Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Paper-Writing Tips and Other Links You Shouldn't Miss

Today, I took a break from the PR projects to get caught up on Roanoke Times work and to finish preparing an experiment paper for the AEJMC conference in Chicago in August. I'll present this paper, which discusses the results of an experiment I conducted with my research team in the fall. The paper is called Proximity and Framing in News Media: Effects on Credibility, Bias, Recall, and Reader Intentions. Here's the abstract:

A writer’s decision to localize a news article and the valence of the frame the writer employs can affect readers’ perceptions of credibility and bias as well as readers’ factual recall and the likelihood that readers would want to read the newspaper further. A 2 (proximity: local, nonlocal) x 3 (frame valence: positive, neutral, negative) factorial experiment (N = 136) tested the effects of proximity and frame valence on credibility, perceived bias, recall, and reading intentions. Articles that localized enjoyed greater perceptions of credibility but not recall, while articles with either a positive or negative frame yielded greater recall than articles with a neutral frame. Neither factor exhibited a main effect in predicting perceived bias, but their interaction was a significant predictor. In addition, localization and frame valence also influenced the likelihood that participants would want to read the source newspaper again. Implications for theory and media practice are discussed.
The paper should be squared away for the conference now, it's just a matter of making travel arrangements to Chicago. (Oh yeah, and the beach and Charlotte for our first football game!) Finishing up the last (hopefully, if I had a dollar for every version I've saved as "final") version of the paper has inspired me to provide a step-by-step list for writing a research paper.

Seven quick-and-easy steps to writing a research paper (plus a bonus eighth tip):

  1. Come up with a title. The title must be obnoxiously long and only slightly describe what the actual paper is about (you've got to make those lazy graduate students read the paper). Also, the title should include a colon to make it look more important, especially if you ever expect to get published. Example: That's What She Said: A Burkean Rhetorical Analysis of The Office and Criticism of the Dunder-Mifflin Marketing Strategy or Ouch, That Hurts: Discovering the Scientific Processes of Defecating a Squirrel.
  2. Write the abstract. Even if you don't know what your paper will be about ahead of time, or what the results may look like, go ahead and write your abstract. You can always go back and change it later, but it will give you something to look forward to and help you define your goals. Also, this is the only thing future graduate students will read anyway, unless you make the abstract somewhat interesting — then you might entice someone to read the results and conclusion sections.
  3. Research and then write your literature review. Once you've read plenty of articles in your field, you should get the hang of this. Pretty much, your literature review should look like the researcher's who has published most recently on the subject you're discussing. Just search EBSCO or whatever database you prefer for your topic, and include everything that even remotely mentions it. A few sentences from the abstracts (and maybe the results section, if the abstract is interesting) of each article will do. Be sure not to plagiarize (in other words, remember to use citations because your references page will look scrawny if you don't). If you've already written a paper in this field, just copy/paste your last literature review and be sure to look for anything that may have published since your last paper.
  4. Hypotheses and research questions. Wait, no, don't write this until you've conducted the study. It'll make you look smarter if you come back and say you hypothesized exactly what you found.
  5. Write the methods section. Talk about what you did and how you did it. If you surveyed some unsuspecting undergraduates, talk about how it went, etc. Write about your variables and such. Keep it short, no one is going to read this part anyway.
  6. Write the results section. Here is where you ask your professor for help. This will likely involve a lot of statistics and letters substituted for numbers. Basically, imagine some alphabet soup and some random numbers and symbols and hard-to-pronounce last names (Cronbach, Pearson, etc.) scattered across the page. If your results section looks something like that, you should be OK. Just make sure your results are explained in layman's terms in a summary near the end of this section so undergraduates can figure out what exactly you are trying to say you found.
  7. Discussion and conclusion — here's where you really need to put your best writing forward. In fact, if someone has read your abstract and decided this paper might not put them immediately into a comatose state, it's likely they will have skimmed your results and ended up here. Talk about what you found again, how that applies to various theories and such you already discussed in the literature review, discuss limitations to the study (things you didn't think about until you were too far into the project that may make it invalid), and make suggestions for further research (encourage others to find out what you really wanted to find out when you started the study but then realized that it would take a lot of work). Finally, say something clever and foreshadowing, and make sure everyone knows your paper really does contribute to the field.
  8. Bonus tip: Once you've repeated this process enough, you can begin citing yourself in your own works, therefore adding to the paper's credibility. (See articles on rhetorical criticism.)
I found a lot of good stuff on the Web between today's post and yesterday's. It appears the Associated Press is pissed off about us bloggers using their stories. However, there are plans to work it all out somehow. I realize not every blogger has been to journalism school, and those who haven't may not realize what constitutes libel or copyright infringement. I wish everyone could have had my media law professor, Dan Hollis, at the W. Page Pitt School of Journalism and Mass Communications. That guy sure knew his stuff. For every other blogger who doesn't want to get a degree in journalism, maybe you'd consider taking a training course similar to the one discussed by the Washington Post. Maybe it'll keep you from getting arrested, as the number of arrested bloggers is expected to increase this year — hopefully not in the U.S., but you never know what might happen if you make Uncle Sam angry (no, he doesn't turn into the Hulk).

In other news, the U.S. Army is experimenting with arcade-like locations that aren't quite recruiting stations. These locations host simulator war games and other equipment demonstrations, all of which are probably great for brainwashing young, impressionable minds. Any predictions on how long this will go on before the public goes crazy? If MoveOn has its way, though, we'll not have John McCain in office, and the Army might be able to recruit again someday. Here's MoveOn's latest political advertisement:

Speaking of filling vacancies, what about Tom Brokaw taking over Meet the Press after the unfortunate death of the beloved Tim Russert? Why Newsday bloggers think he should... what do you think?

In nerd news, the latest Punisher flick is on its way by the end of the year. The trailer has been released. Also expect your favorite web-slinger on a video game console near you this fall! Finally, there's a flash cartoon buzzing on Newgrounds right now, and it is Mario-themed, pretty humorous, somewhat confusing and fun to watch (oh, yeah the music is Japanese too).

1 comment:

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