At the level of our text, we have to consider what the underlying driving force is of our text. In other words, what words would we use when we think about our aim and outcome?
Answer this question for yourself. What do I want my journal article to do? What do I want my text to do?
You may remember this question coming up at the beginning of the course where we asked you to think about the rhetorical situation of your text. What it says and what it does.
The same logic applies to the question about your text in general. If we know what we want to achieve, or rather, what we want our text to achieve, we can start to pinpoint these areas in our text which achieve this. Either at the level of a paragraph (rhetorical structures) or at the level of sentences or words in those sentences.
The answer to these questions should roughly fall into the following:
- I want my article to be clear
- I want my article to be well organised
- I want my article to be persuasive
- I want my article to add value to my field of research
When we break down these answers, we can apply specific organisational structures in our writing. For example, clear writing is writing which will most likely include a lot of repeating words, structures, verb tenses, subjects. In other words, clear writing is writing that can be quickly and accurately understood by “lazy” readers. It is writing which does not challenge the reader to find meaning, but the reader is able to follow the meaning the writer intends to convey onto the reader.
For the the article to be well structured, the most obvious response is to give it structure. In other words, outlining the main ideas at a paragraph level, idea level will give it structure. Structure is often also represented at the sentence level, or rather, the flow between sentences and ideas. Most often, we use linguistic glue or transition words and phrases to guide the reader through our structure. Think, for example, about words and phrases such as, “next”, “first”, “second”, “third”, “finally”, “in other words”, etc.
For the text to become persuasive, the text has to resort to argumentative structures which create a strong evidence based argument. Finally, for value to come across in the text, a clear central message needs to run through the whole texts which convinces readers that the content has value for them. Whether this value is value to enhance the field of research, value as a source of information, value for learning, etc.
As such, a great deal of aspects need to come together to create such harmony. One particular way to achieve this is through storytelling.
Storytelling is technique that has been used for many many years. The concept is perhaps much more familiar when we relate these to other genres, such as children’s books, novels, film, etc., but the general structure underlying storytelling can equality be applied to science writing. What is storytelling? What makes a story a great story? Why are we interested in specific films, series, etc.? Generally, for stories to be interesting, they contain a main theme, characters, settings, tensions, and a climax and resolution. In science writing, we don’t call them as such, but they are there nonetheless. The settings and characters is the background of our study, the characters being that item that we investigate and the context in which that resides. When we explore the characters and settings, we realise that in our research they have a problem (or a tension) which needs solving. We demonstrate that we can resolve these by specific methods and results in our study, the action we take in our research. Once we have passed that stage, we can make specific conclusions, which is the climax of our story, followed by the implications of these conclusions on future research (future stories).
This storytelling path is very clearly outlined by Anna Clemens
Another specific measure of value is how much your article educates. According to Eric Lightfouse, author of the book Scientific Writing for Impact Journals (2013), all research papers should have research zones spread across the different sections (see figure below). For example, the introduction is all about educating the reader. The methods section should contain a part which educates the reader about the method used. Why the method is useful, what the method does in comparison to other methods, etc.
So how does this relate to language?
If you write from these keywords, it will definitely help you to bring focus to the text, and send out a clear signal to the reader.