The Study Dude – Write It Up, Part II

How to Write Like a Top Student

There is nothing more that The Study Dude wants for you than to cite yourself in your second journal publication.

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 continues with the book by Paul J. Silvia, PhD, called Write It Up: Practical Strategies for Writing and Publishing Journal Articles. “Do sweat the small stuff,” Silvia professes. Attention to those icky details–the small stuff–pave the road to publication like a bricklayer in heaven laying the icky mortar for gold, emerald, and sapphire bricks. So, go ahead and savour the following insights on how to write a journal article.

Learn How to Make Your Introduction an Eye Opener
Writing the first sentence of an academic paper pains me, not unlike a back catcher in baseball accidentally pelted in the throat with the first strike. The process of writing a first sentence can either invigorate you or leave you jaded, or perhaps relegate you to some abysmal place in between. That abysmal place often receives visits from academics with their bloated, dry, eye-dropping introductions: The study of the elegestolepis, a prehistoric shark, that looks at the creatures possible hydrodynamics, rarely appears in papers on aquatic animals. (Hey, for a dull intro, that actually sounds interesting.) Your academic paper doesn’t need to lull your reader to sleep by the first sentence. Make your intro compelling yet appropriate for your discipline. Make your intro spell out the big picture, the so what? Make your intro excite deep thought.

Paul Silvia lists examples of non-engaging versus engaging introductions to help you craft an eye-opener:
– Don’t use dull opening statements such as “There is an increasing interest in” (p. 101). In other words, don’t open by enumerating the various people interested in your research. Also, don’t open by saying “very little is known about this topic.” As Sylvia says, maybe the reason why your topic gets little traction is because it’s passé or just plain bland.
– Don’t start your paper with a dictionary definition or something along the lines of “According to the DSM” (p. 102) if you are part of the psychology field. (The DSM is the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders, by the way.)
– Instead, start with the big picture, or some sort of global picture, such as the larger issue that your research takes a stab at. Another option might include opening with a thought-provoking question?or better yet, three poignant questions in a row. Yet another option involves starting with some insightful revelation.

Learn a Basic Structure for Your Methods Section
In graduate studies, I created a method. The method systematized a way to send emails of questions to respondents that built upon one another. The method intended to produce a conversation on a grand scale. No-one paid heed to my method, and I never got around to actually documenting it in detail, so I no longer remember the details. But, hey, don’t sweat the small stuff, right? But if you recall, Silvia says do sweat the small stuff, so I should have found a way to document that method and submitted it to some unsuspecting journal.

Frankly, my dilemma with submitting to a journal largely involved not knowing how to draft a journal article. My supervisor advised me to pass over the honours class in favour of a degree with distinction, so I lost the opportunity to learn the formats for theses and articles. These formats require at least study of two to three books on how to write a dissertation, in my opinion. Only after such a read-through can you truly get a grasp of the structures involved in writing theses and journal articles. Be warned: Winging the writing of a thesis, based on little study of the thesis structure, leads to exhaustion and poor results. Similarly, with journal articles, you need to learn the structure.

The following advice from Silvia will give you a foundation in writing a methods section for a publishable journal article:
– Use a new, groundbreaking methodology wherever possible. Discuss how other people used your methodology to get results and cite the papers in which they used the methodology.
– If you don’t have room in the paper to list the full details of your methodology, then perhaps make an online archive of the research data and methodology. Archive “questionnaires, software files, and interview protocols” (p. 119).
– Break your methodology section into a number of headings: participants, procedure, apparatus, and measures/outcomes.

Learn Secrets for Reaping Results that Resonate
One book I read, called The Dissertation Journey by Carol M. Roberts (if my aged mind recollects properly), indicated that you could put your results in the form of charts and figures and then supplement the material with textual explanations. (Sorry, Carol, if that’s not from your book.) Silvia is from the other camp, where he believes you should lay down all the textual information first, void of numbers, and then fill in the quantifiable goodies.

I once did a research project that used a survey to gain statistical information on the quality of a school museum. The research generated fascinating chart after chart, and our results section overflowed with visual data. The revelation of results thrilled me to no end, and the PowerPoint presentation looked plump full of pretty claims.

When it came to interpreting the data in words, I muddled over the charts and strew together weak statements. The beautiful, insightful charts fell short in the face of a poor interpretation. Yes, not only generating charts, but also interpreting data, requires a great deal of concerted effort and skill.

Silvia fills in the gaps for making your results section resonate with the following advice:
– Provide supporting evidence for your claims.
– Discuss findings and implications in the results section.
– Try removing all numbers from the results section. The results should read nicely without the numerical support. Once this clarity of thought cements, then move on to include the numerical and statistical data.
– Place your statistics inside tables, and add extra columns to report additional statistical measures, such as p-value and so forth.
– Some interesting things to include in your results section involve outliers, missing data, correlations, and summary scores.
– Determine what statistical approaches your intended journal of publication prefers before crafting the research.
– Start discussing your most important findings first; then, follow with the lesser important items.
– Paragraphs limited to one or two sentences often occur in the results section of your paper.
– Try not to add discussion on nonessential findings.

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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