Writing for academic professionals

Six Amazing Research Resources Online

The Internet is an immense swamp, a terrain of bots, trolls, and magnificent treasures. People are apt to get lost in it and lean on unreliable guides for navigation.

Swamp

There’s a massive mess of information (and misinformation) online. Sources frequently aren’t reputable or easily traceable. Even when it’s accurate, the information often isn’t relevant for a specific research purpose. Picking your way through it requires some internet savvy and critical thinking, along with strong organizational skills.

Fortunately, there are robust sources of information available, and tools to help people stay focused and organized when conducting research. What research resources can you turn to online? They range from enormous databases to tutorials for writing academic articles and citing sources. The following are six resources to look into:

1) Digital Tools for Researchers

Geared primarily towards scientists, it’s a huge list of tools for gathering, organizing, analyzing, sharing, and writing about different kinds of data.

2) EasyBib: Finding Sources

The link leads to only one section of a massive guide on writing research articles. Under “Finding Sources,” EasyBib lists a variety of places to look up scholarly papers and statistics.

3) International Writing Centers Association: Writing Centers Online

Many on this mega-list are university writing centers that include tutorials about research papers and instructions on formatting citations. The Online Writing Lab (OWL) from Purdue University is one that I’ve relied on to doublecheck AP style guidelines.

4) The DiRT Directory of Digital Research Tools

DiRT categorizes these digital tools based on what you need, anything from visualizing data to converting files to annotating text.

5) Educational Technology and Mobile Learning: 10 Great Tools for Academic Research

Among their recommendations are Evernote, Zotero, and Mendeley. One of the items on their list is an additional list of tools for generating bibliographies.

6) Lib Web

Links to thousands of academic, public, and government libraries around the world.

(I’ll also throw in a link to WorldCat, which will help you find books, DVDs, and other materials in libraries near your home.)

Important to keep in mind…

Using these resources won’t necessarily steer you away from misleading information. There are plenty of scientific papers, for example, based on poor methodology and yielding doubtful results.

A while ago I wrote a post on evaluating the credibility of Internet sources. It may help you make sense of what you find in the swamp. Also, don’t hesitate to reach out to me for assistance with research, writing, and editing, as I have extensive experience with all three.

– Hila

(Image source: Wikimedia Commons.)

Six reasons your research abstract is poorly written

In January 2009, PhD Comics published a funny abstract template (Mad Libs for the busy researcher). It’s good for some laughs, though you might wonder if your own research abstract is any better.

Your research abstract is people’s first impression of your work. It has to engage them and give them a reason to keep reading. At the same time, it has to stand alone; even if people stop at the abstract, they still need to get a clear idea about the questions your research addresses and the main findings.

A poorly written abstract can obscure your important or interesting findings, discourage other people from looking more closely at your work, and decrease your chances of getting published and cited.

Why is your research abstract poorly written? The following are six possible reasons:

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How much jargon is too much jargon in a conference paper?

Several years ago, three MIT students pranked a conference by sending in a paper produced by an automatic paper generator they’d programmed. (Give it a try – I just generated a paper co-authored by Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers called “On the Emulation of Systems.”) Rich with jargon strung together in meaningless sentences, their paper passed muster and got accepted to the conference.

Although few would replicate this prank to see just how much nonsensical jargon-stuffing they can get away with, a common issue confronted by people who are writing up abstracts or papers to send in to conferences is the use of jargon. On the one hand, some jargon, used judiciously, might show that you’re in your element, knowledgeable in your field. On the other hand, too much risks a loss of clarity; in some cases, it could suggest that you’re trying to mask weaknesses in your work by papering over them with fancy terminology. So as you’re working on your writing, you may wonder how much is too much jargon; especially if you’re in grad school or otherwise haven’t had much experience in preparing these submissions, you might worry that your writing comes across as awkward or unclear in part because of this issue.

There are no definitive rules, but here are some points to consider:

  • Read previous conference submissions, paying especially close attention to the ones that strike you as well-written.
  • Ask yourself who the audience for the conference is, and who would be judging the submissions. Does the conference involve only people who work in a narrow, highly specialized sub-field in your general research area, or is it broader in scope? Would the use of too much jargon alienate a part of your audience in some way?
  • Is the jargon mangling your sentences? Is it interrupting the flow of the writing? Read what you’ve written out loud, and have others read it; don’t choose only people who are familiar with your work.
  • At any point in the writing in which it’s used, does the jargon convey your ideas most clearly and succinctly out of any other word choice? Or are you using it only as padding or to show off?

– Hila