Saturday, September 5, 2015

Research Proposals. BLUF. Fancy Language. Questions about a Paper or Presentation

1. "I hypothesize" is not a replacement for a coherent theory or story about what is going on. (A set of regression variables is NOT a theory or a mechanism or a story.) Moreover, there should be comparable cases or examples in mind, perhaps elsewhere or historical, of similar situations (maybe in different areas but with usefully similar features) that illuminate what you are saying in your story and help you think about what you might expect. 

Moreover, your theory or story should be grounded in what is already known, other theories or stories, etc. It should not be a matter of your consulting your imagination (sometimes called a "stylized theory"), or if it is such, make sure we understand why your imagined mechanism or variables make sense. If you advocating an abstraction that you believe gets at what is really going on, you've got to convince me about it in two ways: why you believe it is a good account; the empirics support it better than some other account.

If you are doing a theoretical dissertation, be sure your theory comes out of what is already accepted, perhaps rejecting it. Ideas you just thought up usually don't work well.

2. In everything you write, the main point of what you are saying should be up front, likely the first two sentences. Or, Bottom Line Up Front = BLUF.

3. Be careful about your language. If you don't ordinarily use certain words or locutions, you are likely to misuse them in your writing. Clear is better than fancy, active is better than passive (voice), less apparently-technical rhetoric and less charged rhetoric. 

4. In asking questions about a paper, try to focus on what you consider the main issue.  Also, would the answer to your question change your understanding of the paper. Questions should aim for the heart of the work. If in fact that heart is defective, that is important. And what you are trying to do is to help the author do a better job, not another job

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