OK, Thing 11. Bring it.
Oh. Paragraphs. Yawn.
It might be difficult to get excited about paragraphs, but analysing them is a lot less scary than looking at sentences, as there is a lot less jargon. Plus you can kind of see the point of paragraphs because there is nothing more intimidating than looking at huge swathes of text. Endless vast tracts of words unbroken by paragraph breaks, and you’re just thinking ‘I really don’t want to read this stuff, it looks A Bit Much’ and then you also think that if someone hasn’t used many paragraphs then chances are they are a bit rambly and should probably get to the point already, probably delete a few sentences or twenty, and take the needs of the reader into account. So this is just a short list of reasons why you probably shouldn’t just bung lots of sentences together without considering the impact on the reader and the flow of the writing and the argument and…
But too short a paragraph makes things seem bitty.
It’s also hard on the eye to flit about too much with very short paragraphs.
And how are you supposed to build an argument with such short paragraphs? There needs to be a happy medium, particularly in an academic context where building and supporting the argument is everything.
Yeah, I made my point, badly. It must be time for another meme. Will academic papers of the future use memes? Cos that would be cool.
Right then, what am I supposed to be doing here, oh 23 Things Oracle?
‘Take one paragraph from one of the journal articles you’ve chosen, and have a go at analysing the purpose of each sentence in the paragraph. Do you think the paragraph is as concise as it could be, or could you improve it? Write your views on the paragraph in your blog.’
I looked at the qualitative paper I’ve used as a model so far, and eeeek! Some of the paragraphs are huuuuuuuuugely long. Although the paper is generally well structured using headings to signpost different theoretical areas and different themes in the results, this clarity does not extend to paragraph length. Yes, you need to contain your ideas in paragraphs, but it’s extremely difficult to keep your focus if the paragraph takes up more than half a column. Your brain gets twitchy and starts to wander when it sees a long paragraph (or is that just me?)
My example paragraph is structured as:
- Acknowledgement of an issue in dichotomizing participants
- Reason why this might be an issue
- How this limited further exploration of the concept
- An alternative sampling strategy
- What this could offer to a study
- I dunno, what does this sentence even mean? Losing the will to live here…
- Other factors involved in exercise experiences blah blah context
- Unrelated sentence giving a limitation which I don’t even think is a valid limitation, which could have been better defended or given a reference
The paragraph I chose is 8 sentences long, which doesn’t seem too bad until you look at the sentences and realise that most of these are also extremely long. One of them contains 60 words! Combined with some complex ideas and a certain woolliness in wording (‘this would allow one to examine’ springs out as an example), and this paragraph needs a damn good edit. Frankly, a 60 word sentence is a crime against writing. It’s particularly interesting that this paragraph is the muddiest of the paper when you consider that it’s evaluating the weaknesses of the study. The psychologist in me wonders if this is precisely why it’s the muddiest? Perhaps the authors didn’t want to be all boasty-boasty? Or perhaps this is the part when all the authors weighed in with their own ideas, or Reviewer 2 made an annoying suggestion and the authors gave up the fight. Anyway, it’s a bit painful to read whatever the cause.
And the final bit I need to do in this blog:
‘Looking at the results you wrote in Thing 10; are your paragraphs as concise as they could be?’
I’m thinking probably not. Let me see what stuff I wrote:
‘Affective responses to exercise predict future exercise behaviour. The better people feel during exercise, the more likely they are to continue (Rhodes and Kates, 2015). Given this, how can we help people to feel better during exercise?
Qualitative research on affective responses to exercise is scarce, yet more is needed to understand what factors are influential, and how these can be altered to improve affective responses to exercise. Knowing quantitatively how people are feeling does not tell us anything about the context of these feelings, or pinpoint areas for improvement. Qualitative research on affect during exercise is even more scarce. Rose and Parfitt (2010) provide a rare exception: they asked high and low active women to talk aloud during a laboratory exercise bout about how they were feeling, and why they were feeling that way. Some of the themes they found have obvious practical applications, such as directing attentional focus during exercise to reduce discomfort, or interpreting physiological information positively rather than negatively.
Most research on affect during exercise is lab-based. There is evidence, however, that affective responses to exercise in laboratories differ from those in everyday environments (Dasilva et al., 2011). This makes intuitive sense — running on a treadmill is a very different experience from running alongside a river — but there is no qualitative research on affective responses to exercise in such everyday environments. This study aimed to fill this gap.’
Paragraph 1 is probably a bit too short. But I wanted to set the scene in a very quick way, and hopefully this accomplishes this aim. Plus I stole it from several abstracts I’ve done, and abstracts are highly condensed 🙂 The first two sentences propose one reason why people continue to exercise. The first sentence is perhaps not that clear, as I don’t define ‘affective responses’, so I could put ‘Affective responses (how people feel)’ to clarify this part, though it’s a bit clumsy. This is why I use sentence 2 to say exactly what the research basis is for looking at affective responses. The third sentence is a bit non-academic-y, but hey ho, it’s what the substance of my research area is. I really don’t want to stick ‘ameliorate’ in there just for the hell of it…
Paragraph 2: I’d probably rejig the first two sentences, maybe popping in something in the first sentence about how there’s plenty of quantitative research in this area but not much qualitative stuff. Also, thinking about it, my first and third sentences don’t make much sense because I haven’t previously mentioned the during part as being crucial (rather than the responses afterwards, which seem to be useless). So I should probably stick this in the first paragraph. Then say why we need qualitative research (it might be scarce because it’s just not very interesting or useful), I should beef up this section. I think the final 2 sentences are OK actually, as they give a concrete example of some qualitative research and show how it’s useful.
Paragraph 3 starts OK, though I could emphasise the lack of ecological validity of much of the lab-based research by mentioning that not only are participants on a treadmill or bike, but they are also usually wired up to heart-rate monitors, and sometimes with gas masks over their faces to collect the gases they breathe out. Yeah, not exactly your everyday exercise experience, is it? I quite like the example I give of the treadmill versus the river, but again I need to emphasise the during part, as it’s missed out here. Also, there is some qualitative research on exercise experience outdoors, but it tends to be bitty, autoethnographic stuff, or social geography, or from other disparate research areas. I probably ought to emphasise the particular perspective I’m coming from here.
I should probably rewrite those paragraphs now, but to be honest, I can’t be bothered. Now, there are bound to be stacks of memes I could use here 🙂