In Mach, while giving the game design course, I was a student too of a Paper Reviewing Workshop organized by some active members of TEL.
The workshop was very good. I can report that I learn. Also it called my attention that we were active during the course despite that all the participants were spread all over the world. Yes, the workshop was on-line.
Screenshot of one of my sessions at the peer review workshop
Let me clarify, in the past I reviewed some conference papers, however I felt something was missing in my reviews.
I admit that one is constantly learning about one’s area of expertise while doing research. One can offer constructive criticism towards one’s work and the work of others when we write together. Additionally, one can be critical reader of colleagues’ work before they submit their manuscript, so one is somehow a pre-reviewer. Finally, I have learned A LOT from the feedback of those reviewers who had examine my work, despite to be painful to read sometimes.
So, what can one learn from a workshop about peer review process?
In my case, to make explicit what we know or assume tacitly. The process is the learning experience in itself, to share with others and to hear the advices from experts in this specific topic is priceless.
Last week I review some papers, and I sense that my confidence level as a reviewer has increased after the workshop. Consequently, I assumed that my performance a reviewer has improved too. There is also space for improvement, specially with practice. But I want to thank the organizers of the workshop! as well as the expositors and colleges with whom I discussed.
To close this post, I share a presentation from Marco Kalz which I honestly like and might be useful for others as well.
Questions are fundamental for comprehend a phenomena or a situation. Questions help us to think. To make the proper questions is not easy. For me, the question experts are 3 years old, who are passionately discovering and researching our world, learning from it. However, due to different reasons, which I will not reflect upon right now, our capability to make questions is greatly diminished.
Once in grad-school, I heard that a fundamental characteristic in research is to make questions. I see it as re-connecting with my 3 years old me, but surrounded by considerable more information.
Now, I assume that a difference between a 3-years old (I am fan of them) and an ‘adult’ should be to promote a critical question process. A process involving reflection and thinking. Perhaps, making questions might be more difficult than to find the answers, however enriching.
Questions help to think. Thinking is fun, as it is time demanding and energy taking. 🙂
Now a cartoon, which matches my mini-reflection of today. If someone who does not read Spanish read this post, the translation of the cartoon is bellow.
Up-left: Intelligent buildings Up-middle:Intelligent mobile phones Up-right: Intelligent autos Down-left: Intelligent appliances Down-middle: I say…. Wouldn’t be better to invest more in education…. Down-left: …. and have more intelligent people?
Prof. Dr. Thomas Breyer-Mayländer told me once (he was my second supervisor for my masters): the last 5 to 10% of a project can take as much time/effort than the previous 90 to 95%. In each project that I have been involved, since I heard this comment, I remember his wise words. The last fine DETAILS make the difference on a final product, and those are time demanding. Never sub-estimate the last 5-10% of your work with the fine details.
Academic writing is not an exception from the 5-10% rule. Perhaps due to my lack of experience, and therefore of understanding, but the last 5% of my articles have been really time demanding (and a lot of work). I hope to improve with the time, specially because I notice that I can start working with that last 5% in earlier phases of the writing. If I start early then, I hope, the last 5% should be smoother.
Thus, this post is to make explicit what I have learn about making smoother the last 5% on academic writing. Maybe most of the people know about these “tips”, but maybe some others – like me – might benefit to hear these three advices due to lack of experience.
Ah! if I am loosing any tip and someone with more experience read this post, please do not hesitate to suggest! 🙂 we are always learning.
Tip 1:Wherever you will submit your paper, read the style guidelines from the first day you will start writing.
If you read the style guidelines at the beginning of your writing and you start using the style format at the beginning too, then you do not need to do so much FIXING later. Some conferences and journals have inclusive templates with their styles, use them since day zero.
However, some conferences and journals do not have those templates, but they will offer guidelines or check lists that explain how your article should look like. Read them, and decide how to apply those guidelines since early phases on your writing.
Tip 2: Reflect upon references and learn to fully use your tool that handles your references.
Once Justus told us, get your Manual of APA. But I did not listen. Oh that was one mistake I did !
Everybody should look the reference writing manual every now and then (ideally to have it), if one wants to be professional in citing. I refer to APA guidelines, because so far is the type of citing that I had used the most. But in any case, check the citing type for your document as early as possible.
To read the citing manual in combination with your tool for handling your references will save you A LOT of time.
Let me explain, I use Zotero, I am very happy with it, but I need to know which fields I need to fill when uploading my reference. Yes, I know Zotero uploads references automatically, but there are fields which must be filled by hand depending the original source. In earlier times I was not careful enough, then with the author, title, and those stuff was good, I though.
Oh surprise! The citing manual (in this case APA) tells you what info you need for a proper citing, and this info must be in the system. Specially if you are using books from other languages, thesis, translations and different material. Inclusive check the books because to upload the data from amazon is not enough!. You must know where your book was published (the state, country) not only the editorial.
Remember you are the boss of your tool (in this case Zotero), no the other way around, then check that it works properly for your advantage.
Tip 3: Quotes
Please since the first time you type a quote, keep the page number of the quote!!!!!
Zotero supports you on register the page number. I assume other software too. Consequently, you must learn to use your software that handles your references, as most probably, it addresses the most common references’ patters: keep page number, references with and without author, etc, etc….
It is evident my whining about focus and writing. The only way to stop complaining is to overcome it. Honestly, anyone that wants to overcome a self-problem requires A LOT of desire, conviction, effort, discipline, and a strategy. My writing improvement strategy involves reading, listening to others and writing. There are A LOT of books supporting how to improve writing. The craft of research is one of my favorites. Listening others is very valuable at different levels. Writing is key.
From my rejected papers, Roman asked me in this post what I had learned from my referees’ feedback. Honestly, even that I categorized the feedback at that time, there were only words, which I could share or write in this blog, but I couldn’t feel nor understand them. I have no idea how other humans evolve, but I need time to comprehend a message, a situation, an experience.
Some months later, I am able to share some tips from this writing_learning_process:
TIP_1: Keep things simple.
Simplicity is a common advice that I get from my readers (e.g. referees, supervisors) and by reading books about writing. To understand this advice is another story. My actual interpretation and experience is: I can keep things simple only when I understand them clearly.
When I am able to write or express a whole idea in one sentence. At that moment I can claim that my idea is concrete, then I can write it in a simple way. If I can’t write an idea in one sentence, then it is a draft idea, which means it must be polished; I need to think still on the idea.
I am developing a process on how to clarify my own ideas, but that will be another post.
TIP_2: Define your terms.
I haven’t seen this advice in a book. But while working with senior researchers, and specially with my supervisors, I hear constantly: be clear in your definitions.
I must define all the terms I will use in my manuscript at the beginning. In addition, I should use those terms along the paper consistently.
Warning! One must define terms, in a simple manner. Hence, one must have a clear understanding of them. (read tip 1)
TIP_3: No waste words – use them all
If you write something, use it. Otherwise, do not write it.
In other words, if you are defining a concept, implies that the concept is used in the paper. If you do not use it, then do not write it; it turns redundant.
TIP_4: Be generous with others
Several books refer to this tip as promote a conversation. In the last days, I had the opportunity to listen Tim and Clint, and they have highlighted this tip: references make a paper stronger.
A scientific paper should supports an argument; the paper is a contribution to the world’s knowledge. If an argument is a discussion in which disagreement is expressed; meaning it is a debate; then more opinions should be present in the paper. Research papers are not dictatorships.
The paper must stimulate our thinking through a flow of arguments. It is actually a beauty.
Consistence is another noun easy to pronounce and hard to grasp. The way I am working towards reach consistency is as follow:
Have a clear research question on the paper. I wrote this in the header and I keep it present as long as I am working with the document.
Build an interesting argument. I promote this by inviting different experts to join my paper, I quote them.
I assure myself that the defined terms are constantly present in the paper supporting the argument.
Have a clear evidence to support the answer of the paper’s question
The beginning and ending of the document must be related and complementary.
At this moment, the mentioned five tips are so far my digested outcomes from referees comments with support of others who had helped me to understand. Honestly, the five tips have helped me to focus. The day I succeed with my writing, then some of these tips might be transformed to rules. But meanwhile I hope they are useful for someone, and leave a comment if there is something that I am missing or it can be improved.
Escher hands – My view on them is: we are improving ourselves constantly.
If one wants to be a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) two things must be present in the basic foundations of this path, according to my actual perspective. Both of this elements I am learning them in a very hard way, as I was clueless about them and no-one guide me about them. Those two essentials research basics are: Research philosophy and Publication-Ethics. Both are equally important.
First element: Research Philosophy
Seldom one hears/reads researchers’ awareness about this. Actually, even I wonder how many PhD students have re-read at least partially some of the research classics lectures (Plato, Socrates, etc.). In this University, where several PhD students are enroll. It is not only if one reads classics or not, the whole research should be anchor in some philosophy, why are we doing what we are doing? and/or so what? This is as important as clear and focus research questions, which by the way are related.
(Photo: Location of the philosophical classics at our University. A VERY hidden and secure place in some corner at the library)
Second element: Publication-Ethics
My ignorance in this topic and the lack of guidance I have and had, made me done ethical mistakes. I am learning slowly and in a hard-painful way not only for me, but also for people that I respect and I work with.
One should be very clear of one’s research, one’s responsibilities and obligations as researcher and of the well establish ethics of the research community. Each publication that one does it is not a superficial outcome to add in a CV, as sometimes a system wants us to believe, or as I though it was.
Each paper involves much work, reflection, knowledge, time, values, that it is a concrete outcome of how we are growing as researchers within a research community. Each publication must be in harmony with several dimensions (personal, team, university, community, etc.). Authorship, contributions, ideas, how the paper is written, the integrity of the document, etc. all these has a weight.
From my perspective, any researcher should understand these two basic elements and promote them to truly support the grow of knowledge of everybody. I am learning this, as other things. I am not an expert yet but today I want to make public that I know the relevance of this facts, and I subscribe to improve this practice.
Photos: old articles, old books, old thoughs… maybe we should reflect that what is old is actually our basics before we forget them completely….
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