Abstracts, Lit. Reviews and Methods…Oh, My!

By: Tonya B. Lewis

New [nyoo]: adjective
1. unfamiliar or strange (often followed by to ): ideas new to us; to visit new lands.
2. having but lately come to a place, position, status, etc.:

Graduate School [graj-oo-it] / [skool]: adjective/ noun
1. An institution or program that you can’t believe you voluntarily signed up for.

Research [ri-surch or ree-surch]: noun
1. diligent and systematic inquiry or investigation into a subject in order to discover or revise facts, theories, applications;

2. something you can’t believe that you’re supposed to learn, do well and get published, especially when you just learned how to search for e-journals and thought APA was like a 2013 spin on Naughty By Nature’s “OPP” song. (Hmmm)

Yesterday during the second class meeting of my Mass Communication Theory class, we had a guest speaker, Marlene Neill, Ph.D., an assistant professor in journalism, PR and new media department at Baylor University. Neill, one of the department’s newest faculty members and a prolific researcher spoke on the elements of a (good) journal article. In preparation for Neill’s talk, we read two of her articles–one a conference paper and the other published in the Journal of Mass Media Ethics.

Abstract: C’mon, you know you want to read this paper. Let me tell you why!
Neill addressed what constitutes a well-written and catchy abstract that will attract readers.

She said an abstract “needs to be a good teaser” as it the first thing a person will read to decide whether or not to read your article. This made me think about Journalism 101—crafting a short, concise lead with an accurate and potentially intriguing headline. She added that an abstract should include “why people should care, key words and the key findings” of your research.

Marlene Neill, Ph.D., (right) speaks about the elements of a research article to a Mass Communication Theory graduate class Sept. 3, 2013.

Marlene Neill, Ph.D., (right) speaks about the elements of a research article to a Mass Communication Theory graduate class Sept. 3, 2013.

Another important part of a research paper should include an introduction that informs readers why the study is needed and what scholarly or knowledge gap it fills. In this section, it’s important to reference major work and the general idea and purpose of the study.

Now, here’s the tricky part of research papers—the literature review.

Literature Review: Too quote or not to quote (a study), that is the question.
In addition to the research you are conducting, you have to research the research that’s been done in the area you are studying. The catch: it’s has to be recent articles, but you can include major works or groundbreaking studies such as those that lead to the establishment of a new theory or refined an existing one. But, wait there’s more…

“If you are submitting to a specific journal, you do want to locate specific work from that journal,” Neill said. “If it was in that journal, they want to see that you are citing work from their journal because it’s to their advantage to have their work cited. And, so there’s a little bit of a personal interest there for them to make sure people are reading and citing their work.”

When submitting a manuscript for consideration to a journal, you can only submit it to one journal at a time, which can take a considerable amount of time and revisions before it will be accepted. And, even with revisions, it can still be denied. (Personally, I think this is wrong. If you ask me to make revisions, I think that implies you will eventually publish my paper. Ruuuudeee!)

Methods: “Show me the methods!”
Quantitative vs. Qualitative…Decisions, decisions.  There are several types of sampling methods to choose from—random, convenient and snowballing, a method that Neill prefers.

“I love snowball sampling as I mentioned that’s where you contact someone you know, and they help provide referrals. That helps you contact people outside your initial network,” Neill said.

Methods are the nuts and bolts of research that outlines what method you used, the data you compiled and how you analyzed the data. Whatever method you choose, study participant recruitment can be difficult and may cause you to be resourceful like an enterprising reporter. You can offer incentives, give anonymity to informants, tap into professional organizations and LinkedIn groups and take advantage of conference attendance by interviewing people while you’re there.

Neill also addressed how she “coded” the data and had another researcher reviewed it for reliability. She showed us how she coded her study participants’ responses. She kept all of her notes in a binder that looked as thick as the Dead Sea Scrolls all combined. Honestly, there is not much I can say about coding except:

1)      It looks hard because I suspect it is hard.

2)      It is time consuming because she told us she transcribed 43 hours of interviews and then organized all the comments—by herself.  (Good grief!) But, her organization was impeccable.

3)      I still don’t quite understand it.

4)      I may have to do it one day, and I am scared.

Neill conducts qualitative research, which consists of interviews and focus groups. Once she codes the information from her study, she reports the findings as themes. She reports how many people address a topic, which is referred to as frequency, and how widespread the themes are within a sample size.

Discussion: The Home Stretch
The last part of a paper (besides the works cited, of course) is the discussion. I suspect by this time, you are tired, cross-eyed from coding and just ready to be done. But, you must “focus Daniel-san.” In your discussion, you make recommendations for future research, mention the limitations of the study and outline other methods that could be applied to the research the topic.

Then, you are done (except for that pesky works cited, of course).

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