Friday, October 1, 2010

Primary and secondary souuces

Primary, Secondary: Who Cares?

(The answer: we do). I often tell my students that there are several levels of "quality" of sources for their papers. The "gold standard" is the peer-reviewed journal article, though there are other good sources for information. Articles from peer-reviewed journals go through an extra level of "vetting,' that is, they are reviewed by experts in the field and accepted or rejected, or the authors are required to make changes to bring the article up to the standards of the journal.

When you read an article and cite what the authors write, you are doing a "primary-source citation." This means that you went to the original source for the information. However, when the authors of the articles you read cite someone else, and you want to cite these other authors too, what do you do? You can either find that original sources (and this is considered the best course of action, for reasons described below) OR use the form for a secondary source citation.

Say you read an article by Smith that cites Lowe and you want to cite the Lowe information too. What you do is use this form:

(Lowe, 1999, as cited in Smith, 2005).
[see page 178 of the APA Manual, 6th edition].

So, why do you need to use this secondary source citation? You need to be clear that you did not read the original source. It is the accepted form and gives proper credit. Your professor wants to know if you are doing this, and how often. In addition, what if Smith made an error in interpreting Lowe? Or what if Smith ignored Lowe's full results? Your writing would reflect this same error or bias. This way, the reader knows that you are simply reporting what Smith believed and stated about Lowe's work.

Too many secondary source citations can be cumbersome to type and read and it shows the reader (your teacher and grader) that you did not consult many primary sources. However, if this is what you did, then you MUST use this format.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

How to Ruin a Paper

I have been thinking about this topic for a long time, actually the opposite of the title here, how to write a good paper. I thought, however, that one way to approach this would be to write in the converse, that is, what it takes to ruin a paper. Of course, the overall idea is that most papers are ruined through general disorganization and inattention, but let's see if any of the following grabs your attention to something you do. Anyone want to fess up? You can in the comments section.

The first rule to ruin a paper is to procrastinate. Start your paper the night before it is due. This leads to a whole waterfall of bad effects for your paper. Give yourself inadequate time for proper research. Google your search term, do a quick library search and grab the first somewhat relevant materials you find. Don't bother to find out if they are from reputable, reliable, academic sources; if they sound good, use 'em. And don't bother to find evidence that confirms what you have read- you are in a rush. Hurriedly read through the materials, not fully understanding nor absorbing them, which, after all, takes time. Crib from the articles- after all, these other authors sound like they know what they are talking about, right? And they say it better than you can. Plus paraphrasing takes time and effort. Do not carefully proofread nor edit your paper- you don't have time. Oh, and pad pad pad when you don't have enough information to fill up a paper. And just make vague statements of opinions, give unnecessary personal examples and repeat yourself.

When you start the paper, just begin typing in the words. Outlines are unnecessary and they take time too. Pull paragraphs together out of your head and stick them in some order. Don't use headings and subheadings-it is such a bother to figure out what APA wants and you don't really need that organizational help after all, right? Oh and guess at APA, it is sort of like MLA isn't it? Don't take the time to look up words or synonyms, nor to get help when you are uncertain of your grammar. Your profs will get it, won't they?

OK, so this is a parody and no one does all these things when they write a paper, but some of us do some of them. Anything strike a nerve? Ready to make a change, to move up to professional in your writing?

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Time Management

My last entry reminded me of this topic: time management. In my 20 years of teaching graduate and undergraduate students, I have observed that the students with the best time-management skills were most often the best writers. These students were organized and scheduled their time, work first, fun second. More importantly, these students understood that good writing takes time. It takes time to well and fully research a topic, to search deeply and not be guilty of a "premature closure of inquiry" (that is, picking the first bit of info you happen on and using it in a scholarly work). It takes time to read and understand scholarly sources (and this includes time to reflect on what you read and re-read for clarity and confirmation of your original understanding). It takes time to analyze the resources you have collected. It takes time to formulate your ideas, and to organize them. And it takes time to write, edit and rewrite a paper.
So, what time management strategies can you use? One that works well for me (and that I get into trouble if I skip) is to start work well in advance of the project. The way I "trick" myself into doing this is to tell myself that all I have to do is a half hour of work. This is usually enough to get me going on the project, because it alerts me to all the work I need to do to write a great paper. In addition, I will often schedule work and a reward for doing that work (that is, an hour of writing, followed by 20 minutes of reading a novel, or looking at a fun web site or a small treat)- BUT you must make sure that the work comes before the reward and the reward does not stretch out too much (I had a friend who worked for an hour, then rewarded herself for 2!). Another strategy is the "elephant" strategy, that is, break the work needed down into smaller parts, schedule each part, and check it off as it gets done. Sometimes just the process of breaking the task down into its components is motivating in and of itself.
There are other, more elaborate strategies, like story boarding (a huge chart with the task categories pinned on it, and columns like to do, pending, done) or using a spread sheet for the component tasks, but I find the more elaborate the strategy, the more time it takes away from the work itself, the more it can be used to procrastinate and the less likely it is to be helpful.

Keep writing!

(related posts: multi-tasking, information versus knowledge)

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Information Versus Knowledge

I recently had a discussion with my students about the difference between information and knowledge. We have all heard that we live in an information age. Information is readily available to most of us, all hours of the day or night (though the quality of this information is open to debate, given the explosion of the internet). So, what is information? Information is represented by facts, definitions, data, and details. Information differs from knowledge, however, and knowledge is what you strive for in your scholarly writing. Knowledge is based on information, it is taking all those bits of information, plus concepts and theories, and examining them as a whole. It is more "depthful" than mere information. Knowledge is more than this, however. Knowledge is developed over time. It is the process of taking in all the information relevant to a topic and reflecting on it, examining it for patterns, and analyzing and evaluating it. You cannot do this in one day and this is part of the reason procrastination is a real problem- how can you write a scholarly, knowledgeable, analytical paper if you have not spent the time and mental energy to find and review information, relevant concepts and theories, and formulate ideas, reflect and analyze? Think about it.

Keep writing!

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Pet Peeves

I recently read an article in the New York Times about "pet peeve words." These are the words that drive us crazy, that we tell our students to NOT use (see entry on split infinitives). For me, it is the word "impact" when it is used to mean influence or affect. Unfortunately, there is no consistent way to know if a word is a pet peeve of your professor. In the article, the author said he hated to word "gingerly" because we also did not use the word "ginger" as a verb. I think gingerly is kind of cute and a good word to use in some contexts. The author did point out a pet peeve that I think should be universal: oversimplistic. This word really does not mean anything different from simplistic, though I know it is often use for added emphasis. I think simplistic is good enough, and think oversimplistic is over kill (or is that kill?) (plus, you may notice your spell checker marking it because it is not a real, compound word). Another "word" I sometimes find students using is irregardless. This may sound sophisticated, but is not really a word. Plus, regardless, a perfectly good word, means just the same. The "irr" prefix usually means the opposite of, so our use of "irregardless" to mean "without regard" does not make sense (it does make sense in the words relevant and irrelevant).
One way to avoid the problem of using your teacher's pet peeve words (if you do not know what they are in advance) is to vary your words. If I see one use of one "impact" I might note it, but if I see many uses of "impact," I mark it off as an overused cliche. Use a thesaurus to find other words to use to describe a same or similar thing. I am often surprised that students do not know what a thesaurus is-it is a listing of same of similar words (available in print and on-line).
Keep Writing!

Friday, February 19, 2010

Evidence -based writing

Evidence-Based Writing
You have probably heard of "evidence-based practice." This is practice that involves the use of the best available evidence in solving a problem. It includes understanding the best available intervention options for a particular client problem, as well as understanding the best available evidence that describes the problem, and using this information.
Evidence-base writing involves using the best available evidence in your writing. It is not required in all forms of writing (creative writing, journal entries), but it is an important skill in writing literature reviews, research papers and term papers. The first step is to find the best available evidence. In this search, you MUST not fall victim to "the premature closure of inquiry," that is, use the first thing you find that relates to your question. You need to spend a good amount of time in the "information universe" to determine what is good information, or good evidence. Good information comes from a credible, authoritative source (for example, I ask my students "which is the best source for a definition of depression: Dr. Joe's web page, Wikipedia or the DSM?")(BTW, Wikipedia might be great, but it is a wiki, a changing source, so cannot be considered authoritative). Good evidence is not unsupported opinion or biased. Good evidence is also (in general) repeated in the literature, or replicated. You should find several authoritative sources that report the same or similar bits of evidence or findings. The "gold standard" of authoritative evidence is the peer-reviewed journal article. These articles undergo extensive review by experts. Most search engines for journal article databases allow you to select "peer-reviewed only" (also called "refereed"). Other great sources of evidence include governmental databases and web sites (e.g., the US Census Bureau), University study centers and professional organization (e.g., NASW, APA).

The next step in evidence-based writing is to use that authoritative evidence in your paper or document. Using that information involves proper citation, quotation and referencing, of course. The information should be described clearly and should include some numbers. Numbers are quantitative evidence! Numbers tell us the base rate (or number of individuals studied-for example, reporting "1 of 4 students reported using illegal drugs" has a different meaning and value when only 4 students were asked, versus 40, versus 400), and the actual amount of change or difference ["the intervention group had lower depression scores than the control group" has a different meaning if the two scores were 13 (experimental) and 14 (control) on a 100 point scale versus 12 (experimental) and 42 (control).] If your paper relies on qualitative evidence, you generally do not report numbers, but must provide clear definitions, descriptions and analysis of assumptions and explanations.

Evidence-based writing is not the expression of your opinions, though evidence can be used to support your opinions. In many papers, students are asked to examine, analyze, evaluate, assess, or determine which is the best approach. To do this, you must use good evidence to support that opinion or judgment.

Next entry will be more on this topic...

Keep writing!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

On-Line Dictionary

A colleague let me know about this nifty on-line dictionary that gives results from several different sites:

It is our new favorite!

Keep writing!
(More posts coming soon!)