Academic/Scientific Writing Tips – Series 1

 The most important thing in academic and scientific writing is the clarity in the content.  It is surely advisable to keep the language simple and not decorative in academic writing. The stress should be more on making sure that the concept and idea is clear. This can be done by keeping the sentences short and simple. In addition to that, when complicated sentences are there then greater chances of makings make mistakes.  If you decide to depend upon the online translation software, there are good chances that there may be grammatical errors.

If you look at the content from the perspective of the editor and reviewers,   you would know that they always prefer short and clear sentences, in contrast to the lengthy and complicated ones. But the important thing to keep in mind here is that academic writing is all about formal writing. Even though the preferred choice of sentences is short, they need to in a formal tone, necessarily. The more academic literature that you read, better will be your style of writing, for sure.

Correct usage of words is also very important when one talks of formal writing as it enriches and polishes the style of writing and the sentence structure to a great extent. Often, writers are unaware of the minute difference in the meaning of the words and their correct application. Some of the words with subtle differences are discussed here, for you to understand the usage of words better for more effective Academic/Scientific writing.

Distinction in the use of About and Approximately: We usually use the term “About” when we are not sure about the exact figure. The terms approximate is closer to accuracy, in comparison.  Though a lot of writers use these two terms interchangeably, they cannot be used like that. There is a small and precise difference in their use and that is how it is to be understood.  Usually with numbers that has not been rounded off to the closest ten is the one that is nearer to being accurate. Keeping that in mind, it is important to ensure that when quoting figures, the term about be used when the rounding off has been done and the given number is not very near to accuracy. However, when the estimated figure is precise and almost near to accuracy, it is always advised to use approximately.

Distinction in the use of About and Around: Here the difference is comparatively more clear as compared to the previous one. Again a lot of academic writers use these two terms as synonyms. This won’t be literally wrong to do so. It is acceptable to use them interchangeably. But the very clear difference between both is the preference of the reader. For the British reader, About is a better term and for the American reader, Around is more suitable and acceptable.

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The lures of a PhD Programme may not be as they Appear

A lot of students are lured into a Ph.D. programme, and most of them have some common reasons to do so. They all believe that the field is very lucrative, and it offers a whole lot of opportunities, both within as well as outside of the academia. Students keen on becoming research scholars, see a lot of placed people getting a six figure salary after completing their doctoral degree. That definitely becomes very tempting.

But there is more to the story that is not on the surface, and goes unnoticed by the aspiring scholars. It takes about four to six years to get a Ph.D. degree. It really isn’t necessary that the employment scenario and opportunities would remain the same as now, after a span of five years. Like how every product and service has a definite life cycle, so would the demand for academic doctors. You may be entering a saturated market after a span of five years, and may find a lot of difficulty getting the right kind of job that made you choose the journey in the first place.

Sometimes those scholars who drop out of a Ph.D. programme half way through, get wonderful job opportunities, and get more time to earn money, and go on an upscale journey of success. The bottom line to understand here is that one should not decide to get into the course looking at the present scenario. It may be, rather would be a changed scenario in five years’ time.

If you have so decided to get into a Ph.D. never do it for a wrong reason. If one of these are your reasons, you must rethink if you want to do your Ph.D. or no:

To impress you folks: If you feel that by earning a Ph.D. degree you would be able to impress your folks. Yes, you would be, but it would not be worth the kind of effort it requires. It is a lot of hard work, time spent, and money used that this wouldn’t be a lasting enough motivation to keep your driving force going on for five years.

To earn a lot of money: If you already are established in the industry or are a consultant, getting a Ph.D. would add figures to your pay package. It is tedious, time consuming, and at the same time very demanding without actually ensuring any monetary benefit.
So, what is your calling?

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Get persuasive writing in your thesis

It will be a dream come true for any researcher to see his guide engrossed in his thesis. What if the rationale of your thesis is so convincing that the readers understand, and agree with your view point? This would be amazing for any researcher, certainly!

 How do you do that? You need to be able to write persuasively, as the first thing. Being convincing in your writing is an art because to be able to create a win-win situation involves the application of logic, and reasoning. You can learn to be able to write in a more swaying manner by having a critical perspective towards what you write.

 The reader can be attracted towards any write up, by working on three aspects. These have been understood, and absorbed by scholars, and academicians since times immemorial.

Rationale: The logic put across in the writing should appeal to the reader, and the rationale should be justified

Sentiment: The write up should stir up an emotion within the reader so that he is driven towards content more intellectually

Trust: the content should be aligned with the beliefs, and values of the reader so that he develops trust in the writer

As a scholar, when you write, you attempt to create an influential content, there are certain points that need to be followed necessarily:

  1. Clear all doubts: The thesis should be written with an intention to clear all doubts, and to not create any. For every statement that can stir up doubt, there should be a corresponding evidence by the author. Readers would agree to logics, and rationale, and comply to requests , when they are given reasons and their doubts are all clarified
  2. Stay focussed to the point: When writing, one should be totally clear about the points related to the topic. From the beginning of the content, till the end, there should be emphasis on the topic, and nothing else
  3. Bring up all perspectives: An argument would have many perspectives. One must not let the contrast viewpoint rest on the reader’s imagination. All aspects should be included, and covered within the content to create a convincing document
  4. Forecast with conviction: The most effective way to earn the faith of the reader is to give the reader some sight into the future, and do that with support of proof and assertions mined from the subject matter.
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What are the right ways to deal with PhD stress?

The thought of Ph.D. in itself brings a lot of emotional stress that one has to go through. It is more intense in the completion stage when one has to do the defense. It is surely not a good idea to ignore Ph.D. stress.

One common trait amongst all people who get a Ph.D. is perseverance. You must know how to build your level of determination and skill to deal with stress to graduate successfully.  As a Ph.D. scholar you may have experienced one or a combination of these traits at least once during your Ph.D. tenure:

  1. Recurring doubt on your ability to work hard
  2. Feeling overwhelmed with the workload
  3. Sense that you are not exploiting your correct potential
  4. Helplessness in not being able to concentrate
  5. Lack of control over what is happening in life
  6. Finding easy things also challenging
  7. Persistent anxiety of failure

Firstly, these feelings are very normal. Get acceptance of that. Without these feelings the experience of the Ph.D. wouldn’t be the experience it should be. So, though the emotions and experiences of doing a Ph.D. may be generalized for all, to an extent but the way in which each scholar deals with  the stress that it brings is entirely individualistic. Many of the scholars may handle the negativity and stress in a different way, and one fact behind it would be the reason to start, endure and finish the Ph.D. may be different for each one.  It is certain that when you face these signs, you must not ignore the depression and anxiety symptoms as they can proceed to become something very grave. Never shy away to ask for advice and help from a counselor, family or any of your friends you think could help.

 You must keep this constant thought in your mind that once you have crossed the defense stage all these negative thoughts and feelings would also fade away and become something from the past. It may be difficult but important to remind yourself that it is temporary phase and won’t stay forever.

Visualize that two decades from the completion of your Ph.D., you will be going back into retrospect with the positivity of having crossed a challenging phase of your life with your perseverance and will power. You would have moved on from the negativity and the feelings of frustration, stress and anxiety thought, at the moment it would look like forever.  Now when you face the Ph.D. pressure, tell yourself that, “Nothing Lasts Forever”.

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Analysis of Data: A fairly straight forward job

When you reach towards the data analysis stage, by that time you already have crossed the most difficult and challenging stages. In the research methodology chapter itself, defining of the research problem, developing a sampling plan, conceptualisation and designing of the structure are fundamental, as well as puzzling. In comparison to this, data analysis is a fairly straightforward task.

The task of data analysis is made up of three main stages, respectively

  1. Data cleaning and preparation
  2. Descriptive analysis of data
  3. Hypotheses testing and models
  1. Data Cleaning and Preparation: This stage involves the verification of the data for accuracy, cleaning out the data that is redundant, feeding the data in the computer, data transformation and creating a database that integrates the different measures together.
  1. Descriptive analysis of data: This is the mandatory stage of any study, like the previous one. Whatever are the objectives and hypotheses of your study, descriptive statistics is done to bring out the basic features of the study. Thus, it becomes the pre requisite for almost all studies that require a quantitative analysis of data. Through this, you can bring out the graphical analysis, which is a comprehensive description of the data. In the preliminary stage, descriptive statistics can be voluminous, but the researcher has to tactfully select and organise them into summary tables and graphs, bringing out only the most relevant information.
  1. Hypotheses testing and models: This is the third stage of data analysis and this is the investigating stage. It does so, for questions, models or the hypotheses of the study. The scope of this stage is much more than the previous stage of descriptive statistics. In descriptive statistics, we only bring out the facts that are existing in our collected data. We don’t go beyond that. While, in the case of hypotheses testing and models, on the basis of the collected data, we try to make judgements about the general population. This stage is also called as inferential statistics as it helps to infer from the sample about what the population thinks or believes in.

Make sure, when you present your analysis, you don’t overload the reader with lots of information. You may attach the extensive analysis in the appendices and present only the critical analysis summary in the report, which is linked to your objectives and hypotheses of the study. A comprehensive but complete analysis is important and significant to a report.

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How to give feedback for a Research Paper?

There will be times when you would be working on combined research papers or co-authoring with other researchers. These may be one of the situations, when you will be expected to give your feedback to others from time to time. Of course, when you have to do that task, you want your feedback to be just but at the same time be affirming and not humiliating. In addition, it has to be helpfully critical and not crushingly negative.

You need to consider a few points. Let us discuss ways in which you can organise your thoughts better and they are helpful for different stages, when you are creating your feedback.

To begin with, firstly, sum up the main argument of the paper in your own words. When the author gets to know your version of the same, he is able to get a 360 degree viewpoint where interpretation can be matched with the intention. Next thing you need to do is to tell the author about what good he has done to the manuscript by identifying the strengths of the document. Do not forget to include in your feedback, the various pointers that would incline the readers towards this manuscript. It can surely be a good checklist for them.

After having covered the positive aspects of the paper, you can move to the negative areas of the document, where you think the author has the scope to improvise in context of the quality of the document, formatting, grammar et al. Firstly, see the rationale of the paper. Is the author providing a convincing rationale for the document whereby they have emphasised on what they are going to do in the document? Has he presented the significance of the paper, highlighting the novel contribution it would be making in the academia?

After having seen the literature and the justification of the literature, your feedback should necessarily include a thorough review of the research design. It should be explained clearly with sufficient detailing. Give your suggestions for improvement where you think there is necessity and possibility. The paper has to be well structured and the subheads should be connected in a flow. Wherever you feel there is an abrupt change in the flow, you must include your feedback with suggestions on how better flow can be achieved.

Within all these broader evaluation criteria, look for headings, subheading, conclusion, suggestions and recommendations and scope for further research. A powerful start should also have a powerful ending.

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For research that is fundamental, why is funding difficult?

Getting funds approved for your research is not an easy task.   It has never been seen that money has been allocated for research on relaxed terms.  The perception is that, for each and every research, the opportunity cost of another project is associated. The review committee or the decision makers got to be very careful and meticulous in deciding that which project to approve as the target is to minimise the opportunity cost and it should be justifiable.

There was a time when most of the funding came from the government sector, and it was at that time much simpler to get funding for basic research projects. There was not a very stringent performance criteria and hence there were not any challenges in getting funds approved for the purpose of basic research, but the situation has not remained the same.  There is a role of corporate funding much more than that of federal funding. It is certainly more performance oriented and seeks results against investments because the corporate wouldn’t work on a non-profit motive. The perspective of the corporate remains that there is altogether a different opportunity cost associated with the funding of research models. The money that gets invested in research projects is expected to bring return on investment (ROI). The corporates analyst thoroughly and technically that if this ROI appears less than the ROI of the same amount invested elsewhere, they wouldn’t want to go ahead with the project.  In this scenario, if you have a basic research proposal, do not expect that it would get funding readily. Only if it appears to be a lucrative initiative can you expect some results to come out.

However this isn’t the best of the situation for basic research, and it surely does not undermine the importance that basic research carries though it categorically doesn’t appear so. It is a fact that all the applied research gets it foundation and base from the preliminary research on the topic or what we call as simple research. Rather, it has become a matter of serious debate that since more and more funding is getting diversified towards applied research, almost all of basic research existing data is exhausting. Because of this, the practical result outcome has thinned down too because they don’t have a strong conceptual base to fall back upon.

We need a strong and sturdy corporate model or perhaps better funding from government agencies for elementary research projects, else, the future for the fundamental research sadly but truly appears bleak.

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Academic stress in inevitable: How to cope with it?

First of all, let us try and understand what exactly does stress mean? Stress in simple terminology is a state of mental and emotional strain that is the outcome if circumstances that are challenging or adverse. It is quite natural and expected to encounter stress when we come across a situation that was not a part of our routine.  There are tricks and techniques to deal with stress effectively. The most effective   means to manage stress is the one that comes from a better understanding of self, our expectations from self and the kind of problem we are stuck in. you can surely reduce your stress levels if you know how to manage your life better. Here are some ways:

 Know your stressors:  The most important way to deal with stress is to familiarise yourself to the situation that caused the stress. You must know the reason for your stress. It is possible that sometimes the cause of your stress may be internal like your own expectations and sometimes even the environment could be responsible for the stress. In the case of academia, some of the most common sources of stress are high expectations from self, the habit of delaying work, or what we call as procrastination, the pressure or choice to do many things simultaneously and the lack of understanding or communication with supervisor, peer or others. The moment you diagnose the cause of your stress, t you are on the path of problem solving. You are not in   problem anymore.

Do not mix your professional life with your personal life: imbalance in one life can affect and cause imbalance in another aspect of life. It is better to keep them distinct and as much as possible unaffected from each other. Keep your research work after your stipulated work hours every day and your problems at work should not bother you in your free time.

Have your priorities in place:  you must always know what is of prime importance   for you. This may require that every day you devote some time in deciding the key important tasks of the day according to their importance. This level of micro planning will keep away stressful pressures from building in your life because of the problem of procrastination.

Value what you achieve:  you must have a positive perspective to your own hard work and effort. Every small little thing that you achieve, you must appreciate yourself for it. Remember that the smallest of efforts and achievements lead to the greatest of success. Your own appreciation of self is important in keeping your morale high.

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You need a critical perspective to read for academics

We all read since our childhood, for different reasons. Primarily the reasons for reading in the formative years is exams or leisure. However, at doctoral level you are required to read a lot but not the way you have been reading all the previous while. It is challenging because it requires you   to train yourself for critical reading perspective which is not just stressful and painstaking but also very time consuming.

 Academic reading calls for so much more from the reader as compared to the other types of reading, especially when it is full of technical terminology. Reading with an academic objective is to enhance knowledge and in-depth understanding of the topic you are studying. The m ore the involvement in reading, better the understanding of the topic and hence the researcher is more equipped to present ideas through the process of writing.

When you sit down to read for academic purpose, especially when you are a researcher, you are required to be an active reader and that is the first thing. You may be curious, as in how is an active reader different from a passive reader. Well, an active reader needs to be considerable engaged with the text he is reader and has to have a critical opinion. Do you know who is a critical reader? A critical reader is someone who can dare to challenge what the author has presented and has questions to ask and clarifications to seek the moment he picks up any material to read. He should have that inquisitive perspective to find out what the writer wants to say.

It isn’t necessary always that the reader would give an apparent message in the content. Sometimes the message his hidden and needs to be extracted out by the author and it is only through the process of questioning and argument that the reader will be able to cull out precisely what the writer wants to say.

In addition to that, when you read critically, you would be able to understand which part of the text is more useful and needs more probing and which part appears redundant and can be discarded. It would not happen with just mere reading and no reflection on the quality and depth of the content.

Researchers must always remember that reading is an integral part of the learning process and it would only be beneficial if it happens in an active environment where the reader has been involved actively. The best type of reading is the one where the reader has not just made complete sense out of the text but also identified in which way can he make the best use of the text he has read.

So, happy and successful critical reading to all researchers.

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The relationship between a supervisor and a scholar: Balancing is the key

It is a crucial relationship because on its shoulders rests the success and other accomplishments that relate to your PhD. The relationship, like all other relationships is based on some mutual expectations from both the supervisor as well as the   scholar. You must know how to keep up the balance. There are some set of expectations that invariably each can have from the other.

You have the right to some basic expectations from your supervisor. They are:

  1. A detailed reading of the work that you have submitted to  him, as a scholar
  2. Timely and constructive feedback of the submitted work
  3. A strong willingness to give you a patient ear
  4. Get involved with you on an intellectual platform
  5. Address and help you in times of administrative help required within the university, more so where your role is expected.

As a mature scholar it is your responsibility and a wise move to clear out your expectations with your scholar in the beginning itself. There are ways in which you can do this subtly and in a refined manner by sending prompts and gentle reminders to your supervisor about what you expect from them. They should understand and respond positively to your expectations. Sometimes supervisors respond better when you address them informally and some may prefer a more formal and less interactive relationship. After you understand the temperament of your supervisor, you must go ahead with an approach to put forward your expectations to your supervisor.

Like how you have a set of expectations from your supervisor, you supervisor also would have some unsaid expectations that he would believe you are bound to live up to being a scholar. Some fundamental expectations of a supervisor can be:

  1. Stick to appointments and time schedule
  2. Have constructive arguments with your supervisor, broad minded supervisors do not mind their scholars disagreeing with them.
  3. Do not be afraid of your supervisor. Have queries and ask questions for what you don’t understand
  4. Do not overburden them with unnecessary work and tasks that you can take care of single handed
  5. Do not goof up on the administrative front and show careless or irresponsible attitude

 

By and large, if you want this relationship to be successful and worthy, as a scholar you would have to take the move and initiative wherever necessary. You got to broad minded and not expecting beyond professional commitment from the supervisor. Whatever you get more than that is bonus for you, remember that and invest in nurturing this relationship for the sake of the success of your PhD.

 

 

 

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