Welcome!

Hello, and welcome to my website!

My name is Peter Levin. I’ve had a varied career. I started my working life as a physicist many years ago, but my experience of living and working in a ‘new town’ in the 1960s got me interested in social policy, and by great good fortune I was able to move over into that field. From 1970 to 1995 I lectured in what became the Department of Social Policy at the London School of Economics. My book Making Social Policy (Open University Press 1997) comes from that part of my life.

In 1997 I moved into the Teaching and Learning Centre at LSE, with the job of advising students who were seeking help with their studies. Between 250 and 300 students a year came to see me, mostly undergraduates or master’s students, both home students and overseas. They came with a wide range of issues. Many were to do with writing essays and dissertations, or preparing for exams, but behind these lay deeper questions about what was expected of them and how to make best use of their time.

As I and the students who came to see me discussed these questions, I came to realise that the advice we came up with could usefully be written down, and I produced a Guide to Reading and Writing and a Guide to Preparing for Traditional Examinations: these were on sale in the Student Union Shop at LSE. I showed them to my friends at Open University Press, who immediately saw their potential. And so the idea of the Student-Friendly Guides was born.

The title of the series derives from what the students whom I saw taught me: that the world of the university looks very different from a student’s viewpoint than it does from an academic’s. Especially to a new student it can seem extraordinarily baffling. You are in a place where the rules are not clearly explained to you; you are told to read widely but nobody tells you what you actually need to do when you hold a book in your hands; it isn’t explained to you how to work out what an essay topic or exam question is asking for, so you don’t know what you have to do to get good marks for the work you’re going to submit; you are given warnings against plagiarism by people who seem to have no comprehension of what is entailed in learning from other people. I think it could well be argued that students who gain a first-class degree do so chiefly because they have been able to ‘suss out’ for themselves the rules of the game: they haven’t needed to have these rules spelled out for them.

I created this website in 2004, intending it to be a companion to the Student-Friendly Guides, but did little with it. In 2019 I am relaunching it. Since it first appeared universities and book publishers have changed in many ways but my purpose has not. In a nutshell, I aim to demystify academia and – even more important – show you how you can do it for yourself. In doing so, you will boost your confidence and learn how to get maximum value from your investment in your course and from the academics with whom you come in contact.

Publishing this material myself on the web has many advantages. It lends itself to short pieces and long, and because nowadays so much other material is already on the web you can use hyperlinks to explore it. You’ll find that most material on this website can be downloaded as pdfs, which are easy to print off.

Publishing on the web is particularly wonderful because I do not have to get a book publisher’s approval for what I write. Publishers think that to hit the jackpot and achieve massive sales they depend on academics to recommend their books: it follows that academics must not be offended by what’s in them. Now, I don’t care if academics are offended by what I say on this website. (I am certain I would not be doing my job if none of them were offended.)  If you find what I say is helpful, please share the URL of this site with other students.

It is now ten years since the second edition of Write Great Essays! was published. It and the other books in the series (as presently constituted) seem to have stood the test of time pretty well. And together they contain a good deal more material than I can get on to this website. Nowadays updates are best conveyed on web pages, so in most cases (not quite all) please be assured that the current editions, taken in conjunction with this website, will continue to serve their purpose.

If you have any queries or issues to do with any of the matters covered in the books or on this website, or any hints and tips you’d care to share, please send me an email. I’ll be very glad to hear from you. The address is:
peter.levin[@]student-friendly-guides.com (without the square brackets around the @, of course). Your name and email address will never be disclosed without your consent.

Peter Levin