Through the years, I have become more understanding than I used to be about student absences and late assignments due to illness and family emergency. If you are teaching 100 students Spring semester, a good proportion of those students WILL be too sick to come to class at some point (please keep your germs out of my classroom). Faculty may make jokes about mortality rates increasing near exam time, but grandparents really DO die.
I’ve become more understanding, because these events happen to everyone, not only undergraduate students in large classes. Sometimes Real Life interferes with real life. You get the flu. Your kid(s) get the flu. THEN you get the flu. The babysitter gets the flu. Schools are closed and suddenly you have no childcare on your busiest teaching day. Your pipes burst. Real life happens.
There can be a tendency during these times to feel guilty about all of the things you aren’t doing. You were supposed to hand back graded papers this week. You owe your adviser a draft of your thesis. You haven’t called your best friend. You didn’t eat enough vegetables. Or exercise. You ate a whole pint of Ben and Jerry’s.
Give yourself a break. Focus on the things that must get done right now. If you’re a parent, you must get your kids to and from school (if they’re healthy), feed them, and get them to sleep. What can you let slide this week on the family front given other pressures? Can you order takeout? Can you convince your kids to buy lunch at school? Can laundry wait another day? Or two? What work things can go this week? Are there non-mandatory meetings you can postpone or send someone to in your place? Are there work things that you would have loved to get done, but you can delay? Do you really have to reply to all of those emails tonight?
What can you fit in to improve your mental health right now? Are you getting a functional amount of sleep? If you feel better after exercise, can you squeeze that in?
And give yourself a mental break. Don’t beat yourself up for not accomplishing everything you intended this week. Go into survival mode. Lower your expectations for yourself. Remind yourself that there are things in your life more important than getting a manuscript drafted this week or writing the most perfect class paper ever.
And, so, it’s that kind of week at my house. With <2 weeks left in Boston, there was a long to do list. The work to do list of manuscripts to finish, a syllabus to draft, chapters to edit etc., etc., before moving back to State College. I had scheduled some final get togethers with good friends who live in the area. There is also the “pinky promise” list of things we’ve promised the kids we would do before we move back.
And Real Life struck. My husband unexpectedly had to leave town on Sunday. The kids are battling colds and the mood swings that seem to accompany yet another upcoming transition. Sunday night was a revolving bed (well, not so revolving – once someone entered they never left, so more like the Hotel California
) of kids arriving at 12:30 AM and 3:30 AM and waking each other up and whining about stolen covers, leg pain, sniffles, bad dreams, coughs, thirst, and trouble sleeping. Monday I cancelled social plans and work plans. Monday night unexpected work plans arose. Tuesday I attended teacher conferences solo. Tonight I cancelled social plans to bring my kids to swim lessons and make pancakes for dinner. I’m unexpectedly doing the morning routine, lunch prep, the walk to school, school pick up, after school activities, dinner prep, bed prep, and clean up solo – and we have no childcare or large support system here. While watching snow fall. Shoveling. I’m cancelling and rescheduling work things that can be. I rescheduled Thursday’s department head candidate phone call to be at 11:00 PM my time. Kids are crabby. I’m crabby. And worried about what’s going on out of town. There are dishes in the sink. And I may have sent a child to school today with pen on her forehead left over from an unknown event yesterday.
This morning I woke up in a panic. I am late on a manuscript review. I was supposed to revise my book chapter yesterday. I have a manuscript I wanted to finish this week. My goal was to draft my syllabus this week. The good bye dinners are falling off the schedule. The pinky promise list is in jeopardy. I have to start packing. The list goes on. Not to mention my husband, who is also feeling guilty about his work to do list and my current family load while dealing with Real Life issues away from us.
But I need to give myself a break (as does he). The kids are fed. They are getting (some) sleep. I am getting them to and from school. I’ve gotten some work done, including sending someone feedback on a thesis. I’m replying to emails as I can.
At 4:00 AM, my child crawled into my bed. I was feeling exasperated and exhausted. Then he said, “Mama, you know what the definition of security is? Snuggling with you and Daddy.” So we both went back to sleep. I’m giving someone security, and some days, that’s enough.
“The post Give yourself a mental break
first appeared on Eva Lefkowitz’s blog
on December 11, 2013.”
When I was in grad school, I started watching college basketball and specifically, March Madness. It makes sense -- I was at UCLA and they actually won the whole thing
one year while I was there (then the next year they lost in the first round to Princeton
, but no, I’m not still bitter or anything). Then I started watching tennis, which I still love today. But then, I started watching golf. An intervention was needed.
I believe it’s because I thought that when I had a ton of work (e.g., finals period), I must stay home all weekend without any breaks. It was before surfing the web was really possible (I had dial up in my apartment, and when a high school classmate sent me a link to something he wrote on a website, it took 30 minutes to download the one article. I’m not kidding). It was before smart phones (I didn’t get my first not-smart-cell-phone until I had been out of grad school for 4 years, and only because my car had broken down on the side of the 80 and… I had no cell phone). I thought staying home and working non-stop would be the most productive strategy, but by Sunday afternoon I was usually watching bad TV or playing solitaire on my computer (games weren’t as good, or as easily accessible, in the 90’s).
Maybe you are different. Maybe you are one of those people who is so focused, you don’t need breaks. I went to grad school with one of those people, and he’s still that way today
. When you’re in a crunch, you can work straight through for days and not come up for air. Then feel free to ignore this advice.
I am not one of those people. I am easily distractible. These days, I take short breaks to check twitter or Facebook or feedly. Or, because I’m working at home on sabbatical, to grab a bite from the kitchen.
I do better when I have a bigger break (i.e., not a Facebook checking break) to look forward to. For the past 7 years, that break is basically automatic, because (back in my non-sabbatical life), every day I know I relieve the babysitter at 5:30, and generally don’t get back to work until 8:30 or 9:00 PM when the kids are in bed and the house is somewhat straightened. But during my grad school and faculty-pre-parenthood years, I would often sit in the lab/office from 9:00 AM to 9:00 PM, with little break. If I knew I had something to look forward to – dinner out, a movie, etc. – it made me more productive during the day because I knew I had to finish at a certain time.
So, in grad school, even on the busiest of weekends, I started making plans to do something on Saturday night so that I didn’t end up watching golf on Sunday afternoon. Often the plan was to go out to a movie (a big night out drinking is counterproductive to increasing subsequent productivity). On Friday night and all day Saturday, I could look forward to seeing my friend and going to a movie. And, on Sunday, I felt refreshed by the break and could hit my studying/paper writing anew.
Sometimes, a break just means a nap. Once, as an assistant professor, I was trying to finish a grant on a deadline. I had been working on it nonstop (except for teaching and other responsibilities). I called my then partner (now husband) from the office one evening, and said, “I just don’t know what’s happening, but I can’t do it anymore!” I had kind of lost it in my non-stop grant writing. He said, “I know what’s wrong. You’re not with me.” So he drove to my office (granted, it’s State College, so that took 5 minutes), brought me to his apartment, cooked me dinner, and insisted that I take a nap. Around 10:00 PM he drove me back to the office and I worked for a few more hours before heading home. The work from 10:00 PM to 1:00 AM was so much more productive than the same work would have been from 7:00 – 10:00 PM if I had not taken the break.
I’m sure there’s research out there that explains why taking breaks increases productivity. I just googled it, and the NY Times said so
last year. So you can read that, if you don’t believe me. Better yet, do your own experiment. Text a friend and set up a movie
date for this weekend.
“The post Increase your productivity: Give yourself a break
first appeared on Eva Lefkowitz’s blog
on December 9, 2013.”
If you’re reading this post right now, it’s probably because you are procrastinating from end-of-the-semester grading. I’ve mentioned that grading is one of my least favorite things
. Apparently I’m not alone (how much fun does a visit to “grading jai
Grading is one of the tasks in academia where we need to provide feedback, and where good feedback can (potentially) affect not only the recipient’s current product, but his future writing. Some of this feedback is to people we know well, like when we edit a manuscript or grant proposal that a colleague or student has written. Sometimes we give feedback to people we do not know well, like when we grade papers or exams. And sometimes we give feedback to someone we don’t know, or we don’t know if we know, like when we review grant proposals or anonymous manuscripts. Today I want to focus on a specific aspect of providing feedback that is harder to keep in mind the deeper you get into a big stack of papers or the further you get into reviewing or editing a long grant proposal or dissertation. Always provide at least some positive feedback, even – especially – when it’s hard to do so. It takes more time, but it’s important.
You are providing feedback to a real person, who spent (hopefully) many hours on a class paper or a thesis or a manuscript. I know that there are instances where it’s hard to find merits in a particular final product. But keep in mind that the student worked hard to write the final paper, and has feelings too
. A low grade is a tiny bit easier to take if the positive aspects are highlighted as well. A rejected manuscript is slightly easier to handle if the reviewer also described the strengths.
If you’re spending time providing feedback, you want the receiver to listen to your feedback (otherwise, why are you writing comments on the paper or reading the draft?). If you only include negative feedback, the author may disregard your feedback, deciding to write you off as angry or clueless about what she wrote. If you include positive feedback as well, the author is more likely to think you understand her paper and to listen to your constructive criticism as well.
I know what you’re thinking. You just read the worst paper ever written, and you can’t think of anything positive to say about it. I’ve literally read thousands of papers in my life, so I hear you. But you can always think of something positive to say. I’m a bit hesitant to give examples of things I do, in case the next time I give feedback to someone who read this post, s/he thinks, “oh no! Eva wrote about that on her blog, is she just placating me?” But I never give feedback I don’t mean. I always look for the strengths, and provide feedback on those strengths. Here are some things I do when it’s not immediately obvious where to give positive feedback: On the margin of a paper I’m grading
, I may physically mark a passage and write a comment like “good point” or “great!” or “interesting.” Again, only if I think it’s a good point or interesting. In summary feedback for student papers
, I try to give as detailed feedback as possible, such as specifics about the way theory was described well or the clear presentation of potential future directions in a research area. I also may use some of the following more general comments (on both stronger and weaker papers), when they’re true:
For a manuscript review
- Interesting topic
- Writing style is engaging
- Good introductory/concluding sentence
- Generally well written (even if I don’t like the content)
- The structure follows the assignment structure
- Each paragraph is well organized
- Overall structure of paper is well organized
- Off to a good start!
, I usually start with strengths. If possible, I comment on other strong sections throughout the review (e.g., theory well summarized; methods clearly described; tables easy to follow). The strengths section is obviously hardest when it’s a weak manuscript. No matter how weak, I don’t think I’ve ever written a review without including some strengths. Some go to’s for weaker papers include:
- Strong sample
- Diverse sample
- Design is strong or unique for this area of work (e.g., longitudinal; qualitative; observational)
- Interesting research topic/research questions
- Important topic
- Topic has important implications (e.g., for intervention or policy)
- Potential to make strong contribution to literature
- Section(s) X is well written
Finally, when you’re giving a co-author feedback
, before you jump into suggestions for changes, tell your co-author what you liked about the paper. This part of your feedback doesn’t have to be as extensive as the suggestions for change, but it’s equally important, whether providing feedback to your student, your adviser, or a colleague. That’s right – even your adviser wants to know what you liked about his paper. Your co-author will accept your feedback better if you’ve also highlighted the positive aspects, and more generally, you want to maintain a positive working relationship with him. Presumably you like him, and want him to feel good about his hard work so far. I once worked with a student who, every time she sent me feedback on a paper we were writing together, went right into the negative and never said a positive word about it. I finally gently replied to her feedback with a simple comment like, “did you like anything about the paper?” and explained why giving positive feedback is valuable. Ever since then, whenever we collaborate, she includes in her feedback what she liked about my writing, and it makes me feel much better about my writing and about our work together. I hope this advice has improved her collaborations with others as well.
Grading good papers (and writing positive manuscript reviews) is so much less work than providing feedback on ones that are poorly written. It’s easy to rush through, write an A, and be done when there is a big stack waiting for you. But take a moment to write something positive as well. Even in the best papers, you may not reach the Gottman 5:1 magic ratio
, but you can include some positive. Sometimes my TAs laugh at me when I write smiley faces next to good exam answers – they argue that it’s the grade, not the feedback, that matters. But I still remember what my undergraduate stats professor wrote at the end of my final exam. It was something like “bellissimo. I’m halfway through grading 50 exams and you’re the only one who has gotten it all right. Treat yourself to something nice.” 25 years later and I still remember that. When I’m grading I remind myself of the long-lasting impact of one positive comment, and I take the time to give everyone the same courtesy.
“The post Providing good feedback: Include the positive
first appeared on Eva Lefkowitz’s blog
on December 5, 2013.”
There is a huge sense of relief that comes with defending your thesis, having your committee sign off, and being able to file it. Sometimes an anticlimactic relief, but relief nonetheless. But unfortunately, this relief often comes with a desire to put it aside and not look at it for a while. “I’ll just wait until it’s fresh again.”
Once you’ve shelved it, however, it can become challenging to get back to it. If it’s a master’s thesis in a non-terminal PhD program, you move onto candidacy, comps, and new projects. If it’s a dissertation or a terminal masters, you start a post doc or a full time job, and it becomes harder and harder to pull it out of the proverbial file drawer. Everything else you are doing seems so much more interesting than the dusty old dissertation.
Fine, put it aside for a week. Go out for drinks with your friends. Watch some bad TV. But then pull it out, spiffy it up, and submit it for publication, preferably within 3 months of defending. Why?
Sometimes, I hand write myself notes, or jot notes on my computer in shorthand. If I look at the notes within a couple of days, I figure out what I meant. But if I wait a few weeks, sometimes I can’t read my own writing, or decipher my own shorthand (“fix paper topic”? What does that mean?). Often, your committee will provide edits you must do before you file, and improvements to make in order to get published. If you work on the document soon after the defense, that feedback will be clearer than if you wait a year to finally get back to it.
As you get involved in new projects, other people will rely on you to complete new papers. It will be harder to get back to the thesis when you are working with new people, whom you see every day, who want you to get these new projects completed.
As you get involved in new projects, the dissertation will start to seem weaker. You will be moving onto some of the “future directions” you talked about at the end of your dissertation. Now the dissertation seems somewhat flawed to you, and less important than your new work. Get it submitted right away, and you can build on it, rather than returning back to it when you’ve already done new projects that seem stronger to you.
I admit this one is self-serving. But here it is. Your adviser spent years working on your thesis or dissertation. In the amount of time it takes to supervise a master’s thesis, many faculty could write a first authored paper; for a dissertation, probably two. For me, a thesis or dissertation generally involves weekly meetings for a year or more; hunching over SPSS output for hours with the student; and reading many drafts of various pieces and of the whole. I’m not complaining (most of the time). Supervising graduate students is one of my favorite parts of my job. But it does lead to a sense of loss, in a sense, if that thesis or dissertation never becomes a product to disseminate. You worked hard on it, your adviser worked hard on it, so let’s get it out there.
The publication process takes some time. In a good case scenario, you get an R&R in 2-4 months, you submit a revised paper about 2 months later, you get a conditional accept about 2 months later, and the final version is accepted 2 months later. That’s 9 months, assuming the paper didn’t get rejected from the first journal, in which case you need to add on more months. So, it’s likely to take a year or more to move the paper from first submitted to in press. You want to space out the papers on your CV. If you are planning a tenure track career, this one year is critical. If you just defended your master’s thesis, you want to get it in the pipeline as early as possible so that when you apply for post docs or jobs, you have a paper published during the first half or so of your grad career. If you just defended your dissertation and are starting a post doc, it’s only 1 year or so until you apply for jobs, so you need to get it in the pipeline immediately. If you just started a tenure track job after defending, it’s less than 3 years until your first pre-tenure review, so again, you need to get it in the pipeline.
And here’s a place where I can brag about practicing what I (now) preach. I defended my dissertation in June, 1998. I moved to my new (and current) job in August, 1998. But before I moved, I shortened the central paper of my dissertation, and submitted it for publication. I received an R&R in October 1998, when I was quite busy with a new tenure track job and teaching for the first time. But working on revising a manuscript was the perfect task for that level of busy-ness, and much more doable than writing a new one. It was published in 2000
. I have a number of papers I have sat on for long periods of time, or that have had more trouble with the publication process. But my dissertation was my life’s work for 2+ years, involved a project I was really proud of and spent an immense amount of time on, and I wanted to make sure to get it published as soon as I could.
In conclusion: File it, take a very short break, and get it out there. Your adviser will thank you, and your future job hunting self will thank you as well.
“The post Filed your thesis or dissertation
? You’re not done yet first appeared on Eva Lefkowitz’s blog
on December 2, 2013.”
When I was in graduate school, some of my course decisions were strategic and planful. I took required courses in statistics and developmental psychology of course. I was designing a career researching adolescence, so I tracked down a course on adolescent development in another department because psychology didn’t offer it. I took Structural Equation Modeling from Peter Bentler
as he beta tested – on us – a new version of his program, EQS
. (Side note: I won a free copy of EQS for finding the most bugs in it. Imagine doing your Stats homework with a bug-filled program that keeps crashing when you try to run something). I took Learning and Memory
because Bob Bjork was supposed to be fabulous at teaching learning and memory. Some of my choices were less admirable. I took regression in another department because I heard that the psych regression instructor was too hard (well, that is strategic and planful…). I avoided psychoneuroimmunology because even the name scared me (I regret this decision now!).
The problem I see with many of our graduate students is that they approach choosing graduate courses the way they chose undergraduate courses. They act as though the department has very specific expectations of courses they need to take, and they try to fill each category based on what is offered. Please don’t do this. Our graduate program requires
a 4 course methods sequence in the first 2 years. We require 3 substantive courses in the first year (Individual, Family, and Prevention). We require an additional 2 methods courses and 4 substantive courses. Each of our 4 areas recommends what courses to take to specialize in that area (e.g., the family area recommends a micro course and a macro course). However, these are RECOMMENDED and are not required.
After you’ve fulfilled the program’s required courses, choose your remaining courses based on what you need to get the job you want, and to succeed in it. Stop trying to check off lists and focus on your needs. Will someone at candidacy say, but she didn’t take 506? Maybe. Convince him why the courses you took are more valuable for what you want to do.
Last year, as Undergraduate Professor-in-Charge, I worked with Kate Hynes on redesigning the HDFS undergraduate website to better help students plan for future careers. HDFS undergraduate students have many more course requirements than graduate students, but they also can choose courses to meet particular requirements based on their interests. We redesigned the website so that they could choose a career path of interest
, and as part of that planning, choose courses
that would help them develop the knowledge and skills to get there.
I am not writing those kinds of details for you. But you can use these guidelines to sort it out:
1. What statistics and methodology will you need to address the types of research questions you want to answer? Yes, you should think about the analyses you want to do in your master’s thesis. And your dissertation. But more broadly, what career skills will you need? It’s much easier to take a statistics course as a graduate student than as a professor (trust me on this one!). Are you interested in peer relationships? Find a network analysis course. Working with longitudinal data? Make sure you take courses to give you the tools to work with these data. Ask your adviser or other faculty what methodological tools they think you specifically need to do your research, but also ask them what methodological tools they think are the up and coming ones. Or better yet, ask your methods professors.
2. Figure out what content areas you need to understand, and take courses in them. What topics do you want to research? What stage of development? Obviously, if you’re studying a particular stage of development, you should take a course in that stage. If you are studying families, you should take family courses. But more generally, think about your specific interests, and find courses to fit them.
3. Think about the instructors you will have. In our department, we have many award-winning, internationally-recognized scholars. Take a course from someone amazing, even if the course content doesn’t perfectly line up with your career goals, just so that you can take a course with someone amazing.
4. Are you planning a teaching career? What courses will you be expected to teach? Some of our graduates teach in human development and family studies departments, but many teach in psychology and sociology departments, or at medical schools. What courses might you be expected to teach there? If psychology, it’s likely you’ll teach developmental psychology, but will you be expected to teach something in another area? What course could prepare you? If sociology, will you be the family expert? Make sure you have training in the kinds of courses you might teach. If you can’t get the right graduate level training, then make sure you TA the kinds of courses you might teach.
5. Are there areas where you should have academic fluency, even if you never plan to do research in those areas? For instance, I would urge anyone who plans to study individual development in any part of the lifespan to take at least one neuroscience course. You may have no interest in being a neuroscientist, or in even using neuroscience measures. However, given where the field is going, you will be expected to understand neuroscience – when you review manuscripts, when you review grant proposals, when you talk to colleagues, and perhaps, when you collaborate with a neuroscientist to collect spit samples or fMRI data so that you can get your work funded. What fluency do you need to be a successful scientist in your chosen field?
6. Look at course syllabi
. Sometimes, you can’t base your decision solely on the bulletin description. Different instructors teach the course with different foci. When you’re choosing a course, find the syllabus from the last time that instructor taught it, and see if it matches your needs/interests. If necessary, email the instructor and ask for a prior syllabus or a brief description. Just don’t ask him to send his syllabus for an upcoming course – it’s unlikely it’s written 2 months beforehand, but it is likely you’ll annoy him by asking.
7. Ask other graduate students what courses they loved. Ask your adviser what courses, or what instructors, you should take. Word of mouth is useful.
8. Want a course on a particular topic, but don’t know where it’s offered? Search for it in one of these ways:
If you’re considering a specific semester, look at course schedules
in other departments. Areas could include psychology, sociology, biobehavioral health, statistics, communication arts and sciences. See what courses they are offering and if they meet your needs.
b. Go to the graduate bulletin
and search for courses by a key word. This process can be a bit clunky, but if you’re interested in a particular topic, can be fruitful. If I search for “qualitative” I find qualitative methods courses in EDTHP, HI ED, CAS, IST, APLNG, CRIMJ, ADTED, RPTM, CI, MGMT, NURS, COMM. I can then use the course scheduling list to see if one is offered next semester.
9. Don’t take courses just to fill a spot on your schedule. If you really can’t find something that meets your needs next semester, then take some independent study credits and work on your thesis, or write a manuscript and get it out for publication. Doing so will serve your future career much better than taking a course as filler.
“The post How to choose your graduate courses
first appeared on Eva Lefkowitz’s blog
on November 22, 2013.”
As I said, information presented at the beginning and the end is more easily remembered (the primacy and recency effects). Just as you want to put effort into crafting your first sentence, you also want to carefully craft your final paragraph.
Common mistake #1: Writers often try to summarize every single finding in their final paragraph. This attempt results in a clunky concluding paragraph, that doesn’t highlight the most interesting/significant findings (it’s not possible that everything you found is equally exciting/novel, is it?), and doesn’t direct the reader’s attention appropriately.
Common mistake #2: Writers write very vague sentences that don’t really summarize anything specific reported in that particular paper (e.g., we found gender differences in sexual risk behavior).
Common mistake #3: Writers treat their findings as so revolutionary that all future research, interventions, and policy will be influenced by the findings in this one study of 100 students from one middle school (e.g., findings demonstrate that parents should avoid discussing alcohol with their middle school aged children, and that future interventions should train parents how to dictate complete abstinence from drinking in order to prevent their children from becoming early alcohol abusers).
Common mistake #4: Writers end with their limitations or future directions paragraph, rather than adding a concluding paragraph afterward. You want to include these topics in your discussion. But you don’t want to leave the readers thinking about the things you did wrong or what others should do, you want them remembering what you did.
What should you do?
1. Summarize 1-3 specific and interesting findings that add to past research. Think about your elevator speech
. If someone asked you to tell them in a couple of sentences your most interesting findings from this paper, what would you say? Write that.
2. Be clear on the how these findings contribute to the literature – do they support or refute a prior theory? Do they have important public health implications? Do they show something novel about human behavior?
That’s it. Relatively short, clear, and memorable. Here are a few examples:
From a short article in an AMA-style journal:
“Our data suggest that the potential acceptability of the HPV vaccine is high in Argentina, given that there is acceptance among the professional community, that physicians recommend it, and that the vaccine is affordable. Special educational efforts must be undertaken to assure that physicians provide parents and women adequate, evidence-based information about the HPV vaccine.” (from Arrossi, Maceira, Paolino, & Sankaranarayanan, 2012
A public health message:
“In conclusion, this research supported the notion that students consuming alcohol with a celebration mission reach higher levels of intoxication, thereby putting themselves at substantial risk for alcohol-related problems, including DUI. Interventions to prevent alcohol abuse on a college or university campus need to consider the impact of various celebrations. Perhaps it is possible to develop and promote alternative ways for college students to commemorate special occasions.” (from Glindemann, Wiegand, & Geller, 2007
A developmental perspective:
“Patterning of risk behavior from late adolescence to almost 30 years of age differed depending on the type of behavior. Most risk behaviors decrease from late adolescence to young adulthood, but the age when decline begins differs. While drinking up to the point of drunkenness, smoking, cannabis use, and deviance decline during young adulthood, HIV-related sexual risk behavior still increases. This might indicate a distinct functionality compared with other risk behaviors.” (from Brodbeck, Bachmann, Croudace, & Brown, 2013
A policy perspective:
“Beyond these limitations, however, results highlight the importance of considering housing in a multifaceted manner in order to address the underlying connections between multiple aspects of housing contexts. By assessing housing quality, stability, type, and cost in one comprehensive model, this study sought to delineate the relative contributions of these interrelated aspects of housing to children’s developmental trajectories in emotional, behavioral, and cognitive realms. Results underscore the central role of poor housing quality as potentially the most potent aspect of housing in inhibiting the healthy development of low-income children and youth, with housing problems showing the most consistent links with children’s and adolescents’ emotional and behavioral functioning, as well as with adolescents’ cognitive skills.” (from Coley, Leventhal, Lynch, & Kull, 2013
I think that’s what I have to say about intentional writing for now. What other professional development topics would you like to see covered in the coming weeks?
“The post Intentional writing part 6: Leave them with something to remember
first appeared on Eva Lefkowitz’s blog
on November 20, 2013.”
My Ph.D. is in developmental psychology from UCLA
, where we were required to take psychology courses from outside our area, and to choose a minor from another area. I had zero interests in cognitive psychology. But at my friend
’s insistence that it would be good, I took a course in learning and memory from Bob Bjork
. That class influenced me more than any other non-developmental course I took during undergrad or grad (except intro psych freshman year). I don’t remember everything from that course, but a few things have stuck with me, including:
- Retrieval is a potent learning event
- Memory regresses to the mean
- First and last things in a sequence are more easily remembered than the middle
I took the course about 20 years ago, so it’s possible some of these points have subsequently been disproven. But, I draw on this memory research when teaching, learning, and writing. In particular, I know that in a lecture, talk, grant proposal, or paper, people are going to remember the beginning and end more than the middle. That doesn’t mean that you should fill the middle with junk, but it does mean that you should pay particular attention to the first sentence and last paragraph of your paper.
Your first sentence (and title, and abstract) is like an advertisement
– step right up! Read this great paper and learn exciting new things! You want to convince the reader that your paper will: (1) be clearly written; (2) be interesting; (3) present something important and worth the time to read. That’s a lot of pressure on a first sentence. But you should spend more time on the first sentence than any other sentence in the paper. Write a first sentence that will make people want to read more.
The most common weak 1st sentences I read are either (1) So vague that they really don’t say anything, or (2) a dull fact that may be more specific, but still doesn’t say what the paper will be about, or why I should bother reading it. The examples below are all slightly adapted from real theses or published manuscripts:
- Vague example: Emerging adulthood, the period of development between adolescence and adulthood, includes intensive identity exploration (Arnett, 2000).
- Boring example: By ages 20-24 years, 85% of women and 82% of men have had sex in their lifetime (National Health Statistics Reports, 2011).
- Example of both: Many studies have examined risky sexual behavior among college students (LOTS OF CITES).
These are points you may want to make somewhere in your paper. And, there is nothing grammatically or stylistically incorrect about these sentences. You are likely to even get published with them. But they won’t attract your readers from the start. Recently, I wanted to give my student examples of strong first sentences. We are working on a manuscript together, and have a shared folder of articles, so I decided to browse first sentences to point out good examples to her. I was surprised to discover that the vast majority of publications in this folder on associations between alcohol use and sexual behavior had first sentences that were virtually interchangeable with each other. They almost all started with a fact about how drinking in college is dangerous; how drinking and sex are associated; or how STI’s are elevated during adolescence and young adulthood. In some instances, these facts might work for the start of a paper, but in the majority, they were relatively dull and interchangeable.
So, how should you start you start your paper? Possibilities include:
- A question relevant to your research questions: Does fraternity involvement increase the risk of unprotected sex after alcohol consumption?
- An interesting or surprising fact related to your ideas: Historically, fellatio or cunnilingus, hereto referred to as oral sex, were perceived among heterosexual couples as not only more intimate than intercourse but also to be reserved for those who were married (Michael, Gagnon, Laumann, & Kolata, 1994). (from Chambers, 2007)
- A theoretical/conceptual question: Alcohol use among young people tends to lead to impaired decision making and risky behavior (Kaly, Heesacker, & Frost,, 2002; MacDonald, MacDonald, Zanna, & Fong, 2000; Steele & Josephs, 1990), but adolescents and young adults themselves perceive the outcomes of alcohol use to generally be positive (Lee, Maggs, Neighbors, & Patrick, 2011; Patrick & Maggs, 2011).
- Hammer at the public health significance, if you have something beyond the fact that everyone else uses: Hospital emergency departments (ED) remain a healthcare safety net for much of the inner-city ED population.1 (from Bazargan-Hejazi et al., 2012).
- A cultural observation relevant to your paper: From “Animal House” to “American Pie,” late adolescents and young adults (usually college students) are portrayed as talking about sex in the rare moments that they are not having sex or trying to have sex. (from Lefkowitz, Boone, & Shearer, 2004).
- The same facts that everyone else is saying, but say it well: Alcohol use is widely understood to be a common part of the collegiate experience (Schulenberg & Maggs, 2002; Straus & Bacon, 1953) based on a strong cultural expectation that drinking is central to the experience of the mythically carefree college years (Maggs, 1997). (from Patrick & Maggs, 2009).
With permission, here are a couple of examples of two of my current students’ early tries at a first sentence to their thesis, and the revised version:
- RW, early version: Although many adolescents and young adults engage in sexual behavior, their experiences are not uniform.
- RW, revised: Adolescent sexual behaviors and partnerships are important from developmental and risk-taking perspectives because the timing, sequencing, context, and patterning of sexual behaviors correspond to psychological and sexual health outcomes later in life (Haydon, Herring, Prinstein & Halpern, 2012; Sandfort, Orr, Hirsch, & Santelli, 2008).
- EW, early version: There is growing evidence that the effects of parenting may have implications well into emerging adulthood (Abar, Carter, & Winsler, 2009; Weiss & Schwarz, 1996).
- EW, revised: There is growing evidence that the effects of parenting may have implications for individuals’ study skills, GPA, and alcohol consumption well into emerging adulthood (Abar, Carter, & Winsler, 2009; Turner, Chandler, & Heffer 2009; Weiss & Schwarz, 1996).
Notice that in both instances, they have added more specifics, and are setting the reader up to understand the details of their own papers.
Don’t worry about writing this fabulous first sentence when you first start the paper. Write something as a placeholder, and come back to it after much of the rest of the paper is written.
I seem to have said enough about first sentences to warrant postponing a discussion of concluding paragraphs for a separate post. I’ll leave you with some of my favorite fiction introductory sentences, copied from American Book Review
. Notice how they really make you want to read the next sentence.
- Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. —Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina (1878)
- If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you'll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don't feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth. —J. D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye (1951)
- I was born twice: first, as a baby girl, on a remarkably smogless Detroit day in January of 1960; and then again, as a teenage boy, in an emergency room near Petoskey, Michigan, in August of 1974. —Jeffrey Eugenides, Middlesex (2002)
- In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I've been turning over in my mind ever since. —F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby (1925)
- High, high above the North Pole, on the first day of 1969, two professors of English Literature approached each other at a combined velocity of 1200 miles per hour. —David Lodge, Changing Places (1975)
“The post Intentional writing part 5: Start and end strong
first appeared on Eva Lefkowitz’s blog
on November 18, 2013.”
When I gave a draft of my master’s thesis to Terry Au
, my second reader, she returned it covered in red marks and with the oral comment “I marked these errors once; I don’t expect to find any of these mistakes again.” There is risk in having someone who studies child language development on your committee. I guarantee I made those mistakes again. But the marks that may have influenced my writing the most were the big red circles around my dangling “this”s.
Technically, it is not grammatically incorrect to use “this” without a noun after it. “This” can be used either as a demonstrative determiner
, and therefore modify a noun as an adjective would, or a demonstrative pronoun, and stand alone (yes, I am citing Wikipedia here; don’t try it at home). “This” as a pronoun works fine when you and someone else are standing in front of something, as in, “this is mine!” while pointing at a cupcake your partner is about to grab. But the majority of the time, if you use it as a pronoun in your writing, it will be vague and you will leave the reader with uncertainty about what you mean.
I see this most frequently (see what I did there? Not so clear, is it? I’ll start over).
I see this misuse most frequently at the start of sentences, referring to something in the prior sentence, such as “This demonstrates” or “This provides evidence that” or “This involves” or “This indicates.” Often, a simple addition of a noun will make the sentence much clearer, such as “This finding,” “This study,” or “This association.”
Here’s an example:
“Furthermore, by college graduation, about 90% of students report having penetrative vaginal intercourse (Patrick & Lee, 2010; Fryar, Hirsch, Porter, Kottiri, Brody, & Louis, 2007). This
indicates that the college years are pivotal for the development of sexual behaviors.”
As a reader, I can kind of figure out that the author is referring to basically the full point in the prior sentence with the word “this.” But much clearer to state, “This percentage indicates” or “This high rate of sexual behavior indicates,” so the reader doesn’t have to sort it out himself.
Another common use I see is “Because of this.” An example:
In the current study, we used adolescent self-reports during school based data collection to examine associations between attachment to parents and externalizing behaviors. Because of this
, our findings may be biased.”
Because of what? The fact that it was self-reports? School-based? The constructs assessed? Be specific.
Here’s another example:
“Students frequently described alcohol use as leading to arousal, often described in terms of an increase in horniness or a decrease in inhibition as a result of drinking alcohol. This
is supported by the literature, which describes alcohol as a social lubricant that increases disinhibition (MacDonald et al., 2000).”
What is supported by the literature? If I change it to “this link between alcohol use and arousal” it becomes a bit clearer.
Again, it’s about being intentional in your writing. If you tell
the reader exactly what you mean, the reader will know
exactly what you mean, and won’t have to guess.
I really could go on and on, because this [issue] is one of the most frequent ones I encounter, particularly in grading. But this [post] needs to end at some point.
When I’m providing my students feedback in track changes, I sometimes catch myself using “this” as a pronoun, as in “this is unclear” or “this is awkward.” This [instance] is not actually vague, because I’ve highlighted a portion of text, the track changes equivalent of pointing. Still, I try my best to model and sometimes change it to “this sentence/phrase” or “this point.”
You know that everything I just wrote replies to “these” too, right? And while you’re at it, check your vague use of “it” as well.
“The post Intentional writing part 4: Dis the this first appeared on Eva Lefkowitz’s blog
on November 14, 2013."
In October, I gave a talk at Brandeis University
, my alma mater. The audience included 3 professors I had taken courses from as an undergraduate student in the 80’s. A week later over lunch, I learned from one of them that the prior week’s speaker was a psychology professor who covered “How to give a bad research talk.” They didn’t tell me about it beforehand, because they thought it might make me anxious. And thank goodness – I could just imagine that with that knowledge, every time one student leaned over to another to whisper something, or shot someone a look, I’d be thinking, “what bad talk thing did I just do?”
Blogging about writing this past week, I’ve become more self-conscious of my own writing. As apparently have my current grad students, one of whom wrote this week and said: “Each of us in the lab thinks that we alone must have inspired your comments.” So yes, each of my current students have broken some of the guidelines I’ve discussed, but so have all of my former students, my colleagues, and every student whose paper I have ever graded.
And so have I. Despite my increased self-consciousness, I emailed a manuscript draft to a current student just as I was publishing blog posts about writing. The student, a co-author on the manuscript, sent it back with many comments, including many inconsistencies in my construct terminology. I had definitely checked my own work, though clearly not enough times. Although we all want to send our very best work out every time we hit “send,” better for a co-author to find problems than a reviewer. So, please read these posts while keeping a little song
in the back of your head – one I always sing to my kids in times of frustration over lack of perfection.
Working on my own work while writing about intentional writing also has made me aware of exceptions to some of my guidelines. So do recognize that I’m not saying you have to follow each of these guidelines in every single sentence – sometimes there are stylistic, argument-relevant, parsimony, or wording reasons to deviate from these rules. But do so intentionally.
Today I want to discuss vague writing. I caught a couple of instances in my own writing this week, for instance, something like:
“College students who drink alcohol more tend to engage in more sexual behavior.”
Huh? “Drink alcohol more” isn’t ideal, because it’s not totally clear what I mean. More frequently, or more servings of alcohol? However, I could argue that if I meant more servings, I would write “drink more alcohol” so maybe I can let it slide. However, “engage in more sexual behavior” is quite vague. What kind of sexual behavior? Vaginal? Oral? Kissing? What does “more” mean? More frequently? More partners? More frequently with the same partner or more frequently with different partners? No way to know.
When you write with intention, you should be certain that your sentences convey exactly what you mean. If you write something vague, the reader may interpret it differently from your intention, leading to confusion.
Here are some examples of the types of vague statements I frequently encounter, and how to improve them:
- Researchers have studied parent-adolescent communication in a number of different ways.
- What ways?
- Better: Researchers have studied parent-adolescent communication using adolescent self-report, parent self-report, and, less frequently, naturalistic or lab-based observations of parents and adolescents.
- Time spent with deviant peers is associated with a number of different outcomes.
- Even if you’re about to describe those outcomes, try to be more specific in your intro sentence – negative outcomes (still pretty vague)? Psychological or behavioral outcomes? Both? More description in the sentence that leads the paragraph will frame the rest of the paragraph, making it easier to read, because the reader knows what to expect.
- Better: Time spent with deviant peers is associated with negative psychological, behavioral, and social outcomes during adolescence.
- Research suggests that romantic relationships have important implications for adolescents.
- What aspects of romantic relationships? What implications?
- Better: Research suggests that romantic relationship quality during adolescence has implications for mental health, attachment orientation, and romantic relationship quality in adulthood.
- Our sample included only college students from one university. Future research should address this issue.
- Okay. But why? How?
- Better: Future studies should consider asking similar questions among students at universities in different geographic regions, 2-year colleges, private universities, online universities, non-residential students, as well as among individuals who are not attending college. For instance, perceived alcohol-sex links may be less positive and more negative among students at campuses with more conservative attitudes toward alcohol use and/or sex, such as religiously sponsored universities.
- This work will make an important contribution to the literature.
- Everyone thinks their work will make an important contribution to the literature. Tell us why.
- Better: This paper makes an important contribution to the literature, by examining HIV testing in a high risk but understudied population, and by including longitudinal data to predict HIV testing from attitudes and behaviors in earlier adolescence.
By using more specific language, readers will know exactly what you plan to do, how, and why. Once again, making it easier to follow your paper, and ending with an overall sense of what you did, how, and why.
“The post Intentional writing part 3: Vanquish the vague first appeared on Eva Lefkowitz’s blog
on November 12, 2013.”
I’ll start with a confession. As the mother of twins, I worry about fairness and favoritism. This concern comes out in peculiar ways – for instance, on our family blog, I try to alternate across posts which kid’s name appears first. And, in the 100+ holiday cards I write every year, I aim to sign about half with my son’s name first, and about half with my daughter’s name first.
Much of the time in social scientific writing, we have a list of 2 or more things that repeatedly appears (and you won’t vary those terms, because you read my last post). Elementary and middle school students. Mothers and fathers. Alcohol, tobacco, and marijuana use. Reading, writing, and mathematics. You do not have to worry about favoritism for mothers vs. fathers. Pick an order, and use it every single time. This strategy will make your writing easier to follow. Use it consistently throughout the paper:
1. Every time you write the items as a list (alcohol, tobacco, and marijuana), use the same order.
2. In the introduction, when you have sections or paragraphs about each item in the list (e.g., a paragraph about alcohol, one about tobacco, and one about marijuana), use the same order as appears in your list.
3. In the methods section when you describe each measure, use the same order.
4. In the results section when you describe your findings, use the same order.
5. In your tables, when you enter them as predictors, use the same order.
Readers will get used to that order, and so reading the items consistently in the same order will require less work/processing than if the order continually changes. Now your reader can concentrate on your methods and important findings, rather than trying to parse your writing. Sometimes in the discussion it does make sense to switch things up – here you are trying to make new connections and draw new conclusions, and so a twisting of order, especially if you’ve been consistent so far, could actually make the reader more attentive to a new idea. For instance, if findings for alcohol and marijuana were similar, but findings for tobacco were different, you may want to write about alcohol and marijuana in one paragraph, and tobacco in the next.
A related and equally, or perhaps even more important, issue.
Often we write about associations between two variables; much of the time, the whole point of the paper is how group of constructs X is associated with group of constructs Y. Much of the time, we have a theoretical or conceptual idea about the causal direction or temporal ordering of this association – though we can rarely prove it. To make your writing clear, always present one set of constructs first in writing about these associations. For instance, let’s say you’re interested in how self-esteem might lead to better academic engagement and achievement (again, you conceptualize the temporal ordering that way, even if you cannot definitively test it). Here are two examples of how to summarize some past (fictional, and thus uncited) work.
HARD TO FOLLOW:
Adolescents’ SAT scores are associated with their self-esteem assessed in the same grade. In addition, adolescents’ self-esteem during high school is associated with their subsequent math grades during their first year of college.
EASIER TO FOLLOW:
Adolescents’ self-esteem in junior year is associated with their SAT scores taken the same year. In addition, self-esteem during high school is associated with adolescents’ subsequent math grades during their first year of college.
Notice the difference? In the first sentence you have to do some mental gymnastics to recognize that the meaningful distinction between the two sentences is SAT scores vs. math grades. In the second sentence, the writer, by using parallel structure, has done the work for you, and the distinction is clearer.
Consistent ordering is another writing improvement that is relatively easy to fix in your own work. Pick an order and try to use it consistently. Also, when your draft is complete, read it through one time specifically looking for deviations from this ordering. Your readers will thank you. And understand you.
"The post Intentional writing part 2: Consistent wording avoids confusion
first appeared on Eva Lefkowitz's Blog
on November 8, 2013"