Academic texts, part 6: Contents and form

The research’s scientific attitude and how the researchers have reached the results should be made visibile by the contents of the academic text. The author/authors should be very clear which perspective is set on the text and be critical of other’s texts and even one’s own analysis. It is important for the reader to udnerstand what the researcher has done and how it is done no matter what kind of research it is. What kind of ground is there to draw the conclusions? Which interpretations and analysis are made? Transparancy is important when it comes to the ground the research lays on and the methods used. There are of course scientific texts which in one way or another challenges this, either consciously or uncounsciously.

Within many research areas it is important to express yourself clearly, precisely and to use the vocabulary which is standard in the area.

Many articles in scientific journals, conference papers and in some cases even book chapters describe an (more or less experimental) empirical study which is then  interpretated and put in context with other studies. A classic structure for such a text within e.g. Sciences or some Social Sciences is from IMRD-model:

  • Introduction (problem formulation, aim, research questions, previous research, theory)
  • Method (description of method(s) and possible ethical considerations)
  • Results (account for results and analysed results)
  • Discussions (connecting results to previous research and theory, conlusions and possible suggestions for future research)

What actually is written differs from research area to research area – it might be method, theory or to discuss the analysis in connection to previous research. The above is also a model used in doctoral dissertations and in monographs when presenting a larger empirical study (or part studies). One alternative is that each chapter shows an example of a theme which is then discussed in the concluding chapter although a lot of the analyis is written in the chapters through out the book.

Doctoral dissertations are often formed as so called complation thesis (article thesis, thesis by publication). This means that the thesis contains of a number of scientific articles published in scientific journals or conference publications. The articles are  preceded by an introductory or summary chapters where the author has the possibility to discuss the research questions, methods and theory, write a short summary of the articles and then relate them to the research questions and each other and also the draw some conclusions from the results of all of the articles.

Of course there are many ways to structure scientific articles. Scientific publiations may include more that just text, e.g. video, image and diagrams. Try to understand what is normal and usual, and also try to identify what is allowed within your area or studies by using examples that you find.

//Helena Francke, lector at BHS

Blog posts are translated from Swedish by Pieta Eklund.

Academic texts, part 5: Target Audience

Sometimes you can determine whether a text is scientific och popular scientifc by getting a sence of who is the primary target audience of the text. Scientific texts are written the other researchers in the subject area in mind. This means that some things are taken for granted, e.g. subject knowledge or that the author is familiar with a specific theoretic tradition. It might also mean that a specific language (e.g. established terms or mathematical formulas) is used which is not easy to understand for those outside of the research area. Consequenses for readability differs between the research areas – in some subjects the target audiences ia a wide audience, even the generel public, while in other areas texts are mainly written for specialists. These specialists may include both researchers and professional population.

Within the natural sciences and history there are many good examples of writing popular science articles and presenting research in a more accessible way. Journals whose main audience (as authors and/or reader) is professional people are often (not always) popular science, branch or trade journals.

Scientific journals are aimed for researchers, students and professional people.The following for example is written in the description of description of Journal of Documentation from Emerald Publishers:

”Key journal audiences

  • Educators, scholars, researchers and advanced students in the information sciences
  • Reflective practitioners in the information professions
  • Policy makers and funders in information-related areas
  • The Journal’s content will also be of value to scholars and students in many related subject areas.”

In Author guidelines for the influential journal Nature we can see that the journals is written a number of audiences in mind but that all of them are not expected to read each and every article:

”Authors are strongly encouraged to attempt two 100-word summaries, one to encapsulate the significance of the work for readers of Nature (mainly scientists or those in scientifically related professions); and the other to explain the conclusions at an understandable level for the general public.” (From “For Authors”)

Both of these journals have researchers, students and professional people within the special areas as the target audience but they are also open for the fact that even general public might be interested in the articles.

//Helena Francke, lector at BHS

Blog posts are translated from Swedish by Pieta Eklund.

Academic texts, part 3: Scientific genres

In the previous post I wrote about blogs. In some circumstances blog posts can be regarded as scientific texts but in general blogs are not to be viewed as a scientific genre. To learn to identify specific genres may be helpful when determining which texts are scientific. A genre is distinguished by when texts assigned to the genre have some similarities (or regularities) e.g. contents, logical structure, typography, vocabularity and langugae. Some general scientific genres are:

  • Articles in scientific journals
  • Book/monographs
  • Chapter in an anthology
  • Doctoral/licentiate thesis
  • Conference paper
  • Review article/annual review

Some of these genres have been discussed in the previous blog posts. Reveiw articles are often littreature reviews. They summarizes the latest research in a specific area and try to draw conclusions from the results. The genres which are interesting for publishing differs between subject areas and countries. This is important to remember when looking at what is scientific text in different areas. Even the language used in the publication differs and has consequence whether research is mainly published nationally or internationally. It is also good to be aware that the English speaking authors do not have to make this decision – American researcher publishing in an American journal in English does not have to make a decision between national and interantional. To simplify some charecteristics in different areas:

  • Humanities
    • Monographs and book chapters are most common, often written in the national language
    • Articles are becomeing more common, even in international journals
    • Big differences between different subjects, e.g. linguists publish articles whereas researchers in litterature studies often publish monographs or book chapters
  • Natural Sciences, technology and medicine (STM)
    • Articles published in English in international scientific journals
    • Conference papers are particularly prestigious in some subject areas (e.g IT)
  • Social Sciences
    • Artciles published in English in international scientific journals
    • Books in the national language
    • Big differences between different subjects

Referenser: Hellqvist, B. (2010). Referencing in the humanities and its implications for citation analysisJournal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology, 61(2), 310-318. //Helena Francke, lector at BHS Blog posts are translated from Swedish by Pieta Eklund.

Academic texts, part 2: Publishers

Here is the second blogpost about academic texts from last fall, if you missed the first one about Peer Review you’ll find it here.

One way to try to determine whether a text is scientific or not is to look at the context of the text and who is behind the text.

  • Is the article published in an scientific journal which you know of since before?
  • If you do not know the journal, is the publisher or organisation behind the journal known to publish scientific journals or to produce research? For example the Human IT, journal mentioned in the earlier post, is published by University of Borås. Another example is British Educational Research Journal which is associated with the British Educational Research Association (BERA) and published by Taylor & Francis which also publishes other scientific journals. Other well-known international publishers are Elsevier, Springer, Blackwell, Routledge and a number of publishers connected with universities, University Press –  although these are not necessarlily connected to a university anymore.
  • The above is valid for monographs and anthologies aswell.
  • When it comes to conferences a bit more detective work is needed but there are some conferences which are connected to an organisation, e.g. IEEE or ACM.
  • Some databases demand that journals and conference papers must have gone through peer review, e.g. Web of Science. If you are unsure you can check whether your journal is included there. Just remember, your journal is not automatically non-scientific just because the journal is not included in WoS-list.

So far the texts accepted as scientific in higher education are those which have been peer reviewed by external reviewers and the peer review usually takes place just before publishing. As the world of publishing is changing many researchers are using other channels to test their results and reasoning, such as blogs or publishing preprints (paper accepted for publishing but published yet) in open repositories such as arXiv.org. These texts are not necessarily considered as scientific although many of them are, especially those in arXiv.org. Depending on how the publishing world changes this might come to change.

//Helena Francke, lector at BHS

Blog posts are translated from Swedish by Pieta Eklund.

Academic texts, part 1: Peer review

Questions of how to find a scientific article continues to flow in, so we pick up Helena Francke’s series of articles in our blog from last fall about scientific texts. Part one deals with the concept of peer review:

An important aspect in research is to review each other’s work. Is the research done in a proper manner and are the conclutions reasonable? The normal way to do this is through peer review. Articles which have been peer reviewed are called refereed articles. This means that a text is reviewed by one or more researchers within the specific research area. The reviewer should not be too close to the author. The reviewers should judge whether the article is good enough to be published, how it could be made better – and preferably catch mistakes and errors. A decision is then made by the editor if the article will be published or not.

Peer review differs a bit from research area to research area. In some research areas peer review is not the usual where as in other areas it is unthinkable to use material which has not been peer reviewed.

How do you know when a text is peer reviewed or not? When it comes to journals it is usually stated in the journal issue, on the web page or even in the article.

  • It can be very clear on the cover of the journal, e.g. ”PLOS Biology is a peer-reviewed, open-access journal featuring research articles of exceptional significance in all areas of biological science, from molecules to ecosystems.”
  • There might be guidelines for reviewers, e.g. ”Reviewer guidelines”. The review process is probably described, more or less in detail. See e.g. PLOS Biology Guidelines for Reviewers.
  • There might be guidelines for authors, e.g. Author guidelines e.g. Human IT (in Swedish).

As shown in the Human IT case a journal may contain both peer reviewed articles and articles which have gone through an editiorial review.

Conference papers are much like journal articles: it is not clear how much the conference has reviewed the contributions. Sometimes it is only a part of the paper which has been reviewed: the abstract rather than the whole paper. This is why you should be observant when it comes to which articles and papers have been peer reviewed.

When it comes ot scientific books, monographs (usually one author on one subject/aspect of a subject) it is harder to know if they are peer reviewed or not. Swedish books are usually not peer reviewed but they go though an editorial review. There are ongoing discussions to introduce peer review for monographs. However, British and North American monographs are often peer reviewed.

Anthologies, a book with chapters from a number of authors, are a bit different. Sometimes the authors have reviewed each others contributions, sort of an internal review but anthologies might have external reviewers aswell. In this case there is an acknowlegement in the finished book.

Of course peer review is not a quality guarantee that the research is done well and well argumented for but it is the most widespread and reliable system we have to quality review research.

//Helena Francke, lecturer at BHS

Blog posts are translated from Swedish by Pieta Eklund.

To read scientific texts

We have previously written a number of blog posts about how to find scientific articles, how to avoid plagiarism and how to cite correctly but nothing about how to read the texts that you find. This is also a competence in its own right and it is needed to get something out of the texts.

Scientific texts have often the following structure IMR(A)D, introduction, method, results (analysis), discussion, In this blog post you will get a couple of tips on how to read and better understand them.

Abstract has the purpose of giving you a quick indication whether the article is of interest to you or not. It should contain an aim or purpose for the study, how it is done, which results ar presented and which are the conclutions. The introduction has two purposes: create interest and also to set the stydy in a general and field specific context though presenting previous research. Method describes which methods are used to answer the questions. It is important to read this part carefully to be able to discuss the validity of the results. Results present what the research data shows and it can be visualised with figures and tables. Discussion contains results set in a context by using the previous research. Discussion aims also to answer the questions which the study aimed to answer.

When you are reading a text, try to find the main points of the text. Maybe you can find what is suprising, unexpected, in contrast of previous results or what is rarely addressed.

When you are reading a scientific text you can think of the following questions:

  • What is the problem this text is trying to answer? Why is it important to answer?
  • Is the used metod the best to answer the questions or is there a better method?
  • What are the specific results? Can I summarize them in a couple of sentences?
  • Are the results supported by the research data?
  • Are there other ways to interpret the research data which the authors didn’t address?
  • In which way are the results unique/new/unusual/ or supporting compared to other related research in the area?
  • How can the results be related to what I am interested in? To other texts I’ve read?
  • Are there some specific applications presented in the text? Which future experiments could be done? Are the unanswered questions or does the results open for new questions?

You can also draw inferences. E.g. “Rett Syndrome is a childhood neurodevelopmental disorder and one of the most common causes of mental retardation in females with an incidence of 1 in 10000-15000.”[1] Comment: Hmmm…can it be related to a gene on the X-chromosome since it one of the most common causes in females… How common is that?

You should also take notes while reading. The best case scenario is that you take notes electronically because you probably will find a specific note easier later. You can make your own template or you can use the one we have created for you to use while taking notes (Word 2010). You can download it to your own computer. We have also created a Google Drive document. You can download the template in a couple of different formats (file-> download as).

Pieta Eklund

[1] Ballestar, E., Yusufzai, T.M., & Wolffe, A.P. (2000) Effects of Rett Syndrome Mutations of the Methyl-CpG Binding Domain of the Transcriptional Repressor MeCP2
on Selectivity for Association with Methylated DNA. Biochemistry, 31, 7100-7106

Academic texts, part 7: internet sources

To have a special blog post about scientific texts on Internet might seem a bit old fashioned. Most of the examples I have used before are from the web, either from scientific journals, conference proceedings, books freely available online or resources which you as students at the university can access. The university library subscribes to e-journals and e-books. A number of the scientific texts we come in contact with are available online but there are some special web resources which I would like to touch upon, especially those when the researchers themselves make their research freely available online.

During the last 15 years Open Access movement has grown bigger. The movement aims to make as many research publications as possible freely (without any cost for the reader) available online. Open access has been quite successful when it comes to articles, confrernce proceedings, doctoral/licentiate thesis and student thesis and more and more of books are made freely available (e.g. Libraries, black metal and corporate finance).One way to make articles open access is to publish them in an open access journal which does not charge the reader. Examples of this are PLOS Biology och Human IT, which has been mentioned in the previous blog posts. To publish open access does not indicate anything about the scientific quality of the research. The research quality can be extremly high or less so.

Another way to open access is that the text is published in a subscribtion based journal, printed in an anthology or similar but the author makes the text available in some other way. In these cases it should be clear where the text has been published originally and therefore you know it has gone through peer review. In some cases the auhtor makes a text available which has not been accepted for publishing. This is called pre-print. In these cases no one has peer reviewed the text to determine the reliability of the text.

When an author makes a published text available it is often done in one of the following ways:

  • In an open archive/repository. An archive like this might be provided by the researchers’ university, e.g. University of Borås’ BADA, or it can be subject oriented, e.g. arXiv.org which has become very popular in physics, computer science, mathematics and related research areas.
  • On the researcher’s own web site. This option might be a bit less used nowadays due to the institutional archives. In this case the researcher makes his/her research available through a web site, e.g. James Paul Gee,a researcher who has written a lot about learning, computer games and socio-cultural theory. You might notice that Gee is using a blog platform to make his research available. Just because it is a blog does not say anything about the scientificness or reliability of his texts. You should look at other indicators such as who is behind the published text and other aspects discussed in the previous blog posts.

Finally, I would like to point out that not all publications and all journals which say they are scientific are that. You have probably noticed that. All kinds of publications get distributed online which makes it easy to encounter journals which are not as scientific as they say they are (e.g. Open access and predatory publishers.) Tips given in these blog posts give a first indication on what you should look for to make an informed decision whether a text is scientific or nor. The more scientific and non-scientific texts your encounter the easier it will be to judge what is what.

And ask for help! You can discuss these matters with

  • your course mates
  • your teachers
  • Librarians

//Helena Francke, lector at BHS

Blog post is translated from Swedish by Pieta Eklund.