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AUTHOR: Beverly A. Lewin TITLE: Writing Readable Research SUBTITLE: A Guide for Students of Social Science PUBLISHER: Equinox YEAR: 2010
Patricia Zoltan, Pre-enrolment English Program (PEP), The English Language Centre, Professional and Continuing Education (PCE), The University of Adelaide, South Australia
Beverly A. Lewin's “Writing Readable Research” is a useful resource for any novice writer or writing teacher in the Social Sciences, which the author defines as fields that investigate human behaviour. The slim, 179-page book covers a broad spectrum of significant issues in scientific writing from grammar and punctuation to writing literature reviews, abstracts and professional letters. While the main focus of the book is journal articles, it also provides valuable advice on the preparation of talks and posters for academic conferences. In addition, Lewin also provides a full Reference List and an Index.
“Writing Readable Research”, as the title also suggests, was inspired by the emerging need the author recognised some years ago, because she could not locate a suitable textbook which would teach non-native speakers as well as English-speaking students new to professional writing how to write clearly, concisely and correctly. Hence, this volume was designed to fill the gap and help users to create texts that are easy to read, conform to the standards of English and to the criteria in the fields of Social Science. Lewin's book can be used as course material, especially in bridging programs both for local and international graduate students studying at English-speaking universities, but also independently by students to maximise their chances of submitting quality academic assignments.
Lewin's book provides a new take on a couple of age-old questions often heard in classrooms dedicated to the art and craft of writing. What is a “good” text? What is “good” English? The author offers answers, suggestions and advice in fourteen clearly and entertainingly written chapters. In each of the fourteen chapters, “Writing Readable Research” provides a brief theoretical background relevant to the topic, authentic examples from published texts and hands-on exercises, which are presented in a user-friendly layout together with an answer key at the end of each chapter. The authentic text exemplars used in exercises are extracted from anthropology, psychology, sociology and communications, for example, from the Journal of Anthropological Research, the Journal of Social Psychology, Social Problems, Child Development and from the Journal of Language and Social Psychology. Lewin sourced authentic exemplars from more than sixty different journals, which also ensures that her text examples come from a large pool of peer-reviewed, well-written scientific articles exemplifying to the users of her book the standards of writing accepted by renowned journals.
“Writing Readable Research” has a distinctive focus on the linguistic aspects of scientific writing inspired by genre theory (Martin 1992) and Halliday's (1985) Systemic Functional Linguistics theory and its applications with a particular emphasis on social semiotics and the interpersonal aspects of language use, for example hedging and criticism.
Chapter 1, “What Are the Constraints in Scientific Writing?”, establishes the field for the readers by explaining how novice scientific writers must abide by certain sets of rules as they are socialised into their new discipline area and into a new discourse community. These rules can also be regarded as constraints, which in turn can be categorised as linguistic rules imposed by the English language on discourse, accepted practices of writing, and conventions of scientific texts. Concise sub-sections are devoted to such crucial issues as grammar and syntax, register, style, genre, textual cohesion and rhetoric.
Chapter 2, “Nouns and Pronouns”, Chapter 3, “Using Verbs” and Chapter 4, “Shaping Sentences and Paragraphs”, each focuses on issues of grammar. Among other essential points of English grammar, Chapter 2 deals with the use of definite and indefinite articles as well as noun phrases, which often cause problems to non-native students when they write in English.
The focus of Chapter 3 is using verbs, another area of concern for international students and their tutors working together at English-speaking universities, especially when it comes to verb tenses, verb forms, passive structures, modality, conditionals and the use of appropriate reporting verbs in researched articles. In regards to verb tenses, Chapter 3 also concentrates on a specific area of scientific writing, namely the use of verb tenses in a Literature Review, a major point of significance in scientific texts. After reviewing all these aspects of verb use in Chapter 3, the author ties all these points together by showcasing their use in an illustrative extract from an article published by Idler and Kasl in The American Journal of Sociology in 1992. In the extract each verb or verb phrase is underlined, thereby calling the students' attention to the correct use of verb tenses and verb forms in a scientific article.
Chapter 4, “Shaping Sentences and Paragraphs” shows students how to work with all the building blocks they learnt about in previous chapters. Lewin also emphasises the rules of “good” writing: avoid heavy sentences, avoid ambiguity and punctuate punctiliously. While the sub-section on paragraphing does not provide a generic scaffolding template spelling out the important components of “good” paragraphing, starting with a Topic Sentence and followed by support and development and ending with a closing or linking sentence, it is still a useful segment for beginners to gain more awareness about the essentials of writing paragraphs in English.
Chapter 5, “Being Concise”, is an appropriately succinct and concise, 7-page section about the guidelines of conciseness, while Chapter 6, “Making Connections – Connectives”, provides advice on the roles of local and global connective devices. After exemplifying the use of local connectives (between two clauses), and global connectives (between larger sections of discourse) in authentic extracts for example from the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, the author invites the users of the book to fill in the gaps of an authentic extract with the appropriate connectives in an activity.
Chapter 7, “Understanding Genre Analysis – Introductions”, offers much needed explanations to new writers about the essential academic elements of a well-written introductory paragraph and concentrates on structure, relevance, establishing the gap, previewing the author's contributions, outlining the contents and foreshadowing the Literature Review.
Chapter 8, “Review of the Literature”, is a brief yet comprehensive unit about the guiding principles behind writing a well-organised Literature Review. The major components of this chapter are how to establish the background, referencing, the depth and width of a well-written Review of the Literature, verb use, and patterns of organisation. The authentic Literature Review samples provide useful insights into the mechanics and the textual and linguistic features of a quality Literature Review.
Chapter 9, “Methods”, offers advice on the structural, sequential and linguistic elements in scientific writing. This chapter together with Chapters 10 and 11 provide insights into the textual and linguistic features of scientific writing, which are important in students' understanding of how professional articles present primary, experimental or experiential, quantitative or qualitative research studies.
Chapter 10, “Results”, and Chapter 11, “Discussion” sections focus on the all-important units in a scientific article, where findings and analysis are presented. While Chapter 10, provides a brief, 3-page overview of presenting data and images, it also highlights the importance of using the right prepositions to express results when writing an English article. This section also explains the essentials of referencing visuals and integrating evidence from secondary sources.
Chapter 11, “Discussion Sections”, takes the readers through the characteristic moves of writing up the discussion section of an article and their respective rhetorical functions. Authentic text exemplars demonstrate to novice scholars the moves of logical sequencing in scientific articles as well as the lexical and grammatical signals, signposting and varied ways of stating conclusions. Extracts from authentic professional articles are presented in Chapter 11, for example by Miethe et al. (1987) published in the American Sociological Review.
After the first eleven chapters concentrating on the core components of scientific article writing in the Social Sciences, Lewin also provides three more sections to her book in which she discusses “Conference Texts” in Chapter 12, “Abstracts” in Chapter 13 and “Writing Professional Letters” in Chapter 14. Young scholars new to their respective disciplines will surely find themselves attending local or international conferences early on in their careers. So, Chapter 12 briefly summarises the guiding principles of delivering an engaging, well-organised and eloquently delivered professional presentation accompanied by effective Power Points.
Chapter 13, “Abstracts”, points out the genre-specific requirements in terms of abstracts accompanying journal articles or conference presentations. This section also provides insights into the structural, textual and linguistic features of a “good” abstract. Exemplars from the fields of anthropology and sociology are presented as illustrative examples.
Chapter 14, “Writing Professional Letters”, introduces novice writers to the principles of writing letters in academia, for example when submitting a manuscript to a publisher, responding to criticism or applying for a job. This chapter provides a generic template for professional letters with the necessary elements and some advised textual and linguistic features emphasising the appropriate level of formality required in an academic or business environment. In addition to the job application cover letter, a very interesting sub-section of Chapter 14 concerns responding to criticism. It offers some sample replies written in polite, formal and polished style, not only providing some textual exemplars to novice scholars about gaining membership in their respective professional communities, but also further socialising them into the desirable etiquette and diplomacy required in the world of academia.
“Writing Readable Research”, is a welcome addition to the array of academically inclined instructional manuals on how to create reader-friendly scientific texts. The author is an expert in the field of teaching scientific writing in the discipline of the Social Sciences and offers a compact volume with plenty of useful advice to students and guidance to tutors of scientific writing.
Lewin's book fits with the “how to” academic literature on scientific writing at university very well. While “Writing Readable Research” suits graduate students, a worthy counterpart, Weissberg and Buker's (1990) “Writing Up Research” is particularly useful for postgraduate students.
“Writing Readable Research” achieves its primary goal in helping students to position themselves as junior scholars in their academic communities. Lewin achieves this aim by gradually and consistently providing explanations and practical exercises with suggested answers in order to build up the users' linguistic and textual awareness and hone their writing skills. In addition, by following the book chapter by chapter either in a tutorial or independently, students can also gain self-confidence and a higher level of mastery in the area of scientific writing in academia.
Also, with its consistent language and grammar focus, Lewin's book also provides welcome support to the international student cohort studying at English-speaking universities. The most attractive feature of the book is its balanced mix of explanations, theory and task-based approach with a strong emphasis on skills building through activities, which are all based on authentic materials showcasing some similarities but also many differences between disciplines under the Social Sciences umbrella.
The use of authentic materials is one the most appealing components of “Writing Readable Research”, because, as opposed to some other textbooks, which turn to “made up” examples, which can be misleading or irrelevant, Lewin skillfully sourced her exemplars from relevant and reliable peer-reviewed journals.
Yet another appealing factor in Lewin's book is the array of in-text referencing examples highlighting the conventions of the Harvard Referencing Style and also showcasing the in-text referencing style of the Modern Language Association (MLA) and the Chicago Manual of Style, which raises the users' awareness in adhering to those particular referencing conventions, which they are required to use in their disciplines.
Regarding future projects assisting international students in their endeavours to master the skills of scientific writing at English-speaking universities, there are potentialities still for delving deeper into one or more specific areas of research writing. For example, building on Lewin's work, a possible, future volume could provide much needed support in paraphrasing and correctly integrating evidence from sources and impeccably referencing them, which is one of the most challenging skills for non-native students to master. Yet another book could solely be devoted to creating academic posters or effective, professional Power Points accompanying academic, professional or conference presentations. International student cohorts studying at English-speaking universities and their enthusiastic, diligent but often overstretched tutors throughout the world would surely welcome such new additions to the professional, “how to” literature of course books.
Halliday, MAK, 1985, An Introduction to Functional Grammar, London: Edward Arnold.
Idler, E and Kasl, S, 1992, Religion, disability, depression and the timing of death, American Journal of Sociology, vol. 97, pp. 1052-1079.
Martin, JR, 1992, English text: System and Structure, Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
Miethe, T D, Stafford, M C and Long, J S, 1987, Social differentiation in criminal victimization: a test of routine activities/ lifestyle theories, American Sociological Review, vol. 52, pp. 184-194.
Weissberg, R and Buker, S, 1990, Writing up Research: Experimental Research Report Writing for Students of English, Prentice Hall.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
Patricia Zoltan has taught academic and research writing for over twenty-five years at European and Australian universities and her academic background is in linguistics, literature and psychology. She holds a Masters degree in Writing and a postgraduate degree in TESOL. Currently she is teaching research and genre writing to international students in the Pre-enrolment English Program (PEP) at The University of Adelaide, while she is also pursuing her interest in creative writing.