The Science Of Scientific Writing    Set F      The Discussion     Coherence: Speculative and Non-speculative Content      Exercise 1      Maps for Discussions    Exercise 2      Final Page .

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OVERVIEW: The way to well-written science

How to do the Course


PART I: Paragraphs and Sentences

SET A: Paragraphs: The Maps Behind Them

SET B: Paragraphs: Using Maps to Meet Readers' Expectations

SET C: Paragraphs with Something Extra: Points and Tails

SET D: The Generic Section: Expectations and Maps as Blueprints

SET E: Scientific Sections: The Methods and Results

SET F: Scientific Sections: The Discussion

SET G : Scientific Sections: The Introduction

SET H : Sentences

SET I : The Paper as a Whole



PART II: The Paper and its Sections


SET 1: Argument Parts

SET 2: Indicator Words

SET 3: Refining Claims

SET 4: Locating Arguments in Prose

SET 5: Rationale's Essay Planner

SET 6: Evidence in Arguments: Basis Boxes

SET 7: Assessing

SET 8: More on Assessing

SET 9: Analysis Maps

SET 10: Assessing Again

Synthesis 1: Position-Early Paragraphs

Synthesis 2: Position-Final Paragraphs

Synthesis 3: Writing a Discussion I

Synthesis 4: Writing a Discussion II

Using Maps in Descriptive and Argumentative Discussions

Descriptive Discussion

With your previous experience with Section Maps, there should be little difficulty in constructing a map for a descriptive discussion, since they follow the pattern of a generic section.

So make sure that:

(1) The top box contains the Framing or Point Sentence of a paragraph that frames the entire Discussion

(2) For the remainder of the planned paragraphs, use one box per paragraph, and in each box we put:

  • The paragraph's Framing Sentence, if the paragraph does not have a concluding Point or,
  • The paragraph's concluding Point Sentence, if the paragraph does have a concluding Point (that is a Point Sentence trumps a Framing Sentence!)

Also remember that the early part (left-hand branches) of the Discussion should focus on non-speculative content, and that the later branches will focus on speculation (implications/explanations). Being a descriptive study, you will probably organise much the material according to the same natural categories that would be used to organise the Results (e.g. types of organisms, functional roles of proteins, various study areas). When it comes to the speculative content, various organising principles can be applied:

* From most specific to most general (often ending in the most practical implications (e.g. medical significance, management plans))

* From most important to least important (or the reverse)

* From the least speculative to the most speculative (or the reverse)

* Explanations first, then practical implications, then implications for future research


Argumentative Discussion

As you should recall, an argumentative Discussion will be predominantly be focused on arguing one or more specific intepretations of the results with respect to one or more Specific Research Questions (non-speculative content). It may optionally then provide speculation arising from those interpretations (or from just the basic information presented in the Results). The speculative content will be organised in the same way as for the speculative content of a Descriptive Discussion (see immediately above) and creating a map for such holds no mysteries.

The map for the non-speculative, Argumentative component is more complicated. This is really the most important part of an hypothesis- or model-driven paper, and requires the greatest care. There are several things you are trying to achieve:

* You are trying to provide a thorough argument, that considers the evidence both for and against your main claims. This is often referred to as the "logos" of your argument.

* You are trying to keep your readers' attention. Readers typically bring a |"cost-benefit-analysis" mentality to papers: "How much benefit will I obtain reading this paper for the amount of effort required (compared to the many other papers competing for my attention)?"

* You are trying to establish an image of yourself, both for the moment, and also for the long-term, as a suitably intelligent, critical and reliable member of the scientific community. This is technically referred to as the "ethos" of you argument.

All three of these aims are important, and in the early part of your career, the third is particularly important, especially in relation to the reviewers who will decide whether your papers will or will not be published. One of the most effective ways to affirm your trustworthiness in your readership's eyes is to provide the thorough argument mentioned in the first point. Few things decrease your credibilty more than if you appear to approach your research in a biased way. Thus you should always try to play devil's advocate to your own work - this will not only increase your work's credibility, it will often lead to improvements in the science itself. One common suggestion is to try to think of the simplest experiment that could prove your preferred model wrong.

There are many aspects to presenting a good argument, too many to consider in their entirety here. A latter part of the course will deal with argumentation and argument mapping in more detail. For the moment we will focus on a system to annotate your map that will help you sequence your content in a way that maximises the readers' attention.

Annotating Maps for Scientific Impact

Consider the map below.



This map has two types of annotation:

* Map boxes are annotated to reflect their "argumentative strength". Rationale uses two systems to do this:

  • Different shades of green or red, the darker the shade, the stronger the support and counter-support, respectively
  • For colour-blind people, different numbers of round or square dots, the number reflecting the strength of the support and counter-support, respectively.

* Some branches (here only the upper level ones) are annotated to reflect the importance of the branch for the argument, if the argumentative support (or counter-support) were 100%

  • Here, stars (from the Teacher Tools part of the Building Panel) have been used to indicate this "potential importance" of the branch.

When any given branch is annotated for both components, then considering them together provides what I call the Impact of the branch. A line of evidence could have a medium level of reliability but may be very exciting, and thus may have higher Impact than another line of evidence which is highly reliable, but does not have the potential to change our thinking much. In the global warming example above, the left-hand branch has been given a higher Impact, because, even though its credibility is rated the same as that of the right-hand branch, the author decided that current correlations are more important than past ones.

How do you combine your assessments of argumentative strength and potential importance to come up with a measure of Impact? This is up to you, there is no precise formula. Each person is going to vary in their assessement. It is of course the relative Impact of one line of evidence versus another that is more important than any absolute value. It is a good idea to make such assessments explicit to your collaborators because tsuch assessment often guide, consciously or unconsciously, how you will sequence the Discussion. In what way? Well, if we are trying to keep our readers' attention, it makes a lot of sense to present the highest Impact line of the argument first. This represents a major difference in the way that arguments are sequenced compared to descriptions and reports, where "natural order" is often more important. Of course natural order can also play a part in arguments too, but its influence is often trumped by considerations of Impact.