23things, Uncategorized, writing

Thing 5, snakes alive

No, I don’t know where the snakes came from, it just sorta kinda rhymes…Perhaps the image of the snake skeleton below is relevant though, taking something scary like research papers and examining their skeletons to get insight into how it all works? Yeah, I know. Tenuous.

Thing 5 for 23 things for publication is to find 4 papers of different types and analyse how they are written and what differences there are between them.

1. A paper from a specialist journal: I chose Rose and Parfitt (2010) as it’s more or less what I based my first study on. Only theirs was a lab study and mine was a Big Hairy Audacious field study which was a lot more messy (and interesting) than a lab study could be…

The key message from this paper is the stuff which people say about how they’re feeling during exercise. There are very few qualitative papers around like this, in fact I only know of one other. Although this paper is very interesting, I find it isn’t as useful as it could be, because it seems a bit superficial in its findings. In my opinion, it covers too much ground in not enough detail, and as a result the recommendations are a bit sketchy and unsubstantiated. I think this might be partly due to space constraints, but mainly I suspect it is because the study was actually a mixed methods study and they were busy puzzling out the quantitative results (which are a messy paper in their own right), and there seems little connection between the two. I think a lack of appreciation of the power of qualitative studies is shown here, with the lack of depth meaning that there is less contribution to theory than there could be. Nevertheless, it is a clearly-written paper answering an important question in a big journal in my field. I wouldn’t use it as an example of a good qualitative paper though, there are better ones out there which aren’t so qualitative-lite.

2. A paper from a general journal: I have chosen Segar and Richardson (2014) for their paper arguing that pleasure and meaning are an important part of exercise, and that these principles can be applied to walking. The journal covers a wide range of public health issues including research, and teaching and policy applications of research. Because the journal is a general one, the language is non-technical, and definitions are used liberally, along with examples of studies illustrating the points being made. Since the paper is essentially an argument rather than an experimental paper, each point is set out as the heading for each section, with the key message for that section being explained and illustrated. This is a really effective way to orientate the reader and makes it easy to read and to follow.

3. Review paper: the review paper I’ve gone for is Rhodes and Kates (2015), which is a systematic review of the affective response to exercise and its relationship with future physical activity behaviour and motives. I was thrilled when this was published (yes, I am that sad), because it nicely summarises all the research to date on my PhD topic. Hooray! I’d already found all the relevant papers and come to similar conclusions, but it was nice to have this confirmed. The key message is that how people feel during exercise is related to their future physical activity levels, but this does not apply to how people feel after exercise. Given that I’ve been asking people how they feel during exercise, this is a fantastic justification for my work so far, I just need to find out if the relationship holds in real life as well as in laboratories…

In terms of how this paper was written, it follows a very standard format for systematic reviews, so there is nothing particularly special about this paper in this respect. I do like the way though that the key points are summarised throughout the paper, and also the way the authors avoid the usual crap about more research of better quality being needed (because that is ALWAYS the case). Instead, they form conclusions based on the limited evidence which is available, summarise the strengths and weaknesses of that evidence and offer a way forward for future research in a very clear and organised way. It also happens to be in a BIG journal in the field of behaviour change…

4. A paper by a good writer: this was a tricky one, most of the big names in my field are pretty good writers (you don’t often get published that often by writing terribly, after all). But in the end I plumped for a writer in a slightly different (albeit related) field, because I’ve decided that behavioural economics papers are generally just so damn interesting! There are exceptions, and some really dense, hard to follow behavioural economics papers, but the one I’ve chosen is beautifully written. Not for nothing is behavioural economics so popular, and so much better covered in the media than ‘proper’ psychology.

The paper is another review, but it’s more a narrative review and synthesis of research to date on the topic, so it’s more narrative in its style than a systematic review. The thing I really like about this paper is that it uses lots of concrete examples to illustrate key ideas, and it also offers a range of applications for a range of people to use, from individuals to policy makers. It’s organised around topic headings, but not too many of them (there could be a few more, I think) and follows a logical framework from introducing the problem to summarising 15 years of research to concluding with practical ways this research can help in real life problems such as obesity and climate change.

In terms of differences between the papers: two follow a rigid format which is more or less imposed by the subject of the paper (an experimental study and a systematic review), whereas two are more argumentative in tone and therefore use a different format with plenty of headings and more of a rhetorical tone. They are all excellent papers in their own right. The paper I want to write is about an observational field study, so it doesn’t fit neatly into any of these categories, though it’s closest to the first one in terms of the way I need to structure it. But since it’s a qualitative paper, I also have the scope to change the format up a bit to suit this, depending on the journal I decide to target. I have another qualitative paper in mind which does a great job in linking theory to data, and I intend to use this more as my model, though I might check out a couple of field study papers as well if I can find some.

Specialist journal:

Rose, E. A., & Parfitt, G. (2010). Pleasant for some and unpleasant for others: a protocol analysis of the cognitive factors that influence affective responses to exercise. The International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, 7(15), 15. Retrieved from http://www.pubmedcentral.nih.gov/articlerender.fcgi?artid=2832617&tool=pmcentrez&rendertype=abstract

General journal:

Segar, M. L., & Richardson, C. R. (2014). Prescribing Pleasure and Meaning. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 1–4. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.amepre.2014.07.001

Review paper:

Rhodes, R. E., & Kates, A. (2015). Can the Affective Response to Exercise Predict Future Motives and Physical Activity Behavior? A Systematic Review of Published Evidence. Annals of Behavioral Medicine. http://doi.org/10.1007/s12160-015-9704-5

Paper by a good writer:

Milkman, K. L., Rogers, T., & Bazerman, M. H. (2008). Harnessing Our Inner Angels and Demons: What We Have Learned About WantShould Conflicts and How That Knowledge Can Help Us Reduce Short-Sighted Decision Making. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 3(4), 324–338. http://doi.org/10.1111/j.1745-6924.2008.00083.x

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2 thoughts on “Thing 5, snakes alive

  1. I love your writing style in your ‘Thing 5, Snakes Alive’ blog post! You’ve got a really engaging informal way of writing about academic themes that relaxes the reader and makes them want to read on. Keep going – it’s great! Alison

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