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Tips on Writing for Reward and Recognition
Whether you're writing for promotion, a fellowship, or an award, writing for reward and recognition is a genre that always seems at a tangent to our disciplinary style. Many academics have a difficult time putting together these documents that can be so critical to their career progression.
This page is intended to give some preliminary advice, particularly around the mechanics of writing, and provide some resources to help you develop this much-needed skill.
There is a lot more to writing for reward and recognition than what is represented here. This is just a start! You should reach out to your Associate Dean, Teaching and Learning, talk to colleagues in your School who have had some success in the reward and recognition space, and explore the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) space.
Advice on Writing for Reward and Recognition
Click through the topics below to view some useful advice!
Templates and indicative structures are framing devices that help to focus and guide your writing. An indicative structure usually comes in the form of guidelines that tell you the topics, titles, or headings you ought to use in your application. For example, applying for a DVCA Teaching Excellence Award(opens in a new window), you need to respond to four sub-categories--this is the indicative structure of the application; it's not quite a template, but it is telling you how to organise your writing. The easiest way to use the structure is to use the sub-categories as headings within your application.
If you apply for an academic promotion(opens in a new window) here at Western, you will be asked to use the promotions template; this is an explicit structure, as it is basically a form you populate with the requested detail. A template is often easier (and mandatory) but it can be a trade-off with flexibility.
With indicative structures, because they are not necessarily as structured as a template, you will need to consider the sign-posting that is necessary to make your application clear. Think about additional sub-headings or other sign-posts you might need to include, but make sure every sign-post is doing necessary work. Don't leave it to the assessor/s to infer what the topic is--it might be obvious to you, but don't assume it is to others!
Where there is a rubric (most Awards, for instance, will use rubrics to govern the assessment process), you can use the rubric to help ensure you are including the right sort of materials or evidence. Rubrics usually contain enough information, whether explicitly or implicitly, to help you identify what the key elements of your application should include.
Rubrics often work in conjunction with the structure (a template or indicative structure), but not usually in a direct alignment. For instance, the WSU (and AAUT) Teaching Excellence Awards sub-categories provide a structure, but the rubric is a separate thing. The elements of the rubric should be woven across the structure of the application.
The majority of any application will be in narrative form, but there may be opportunities to use graphs, charts, and tables to summarise and showcase a lot of data in a very small space. These elements should be used only with a clear and impactful purpose. What is your graph showing? Is it showing a continuous (upward?) trend over several years? Is the column chart showing differential impacts on student cohorts?
Whatever the purpose of the graph, chart, or table, it needs to be contextualised in the narrative--don't just drop it in as if it explains itself. Everything ultimately needs to fit into the narrative.
In most reward and recognition categories, you have multiple sources of evidence to call on to make your case. Building your narrative requires more than just enumerating the evidence--it requires you connecting evidence to your claims. This can include connecting multiple sources of evidence--multiple data points--to particular claims. Different data points can talk to different aspects of the claim.
Looked at it slightly differently, this also means that some data points talk to each other in mutually supporting a particular claim. Getting your data points into close proximity (if not into explicit "conversation") helps to provide robust support for important claims.
Some data point points may operate in a sequential way; for example, an increase in student engagement in the learning management system (captured by learning analytics) might be followed by an increase in grade average or student completions of the subject (captured by student outcomes data).
Other data points may operate in parallel, attesting to the same claim independently of one another. Positive student feedback may support a claim of improved student engagement and outcomes; peer review might, in turn, support the same claim from teaching colleagues. There is no direct or sequential relationship between the two qualitative data points.
Gathering multiple data points and blending them together into your narrative provides robust support for the claims you make.
You probably have lots of really positive quotes from students in your student feedback. How can you possibly fit them all in?
Well, the obvious answer is, you can't. You have to be highly selective about the quotes you use. And if the ones you do use are quite long, you might need to strip them back to what is absolutely necessary. It may only be one sentence in a paragraph of 5-6 that actually says what you need it to say.
The quotes you do use need to be embedded in the narrative--the same way you would quote a text in a scholarly article. The quote needs to be contextualised and then grammatically consistent with the paragraph of which it is a part.
The quotes you select are proxies for the other ones; they are illustrative quotes that stand in for the range of positive comments you've received.
If you must use a series of quotes, then consider using them in a dot point list, but only under certain conditions: 1) use no more than three; 2) keep them as short as possible, and 3) use them only if it's to help show consistent positive feedback over years. Don't use three quotes all from the same year; make it three different years.
One example where this approach might be useful is where you have quantitative data over the same period (possibly represented in a graph or table), and the short list of quotes is intended to illustrate the qualitative data that goes with it (i.e., blending).
Whatever you do, don't just dump quotes or data points onto the page! Quote stacking (putting one quote after another without context) isn't persuasive. Neither is merely dropping in a table of data (survey results, say) without any narrative contextualisation.
It is incredibly difficult to be selective with your evidence, but this is the only way you can make a cohesive and compelling case.
Some reward and recognition categories allow you to submit referees' reports or statements. This is particularly common in Teaching Excellence Awards. Referees report can be a very powerful addition to the main body of your application.
The referee's report should directly support the claims in your application; it shouldn't just be a generic letter of support. It needs to contain detail that clearly links back to the substance of your application. It should support or expand on the impact of the claims you are making. Here are some examples of possible referees reports:
- A colleague who has taught with you for a period of time and has adopted some of your innovations into their own practice;
- An external partner you have been working with and who has been influenced by your partnership, perhaps changing some aspect of their business or operational practice because of you;
- A former student who has graduated and is working in their chosen field who has been influenced by you, possibly to the point that they are in their chosen field because of you.
This is a handful of examples. But there are many others. You can think widely and deeply about how to use your referees reports to maximum effect.
Below is a video produced by Learning Futures in 2023 providing further guidance on writing recommendation letters.
If you need resources or support for evidencing your practice, developing your approach to teaching innovation, or are just hungry for more resources, you can visit the below pages:
- Evidencing your Teaching Practice(opens in a new window)
- Getting Started with Data in Teaching and Learning(opens in a new window)
- Action Research in Teaching and Learning(opens in a new window)
- Using Theory of Change in Teaching and Learning(opens in a new window)
- How to Research your Teaching(opens in a new window)
- Teaching Excellence Awards - General Panel Feedback (2021) (DOCX, 37.76 KB)(opens in a new window)
- Mapping your Evidence for Internal Teaching Excellence Citations (DOCX, 33.51 KB)(opens in a new window)
Selected Reading List
If you would like to explore the prospect of Learning Futures running a workshop on this topic, you can submit your interest via WesternNow: Customised professional learning workshops to support teaching and learning(opens in a new window)
- How to Research your Teaching(Opens in a new window)
- START Program of Research(Opens in a new window)
- TEL Program of Research(Opens in a new window)
- FLEX Program of Research(Opens in a new window)
- AIR Program of Research(Opens in a new window)
- Action Research in Teaching and Learning(Opens in a new window)
- Getting Started with Data(opens in a new window)
- Badugulang - Centre for Teaching and Learning Excellence(Opens in a new window)
- Western Education Fellowship Scheme(Opens in a new window)
- Reward and Recognition(Opens in a new window)
- Evidencing your Teaching Practice(Opens in a new window)
- Action Research in Teaching and Learning(Opens in a new window)(Book)
- Exploring University Teaching and Learning
(PDF, 1557.23 KB)(Opens in a new window)(Book)
- Transforming Teaching and Learning in Higher Education (PDF, 6868.93 KB)(Opens in a new window)(Book)
- Literature Review of Action Research in Higher Education(Opens in a new window)(Article)
- Leadership for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning(Opens in a new window)(Article)
- Applying Learning Analytics to the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning(Opens in a new window)(Article)
- The Future of the Research and Teaching Nexus in a Post-Pandemic World(Opens in a new window)(Article)
External Data Sources
- Quality Indicators for Learning and Teaching (QILT)(Opens in a new window)
- Higher Education Data, Statistics and Publications(Opens in a new window)
- Labour Market Information Portal(Opens in a new window)
- Skill Shortages Portal(Opens in a new window)
- Higher Education Research and Development Society of Australasia (HERDSA)(Opens in a new window)
- University-Industry Collaboration in Teaching and Learning Review(Opens in a new window)