Wednesday, January 30, 2013

One paper = 40 paragraphs = 20 hours of work

Thomas, the writing consultant who gave advices on how to structure the sections of introduction and conclusion, had a new post about the overall structure of a paper and the time we should spend on it.  According to him,

"Scholars demonstrate that they know something by writing articles; and knowledge, I usually say, is the ability to write a coherent prose paragraph in 27 minutes. An article consists of about 40 paragraphs, so the problem of writing an article—or at least the first draft of an article—is solved during 20 hours of work...As a rough estimate, I normally say that an article is 3 parts introduction, 2 parts conclusion, 5 parts background, 5 parts theory, 5 parts method, 15 parts analysis, and 5 parts implications."

He also emphasized the importance of knowing your reader by quoting Virginia Woolf's saying, "To know whom to write for is to know how to write."

I understand the importance of identifying readers, because I always ask who would be the audience before preparing my presentations. But I have a hard time imagining potential readers of my papers.  I do normally identify an ideal journal for a paper before I start writing it, and I also have pretty good ideas when being asked to suggest potential reviewers.  Is that good enough? 

P.S.  I actually left my question in the last paragraph on Thomas' blog, and he kindly replied as follows:

"Yes, your "reader" is certainly represented by your reviewers. If you can suggest potential reviewers by name, then you have a good basis for forming an image of your reader.

Your ideal journal, however, will often not tell you very much about your reader. Most journals are read by a wide range of readers, many of whom do not (are are not required to) take an interest in your work.

Your readership will normally frequent a range of journals and the important thing is to understand the community of scholarship that you are working within, again, not confined to any single journal.

One important thing your comment touches on is learning which journals (i.e., which editors) understand your paper well enough to send it to the right reviewers.

Paragraph for paragraph, however, you're writing, not for an editor, but for a reader. The reviewer represents your reader in the editor's decision."

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