Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Logical and Orderly Presentation, Entry 2.

The logical and orderly presentation of ideas
(see page 32 of the APA manual for some details)
(Sorry, blogger elimiated the indentation formatting on the outline...hum...)
Scholarly writing needs to be logical and ordered. You must set down your ideas in an understandable, comprehensible order so that your reader can follow your logic and reasoning and understand the points made. In a sense, your writing should act to “hold your reader’s hand” in regards to explanation.

For those of you who have heard me speak on this topic, you know what’s coming next: that the key to a logical and orderly presentation of ideas is an outline. Whenever I ask groups of students how many of them write an outline before writing a paper and how many just jump right into the writing, fewer than 10% report that they first write an outline. Now, it is possible to get away without writing an outline if you are an organized, skilled and sophisticated writer who can hold the entire organization of the paper in your head. This probably accounts for between 10% and 20% of all writers (partly an educated guess, partly based on some research). This is sort of opposite of the proportion of real students in the real world.

When you outline, you force yourself to think about the organization of the paper in advance of writing it. Outlines, as long as you stick to them, help guide your writing into a logical whole. Does this mean that outlines cannot change once you have written them? Of course not! Sometimes additional research or understanding opens up a new area to explore or you find that the order you first thought was logical can be improved.

How to outline? For a scholarly, academic paper, you start with three sections: Introduction, Body and Conclusion. The introduction can be a simple, narrative listing of all the main points you will address in a paper or it can be provision of data or evidence to show the extent of the problem and why the reader should care about the problem or issue (sort of convincing the reader that this is a worthy topic to study and learn). For writers who are unsure of how to structure the intro, I suggest the former, and here is an example:

Several members of my family influenced my decision to study social work. My mother and my grandparents were affected by two social issues: poverty and mental illness. My grandparents’ poverty and my mother’s chronic depression left a lasting impression on me. As a result, I developed a determination to study, and become a member of, the helping professions.

Another example of an intro?

Depression is a social problem that directly affects 1.3 million people in the United States each year (Mental Health Commission, 2000) and indirectly affects millions more (National Institute of Health Statistics, 2001). In this paper I will describe the extent of these direct and indirect effects, as well as give some information regarding definitions of depression, and current theories as to cause. I will conclude with a brief description of one, effective intervention for depression, the Accelerated Cognitive-Behavioral Counseling Program (ACBCP), and practice implications (Smith & Jones, 2003).
[JT’s note- I made these facts up].

OK, some more details: Outline Example:
The main point of an outline is to get your ideas in a logical order, an order in which one idea flows into the next in a way that makes sense. Sometime the logic of the order has to do with the actual assignment. Other times, it has to do with what YOU want to emphasize OR the information you uncover in your research. Outlines are fluid- they will change over time, but act as a guideline to you as you write, re-write and edit your paper.

The very first step should be developing your main theme or main idea of the paper. Everything else flows from your main theme. Examples of a main theme for a paper might be:
“I will discuss the problem of social isolation in the elderly, giving a variety of definitions of the problem, as well as causes of it.”
“In this paper I will define and describe child medical neglect. I will discuss its consequences to children, families and communities, as well as its causes.”
“I will define and describe teen pregnancy from the critical perspective and from a statistical viewpoint. I will explain its causes, consequences and ethical implications.”

The bare bones of an outline involve main points, sub-points and details. Main points represent the main themes of your paper. The sub-themes support the main points, and under them come definitions, details and evidence.

I. Introduction: “Tell the reader what you are going to tell her.”
a. Main theme statement
b. Introduce sub-theme 1 (or “one way I will address the main theme’)
c. Sub-theme 2 …ditto to above…
d. Sub-theme 3… and so on, depends on how many sub-themes you have

II. Body of the paper (most of the points will go here): “Tell the reader” or give the evidence.
a. Sub-theme 1: (the order here depends on WHAT you decide is the right order, based on the assignment, your ideas, and the evidence.)
i. Definition or explanation
ii. Presentation of evidence
iii. Details, examples
b. Sub-theme 2:
i. Definition or explanation
ii. Presentation of evidence
iii. Details, examples
c. Sub-theme 2:
i. Definition or explanation
ii. Presentation of evidence
iii. Details, examples and so on….

III. Conclusion: “Tell the reader what you told her and what it all means.”
a. Analysis or summary of the evidence presented (without restating all of it)
b. What does this all mean?
c. Your concluding thoughts.

Next up: Accuracy and Precision in Language (now with typo’s!)
Keep writing!

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Citation Evidence Entry 1b

Citation and Evidence
A few more words about evidence. I alluded to the fact that there are different types of evidence in the first blog entry. I wrote that the gold standard of evidence is an empirical study in a peer-reviewed journal. An empirical study uses the rules of science to demonstrate some finding. These are not the only good sources of information, but are at the top. Less strong bits of evidence are non-empirical studies, but I won’t go into great detail here (refer to your research methods course for pros and cons). Government or university center publications or websites are also usually good sources of information. Anecdotal, first-person or journalistic accounts are usually not as strong, but can play a useful role in many student papers (but I would make sure I had stronger data before using these!). Random web sites that you have not “vetted” (investigated closely) should not be used. Though I love Wikipedia, it is not really a scholarly source.

The web is where things can get murky. The web does not distinguish between “good” and “bad” information. Watch out for web sites from advocacy groups (these can be good, but they may have a vested interest in inflating or minimizing the scale of a problem) and think tanks with an ideological ax to grind (they may present only one side of the story, giving a biased view).

Why do you need evidence in the first place? You cannot write most papers in school (unless it is a personal reflections paper, journal entry or something similar) without evidence or support from the literature. You generally need data, numbers, definitions, descriptions, results, etc., to understand any social phenomenon and to support your point. A paper without evidence is not very useful, as the scope of the social problem, issues, or phenomena cannot be fully explained nor understood. Remember, all evidence must be cited!

Keep Writing!

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Citation Entry 1

For this first blog entry, I want to write about “the big picture,” but first, a word about how I will write this blog. It is somewhat intimidating to me to write on writing: after all, my own writing is imperfect. I believe, however, that I can best communicate to you about writing if I do it using an informal style (don’t want you to fall asleep as you are reading this!) and if I am brief. So, the irony is, I will be writing about formal writing in an informal style.

So what is the big picture? If you can remember only three things for you to strive to accomplish in your writing, here they are:

1. The proper use and citation of evidence (look for quality of evidence entry coming soon!)
2. The logical and orderly presentation of ideas.
3. Accuracy and precision in language.

Of course, these three things encompass a lot individually, and I will tackle the first one in this first blog entry, the proper use and citation of evidence.

When you are writing an academic or scholarly paper, you will be using a variety of sources for your evidence. The type of source depends on the assignment. In some classes, you may be using life histories or other personal accounts as evidence for your positions, thoughts or ideas. If you are writing a scholarly, literature review, however, you will more likely be using scholarly journal articles. The “gold standard” or journal articles in the peer-reviewed journal, in which experts in the field review each article to accept or reject it for publication.

Why cite? Citation is when you give acknowledgement to the original author(s) of a work. This gives that author credit for his or her work and shows the reader where the info came from. Failure to cite (or “failure to properly attribute ideas”) is considered plagiarism, and you don’t want to go there [an aside: in my years of teaching, I have found many many students writing in such a way that they are technically plagiarizing a work. They copy a sentence here, part of a sentence there, from other works and string them together without citation. And, in many cases, students have not been caught doing this. It takes, however, just one time you do get caught to have significant consequences at most colleges and universities.]

Citation allows the reader to find the original source material, gives the reader an idea of the strength or quality of the evidence presented and is just proper, ethical practice.

Citation in social work is most often done according to the American Psychological Association Manual, and that is what I am showing here.

Citation is usually simple: (author(s), year), as in:
One study suggested that more people like dogs than cats (Thomas, 2000).

An in-text citation of the same source is:
Thomas (2000) found that more people like dogs than cats.

However, there are variations, for example when an:

Organization is an author:
Approximately 10,000 people suffer from gizmophobia (National Association of Technology Research, 1999). [No, this disorder does not exist, but I might have it!]
If you are going to refer to this a second time, you can abbreviate it the first time and just use the abbreviation the second time, as follows:
Approximately 10,000 people suffer from gizmophobia (National Association of Technology Research [NATR], 1999)…and the second citation is just (NATR, 1999).

Multiple author citations (note the &):
Physical development does not necessarily end at 18 years of age (Smith & Jones, 2000).

Secondary source citation: when one author reports someone else’s work:
More people like dogs, though cats have fewer care needs (Peebles, 1995, as cited in Whiskers & Furry, 2000).

Citation of a quotation: When you directly use another person's words, you need the page or paragraph number (para number for an electronic source that is not a pdf with page numbers on it):
Gizmophobia can be defined as "an intense and irrational fear of technology" (Johnson, 1998, p. 17).

Multiple sources citation: alphabetical order, by the first author’s surname, separated by ;
Several studies showed that more people like dogs than cats (Brice, 1990; King, 1992; Price & Wagner, 1994).

To find more, look “Reference Citations” in the APA manual index.
You can post a comment or question here and I will be happy to answer it.