The Study Dude – They Say I Say, Part II

There is nothing more that The Study Dude wants for you than to feel comfortable inserting your own views and ideas in your research articles–something otherwise shunned in academic writing.

Well, in these articles, as The Study Dude, I’ll try to give you the study tips you need to help make your learning easier. I’ll also give you straight and honest opinions and personal anecdotes?even the embarrassing ones that you wouldn’t ever dare read about from any other study tip guru.

This week’s focus, like that of last week is on a book titled They Say I Say: The Moves that Matter in Academic Writing by Gerald Graff and Cathy Birkenstein.

The Secret to Effective Transitions
When in graduate studies, one student criticized my work for its lack of transitions. Yet, when I asked her how she proposed to overcome such a limitation, she simply mentioned using transitions such as “therefore,” “moreover” and the like at any and every opportunity.

However, when considering my work from that lens, I found it to be stifling. If I were to insert too many transitions, wouldn’t it sound like a mishmash of conjunctions–one big overdone bowl of transition soup? I thought that there had to be a clearer explanation for how to insert transitions without going too far.

Alas, Graff and Birkenstein (2010) present the most lucid account of how to insert transitional-cues in your writing–without overdoing them:

– Use transitions such as “moreover”, “however”, “therefore” to show shifts or additions in thought. Where appropriate, starting a new paragraph with such a transition can be an effective strategy. Transitions add extra explanation and serve to strengthen your argument, not weaken it.
– Include words that point to the topic, such as “this”, “that”, “those”, “their”, “such” or any pronouns, such as “his”, “her”, and so forth. Make sure that these pointer words point to only one thing, and be clear what that one thing is.
– Repeat ideas, but spice it up with some variations or new insights. Phrases like “in other words” can really add meaning and depth to your writing by further expounding on some important concept.
– Repeat keywords, but use synonyms, antonyms, and similar meanings. This repetition holds the sentence together.

Adding a Naysayer to Your Writing Will Add Richness and Depth
Whoever thought that inserting an opposing view would make one’s writing livelier? Another advantage to inserting a naysayer in your writing is that it adds material?substance?to your paper, helping you reach that word limit while augmenting the merit of your own view. That is to say, if you are able to respond effectively?or give a concession?to the naysayer, you will have a livelier, more voluminous?and more convincing paper.

Not many of us enjoy having people dispute our views, but when we control what disputations get through and how we respond we have an incredibly influential power at hand. Graff and Birkenstein (2010) point out ways of inserting naysayers into our argument to add richness and depth:

– Insert at least one or two naysayers (opposing views) into your writing.
– As writing is a form of conversation, adding a naysayer advances that conversation and adds intrigue.
– By adding naysayers (objections) to your writing, you appear more generous in your point-of-view. don’t scoff naysayers point-of-view, but engage their disagreements as if you were the naysayer him or herself. don’t be hostile, either, as that creates contentions and sets you up for reciprocated criticism.
– Plus, having naysayers adds more material to your paper, enabling you to better reach that word count with an interesting write-up.
– You could say something like “many political activists would object on the grounds of …” or “Feminists take issue with this perspective for these reasons…”.
– Try to address the naysayer group or party by name, and don’t stereotype. Show concessions to avoid stereotyping such as “although not all feminists would disagree, some circles might find the following point contentious…”
– One strategy is to “frame objections in the form of questions” (p. 84) or present them as direct commentary (in quotations) from the naysayer group itself: for instance, “?Unorthodox!? some scientists would argue”.
– Only insert those objections that you can effectively overcome in your writing. You can always concede to part of the argument, but make sure your perspective does not go entirely by the wayside with the strength of the opposing view.
– One strategy is to agree with part of the naysayer, but disagree on other grounds.
– If the naysayer has a stronger position than you have, consider revising your argument.

Writing Scientific Papers
Funnily enough, writing scientific papers is not a lot different from writing for the social sciences. In these papers, we can do things like find gaps, question the “so what?” of the argument, and agree or disagree (or both agree/disagree) with the researcher’s account (Graff & Birkenstein, 2010). There are a lot of options at our disposal for engaging in scientific writing.

I personally have a fixation with the scientific method, and, during graduate studies, I delved into the philosophy of science just for the sheer pleasure of it. Encountering The Logic of Scientific Discovery by Karl Popper, I temporarily dismissed my exploration of the scientific method due to accumulating confusion with this particular text. To further add to my perplexity, prior to grad studies, when I was a math major, I looked at a professor’s math research to see charts of foreign terminology and symbols that didn’t add up to the human language. The scientific method–and scientific writing–seemed beyond the layperson’s reach.

Although later in the Study Dude series, I’ll delve into the scientific method in greater detail, Graff and Birkenstein (2010) help to demystify scientific writing through guiding the reader to engage his or her own voice in the ongoing dialogue:

– When writing scientific papers, be sure to acknowledge the controversies in the scientific field concerning your subject matter.
– Make hypothesis based on existing knowledge within the scientific field.
– Be sure to make your research replicable by describing in detail your “hypothesis, methods, and results that led to [your particular] conclusion” (p. 158).
– Provide ample numerical data to support your findings. For instance, include the mean and variability, the units of measurement, and the sample size as these measures are all excellent means of numerically explaining statistical data.
– Never use the word “prove” in the sciences. Instead use words like “supports”, “confirms”, “verifies”, “refutes”, or “contradicts”.
– Start with other prominent researchers? views and divulge whether you agree, disagree, or both with the authors? views. You can agree and then add an explanation as to why you do.
– You can criticize researchers? experimental design, methodology, results/conclusion incompatibility, and/or lack of merit in sufficiently testing hypothesis.

In spite of all that, it is important to understand that when you insert your own views, you need to have corroborating evidence; otherwise, your personal opinion may be unsubstantial and unsupported. At least, that is what the literature examined in the next two week’s editions of the Study Dude will confirm.

So, there’s nothing to fear. The Study Dude is determined to make right for you all the wrongs I made in grad school?one A+ at a time.

Graff, Gerald, & Birkenstein, Cathy. (2010). They Say; I Say: The Moves That Matter in Academic Writing. New York, NY: Norton & Company.

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