Using Constructive Alignment for Academic Writing III – Tools
This is Part III of a 4-part blog series. Use the links at the bottom of the page to navigate to other parts.
Using Constructive Alignment for Academic Writing III – Tools by Srikanth Sugavanam is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
In the previous part, I elaborated on how we can use the abstract to define the learning objectives/outcomes of our paper.
In this part, I present four tools you can use to ensure your writing is constructively aligned to these learning outcomes –
- the 1-2-3 Punch,
- Rubrics, and
- Reflective thinking and writing.
Modern pop songs follow something called a verse-chorus musical form. Think Billie Eilish’s ‘Bad Guy’, or if you prefer 90’s music like me, Seal’s ‘Kiss from a Rose’.
This musical form starts off with an intro, something that sets the mood. Then comes the verse, which begins the ‘story’. Then you have the chorus – the most memorable part, or “hook” of the song. It is followed by one or sometimes two verses, each accentuated by the chorus/hook. This reinforcement is the cause of many an ear-worm. A powerful tool used by composers is the bridge, where things get really interesting – you have a sudden scale change, or a change of musical style. And then they bring it home with a cadence.
Using a familiar structure like the verse-chorus form helps ease the listener into the song. There is anticipation of what will come next, so the listener feels they are in familiar territory.
Writing a scientific article is no different. You have to ease the reader in. Following a familiar structure (e.g. a journal template) helps, as then the reader can find their way through already difficult material that you are trying to get across. In doing so, it is important not to signpost your learning outcomes.
As an exercise, I implore you to consider how you might recast the above verse-chorus musical form to scientific writing.
Here’s a hint – your learning outcomes take the notion of the hooks. You can read my paper on lasers here, which I based on these principles.
The 1-2-3 Punch
Look at the picture below. What are the first three things you see, in order? Why do you think that is?
This is a good strategy you can adopt when making figures. Essentially, you control what the reader sees first. In addition, you can align your writing with the same 1-2-3 sequence to reinforce your message.
This becomes especially pertinent when you are writing for a wide readership with diverse expertise – each reader would be inclined to arrive at their own interpretation, based on their own experiences.
By controlling the conceptual 1-2-3 flow, you get your point across first. If you can do this, the reader will take your interpretation into consideration too when reflecting on the presented results.
If you were ever required to take management classes, you would have come across SWOT analysis. This is an exercise in decision making, to consider whether a course of action is recommended, or when you are required to make a choice from alternatives. You then start off with a four-by-four table, and list out the SWOT points.
I have found the SWOT, or its more positive alternative – the SWOC (‘C’ for ‘challenges’) – a very good way for structuring discussion sections. It has also helped me in more than occasion during the experimental stage, where I had to decide between two experimental methodologies. There are several such frameworks out there – give them a tweak-n-shot.
Reflective thinking and writing tools
Describing an experimental protocol does not have to be boring.
It is nothing short of a hero’s journey – one replete with tales of seemingly apocryphal skill, trials and tribulations of stubborn apparatuses, the ephemerality of lasing regimes, and above all, a glowing testament to exhibitions of inhuman levels of scholarly grit.
Sorry I project.
What I am trying to say is – I’m not asking you to write the next season of The Witcher, but you can surely give your reader a glimpse under the hood, facilitating reproducibility. To this end, you can use existing frameworks of reflective cycles, or their combinations to structure your writing. I am sure you would have come across Kolb’s, and there are others out there in the wild. Check out Gibbs’ for instance – I use it to describe my experimental procedures, as it lends naturally to describing experimental iterations.
You could also consider using such reflective thinking and writing approaches as a daily journaling tool when you are doing experiments. You would be surprised that your rants can actually turn out to be useful drafts – once you remove the expletives, that is.
The next and final part of this blog will look at how to bring all these elements together.