The Study Dude – Write it Up

How to Write Like a Top Student

There is nothing more that The Study Dude wants for you than to arm-wrestle your way into the main authorship role in your next group paper.

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 article examines another book by Paul J. Silvia, PhD, called Write It Up: Practical Strategies for Writing and Publishing Journal Articles. To put it bluntly, Paul Silvia is hilarious. His books make me erupt in laughter every second page; his writing shines. He writes about professorial activities, such as publishing journal articles, but sometimes even the undergraduates and certainly the graduate students find themselves either vexed or blessed, depending on the student, with a paper to co-author.

How to Pick the Right Journal
I once submitted an abstract in a field completely separate from my own discipline. I was in the Arts program, and I actually dared to submit a proposal in the sciences?physics to be precise. I had no background knowledge in physics outside of high school, just a burning curiosity that I couldn’t quash. I noted some physical phenomena that fascinated me in my everyday travels, and I wanted to ground this knowledge in some actual research.

More funnily, however, I received notification of acceptance for my bright-eyed proposal for a poster. Without any physics knowledge, I now prepared for a daunting task of getting the information together for the poster I intended to design. The idea centered on the grandiose, so grandiose, I can’t even remember it today. As I recall, the proposal had something to do with Einstein and motion parallax.

One of the proposal organizers phoned me, asked in a timid voice if I had any background in physics, to which I reassured him that my acceptance letter trumped any qualms they may have with my lack of knowledge. We bantered back and forth, and finally he retreated, defeated.

Yet, I faced an insurmountable challenge with getting together the research I needed to make my point. The task proved so daunting that I withdrew my submission, much to the organizers? relief.

Regrettably, after receiving the top grades in almost all of my math classes, I almost went into the discipline of physics. Yet, I loved the environment in the more social arts program, so I took that route. Have you ever felt like you took the wrong degree path? I did.
If you want to publish in a journal (or make a poster submission), the person to take advice from is not me, by any means, but rather, Paul Silvia:

– You long to publish in the top journals, don’t you? One of the best ways to determine journal status involves peering at the number of citations the journal articles receive.
– A database exists called Web of Science that offers scores for various journals, thereby ranking them.
– You can also go to to find what Silvia refers to as the “article influence scores”. The eigenfactor reveals “the proportion of time someone would spend reading articles from the journal when researching the field” (p. 19).
– Other values exist for determining a journal’s viability, such as (1) impact factor: the average number of citations per year, (2) H-index: “the value at which the number of papers equals the minimum number of citations for those papers” (p. 18), and (3) the article influence score: a reflection of how frequently a journal is cited by using a mean of one, where anything higher than one means the journal gets cited a lot.
– Avoid most open access journals as they will almost cite even your grandmother’s laundry list if your grandma decides to submit one.
– Pick your journal prior to writing the paper. When writing, have a second backup journal in mind with similar requirements so that you are not rewriting and editing just to fit other radically different journal standards.
– Identify which journals are cited most in your bibliography: you should plan to submit to one of these journals.

How to Manage Tone and Style in Your Writing
On that same note, a paper proposal of mine passed the first round of review for a journal. When I wrote the proposal, the universe lined up, and the proposal read beautifully. Again, unfortunately, the area was an interest in which I had no background knowledge.

After submitting the first draft of that paper, my paper sent the committee into an uproar. The committee organizer said that my paper inspired a lot of commentary, although mostly negative and critical. The organizer praised me for at least making a stir, but rejected the submission.

The reason for my ambivalence with topics surely arose from my inability to find a good supervisor at that time. I pitched random ideas, ones that stirred passion in me, but often ones outside of my discipline. Nothing within my discipline particularly spoke to me. Such restrictions surely are one of the downfalls with disciplinary education: disciplines can pigeonhole you into writing about things not top on your list of passions. I ended up writing about Suncor’s environmental position. (Yawn!)

Yes, graduate studies can be trying.

However, if I had first listened to Paul Silvia, perhaps auspicious events would have taken place with my papers and proposals:

– Start amassing and reading books on how to write. You can’t read enough. Collect as many as you can, and reread them annually. At a minimum, read one book per year on how to write.
– don’t be both combative and confident in your writing?a boorish writer is one who demonstrates both traits.
– Change your tone according to your audience’s needs and your writing objective.
– Use semi-colons for parallel ideas. Remember to only use a semicolon where a period would also work.
– Use colons to substitute for phrases such as “in the sense that” or “which means” or “which are” or “which is to say that”. Just keeping this simple advice in mind will really tighten up your writing. A variety of punctuation enriches the reader experience and tightens up the writing.
– Use dashes to insert or append a word, phrase, or even a sentence (in cases where you have quotation marks around the insert, you can even insert multiple sentences). Try to avoid more than one insert or appended part in a single sentence. The multiplicity confuses the reader.
– Use the slash (/) only in technical documents, and avoid writing and/or or he/she.
– Try to keep your paragraphs to four to six sentences.
– It truly warrants well to say “The book discusses” instead of “The author of the book discusses” if you justify your actions by referring to the use of metonymy. Metonymy is the substitution of a whole (the author of the book ) with a part (the book).

How to Collaborate with Others
When all the graduate students flocked together in the lounge, I headed straight for the gym. Needless to say, my idea of collaboration involved a more collegiate environment. The lounge lizards, the gossip, the banter, all didn’t appeal to me. I wanted to start a volleyball league, a graduate student journal, or host a conference. That type of collaboration formed the crux of my dream team, which didn’t come to fruition at the physical university.

Interestingly, I’ve found more collaborative fulfillment writing for Athabasca’s The Voice Magazine than I ever felt in the graduate program. Getting to know the other writers presented meaningful relations that I will never forget and will always cherish. I also contacted the President of the Graduate Student’s Association to work on their journal. These interactions at Athabasca University provide me with a great sense of belonging, or being part of something. I wouldn’t trade it for the world. That collegiate collaboration at Athabasca surpasses any I ever experienced at a physical university, and I highly recommend getting involved in the online environment.

When collaborating with others on papers, Paul Silvia presents some strategic advice:
– Avoid writing papers with people who constantly complain about how they are overloaded with work. don’t collaborate on a paper with someone who desperately needs your assistance.
– Work with people with track records in publishing.
– Set up a system where one person completes the first draft and others either add comments or add specialized sections, such as complex statistics or a new methodology.
– don’t email your file to collaborators for edits; use a file sharing program instead. This prevents the lead author from editing from five different files, which equates to increased pressure. Using something like the Cloud or Drop Box can help the group edit a single file.
– Put a deadline on edits (unless the edits are vital to finalizing the paper). If the collaborate misses the deadline for edits, they don’t receive co-authorship status.
– Do not fear collaborating with many people. Citations usually involve the overseer cited last, the main author cited first, and collaborators cited in order of extent of contribution.
– Learn skills that make you stand out as a prime collaborator: “fancy statistics, uncommon research methods, grant expertise, or good grammar” (p. 81).

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.

Silvia, Paul. (2015). Write It Up: Practical Strategies for Writing and Publishing Journal Articles. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

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