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The purposeless paper

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To accompany a patter blog post. patthomson.net The slides address a common problem which people often have after a period of free writing or that they may find when they are reading a paper. These are strategies for the writer to try out.

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The purposeless paper

  1. 1. Why am I reading this? OR Why am I writing this? Four strategies for addressing the apparently purposeless paper Pat Thomson
  2. 2. A problem with purpose The reader (who might be you or someone else) says: • I’m already two pages in and I’m not clear why I’m reading this paper. What is the writer trying to do? • There seem to be several papers here and not just one – what is the writer trying to say? • The paper says its about one thing, but the rest of it seems to be about something else. • I don’t see why this is important. Why should I read on? The writer, you, says • I can’t get anywhere with this writing • I keep writing the same thing • I’ve been writing for some time and its going nowhere • I’m going round in circles • This is a mess • I feel like giving up
  3. 3. Photo credit: Kay Kim, Flickr Commons Where am I going? What can I do to get out of this place?
  4. 4. Strategy a: clarify purpose The writer needs to sort out what they want to do in the paper: Is it to: • show • explore • evaluate • extend • reflect • prove • demonstrate • test out an idea • offer a new approach to thinking about… Now write a crisp sentence beginning: The purpose of this paper is to…
  5. 5. Strategy b - revisit the original idea Put the text to one side and write bullet points and/or sentences to the following prompts – you might do this as a timed writing exercise. • What I want to write about • Why this. Why this is important and to whom • What is already known about the topic • What this paper adds –what is surprising, what is shocking, what is contrary to the existing literatures, what is amusing, what causes you to think etc…
  6. 6. Strategy c – ask a question The topic I am writing about is x – I want to ask…. for example • What should be done about the x problem? • What does x mean to me/the field/ a particular group? • What’s the relationship between x and y? • What is important about x? • How might we think about x differently? • What more might be said about x? • Is x true? • Is x right/wrong? • What are the implications of x for y? Take a few minutes to brainstorm the question you might ask - and then decide on the one that is right for you
  7. 7. Strategy d – identify the relationship Academic papers often try to do one of two things: • compare and contrast – identify the commonalities and differences between two things – this might be different views, the differences between policy and practice, the differences between ways of theorising or interpreting, the differences between different methods… • cause and effect, or if not that, at least a deep and meaningful relationship – thinking about the ways in which X and Y might be connected, by what or whom, when and how. If either of these are the case in the paper, then write a sentence or two which starts – This paper sets out to ( compare and contrast, establish the relationship between ) …. This is important because....
  8. 8. These four are worth a try… better than giving up altogether  Adapted from Ballenger, Bruce ( 2007) The curious writer. Boston Pearson. Ballenger writes for undergraduate students, but he is my first point of call for revision strategies beyond the ones I already know. His focus is on the essay assignment, however I have adapted and added to his strategies so that they address the production of an argument in a scholarly paper or thesis.

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