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Patrick Dunleavy

@Write4Research and London School of Economics

With inputs from: Jane Tinkler (Nine Dots Prize), Sierra Williams (PeerJ), David Ross (Sage Open Access), Kieran Booluck (LSE Impact blog), Beth Clark (LSE Library, Head of the Digital Scholarship and Innovation Group), and Nancy Graham, (LSE Library, Research Support team head)

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Executive Summary

Many current academic citation and referencing practices are out of date and dysfunctional, especially in leading only to closed-access and paywall sources, or in providing only details of ‘legacy’ print formats. The central principles of this Digital Style Guide are that

1 All citations/ references should lead wherever possible to a digital text, database, or other information source. …

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In the modern external impacts arena, the development of effective knowledge exchange expertise will be spread across up to nine powerful and often well-funded, centrally managed units. These are

  • the university library,
  • its online open access repository,
  • a university press,
  • website and information technology services,
  • the communications (press/media) division,
  • a unit handling government relations or elite contacts,
  • a research support division,
  • fund-raising and alumni relations organizations, and
  • the contract work or consultancy support service.

Not all of these are present in all universities, but most are. So the top leadership in any university directly controls substantial resources, that could be made to be key for developing its external impacts. However, in fact each of these organizations tends to have a ‘legacy’ identity or culture that in the modern period may not be very well adapted to seeking external impacts, especially in digital mode. What is most important for generating academic and external impacts is whether the unit concerned understands or sympathizes with the idea of two-way knowledge exchange, and how effectively they have recognized the efficacy of digital and social media and moved to adapt modern methods. …

There are sharply divided views about the academic value and role of chapters in books across disciplines, and within some of them between defenders and critics of the form. In some humanities and social science disciplines chapters account for large shares of outputs and are still well regarded. Here ‘a book chapter.. is an independent article with roughly the same status as a journal article. The review and revision process involved is very similar to that for journal articles’ says the historians’ guide by Iacovetta and Ladd-Taylor.

My chart below is taken from Bastow et al, The Impacts of the Social Sciences, and records cites from multiple different sources for a sample of British academics in 2010-13. Chapters in books accounted for more than one in eight cites in five disciplines (sociology, media studies, history, geography and law), and nearly a quarter of citations in philosophy. Note that the patterns of chapter citing are not closely correlated with those for book and edited book citing. (Sadly this study did not cover wider humanities fields, where chapters play a big role also in English, literature studies, theology and other areas). …

‘The distrust of self-citations is completely misplaced’ (Anne-Will Harzing). If relevant, cite yourself, but only up to the norm in your discipline

Academic work is inherently cumulative — and often in tracing the evolution of ideas, methods or evidence an author or research team should cite their own previous work, especially in fields where most work tackles distinctive or applied problems (not widely studied), or follows a particular method not yet widely shared. Yet some commentators suggest that self-citations are problematic or illegitimate and argue that they should not count at all or count less than normal citations. Such critics see self-citation as ‘blowing your own trumpet’. Official bodies often exclude them from cites counts, as if they were somehow corrupt inclusions when measuring academic performance. Some bibliometric scholars concur in excluding self-citations comparative analyses of the research performance of individuals, departments and universities. And indeed there is evidence that self-citations are not as important as citations from other academics in determining how far an academic is an authority within a field . …

It’s not just about distributing credit where it’s due

The sociologist Robert Merton wrote perceptively about citations:

[T]he institutionalized practice of citations and references in the sphere of learning is not a trivial matter. [Readers] located outside the domain of science and scholarship may regard the lowly footnote or the remote endnote or the bibliographic parenthesis as a dispensable nuisance .. [But] these are in truth central to the [academic] incentive system and an underlying sense of distributive justice, that do much to energize the advancement of knowledge

Yet the significance of citations goes far beyond energizing and rewarding scientific and academic competition, and for PhDers and early career researchers it is worth briefly enumerating these rationales somewhat more. …

Here is a deliberately brief summary of guidance that some folk have found useful:

There two major models for structuring an academic paper: 1. the conventional model; and 2. the design model. Whatever method you use, it is important to set it up right, and plan your paper beforehand. You may find it useful to also check tips in my post on storyboarding research.

1. Conventional papers

The advice notes for this section all draw on Thomas Bassboll’s blog. He suggests

A paper should have 40 paragraphs, arranged in eight even-length sections:

· five paragraphs for Introduction and Background

establishes motivation and reader…

Wouldn’t it be great if there was some well-grounded evidence of the best place to publish your research? After all, you’ve sweated for two or more years on collecting the data or source materials, thinking though the issues involved, resolving problems, and writing up the finished text. You’re heavily invested in the work, and you want to get the best possible exposure for it in the optimal journal. …

- a menu of suggestions

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Karl Popper memorably said: ‘There is no such thing as a logical method of having new ideas or a logical reconstruction of this process’. That remains true, and so any advice here can only hope to prompt or stimulate your own thinking, in a somewhat tangential way. And of course, I have no special access to a hoard of secrets about being more creative or innovative in research— still less of a generic kind that always work. My musings and advice below are phrased in a definite-sounding way. …

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Modern societies place a high value on innovation, and for good reason. ‘Nothing was ever yet done’, said John Stuart Mill (in On Liberty), ‘which someone was not the first to do. All good things which exist are the fruits of originality’. In the modern era what constitutes an innovation has also become clouded by the myths around the ‘race to individual discovery’ in science, or the retelling of highly unusual ‘digital business breakthrough’ stories.

Yet in academic research almost all work is actually collective and incremental. Ernest Boyer cogently argued that scholarship is far more than just discovery. …

One of the oddest things that people in academic life regularly say to me is: ‘I’m not paid to write blogposts, only research articles. If my department or the grant-funder wants to start paying me for doing posts, then that would be a different matter’. Or alternatively, the argument goes: ‘I just don’t have the time to do blogging’. Or finally, the clinching rebuttal is: ‘Your blogpost just won’t get cited, and in today’s research environment, only citations count’

Apparently then a lot of folk suffer from some serious misconceptions about what writing a post entails:

  • They think it takes days, weeks, or even months to produce that difficult bit of text — it doesn’t, it takes two or three hours at most. …


Writing For Research

Writing creative non-fiction at a research level is hard, skilled work, across all disciplines. Here Prof Patrick Dunleavy (LSE) collates some helpful resources

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