on: Williams, N(2004)How
to Get a 2:1 in Media, Communication and
Cultural Studies, London:
Sage Publications Ltd.
[A bit of a hybrid book here, with at
least half of it focused on key ideas and
key thinkers, which are summarized rather
abruptly, and so inevitably,
controversially. It is a rather curious
decision to include this material in a
study skills book, and although the author
denies that these sections are there to
facilitate surface learning or plagiarism,
it seems likely to encourage it.
The earlier chapters seem pretty basic and
rather dogmatic, although they do try to
address the specific values of
universities and these particular courses.
The overall tone is rather cautious,
urging students not to experiment too
much. Despite the title, no guarantees are
offered. The reflexive link is intended
between the subject matter and the
activity of communicating effectively as a
student. Instrumentalism is simply
condemned. Students are urged to be
positive and to try to engage with the
work, as usual. There is more detail on
websites. Key terms such as being critical
are explained that briefly, and some
examples of critical analysis are
given (quite good ones, 26 f)
The group work section features an
analysis of Belbin on group roles, which
looks OK but pretty abstract. As you would
expect, presentations and other forms of
communication are quite well addressed and
linked to communication theory in general,
including the need to remember the
audience. There are some useful sides on
writing various kinds of material.
clear on the values of academic life, but
uncritical, and tries to rationalize them,
eg the emphasis on critical understanding.
Gets close to making the case for a deep
approach including syllabus independence,
but there is no specific mention of it. The
book simply condemns instrumental students,
despite admitting that the author chose the
title to sell the book(2).
Warns against the risk of getting too
critical, and urges calculation(8).
the basic techniques of organization and
some simple advice, such as considering the
audience, planning work, getting help and so
a reflexive loop between the actual subject
matter and the process of learning, in that
good communications appears in both. Good on
the basics for communication, the usual
irritating lists, for example on audience
expectations. All very bland and shouldy.
Emphasizes the need to please the tutor(coyly)(61).
Presentational skills are important in
assessment. There is the usual circularity
though, as an example to'use
good information' (63). Advocates bite-size
chunks of information, a piece of signposts
is a banal list of them on 66). This section
seems to assume a strategic orientation. The
author's own examples of chunks of
information are awful -- bitty encyclopaedia
type answers to questions like'What
is Foucault's account of discourse...
Foucault sees all human activity as
discourse' (67). There is a hint of a
discussion about the structure of knowledge
on 68. The section on plain English leads to
a simple journalistic exercise(almost
like algorithms), use shorter words, an
active voice and denominalization(71).
Students are advised to overcome the
relativism that awaits by'choosing
what you find useful'.
peculiarities of the essay form are
defended as'core' (74). Practical tips for
writing include brainstorming, invisible
writing(75). Then the advice is to plan and
organize, including breaking down sections.
There are some tips on introductions.
Reports are explained and advice is given on
various structuring principles including a
very simple'dialectic' (78).[There
is a slippage from journalism to academic
writing here and there -- the bad side of
the reflexive link?]. References and
bibliographies are discussed,
justified and explained -- they represent
standard academic values, apparently. The
basic examples of Harvard are explained(Sage
too -- at least some attempt is made to
presentations are discussed, including
the need to simulate eye-contact and to vary
communication. There are some basic tips
about answering questions, and a reminder
about structure and signposting. Section
ends with some suggested action, including
the need to edit on one's feet. Visual aids
are discussed. Working in groups leads to
the old Belbin stuff on various kinds of
roles, such as leader and organizer.
Individual presentations contain a warning
against jokes and popularity contests --
presenters need to know the topic and the
audience, and should be there to point out
on Web design contains the usual
material about the need for minimal content
and interactivity. There are basic reminders
on how to do links and the need to remember
other users will be following different
routes. There is some advice about how to
cut and paste and make electronic notes.
to spin out this thin stuff] consists of one
chapter of 50 key ideas in the relevant
subject -- about a paragraph on each,
-1) and discourse (110 - 1)[who
is this for exactly?]. We are warned this is
not a substitute for detailed reading but
only a starting point or reminder, and that
the reader needs to be critical and creative[the
usual warnings to try and cover against
plagiarism?]. Section ends by admitting that
concepts and definitions are ambiguous, and
the reader is once more invited to decide
for themselves when short definitions like
this are effective.
five, which follows, is on key
thinkers, with some additional reading.
There is a hopeless intertextual and
scholastic element -- try Bakhtin on 138.
Shameless bullet point stuff on Foucault(148)
-- four key bullets to be precise.
six is on grading and assessment.
There are some examples of criteria on 170
-- his? Each identified skill then has a
subsection, for example on developing better
critical abilities. University assessment is
good for you, but you need to be aware of
how it works to get the best returns. It is
important to know the learning outcomes, for
they are universally used]. You need to know
the criteria, but tutors often see them as
guidelines rather than rules[requirements
of presentation is the example here].
Nevertheless presentation is important,
including structure and the effective use of
typefaces! Students need to read it in the
most general sense, including cross editing.
They also need to get creative:(a)
break conventions or rules and challenge.
Deep understanding gets its first mention
(177). There is a recognition of different
approaches and complexity of the task. This
section refers back to the knowledge
structure material, via a demonstration of
how questions lead to further questions.
Example is OK if rather brief(177-8),
but tends to show the professional
academics' way to proceed rather than the
student's [a demonstration rather than a set
of principles, which risks circularity--
be critical, do it like this, this is being
critical]. The section offers the basics on
argument, the need to be objective and to
refer to the available facts. Other advice
includes avoiding emotional appeals and not
pushing to extremes (179).
for exams includes the need to
revise first, to take good notes, and
progressively refine techniques. There are
some hints on how to use academic categories
such as theoretical perspectives, and how to
do practical applications. On the day,
brainstorming or mind mapping is the
Choose an approach to answer the question.
Analyze the content of past papers. Typical
academic words like'analyze'
described in a table(183).
Students are recommended to attempt to
answer the requisite number of questions,
ruler convention' explained --it is easier
to get the first 40%]. With multi-choice
tests, it is possible to guess
especially if they are designed poorly. The
dissertation should be treated as a
long essay: there is some basic advice on
how to choose a topic, a supervisor and an
audience, and a basic structure on 190. The
literature review is well explained on 191.
Actual research and methods is treated in a
very basic way, with pros and cons and tips
in the form of bullets and tables. It
addresses reservations about research as
are urged to avoid plagiarism, which
attracts heavy condemnation --'unethical,
immoral, unscholarly, cowardly and stupid'
(201). There is no attempt to understand the
practice here, although there is some
acknowledgement of the ambiguities.
last chapter is on trouble-shooting or
Frequently Asked Questions. It has an
irritating tabular form, and is almost an