Today I want to talk about the importance of centering your summary of others’ work around the research findings, rather than the authors. I’m going to cheat and use the same example I used previously with slight alterations. Here’s an example of author-focused summaries:
Smith, Bogle, Talbott, Grant, and Castillo (2006) found that college students are more likely to drink, and drink more heavily, on their 21st birthday compared to other days. Rutledge, Park, and Sher (2008), in a more representative study, found similar increases in drinking on 21st birthdays. Neal and Fromme (2007) found that alcohol use was elevated on holidays like New Year’s Eve, as well as on football weekends. Similarly, Del Boca, Darkes, Greenbaum, and Goldman (2004) found that alcohol use increases on New Year’s Eve and other holidays. Other researchers have also found elevated rates of drinking on Halloween and St. Patrick’s Day (Glindemann, Wiegand, & Geller, 2007). Patrick, Morgan, Maggs, and Lefkowitz (2011) found that another event, Spring break, also has higher rates of drinking. Finally, Grekin, Sher, and Krull (2007) found that increased drinking during Spring break occurred only when students were with friends.
That paragraph is written so that the authors are the subjects of each sentence, placing the most importance on the author names (or in one case, “other researchers”). However, when you are reading an introduction, you rarely care who did what study (sorry authors! I know you care!). What you do care about is what the authors found. In the occasional instances where, as a reader, you do care about who did the study, the information will still be easily accessible, it’s just not distracting you from the main findings. Here is the passage in the actual paper – much shorter, but without any loss of information:
College student alcohol use is known to increase during the celebration of special events such as 21st birthdays (Rutledge, Park, & Sher, 2008; Smith, Bogle, Talbott, Grant, & Castillo, 2006), football games (Neal & Fromme, 2007b), Spring Break (Grekin, Sher, & Krull, 2007; Patrick, Morgan, Maggs, & Lefkowitz, 2011), and holidays like Halloween and New Year’s Eve (Del Boca, Darkes, Greenbaum, & Goldman, 2004; Glindemann, Wiegand, & Geller, 2007).
In the second example, we have integrated the findings across studies, but we also have made the research findings, rather than the author names, the star of the sentence. Which is now one sentence. No information was lost, but the reader comes away with a much better sense of what has been found in this research area.
It probably takes a bit more time to write the second example than the first. But that’s because you are doing the work for the reader, and therefore, it will take the reader a lot less time to understand your points – which should be the goal of writing in any context.
“Intentional writing: Finding-focused, not author-focused literature summaries first appeared on Eva Lefkowitz’s blog on October 25, 2018.”