Using Constructive Alignment for Academic Writing IV – Workflow

Using Constructive Alignment for Academic Writing IV – Workflow

This is the final part of a 4-part blog series. Navigate to the previous parts using the links at the bottom of the page.

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Using Constructive Alignment for Academic Writing IV – Workflow by Srikanth Sugavanam is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

In Part III, I presented some general writing tools.

In this part, let’s see how to bring these together to realise a workflow for arriving at a constructively aligned piece of writing.

Let’s revisit our ecosystem from part II. But this time, I present it slightly differently.

Let’s revisit the basic premise of the constructive alignment framework – we use the abstract to list the primary results of our work in the form of learning objectives/outcomes of the paper.

The second tenet of constructive alignment is to align the results, i.e. align the evidence we present with the learning outcomes.

The evidence is presented using the aid of prose, figures, tables, in some cases animations.

And from Part III of this blog series, you now have the tools to help align your evidence with the learning outcomes. So, let’s design the workflow.

In my workshop, at this point I get people in more or less cohesive groups and let them brainstorm on arriving designing workflow that is best suited to them. This is usually followed by a discussion, where we examine the design motivations. As such breakout sessions are not possible at the moment, here I lay down the ‘rules of the game’ so to speak.

Here are the rules of the game –

  1. Start from the abstract. Use the Nature Abstract template from Part II, and include no more than three results/learning objectives.
  2. Define the structure. You can use a pre-existing journal template, or explore other structures like the verse-chorus musical form discussed.
  3. The design workflow must incorporate an element of iteration. Remember, the first draft is always shiitake mushrooms.
  4. Use at least two tools from Part III. You can use any other tool or writing device you know too.
  5. Provide clear signposts that show your writing is constructively aligned. Hint – remember your hooks.

The writing workflow you will design based on the above rules will depend on the nature of your work, and the pedagogical underpinnings of your respective discipline. But in essence, if you follow the above rules, your writing will be constructively aligned.

For an example, check out Prof. Armani’s article in SPIE, where she presents a 10-step workflow for writing a scientific article. You will see several similarities with the constructive alignment workflow above, and some differences too. For instance, she too views the abstract as an elevator pitch. This perspective helps, as it forces you to distill your rhetoric, focusing on the primary message of the paper. Also note her advice on structuring the paragraph for figures, which you can combine with the 1-2-3 punch figure design approach. A strong difference you will see from our current Biggs’ based framework is in her advice to not start from the abstract. But she also emphasizes on the importance of having a guiding vision statement, which gives direction and focus to the ensuing workflow. In our case, this direction is provided by the learning objectives, which is very much in the spirit of Biggs’ framework. Having a set of objectives gets the ball rolling, with their specificity helping us to get past the initial ‘blank-canvas’ anxiety. As in any creative process, iteration is key (see rule 3 above) – and this can incorporate an element of double-loop learning, making provision for revisiting and revising our learning objectives, i.e. the abstract.

So, this brings us to the end to the 4-part blog series.

To summarize what we have done so far –

  • We identified the Abstract as the section that underscores the learning outcomes of the paper.
  • We used existing frameworks like elevator pitches, 1-2-3 punch writing, and even musical forms to structure our sections. We saw how we could use these forms to reinforce the hooks, i.e. the learning outcomes. 
  • We used tools like SWOT, SWOC and reflective analysis to help align our writing to the abstract, and finally
  • We combined the different writing devices and tools to structure our own reflective workflow to ensure constructive alignment in our writing. 

Now, I implore you to revisit Part I-IV again, and see the above learning outcomes. Did you spot the constructive alignment? 🙂

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