Journal articles: the ‘Thing Explainer’ version

Some while back I had a great conversation with my friend and esteemed library colleague @_moo_ about how the structure of a journal article can be explained in very simple language, even if the thought processes that lie beneath it might feel convoluted. “Look,” I said, putting my beer down briefly, “The ‘findings’ bit is really just ‘what I did’, right, and the methods section is just ‘how I decided to do it’, and if you put in a bit at the end about ‘further research’, well, that’s basically ‘Here’s what I didn’t get around to so, like, someone else should, yeah?'”

That’s a fairly loosely paraphrased version, given that we weren’t on our first beer. But what I remember of the conversation inspired me to have a go at writing a ‘simple English’ version of how journal articles in the social sciences are often constructed. I figured that if Randall Monroe could explain rocket science (or at least the Saturn V rocket) in the most common thousand English words, we should be able to do the same for scholarly comms. (Oxymoronic? Never!)

I showed it to participants at an Information Literacy Group Research Day, and they seemed to think it was OK, so here it is.

Here’s the thing I did Introduction
This is why it needed doing
Here’s what other people said about this thing Literature review
·    And what they left out
Here’s how I did it Methods
This is why I did it that way
·    Here’s someone else doing it this way because that helped me see why it would work for my thing
·    Here’s why doing it this way meant I’d be able to actually learn something from it
Here’s how it might not have worked fully, all the same Limitations
Oh, and this is why it’s OK to do it to humans Ethical implications
Here’s what happened Findings
This is what I think it means for what I started out wondering Discussion
This is what it means for the rest of us and what we do (or know)
Here’s what else we could do about this Further research

Note: it’s absolutely not meant to be followed slavishly. Lots of good articles deviate from this structure, especially more theoretical pieces; but it might be a handy springboard for jumping off. Or even a launch pad.

(Updated) downloadable version

Image: Up Goer Five, (CC BY-NC 2.5)


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