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A presentation from a workshop on how to structure original research communications (manuscripts and seminars). The main purpose of the workshop is to introduce a new way of thinking about the …

A presentation from a workshop on how to structure original research communications (manuscripts and seminars). The main purpose of the workshop is to introduce a new way of thinking about the underlying "backbone" of any research communication. I propose that the most useful organising principle to use is to structure the paper or seminar as a nested series of questions addressed by a corresponding nested set of answers. Author: Geoff Hyde, NCBS, Bangalore.

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  • Monotype Corsiva 40 Is there anyone in the audience who finds writing easy??? Not many. Well, from my experience at putting this question to many groups like this, that makes you a very representative sample of scientists, perhaps of people in general. Of course a writing course probably self-selects for people who don’t find writing easy, but I think that like me as you go along in your careers you will find that scientists who relish writing up papers and grant proposals are few and far between. As for my own writing, while I enjoy doing it immensely, this doesn’t mean that I find each wiring assignment a “walk-over”, in that it still takes me an inordinate amount of time, and a lot of rewriting but unless you aim your sights extraordinarily low, that will always be the case, however much you understand the process of writing. So what is it that makes such a seemingly simple task so difficult?
  • For example, you have an idea X in your head. Basically you want to transfer X into the heads of all your readers.
  • So what we actually see is this: You: X. Readers: X,Y and Z. Why?
  • But luckily I then remembered a paper I had been shown many years before and which had actually had quite n impact on me, and others I knew who read it. I soon found that the main author was actually part of a team that had set about to deconstruct the process of writing, with the belief that all writing can be made dramatically more accessible than might at first be thought.
  • They had the revolutionary idea, that is revolutionary in relationship to everything else out there, of focussing not on some abstract ideal that all writing should aspire to, as is the annoying refrain one meets so often, but focussing instead on How Readers actually Read, what features of a sentence or a paragraph make it more accessible, with the result that they can offer writers ways to adjust their style to conform with the typical expectations their readers, and thus increase the chances of being understood.
  • Transcript

    • 1. The Science of Scientific Communication
    • 2. New technologies: capacity to generate scientific information growing rapidly
      • Genetic/molecular approaches
      • GIS
      • Internet
    • 3. Rapid expansion: ability to share information is more challenging
      • “ information-dense”
      • specialised
      Research topics have become more
    • 4. The Hope X Scientist X X X X X X X X X Audience X X
    • 5. The Reality X Scientist X X X X ? Y X Z X Y Audience Z
    • 6. Our Aim
      • How to make
      • the transmission of our message
      • as accurate as possible?
    • 7. Scientists must find ways to improve communication skills
      • Trial and Error Approach
      • Advice from collaborators
      • Look to research on communication
    • 8. American Scientist, 1990, 78, 550
    • 9.
      • George Gopen
      The Reader Expectation Theory Team Joseph M. Williams, Gregory Colomb, Wayne Booth
    • 10.  
    • 11. Main message from research: audiences expects information to be organised in patterns
      • Example: the main pattern of a paragraph
      • - one main idea, expressed early
    • 12. Paragraphs typically establish their frame of reference early
      • Manja is a really good guy . He works very hard. He always finds time to help his friends. When his parents need him, he never refuses
      • to return home.
    • 13. Pattern-packaging exploits human drive to complete patterns
      • O_r capacity to comp_ete patt_ _ns
      • mak_s it p_ssible to und_ _stand
      • incom__lete and ev_n
      • incrroect cmmounictaion.
    • 14. An early framework helps us to make sense of a poor later sentence
      • Manja is a really good guy. He works very hard. He always finds time to help his friends. When parents have a need, never is there a refusal
      • to return home.
    • 15. Higher-level patterns are more important than lower level ones
      • A higher-level pattern provides
      • the frame of reference
      • for the pattern one level below
    • 16. An outline is a higher-order framework..
    • 17. … that we use to fill in the details.
    • 18. Our Aim….
      • How to make the transmission of our message as accurate as possible?
      X X Scientist X X X X X Audience
    • 19. ..can now be addressed by these objectives.
      • What are the two highest-levels patterns
      • audiences expect in scientific communications?
      • How do we make these patterns obvious
      • in papers, proposals & seminars?
    • 20. Top-level pattern: problems with paper-writing indicate that IMRaD is not it I ntroduction R esults D iscussion M ethods
      • Confusion about what sort of information goes where
      • Mismatch between Introduction and Discussion
    • 21. A more useful top-level pattern: nested questions and answers Big Picture Question Aim-level Question/s Objective-level Question/s Objective-level Answer/s Aim-level Answer/s Big Picture Answer/s NB: Aim-level question must be one audience sees as: - unanswered in the literature (novelty) - significant
    • 22. An example talk to illustrate the nested Questions/Answers pattern. Part 1: No use of PowerPoint: purely verbal Part 2: PowerPoint can be used Part 3: No use of PowerPoint: purely verbal Your own talks in the course should have the same mix of “purely verbal” and “PowerPoint-assisted” parts.
    • 23. A problem in paradise: The vanishing Picobar Tree Frog Geoff Hyde NCBS SCCS 2010 Bangalore (The slides for parts of the talk that were “purely verbal” have been added here for completeness)
    • 24.  
    • 25. Diurnal Insectivorous Mid-altitudes Population declining The Picobar Tree Frog
    • 26. How can the population decline of the Picobar Tree Frog be halted?
    • 27. Possible players in the population decline of the Picobar Tree Frog Rat Snake ( Ptyas mucosa ) Introduced 1999 Picobar Lady Beetle ( Harmonia picobari ) Threatened by fungi
    • 28. Is population decline due to increased predation or decreased prey?
    • 29. Nested Questions and Answers of talk so far How can we reverse the decline of the Picobar Tree Frog? Is Picobar Tree Frog decline due to Rat Snake increase or Lady Beetle decrease?
    • 30. Nested Questions and Answers for this workshop How do scientists cope with the communication challenges (information-density, specialisation) posed by rapid expansion of information? How do we make the transmission of our scientific messages more accurate?
    • 31. An example talk following the structure for your own talks in this course Part 1: No use of PowerPoint: purely verbal Part 2: PowerPoint can be used Part 3: No use of PowerPoint: purely verbal
    • 32. If increased predation, ......
    • 33. .....,we should see snakes eating frogs Objective 1: Do starved captive rat snakes eat Picobar Tree Frogs?
    • 34. If decreased prey, frogs should strongly prefer Lady Beetles
    • 35. Objective 2: Do starved, captive Picobar Tree Frogs strongly prefer Picobar Lady Beetles ?
    • 36. Preparation for exposure to frogs 27 o C + 36 o C Replication : 20 snakes
    • 37. Snakes offered two species of frogs
    • 38. Snakes ate the brown frogs
    • 39. Tree frogs uneaten after one week
    • 40. Objective 1: Do starved captive rat snakes eat Picobar Tree Frogs? No
    • 41. Preparation for exposure to insects 27 o C Replication : 20 frogs
    • 42. Frogs offered five species of insects
    • 43. Frogs targeted the Lady Beetles
    • 44. 95% Lady Beetles, 25% Brown Beetles eaten
    • 45. Objective 2: Do starved, captive Picobar Tree Frogs strongly prefer Picobar Lady Beetles ? Yes
    • 46. Nested Questions and Answers, up to end of Results How can we reverse the decline of the Picobar Tree Frog? Is Picobar Tree Frog decline due to Rat Snake increase or Lady Beetle decrease? * Do captive Rat Snakes eat Picobar Tree Frogs? * Do captive Picobar Tree Frogs strongly prefer to eat Lady Beetles? * Captive Rat Snakes do not eat Picobar Tree Frogs. * Captive Picobar Tree Frogs strongly prefer to eat Lady Beetles.
    • 47. An example talk following the structure for your own talks in this course Part 1: No use of PowerPoint: purely verbal Part 2: PowerPoint can be used Part 3: No use of PowerPoint: purely verbal
    • 48. Is decline of Picobar Tree Frogs due to increased Rat Snake predation or decreased availability of Lady Beetles? * Very unlikely due to Rat Snakes * Results support Lady Beetle hypothesis - need support from field studies - preliminary data is suggestive
    • 49. Suggestions for management of population decline * Breed fungal-resistant Lady Beetles * Captive breeding program for tree frogs
    • 50. Nested Questions and Answers for entire talk How can we reverse the decline of the Picobar Tree Frog? Is Picobar Tree Frog decline due to Rat Snake increase or Lady Beetle decrease? * Do captive Rat Snakes eat Picobar Tree Frogs? * Do captive Picobar Tree Frogs strongly prefer to eat Lady Beetles? * Captive Rat Snakes do not eat Picobar Tree Frogs. * Captive Picobar Tree Frogs strongly prefer to eat Lady Beetles. Captive results consistent with a role for Lady Beetle decrease in Picobar Tree Frog decline. * Breed fungal-resistant Lady Beetles. * Start captive breeding program for Picobar Tree Frogs.
    • 51. Objectives
      • What are the two highest-levels patterns
      • audiences expect in scientific communications?
      • - Nested Questions/Answers
      • - IMRaD
      • The objective: “How do we make these patterns
      • obvious in papers, proposals & seminars?” can now
      • be reworked as:
      - How do we make nested Questions/Answers stand out in IMRaD, especially the Aims?
    • 52. 1. Express questions, especially aims , as questions How can we reverse the decline of the Picobar Tree Frog? Is Picobar Tree Frog decline due to Rat Snake increase or Lady Beetle decrease? * Do captive Rat Snakes eat Picobar Tree Frogs? * Do captive Picobar Tree Frogs strongly prefer to eat Lady Beetles? * Captive Rat Snakes do not eat Picobar Tree Frogs. * Captive Picobar Tree Frogs strongly prefer to eat Lady Beetles. Captive results consistent with a role for Lady Beetle decrease in Picobar Tree Frog decline. * Breed fungal-resistant Lady Beetles. * Start captive breeding program for Picobar Tree Frogs.
    • 53. 2. Use devices to focus attention on aim-level Questions and Answers How can we reverse the decline of the Picobar Tree Frog? Is Picobar Tree Frog decline due to Rat Snake increase or Lady Beetle decrease? * Do captive Rat Snakes eat Picobar Tree Frogs? * Do captive Picobar Tree Frogs strongly prefer to eat Lady Beetles? * Captive Rat Snakes do not eat Picobar Tree Frogs. * Captive Picobar Tree Frogs strongly prefer to eat Lady Beetles. Captive results consistent with a role for Lady Beetle decrease in Picobar Tree Frog decline. * Breed fungal-resistant Lady Beetles. * Start captive breeding program for Picobar Tree Frogs.
    • 54. Devices for focusing on Aims:Talks Introduction Results Discussion Methods 1. Big Picture Question 2. Aim-level Question/s 3. Objective-level Answer/s 3. Objective-level Question/s 2. Aim-level Answer/s 1. Big Picture Answer/s Change to less emphatic tone Emphasise importance: tone, pausing, dedicated slide Remind reader of Aim-level Question/s Recapitulate
    • 55. Introduction Results Discussion Methods 1. Big Picture Question 2. Aim-level Question/s 3. Objective-level Answer/s 3. Objective-level Question/s 2. Aim-level Answer/s 1. Big Picture Answer/s Single paragraph At very end of penultimate paragraph Remind reader of Aim-level Question/s Introductory paragraph Devices for focusing on Aims: Papers
    • 56. Asthma is one of the most debilitating of respiratory diseases. The delineation of its aetiology in children is of particular importance because of this disease’s increasing prevalence. During the last three decades, the incidence of asthma in children, especially  in the developed world, has continually risen (Koff et al., 2004). For example, it has recently been estimated that by the age of fourteen, 25% of all children in Australia will have suffered at least one asthmatic attack (Krokodyal and Dundee, 2001). The reasons for the increasing prevalence of asthma are unclear. Several studies have demonstrated that time spent indoors correlates strongly with the incidence of childhood asthma (e.g. Ceeger and Neentendough, 1988), and Durstmeight (1990) has proposed that prolonged exposure to household allergens could be important. But it has not yet been shown definitively that indoor allergens are responsible. Recently Ghetarlyfe (2003) has suggested that it is decreased time spent outdoors that is possibly the causative factor. In this as yet untested scenario it would be outdooor, not indoor, allergens that are responsible: children might be getting fewer opportunities to develop an insensitivity to agents such as pollen and fungal spores that occasionally reach high densities, since they not being exposed to them at low levels. Thus whether “indoor-time-associated” asthma involves indoor or outdoor allergens is an ongoing issue. An example Introduction to paper: up to Aim
    • 57. Thus whether “indoor-time-associated” asthma involves indoor or outdoor allergens is an ongoing issue. To address this question, we have followed up the group of 5,000 children originally surveyed by Ceeger and Neentendough (1988). Our approach, in which we cross-correlate the antibodies present in the children with antigens found in their indoor and outdoor environments, allows us to identify the likely source of the antigens that cause attacks experienced by these children. An example Introduction to paper: Objective
    • 58. How can we reverse the decline of the Picobar Tree Frog? Is Picobar Tree Frog decline due to Rat Snake increase or Lady Beetle decrease? * Do captive Rat Snakes eat Picobar Tree Frogs? * Do captive Picobar Tree Frogs strongly prefer to eat Lady Beetles? * Captive Rat Snakes do not eat Picobar Tree Frogs. * Captive Picobar Tree Frogs strongly prefer to eat Lady Beetles. Captive results consistent with a role for Lady Beetle decrease in Picobar Tree Frog decline. * Breed fungal-resistant Lady Beetles. * Start captive breeding program for Picobar Tree Frogs. The 3 parts of a scientific story resonate with a well-known pattern…
    • 59. ..that of the three acts of a narrative Act I: Set-up Act II: Journey Act III: Resolution 3. Objective-level Question/s 1. Big Picture Question 2. Aim-level Question/s 3. Objective-level Answer/s 2. Aim-level Answer/s 1. Big Picture Answer/s (Methods)
    • 60. The three acts of a story Act I: Set-up Act II: Journey Act III: Resolution Rama and Sita exiled from Ayodhya Rama and Sita separated Rama defeats agent of his separation from Sita Return in glory to Ayodhya Rama kills Bali The Bridge to Lanka
    • 61. The main axis of a paper Act I: Set-up Act II: Journey Act III: Resolution 3. Objective-level Question/s 1. Big Picture Question 2. Aim-level Question/s 3. Objective-level Answer/s 2. Aim-level Answer/s 1. Big Picture Answer/s (Methods)
    • 62. Our Problem
      • How to make the transmission of our message as accurate as possible?
      X X Scientist X X X X X Audience
    • 63. Nested Questions and Answers How do scientists cope with the communication challenges (information-density, specialisation) posed by rapid expansion of information? How do we make the transmission of our scientific messages more accurate?
      • What are the two highest-level
      • patterns audiences expect in
      • science?
      • * How do we make the patterns
      • obvious in papers etc?
      We make certain that our papers, talks etc are organised according to the patterns audiences expect. Amongst many other strategies, scientists can benefit by looking to the findings of people who specialise in understanding communication.
      • - Nested Questions/Answers
      • - IMRaD
      • Define Questions/Answers
      • Use devices so they standout in right spots in the IMRaD structure