Tag Archives: postgraduate research

Using Excel


Excel is a powerful tool for analysis, but you need to enter data correctly in order to make full use of it.

Here are some principles to follow when setting up the data

  • Set up the spreadsheet so that the cases or occasions are in rows and the categories of data form the columns.
  • Put only a single type of data in each cell. For example don’t put data and units in the same cell. If you are specifying weights, put the units in the column headers so that the cells only contain numbers. If you have notes or explanations make a special column for notes or use the comment feature.
  • Don’t separate entries with blank rows or columns.
  • Don’t include headings between rows. If you need to group data then do so using a grouping column. Add another column in which you indicate the group that each row belongs to. This will allow you to sort by group later.
  • Don’t delete data from your dataset. Instead make another column to store the included or excluded status. Then add another column in which you put notes about why you excluded the cases you exclude.
  • Keep each heading in a single cell, even if it has to wrap over more than one line. Don’t put subheadings in a cell below the heading cell.

Following these principles will make it much easier to sort your data so you can easily count it and do other operations like find means and standard deviations. It will also make it easier to graph or to upload into statistical software.

Writing as you read

Browne, Henriette - A Girl Writing; The Pet Goldfinch - Google Art Project

By Browne, Henriette (1829 – 1901) (painter (artist), Details of artist on Google Art Project) [Public domain or Public domain],
via Wikimedia Commons

In this post JediPhD encourages you to actively start forming up sections of your literature review as you read. Two things I would add. Firstly, make sure you use Endnote to load the citation at the same time. Secondly, make sure you have some sort of system for differentiating direct quotes from the reference (which you will need to reform into your own words later) and writing that is your own words already.


Punctuation: combining full stops and parentheses correctly


WebDonuts-Punctuation-Cartoon by Webdonuts Funny Comics Attribution License

The other day I was writing a whole sentence which needed to be in parentheses, but I was not sure where to put the full stop. This short blog will explains really nicely how to manage parentheses and full stops when you are using them together in various situations.


Learning from the literature

reading in the sunbeam

reading in the sunbeam by Malingering Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs License

As you read the literature, you will start to become familiar with more than just the research findings. You will also be learning who is who in the research world you are reading about. You will learn new terminology and how it is used, and the conventions of academic style. You can let this wash over you and hope you gradually absorb it, or you can actively look out for it and note it for using later. Start a collection of bits and pieces in your research journal. Things to watch out for include:

  • New terminology – which can also make useful keywords for searches
  • References to other publications and researchers you can follow up on
  • Ways of framing research questions
  • Ways of justifying the research
  • Ways of describing research methods
  • Ways of describing results
  • Ways of presenting data
  • Ways of presenting conclusions
  • Ways of identifying issues and problems with the study

The Endnote app

Endnote app

I really love the Endnote Ipad app. It makes me so mobile with my research which is really important as a working mother. Now I have everything I need without carrying around piles of paper. Its perfect for working from the car while waiting for children at ballet or soccer, its perfect for reading while travelling, its perfect for meetings when I need to point people to a particular reference.

Basically I have Endnote on my computer with all my references in it linked as pdfs. This syncs to the cloud with Endnote sync. The Endnote app syncs with the cloud too, which means I can access my references, including the pdfs from my ipad. You can predownload the pdfs you want to read so you can access them even when you are not connected to the internet (like on a plane).

Like all apps it does not have all the features of the full programme, but it does have a good search function, does allow you to see groups you have created and does allow you to annotate documents. But used as an extension of the computer version, rather than a replacement, its perfect.

Check it out here https://itunes.apple.com/nz/app/endnote-for-ipad/id593994211?mt=8

Choosing a research topic


swimming by Marian Stanton Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs License

Choosing a research topic is one of the hardest things ever. There is so much that is interesting, its hard to know where to start. And how do you work out where there is a gap until you know quite a lot about the subject. This stage of research often feels like trying to swim through mud. You don’t feel like you are getting anywhere.

There is lots written on the internet about finding a topic and here are few which I think are useful.

Choosing a topic, Claremont Graduate University Writing Center http://www.cgu.edu/pages/891.asp

Choosing an effective research topic, Kevin Klipfel, Information Literacy Coordinator, California State University www.csuchico.edu/lref/InfoLit/Choosing%20an%20Effective%20Research%20Topic.pptx

Choosing a topic, College of San Mateo Library http://www.smccd.edu/accounts/csmlibrary/tutorials/choosing.html

Choosing a research topic, University of California University Library http://library.ucsc.edu/help/howto/choose-a-research-topic

Big picture feedback vs small picture feedback

The bigger picture

The bigger picture by Aditya Sahay Attribution License

Sometimes it seems like your supervisor wants endless changes. You fix the things they said to fix, and then they tell you about more things to fix. Why didn’t they just tell you about all the problems in the first place?

Well one reason is that they know that there are big picture things that need to be dealt with before the small picture things can be addressed. Some problems might not become apparent until the biggest picture things have been dealt with. And they also know that all writing, needs multiple revisions.

Learning to look out for big picture and small picture stuff yourself will help you improve the drafts you send to supervisors. This webpage at the Purdue University OWL website gives a good explanation.

Higher Order Concerns (HOCs) and Lower Order Concerns (LOCs) in writing
Purdue Online Writing Lab

Clinical and statistical significance

Important Message

Important Message by Patrick Denker Attribution-NonCommercial License

A statistically significant difference is a difference that we think is not just due to chance. I say “think”, because we are never completely certain. We express how certain we are by the p value. A p value of 0.05 indicates a 5% uncertainty, or a 95% probability.

Ok so we think there is a difference, but is it an important difference? Maybe, maybe not. Statistics don’t tell us the answer to this question. We have to think about the degree of difference and what that might mean. For example would that difference change how you would treat an animal? Would it change the treatment you recommend? Would it change when something happens by an important amount? This is what we mean by clinical significance.

Just because there is statistically significant difference, it does not necessarily follow that the difference is clinically significant.

Using Endnote

If you are doing any academic writing you will need to acknowledge your sources. Endnote is a reference management tool which helps you to store references, find them, and automatically create citations and reference lists that are correctly formatted. You can change the reference formatting at the touch of a button.

For example you may prefer to write using an author-date style of citation. This style includes the names of the authors you are citing in brackets within the text. I recommend you use this method when writing because it allows you to become more familiar with who is who in the world in which you are writing. You will start to recognise key works by their authors names. But the journal you are writing for may require you to use a numbered citation formatting. Endnote can switch between these easily. It will reorganise the reference list appropriately switching it from alphabetical order to the order citations appear all by itself.

Endnote allows you to store references, search the full text and annotate them. No more lost references in the piles on the study floor. You can also download citations ad the full text of references directly from the library databases while searching.

You will save uncountable hours of work if you use Endnote right from the start, when you first start reading for writing. The following introduction to Endnote will help you get around the software and start using it.

Pluralize Numbers and Abbreviations Without Apostrophes

sad apostrophe

sad apostrophe by Tanya Hart Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike License

If you are talking about more than one road traffic accident (RTA) or patent ductus arteriosus (PDA) should you write RTA’s and PDA’s? Many people do, but they should not. Its RTAs and PDAs.

Don’t make the same mistake yourself. This excellent short post explains when not to use an apostrophe.