I’ve been up to my armpits in writing and submitting abstracts recently, and combined with teaching and all the life clutter currently going on in my world, I’ve put the Things on the back burner. But I have a little window now so I can focus on this for a bit. Firing up the forklift to retrieve it from its spot in the warehouse…
Sooo, where were we? Story arcs and flow, OK. Actually, one of the many reasons why I dropped the 23 things for a bit was that I knew I had a bit of a theoretical hole in my story. I knew the background literature for this particular hole must exist, but I could not for the life of me find it! And then something popped up from nowhere and led me to a paper which led me to another paper and then lo! There were a bunch of great papers which were just what I needed to plug the gap in my story *does happy dance*.
Thing 12 looks at how to build an argument through the paragraphs. First, you need to be clear about the particular story you’re trying to tell. I think I have this bit sorted, now I’ve found my gap, and I’ve made a list of important points which I think I need to weave into the introduction. I usually use mind maps to do this sort of stuff, as sometimes a big sheet of paper and some pens are the best way for me to literally connect the dots. You can see which bits are missing and which points need some more meat on the bones when you stick things in bubbles and draw arrows between them. I think this is even more important for qualitative work, when you have a mountain of data and you could tell a thousand stories about it. It’s much easier when you’ve done a quantitative study!
There are some useful links and guidance here for linking paragraphs using key words and transitions, I think I’ll bookmark these for when I have my argument completely sorted out and want some ideas on how to do this. The writing for this Thing is to look at my example paper and make some observations about key words. Initially, I thought maybe the structure of the introduction was not that logically clear, but on looking more closely there are plenty of key words used and the transitions are ok. The main culprit getting in the way of clarity here is the use of enormously long sentences. Stick 5 or 6 references in there as well as long sentences, and even the most assiduous reader will lose the will to read! In physical activity there is something called ‘the talk test‘, where you use talking as a measure for the intensity of an activity. During moderate intensity activity, you can talk but not sing. During vigorous intensity activity, you can’t say more than a few words without needing a pause to take a breath. Using too many long sentences is the written equivalent of making people run too fast for too long: it’s not pleasant, and you’ll want it to stop…Related to this is a fascinating piece by Peter Elbow (a very good writing educator) on why it’s important to read your work aloud. I loved the way he talks about ‘word music’, and he’s talking about all writing, not just fiction or poetry. I don’t think he finds academic writing particularly poetic, somehow.