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"