Wednesday, 10 October 2012

no, you're not entitled to your opinion

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 Do not cite books written by popular authors, since they usually oversimplify the debate, especially when it's not their field of expertise.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.

Monday, 8 October 2012

what freedom is

My first 'epiphany' on this debate was that what we call 'freedom' is that set of determinants/forces with which we're comfortable.

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Academic terminology



Conference, congress, colloquium, symposium — a gathering of persons to discuss academic concepts. Larger conferences tend to be called ‘congresses’, smaller ones ‘symposia’. Note the spelling of the plural. If a conference has mini-conferences inside it, those are called symposia. Symposia comes from Greek meaning “to sit together”. Colloquium comes from Latin, meaning “to talk together”. Conference and congress are Latin as well, meaning To bring together, and To travel/go together.


Abstract — a summary of a piece of academic work. It appears at the beginning of a piece of academic work and summarises the research question, and the answer that the work gives. It is marked with the word “Abstract” at the beginning of the paper. It also often has key words listed below it that summarise the work or the topic.


Poster — a piece of academic work summarised on a large piece of cardboard. It is presented at a conference by the person standing next to a large poster board with their poster pinned up, in a hall, and they wait for people to come up to them and talk to them. One way of thinking of this is as a random opportunity to meet someone who is an expert on a particular area of research. A poster is typically displayed for a limited time on a particular day of the conference. An “electronic poster” is when the person keeps their poster electronically on a computer and presents it electronically (i.e. not printed) — but in the same public space, e.g. a hall.


Paper — an essay, usually 10-20 pages long, which starts with an abstract, and examines a research question. It usually has an introduction, a main body, in which contrasting ideas are debated, and a conclusion, which usually selects one of the contrasting ideas as the more likely to be correct. A person presenting a paper at a conference will usually have a PowerPoint series of slides that they will talk about in front of a usually small audience of up to about 100 people at most, but sometimes as few as 1-2 people. This is usually done in a closed room, reserved for the paper in a certain time slot on a certain day.


Symposium, Panel — a mini-conference inside a conference, most often, consisting of a panel of experts who sit around and present their papers in turn. The audience, who do not sit around the table, get to listen to their discussion. A symposium is brought together by a ‘convenor’, who often presents the first paper. The symposium is summed up at the end by the ‘discussant’.


Plenary — a session or presentation given by an important or famous researcher, usually attended by everyone in the conference. From Latin for “Complete” or “full”, related to the word “plenty”. A plenary is the same as a paper presentation except for the audience size.


Session — a type of presentation, most often a synonym for a panel or symposium. If a session has only one presenter, that’s a paper session. If the session has a person showing a poster, that’s a poster session. If it’s a group of people, that’s a panel session or a symposium session.


Discipline, Research Area — an area of study with specific methods, pre-commitments, and specific foci or areas that it focuses on. A limited area of study. More popular areas of study tend to be broken down into more sub-disciplines or research areas. So for example Physics contains research areas such as quantum mechanics, fluid dynamics, Newtonian mechanics, thermodynamics, astrophysics, nuclear physics, etc.


Chair — the head of a subdivision of some kind, e.g. a head of a research area.


Reviewer — a person who reads another person’s work to see if it is of acceptable standard. 


Sub-reviewer — a reviewer who reports to a chair or another reviewer. 


Peer-reviewed — when a piece of academic work is reviewed by someone who is the author’s academic equal (more or less). 


Editor — a person who reads some writing to check for spelling, grammar and clarity problems. An editor does not check for conceptual or factual problems; that’s what a reviewer does.


Journal — a periodical or magazine for academics with articles on academic topics. Most journals cover very specific research areas, and academics submit their papers to those specific journals for peer review. In most cases, work is reviewed by one reviewer, but if there’s a doubt, another reviewer can be called in.


Blind or anonymous peer review — the process of review taken in most cases, wherein the author does not know who is reviewing his paper, and the reviewer does not know whose paper he is reviewing, to prevent bias in favour of colleagues or friends.


Publish — to get a paper accepted into a journal.


PhD, Masters, Thesis, Dissertation — PhD is “doctor of philosophy of”; the highest degree you can get (although a “Post Doctorate” was recently introduced). PhD is one level higher than Master. A Master’s degree is typically either by coursework or by “dissertation” (a written discussion of a particular research question). A master has typically been reviewed by two persons before being awarded the degree. A PhD is typically reviewed by at least three people before being awarded their degree by “thesis”. A thesis is like a dissertation — it’s a big book on a particular research topic — except that it offers a new theory, whereas a dissertation does not. A professorship is not a degree awarded by signing up for a course. A professor, rather, is someone who has published a lot, and who has been awarded the rank by his university.


Proceedings — a journal containing only papers from a conference.


Call for Abstracts — the opening phase of a conference wherein the conference organisers send out adverts asking academics to submit abstracts for review by the conference organisers. If the abstracts sent in are accepted, the person may then attend the conference as a presenter.


Registration — signing up AND paying your membership/attendance fee for the conference.


Delegate — any person at the conference, who may or may not also be a presenter.


Invited Speaker — a delegate who was specifically invited to give a plenary or other major session.

This is some software we wrote to organise conferences: