English
4780

Technical Writing

Spring
2017

 

Writing comments

This is a collection of some of the writing advice I use in a graduate course that deals with how to write a literature review. This assignment is very similiar.

 

Emphasizing the contradictions

Comments

From a former student answer

I've regularly seen contradicting secondary research in the literature review sections of papers. As I recall, authors often list a few pieces of research supporting their points of view and building on other past research. Then they introduce a contradictory piece that they either attempt to debunk with additional supporting research or use as a basis for establishing elements of their own research question.

This approach makes sense to me rhetorically. If the author wants the reader to come along on a journey, sharing the opposing point of view adds contrast or even conflict to the story. It also positions the author as honest and makes the reader more likely to trust the author's results (in addition to checking methodology). It also establishes a greater purpose to the research. If every past researcher has agreed with the author's point of view, it may make the reader wonder if the research is warranted or relevant.

Readings

 

Voice

 

Using headings

Comments

If you have only written academic papers, you may not have used headings within the text much. Here's some guidelines.

Headings should be descriptive and give the overall topic. Avoid single word headings that could go in any paper.

Headings typically have multiple paragraphs. They are not just a bold restatement of the paragraph thesis statement.

Paragraph rules still apply. New topic, new paragraph. You'd be surprised at how many papers I see where there is a heading and a long paragraph (with several topics) followed by the next heading.

Readings

 

Voice

 

Don't over write a source's information

Comments

I consistently see lit review citations written up like this:


Donna Kienzler discusses critical thinking pedagogy and its relationship to teaching ethics in the Technical Communication classroom.  In her article, "Ethics, critical thinking, and professional communication pedagogy" published in Technical Communication Quarterly in spring 2010, she states.....


If you take a closer look at the example lit reviews, including the ones you outlined, those two sentences don't fit the genre expectations.  Does wonderful at increasing word count, but that's not the goal here.


The standard way of writing that information.


Kienzler (2010) discusses critical thinking pedagogy and its relationship to teaching ethics in the Technical Communication classroom.  She states....


Drop first names, article titles, and journal titles.

Actually, the author's name should rarely appear in the sentence. In most cases, it's the information and not name dropping that is important.

An in depth examination of critical thinking pedagogy and its relationship to teaching ethics in the Technical Communication classroom found ... (Kienzler, 2010).


Also,  "in the Technical Communication classroom"  should be all lower case.  Technical communication is not a proper noun.

Readings

 

Voice

 

Do not cite each sentence in a paragraph with the same source

Comments

Here's a common paragraph

Bernard (2008) says that online readings do not have these problems because the web has a different definition of space and page real estate. The online design encourages organization of material into chunks, length of document looses meaning with the addition of audio and video, and adding color costs nothing more (p. 23). Revising can be completed instantaneously, different editions can be archived, and you never have to worry about reprinting(p.54). Even the font size of an online document can be determined by the reader and changed at will (p. 12).

There are actually two problems here

  • Every sentence in a paragraph does not have to be cited. The writer here found all of this information in Bernard, 2008 and has carefully stated which page each point was found on. You only need to cite the source once.

  • Most of the points cited here are general knowledge. You cite what Bernard said that is unique to Bernard, not the stuff that every source says. For example, the last line talks about resizing fonts of online documents. That is not a Bernard's idea and doesn't need to be cited.

Readings

 

Voice

 

Multiple citations for a single sentence

Comments

There are times when you will be including two or more citations for the same sentence. Or maybe the same paragraph if it contains a blend of the two sources. There is nothing special about citations; you can cite as many as you want per sentence.

In this example, two sentences both have two citations. In the first one, both sources discussed the idea of how people shed workload, so both can be cited.

It is very difficult to mentally transform a collection of data, and this transformation carries a high cognitive workload. As a result, people often shed the workload and don’t do the transformation (Herbig & Kramer, 1992; Webster & Kruglanski, 1994). Rather than devising ways to efficiently handle the cognitive load, people often simply reduce cognitive load by dumping parts of the problem and reverting to previously learned conventions (cognitive load is discussed further in chapter 3: What people bring with them). Rather than working to understand information, people reduce their cognitive effort and ignore information because it isn’t understood. Such is human nature: no design can change it, but must acknowledge it (Bettman, Johnson, and Payne, 1990; Wickens, 1992).

Notice too, that the details of the research in all four articles cited in this paragraph are not covered in detail. As you transform the annotated bib sources or your research notes into the literature review, the details of some of the sources go away. All that is left is that it's about shedding workload; if someone really cares about that topic, they can go read the original article. It's another example of how a literature review is surveying the research landscape and not providing a detailed description of a bunch of research.

Readings

 

Voice

 

Determine what is common knowledge and what is specific to a source

Comments

Common knowledge is difficult to define. Both of these readings have a slightly different take. It's common knowledge if you find it in multiple sources. The Purdue OWL reading (last paragraph) says 5 sources; I found others that said 3 sources.

A problem is you are still learning what the TPC common knowledge is. You need to ask yourself (see the first reading's examples) for whether it is a general concept or a specific data. It's general knowledge to say many graduating high school students are unable to write at the college level, but it's specific knowledge if you give a percentage or a breakdown by demographics (if you look at 10 studies about this, you'll find 10 different percentages).

On the other hand, unless I suspect you are are truly plagiarizing, I don't tend to focus on the issue much. I've found the typical problem is citing too much common knowledge. Freshman comp instructors instill great fear about plagiarism and citations; relax a bit.

Readings

To cite or not to cite

Is it plagiarism yet?

 

Voice

 

Cite right away

Comments

Always include citations as you research and write; it's not that difficult to write (Williams, 2005) as you type the sentence. They don't have to be perfect at this point, but you must put the citation in.

I know that a typical undergrad writing style is to just write the paper and then go back an add in the citations. But here you have a lot more citations to keep track of and more time elapses between writing and citing, which means you forget and spend time finding the source.When you write a 7 page paper in six hours, you can easily go back and insert the citations at the end. The entire paper is fresh in your mind, since you wrote it in a single six hour session, and you can remember what you meant to cite when you wrote the text. But when you write a longer paper and it takes a few weeks, you'll forget who was supposed to be cited where. Not to mention that you now have 20-30 references to keep straight rather than 5.

Also, add the citation to your reference section right away. Again, it doesn't have to be the complete citation, but a short version that you can expand later. Many of mine get copied into the reference section as just (Williams, 2005). That records it and I can create the full proper citation later.

Readings

 

Voice

 

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