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Writing Research Papers

Writing Research Papers

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    No matter where you are in your intellectual journey, the ability to assemble and analyze large amounts of complex information is a skill that can pay large dividends both in monetary terms and in terms of your overall satisfaction with life.  What follows is a very short guide and template for writing excellent research papers.

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    Re-Evaluating Road-Crossing: The Chicken Was Pushed

    A Short Guide to Writing a Research Paper

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    Abstract

    The Abstract is usually 100-150 words long.  The abstract tells the reader what you have done and why it is important.  Your abstract tells the reader what you do, how you do it, and what it implies. Here, you’re saying the chicken was pushed, that you demonstrate this statistically or anecdotally, and that it implies we have to re-evaluate our understanding of chicken road-crossings.

    I. Introduction

    The introduction sets the stage for your analysis. You tell the audience what you are doing and why it is important.  An introduction here would say that previous generations of scholars believed that the chicken crossed the road to get to the other side.  Your paper shows that the chicken was pushed.  In the introduction, you give a brief outline of the argument and the evidence used to support it.  As much fun as it is to write long, twisting narratives filled with subtlety and nuance, it is important to remember that a research paper on a technical topic is not a mystery novel.  Your readers are not reading for leisure.  They are reading because they think your ideas are worth considering and factoring into their own research and decisions.

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    II. Literature Review

    The literature review places your research in context.  You aren’t the first person to ask why the chicken crossed the road.  What questions do previous researchers ask?  What questions remain unanswered?  How does your idea fit? In this case, previous scholars have also argued that the turtle crossed the road “to get to the Shell station.”  Is this relevant for your research?  Why or why not?  As tempting as it is, don’t include too much in the literature review.  The literature review is a place to highlight relevant contributions that address the question you are asking and to show how your contribution either fills gaps in our knowledge by answering questions we haven’t answered yet or creates gaps in our knowledge by showing that something we thought we knew is false.  What does the reader take from the literature review?  Is it a sense of the important questions that others have asked and how your research helps answer them?  Or does the reader just come away with the knowledge that you’ve read a lot of stuff?  Revise the latter until it becomes the former.

    III. Theory

    Your theory lays out the logical reasons for why we might believe your hypothesis to be true. It also explains why other hypotheses are unlikely to be true.  Road-crossing is dangerous, and people have never explained what was on the other side that would have made it more attractive to the chicken.  We can’t rule out the hypothesis that the chicken was pushed, and there are a lot of plausible conditions under which this might be the best explanation.

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    IV. Evidence

    Here you report and explain the evidence you will use to verify that the chicken was pushed.  Evidence can be statistical, anecdotal, narrative, or descriptive.  Remember that not all good evidence is statistical, and not all statistical evidence is good. Perhaps you can show that chicken road-crossings are correlated with something, or maybe you find the chicken’s personal papers in which he, in a diary and a series of letters, accuses the cow of pushing him into the road.

    V. Conclusion

    The conclusion summarizes your results and lays out very carefully exactly what needs to be done next. It is likely that your conclusion will be tentative.  However, a well-written conclusion will elucidate the next steps that need to be taken before we can be absolutely certain as to whether the chicken crossed the road of his own volition or whether he was pushed.

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    The Gentle Art of Saying No

    The Gentle Art of Saying No

    No!

    It’s a simple fact that you can never be productive if you take on too many commitments — you simply spread yourself too thin and will not be able to get anything done, at least not well or on time.

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    But requests for your time are coming in all the time — through phone, email, IM or in person. To stay productive, and minimize stress, you have to learn the Gentle Art of Saying No — an art that many people have problems with.

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    What’s so hard about saying no? Well, to start with, it can hurt, anger or disappoint the person you’re saying “no” to, and that’s not usually a fun task. Second, if you hope to work with that person in the future, you’ll want to continue to have a good relationship with that person, and saying “no” in the wrong way can jeopardize that.

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    But it doesn’t have to be difficult or hard on your relationship. Here are the Top 10 tips for learning the Gentle Art of Saying No:

    1. Value your time. Know your commitments, and how valuable your precious time is. Then, when someone asks you to dedicate some of your time to a new commitment, you’ll know that you simply cannot do it. And tell them that: “I just can’t right now … my plate is overloaded as it is.”
    2. Know your priorities. Even if you do have some extra time (which for many of us is rare), is this new commitment really the way you want to spend that time? For myself, I know that more commitments means less time with my wife and kids, who are more important to me than anything.
    3. Practice saying no. Practice makes perfect. Saying “no” as often as you can is a great way to get better at it and more comfortable with saying the word. And sometimes, repeating the word is the only way to get a message through to extremely persistent people. When they keep insisting, just keep saying no. Eventually, they’ll get the message.
    4. Don’t apologize. A common way to start out is “I’m sorry but …” as people think that it sounds more polite. While politeness is important, apologizing just makes it sound weaker. You need to be firm, and unapologetic about guarding your time.
    5. Stop being nice. Again, it’s important to be polite, but being nice by saying yes all the time only hurts you. When you make it easy for people to grab your time (or money), they will continue to do it. But if you erect a wall, they will look for easier targets. Show them that your time is well guarded by being firm and turning down as many requests (that are not on your top priority list) as possible.
    6. Say no to your boss. Sometimes we feel that we have to say yes to our boss — they’re our boss, right? And if we say “no” then we look like we can’t handle the work — at least, that’s the common reasoning. But in fact, it’s the opposite — explain to your boss that by taking on too many commitments, you are weakening your productivity and jeopardizing your existing commitments. If your boss insists that you take on the project, go over your project or task list and ask him/her to re-prioritize, explaining that there’s only so much you can take on at one time.
    7. Pre-empting. It’s often much easier to pre-empt requests than to say “no” to them after the request has been made. If you know that requests are likely to be made, perhaps in a meeting, just say to everyone as soon as you come into the meeting, “Look guys, just to let you know, my week is booked full with some urgent projects and I won’t be able to take on any new requests.”
    8. Get back to you. Instead of providing an answer then and there, it’s often better to tell the person you’ll give their request some thought and get back to them. This will allow you to give it some consideration, and check your commitments and priorities. Then, if you can’t take on the request, simply tell them: “After giving this some thought, and checking my commitments, I won’t be able to accommodate the request at this time.” At least you gave it some consideration.
    9. Maybe later. If this is an option that you’d like to keep open, instead of just shutting the door on the person, it’s often better to just say, “This sounds like an interesting opportunity, but I just don’t have the time at the moment. Perhaps you could check back with me in [give a time frame].” Next time, when they check back with you, you might have some free time on your hands.
    10. It’s not you, it’s me. This classic dating rejection can work in other situations. Don’t be insincere about it, though. Often the person or project is a good one, but it’s just not right for you, at least not at this time. Simply say so — you can compliment the idea, the project, the person, the organization … but say that it’s not the right fit, or it’s not what you’re looking for at this time. Only say this if it’s true — people can sense insincerity.

    Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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