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Advice For Novice Academic Writers

Writer(s): 
Charles Moore, Saito Keiai Kindergarten

In this month’s column, several points of advice are presented for writers preparing an article for peer-reviewed journal submission. These suggestions are aimed towards writers that do not have much experience in writing for publication, and are points that should be kept in mind when putting one’s hard-worked research into writing.

Organize Your Research in a Relevant Order

This seems like common sense, but novice writers can tend to organize their research in an order that is not necessarily logical to the reader. Do not feel that you have to be constrained by organizing all of your writing in chronological order, as this is not always the case (Kamat, n.d.) in academic articles. What is more important is ensuring that your argument fits together in a logical way that can be easily understood, and all of the research steps that are necessary for comprehension by the reader are included. A biologist at the University of Copenhagen once wrote a tongue-in-cheek article giving 10 points on how writers of scientific articles can bore their readers. His sixth point was, “Omit necessary steps of reasoning. Communication with ordinary people is just far too time-consuming” (Sand-Jensen, as cited in Wang, 2007, para. 8). This is written in a satirical sense, but the principle is very applicable to academic writing. Academic writers are writing for those outside their field, as well as for professional peers that share common research interests. In other words, be sure to write in a way that someone who has no prior knowledge of your field can read your article for the first time and understand your argument. This should be the level of clarity and organization for which you are aiming.

Receive Multiple Sessions of Feedback from Peers

The importance of constructive peer-feedback for one’s writing cannot be overstated. This is something that is needed not only near the end of completion of one’s paper, but also throughout the entire writing process. Having your paper reviewed by a colleague only once will not allow for adequate feedback on the multiple issues that need to be addressed during your writing. Even for experienced reviewers on the Writer’s Peer Support Group (PSG) team, giving wide-ranging feedback covering various topics is difficult to do through only one review. Consider these statements by Beaufait, Edwards, and Muller (2014) regarding a paper’s peer-review process, “In the beginning stages of the process, grammar and style will not be checked. However, writers are encouraged to submit subsequent versions to the PSG, so as papers progress, more sentence-level issues can be addressed” (p. 339). Articles need to have multiple reviews so that various issues can be addressed. 

Receiving multiple peer-reviews can especially benefit those who are writing in their second language, because sentence-level issues (e.g., grammar errors, spelling issues) can be frequent due to writing outside of one’s own native language. When the paper is submitted for outside peer-review, correcting these sentence-level issues can often take up most of the reviewer’s time and effort, and this takes time away from other issues to be addressed, such as feedback on the quality of the research method and design in the paper. A more effective strategy would be for the writer to have a friend or close colleague correct their sentence-level issues before sending the paper out for peer-review, so that the peer-reviewer can adequately evaluate the content of the paper, and give helpful feedback to the writer. 

Write a Straightforward “Methods” Section

The purpose of your methods section is to simply inform the reader of the methods you used for gathering research. The writing should be clear, concise, and linear where possible. Also, although it is stylistically and subjectively at the discretion of the writer, it may help your argument sound more objective if the passive voice is used when describing the methods used (Fisher, Jansen, Johnson, & Mikos, n.d.).

Organization, as always, is also very important when describing your research methods. An easy mistake for inexperienced writers to make is to not clearly segment the “Methods” section. The three primary sub-sections are (a) “The subjects or participants”, (b) “The methods used to gather information”, and (c) “How the methods were implemented” (McMillan, 2008, pp. 20-21). Under these three headings you should be able to fit everything related to the research methods that you used, and it will streamline your data so that the reader can easily grasp the content. Try to stay away from making your methods section sound too professional or over-educated; instead focus on making it clear and easily understood.  

Presentation Matters

“It should be noted that manuscripts that are successfully submitted to a journal for publication have three main components: (1) overall idea, (2) execution of the work, and (3) presentation of the work.” (Fisher et al., n.d., para. 2). Having a relevant research idea and well thought out research methods are paramount to creating an article that a journal will accept for publication, but the presentation of your work is also important. If your paper has a quality research idea and execution of research, but the writing quality and organization have problems, it could lead to your manuscript being ultimately rejected.

A disorganized or inadequate structure can also work against you when submitting your work for publication. If you are having trouble organizing your research into a logical and cohesive structure, it is probably best to search for a basic model to adhere to as you write. An example would be Columbia University’s (n.d.) guide, “Writing a Scientific Research Article”. Another would be The Writers’ Workshop prior article, “Making a Working Outline: The Basic Organization of a Paper” (Ockert, 2015). Using a structured reference as a guide when putting together your writing can drastically cut down the time it takes to organize and put your research into writing.

Conclusion

In this short article a few tips were given for helping writers prepare their manuscripts for journal submission. It is perhaps prudent to think of academic journal writing as an art in itself, and to remember that there are a lot of different aspects that go into the creation of an article to make it worthy of publication, not only the quality of the research itself. With a bit of patience and fortitude, and a commitment to continually crafting the skill of academic writing, aspiring writers have great opportunities to lead successful careers in publishing their work. 

If you would like to have your writing reviewed and receive constructive feedback, please check the information listed on the Writer’s Peer Support Group’s page <http://jalt-publications.org/psg>. The key to academic writing, just as many things in life and profession, is diligence and effort. Best of luck for the journey!

References

  • Beaufait, P., Edwards, L., & Muller, T. (2014). Writing for academic publication: Participation and collaboration. In R. Chartrand, G. Brooks, M. Porter, & M. Grogan (Eds.), The 2013 PanSIG Conference Proceedings (pp. 339-346). Nagoya, Japan: JALT. Retrieved from <http://pansig.org/publications/2013/pansig2013proceedings.pdf>
  • Columbia University (n.d.). Writing a scientific research article: Format for the paper. Retrieved from <http://www.columbia.edu/cu/biology/ug/research/paper.html>
  • Fisher, J. P., Jansen, J. A., Johnson, P.C., & Mikos, A.G. (n.d.). Guidelines for writing a research paper for publication [PDF document]. Mary Ann Liebert, Inc. publishers. Retrieved from <https://www.liebertpub.com/media/pdf/English-Research-Article-Writing-Guide.pdf>
  • Kamat, P. (n.d). How to write an effective research paper [PDF document]. University of Notre Dame. Retrieved from <http://www3.nd.edu/~pkamat/pdf/researchpaper.pdf>
  • McMillan, J.H. (2008). Educational Research: Fundamentals for the consumer. Boston, M.A.: Pearson
  • Ockert, D. (2015). Making a working outline: The basic organization of a paper. The Language Teacher, 39(4), 36-40.
  • Wang, L. (2007, September 10). Top 10 tips for sleep-inducing scientific writing. Newscripts. Retrieved from <http://cen.acs.org/articles/85/i37/Newscripts.html>

Charles Moore is an International English Instructor at Saito Keiai Kindergarten in Osaka. He holds a Master’s degree in TESL from Concordia University. His research interests include extensive reading, extensive listening, and vocabulary acquisition strategies. 

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