Tuesday, 9 October 2012

how to write a journal article

This is a simple guide on how to do write journal articles.

1. Write what you want to say, from your head. Make sure you do not rant, rail against, or otherwise rhetoricise, polemicise, or exaggerate. Never say "is", always say "seems to be". Never say "I", always say "it seems that". Never make absolute claims unless you're giving mathematical proofs or empirical measurements. Never use "etc". Do not start sentences with abbreviations like "IE" or "Eg". If you mention someone's theory, make sure you read his work and describe his theory accurately. Especially if you're attacking it.  Make sure you don't exceed about 10 pages, since step (3) below will generate probably another 10 pages.

2.a. Break your document up into six sections: (i) The Abstract (the summary, which gives your conclusion and results too). (ii) Introduction (which explains what you're going to discuss). Main body has two parts: (iii) your opponent's point of view, and (iv) someone else's point of view that you agree with. (v) Conclusion: where you say why you prefer the latter point of view. (vi) References or bibliography. If you like, you can make a footnote section at the end of the document, but it's easier to read footnotes on the page where they're relevant. Make sure you give roughly equal space to (iii) and (iv).

2. Count how many pages you have. Read at least that number of journal articles or book chapters on the same topic, within a 10-year range of your current date. A book chapter counts as one journal article. Try ensure you have at least one article from your year. I'd say don't read more than double your number of pages. Do not base your arguments on anything that is refuted in the most recent articles. Make sure that if you read a book on the topic, that you only read a book written by someone who has published in academic journals. Do not cite books written by popular authors, since they usually oversimplify the debate, especially when it's not their field of expertise. Make sure that if you have an opponent, that you read and cite at least two articles that support his view. Ideally half your reading should support your opponent's view.

3. While reading those articles, note the page numbers and article names and authors in a summary document where you (a) either summarise what the author says, if it's a relevant argument you haven't already thought of, OR (b) just note the page where he or she says something you agree with that you've already said in (1) above. E.g. if you're arguing that snails ought to be exterminated, and Smith agrees with you, put something like this: Snails -> exterminate (Smith, 1994: 512). 

4. Repeat step 3 till you've gone through all the articles.

5. Take your summaries and put them into a single document. Put the page number, article dates, author names, etc., in brackets after each summary point, in this format: (Surname, Initial. Date: page number). If you get tired of these brackets, or typing long lists of author names, note the following abbreviations:

• et seq. (for pages that run on and on), so 512 et seq. It means "et sequitur" - and following.

• et al. (for a long list of authors, just give the first one and then put 'et al.'). It means 'et alia', (and others).

• cf. (confer/compare): it means have a look at what so-and-so said in this page/journal, which is similar to what I say here, but not quite the same.

• q.v. (see). Same as compare, effectively. It means go read.

• op. cit. (work already cited.) Same as "I've already told you this, see above".

• ibid. (ibidem, in the same). It means I cited this already as the last citation. You can use ibid as an abbreviation for an author name, an author name and date, or an author name, date, journal or article or chapter, or, even, the entire thing: author name, date, source, page. It refers to the most recently cited quote or citation. If the page is different, you can just put 'ibid., page number'. The trouble with ibid is that when you do step (6) below, the "ibid" will refer to the wrong source, so avoid "ibid" except in the final draft of your article. I'd say avoid it completely, because as soon as you move one sentence from one location to another, the "ibid" no longer refers to the correct citation.

6. Sort the arguments or information in (5) into related topics that belong together, inevitably, mixing the authors up. This is why every sentence must have the author name, article year, and page number, in brackets after it. Put the most closely related claims or arguments together. If two authors make the exact same claim, put the claim or argument as a single sentence, and both author names in brackets, e.g. "Snails ought to be wiped out (Smith, J. 1994: 512, Jones, K. 2001: 123)."

7. Copy and paste from that document into the relevant spots in (1), making sure you put quote marks around each thing you actually quote, and page numbers and author names around anything you cite or quote. Keep copying and pasting until you've copied/pasted everything from the (5) document into the (1) document. If you have a very long quote — i.e. more than two sentences, replace parts of the quote that are repetitive or irrelevant with an ellipsis (...). and where you change a word, put it in square brackets. E.g.:

"Snails ought to be wiped out. They really ought to be eliminated. The sky is blue. Snails are nasty, slimy things that devour one's garden". (Smith, J. 1994: 512).

... change to:

"Snails ought to be wiped out ... [they] are nasty, slimy things that devour one's garden". (Smith, J. 1994: 512).

8. Make a bibliography listing the journal articles you read, in this format: Surname, Initial. (Date). Title. Journal name: Issue or Year, (Volume). Or similar.

9. Proof-read and make sure it flows as a single piece.

That's it, you're done.

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