L2 learning be approached from a social-interactional perspective, one that places contingency, contextuality, dialogue, and liminality at its core?

We shall attempt to answer this question by offering cursory analyses of language learning-in-action. Our focus here is not learners in a formal sense of the word—that is, persons engaged in purposive activities principally in order to develop skills, knowledge, and competences. … Firth & Wagner

For the perfectionist typographer, it is inelegant to have an indented paragraph under a heading, even if many book and journal publishers ignore this. Compare:

LANGUAGE LEARNING AS A SOCIAL ACCOMPLISHMENT

How, then, might the analysis and explication of L2 learning be approached from a social-interactional perspective, one that places contingency, contextuality, dialogue, and liminality at its core? We shall attempt to answer this question by offering cursory analyses of language learning-in-action. Our focus here is not learners in a formal sense of the word—that is, persons engaged in purposive activities principally in order to develop skills, knowledge, and competences. … Firth & Wagner

With:

LANGUAGE LEARNING AS A SOCIAL ACCOMPLISHMENT

How, then, might the analysis and explication of L2 learning be approached from a social-interactional perspective, one that places contingency, contextuality, dialogue, and liminality at its core? We shall attempt to answer this question by offering cursory analyses of language learning-in-action. Our focus here is not learners in a formal sense of the word—that is, persons engaged in purposive activities principally in order to develop skills, knowledge, and competences. … Firth & Wagner

And make your own choice. In fact the printed version had the indented paragraph.

The other possibility is to add extra ‘leading’ after each paragraph. (note ‘leading’ is derived from the metal lead, not from the verb meaning ‘to precede’ and so is pronounced /lediN/).

How, then, might the analysis and explication of L2 learning be approached from a social-interactional perspective, one that places contingency, contextuality, dialogue, and liminality at its core?

We shall attempt to answer this question by offering cursory analyses of language learning-inaction. Our focus here is not learners in a formal sense of the word—that is, persons engaged in purposive activities principally in order to develop skills, knowledge, and competences. … Firth & Wagner

For rough working documents a quick way of adding extra leading is to insert an extra empty paragraph at the end of each paragraph:

How, then, might the analysis and explication of L2 learning be approached from a social-interactional perspective, one that places contingency, contextuality, dialogue, and liminality at its core?

 

We shall attempt to answer this question by offering cursory analyses of language learning-in-action. Our focus here is not learners in a formal sense of the word—that is, persons engaged in purposive activities principally in order to develop skills, knowledge, and competences. … Firth & Wagner

But this may not have the right proportions in final versions.

Font size
All text should be 12-point (Newcastle)
All text must be 10 point or larger; …  Some charts, graphs, or tables may contain type that is smaller than 10 point.  (Georgetown)
The font size for the main text should be 11 to 12 points. (Singapore)

Another crucial decision for legibility concerns the choice of the letter forms on the page. One aspect is size. This is traditionally measured in points; since conversion to computer technology a point has measured 1/72nd inch.

The normal font size for word-processing is 12 points. If you try to cut down on this, don’t forget that the examiner of a thesis usually has older eyes than the candidate; a certain age people have problems seeing smaller letters; less expensive printers won’t cope with all the details that your screen shows. Most universities suggest 12 point but all make some exceptions for graphs etc.

      This demonstrates text written in 12 point Times New Roman.

This demonstrates text written in 10 point Times New Roman.

This demonstrates text written in 8 point Times New Roman.

If you really need to use a small size font for parts of the thesis, consider using a font that is specially designed for small sizes, like those in phonebooks and dictionaries; a useful one for printing in small sizes is Haettenschweiler. 

This demonstrates text written in 12 point Haettenschweiler

Choice of font

All text should be printed in a clear font such as Arial or Times New Roman; (Newcastle)
Commonly-used fonts such as "
Courier" and "Times New Roman" are generally acceptable. (Georgetown)
The following fonts are acceptable: Times Roman and Helvetica. (Singapore)
Acceptable fonts include: Times New Roman (preferred);  Courier…;  Helvetica …; Times, …; Symbol. (
Stanford)

The next issue is the choice of font. Fonts are a set of letters produced to go together in a typeface including a range of alphabets such as lower case, upper case, bold and italic. Many have extremely long histories. The familiar Times New Roman was produced by Stanley Morison in 1932 for the Times newspaper but was based on the capital letters on Trajan’s Column in Rome dated 113AD.

Most university guidelines mention Arial and Times New Roman, probably because these used to be the default fonts supplied with Microsoft Windows. But they don’t bother to explain when each should be used.

Times New Roman is an example of a serif font, given here in 18 points to make the issue clearer.

This demonstrates text written in Times New Roman, a serif font.

Serif fonts have little twiddles at the top, for example both ends of the top line in T and both sides of the feet of the horizontal line T. Ultimately these derive from marks made with the chisel in cutting letters, say in Trajan’s Column, which in turn reflected how the letter was drawn on the stone to be cut. The actual line varies in thickness, for example the top and bottom curves of S are thin and the middle stroke is thick.

Arial is a member of the sans-serif family of fonts:

This demonstrates text written in Arial, a sans-serif font.

Sans-serif fonts precisely lack the serifs so that T consists of two straight lines. They also typically have a line that does not vary in width: S has the same thickness from one end to the other.

The crucial point however is how they are used. Serif fonts are usually considered the most legible for continuous texts as seen below:

How, then, might the analysis and explication of L2 learning be approached from a social-interactional perspective, one that places contingency, contextuality, dialogue, and liminality at its core? We shall attempt to answer this question by offering cursory analyses of language learning-in-action. Our focus here is not learners in a formal sense of the word—that is, persons engaged in purposive activities principally in order to develop skills, knowledge, and competences. … Firth & Wagner TNR 12 point

The apparently redundant serifs help our eyes to recognise letters in fast reading; their lack in sans-serifs slows us down.

How, then, might the analysis and explication of L2 learning be approached from a social-interactional perspective, one that places contingency, contextuality, dialogue, and liminality at its core? We shall attempt to answer this question by offering cursory analyses of language learning-in-action. Our focus here is not learners in a formal sense of the word—that is, persons engaged in purposive activities principally in order to develop skills, knowledge, and competences. … Firth & Wagner Arial 12pt

Virtually all novels are therefore set in serif fonts – the only exception I know is a novel by Jeff Noon called Pollen. A serif font is then necessary for the text of a book or thesis, even if university guidelines seem to countenance a sans-serif font. However as examiner I can assure you that an entire thesis written in Arial does not put me in a good mood.

Sans-serifs on the hand other are used typically for display of short pieces of text, such as headings:

BITS OF CHAPTER STILL UNWRITTEN:  Linguistic ethnicity    Exit

Or indeed captions to charts etc. If the text is only a few words long and has to stand out in some way then a sans-serif is ideal.

Opening sentences

Second language (L2) acquisition is fundamentally different from first language (L1) acquisition in that L2 learners bring complete knowledge of their L1 grammar to the L2 acquisition task. Oh (2010)
Mobile phone ownership and the use of text messaging have both increased rapidly worldwide in the space of a decade. Kemp (2010)
The past decade has brought an increased interest in language learning tasks as basic conceptual units to analyse learning behaviours that lead to second language (L2) acquisition (e.g. Bygate, 1996, 1999; … Dornyei & Kormos 2000
At the start of the twenty-first century, most applied linguists are familiar with the fact that English is now spoken by a considerably greater number of NNSs than NSs. Jenkins

Sections

Introducing the essay/thesis /dissertation/paper/report

 The thesis or paper has to get started. The readers have to be told what they will be hearing about. Above all it is the place for stating informally the applied linguistics research ‘problem’ you are tackling.

You need to give a quick glimpse of the reasons for the research, the area of applied linguistics you are researching, the kind of situation that it deals with and why tackling this problem is important to the field. This is not the same as your abstract, i.e. it is not a straight summary of what you have done. It looks forward to the research to be described and says what you hope to achieve but it does not describe the outcome. That is to say do not anticipate your results and conclusions – leave the reader some reason for reading the rest of the thesis. This is your chance to describe what you are doing, to give it a context and to say why you think it is important to the field and to possible users of your research.

The opening may well be the place to give quick explanations of things that the readers will encounter later on in great detail. For example the thesis may be set in a particular type of classroom in a particular country; a brief discussion of this in the introduction may help the reader in the interval before you describe the circumstances of the research more fully in the research design section. Or there may be a particular theory that you are using which can be explained briefly here before it is elaborated on in the research background section. Indeed this can include particular technical terms you are using, which may not be understood by the reader in the way you intend so they may need a short explanation here that will do till your detailed discussion later.

But don’t feel that you have to do too much in the introduction. A short one that leads the reader into the research may be all that’s needed. It’s the reader’s first glimpse of your work and needs to be a snapshot.

Conference presentations

Time

Undoubtedly except for plenary talks, you will be given less time than you want for your presentation, say 10 to 20 minutes plus questions. Chairpersons are often inexperienced students who are obsessed with the time limits and unconcerned about the audience. Some chair-persons who will use up 5 minutes of your precious time on a fulsome introduction, particularly in colloquia. Stephen Leacock laments ‘the witty chairman, the prosy chairman, the solemn chairman… I know them all.’ So make certain you know how long you have been allocated and that you actually get it.

Division of time checklist

How long do you have? …… mins
intro                             …… mins
background                  …… mins
research question         …… mins
method                        …… mins
results                         …… mins
discussion                    …… mins

Given this tight constraint, it is important to choose what you are going to say and what you are NOT going to say. The overall point is to tell the audience about what you have achieved, your contribution to the debate. So you need to make clear what your research is about, the methods you used, the results you found, and the conclusions you have come to. One technique is to divide up the time allocated to each of these areas, as given in the box. For each section decide roughly

- what you want to fit in
- how long you will take to cover it in speech
- what will go on a slide or a handout

Then go back to your timings and adjust accordingly. Sometimes the methodology may be standard and needs little elaboration for an appropriate audience. ‘I used a grammaticality judgments task in which people scored sentences as correct/incorrect/don’t know’ may be all that you need to say – but do have a longer version ready in your mind for the questioner who is not satisfied. ‘I used an fMRI task which measured XXX in the YYY’ may need a clear explanation not only for the less expert of what was involved but also for the expert of the precise ways in which the technique was used.

One of my own experiments involved Brian MacWhinney’s Competition Model. While the syntax for this is relatively easy to get across, there is a conceptual problem with the presentation of the results consistently in terms of the word order dimension NVN etc rather than other properties. In my experience of teaching this, you have to go over it very carefully till students suddenly get it. But in a short talk this would take far too long; hence my own solution was simply to say ‘Here is a graph of the results which shows clear differences between low bilinguals and high bilinguals; you can find an explanation of the figures in the published article/handout etc’. The overall point is that a talk is not the equivalent to a complete PHD thesis; you are selecting things to interest the audience and you need to leave out unnecessary details, which can be supplied if necessary in handouts or in answers to specific questions.

Hence the literature background needs to be very sparse; only mention what is vital to underpin your research: I have heard beginners’ presentations where the literature survey has used up 15 minutes leaving 5 for everything else. You can always list other references on the handout or have them available for any questioner.

Giving an Oral presentation

- speak to the audience. One trap for a beginner is reading from the main screen and turning away from the audience – fatal: it seems to divert responsibility from the speaker to the text on the screen. It’s your visible relationship with the audience that matters not your relationship with the screen. If you must look at a screen, have the computer monitor screen facing you while you face the audience.

Keep your eyes on the audience as much as you can. While some people suggest focussing on a particular member of the audience, say a friend or a well-known figure, the audience may see this as rudely excluding them from the talk; it is better to try to look at all sections of the audience from time to time.

- speak appropriately to the room. Without a mike, you need to check that you are audible to everyone when the room is full, not empty. With a mike you need to do the same since there may be distortions etc. Unless you are used to them both fixed and handheld mikes can introduce problems such as moving your head too far from the mike, forgetting to move your hand with the mike as you turn your head (and indeed being reduced to only one hand for turning over papers, making gestures etc). A lapel mike is easiest as you can forget about it after it’s set up and switched on.

Reading a written text aloud

The conservative way of delivering a talk is to write it out in full and then to read it to the audience. While this is in principle not a good idea, there may be reasons why you want to do this sometimes, for example if you are speaking on a very controversial area and you need to be very precise in what you say or if you have to give an immense amount of information that needs to be accurate (though in both cases suitable handouts or Powerpoint slides may do it better). If you have to do this, make certain of the following:

- produce language that can be taken in as speech. Spoken and written language have many different characteristics, for example the higher proportion of function words in speech, and they use rather different memory systems in the brain. What you need is written text written to be read aloud, not ordinary academic prose as found in articles etc. The brain cannot handle as much information from the spoken route – the reason why ordinary papers read aloud are so difficult to follow. Try reading a paragraph silently and then say a spoken version aloud from memory. The text of a talk is much more like the latter than the former.

Try not to look down at the text too often. Essentially look down, take in a sentence, look at the audience and say it. This can become so smooth with practice that the audience are not aware that the speaker is reading aloud.