Wednesday, March 5, 2008

The Academic Manuscript

I just finished reading an awesome book: How to Write a Lot: A Practical Guide to Productive Academic Writing by Paul J. Sylvia. After reading reviews of this book by Dr. Brazen Hussy, newsocprof, and watershed, I finally sat down and read it myself.

There are many good recommendations in this book - intuitive ones, like schedule writing time and religiously observe it. The best advice books are the ones that tell you everything you already knew you should be doing but aren't. But when that very same information is presented to you in the book, this time it is presented in a way that clicks.

This book clicks.

Sylvia's focus is on quantity, not quality. However, there is a chapter on how to structure your articles. I wish someone had given me this chapter three years ago when I started grad school. It reminded me of Tina's brief research statement template:

My proposed study is about this. Here is why this problem is important. Here is what we know about this problem. These studies leave THIS IMPORTANT THING that needs to be found out. Here is what I will do to find that out. I will do the study this way. It will produce these results. This is the value of doing the work. This is why I am qualified to do it, and whom I’ll work with. Remember, this is the contribution my study will make.
Silvia's chapter on writing articles is similar. But it could benefit from Tina's approach. So, here's my version of an academic manuscript template*:

My Title And Abstract Include Keywords that Academic Search Engines will Pick Up

Abstract
My study is about this. Here is why this problem is important. Here is what we know about this problem. These studies leave THIS IMPORTANT THING that needs to be found out. Here is what I will did find that out. I did the study this way. It produced these results.

Introduction (~2 pages)
Justification for Article (1 paragraph)
1. My study was motivated by this problem, question, or theory
2. Here is why this problem, question, or theory is important
3. Here is what we know about the problem, question, or theory
4. These studies leave THIS IMPORTANT THING that needs to be found out
Roadmap to Article (1 paragraph)
1. My study is about this
2. Here is what I did to find out the IMPORTANT THING that nobody's looked at yet
3. I did the study this way
4. It produced these results

Literature Review (~8 pages)
Option 1: Driven by a Theory
The theory (3 pages)
1. This is the theory I am interested in
2. This is the basis for the theory
3. Here are some people who've created/ contributed to the theory
4. This theory suggests these processes
The problem (3 pages)
1. This theory has been used to examine this problem
2. Here is how that connection is made
3. Here are some people who have made that connection already
4. This is what these people HAVEN'T sufficiently addressed
My unique contribution (3 pages)
1. Theory suggests this will happen.
2. Since this, this, and this have happened, I think there is evidence to support that
3. Here are my hypotheses

Literature Review (~8 pages)
Option 2: Competing Theories
The problem (3 pages)
1. This is the problem
2. Here are some people who have studied it
3. These are the ways in which their findings are contradictory
The first theory (2 pages)
1. This theory can be applied to the problem
2. It would explain the findings in these studies
3. However, it does not explain this
The second theory (2 pages)
1. This theory can be applied to the problem, too
2. It would explain the findings in these studies
3. However, it does not explain this
The synthesis (2 page)
1a. Combined, these theories explain more than they do alone
1b. These theories predict two completely different outcomes
2. Here's why
3. My research will examine both of these theories by doing this
4. Here are my hypotheses

Methods (~2 pages)
The Data/ Participants
1. I am using this dataset
2a. I collected it myself using this procedure
2b. It was collected by these people at this time
3. The people in the study have these characteristics (number, age, demographic, time, etc)
The Measures
1. My independent variables are measured using these items
2. I am justified in using these items for this reason
3. My dependent variables are measured using these items
4. I am justified in using these items for this reason
5. I am controlling for these things
6. I am justified in controlling for these things for this reason
Procedure
1. I am using this analysis/ these analyses
2. This is a good analysis/analyses to use for this reason
3. I used this stats package, made these changes, etc (for less common procedures)

Results (~8 pages)
My Study Has Integrity
1. I checked my measures for internal consistency
2. I checked for inter-coder reliability
3. I used this method of data reduction
4. I did everything necessary to make sure my data was good and right
Here are some Descriptives
1. This is what my population looks like
2. Here are how my measures look
3. This is what my population does on these measures
Hypothesis 1 (then 2, 3...k)
1. Remember, this was my hypothesis
2. This is what I did to test it
3. Here are the results
4. This is what that means
5. My hypothesis was right/wrong/partially supported

Discussion/Conclusion (~5 pages)
A brief review for those who skipped the Results section
1. Here's a brief paragraph explaining what I found
2. Here is how my findings inform the paper's central problem/question/theory
Limitations
1. Here's what limitations are SPECIFIC TO MY STUDY
2. These limitations might have affected the study in this way
Future Research
1. Perhaps someone in the future can address these limitations in their own study
2. My findings raised these questions
But remember,my study also answered these questions
1. And it is important for this reason.
2. The take-home point is this.


*probably best suited for quantitative research

13 comments:

tina said...

Holy hannah! This is outstanding. How much of my time spent procrastinating has been due to my not knowing one of these things or not knowing how to phrase one of these things? If I could have just pinned it down, perhaps it would have been clear sooner that the thing to do was figure that point out.

And yes, yes! to the Silvia book. Nothing genius there, but still it is magically helpful.

Tom Bozzo said...

I'll second Tina that this is awesome -- it totally nails the abstract for the conference paper I Really Have To Get Cracking On. Note that in econ, the lit review is ~2 pages and the methods are ~8 pages, stupid math! On our side, some of those pages should be distributed over the Results and Discussion/Conclusion section.

kristina b said...

You rock! Thanks so much for this. I love reading about the process, especially when it's this clear and useful.

As a side note, if we ever really get to know each other in person, I will have a hard time calling you your other name :)

monsoon said...

This is a keeper! I had to write an abstract for the first time this semester so I went to articles I had around the house.

Formatting is also questionable. I've been reading various manuscripts for guidance on this matter as well.

What say you on qualitative work Wickedly awesome?

mom said...

Very well done! Here here!

Anomie said...

Thanks for the props, all!

@Monsoon: I think someone qualitative papers would be more like the econ papers Tom Bozzo mentioned above: the methods section is more in-depth, and the lit review section is shorter, but only because you're going to intersperse your literature in with the findings, and then tie your findings into literature at the end, too.

I say this because qualitative work tends to be more inductive than deductive, but this isn't always the case.

St├ęphane said...

This has proven /VERY/ useful towards clarifying my ideas and gaining momentum for the paper I am working on at the moment. Thanks!!

Do you have anything similar for review essays?? ;P

Anomie said...

@Stephane: I'm glad it was useful! I've never done a review essay before--or read a lot of them--so I don't know how those are set up. Good luck, though!

amd said...

This is fantastic - for my writing and (hopefully) my teaching as well. Thanks!

shrinkingisaac said...

Hi,
i vaguely remember recently coming across something similar to this for writing a review for a journal submission. i wanted to forward the link onto a colleague, but now i can't seem to re-find the link. Does anyone here recall seeing that as well?

thanks!

Alison said...

Got one for theses or doctoral dissertations in social science?

Anomie said...

Oh, I wish! I'm going to be done with my coursework this semester, then it's nothing but dissertation writing. I have two masters degrees, and both theses were to write a publishable paper, so the above template would work fine.

I do plan to read some books on dissertation writing this summer. Perhaps I'll have some in-the-trenches advice in the next few months.

That or in-the-trenches horror stories.

withoutscene said...

You neglected to mention that "How to Write a Lot" is such a short book! I picked up Becker's book from the library to go over it again, and decided to pick up Sylvia's book too. I was relieved. I suppose I thought the topic of the book meant it would be a lot of writing (reading).