Tips for Graduate Students

5 Tips for Managing Unruly References

As authors research information to help support the work in their paper, they spend a great deal of time reading references. All too often we wind up with a stack of papers or computer files full of references. These references are important so that authors can cite the information from other sources that they wish to use to either support, acknowledge, or contradict their research. How do we organize and choose the correct references? In this blog we share five easy steps for managing references.

 

1. Sort your references into categories.

 


Most papers have an introduction, materials and methods, results, and conclusion/discussion section. It is best if you sort your references into those categories. The introduction should use references that provide historical information relevant to the paper topic. References used in the materials and methods should help the reader know why the author decided to use particular methods and how those methods are best utilized. When we select references for the results, they can be sub-categorized into those that support or contradict the data. The conclusion/discussion section draws once again on references that support the historical context necessary to understand the work and these references must also aid in the discussion of the relevant data.

editing proofreading service references

2. Use quality references.

It is important to use the most original reference possible. Additionally, authors need to use up-to-date and reliable references. The authors want to use references that have been peer-reviewed by leaders in the topic field. Peer-reviewed references have been checked for errors by knowledgeable reviewers well-versed in the field being studied.

3. Select references that are easy for people to access.

As our ever-expanding world of technology makes more information available, this is an easier step to manage. Still, we most often should select references that are in the same language as the paper being presented and easy to access by everyone with either access to the internet or a library.

editing service references writing

4. Keep the references to a manageable number.

Unless you are writing a review article and need to tie in the information you are sharing with an extensive number of other papers, select only the most pertinent sources. If a point needs to be validated by external references, this is most often accomplished by referring to three or four sources from unique author sets. Using a few select but widely accepted references that trace back to experts in the field will help readers of the paper being presented better understand the importance of this new work to the field of study.

5. Have all your references printed or in electronic format and easy to access.

In this new day and age there are multiple electronic programs that can be used to sort, catalog, and manage references. All too often people focus on getting the references into these bibliography programs and forget that it is the content of the reference that is critical. Authors need to have the abstract and a few notes about the paper easily accessible and a copy (printed or electronic) of the complete paper should be available. By having the information readily available, it alleviates improper citations and the possibility of plagiarism.

Follow these five suggestions and you will find that managing your references becomes less of a chore!

Graduate Student Survival Guide

grad student survival guide phd dissertation graduate school editing writing service

You know those kids from high school, the ones who couldn’t decide what they wanted to do with their lives and got full time jobs straight after graduation? They looked at you with a twinge of envy as you headed off to college while they loaded up on dress suits and sensible shoes. They were certain they’d be following after you in a couple of years; you were certain they’d spend the rest of their lives picking up the boss’s dry cleaning and making coffee for high-powered executives.

graduate school tips

Now, however, you are beginning to doubt yourself. After four years of undergraduate life, a crummy part time job, and riding the bus everywhere, your friends’ lives are starting to look rather enviable. Their full time wages dwarf your measly graduate student earnings and their lifestyle clearly sits a few rungs higher up on the socioeconomic ladder than yours. Resist the urge to start comparing accomplishments because, at this point in your life, you won’t come out ahead.

Help me I'm poor

Your friends in the outside world have been working for a few years now, and they have the consumer lifestyle to prove it. They drive around in the latest hipster-colored micro car while you are still riding the bus on a student pass. They dine out at restaurants with tablecloths and menus that change with the seasons, while you subsist on microwave dinners and cafeteria food. Their clothes reflect the latest fashions and they hang out at trendy bars sipping expensive cocktails. You live in jeans and khakis, topped with t-shirts bearing such witty slogans as “Come to the nerd side. We have pi.”

Come to the nerd side, we have Pi

Your version of a night out on the town is Two Dollar Tuesdays at the student pub, where the antics of freshmen students reveling in their newfound freedom long ago ceased to be entertaining.

wolf of wall street

Your friends rent condos in the heart of the city, furnished with matching sofas and chairs, big screen TVs, and bathrooms all to themselves. You, on the other hand, are possibly still living with your parents, accepting home cooked meals and complementary laundry service in exchange for house rules that haven’t changed since you were 15 and frequent interrogations regarding your study habits and social life. Or perhaps you are sharing a shabby rental house with five other students who are equally cash-strapped and lacking in domestic skills, and with whom you compete for hot showers and space in the refrigerator.

dorm life

Yes, compared to life as a graduate student, your working friends out there in the Real World seem to be doing very well. But trust me when I say that this is merely an illusion. What you need is a glimpse into the future to put things in perspective…

It’s twenty years from now and your friends are mostly married with children. The earnings that seemed like a windfall fresh out of high school aren’t so flush now that there are mortgages, health and life insurance premiums, and kids who need orthodontic work. Your friends long ago gave up their fancy bachelor pad rentals downtown and now live in cookie-cutter subdivisions way out in some far-flung suburb. They traded in their micro car for a minivan but they commute by public transit because it’s faster and less expensive. At work, they are still waiting for the fourteen guys ahead of them in seniority to either retire or die so they can move up the career ladder, but the most they can hope for is a lower management position because the upper ones are filled exclusively by those with—you guessed it—college degrees.

dead end job

Oh, they didn’t plan it this way. But you see, you were smart: it’s easy to decide on a few more years of student poverty when that’s all you’ve known since graduating high school. But when it came time for your friends to consider going back to college, they were already living lifestyles that were hard to give up. The idea of going back to pizza nights and dormitory life was too difficult to endure, so they put it off and put if off and now most of them are just looking forward to retirement so they can finally do something interesting.

grad student survival

So hang in there, graduate students. The grass may seem greener on the Real World side of the fence right now, but in a few years you’ll see that you made the right choice. You’ll find that, since your friends were too immature to save any of that money they were earning while you were in college, in the end they didn’t come out ahead of you at all.

What like it's hard? Harvard grad student

And while you now have an enjoyable and upwardly mobile career ahead of you, they are waking up to the realization that they inadvertently made a career out of a job that was supposed to be a holdover until they decided what to do with their lives. Try to keep that image in mind the next time you see one of your acquaintances looking all sharp and fashionable on their way to the newest club. You’ll have your revenge one day, I promise.

dr who phd college grad school

Peer-reviewed research article vs. dissertation

Peer-reviewed research article vs. dissertation: How to write a great paper for publication

You’re writing your dissertation and want to publish your first research article. What is the difference between your dissertation and a publishable article? Working at a peer-reviewed journal, I have seen manuscripts of all types including those that look like they were copied and pasted from a dissertation. Research articles are concise summaries of your work directed at readers who are experienced in your area of research. Dissertations serve as a platform for an evaluation of your expertise and work. If you keep this in mind, then you will have a much better chance of having your work published.

How to write a great paper for publication

First, let’s review four sections of any research paper: introduction, results, discussion, and methods. I have not included the abstract, as this requires an entire blog on its own. Second, I will give you a strategy to develop your paper that will put you on a path for success.

Introductory section

Roles of a dissertation include demonstrating an in-depth knowledge of your field, assessing your ability to define a problem, creating a hypothesis, and designing an appropriate tool to test it. When you are writing a paper for publication, all of these are already assumed. The readers are experts and not on your committee. Your introduction should include a few points to orient the reader as to what is known, what you are aiming to determine, and how. The last sentence of your introduction should state that the objective of this research is to determine whatever you are interested in by using your selected tool.

Results section

The results that are discussed in your research paper need to be restricted to those that are relevant to answering your objective. No matter how interesting a particular experiment may have been, if it isn’t directly related to your research question/objective, it will detract and ultimately sabotage your efforts to have your work published. It will prompt reviewers to question the structure of the research plan and lose focus on the objective. They may even envisage a different paper centered on a new objective. Keep it simple.

Discussion section

The discussion section must not repeat the results. If you repeat the results, then you have consumed your word count unnecessarily and bored your readers. The discussion is the opportunity to address your objective. The discussion should take in account your data, as well as data from supporting studies. It must elevate the work so it can be applied by other researchers. A discussion should include the most relevant limitations of your work and provide an intelligent conclusion.

Materials and methods section

The methods section must include the sufficient detail for someone experienced in your area to replicate your study. It must be concise and should reference previous work, so you don’t have to repeat details. The steps for performing a routine experiment don’t need to repeated, it is adequate to say what was done in a general way with any unusual details expressed explicitly.

Choose your journal and manuscript type carefully

An author must know the audience. In the case of writing a research paper, you must know where the article will be submitted before you start writing. It is imperative that you go to the website of your selected journal and read the instructions to authors. Ideally, templates will be provided so your document will be correctly formatted. Be sure to correctly select the type of manuscript you are intending to write (e.g., original research, review, etc) and verify the word count. These two factors will have a tremendous impact on your manuscript and need to be carefully considered. You may want to switch journals at this point, if it isn’t what you were expecting. I have returned manuscripts to authors without review, because the author failed to submit the article in the correct format or has exceeded the word count. If an article does proceed in the wrong format or with an elevated word count, then it may fail at a later stage simply because the senior editors and reviewers are distracted by the flaws in the manuscript preparation. If you didn’t care to format it properly, then the reviewers are wondering what else is missing.

A practical strategy

With the correct journal, article type, and word count in mind, you should start by writing the results section. Considering the study objective, prepare tables or figures and/or write the results in a concise manner to support the objective, and in parallel, write the methods. Only include the necessary experiments and details. This preparation will logically lead you to write a discussion of the results (not a repeat of the results), limitations, and enlightening conclusion. After reviewing what you have written (results, methods, and discussion), you will see that there are a few sentences required to orient the reader (i.e., someone with expertise in your area) in the introduction. Write the introduction, which will end with your objective statement(s).

Edit for grammar and style

Now that you have prepared first research paper, have it properly edited for grammar and style. Send the instructions to authors with your manuscript when having it edited. When a paper is written poorly, the editors and reviewers are distracted from the content. A good research paper can be rejected, because its message is lost in cumbersome language.