How to Write a Coursework in Nutrition – a Detailed Guide for Struggling Students

Writing guide
Posted on July 23, 2019

A coursework is any written project a student should complete over the course of a term – it can be an essay, a research paper or some other type of written assignment. The main purpose of this type of work is to evaluate and train the student’s ability to work and research independently. Therefore, even if a coursework is not very large, many students find this type of work distressing, not being used to defining the direction of their research on their own. However, not to worry – you will find all the instructions to guide you through this job in this manual.

How to Choose a Good and Interesting Topic for Your Coursework in Nutrition

As the goal of a coursework is to assess your independent research skills, usually you have to choose the topic of your assignment on your own – of course, within the scope of your current course. However, you still have to discuss and settle the topic and title with your tutor.

1. Brainstorm

If you do not have a ready topic handy, brainstorming with mind mapping can help. You can either do it on paper or use one of many mind-mapping tools available online. Simply write down the general outline of your study field in the middle of a sheet of paper (e.g., ‘Abdominal Obesity’) and start drafting ideas that come to your mind all around it. It is important not to think whether these ideas are good or bad at this point – just churn out as many of them as possible. Try thinking about at least a couple dozen ideas – chances are, the best will come by the end of this exercise.

2. Pick Ideas That Suit You

Most of the ideas you have created this way will be useless or irrelevant, but you will certainly find a few workable ones. Set them aside and try to decide which of them interest you the most or which you will be able to cover without too much effort. Perhaps you have already done research related to some of them, and can build on it. Narrow down the list of potential ideas to 2-3, depending on how much time you have.

3. Review the Literature

Find as many sources of information related to each idea as possible and try to estimate how much data there is on each of them. Will it be enough for the research of your size? You can get lists of useful literature from your supervisor, in a library (do not just study the index, ask a librarian!) or in an online academic database/search engine. AGRIS and FSTA deal directly with this area of knowledge, plus you can find something useful on multidisciplinary resources like Google Scholar and EBSCO. Compile a list of keywords related to your ideas and run a few searches. After you gather some sources, look through them, pick the ones that are the most relevant for your research and look through their bibliography sections – there may be other helpful sources. If you can single out reliable authorities on the subject (people with many publications that are referred to by other specialists in the field), check out their other works.

4. Identify Gaps in the Knowledge

It is likely that at this point you can single out a few topics that are underrepresented in the existing research. If they suit you, look into them and see if you can settle on one of them as a topic for your coursework.

5. See if This Topic Already Appears Somewhere

The fact that you haven’t seen research on this subject does not mean there is none at all. Make a concerted effort to find any papers, publications, books, articles or any other works dedicated to the topic you have chosen or similar ones. If you cannot find anything identical to what you want to propose, feel free to discuss it with your supervisor – he/she will tell you what to do next and how to modify the topic to better suit the requirements of the assignment.

Finally, you should come up with a suitable title that clearly indicates what you write about and limits the area of research. For example:

  • Risks of Fad Diets: What Connection Do They Have with Legitimate Nutrition Science;
  • Binge Eating and Fasting: How Human Body Responds to Irregular Eating Patterns;
  • Understanding and Treating the Causes and Effects of Anorexia Nervosa;
  • Connections and Relations between Self-Harm Behavior and Bulimia Nervosa;
  • Role of Proper Nutrition in the Development of Immunity.

Working with Sources for Your Coursework in Nutrition – Do’s and Don’ts

Just like with any other research assignment, 60% of your time will be dedicated to research and work with information sources, 30% to writing, and 10% to revision. So do not underestimate the importance of this phase – if you do not get it right, it does not matter how perfect the rest of your paper is.

  • Differentiate sources by quality. Some are more reliable – e.g., publications from peer-reviewed journals referred to by multiple other specialists in the field, books by authorities in nutrition, etc. Some are less reliable – newspaper articles, websites, books by authors without academic knowledge in the subject. It does not mean that they cannot contain useful information – you simply should pay more attention to verifying them;
  • Keep an eye out for the author’s bias. Before you use information from any source, run a background check, and be critical of it while you read it:
    • Does the author use words and expressions with emotional or evaluative connotations?
    • Does the author’s background suggest that he/she has reasons to be biased (e.g., connected to fast food industry)?
    • Who financed the research?
  • If in one of your sources you find a quotation that would help you prove your point, you have to do one of the two things. Either introduce it “as cited in” the source you found it or find that source, read it and then quote it directly. Never quote such sources as if you read them yourself – it is a very poor academic practice. If you are discovered (and you probably will be), it will greatly harm your credibility.
  • Differentiate between primary, secondary and tertiary documents.
    • Primary documents refer directly to the event or object of research. They can be, for example, research reports composed by those who carried out an experiment.
    • Secondary documents are works by people who are not related to what they write about. It may be, for example, an analysis of an experiment carried out by other scientists, interpretations of primary sources, etc.
    • o Tertiary documents are indexes, bibliographies, databases and other categorized collections of data. They direct you to other sources of useful information on a particular subject.
  • Stick to the most recent sources on each subject. In an area like nutrition, theories come and go quickly, and general consensus can dramatically shift over the course of a few years, so older sources quickly become irrelevant;
  • Among all other sources, prefer articles by authorities on the subject published in well-respected peer-reviewed magazines or by well-known universities. Even if the article itself does not add much to your argument, its provenance will add weight to your research;
  • Although peer-reviewed articles should constitute the bulk of your sources, do not fixate on them: use sources of different types, including the less valuable ones (e.g., mass media publications). This will help you make your research more well-rounded.

Writing a Coursework in Nutrition – General Recommendations and Principles

When writing an academic work about nutrition, how you write is just as important as the contents of your work. The structure of your paper may differ depending on the task – a coursework may have any form, from a slightly longer than normal essay to a full-fledged research paper. You will receive guidelines related to the structure from your supervisor, so read and follow them carefully. Whatever the structure is, there are a few principles you should follow:

  • Do not go out of your way to persuade the reader. You are writing a scientific work, not a marketing pamphlet. Your coursework exists in the context of all the other research in the field, and the best you can hope for is to find data that supports your thesis statement. You cannot be sure new information won’t emerge later on to disprove you;
  • Do not use emphatic language. Words like ‘perfect’, ‘awful’, ‘ridiculous’ are out of place in a scientific article and do nothing to prove your point. You should rely on objective evidence, not persuasion tactics;
  • Be short. Drive your point home using as few words and sentences as possible. Academic writing is valued for its ability to express an idea without taking unnecessary space. However, do not bother about it too much while you write – there will be time for that during the revision;
  • Treat your readers as intelligent people who have general knowledge of nutrition but are not necessarily well-versed in the specific area you cover in your coursework. For example, you don’t have to explain the basic terminology, but if you mention LCHF (low-carb, high-fat), you should go into some detail explaining its main principles;
  • For the purpose of clarity, make a paragraph a definite unit of meaning – introduce but a single point per paragraph and spend the rest of it providing supporting details for this point. If you find yourself drifting to another matter within the same paragraph, detach it and form a separate paragraph;
  • Do not cite the sources you have not read. In your research, you will encounter sources that cite still other sources, and these quotations sometimes fit well in the discourse of your study. Some students simply quote them as if they read the publications these quotations come from. However, according to the academic rules, you should only introduce them with “as cited in”. So either do this or find and read them before using.

Revisions: Preparing Your Nutrition Coursework for Submission

Many students get so tired of and frustrated with their coursework assignments that they happily submit them immediately after finishing. It is a mistake – revision is just as important a phase as writing itself, and spending a couple hours polishing your paper can noticeably influence your grade. Here are some suggestions on how you can do it more effectively:

  • Set your paper aside for at least a day or two. Thus you will be better capable of noticing your own mistakes;
  • If you know that you typically make certain mistakes (of any kind – grammatical, orthographical, stylistic, etc.), create a checklist of them. Use it while you reread your coursework to pay attention to these problems. For example, if you commonly make mistakes in agreement between verb and person in complex sentences, note it down and dedicate a separate reread to finding this particular error;
  • Ask a friend (or, better yet, hire a professional proofreader) to read your coursework and indicate any shortcomings he/she finds;
  • Dedicate a special reread to eliminating redundant elements (words, sentences and even fragments of text), especially if you know that you are prone to wordiness. If you can do without an element, eliminate it. Pay attention to:
    • Unnecessary nouns (‘period of time’ instead of ‘period’, ‘process of digestion’ instead of ‘digestion’, etc.);
    • Unnecessary verbs (usually ‘to be’, ‘to do’, ‘to have’ and some others in combination with nouns: ‘to make analysis’ instead of ‘to analyze’, ‘to have a suggestion’ instead of ‘to suggest’, etc.);
    • Prepositions (‘to’, ‘with’, ‘from’, etc. Try using them less often);
    • Weak modifiers (words added to boost word count that add nothing to the meaning: ‘quite’, ‘considerable’, ‘somewhat’, ‘usually’, etc.)
  • Check your coursework for clarity and logic. Imagine yourself reading it for the first time and ask yourself:
    • Do you understand everything?
    • Are all parts connected to each other logically?
    • Are there any ambiguities?
    • Are there any logical leaps (noticeable gaps in reasoning and argumentation)?
  • Read the coursework aloud – it may not be obvious on paper, but if something sounds wrong, it is a good idea to change or replace it;
  • Study the style guide carefully and check your coursework for consistency with it.

We hope that this guide answered any questions you might have had. Follow it, and your next coursework will not cause you any trouble!

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