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!