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Cirrus Student Manual
A Guide to Using the Cirrus System and to Writing in the Digital Environment
(Status : Public)
Coordinated by Cirrus
  • Not Just a Research Essay

    An exhibition is not simply a research essay published in a digital space. To make use of the possibilities of the Cirrus exhibition space, you will need to consider the various aspects of working in a digital space.

    Below, we have outlined some factors that you should take into consideration when building an exhibition.

  • Be Aware of Your Research Responsibilities

    To work in a digital environment, you must be familiar with questions of open-access materials and reproduction rights.

    'Open access', in a digital environment, means that there are no imposed barriers on accessing the content: researchers do not need to pay to access the material, nor are there legal barriers imposed on access.

    Note: 'Open access' and 'open source' are not interchangeable terms. 'Open source' refers to computer software whose source code is available for anyone to study, change, or distribute. While open-access materials and open-source code arise from similar ideas about the availability of knowledge, the two terms are not to be used interchangeably.

    The debate around accessibility of content has been particularly active in the past few years: as a result, more and more high-quality work is available in open-access repositories across the web. However, not all works published online are open access and not all open-access works are free for unrestrained reuse.

    When reproducing and citing research materials, check the conditions of use. Let's consider two examples from Wikipedia. This image of the statue of the Man from Snowy River is published under a creative commons license that allows you to Share (copy and redistribute the material in any medium or format) and Adapt (remix, transform, and build upon the material for any purpose, even commercially). This image of the cover of novel A Little Life, however, is reproduced under Fair Use terms, which places restrictions on its re-use.

    Note: 'Fair use' is an American term for copyright exception, which is why you will find it used on Wikipedia. The term in Australian law is 'Fair dealing'. The two are not precisely identical, but fair dealing includes a provision for limited use of copyrighted material for study or research. Note that fair dealing, unlike fair use, does not include a provision for republication.

    Open-access material, like the photographs above, should be accompanied by readily available information about restrictions (or lack of restrictions) on use. If you cannot find this information, be cautious about using the material.

    Finally, regardless of whether a work is open access or whether its use is unrestricted, you must still cite your sources when producing academic work. Make sure your exhibition includes clear and accessible links to the source of any materials.

  • Make Full Use of the Exhibition Space

    The exhibitions offer a space in which you can both draft and refine your final product.

    The Cirrus exhibition space is designed so you can work in a digital space from the beginning of your project: rather than writing up an essay in Microsoft Word and pasting it into Cirrus, build your work from scratch in the Cirrus platform and shape the work in the system in which you will publish it.

    The exhibition space allows you to:

    • jot down rough notes.
    • collect research materials, including videos and audio, and store them online.
    • structure your work logically.
    • refine and edit your work.
    • publish a polished exhibition.

    As you work on your exhibition, you are able to rearrange and delete material, which allows you to polish and refine your finished product.

  • Consider Your Purpose

    Consider the purpose of your exhibition. Knowing what you want to achieve will help you develop your work.

    Understanding the purpose of your exhibition will help you give it shape and meaning, and will improve the reader's experience.

    Consider some of the following questions:

    • Does your exhibition stand alone as a completed object? If so, how can you cover all the necessary content without becoming overstuffed?
    • Is your exhibition built in conjunction with another assessment item, such as a physical exhibition? If so, how do you build ties between the two without repeating content?
    • Is your exhibition dependent on group work? If so, how does the structure of the group affect the structure of the exhibition?
    • Does your exhibition invite particular content? Are you working on film, or music, or art? If so, how do you display the interactive content?
    • Is the purpose of your exhibition to make an argument or to display information? How can you best meet that purpose?
  • Craft a Solid Research Question

    A solid research question will focus to your exhibition. Having a clear research question is the first step to seeing the shape of your finished work.

    A research question doesn't need to be complex or obscure, but having a clear research question will give overall structure to your work.

    Consider this example. Ask yourself, "Who is Celeste de Chabrillan and what is her influence on Australian writing?" Already, a basic shape for the exhibition begins to unfold:

    • biography (Who is she?)
    • bibliography (Was she an author? What did she write?)
    • print history (Who read these books in Australia?).

    You can begin to see a possible shape for the exhibition, as well as some ideas on how to begin the research process. Without a clear research question, the exhibition lacks cohesion.

    Having a logical structure to your work helps make your work accessible to readers. Under 'Accessibility', you will find more information on how having a comprehensible structure is key to making your work accessible.

  • Write for the Digital Environment

    Writing in a digital environment is not the same as writing for print. Take this into account when designing your exhibition.

    People don't read online in the same way as they read on paper.

    When you write a traditional research essay, you are encouraged to give each piece of information equal weight: each paragraph advances the argument to the same degree, and the reader gives their full attention to the document from beginning to end.

    But when reading online, people tend to display shorter attention spans: they skim material, skip across the website in a non-linear fashion, and don't always read the entirety of a document.

    The better your understanding of writing in a digital environment is, the better your exhibition will work.

    Keep the following ideas in mind:

    • make it clear to your reader what they can expect, with clear headings and a logical structure.
    • place your most important information at the top of the page, where readers will see it first.
    • break up the content on the page. It is easy to lose your place in long, complex paragraphs when reading on a screen.
    • when you do have long sections of text, consider using summaries to help guide your reader through.
    • take advantage of how the exhibition allows you to break up your text with images, video, and other interactive materials. These not only keep your reader's attention, but also allow you to make your argument in different ways.

    For more information on how to write for the digital environment, see the Accessibility tab.