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details in academic writing

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….


tips to make smoother your last 5% writing

tips to make smoother your last 5% writing

the race is with oneself…

Finally, I can talk with facts. After almost a dozen of rejections, today I start to move.   A peer reviewed article “Involvement of non-technical individuals in the design of successful digital games” is finally published. I am moving! Slowly but moving 🙂

I am aware that still I am on my race, because the goal hasn’t been met yet. But I am learning to jump  🙂

Thank you to each one of the persons who are supporting me to improve. Without each one of you I will be lost.

Now to focus, because THE BIG obstacle is next!

obstacle race

CC image, source here

getting serious at work chapter III – writing

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.

TIP_5: Consistence.

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.

life full of contradictions #1 – ICT4D

One of the reasons why this research group called my attention was: they are doing research in what we call developing countries. For those who knows me, it is not a surprised that I was attracted with this idea.

However as I discover more about ICT4D, I realize I am not from the same philosophy.

This is COMPLETE contradictory, I know. Specially because I want to help and actually I am contributing at some level with ICT4D. But I am interesting in the personal growth of any individual.

On Friday  I was briefly in one talk regarding ICT4D. I wonder if anyone on that room read Carlos Fuentes. In one of his books, el espejo enterrado (in english: the buried mirror), Fuentes manage a very special concept: when two cultures meet each other. The encounter of cultures imply the discovering of each other  step by step. Two different worlds are discovering each other, this has sever implications at different levels. I know this type of reflection is not only his,  there are different writers making explicit the reflections of different meanings and interpretations.

In the 30 minutes I was in that room on Friday,  my heart got sad. I just heard how the experts were concern on changing the  “ignorance” of the countries they are working with. Of course that ignorance is in reference to our perspective. As we assume several of their problems and behaviors  must change. In those 30 minutes, I did NOT hear what do we discover in the host cultures that can make us work together. I did NOT hear how the locals define their own problems.  I did NOT hear a we (foreign and locals) at any moment. Much less I hear what the foreign has learned or admired from the “host”  culture.

If I have a guest in my  house and tells me how to furnish it, clean it and even live in it.  I wont get happy and I doubt I will get open to those wise suggestions. Less if I haven’t even ask for those suggestions myself.

I accept I am a western. This is a fact, for “n” reasons, starting from the perspective I born in a BIG metropolis of the western hemisphere. But that does not give me any rights to say that my way of living is the correct one.

I had been a missionary for several years. I had lived in communities that from our “western” eyes are not developed. Where there is literally nothing. I had seen people die, and I had seen people sleeping on the street trying to get warm next to an animal.  No shelter, no food, nothing. However, those communities and those individuals are richer in other aspects than us. What makes us think or believe we are superior?  The money, yeap sure! With all the ongoing natural disasters, we will see how much the money can help us.We are just loosing the point of living.

I wish to  hear one day, from  any leader, how one draws the line between what is your desire of your own growth, my desire for my own growth, and our common growth.  Wondering, when we will work together?

The “solution” we are approaching as “development”, in my humble opinion and in most of the cases, is not taking us anywhere. Because since the first encounter the respect is not existent, we do not consider ourselves equals. That problem is in both ends of the conversation the westerns and the no-westerns. When we accept that both parties are as important as oneself, then perhaps growth will start to flourish.

I admit there are very valuable people in the world of ICT4D. I respect them. It exists good will, and all the good stuff we can think of. But sadly from my eyes we are missing the point and  following some type of  e-colonialism pattern.

To the time!. Maybe I am mistaken, maybe we will change the approach….in anycase,right now I must finalize  my thesis.

Recommended book to read!

some of my PhD truths: there is more world than words.

1. I LOVE what I do.

Since I was a child my dream has been to create life. My childhood is full of  designing, creating and learning stuff constantly. It puts me in “flow” to do those things.

2. Thinking is challenging.

As more I have to think, as more I understand why the majority of humans avoid doing it.

3. Writing is not easy.

I found writing especially painful because I do not have the proper basic skills. However, I will not quit. I know I am not going to be Shakespeare because writing is not in my system. I just want the basic skills to finish my PhD. Hence, now I am in the process of unlearning and learning. Perseverance!!! As Winston Churchill said: “Never give in. Never give in. Never, Never, Never.”

Ok, I am also asking for a miracle, otherwise I will die in the process to be honest.

3. The PhD process has helped me to discover myself.

To learn to focus is VERY HARD. I think is challenging for any PhD student. But, I think it is a relevant process that contributes to a self-discovery too.

4. I am thankful when referees of my work give constructive comments.

Constructive comments, promotes healthy growth. Thanks to one of my referees, I got to know Nigel Cross. After I read one of his books, a big smile emerged. Today I can articulate one of my strengths: I am good in design.

My supervisor, Erkki, told me about my strength earlier. But I was not able to understand him. Perhaps, I was not ready to understand. Honestly and as surprisingly as it might sound, it has taken me decades to realize that I like to design, and that I am good at it. Anyway, better later than never 😉

Now I can identify with other designers. Yes, I think on paper as they do. I specially identify with this quote:

“The way designer work may be inexplicable, no for some romantic or mystical reason, but simply because these processes lie outside the bounds of verbal discourse: they are literally indescribable in linguistic terms.”

I FULLY AGREE!!!!  One sketch can say much more than a whole book. There are experiences that cannot be put in word, one must only live them.

I see solutions, and I work in a cyclic process of discovery solution-challenges. For me things are not linear, are cyclic and dimensional, and bunch of other stuff which I cannot articulate.

Actually, even philosophers such as Burke had already expressed how words put limits. This quote of him gets in my heart:

“Even if a given terminology is a reflection of reality, by its very nature as a terminology it must be a selection of reality; and to this extent it must function also as a deflection of reality”.

Yes, I admire anyone who has the gift of the words. But let’s be honest, different types of intelligence exist. I guess at some point science will have to contemplate other ways to show scientific contribution besides just using the words. Ok, I know it will not happen in my time, thus I have to succeed within the traditional school. But I hope time will come and things will evolve.

To finalize a video of a talented friend, Franci Cronje, which I think it matches this post. She has another perspective, but it also gives food for the though.