Yesterday I reviewed a doctoral consortium paper for a fellow phd student here at UQ. I thought I might as well put some of the comments I made up as a blog post. I want to be sure I just document up some tips or advice for students writing their first doctoral consortium paper. For some people the below will be old hat – for others, not so much. As an early phd student you need to develop these skills.
Firstly be clear as to what your paper does and what the introduction needs to do:
I believe an introduction does the following:
– Attention grabbing statement of the problem.
– Mini-literature review
– Identify the next steps in the research area (motivation), and identify the scope of the research question
– Quick overview of research method
– What are your contributions?
– Roadmap to the rest of the document. I feel your introduction is too long (1page out of 7 and 591 words, which then cuts into the rest of your research proposal.
Caveat – your discipline may differ.
If a long list of papers that are only cited once are in the introduction without explanation, I think you need to cut them down for the introduction. Unnecessarily blows out your reference list.
Which vs that:
Which should only follow a comma (kind of a golden rule). P88 Strunk & White – go which-hunting ☺. That refers to a specific item, which is for a class or non-restrictive group.
Have transition paragraphs at the beginning of sections – a style thing:
I think the role of this transition paragraph is to identify what is coming (“we will talk about this, then that, then this, and finally we can move to the next section to discuss X”). I feel this may be a bit long for this role – I think you should flag what is coming, but not describe how it works.
Another writing tip is to avoid long sentences. And one-sentence paragraphs.
Don’t over-rely on the words of others:
Is the long quotation from this paper really required? Takes space away from your own work.
Don’t use ‘it’ as it creates needless ambiguity. Like one-sentence paragraphs, it’s a no-no.
Be careful with ‘because’:
Never start a sentence with ‘because’ – did Mrs Sandilands not teach you in Grade 2 ☺. Maybe try ‘As’.
If you have a research model you have developed with labels, be sure that your discussion is consistent with the labels (i.e. section headings). Also try to follow the same order throughout the paper.
Also be careful with word use:
Unless you are very clear on its meaning, a phrase like ‘unit of analysis’ is inviting trouble. Use ‘focus’ e.g. “user experience is the unit of analysis” is better off as ‘user experience is the focus’.
Similarly confirm vs validate vs explore
An exploratory study explores your research model. A confirmatory study confirms it. Don’t’ have an an exploratory study validate your model, and don’t have a confirmatory study validate. And don’t have a confirmatory study further validate the validatory study. Does it ‘validate’ or ‘confirm’ ☺. I’d lose ‘further’ as it sounds like you validated it once, and you’re now validating it again, and it makes no sense to validate what is already valid. However, you can confirm a valid model.
It’s a bad idea to finish a writing section on a dot point:
You need a concluding paragraph here so you don’t finish on a bullet point.
In the conclusion:
I think you need to state earlier and more clearly, what are the practical and theoretical contributions? Theory first, practice second. I don’t see any contributions to practice identified? Have a strong final concluding sentence – hopefully that reflects the theme of your strong opening sentences.
See I can blog occasionally. The above tips are not everything, they are just the comments that I made and this is just a grab-bag of points. As some readers may know I have written a template in Scrivener for academic writing (see http://michealaxelsen.com/blog/?p=839) that formalises some of these comments into a structure. Although I’ve had struggles with Scrivener (http://michealaxelsen.com/blog/?p=2930) and I have to say I still haven’t come completely to grips with tables, I have found Scrivener to be a really useful writing tool. I’ll probably change my mind again by morning tea as I battle tables.
Having just submitted a doctoral consortium research-in-progress paper, my supervisor was at pain to give me some solicited feedback on my own work :).
Don’t use words like innovative research design, significant contribution, or novel approach – such value-laden judgments are best left to the reader. Leave these adjectives at home :).
Thanks: Micheal Axelsen