The Study Dude

Write and Do Right

There is nothing more that The Study Dude wants for you than to start your paper with punch?journalistic style.

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 Study Dude explores Creswell’s book Research Design: Qualitative, Quantitative, and Mixed Methods Approaches. Creswell shows you how to state your problems and take advantage of deficiencies? in the research, that is.

Leads: Figured Out The Formula for Intros
To me and my fellow students the communications professors harped, “Use a compelling quote, a startling fact, an interesting question, or an amusing anecdote to start your paper.” This request would cause me to groan. You see, I thought a multisyllabic word marked academic merit. Whoa was me!

Dr. Helen Sword, author of Stylish Academic Writing, and Steven Pinker, author of The Sense of Style, argue that clear, lively writing marks academic style. Sword began a movement advocating for clear academic writing. In fact, Sword read over fifty books on writing nonfiction before coming to her conclusion. Bestselling author, Steven Pinker, in awe of Sword, followed suit.

My guess is that Sword found much inspiration for her movement from books on journalistic writing. In fact, as I sift through books on journalism, I see parallels between journalistic style and Sword’s guidelines for clear writing.

When it comes to writing your paper, let the opening sentence, or the lead, as journalists call it, sparkle. Academic author Creswell gives similar advice:
– Your first sentence(s) should pique reader curiosity and interest.
– Read the first sentences of magazine articles for inspiration on how to write your own first lines.
– You can begin your paper with a question, or with a reference to an incident concerning one of your research participants, or with a point-of-view from the literature.
– In your opening, start with a splash that hints toward your research problem.
– Don’t start with a quotation.
– Do consider using a statistic to shock, amuse, or engage your reader.

Model Your Intro on Deficiency? The Deficiency Model
When does deficiency work in your favour? When you make the deficient better.
My first supervisor liked to make me squirm with her highbrow know-how. When she reviewed my thesis introduction, she asked, with a sly smile, if I used the deficiency model. She didn’t explain what a deficiency model was. No. Not her. She just liked to probe and watch me squirm.

Well, now I know what the deficiency model is?and it isn’t a slight.

Creswell outlines the role of each paragraph in a deficiency model for an introduction:
– You can use the deficiency model for either quantitative or qualitative or mixed methods research introductions.
– The deficiency model involves five sections, each of which can be represented with its own paragraph: (1) introduce research problem, (2) literature overview, (3) literature deficiencies, (4) significance, and (5) purpose.
– The first paragraph (section) introduces the research problem. Make sure you reveal the difficulties faced by your research participants or organizations that you aim to help solve.
– The second paragraph (section) talks about literature that discusses your research problem. Speak about the literature in clusters. Save the individual article discussions for your literature review section.
– The third paragraph (section) talks about the deficiencies of the literature that address your problem. These questions can pinpoint deficiencies: Were there only a few studies involving your particular research participants? Did the other studies omit the voice of a marginalized group that you aim to include? Do you think one topic has significance for your research problem, but no one thought to include it? Do you want to test a theory because of a gut-feeling that the theory might not be valid in a certain circumstance? Does the theory talk about Canadian national organizations, and you want to talk about Berlin national organizations? Somewhere you’ll be able to find a gap in the literature.
– The fourth paragraph (section) talks about what your study offers its audiences: the significance.
– The fifth paragraph (section) talks about the purpose of your research. In other words, say something like, “This study attempts to discover…” and finish the sentence. Be sure to include an indicator of who your research participants are, where you plan on conducting the research, and what things you plan on studying about your participants. It’s as simple as that.

We’ve Got Problems? The Lit Addresses Them
In my thesis intro I needed to talk about the literature. And in my literature review, I needed to talk about the literature. But I wasn’t supposed to duplicate any material. So, what’s a baffled student to do? Talk about the literature in clusters in the intro and talk about individual studies in the lit review, says Creswell. Why didn’t anyone tell me that?

And when you have a research problem or question or hypothesis, let the literature address it. But, like a computer hacker, you want to find a loophole?the gap?that you can fill.

When I did my thesis, I found little research that focused on what I intended to do: study Suncor’s environmental Web communications. But that didn’t mean that no case studies of environmental Web communications for a number of energy firms existed, or more generally, that didn’t mean that no case studies of environmental Web communication for any firm existed, or even more generally, that didn’t mean that no case studies of environmental communications of any kind existed. See? In other words, when you can’t find any supporting literature, go more general to find research that addresses your problem.

Unfortunately, my thesis research didn’t have a central research problem or question?at least not one I can repeat in human language. In my research, I had a ton of sub-questions, but not a central problem. My research problem did probe, however, whether Suncor was green-washing, but I didn’t find any literature that explained the term green-washing in any concrete, measurable way. Surely, a good central problem needs more detail than that.

For your introduction, Creswell shows you how to include studies that highlight your central problem and how to uncover the deficiencies in those studies:
– For your introduction, first, map out the literature you plan to use and cluster the similar pieces according to topic. Comment on these clusters of literature as one entity. That way, you don’t duplicate your writing in both the intro and literature review.
– Your intro literature clusters should show why your research is important and how your research is unique.
– Don’t just redo a study. Add to it. Make it your own. Vary it up. Add a new variable that you think is significant. Change a variable. Change the participant or organization demographics. Represent someone marginalized not previously represented. Change the location of the research. You can do so much to make your study unique?and fill that gap.
– For your literature overview, use academic articles that takes up some sort of method: a method where data is collected and analyzed in the paper. Articles with methods qualify as primary research?the best kind for your papers.
– If you can’t find a lot of literature on your topic, go more general. For instance, if you want to study the impact of Catholicism on people with depression and you can’t find any literature, then try to find literature on the impact of religion on people with depression, or the impact of Catholicism on people in general.
– When you talk about the grouping of literature in your introduction, include a group citation at the paragraph end or put an individual article quote at the paragraph end. This way, you emphasize the cluster and de-emphasize the individual lit pieces.
– The quotes you should use to show the literature’s deficiencies include these: “’what remains to be explored,’ ’little empirical research,’ and ’very few studies’” (p. 106). What number of studies relates to ’very few’? You and your supervisor be the judge and your thesis committee the jury.

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.

Creswell, John W. Research Design: Qualitative, Quantitative, and Mixed Methods Approaches. Los Angeles, CA: Sage.