Academic writing tips
My recommendations for academic writing on children’s rights related topics
1) Go on a research “adventure”!
Start with a rough vision of what you want to write about. Go on research by imagining you are entering a dense jungle of a million (re)sources or more. Find a couple of introductory texts (your compass) to get an overview of the topic. After that you will have to develop a good method (your machete) to filter what is relevant and what is not. You should begin by cross reading the titles, summaries and subtitles to get a quick impression of various sources. Only then should you take your time in carefully reading your confined selection… don’t get lost!
2) Formulate a very precise central question (thesis)!
Take time in articulating your central argument, idea or question that you want to prove. It concisely states the claim presented in your paper. Usually one sentence is enough, e.g. “Violent computer games have no effect on the aggressiveness of a child’s behavior”. Preferably, no scientist has ever tried to answer this exact question (or you want to prove their former answer as wrong… or you want to overview research formerly conducted on the question on a meta level). If you choose a very general topic, don’t try to cover everything superficially, instead sum up the main elements of the subject and focus on one or two key issues for detailed discussion. Your word count is limited, your time is limited – and I am sure your nerves are limited, too!
3) Develop a logical structure!
There are good reasons why scientific writings are often structured similarly – it has to do with the logic of reading. Consider using a structure similar to the following that has proved its feasibility over and over again (but don’t hesitate to adapt it if it does not fit your needs):
- Title page: contains topic, main keywords and information about the module and author
- Abstract: contains purpose, main data and major conclusions (<200 words), lets reader judge whether it’s useful to read entire paper. Write the abstract only after finishing the rest of your paper!
- Introduction: sets the subject, mentions background or purpose of paper, overviews previous research, shows what you will argue (your thesis or research question) and how you will go about it
- Main body: contains sections such as “methods, materials and ethics”, “results” and “discussion” that put your arguments in a logical sequence, includes a consistent thread between these sections which are divided into paragraphs containing one thought each
- Conclusion: draws information together and puts everything into perspective, contains no new facts, suggests further research
- References: mentions all but only those sources used in the course of writing, otherwise you should add a section “further reading”
- Appendix: contains e.g. testimonies generated during research (which can be handed in digitally and don’t need to be printed)
4) Avoid writer’s block!
Start your paper simply by writing down everything that comes to mind about your topic adding findings from your research, don’t look back and keep going until you reach the end of your thoughts. Don’t worry about the order of the sentences or about spelling. Use dashes and reminders where you leave things out. Then gradually rearrange, insert (using cut, copy & paste), confine and correct your “hotchpotch”. With this method you will probably find you have reached your word limit quite soon and your main task will be getting everything into good shape and language.
5) Be style-consistent!
There are hundreds of scientific reference styles and systems. Many journals use their own standards. This is why we don’t make a certain style obligatory. You might be used to another style that we fully accept. However, it should be a style that uses inline references (not footnotes or endnotes) such as the American Psychological Association (APA) Style or American Sociological Association (ASA) Style (see e.g.: https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/ for tutorials). All we ask is to be consequent in sticking to your chosen style throughout your paper. Changing your style in a paper gives us a feeling that something might be a result of copy and paste plagiarism.
6) Think critically!
Keep in mind what great philosophers say: “There is no objective truth”! This is particularly obvious in the social sciences. In your paper you should use evidence that supports your case, but also mention the evidence that doesn’t. Never forget that publications (e.g. even those from UNICEF) usually abide by an institutional agenda, that even seemingly neutral scientists can follow narratives and that societal viewpoints are based on paradigms that change every once in a while. It often makes sense to use less deterministic language and avoid overarching statements. Even the most credited author may at one time be proved wrong! Oh yes… and writings based on religious beliefs, tabloid journalism, Wikipedia or web blogs shouldn’t be confused with scientific sources.
7) Avoid plagiarism!
Plagiarism is the intentional direct or indirect usage of another author’s language, thoughts, ideas or expressions, and the representation of them as one’s own original work. It doesn’t matter where the original is from – it can be published or non-published (such as a peer student’s paper). Plagiarism occurs often in our “copy and paste-economy” (see the fate of various German politicians who were forced to resign). And although there are signs that the societal paradigm of “originality” is slowly changing, plagiarism is still a criminal offence… oops! So, reference everything that is not your idea, but more than general knowledge. When referring to other authors ideas, avoid excessive quotations (by paraphrasing ideas in your own words rather than directly quoting them) and excessive wording (by using concise language). Your word count will thank you.
8) Be aware of biased language!
You now have knowledge on adultism (the discrimination and oppression of children and young people by adults), so try to avoid biased and prejudiced language by being specific (e.g. “children at risk of early school dropout” instead of “at-risk children”), sensitive to labelling (e.g. “children diagnosed with autism” instead of “autistic children”), acknowledging active participation (e.g. “the children viewed the objects” instead of “the objects were shown to children”) and recognizing gender issues (e.g. by adding a female perspective to the flight of young unaccompanied refugees). Try to connect your findings to new childhood studies and children’s rights theory. Perhaps a retrospect back to your own childhood helps to see things from another perspective.
9) Ask a friend!
We are all blind on at least one eye in some things. Therefore, it is important to get a friend or colleague to give you feedback on your text – on orthography as well as contentwise. If you are not writing in a language you speak fluently, I certainly recommend your work to be proof read by a native speaker. I have painfully come to realise how much effect language has on the scientific soundness of a thesis.
10) Take a hot bath!
The hard disc in your brain needs to run down every now and then. Although it only counts 2% of your body weight, it actually consumes 20% of your total energy expended. To avoid temporary mental exhaustion (a common diagnosis among students), think of a method to really distract yourself from your paper and the topic in general: take a hot bath, go for a jog in the rain or visit an old friend you haven’t seen for a while. I am sure you will start the next day full of brilliant new ideas! And don’t forget: good grades aren’t the world as many famous masterminds (who were failures in school) prove.
Now go for it! I wish you good luck!
aktualisiert am 21.04.2018