This article from the Writing Center at the University of North Carolina explains what argument is in academic writing, why you need it, and how to go about it. It covers making claims, providing evidence for your claims, and using counter-argument. There is also a very helpful section on critical reading. It talks about techniques to help you see the arguments that other authors are making instead of taking what they say as statements of fact. This helps in critically evaluating the evidence they present and helps you learn techniques for making effective arguments yourself.
In this post, Pat Thomson discusses an important thing to bear in mind when reading the posts on this blog and the ones I link to. There is no one way to write your research report—no one way to do it and no one way for it to look. Everyone is different and has a different best way of doing things. And every report is different and the material has a different best way to be written about.
So what is the point of sharing techniques and ways to structure writing on this blog? As Pat points out, having a repertoire of ways to do things helps you select the best way for the situation.
You can read more about Pat’s ideas here
Not long ago I posted about Hedging—where we qualify what we say or use cautious language that sometimes is so cautious and qualified that it doesn’t really make a point. In this article Pat Thomson talks about using boosters—words that give a sense of authority and strength to what you are saying.
Your first draft is just that – a first draft. Everyone always has to revise it so don’t be surprised that you will need to as well. Revisions often need to be whole scale structural rearrangement. In this post Pat Thomson talks about a method for doing this by physically cutting your work up with scissors. You can also do similar things electronically using the navigation pane as I have explained before in my post on Rearranging sections of work in Word.
This blog post by Gordon Harvey from the Harvard College Writing Center is about counter argument in essays but the principles also apply in science writing. An important part of making your argument is acknowledging and discussing counter arguments. As Harvey says: “It allows you to anticipate doubts and pre-empt objections that a skeptical reader might have; it presents you as the kind of person who weighs alternatives before arguing for one, who confronts difficulties instead of sweeping them under the rug, who is more interested in discovering the truth than winning a point.”
A problem statement articulates the motivation for your study. It answers the “so what?” question for readers. Just what is the problem you are looking into and why is it important? Articulating that helps lead to your purpose in the research and your research questions follow from that, either directly, or from a review of the literature prompted by your problem statement.
Drafting your problem statement is something you should do early in your research planning. Your problem statement may well be refined as you learn more, but establishing at least a draft one is very useful for orienting your research.
This presentation from the Abraham S Fischler School of Education, Nova Southeastern University gives more information about problem statements and their place in your research report.
The IMRAD writing structure refers to the standard structure for academic writing in papers, dissertations and theses: introduction-methods-results-(and)-discussion. It can be hard to know what goes in each section and how they should be written, but there are lots of good resources online to help you with this. The more you look at, the more you will get the idea to apply to your own work. Here is a great explanation written to help Biology students at Bates College.
Sometimes we need to qualify what we are saying in order to be accurate. For example we may be reporting an approximation and need to say “approximately”. And sometimes we need to qualify what we are saying, because its truth may not be well established. For example we might say that the results “suggest that…”. But sometimes we are vague because we are unsure of our argument, or have not yet made up our mind. Often in these cases authors are inappropriately vague and this is known as “hedging”. Cautious language can be so over-cautious that it doesn’t really say anything at all. Or the sentence becomes convoluted and unnecessarily wordy. It can be scary to put down on paper what you really think! But in those cases, instead of hedging, work on your argument to ensure it is sound and that you back your claims with evidence.
For more information and examples about hedging, see this post on “Hedging” in Scientific Writing from Barb at the BioMedical Editor website http://www.biomedicaleditor.com/hedging.html
When your work is examined, it is usual you to need to make amendments. In this respect your thesis examination is similar to the peer review that happens when you submit work to journals. You will need to respond to all the requests for changes, both by making changes and by writing a letter that explains what you have done.
In this article, David Cook provides some really helpful advice about what to write in your response letter and how to interpret the sort of comments your reviewer might make.
A really important points he makes is that the reviewer is always right. Even if you don’t thinks so, their comments usually mean something is not clear or is missing from your document that has lead them to the wrong conclusion. Whatever it is, you must fix it. That often means thinking carefully about what the reviewer has said as it might not be obvious to you right away. It sometimes takes me a few days before I “get” their point of view.
Check out Tip 10, 11 and Table 3 in particular.
Cook, D. A. (2016). Twelve tips for getting your manuscript published. Medical Teacher, 38(1), 41-50. doi:10.3109/0142159X.2015.1074989 http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.3109/0142159X.2015.1074989
This is a very useful guide for what each of the sections in your research report should contain and it also identifies common mistakes to watch out for.
Guide to science writing: Research manuscripts and review articles, UCLA Undergraduate Science Journal