Keeping Track Of The World

Research Methods for Regular People

Archive for the tag “Writing”

Keeping Focus

I follow a number of blogs whose objective is to help people become more productive in their work. Despite its strange name and rather unattractive website I have found that Dumb Little Man: Tips for Life consistently has useful articles that provide quick tips for becoming more effective in work and in life.

Most recently a post on 5 Steps to Laser-Sharp Focus caught my attention because I have been struggling with distraction lately. Check it out and let me know in the comments any suggestions you have for improving focus.

How Not to Write

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Citing eBooks

The use of eBook readers is growing (See the Pew Internet and American Life Project). However, the format for citing eBook readers is still developing. The main problem is that eBook readers either don’t have consistent page numbers or don’t have page numbers at all. This is not a problem if you are referring to an idea but is a problem if you are making a direct quote. Advice differs at this point but the main principle is that someone else needs to be able to find what you are quoting. Turabian (2007) includes some basic advice in 17.1.10 “Online and other electronic books.” However, her advice only covers some situations.

Here are some general guidelines for citing eBooks:

  • Some newer eBooks will tell you the page number of the corresponding print edition of the book. If this feature is available then you can just cite the book as your would the print edition. NOTE: the page number listed at the bottom of the eBook is usually dynamically generated based on the amount of the text on the current page. As such it will change with variables such as device used, font chosen and margin spacing. Do not use this number to cite the text.
  • If your eBook reader provides you with the percentage through the book (e.g., 67%) you can estimate the page number based on the total number of pages. However, this approach is inexact and should only be used as a last resort.
  • If a source has paragraph numbers (as Turabian does) cite using those numbers.
  • If there are no page or paragraph numbers you should cite chapter, section and then count the paragraphs to arrive at a number.
  • Finally, you could see if the book is available on Google books or as an Amazon preview and try to find the page number of the print edition that way.

Given all that work you might just want to use the print edition. Your reference list should indicate both the standard reference information and the version of the eBook you are using. For example, 

(Turabian 2007)
Turabian, Kate L. 2007. A manual for writers of research papers, theses, and dissertations : Chicago style for students and researchers. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. (Kindle Edition).

(Hammond 1998, section: How to do it: Create the questions;” location 230-235)
Hammond, Sue Annis. 1998. The thin book of appreciative inquiry. Bend, OR: Thin Book Publishing Company. Kindle eBook.

(Arbinger 2010, ch. 8 para 5; location 1159-1166)
Arbinger Institute. 2010. The anatomy of peace: Resolving the heart of conflict. San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler. Kindle eBook.

My thanks to Dr. Paul Bramer for discussion related to this issue and for supplying the citation and reference list examples.

I Know What I am Talking About is in Here Somewhere

Most of us struggle to explain what our research is about in a clear and concise way. I don’t mean we are incompetent—although there are times in any research project when that seems to be the most logical explanation. Rather we have, to use the cliche, lost the forest for the trees. A simple question like “What is your research about?” leads to 30 minutes of biography, description of books read, snippets of data collection, speculations on possible analysis, and insights gained while sleeping, etc.

The solution to this problem of verbal and/or written excess is to maintain a very short description of your research project that can serve to focus your data collection, guide your writing, and advertise what you are doing to people that ask—without rendering them comatose. I recently heard Carey C. Newman of Baylor University Press discuss The ABCs of Academic Publishing. Newman provided what he called his XYZ model of communicating what you are writing about:

  1. My project is about X
  2. I am arguing Y about X
  3. The significance of Y is Z

This does not encompass everything that needs to be in a research report but it is a pretty good start.

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