conference, presentations, research, Uncategorized

Nudge nudge wink wink

Yes, it’s the famous urinal fly nudge…


Blog number 3? of ??? for the ISBNPA2017 conference. I have been busy working like a Trojan on PhD stuff and well, laundry. If someone else did the family’s laundry for me I think I could probably finish this PhD a year earlier…But anyway, better blog quickly before I forget everything, it’s already been a month!

Friday, I was a bit stiff after running quite a bit the previous day (and frankly, these conference ‘jogs’ are aimed at much faster runners than me…) so I went to the yoga. Ahh, that’s better! I’ve got quite into yoga recently, I just need to find time and a decent class. Luckily both were provided at ISBNPA.

The conference started early with a symposium on the psychology of sedentary behaviour. This isn’t really my field but the speakers were great (though #allmalepanel here, tut) Having a female discussant or chair DOES NOT COUNT, MEN TRYING TO JUSTIFY THEIR ALLMALEPANELS, JUST TRY HARDER!


Anyway, it WAS a good symposium. The twinkly Ryan Rhodes kicked off with some really interesting stuff about whether the psychology of physical activity can help us understand and design interventions on sedentary behaviour. I cornered him at the conference dinner and gabbled some completely unintelligible rubbish at him about potential sedentary behaviour interventions based on affect. I’m sure there was some potential in there on the basis that affect might have a greater influence on more habitual sorts of behaviour than exercise, but it was a month ago, it’s all a bit hazy…Rhodes’s talk was sort of a ‘state of play of psychology’s role in sedentary behaviour’ so he had some interesting directions to suggest future research might go in.

Ben Gardner was next with some lovely studies, I really enjoy his interesting, refreshing approach to research questions! I’d like to be him when I grow up. Only I’m already older than him, oh well.

He had a good argument: people don’t say stuff like ‘that person is sitting’, they say ‘that person is reading a book’ (though actually, when I was a teen I used to walk whilst reading, I saw a teen boy recently doing that and grinned my head off at the memory of being that stuck in a book), so the ‘sitting’ bit of the reading activity then becomes invisible, so that people underestimate their sedentary behaviour. It was quite interesting actually, if people don’t see that their sitting behaviour as a problem because they’re not aware of their sitting behaviour (it’s just work, playing computer games, watching telly, driving, etc) then how can they even think about whether to change their behaviour?

Finally, Stuart Biddle (who appeared to be imitating a pirate at this conference with his big earring and stubble!) looked at the evidence for mental health and sedentary behaviour

His conclusions:

Reverse causality IS a big issue in this area: do people get depressed from sitting too much or do depressed people sit a lot? Cross-sectional studies can’t really distinguish the two. The bit about some types of sedentary behaviour being good for mental health is interesting: as the mum of a teen and a teen in training, I can see that a lot of their social lives outside school are carried out online (leaving aside debates about why that is…), and if people are spending sedentary time engaged in meaningful, enjoyable activities then clearly that can carry mental health benefits.


Talking of teenagers, I was texting my kids in between sessions when they got home from school, with my usual exhortations to get them out of the house and actually doing some form of exercise…

I appealed for help from the experts at the conference but they must have been too busy texting their own kids to reply…

After this it was lunch, my knee was hurting a little bit from all the standing I was doing (not a fan of standing for long periods!), so I was really interested to try out the wobble boards provided in one area, one of them kept throwing people off, but the one I tried was really comfortable and made my legs feel great (must investigate further…)

After lunch was a keynote by Denise de Ridder on nudging, it was a fantastic talk

She made some good points about cultural differences in attitudes towards nudging. Nudging is politically popular (because fundamentally it’s usually cheap and you’re making the right decisions the more convenient ones without denying autonomy). However, cultures differ according to the amount governments are trusted to make decisions on behalf of citizens, etc. This was a really interesting point, and as usual at international conferences it was interesting to reflect on the social norms and priorities of different countries and cultures and how that influences health.

Denise thought though that psychologists were ok with the concept of nudging: we know that people’s intentions are not always followed through with the desired behaviour.

Then she gave a bit of background to where nudging came from:

Then she moved on to whether nudges are acceptable: broadly yes, but it depends on the source of the nudge and the context

Then a bit of experimental evidence on the acceptability of nudges

But some aspects of nudges might make them less appealing:

Leading to her point: ‘cute’ nudges might be more attention seeking, but if they are too in your face they aren’t really nudges, and might be annoying. A good nudge is fairly invisible by its nature…

It was a great keynote, but Denise didn’t really answer my question very well. I was describing how Victoria makes it incredibly easy for people to drive by having car parking right outside the shops and letting people pay for parking via an app for a couple of minutes they were there (making it convenient for both local government to collect parking meter money and for locals to pay for parking without even getting out of their car and walking a few metres to a machine!). I was asking whether you could use the concept of nudging to point out that actually, people are being nudged all the time in the WRONG direction, and perhaps you could harness nudging by making the case for less convenience for the undesired behaviour. I don’t think she really understood my question, or maybe I haven’t got the whole concept of nudging, but her reply was that nudging could only ever be in a positive direction (which I thought was a very Dutch answer of hers). I still think there’s a case for the ‘anti-nudge’ but I suppose that has potential to be desperately unpopular. Still, there are limits to what nudging can do for, say, cycling, without at some stage making car driving less convenient (the anti-nudge).


One memorable part of this conference for me was meeting different people from all over the world and seeing things from a slightly different angle. I got chatting to the men below, who were from Hong Kong. I sat in the 2nd row most of the time so I could tweet photos, but they were always in the front row. So I asked them why they always sat there:

Professor Lam and Dr Shen gave me a demo of their ‘zero time exercise’ concept by showing me all the exercise they could do just sitting in their chairs during otherwise unproductive time at a conference. I thought it was a genius idea but would love to know how to make it into something which people could stick to long term. We had a brainstorming session on names ‘Fidget for Fun’! ‘Fidget for your life’! If you want to know more below is Professor Lam on Youtube 🙂 The other thing I found interesting was that it was in complete contrast to any of the physical activity or sedentary behaviour concepts covered during the rest of the conference. I wondered whether actually this had to do with cultural differences, with Western concepts of physical activity as either needing to be ‘proper’ exercise or at a pinch walking or cycling for transport, and also whether things like t’ai chi, with its very slow controlled movements played into the idea of chair exercise as being a valid form of exercise. Really fascinating stuff!


And that was it for what I tweeted that day, I think I had to nip off early to go and get changed ready for the conference dinner, which was all a bit odd but great fun meeting a big range of people in a room which used to be a swimming pool. I left early because I was absolutely knackered and still had to get the bus back to my AirBnB (couldn’t work out whether the chap who talked to me on the bus was just being friendly or chatting me up, Victoria is just that kind of place!) They were all ultra-polite!


Urinal fly photo: By Stefan Bellini (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

conference, networking, posters, presentations, research, Uncategorized

Psychology shows that bras are more attention-grabbing than maps



Eurgh, I am SOOOO jetlagged! I have conference blog number ? to write but my brain is just not cooperating right now. Plus this is apparently the one week of the year when England decides to imitate the weather of Singapore.

So I’m just going to link to my conference posters. I had a bunch of interesting conversations about both posters, but it was noticeable that the Running Commentary study one attracted a lot more attention than my Resolve to Walk study one. I *think* this might be related to the colourful photo I used of a woman wearing a bright pink bra (over her clothes, I wasn’t aiming for the lingerie ad look!), whereas people said they thought the map on my Resolve to Walk poster was attractive but fewer people came and talked to me about it. Take-home message: depressingly, sex does indeed sell…

Anyway, here is the Running Commentary poster, I called it ‘Accentuate the positive: how beginner running groups manage affective responses to exercise’, you can enlarge it by clicking here. The concept behind this poster came less from the thematic analysis itself than from my ponderings over what sort of things were different in an outdoor, group exercise context compared with an individual exercising in a lab. And one thing which really leapt out at me when observing the groups and listening to the audio recordings was a real sense of group positivity which is obviously missing from an individual exercising alone. As well as using my field notes and analysing the transcripts, I also looked at the themes which I’d drawn out which implied some sort of positive emotion and/or emotion regulation. There were more themes than I could fit into the poster, so this is very much a work in progress, in particular in future work on this I would like to look at the role of reappraisal as an affect regulation strategy, as there is research suggesting that it is an important strategy, along with distraction (Augustine and Hemenover, 2009; Rose and Parfitt, 2010).

Accentuate the positive final 05JUN17


My second poster was from my Resolve to Walk study, and squeezed in some mixed methods results on the main question of my PhD: does how people feel during exercise relate to their future physical activity behaviour in real life (not laboratory) situations? The answer from my quantitative analyses seems to suggest it doesn’t, which is counter-intuitive but I had some ideas about why the context here was important (which is why it is really useful to use mixed methods to dig into this context). Although my finding was counterintuitive, I also think it makes sense: most people feel better during walking, yet people tend not to walk if they can possibly avoid it (this is fundamentally why there is so much research on physical activity, after all!). Although the results of interventions seem to show that how people feel during walking on a treadmill is related to their future physical activity levels, going for a walk outdoors during your lunch hour doesn’t seem to be similarly related. I speculated that there might be an effect that people feel much better during an outdoor walk compared with a treadmill walk. I actually have an interesting graph showing the trends in affective responses during walking in different environments from a load of different studies, but unfortunately there wasn’t space to squeeze this into my poster. The take-home from the graph though is that people feel considerably better during outdoor walking compared with on a treadmill, with one study actually showing a decline in affective response when walking on a treadmill. This is slightly complicated by studies using participants of different activity levels, but fundamentally it just seems to feel more pleasant walking outdoors (I know, shocking, right?) There are also some alternative explanations for my results, such as a lack of power compared with other studies, the self-report nature of the measures at 6 months and perhaps the nature of the study itself (being a more naturalistic sort of field study rather than a formal intervention).

From my qualitative interviews with participants, a number of reasons for walking or not walking emerged. Interestingly, many of these seem to map onto walking domains, dimensions and correlates from Paul Kelly’s paper, suggesting that the multi-dimensional nature of walking is not just an issue for physical activity researchers, but also for participants themselves. It seems as if the meanings behind walking had participants confused when it came to setting and meeting walking goals, because there are so many different aspects and types of walking.

So here is the second poster, the map is from a Strava route I made (I asked participants to use the Strava app on their phones to log their walking) and again my thoughts on this poster are at a very preliminary stage. Click here for an expanded version of the poster!

post office poster final

Any comments or questions on either poster would be extremely welcome 🙂




  1. Genusfotografen ( & Wikimedia Sverige ( [CC BY-SA 4.0 (

2. By AM048E (Ordnance Survey) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

conference, networking, posters, presentations, research, Uncategorized

ISBNPA2017 Conference blog 2 of n…

Well we’ll see how this goes as to just how long this is, might need to be a couple of blogs because wow, there was a LOT going on during this conference! I’ve basically just used my Twitter stream as a long blog with some comments on stuff I found particularly interesting.

Thursday dawned durky and rainy, which was nice for the morning conference jog. 2 very lovely local ladies took me around a local park, I assume the views were nice but my glasses kept steaming up in the rain!

Thursday required quite a lot of logistics as my AirBnB was 2 miles away, the conference started at 8am and the jog was at 7am, with the fun run in the evening. Lots of quick changes and extra running kit required! Luckily I’d put my posters up the previous evening (will link to PDFs in another blog)

First up was a symposium on activity trackers, which was really interesting

There was some great qualitative research into people’s actual experiences of using activity trackers, with some unexpected findings:

This led to an interesting exchange over Twitter about WHY these social features were unpopular. Some people weren’t even at the conference, this is the power of Twitter for me!


There were some questions about discontinuing use which were interesting but a bit surface level to my mind. I think perhaps the emotional aspects could be more important perhaps? If you have a spell where you’re not as active as you ‘should’ be, this could be frustrating and perhaps even embarrassing. It’s fine to get a nice ego boost for getting 15000 steps in a day, but if you have a day where you’re chained to the desk and get a couple of thousand, that to me is quite negative information likely to make you stop using a tracker, especially if this happens a lot …

One fantastic thing about ISBNPA: there are a LOT of female speakers!


One annoying thing about conferences is that you miss stuff happening in parallel sessions, but that’s where Twitter comes in handy! I need to find out more about this study as it looks really relevant to my research:

Next up was the poster session, I had lots of interesting conversations about my posters (and people said they liked my titles!) though I really wish the organisers had put my posters next to each other and not back to back on one board! It was noticeable that my running poster with the photo of the BRA got the most attention…

I also chatted with Elaine Hargreaves, whose paper I based my running study on, oh the excitement! It was really cool chatting to her about the study, particularly as one of the recommendations in the paper was to do a similar study in a more ecologically valid context (which is pretty much what I did!)

I went and looked at some of the posters after my session had finished, as I love seeing other people’s work even if it’s not quite in my area, I liked the one above about harassment of cyclists. The ones below I was sorry to miss the authors of, but it was great to see some running research:

This poster was the most eyecatching of the conference to me, such great design:

The final session of the day for me was a symposium on behaviour change maintenance, which was fascinating. Mainly because nobody knows how to define it, how to measure it, what to do about it. Which is kinda unfortunate when it’s the DEFINING problem of behaviour change!

First up was some discussion of the role of theory in maintenance. Oh god, behaviour change really doesn’t need yet more theories does it?

I was really flagging by this stage, but there was a fascinating talk by Rachel (think that was her first name, the programme just says ‘R’) Burns from McGill on using incentives in maintenance of physical activity. For some reason I didn’t tweet any other slides from this symposium. She had some interesting thoughts on applying stuff from other fields, such as pro-environmental behaviour. But I’m a bit sceptical about how lessons from a fairly habitual behaviour like recycling can be translated into physical activity, which seems much less habitual (though this is debatable given the definition of physical activity when it includes some quite automatic behaviour like active travel…)

Finally, Ryan Rhodes discussed some of the issues brought up by the talks, and encouraged discussion. But frankly, everyone was either too bewildered or too knackered by this stage of the evening (starting at 8am and finishing after 6pm is a LOT of brain work!) It would be really useful to keep discussing this subject as it’s such a key idea. Personally I have my own ideas about maintenance and what it looks like, which I think is different from most ideas because the very way RCTs are set up implies a certain model of a person, and a certain model of behaviour, and people are NOT that simple! Maybe I’ll write something about my Wave Theory of Behaviour Change Maintenance in the future.

Anyway, by now it was time for the conference fun run, the rain had gone and the wind had whipped up. We ran along the waterfront and out to the ‘breakwater’ and running back with the wind behind us was as much fun as running into it was hard work!

I staggered back onto the bus to go back to my AirBnb and collapse into bed, it was quite a long day, not helped by the general election unfolding in the UK, and I was trying to keep up with events there too!

Well at least with all that thinking, my body was as active as my brain!

Right, that’s enough wittering for now, I’ll obviously have to do a blog post for each day of the conference given how much there is to talk about. I find it really useful to reflect on the things I found useful or interesting during a conference. Sometimes they are not at all what you might expect, which was the case for Friday’s sessions…

conference, networking, posters, presentations, research, Uncategorized

Crow Pose, Nudging and #BeMoreAmish

This is a blog about a conference I attended last week, ISBNPA2017 (International Society for Behavioural Nutrition and Physical Activity, it’s a mouthful so people call it IZ-BIN-PA) It was a wonderful conference and I learnt so much, so I’m going to quickly jot stuff down about it before it disappears in a haze of travel and jetlag. In fact, it will have to be a couple of blogs, there is so much to cover! And this one alone will consume far more screen ink than strictly necessary, just look at the photos if you’re short of time.

I arrived early in Victoria, BC. I’d never been to Canada before so I was really excited! I met up with my good friend Elizabeth Ablah, from Wichita Kansas, we talked our heads off because we hadn’t seen each other since the Edinburgh ISNBNPA 2 years earlier. Apologies to the other people on the bus for our cackling and shrieking, we were excited to be together again…We did make good friends with a couple on the bus from Adelaide, but we forgot to ask their names so we spent the week texting each other possible names for them (It’s Bill and Pat, by the way. Elaine is just wrong, and certainly NOT Philip!)

We took the bus to the famous Butchart Gardens, and Elizabeth almost had a coronary with excitement at all the flowers. None of them had name labels on them (why not?!) so I had to delve deep into my memory to recall most of the names. I do now know the difference between azaleas and rhododendrons (azaleas have 5 stamens and rhododendrons 10+). The peonies were TO DIE FOR. And the irises were pretty amazing too. The front gardens of the houses in Victoria and Vancouver were just incredible, I’m going home determined to make my front garden as pretty as some of the ones I saw in Canada!

There was a lovely Japanese garden at Butchart, and a little pond with stepping stones across. We watched as a chap did some yoga (crow pose) on the stepping stones and applauded. Then Elizabeth decided to have a go…

Well, it was a very hot and sunny day, and she was wearing technical fabric trousers, they dried remarkably quickly!

She grazed her chin though, so we had to take selfies with weird chin-hiding going on so she didn’t feel bad about it.

I kind of promised her I wouldn’t put these photos on Twitter. I never promised her not to put them on the internet full stop…

Wednesday morning dawned and I decided to go for a run, it was pretty spectacular. Look at these photos!

Back to the AirBnB and quick shower and onto the bus to town for an 8am start (jet lag is REALLY handy sometimes, I was awake at 4 or 5 every day). Today there was a choice of pre-conference workshops, and whole day vs half day ones. I really like doing pre-conference workshops, you get to know people in much smaller groups compared with the main conference, you get lots of discussion and you get hands on experience with different methods and issues. I would say that they are the most useful (and sociable) part of any conference and definitely worth attending.

The first workshop I chose was on nudging. This was fantastic, as a psychologist I am really intrigued by the concept of nudging. It was run by the magnificent Denise de Ridder (no other adjective could apply) and Emely de Vett, both from the Netherlands. There was some discussion on the ethics of nudging, which I won’t cover here, but some interesting cultural differences were raised. If you’re at all interested in nudging, there are some papers on Denise’s website which are worth reading. And the self-regulation paper with Mann and Fujita linked to on there is just brilliant!

As part of this workshop Denise and Emely presented some guidelines for developing and evaluating nudges for us to use, this was a bit confusing because there seemed to be 2 sets of guidelines given with lots of overlap, but the main issue was that this workshop really needed to be a full day affair, I think. We split into small groups and were tasked with coming up with a problem and a nudge to address the problem. A chap in our group from a cancer organisation in the US came up with an interesting problem, which was how to improve sun exposure during physical activity, because melanoma rates are high in people who spend time being physically active outdoors. Again, cultural differences were really interesting here, because a woman called Vicky was from Newcastle in Australia and had a whole list of ways sun exposure was tackled there. I grew up in Sydney and I have to say I’m astonished at how much things have changed since then! Nowadays kids have big hats as part of their uniform, sunscreen is provided in parks (with little umbrellas to stop the contents degrading!), the list goes on. So she had lots of ideas for how this issue could be addressed. Jan Seghers (who is Flemish) and me had less experience of needing sunscreen to be active outdoors…

We came up with a nudge (getting local youth sports organisations to provide pop up sun shelters and big bottles of sunscreen as part of the team kit), worked out the logistics, who was being nudged (the coach, the organisations, the kids) and added some evaluation ideas. It was an interesting exercise, and we addressed lots of different issues like social norms and how to make sure it was a ‘nudge’ instead of being compulsory. My idea for using social norms was to get the kids to wear zinc cream on their faces in the team colours, on the assumption that kids like face painting, wearing colours on your face is already associated with sports (think cricket players, football fans etc), and that if you were the one kid without green paint on your face you might stand out. I liked this idea!

There was more stuff about nudges in Denise’s keynote later in the conference, so I’ll cover that later. I think it’s such a cool area to work in though, so many possibilities…

The second half of the day was a workshop on prescribing walking for health. We had a stellar lineup for this: Marie Murphy, Paul Kelly, Elaine Murtagh and Catrine Tudor-Locke. What a fantastic bunch of people! They clearly had a lot of fun coming up with ideas for this workshop, and we all had a lot of fun doing the activities, plus we got some incidental sightseeing done down at the waterfront at the same time 🙂

First we had a quick whistlestop tour of research on walking and the health benefits (at least 5000 steps a day to not be ‘The Walking Dead’, the hashtag #BeMoreAmish needs to trend), and some stuff about cadence being important (at least 100 steps per minute for health). Then we set off in pairs to look at measurement stuff. We had a heart rate monitor, a steps app, a pedometer, a stopwatch and some music downloaded to our phones. We looked at different walking speeds and how they could be changed (music was very effective) and their effects on heart rate, the accuracy of pedometers and walking apps, and used the Feeling Scale to change walking speed. It was very interesting but there was nowhere near enough time to cover everything in the activity and ponder the results in depth. It was good though to get a flavour of some of the issues involved in this area, and the walking with music was an interesting concept. Though I wish my bluetooth headphones had talked to my phone because listening to I Gotta Feeling blaring out on my phone whilst striding along made me feel like a total numpty!

The final part of this workshop looked at different walking domains, dimensions and correlates using a paper by Paul Kelly. We were asked to consider which of these would be useful in walking interventions for different groups of people. It was really interesting to think about how different types of people have completely different requirements and preferences, and I think that this ‘Edinburgh Framework’ is an excellent jumping-off point for covering different aspects of walking. Funnily enough, the different walking domains came up as a real issue in the Resolve to Walk study I did. The poster I presented at this conference actually covered the problem of different types of walking and the meanings of this for participants, so this is something which is not just a problem for researchers, but also for participants themselves in terms of what walking is, and the reasons for doing it.

Right, that’s quite enough screen ink for one blog! If you read this far, give yourself a medal! I’m off to explore Vancouver. The walking domains covered will be a combination of active travel and leisure time walking 🙂

presentations, research, Uncategorized, writing

Something I wrote about how to love exercise more




I recently wrote a piece for The Slant, which is a collection of articles collated by Zova (a health and fitness company with a cool app). I thought I’d give a couple of evidence-based suggestions for how to enjoy exercise more (or feel better about it afterwards). The internet is awash with some great ideas for how to exercise more, but I’m not sure the suggestions here have received much attention.


Anyway, I need to get back to my never-ending pile of PhD work if I’m going to fit in a run to the bank later. You can find the article here

23things, research, Uncategorized, writing

Thing 12: no, the 23 things have not been shelved (despite appearances to the contrary)


This is actually what my PhD looks like right now in my mind. Maybe not quite so tidy though…

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.




23things, research, Uncategorized, writing

Thing 11: in which I abandon rhyming titles as the only thing which rhymes with eleven is…

Completely gratuitous minion meme


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.

OK, I got carried away with the memes. I promise to stop. Probably.


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:

  1. Acknowledgement of an issue in dichotomizing participants
  2. Reason why this might be an issue
  3. How this limited further exploration of the concept
  4. An alternative sampling strategy
  5. What this could offer to a study
  6. I dunno, what does this sentence even mean? Losing the will to live here…
  7. Other factors involved in exercise experiences blah blah context
  8. 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.

Well, if ever you needed a meme to express something, this would be the time

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 🙂