Chapter 4 Research Writing
In this section, I focus on the main stages of the research writing process. Most of these concepts have been beautifully explained by Varanya Chaubey (2018) .We will be focusing on the book, but in this section, I compile some of the most interesting ideas and link them to other important aspects to consider when structuring an argument. Some of this material is structured with more detail on Laura Belcher’s book Writing your Journal Article in Twelve Weeks.
4.2 The Three Layer Method
Once we have found our research question and we obtained and processed the data we need to conduct our analysis, we need to write our results.
This method asks us to work from the general ideas to the details, using a descending structure, or a Three layer method.
This method is a 3-step process in which we start working by laying a foundation of the main project and build upon it. The concept is simple: we need to understand what we are doing, why and how before even immersing in the writing process. Otherwise, we will lose sight of the main objective. The process is straightforward and quite intuitive. I introduce the three stages of the process here and explain each of them below.
- Step 1: What are you saying?: This is the main argument that you are making. It is important to figure out if you actually have an argument. But I’ll come back to this point.
- Step 2: Express with an outline. You need to include additional information surrounding your argument, so the readers can answer follow-up questions and have additional details linked to your research question.
- Step 3: Develop your ideas in a draft. Once you have identified your main argument and have an outline, you need to structure the paragraphs in each section.
4.2.1 The Argument
Belcher (2019) defines an argument as: “your article’s most important idea sated in one or two sentences early and clearly in your article […], emerging from a theory and supported with evidence to convince the reader of its validity.”
This may sound trivial, but it is harder than it seems. Many times, we believe we already have an argument, but we really do not. Instead, we have sentences that are tautological or we are simply rephrasing a fact that is accepted by everyone. Therefore, Belcher proposes a set of tests to ensure that you actually have an argument (I am adapting the list for the purposes of this Guide):
Agree/disagree: Do we need evidence to agree or disagree with a particular statement? For instance, we do not need further evidence to the statement ‘The Earth is round’. But we may need evidence on the statement “Prep school is fundamental to children’s cognitive development.”
Dispute test: When a given statement can be the source of disagreement, then it seems that you may indeed have an argument. For instance, “Poorer people are less supportive of redistribution” (AEP, 2021)
Puzzle answer test: If your statement is providing a response to a question that people have about the world or their environment, you may have an argument.
Another important element is to differentiate your argument from your topic. The topic is the major issue you are interested in, whereas your argument explains the main finding (or initially, the hypothesis) of your paper.
Following the research question, an argument needs to be puzzling. It needs to provide relevant information that help us understand the world a little bit more. This is why your argument (as well as your research question) needs to go beyond the basic facts. It needs to provide enough detail as to make it interesting for a larger audience. This also entails that you need to provide more information than naming the main variables in your analysis (x causes Y). You need to specify the conditions and context that make this statement to hold.
Some other elements to consider when structuring your argument is to avoid including normative statements and speculations, More specifically, for quantitative papers:
Avoid including causal claims when the evidence does not allow you to do that. Causal analysis is key in our field, but correlations are important as well and they provide a value to understand our context a little bit more.
18.104.22.168 Finding your RAP
R: Have different versions of your research question to see what is the clearest way to introduce it to your readers.
P: This represents how you position the paper in the literature. This is constructed based on your literature review and the theory behind your question.
These three elements are interconnected. You need to find the best way to bring them all together and work with them to convey your argument.
4.2.2 Express your Ideas using an Outline
An empirical, quantitative, paper in economics (and political science) usually contains the following sections:
- Context (Literature Review) 4a. Theoretical papers contain mathematical models (we will not use those) 4b. Empirical Strategy
- Robustness checks and potential mechanisms (we will not focus on those)
- Final discussion (Conclusion)
We will talk more about each of these sections, but here, the main point to consider is that you need to create an outline that conveys the most important points of each section.
This is, after you have a clear argument, now you need to provide an answer to different questions that the readers may have. This is done by creating the headings and subheadings of each section. For instance, in a paper on mining in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), readers may be interested in learning why is mining important in the country and what types of mining take place in the country. This means that I need a general section on the context of mining in the DRC and then include subheadings explaining the different types of mining that I analyze.
You will do that for each section. In your outline, include the headings and subheadings, and a short paragraph indicating the main message of the section. This will then be enriched by secondary paragraphs.
Having this structure will allow you to include those sections that add value to your final paper and remove any additional information that is not key to support your main argument.
Once you have your headings and subheadings, as well as the most important takeaways, it is time for you to start populating your paper. In the next section, I mention some of the elements that you need to include in the research paper. Here again, it is important that you plan the information that you will include and that each paragraph has a purpose, answering a question that is relevant to further your argument. Go for the general to the particular details.
The main thing to consider is that readers have very limited time and span of attention. You need to convey the main message at the beginning of the paper. Then, for each section, the main idea needs to be included in the first paragraph(s). Develop just one idea per paragraph and ensure that the main message is contained at the beginning.
Writing is an iterative process and you probably will spend more time rewriting a section than what you spent writing it for the first time. Don’t despair! We all go through the same process and you will get there. Just ensure that you structure and organize your process.