To achieve interstellar travel, the Kline Directive instructs us to be bold, to explore what others have not, to seek what others will not, to change what others dare not. To extend the boundaries of our knowledge, to advocate new methods, techniques and research, to sponsor change not status quo, on 5 fronts, Legal Standing, Safety Awareness, Economic Viability, Theoretical-Empirical Relationships, and Technological Feasibility.
In this post I discuss the third and final part, Concepts and Logical Flow, of how to read or write a journal paper, that is not taught in colleges.
A paper consists of a series of evolving concepts expressed as paragraphs. If a concept is too complex to be detailed in a single paragraph, then break it down into several sub-concept paragraphs. Make sure there is logical evolution of thought across these sub-concepts, and across the paper.
As a general rule your sentences should be short(er). Try very hard not to exceed two lines of Letter or A4 size paper at font size 11. Use commas judicially. Commas are not meant to extend sentences or divide the sentence into several points!!! They are used to break up a sentence into sub-sentences to indicate a pause when reading aloud. How you use commas can alter the meaning of a sentence. Here is an example.
“And this I know with confidence, I remain and continue …”
Changing the position of the commas, changes the meaning to
“And this I know, with confidence I remain and continue …”
We see how ‘confidence’ changes from the speaker’s assessment of his state of knowledge, to the speaker’s reason for being. So take care.
When including mathematical formulae, always wrap. Wrap them with an opening paragraph and a closing paragraph. Why? This enhances the clarity of the paper. The opening paragraph introduce the salient features of the equation(s), i.e. what the reader needs to be aware of in the equation(s), or an explanation of the symbols, or why the equation is being introduced.
The closing paragraph explains what the author found by stating the equations, and what the reader should expect to look for in subsequent discussions, or even why the equation(s) is or is not relevant to subsequent discussions.
Many of these concept-paragraphs are logically combined into sections, and each section has a purpose for its inclusion. Though this purpose may not always be stated in the section, it is important to identify what it is and why it fits in with the overall schema of the paper.
The basic schema of a paper consists of an introduction, body and conclusion. Of course there are variations to this basic schema, and you need to ask the question, why does the author include other types of sections.
In the introduction section(s) you summarize your case, what is your paper about, and what others have reported. In the body sections you present your work. In the conclusion section you summarize your findings and future direction of the research. Why? Because a busy researcher can read your introduction and conclusion and then decide whether your paper is relevant to his or her work. Remember we are working within a community of researchers in an asynchronous manner, an asynchronous team, if you would. As more and more papers are published every year, we don’t have the time to read all of them, completely. So we need a method of eliminating papers we are not going to read.
An abstract is usually a summary of the body of the paper. It is difficult to do well and should only be written after you have completed your paper. That means you are planning ahead and have your paper written and abstracts completed when you receive the call for papers.
An abstract tells us if the paper could be relevant, to include in our list of papers to be considered for the shortlist of papers to be read. The introduction and conclusion tells if the paper should be removed from our short list. If the conclusion fits in with what we want to achieve, then don’t remove the paper from the short list.
I follow a rule when writing the introduction section. If I am writing to add to the body of consensus, I state my case and then write a review of what others have reported. If I am negating the body of consensus, then I write a review of what others have reported, and then only do I state my case of why not.
As a general rule, you write several iterations of the body first, then introduction and finally the conclusion. You’d be surprised by how your thinking changes if you do it this way, This is because you have left yourself open to other inferences that had not crossed your mind from the time you completed your work, to the time you started writing your paper.
If someone else has theoretical or experimental results that apparently contradicts your thesis, then discuss why and why not, and you might end up changing your mind. It is not a ‘sin’ to include contradictory results, but make sure you discuss this intelligently and impartially.
Your work is the sowing and growing period. Writing the paper is the harvesting period. What are you harvesting? Wheat, weeds or both? Clearly the more wheat you harvest the better your paper. The first test for this is the logical flow of your paper. If it does not flow very well, something is amiss! You the author, and you the reader beware! There is no substitute but to rethink your paper.
The second test is, if you have tangential discussions in your paper that seem interesting but are not directly relevant. Prune, prune & prune. If necessary split into multiple concise papers. A concise & sharp paper that everyone remembers is more valuable than a long one that you have to plough through.
Go forth, read well and write more.
Benjamin T Solomon is the author & principal investigator of the 12-year study into the theoretical & technological feasibility of gravitation modification, titled An Introduction to Gravity Modification, to achieve interstellar travel in our lifetimes. For more information visit iSETI LLC, Interstellar Space Exploration Technology Initiative.
Solomon is inviting all serious participants to his LinkedIn Group Interstellar Travel & Gravity Modification.