Academic writing follow-up post 3

Thank you for pointing out that Sword’s advice is only a “diagnosis”. Like any tool, especially computer generated ones, authors themselves must weigh their advantages with the disadvantages. At the end of the day, the responsibility for the text falls on the author alone, not on any automated or human help that was available to them.

This extends to feedback on articles by reviewers. I had a piece published in April. That was a journey I’d like to briefly share here. The two blind reviewers very quickly picked up on my amateur knowledge of Rasch analysis (not a problem as the article was a narrative-like account of how I transitioned from Excel-based classical test analysis to Rasch). I treated their feedback on the technical points like gold, but both also offered many nuggets of advice on writing style. Murray and Moore (2006) emphasise the need to analyse target journals’ writing style, something I had neglected to do before sending off my draft to this particular one. Nevertheless that analysis came in the form of feedback, most of which I subsequently adopted. My 15-page draft was returned with four pages of feedback (two pages of detailed notes by each reviewer)! Of all writing experiences in my life, this was the best training ever.

I suppose I was lucky. Robson, Pitt and West (2015) indicate that the writing style in a draft manuscript is a primary cause of rejection or being sent back to the author for significant revision. The journal used a single-blind review process, i.e. the reviewers knew my name but I didn’t know theirs (Wendler & Miller, 2014). The chances of the reviewers actually knowing who I was was high as the journal is Japan based. This, I suspect, worked in my favour.

If we are to improve our academic writing, and I mean this seriously, perhaps a peer-support group in which we seriously and rigorously critique each other’s writing would be a good step to take. We need to provide feedback in our learning team activities, but that is highly hit-and-miss.

I made the point in an earlier post about editorialising, that is the addition of a writer’s opinion while referencing another. I believe that we have an ethical duty to reference without bias to the meaning of the original. Should we wish to comment on that original, the distinction between the two needs to be crystal clear. You wrote, “I agree with you that readers generally look for texts written in a particular manner”; I don’t think that I wrote this. If my original was unclear, I apologise, but the original I think you had in mind was, “Readers approach articles according to their needs: scan for information, find relevant literature, read only the introduction and conclusion, and so on.” In other words to rephrase your statement, readers generally look at texts in ways that support their needs for that text. And this is central to my main argument this week: nothing in Sword will help discern the difference between these two sentences, yet this distinction is critical.

On a lighter note, this week’s PhDComics is perhaps the best reference I could hope for.

phd092815s

Jim

Murray, R., & Moore, S. (2006). The Handbook of Academic Writing. Maidenhead: Open University Press.

Robson, K., Pitt, L., & West, D. C. (2015). Lessons Navigating the Peer-Review Process: Reviewers’ Suggestions for a Manuscript. Journal of Advertising Research, 9–17.

Wendler, D., & Miller, F. (2014). The ethics of peer review in bioethics. Journal of Medical Ethics, 40, 697–701. http://doi.org/10.1136/medethics-2013-101364

About theCaledonian

Scot living in north Japan teaching at a national university.
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