The Study Dude

There is nothing more that The Study Dude wants for you than to know the “right” questions to ask in your academic research and 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 is on a book titled The Literature Review: Six Steps to Success by Lawrence A. Machi and Brenda T. McEvoy.

Nine Patterns of Argumentation and How they Can Form the Right Questions to Ask
When writing your literature review, you are expected to pose research questions. When I was in graduate studies, I randomly selected my questions without anyone telling me that there is a secret formula for asking questions. You want the questions to each fit one of several moulds for proper argumentation that are commonly expected.

One of the nice things about the argumentation patterns is that you don’t have to have your data exactly fitting the population. Your data can be similar to another population, but not the same, for instance, and you can make a slight leap of faith in assuming the similarities cross-over in the two populations.

When I was at the Telus Spark Centre (a science exhibition centre in Calgary), one exhibit said that some planetary research could only be done by seeing similarities of the distant planet to the Earth and then assessing the properties of the phenomena on the other planet according to how they worked on Earth. This idea fascinated me, and the concept of finding similarities can be included in your own research, allowing you greater flexibility in your argument.

Machi and McEvoy (2012) outline the nine argumentation patterns that you can use to draw conclusions from your data in a flexible manner:

– The cause and effect argumentation pattern starts with a cause and ends with the effect. For instance, the essential oils placed daily on the collar of his coats (cause) resulted in a fungus growing on his chin (effect). When formulating questions for your research (especially for your thesis), be sure to consider whether a cause and effect question might be wise to ask. For instance, you could ask “What are the reasons for high GPAs in a subset of students over 40 in online academia?” You could also ask “What are the causes of student-teacher bonding in online universities?”
– The effect to cause argumentation pattern is the reverse. It is where one or more effects lead to a variety of effects For instance, the effects of phoning the Alberta Health Link are that nine out of ten time they likely will send you to emergency where you will wait for hours only to be sent back home again, you will save time going to the clinic if they don’t recommend you go to a doctor, and they will record all of your personal and private information for others to see. Your research questions could include “What is the impact of not eating after seven on overall health, weight, and diet?” (I lost 12 pounds just by not eating after 7–and am keeping it off.) Your research question could also be “What are the effects of writing a love journal on overall intimate relationship well-being?”
– The sign argumentation pattern has “signals, indicators [. . .] symptoms” (p. 119), qualities, or signs of an event, case, or action. For instance, “What are the early signs of head trauma in military females?” Or, you could similarly ask, “What are the qualities of someone engaged in unconditional love?”

As I don’t want to delve into every case possible, I’ll just briefly list the remaining ones, providing some explanation wherever I feel it would be most fitting. There is the sample to population pattern, the population to sample pattern, the parallel case (where a research question could be “What life-giving features of the Earth can be seen on Mars?”), the analogy pattern (where just certain qualities or parts of seemingly remotely similar things are compared, such as “How does the transformation of a butterfly compare to a student who undergoes life trauma while in studies?”), the ends-means pattern(where you choose some type of action and get a typically desirable result, such as “What study habits are necessary for students to achieve A grades?”).

Exploratory Writing to Outlining: Easy Steps to Start Your Paper on the Right Track
In undergraduate and graduate studies, I perused the literature, got together all of my quotes and went straight to outlining. I would hash together all of my quotes in a mishmash of cue cards, organizing them for insertion into the outline. I rarely paraphrased, which is a big mistake, as paraphrasing should constitute at least 75% of the quotes used, but that is beside the point. More to the gist, the cue card system was a boon to my research and writing efficacy.

At one point, I never used cue cards. It wasn’t until a professor alerted me to the benefits of the cue card system that I incorporated it. It was difficult first implementing this system, but once I got the swing of it, it became indispensable. Part of growing as an academic is taking risks in implementing new learning strategies.

Yet, there was one thing that I briefly considered doing but never followed through on. That is, I often heard of free-writing; where you spill out everything you know on a piece of paper. This seemed like a waste of time, and I attribute my lack of enthusiasm to the idea of free-writing coming across as more of a creative endeavour for people who don’t like structure.

Now, heeding the advice in Machi and McEvoy’s (2012) book, I am going to take the plunge and engage in exploratory writing before outlining. One of the suggestions in the book that makesexploratory writing seem indispensable is that you should treat the material (the quotes and literature) as if you were to be tested on it in an exam scenario (Machi & McEvoy, 2012). That does seem to make exploratory writing more meaningful, for sure: you have an arsenal of memorized facts to weave together into an argument. Also, Machi and McEvoy say that when you write your drafts, you should not rely heavily on the quotes you isolated, but write as much as you can with what you’ve retained in memory. It seems to be a sort of mental Olympics, and, although I’m hesitant to implement it to that extent, I think once I try it out, I’ll likely become a convert.

Here are Machi and McEvoy’s (2012) suggestions for exploratory writing and outlining:

– Gather your research materials, making notes and writing memoranda (memoranda is the highfalutin way to say “stuff”). Try to think of a way to synthesize the material into your own unique expression. Keep revising the big picture idea of your paper as you gather materials; you will need that puzzle template in the next step.
– Peruse all of the notes you have taken prior to beginning the outlining and writing processes. Even better, commit them to memory as if you are taking an exam or are about to teach the topic to a classroom of gazing students. Construct your argument.
– Write an exploratory paper where you take everything you have in memory and write it to the best of your ability. Make sure you explore your topic, your thesis, your evidence, your conclusion, any implications, and context.
– Place your exploratory writing on the shelf for a couple of days. If your exploratory writing shows some gaps or a lack of comprehension, go back to your notes, memorize them better and/or acquire more notes to fill in the gaps.
– The first step to making an outline is to make a table of contents. This will structure your outline beautifully.
– Next, draft the outline. Make sure everything is in the optimal order for making your argument. Ensure your writing has strong evidence and sound conclusions. Always go back to your notes. Don’t make it a hodgepodge of facts, but give it life and structure. Weed out anything that isn’t essential to your argument.
– Write the first draft and then edit accordingly. When editing, correct grammar, restructure paragraphs and sentences as fit, check syntax, make revisions, etc.
– Seek out expert or colleague advice for secondary and subsequent drafts. If they are professors or academics of high calibre, make all recommended changes.

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.

References
Machi, Lawrence A., & McEvoy, Brenda T. (2012). The Literature Review: Six Steps to Success. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.

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