How to Write an Academic Article

The Times Higher Education just published my (tongue in cheek) piece The publication game: how to write an academic article. They’ve kindly allowed me to reproduce it below, for those who do not want to register for access.

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Title

This must be in two parts, separated by a colon. The fragment before the colon uses a colloquial expression preferred by your research subjects, something grammatically dubious and profane. This is placed in quotation marks to demonstrate your personal distance from it. The short sentence after the colon establishes your knowledge of the chosen theoretical framework, and alludes to your method.

Introduction

Strike the necessary balance between showing how many people have already researched this topic and demonstrating the uniqueness of your study. Identify a “gap” in the literature, but head off objections that the “gap” is there for a good reason (such as that it is a worthless thing to study) by using terms such as “urgent” and “unprecedented”. Describe how and why your topic is socially relevant, and justify it with a link to a well-regarded news source. Avoid acknowledging the irony of publishing a socially relevant article in an academic journal.

Theoretical framework

Provide a multitude of references that show the complexity of your thought and its embeddedness in the literature. In this section, be especially careful to use the passive voice to confirm your neutrality. “Some scholars have been found to define the problem this way (eg, author from long ago, author from not so long ago), and others have been found to define it in this other way (ditto). There are studies to support earlier findings (eg, multiple authors) and there are studies to support later findings (ditto).” The “eg” is essential as it confirms your vast knowledge of the literature: you could have cited many more sources if space had permitted. Mention this in a footnote.

Resign yourself to excluding from your theoretical framework the manuscript you wrote with co-author X, who stopped responding to emails during editing, and the MA thesis you should have co-published last year if your student hadn’t decided that a marketing internship was more important to pursue than a published journal article.

Method

You have chosen a mixed methods design. This serves to unnerve both qualitative and quantitative readers. Offer an explanation of the quantitative survey research that is just complex enough to confuse readers with only an elementary knowledge of statistics. Pepper your description of the in-depth, qualitative interviews with an assortment of terms (eg, naturalisticreflexivityphenomenological) that emasculate the quantitative researchers. And sprinkle the whole method section with references justifying your approaches: authors who did similar surveys; authors who did similar interviews in an entirely different subject; and authors who combined surveys with follow-up interviews in different ways. These last references are totally irrelevant to your paper, but that’s OK. No one will check, and they sound impressive.

Results

This section allows a break from external reference validation. In other words, it’s in your own words. Present your findings numbers first, and illustrate the significance of some findings over others by adding asterisks. The qualitative findings are, in essence, an expansion of the colloquial quotation in your title. The longer quotes are indented to emphasise that this is not the sort of language you would use. But their syntactic inferiority and vulgarity serve to amuse the reader. Expletives really make Table 3 come alive.

Discussion

With an attempt at conversational academic language, summarise your findings. Use the present tense to emphasise the urgency of the work. Then present four thinking points. The first of these was suggested to you by reviewer#1. The second came to you under a very hot shower in the midst of lathering your hair. The third repeats a discussion point raised in a 20-year-old academic article that you’re confident no one has read. The fourth was suggested to you by reviewer#2. The reviewers will be satisfied now that their suggestions are incorporated. They will feel as if they are a part of your work; if not in name, at least in spirit.

As the discussion reaches its conclusion, turn up the grandeur and eloquence of your language. This illustrates your intellectual capacity for connecting your conclusions to the broader (academic) world. Choose an ordinary word or two, like “pattern” or “concrete”, and add “isation” to the end. You know it, and your readers know it: the creation of long neologisms is the essence of theoretical progress – especially if the neologism in question ends in “isation”.

References

Don’t be shy: self-citation is fine. Your detailed proof of your paper’s legitimacy includes five articles you wrote yourself, and three that you co-authored with others. This number would be higher if it weren’t for the incompetence of some of those mentioned in the theoretical framework. It isn’t important that the self-referenced articles are only sort of connected with the topic of the current piece: their presence further validates your qualifications anyway.

It isn’t necessary to read all the articles you cite: scanning their abstracts works just as well. And don’t feel guilty about including the six articles suggested by reviewer#3, who did not comment on your introduction, theoretical framework, method or discussion, but insisted that you include insights from his friends, collaborators and obscure academics he regards as brilliant. If such minor concessions are what it takes to publish such a brilliant article as yours, they are well worth it.

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A Sign of the Times: The Dating App Photo

signofthetimes

Just published: “A Sign of the Times,” an e-publication which is a follow-up to the 2015 Sign of the Times: Social Media of the Middle Ages exhibition at the Zeeuws Museum in Middelburg, the Netherlands.

The e-publication presents articles written by experts from different visual disciplines. Each article discusses images that are emblematic of our time.

My contribution can be read here.

Reaching citizens online

I published a piece called “Reaching citizens online” on the Weber Shandwick Digital Public Affairs blog.

Many political organizations, politicians and interest groups are anxious to learn how to best reach citizens online. I have researched how youth organizations (based in the United Kingdom) do so, both on their websites and then later on social media. It’s been interesting to gain insight into choices about web presence while keeping in mind how these organizations think about young people as citizens.

I looked at two types of organizations: both those connected to government, and those focused on single issues like the environment or animal rights. Whatever the focus, I found that all organizations subscribed to a similar web strategy. The overarching goal of web content was a wish to create engaged citizens. This was accomplished in two ways: First, web content was used to provide information to young visitors. Second, organizations pursued an “inform then involve” approach to get youth engaged and participating.

Click here to read more…

International election obsession

Below is the piece I contributed for this weekend’s Open Mike at POLITICO’s Arena.

The U.S. elections generate huge interest abroad. This is definitely true in the Netherlands, the place I’ve called home for the past 11 years. The other day on the train I was preparing a presentation about social media use in the election campaign. As I juggled images of Todd Akin and Big Bird, the man next to me, in true Dutch fashion, stared shamelessly at my laptop screen. When I glanced at him, rather than look away he held my gaze. “So who do you think will win?” he wanted to know. It happens all the time: Dutch friends and perfect strangers ask my opinion of the debates and my reaction to Romney’s 47 percent video.

But the interest goes way beyond casual conversation. Now that we’ve reached October, there are almost weekly events, mostly in the form of discussions or debates. Last week, the U.S. Embassy of the Netherlands hosted a Republican (Shane Jett, former Oklahoma State Representative) and a Democrat (Gary Nordlinger of Nordlinger Associates). The entourage toured Rotterdam, Amsterdam, and Leiden, spreading knowledge about U.S. politics to fascinated audiences of students and professionals. I hosted the Rotterdam event. Before the event, the organizer approached me with a worried look on his face. He thought the Republican might get bullied by the audience, and asked me to help soften the tone if the questions became harsh. But he had nothing to fear. At events like these, criticism always seems to overlook partisan politics. Though they are concerned with the outcome of the election, and as a rule seem to prefer the Democrats, when it comes to their impression of the “American mentality” the Dutch don’t really see a difference. The tone has definitely softened since the Bush years, but the Dutch are one part fascinated and two parts distressed by what they see as aggressive U.S. foreign policy.

This cultural and political interest brings the Dutch all the way to the United States, too. From October 11-18, the BKB Academy, an offshoot of the BKB campaign agency based in Amsterdam, took a group of highly motivated young people to Washington, Richmond, Charlottesville, Philadelphia and New York to learn as much as they could about the presidential election by talking to pollsters, strategists, and “Joe the Plumbers.”

International headlines always mention developments in the election campaign, and some news organizations provide additional commentary. For example, Freke Vuijst is a correspondent for a left-wing weekly publication called Vrij Nederland (Free Netherlands). Even throughout the recent Dutch election campaign, every Tuesday and Friday she blogs about the U.S. elections, with headlines such as “Debating with Pinocchio Romney” and “For Sale,” where she discusses the commercial financing of U.S. elections.

On Election Day, universities and other organizations will hold all night events along with live streaming of election coverage. In Leiden, where I live, there will be an All American Night, starting off with spare ribs and American music. Again, a variety of speakers will provide insight into the mentality of U.S. politics, the debates, and the way campaigns and policy decisions precede. The audiences at these events, numbering in the thousands across Dutch soil, will listen with rapt attention.

Open Mike contribution to POLITICO’s Arena

I wrote this for POLITICO’s popular Open Mike feature on The Arena:

Does social media matter for the campaign?

Of course it does. Candidates sure think it matters. They seem to value a high number of friends or followers online. In July, it was reported that Mitt Romney’s Twitter account (@MittRomney ) gained 116,922 followers in a span of just 24 hours. This was probably the result of using a Twitter follower service, but the intent is clear: high numbers demonstrate popularity. And it’s not just quantity, it’s also image. Online and in print, tips to politicians abound on how to act in the virtual world: Be friendly. Be authentic. Expect that people will want to engage in conversation. POLITICO argued that social media savvy was one benefit in Romney selecting Paul Ryan as his running mate. But it’s true – buzz is no guarantee for a win. A study of four 2010 races (two for Senate, two for Governor) by NM Incite found that the most buzzed about candidate won the seat – but in only three out of four races.

What about citizens? Does all this online chatter make a difference? In five minutes on Facebook, I can comment on a friend’s new hairstyle and get outraged about Todd Akin’s remarks on rape and abortion. Funny how a tool like Facebook can also be politically effective. But that does seem to be the case. Recent research published by Nature found that during the 2010 congressional election campaign, people were 0.39 percent more likely to vote if they received Facebook messages telling them that their friends had voted – that was an additional 282,000 votes cast. And that effect was strongest of all from closest (most interacted with) friends. It may not sound like much but in an election as tight as this one, it can make a big difference.

For democracy to thrive, we need well informed citizens who are well connected to each other and enthusiastic about sharing their views. Let’s not discount the role of social media outlets like Facebook.