Wednesday, 14 December 2016

Writing a Research Paper Sucks: 5 Things to Consider

Earlier this year I enrolled in a post-graduate course to learn how to conduct and write a research report adhering to academic standards. I was really keen to get started, thinking my background as an educator, journalist and creative writer would help me excel and produce valuable findings to enhance aspects of teacher education.

I used to see myself as the Little Red Engine That Could when it came to studying, but since I choofed into the unknown land of Academia, just the words little and red best describe how I feel. I'm tired, frustrated and more confused about what I set out to achieve than the day I started. This article might resonate with those who’ve completed research papers in the past, or better prepare those considering to extend their studies to complete a Masters or post-graduate certificate.

1. Your opinions and experience mean nothing. Until you are a somebody, you are a nobody, which means your account of events are considered unreliable or even worse, untrustworthy. You need to find lots of ‘somebodies’ to prove to yourself, and judgemental others your ideas are worth putting on paper. Even common, reasonable statements like ‘banana skins are yellow’ need to be approved by professors specialising in scientific fields of banana colour recognition. Claiming your eyes as a reference is an absolute no-no.   

2. This leads to my second point—the more ‘expert’ opinions you read, the more inexpert you deem yourself to be. People generally commit to research projects because they’ve already racked up significant findings from a little thing called ‘life experience’. However, as you start to place great importance on what others in the past have said, your own beliefs and versions of events become diluted. Your ideas, your confidence and your ability to think and communicate clearly diminishes, as you start to wonder whether you dreamt up the issue you once so clearly lived and described with conviction. Ideas that started out crisp and sharp end up whirling around inside your head like grass-stained socks in a washing machine; they struggle to be salvaged or revitalised enough to be hung out for public inspection.

3. As you start to question your beliefs and whether you’re the man or woman for the job, so to do those who used to provide timely ‘yeahs!’ as you vented your frustrations and shared your ambitiously wild plans to make good in the world. Some days when asked what my research paper is about, I say I don’t know because I can’t even differentiate my own beliefs from the several hundred others I’ve taken into account. My research relates to effective communicate, which makes it all the more deflating when I can’t string a sentence together to share all the interesting stuff I’ve learnt.

4. Submitting your research paper to experts in the same field is like throwing a deer carcass to a wolf pack. Most professors lovvvvvvve revealing flaws in your arguments so they can make ‘suggestions’ to improve validity (aka tell you what you definitely must do or else you will forever be utterly wrong!!!) They try disguise their authoritative narcissistic behaviour (which they learnt from older generations during their cub days) as a gift to you and the poor unsuspecting public who may happen to read your misleading claims. Perhaps the worst part for a new researcher, is that academics almost always disagree on the most appropriate method/conclusion/action, meaning most of the advice offered contradicts the views of the very next person to get involved.

5. The common saying goes “less talk, more action”, but when it comes to academic research, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Yes, action is spurred on by valuable research—once methods have been decided, data has been collected, deliberated on, avoided, revisited for further deliberation, written up, erased and rewritten, critiqued, cried over, critiqued some more, and eventually broadcasted out over the world wide web. It seems like so much unnecessary talk takes precedence over action in the world of academia, meaning that if change occurs as a result, it does so at snail’s pace. I think this puts society at a huge disadvantage, as some of the greatest minds are left to natter in libraries and coffee shops while others (with less to offer) go out and change the world.

I don’t expect many academics to agree with the points I’ve made. And in this case, I don’t give a damn.