The first review…

image1Today I had my first 6 monthly review. This is known as the RD4 review and its aim is to determine the official topic of the thesis. For me, my research was a set proposal but this did not mean that I could copy of what my supervisor had written, not at all. My task was to write a 5 page proposal about the research I was doing and include the literature behind it, research questions and aims, methods and a plan of action for the research itself. My review also aimed to make sure that I was attending appropriate training and to ensure that I feel my supervision is good, which I do.

One thing I had struggled with in the proposal was the literature. It took me a while to get this right. I purposely left this part until last knowing I had yet to research what was needed but when it was time to write, the writing did not happen. I huffed and puffed, read some more and could not fathom what I should write. Then one day, it hit me. My supervisor and I had written a ‘research phrase’ to explain what the research was all about a while back and this is what I used to structure my literature. I basically took each section and split it into what I thought a reviewer (or my panel chair) would want to know. This approach seemed to work and my supervisor thought so too. More importantly it meant that the part I had struggled with was no longer a struggle anymore.

The rest of the proposal was not as hard, but it did need a tweak here and there. I planned out the next three years of my life (which scared me a little) and I was able to see how the whole thing was going to work. Hurrah!

I was very worried about the review, not worried in the sense that I would fail, but more worried as I did not really know what was to come. Yes I had spoken to all of my office about what its purpose and had a lovely little chat this morning to one of our lecturers (who reassured me quite well, probably unknowingly), but for me, I never know what happens until I experience it. Today I did.

My review involved my panel chair (an external staff member who is there to manage the whole thing and be the one who deal with issues if any arise), myself and my director of studies. My second supervisor managed to avoid the short meeting as he had been called away to a meeting in Glasgow last minute – he’s a very busy professor you know!

My panel chair asked me a few questions to clarify things. This involved what a definition of innovation was and what I meant by a ‘framework’. These were not as easy as you would think but it was good to clarify what I meant. My panel chair also discussed some of the proposed methodology, analyses and most importantly, the outputs and contributions of the research to practice and knowledge.

For me, this meeting clarified EVERYTHING I have been working towards the last five / six months and everyone agreed that the first six months of the planning stages are the hardest. What I agreed with most was the statement that things weave in and out and don’t really seem clear until the RD4 proposal is produced. This was exactly right for me.

So for anyone who is going to be having their first review soon, some things do stand out:

  • Your panel are not there to trip you up, they are there to help clarify what on earth you will be doing.
  • Prepare your documents properly. A nicely set out and well prepared document means that you can refer to it when you are asked questions (like I did).
  • Don’t freak out. I was really nervous and my nerves went the moment I stepped into my supervisor’s office. Nerves are normal for me and I often find they disappear.
  • Remember: it’s all part of the process so if improvements need to be made then so be it. Make improvements and move forward.

So in terms of my next steps, what am I going to be doing? I will be finishing off my literature review and looking a lot more into the Innovation side of thigs. After all, a good proportion of my research will be exploring how innovation skills are developed and influenced by organisational contexts so I need to know what it is and why it is important. I will be reviewing my current work on defining workplace learning (type and strategies) and exploring the UK and European initiatives available in workplace learning. I will then be moving onto methods. This may be a bumpy road as I will be exploring the philosophies behind research and also philosophies behind knowledge. For my next review, I also need to know more of my methods and what I am going to be doing (step by step). I will be working closer with my supervisory team to help plan this out and begin approaching how I can recruit organisations to take part in my research.

As well as that, I will be analysing some preliminary data. I will be looking at data from the UK Labour Force Survey, the Workplace Employee Relations Survey and six of the most recent editions of The Employment Surveys Dataset to explore relationships between training and skills. This may be a challenge as I will need to statistically analyse the data in order to determine any relationships. I am hoping that the analyses will then set the grounds for my future case studies and highlight some important areas of research for me to incorporate in my case studies.

So anyway, it’s going to be a busy time. I won’t put a lot of detail about my whole research in this blog post, mainly as I want to talk about this as I progress. I will, however, blog about my training attendance, events, conferences and milestones in my research planning, development and empirical work so that I can share my thoughts and feelings on how I get on.

I feel more like a research student now!

 

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From PhD to Publication.

image1This afternoon I attended an event with the Early Career Researchers network at Edinburgh Napier University. The network is primarily based at the Business School but due to the nature of my research and who my supervisors are, I was invited to attend the networking event.

**please note, the information (below) is relevant to those in the Business School / Management areas only. Other disciplines have specific guidelines and advice on what / where is most appropriate to publish, and this should be discussed with your supervisory team within your domain. Publication preferences that can differ include journal rank and type (that you decide to submit to) as well as the positioning of the article within a journal (considering the quality of an article over where it is published, although there is a relationship between the two).**

Our speakers included (in order of participation) Professor Maura Sheehan, who is a Professor in International Management, Dr Valerie Egdell, a Senior Research Fellow within the Employment Research Institute and also Dr Debora Jeske who is a Lecturer in Human Resource Management within The Business School.

The afternoon got off to a good start and aimed to discuss the importance of publishing during and after the PhD process. The session was split into three parts, with three speakers, each giving their own perspective on publications and disseminating work, drawing upon experiences that they had had along the way. Most of the information was very relevant to me as this is what I will be aiming to do… and discussions of publications are already flowing within my supervisory meetings anyway and my supervisors are keen to get something out of the effort we are putting in.

So we began with an introductory talk of the importance of publications during the PhD and also how we could go about doing this. More importantly, we were able to seek advice from those who had progressed through the PhD journey and could give insight into the struggles by having two speakers tell us their own journeys so far.

So how many should we try and publish?

During a PhD and afterwards, students should aim (as a general guide) for at least two journal articles. If students aim for high quality journals, those of 3*-4* standard, this will benefit the student in terms of getting their work out there into journals that are highly respected. As well as this, it was discussed that potentially a book chapter (1*-2*) might be useful. This will help the researcher solidify their own knowledge and also allow further development of their own work to be discussed.

It is really important to begin looking for potential journals with your supervisory team as soon as you can. This will then allow you to set your targets to where you want your work to be in the future. For me, I can’t deal with the thought of researching for three years and having nothing to ‘show’ so will definitely be taking this advice on board.

You also need to aim for REALISTIC journals. Some journals have high expectations, certain theories and methods that they will only publish. If your research does not use this then you may need to look elsewhere. I have already had one (pre-PhD) rejection but I think we set our sights a little too high. Looking back I can see how our research did not really fit, but moreover I could not really see how we could make it better.  In this (our) case, the journal was a little unrealistic but we did not know this until we had been given our desk rejection. As a process of learning about publications I now know that research into outlets is key. You need to seek what is right for your research and more importantly, you need to see what is not. You see, by doing a little digging into what is right, you can then dig deeper into what the journal asks for, its scope and give that final push to see if you can make it.

If you do not think your research is good enough for a 3* or 4* journal just yet then don’t panic. As an early career researcher, you need to be aware that not everything fits and not everything will be published. Research is about the benefits and enjoyment for you and not just your employer, so if you feel like a journal is right (and have good reasons behind it) then fight for that journal. Publishing in a journal lower than 3* is still good, mainly because it will allow you to practice your writing skills to an academic audience. It will also enable you to disseminate your research in some form. It’s okay (it really is!!) if your research does not fit into the top journals the first time around, but the main things is that you try for the higher quality journals first of all so that you can justify why you are not aiming so high next time.

You can also look at conferences to help to get your work noticed. It is suggested that each student goes to one ‘best conference’ each year and then other conferences that allow networking to occur. By writing papers for high quality conferences, these can form the basis of the written publication, but you will never know how to get the words out there if you do not network and spend other opportunities out and about. Disseminating your research is one of the most important things in publications. Going to conferences can lead to a lot of opportunities that are just not available at home. You will get the meet other academics in the field and tell them about your research so quite often, you will gain an idea of where your publications might go.

What about publication strategies?

As a main strategy, you need to determine the focus. The story of your research will determine your outlet. Just because your research is named the same as a journal, does not necessarily mean it will fit. When you have a journal in mind, you are more likely to be successful. This is because you will try and word your work to that journal and understand what they are looking for. You will have more chance of making your research work with the journal if you do your research, not only in terms of the journal scope, but in what you are trying to say about the research you have carried out.

Often, open access journals may be the only option. This is fine! Smaller, niche journals may be the most suitable in terms of what your research offers. Submitting to this type of journal does not necessarily mean that rankings will not change. We heard one of our speakers explain that she had submitted to a journal that had increased its rankings but simultaneously one had decreased too (going down from a 3*) so you never know what might change in the future rankings.

Also, journals that are not 3* and 4* still might have impact. This is where the research comes in handy. You need to explore what impact that journal has in its field and if your research will be read. Having a piece of research in a high-impact, non 3* journal might give your more citations and views in that field than if it was published elsewhere. Impact if often measured by impact factor, and this is reflects the number of citations it has received. High impact factors let people know how many others have used an article so if impact factors are high, then these are definitely options for publication.

There is also a difference between 3*-4* journals and 3*-4* articles. Researchers need to ensure that their article is of high quality too. If the proposed publication does not meet the standard of the journal, then most likely it will get rejected. However, ensuring that the quality of the written work is high means that getting into higher quality journals may be easier, but if the quality of the writing is lower, then a rethink of the publication strategy is needed. If a high quality article is in a lower quality journal it will still be noticed if it is meant to be.

Why did I not get accepted?

There are various reasons for a rejection or a review and resubmit (R&R), and some of these are as follows:

  1. The hypotheses are not evenly distributed. You will find that a lot of people emphasise the first two hypotheses and kind of forget about the rest. Well, don’t. You need to ensure that all weight is equal between each hypothesis in terms of word count so that your final ones do not look like afterthoughts.
  2. The subject might not be right for the journals. This is where searching the scope can help. Some journals are really picky about what they ask for so if you know you do not have it then don’t submit it.
  3. Sometime the contributions are not clearly defined and this is what most journals look for. You need to be able to state how the research contributed to current research ad practice and say this in a way that is compatible with the journal. If you can explain the contributions of your paper in one or two sentences then you have it all sorted.
  4. There are also often data constraints. Some journals like certain types of data and some don’t. There may be issues with data analysis or data collection, or simply the reviewer might not understand what on earth you have done. Either way, it is important to justify data methods and techniques so if a reviewer comments, then you already have evidence to justify your choice.

What about reviewers?

Well, reviewers can be tough and we heard a lot about all of our speakers experiencing harsh reviewer comments. One thing is clear, reviews don’t always agree. One might like the article and one might not so it is all about getting things right ready for publication and taking feedback given.

Sometimes reviewers don’t tell you about ‘deal breakers’ so the things which need changing and the things which might not need so much attention. Either way, you must take reviewers comments with caution. Each review point must be addressed and if this is not changed there needs to be a reason why. It could be the case of different supporting evidence of something that the reviewer has not thought of (or has no expertise in) so be careful on how you respond and make sure it is done appropriately. Reviewers do not always read each other’s comments in your ‘reply to reviewers’. As a result, some reviewers might end up rejecting a revision because it introduces new material (and or issues), even if one of the reviewers has asked for this information to be introduced.

Don’t take reviewers comments personally – they don’t know you personally or your work (sometimes!!). Take their feedback on board and don’t make it seem like it is the worst thing in the world if the rejection comes in. Everyone gets a rejection at some point and for me this was even before I started the PhD process so I know how bad it can be to feel like you haven’t done well. What is more important is that you take a deep breath, relax and then tackle the comments head on so that when they are addressed there is some back up. Sometimes reviewers have no clue about things like advanced statistics (quite often simple statistics are understood) nor do they understand or read everything so it is about making things clear and succinct and ensuing that the reviewer can see what you have done and most importantly, why.

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Our PhD journey. We drew this at the research student induction in October 2015.

To understand the review process, it might help to get some reviewing experience. Now if you are like me and not at the point of reviewing journal articles then supporting conference reviewing might help. Once your work has been established you could start by reviewing papers submitted to conferences and the onto the review process of a journal. The more experience you get along the way, the better you will understand what a reviewer is expecting of you and what you need to do in order to finalise your publication.

But how will my confidence increase if I keep getting rejected?

It will, don’t worry. Getting feedback from 3* and 4* journals is key to getting things right. It just means that the article is not quite right yet. If you get feedback and not a desk rejection, it does means that the journal liked it but it also means they do not yet think it fits. You can then make the important improvements and ensure that these improvement meet the points addressed.

If things get rejected, you can also amend the paper and submit elsewhere. Addressing review comments and then getting a final rejection opens doors in terms of knowing what the reviewers felt was wrong so these can be looked at before submitting to somewhere new.

You could also address a call for papers. Calls for papers often specify what the main theme of interest is and what kind of topics – all related to the theme – are particularly welcome. As a result, a call for paper often provides very clear and occasionally more detailed instructions than is provided in the aims and purposes of some journals. Call for papers have set deadlines. The time frame reduces the risk of having to chase up collaborators for their work as the deadline should dictate when papers should be written by.

If you build up slowly form the bottom, your experience will eventually lead to a publication whether it happens first try or more than tenth try. It takes hard work, patience and dedication but you will get there in the end. It’s your reputation and your supervisor’s reputation that is on the line so they should keep you on track.

An important thing that was stressed was the use of your supervisory team. As someone new to the publication process you’re more than likely going to need help. You will need help form your supervisors to finalise that last draft before submitting and you will want to pick their brains when you get feedback from reviewers. Your team are there for support so instead of hiding away at bad feedback, use your supervisors to tackle the comments and reconstruct the article to be its best.

So that was it! It was a very informational afternoon and quite helpful for someone like me who is just at the start of her research journey. I must admit that some speakers were more well-received than others but everyone provided comments that can be taken away and thought about when looking into publications. Although I already have one desk-rejection under my belt and have just worked with my internship supervisor to submit another paper, I still need guidance in this area and will look forward to as much feedback as possible from future reviewers who wish to take on the challenge.

 

 

Research Methods and Philosophy!

image1

Yesterday, I took a little break from editing my literature review (kind of). Part of my previous literature searches have explored research methods involved in looking at how effective training is and how we know training is successful. So as part of my literature review, I am going to discuss this but I decided that I needed to do a little work on this before I began…

To begin the search, I really had to start off quite generalist and do some digging on what research methods are actually out there. Particularly, I needed to find out general information on how training can be researched and measured in terms of its effectiveness. I was able to find quite a few articles on what researchers have done to assess training and how they have gone about designing a study for this purpose. So I have decided to share some of my findings with you today!

First of all, I found out that there are many types of research methods and these can be split into either quantitative or qualitative methods. Now for me, my work will include both, but I wanted to gain an idea of what type of methods were being used in training first of all to help me gain an understanding of how I might go about carrying out this part of my research. During my search, I also found that all research methods have some kind of flaws. No matter what research method you use, there will always be drawbacks to that design… but there will also be advantages to using it too. The one thing that I discovered (with the help of Robert, one of my supervisors) is that I will be using a multi-method approach which takes these weakness into consideration. Now if you are not too sure what that is then I can explain it for you…

Basically, I will be carrying out both quantitative and qualitative research within my study, which is great (numbers and words woo-hoo!). I will be doing smaller studies which can either stand independently or be combined together as a whole to make one larger study (if these are researching the same questions). More importantly, this will allow triangulation of results. That means, if the results of each smaller data collection suggest the same thing about the research questions, then these could be used to increase validation of results and also cross-verify that the results are travelling in the same direction. Now normally, researchers use the multi-method approach to overcome weaknesses in their individual research methods and use others to compensate for these weaknesses and this is technically what I will be doing to justify what methods I use. What is more important is that researchers need to be aware of what these weaknesses are and also what the benefits of different research methods are to help determine which approach and method might be most useful.

So at the moment, some of the research that I have explored includes the following methods:

Research

Method

Advantages

Disadvantages

Singular case study design Researchers can gain detailed data in a short length of time which means that it will not take as long to collect.

 

Researchers cannot generalise their findings outside of that case study or research setting. This also means that comparison cannot be made between organisations either.

 

There may be issues with non-compliance. If an organisation refuses to answer questions, are you going to challenge that?

 

There will also be people who cannot take part, and this could cause a bias in the sample. Who is to say that results from one set of people (who have opted to take part) are not the same or different to those who are not?

 

Using one source of data can cause measurement error and also method bias if there is no other organisation considered.

Multiple case study design You can highlight organisation differences. You still need to take organisation differences and influences into account when explaining data results.

 

This also only gives the perspective of the organisations on that certain aspect of research, and no other views.

Semi-structured interview Researchers can control the conversation and direct it to help answer the questions presented. This allows the conversation to flow. These is the likelihood of the participant giving some irrelevant information to what is necessary and often this cannot be controlled.
Unstructured interview This encourages a detailed discussion on a cetin topic so more data can be collected. Again, irrelevant information might be given and the researcher will be unable to control this for the duration of the conversation.
Focus group It encourages interaction between participants, hopefully forming a verification of stories that they tell.

 

Themes can be explored collectively and views might be shared amongst participants. They do share some characteristics anyway.

 

Participants can also question each other on the views expressed, and challenge these opinions if appropriate. Often, this can be done without the need of the researcher.

You do need to take into account group member demographics (age, gender etc) and external variables that could influence data collection.

 

These is a chance of group members influencing individuals and also some individuals not taking as much as others.

 

This method requires a facilitator to maintain control and keep participants on track.

Questionnaire (quantitative survey method) It is quite simplistic to administer and collect a lot of data quickly. Some can even be carried out online and the link sent via email or other ways of communication to read more people.

 

Using a self-report method means that some people might just lie, or not tell the truth in what they are answering. They may not understand what they are being asked to assess (like the concept) or even what the questions mean.

 

You may be able to identify a cause-effect relationship but this does not mean that you can explain why the relationship has developed.

Pre and post intervention assessment If the assessment uses standardised tools then this can increase validity.

 

You can see if the training has influenced the participant directly if all other variables are controlled for.

You need to ensure that any results are a direct consequence of the intervention, and not influences by other variables.

 

You might need a control group to compare those who took part in training and those who did not.

Evaluation of intervention throughout  You can capture processes happening as they occur.

 

The quality and success of an intervention can be highlighted throughout.

 

 You need to ensure that the evaluation takes place before, during and after so that it has been measured throughout and can identify changes in evaluation results.

As you can see, each method has its advantages and disadvantages so it is the duty of the researcher to identify these and design their own methodology to suite the research questions at hand. Methods must be justified and exemplified, highlighting reasons behind the choices made.

I also found out that research methods are determined by the philosophical viewpoint that the researcher adheres to. I have only read one book on this so far, so I can explain a little about it now. But I am sure as I progress in my research I will devote a whole blog post this topic. The topic is called the Philosophy of Science and it aims to explain what qualifies as science and questions the reliability of scientific evidence in determining what research methods might be most appropriate. This in turn determines how ‘scientists’ explore concepts and phenomena.

In a book called ‘Research Methods: the basics’* I read about the four positions that researchers can take in terms of how they are exploring social phenomena. I explain these four below using some direct quotes form the text to help:

  • Positivism – ‘scientific investigation is based on acceptance that the world around us is real, and that we can find out about these realities. Knowledge is derived using scientific method and based on sensory experience gained through experiments or comparative analysis. It aims to develop a true description of any chosen aspect of the world regardless of what people think. Knowledge is then built up in scientific fashion. Science builds on what is already known.’ (p.21)

This philosophical position uses measures that are highly organised, measurable and are based on approaches taken form science researching behaviours in the natural world. It can often mean quantitative data being used to explore phenomena.

  • Relativism (interpretivism / idealism / constructivism) – ‘the view of the world around us is based on the mind. We can only experience things through our perceptions which then influence our preconceptions, beliefs and values. We are not neutral observers but part of society. The researcher is not observing the phenomena from outside the system, but it is inextricably bound into the human situation that he/she is studying. As well as concentrating on the search for constants in human behaviour which highlights the repetitive, predictable and invariant aspect of society, the researcher does not ignore what is subjective, individual and creative – facts and values cannot be separated. The researcher encounters a world already interpreted and his/her job is to reveal this according to the meanings created by humans rather than discover the universal law. Therefore there can be more than one perspective and interpretation of a phenomenon.’ (p.21-22)

This philosophical position uses measures such as qualitative data, unstructured interviews and participant observations. It aims to explore the many interpretations of the phenomena and is not restricted to quantitative data.

  • Postmodernism – ‘challenges key issues such as meanings, knowledge and truth which has opened up new perspectives and ideas about the essence of research. It denounces the meta-narratives (all-embracing theories) of the modern movement as a product of the Enlightenment, and insists on links between knowledge and power. In fact, there is no universal knowledge or truth. Science is just a construct and only one of many types of knowledge that are all subjects of continual renovation and change.’ (p.22)

This philosophical position questions what we understand to be knowledge and suggests that science is made up of knowledge that can constantly change. Therefore, results can change and science can be challenged.

  • Critical realism – ‘a reaction to the postmodernist challenge to traditional science which threatens a descent into chaos and powerlessness because of lack of possibility of agreement on truths and reality. It has been labelled Critical Reality based on Critical Reasoning. Critical reasoning recognises that there is natural order in social events and discourse but claims that this order cannot be detected by merely observing a pattern of events. The underlying order must be discovered by interpretation while doing theoretical and practical work in the social sciences. Concepts and theories about social events are developed on the basis of their observable effects and interpreted in a way that they can be acted upon, even if this interpretation gets revised and grows.’ (p.22-23)

Much research is based on this. We hypothesis about phenomena, we the test it and we then interpret this to make sense of what is happening. This is not set and it can be re-tested, which is key aspect of current research in terms of theory development and developing evidence in support of this.

So there you have it! My day of research methods and philosophy was filled with things that I did not know. But now I know. I am now aware that philosophy can influence the decisions of researchers and their methodologies and I also understand I will need to do this on a larger scale for my own research. I also understand that each method has its own advantages and disadvantages, but that researchers often use multiple methods in order to account for the weakness in some and make up of these in advantages of others.

* Walliman, N. (2011). Research Methods the basics. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge

How (not!) to write a literature review…

LJ
My brain (my actual brain, yes!). Different parts activate during different tasks. This one was whilst working at a computer and ask you can see, there is a lot of electrical activity impulses going on.

So today, I am working on my RD4 form again and I am struggling a little. I have managed to get most of the practicalities sorted and even noted down some things that I think could be better. But the main issue is still to be tackled… LITERATURE! Now my brain is working overtime to try and get this literature right and it is true. I need to think about what I am doing and as my brain scan explains, parts of my brain need to work harder than others. In the picture of my brain you can see there are different colours – don’t ask me what these mean. But it will be different for everyone. We all think differently, do different things and work through tasks in different ways so no wonder my brain is working overtime trying to get this done. So doing something like a literature review will be a breeze for some but for other (like me) it’s not such an easy task…

Now there is a reason, or a few, that I have not yet written this section. Firstly, I am still researching and still finding new things, I did not want to begin my literature section on my form before I knew what I was going to be doing and where my research might go. I have found out some meanings of what workplace learning is, what it consists of and even sat with my supervisors and planned out the research questions we are going to address. Brilliant. But in reality, I have not found this easy and do not think I will. You see, I have not (ever) had anyone comment on my academic writing before, no bachelors supervisor nor my master’s degree supervisors, no-one whilst in education. It’s not until I started the whole process of a research degree that I have had my supervisors sit down with me and actually feedback what I have written. Now at first, I did not like this process. As I have said in previous posts I felt as though it was a dig at my writing and criticisms all round. But I now know that I am wrong. I need that someone (in my case my director of studies) to sit down with me and tell me where I am going wrong and give suggestions on how I fix this. She is right. My supervisor has given workshops and lectures on how to approach a literature review and even some of the problems that people encounter in literature reviewing. I believe I have had the lot.

Firstly, I don’t think I scoped my searching too well, and I am now finding more relevant and recent research that I should have found at the start. However, I do not feel like I have wasted my time on this. I am never going to find all of the literature in every topic relevant to mine – that is just impossible. What I need to ensure is that I am finding articles that are relevant and articles that are up to date so that I can get to the point where I can critique them and say how they relate to mine. That was my first stumbling block and what is where I begin.

Secondly, I can’t write academically!!! Well, okay, I’m not going to say I can’t (never say never and all that jazz), but it’s a struggle. I struggle with how to word things because I write as I speak, I struggle to think of academic words and I struggle to get things to make sense. And it turns out, I am not the only one. When searching on my twitter feed, there are lots of research students who struggle with this. But for me, it’s important. It is important because I need it not only for my upcoming RD4 review, but I will need this skills to ensure that I can pass my RD5 review that determines if I actually can study towards a PhD or not.

So I need help. I need help to get all of the sentencing, structures and writing just as it should be. The first thing that has helped, is getting that feedback form my supervisor. She has advised me to do a few little things here and there… and a few big things here and there to help me along the way. Here are some of her suggestions to me:

  • Do an introduction – introduce topic and what the document will be discussing. I often do not do this and my supervisor said it’s hard to know what to expect. It also difficult when not knowing what search terms have been used as the literature could be absolutely anything!
  • My navigation is absolutely shot. I need to tell the reader what is going to come in each section and explain the line of argument so that it looks like I have structured it perfectly even when I have not.
  • I also have issues with my paragraph construction – quite frankly some of them don’t make sense! I need to make a main point (with a reference), explain what is implied and what it suggests, then critique it (possibly with a reference). For me, this is not easy. I am used to being very descriptive so having to say something about a paper, then discuss it like this just does not come easy. But I am working on it and I know that it is something that I want to work on.
  • I also have issues with my vocabulary. Basically, I write as I speak so grammatically some things are not right. Now you would not think that I achieved an A* at GCSE level for English Language and achieved a good grade at A-Level too, but it’s true. So I know I can write, I just need to learn the ways of writing academically before I am able to move on any further with this research.
  • Vocabulary? But what about sentences that the vocabulary is made from? Well, they are too long. I need to keep my sentences short and concise so that the reader knows what I am trying to say. Otherwise it just tends to sound like ‘blah blah blah’ if there are too many things to digest in one go. I need to take out conjunctions and split these into separate sentences to make it more digestible to my reader and also to me.
  • To make sentences make sense, they need good grammar. There was also some feedback on this too. I need to use more plurals to ensure that there is little confusion over who is who and what I am taking about. I need to make sure my tenses are correct and get rid of my ‘what’. If you are unsure what I mean, I basically need to put the subject of a sentence first so that this is the focus of what (haha!!) the reader is looking at. Putting the subject first means that the reader does not need to remember what is being talked about and who is in the picture. They already know.

So that was some of my feedback, and there is a little more concerning some other odds and ends, but these are things like referencing techniques. As these are very subject specific (depending on what subject you study and what type of referencing you use), I cannot really comment for everyone. However, I would advise finding out what type of referencing you need and then figure out how to reference it properly. More importantly, if you are not sure, just ask. I am quite sure that your supervisor (if they are doing their job properly) will appreciate you asking a question like that. For one, you are the one in the learning hot seat and may need the help. Secondly, it will save them ample time correcting your mistakes later on if they know they have told you that before.

So as of now, what can I do? Well, there is quite a lot. Firstly, I noted down all of the feedback form my supervisor and I am keeping this as a working document. Every time I get feedback, this gets added to the list to that I know what I have been told. I can also use this as a reflection tool and keep going back and forth so that I can refer to it next time I write (or in my case, tomorrow).

I can also look online. There are plenty of resources to help me along and plenty of people who have done this before to answer my question. I have found twitter particularly helpful, especially people like @thesiswhisperer, @ThomsonPat, who regularly blog about their experiences. There are also lots of PhD groups like @PhDForum and @PhDStudents who re-tweet questions and encourage others to join the chat.

Failing that, there are academics and institutions that write about writing. I found this slideshow on my supervisor’s LinkedIn page so you might find this helpful too. There are also blog posts like this one where they give advice on writing a good introduction and literature review to hopefully help you along the way.

You can also use you own university if you need help. Asking for further training in writing will not go unnoticed and there are often specialised people who can help with this. For me, there is the Library service and also a research innovation office where I can ask for help anytime, and if they cannot help, they will always point me in the direction of someone who can.

So that is pretty much it. I have learned (so far) that my academic writing needs work, and I know it. But I know that only I can do something about it. If I don’t keep writing and keep getting feedback then only I will suffer in terms of progress as I will not make the developments needed in order to achieve the best results from my literature.