Publishing the Research Paper: Tips for Writing the Academic Paper
By Tan Chee Teik
Undergraduates in higher education are expected to write good academic papers to attain high grades. Researchers who want to disseminate their findings write academic papers for journals. This article looks at the process of writing good papers and offers some tips to assist in gaining acceptance of the paper.
AFTER SPENDING many weeks in doing research for a topic, you want to put the fruit of your work in writing so that your findings can be published and shared with others. Unless your paper is well researched and written, it will be very difficult to get pass the review process.
An academic paper has a clear focus. Don’t be too ambitious, the narrower you make your subject, the easier it will be to write the paper. The paper should have a clear thesis. You must come up with a point of view and not merely echo the views of others. You should show that you have digested the views of other researchers and formed new opinions and interpretations of your own.
Because an academic paper comments on the quantity and quality of sources, you must distinguish between reliable and biased sources of information. You have to select authoritative sources and avoid questionable statistics. As an educated person, we do not simply believe in what we see in print, we should weigh the facts from various sources and decide which source is credible.
Sometimes when we read journal articles, we find that the style used is difficult to read. It is unlike the style we are used to in newspapers and magazines. Some feel that the authors using the academic style of writing merely want to impress the reader with the use of difficult words and phrases.
Not really. The researchers are writing for a very specific audience, a group of highly educated people who prefer to read material written in a formal and complex style. Since they are used to this style of writing, they do not find it difficult to read.
Drafting the Academic Paper
When you have accumulated adequate information, you are ready to write the first draft. Good writers will always keep the specific audience in mind. Are you writing for the teacher alone, other interested parties, or for the general reader? When you know who your reader is, you will be clear about the vocabulary and the style of writing you should use. If the reader is one with experience in the field, then you need not spend time explaining technical words and jargon.
At this stage of writing, you should consider the purpose that will govern the form of your paper.
Decide which kind of writing will suit your purpose:
(a) informative writing (b) analytical writing
(c) argumentative writing, or (d) speculative writing.
An informative paper tries to explain a subject in detail by giving its background or history. It can present a sequence of events, look at causes and effects, or explain a subject’s parts.
In analytical writing, you break your topics into parts and discuss how those parts relate to one another. Readers expect to see the advantages and disadvantages of certain points of view and your interpretation of the different views.
To present an argumentative viewpoint, state your opinion clearly, provide detailed support information, and structure the paper logically. Some writers adopt the speculative style of writing to explore a topic without necessarily taking a stand. At times, the subject resists firm conclusions but is still important and involving.
In the drafting stage, don’t forget to consider the stance you take in the paper, your persona. Persona refers to the way you represent yourself in your writing. Many writers prefer to be in the background, as such, they avoid using the first person pronoun, I. When they have to refer to themselves, they use “this writer” instead. Other writers want to give themselves a big role in the paper so they put themselves as the prima donna of the show.
At this stage you may want to develop a purpose structure by writing a series of statements to spell out your intention in each section of the paper. Next, you may want to develop a tentative thesis that could be modified in the final version.
To help plan your paper, develop a scratch outline that will help to group your research information. It is also a good time to think about the introduction and conclusion.
When writing the draft, it is appropriate to quote from prominent researchers to support your arguments. Some inexperienced writers feel that the more quotations they include in the paper, the better is the research. You are the best judge of how many quotes to use. A good paper is not merely a collection of quotations, it should include primary data and original information derived from surveys conducted by the researcher.
Writing Style: Hedging
In the style of writing, hedging means not making blunt, absolute, or categorical statements. Avoid generalisations, tone down the positiveness of the statements to allow for others to disagree with them, if necessary.
Authors of scientific articles generally write in an impersonal style in order to sound more objective and convincing. They seek to avoid showing their personal attitude to the subject or an overly strong commitment to a particular conclusion. Hedging is one way to accomplish this.
Hedging involves not expressing the truth of a claim too strongly. Too direct and straightforward argumentation may give the impression of overconfidence and this could puzzle some readers.
Here are some techniques for hedging: • Avoid the use of first person pronouns such as “I”, “me”, or “my”. These are normally used by famous or important researchers. Use “we”, “us”, or “our” instead. It implies the inclusion of the author as a co-member of a research team.
• Use of tentative verb forms, for example: Over-positive statement: We propose an objective approach . . . Hedged statement: We would therefore propose an objective approach . . . Over-positive statement: The use of telephone surveys should be rejected. Hedged statement: It is better for the use of telephone surveys to be avoided. Over-positive statement: Different selected ingredients must be added to the mixture.
Hedged statement: It is recommended that different selected ingredients be added to the mixture.
• Use of modal verbs for hedging: All the auxiliary verbs except be, do and have are called modals. Unlike other auxiliary verbs modals only exist in their helping form; they cannot act alone as the main verb in a sentence. Direct sentence: It will be of interest to approach . . . Hedged sentence: It might be of interest to approach . . . Direct sentence: These findings suggest the following interpretation . . . Hedged sentence: These findings would/might/could suggest the following interpretation . . .
• Use of adverbs for hedging: Using certain adverbs of degree and attitudinal adverbs can help to soften what the writer says. They are useful when making generalisations, circumventing giving exact numerical data, or avoiding making a claim for absolute truth. For example:
Looking for examples from other journals, we found a long list but certainly there are more examples.
Revising the Draft
In the draft, you should concentrate on the content of the paper. At the revision stage, you can check the spelling, punctuation, and grammar. You may want to combine paragraphs that are related and move paragraphs to strengthen the arguments.
Study the length of the sentences. There should be a good mix of simple, compound, and complex sentence structures. Check the accuracy of the words used including the adjectives and adverbs. Ask yourself if you can substitute one word with another that is more accurate. Check the accuracy of the statistics. Have you spelt out the abbreviations at first mention? Check the text to ensure that it conforms to the style guide. Proofread your paper more than once. It is best proofed by someone who is not as familiar with
the project as the writer.
If you are not familiar with publication styles, consult The Chicago Manual of Style: The Essential Guide for Writers, Editors, and Publishers (University of Chicago Press). This manual will help the novice writer learn about the intricacies of style including how to prepare manuscripts, tables and charts, how to format notes and bibliographies, and how to prepare citations. This manual is in its 16th edition.
Reviews Researchers who have done good work often want to share their findings with others in an established journal. As the quality of papers accepted for publication is very high, it is often not easy to gain acceptance.
If you want to submit your paper for publication, first identify relevant journals by scouring the libraries and online databases. Read a sample article to find out the housestyle of the publication then make amendments to your manuscript to conform to the housestyle.
Nowadays, most journals expect soft copies of manuscripts. Authors should include an abstract about the contents of the article and a short blurb about themselves and their affiliations. The abstract should be less than 200 words. In the covering E-mail, inform the editor that you are submitting the manuscript for review and possible publication. State that the material is original and unpublished.
The editor will acknowledge receipt of the manuscript and send it for peer review. This may take from one to three months, depending on how busy the reviewers are. When the review is done, the editor may send a list of suggested revisions to be made. If you do not agree to the suggestions and refuse to rewrite, the process ends there and your work will not be published.
If you revise your manuscript according to the suggestions, it will be sent for a second review. The reviewer could be dissatisfied with the work and may suggest further changes. If you are fortunate, and have revised the work well, your paper will be published in a forthcoming issue of the journal.
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