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13.3 Writing Up Research Results

Learning Objectives

  1. Identify the differences between reports for scholarly consumption and reports for public consumption.
  2. Define plagiarism and explain why it should be taken seriously.

I once had a student who conducted research on how children interact with each other in public. She was inspired to conduct her work after reading Barrie Thorne’s (1993)Thorne, B. (1993). Gender play: Girls and boys in school. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press. research on how children regulate gender through their interactions with one another. This student conducted field observations of children on playgrounds for an assignment in my research methods class. The assignment included writing up a scholarly report of findings. After writing up her scholarly report, the student revised it and submitted it for publication in the student column of Contexts, the American Sociological Association’s public-interest magazine (Yearwood, 2009).Yearwood, E. (2009). Children and gender. Contexts, 8. Because Contexts readers run the gamut from academic sociologists to nonacademics and nonsociologists who simply have an interest in the magazine’s content, articles in the magazine are presented in a different format from the format used in other sociology journals. Thus my student had the opportunity to write up her findings in two different ways—first for scholarly consumption and then for public consumption. As she learned, and as we’ll discuss in this section, reports for fellow scholars typically differ from reports for a more general public audience.

Reports of findings that will be read by other scholars generally follow the format outlined in the discussion of reviewing the literature in Chapter 5 "Research Design". As you may recall from that chapter, most scholarly reports of research include an abstract, an introduction, a literature review, a discussion of research methodology, a presentation of findings, and some concluding remarks and discussion about implications of the work. Reports written for scholarly consumption also contain a list of references, and many include tables or charts that visually represent some component of the findings. Reading prior literature in your area of interest is an excellent way to develop an understanding of the core components of scholarly research reports and to begin to learn how to write those components yourself. There also are many excellent resources to help guide students as they prepare to write scholarly reports of research (Johnson, Rettig, Scott, & Garrison, 2009; Sociology Writing Group, 2007; Becker, 2007; American Sociological Association, 2010).Johnson, W. A., Rettig, R. P., Scott, G. M., & Garrison, S. M. (2009). The sociology student writer’s manual (6th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall; Sociology Writing Group. (2007). A guide to writing sociology papers. New York, NY: Worth; Becker, H. S. (2007). Writing for social scientists: How to start and finish your thesis, book, or article (2nd ed.). Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press; American Sociological Association. (2010). ASA style guide (4th ed.). Washington, DC: Author. A very brief version of the ASA style guide can be found at http://www.asanet.org/students/ASA%20Quick%20Style%20Guide%204th%20edition%20update.pdf.

Reports written for public consumption differ from those written for scholarly consumption. As noted elsewhere in this chapter, knowing your audience is crucial when preparing a report of your research. What are they likely to want to hear about? What portions of the research do you feel are crucial to share, regardless of the audience? Answering these questions will help you determine how to shape any written reports you plan to produce. In fact, some outlets answer these questions for you, as in the case of newspaper editorials where rules of style, presentation, and length will dictate the shape of your written report.

Whoever your audience, don’t forget what it is that you are reporting: social scientific evidence. Take seriously your role as a social scientist and your place among peers in your discipline. Present your findings as clearly and as honestly as you possibly can; pay appropriate homage to the scholars who have come before you, even while you raise questions about their work; and aim to engage your readers in a discussion about your work and about avenues for further inquiry. Even if you won’t ever meet your readers face-to-face, imagine what they might ask you upon reading your report, imagine your response, and provide some of those details in your written report.

Finally, take extraordinary care not to commit plagiarismRepresenting the work, writing, or ideas of another person as one’s own work, writing, or ideas.. Presenting someone else’s words or ideas as if they are your own is among the most egregious transgressions a scholar can commit. Indeed, plagiarism has ended many careers (Maffly, 2011)As just a single example, take note of this story: Maffly, B. (2011, August 19). “Pattern of plagiarism” costs University of Utah scholar his job. The Salt Lake Tribune. Retrieved from http://www.sltrib.com/sltrib/cougars/52378377-78/bakhtiari-university-panel-plagiarism.html.csp?page=1 and many students’ opportunities to pursue degrees (Go, 2008).As a single example (of many) of the consequences for students of committing plagiarism, see Go, A. (2008). Two students kicked off semester at sea for plagiarism. U.S. News & World Report. Retrieved from http://www.usnews.com/education/blogs/paper-trail/2008/08/14/two-students-kicked-off-semester-at-sea-for-plagiarism Take this very, very seriously. If you feel a little afraid and paranoid after reading this warning, consider it a good thing—and let it motivate you to take extra care to ensure that you are not plagiarizing the work of others.

Key Takeaways

  • Reports for public consumption usually contain fewer details than reports for scholarly consumption.
  • Keep your role and obligations as a social scientist in mind as you write up research reports.
  • Plagiarism is among the most egregious transgressions a scholar can commit.

Exercises

  1. Imagine that you’ve been tasked with sharing the results of some of your research with your parents. What details would you be sure to include? What details might you leave out, and why?
  2. Have a discussion with a few of your peers about plagiarism. How do you each define the term? What strategies do you employ to ensure that you avoid committing plagiarism?