SUMMARY OF REASONED WRITING
A systematic approach can help to simplify the writing process.
Every person approaches writing differently. Every writing project has different objectives and requirements. Written documents evolve in different ways over time (Graham and Harris, 2016).
Scientific writing presents particular challenges to students when writing occurs in the context of learning unfamiliar information and concepts. However, researchers have identified evidence-based practices that contribute to learning how to write effectively (Graham et al., 2015). For example, using defined strategies for planning, drafting, revising, and editing can contribute to writing (Graham et al., 2015).
Structure is one key to clarity despite complexity.
Having a structured approach to writing can help to break down the writing process into more manageable parts. For example, one potentially useful sequence for writing involves six steps:
1) Conduct background and empirical research. Scientific papers are typically constructed from two types of information: "background" research from published studies, and "empirical" observations that you have made yourself.
Collecting background research involves gathering and organizing information from published studies. To use the information from a published study, typically the study must have been peer-reviewed and published in an unbiased and professional journal. Previous studies may identify important variables or test scientific models that can guide your own reasoning. Literature grids can help to organize the results of past research.
Empirical research involves observations that you make yourself -- typically quantitative measurements that you make as objectively as you can. Your empirical observations may suggest important variables or relationships that could help to explain your data and generalize your conclusions. Developing clearly-defined hypotheses can help to organize and analyze experimental data that you collect yourself.
2) List the most important variables that affect the research topic. Enumerating all variables relevant to your immediate topic or question can clarify your thinking, help to select strong frameworks, and simplify the process of creating outlines and starting to write. Both previous studies and your own observations can suggest variables that may affect your research question. Once you have identified the variables that affect your research question, it can be helpful to rank or prioritize the variables according to importance. It can also be helpful to identify which variables that you consider to be independent or dependent variables. However, it is important to be mindful that when judging the importance or independence/dependence of variables, you are making assumptions or creating hypotheses. It is always necessary to consider how our assumptions can potentially influence the conclusions that we make.
With clearly-identified variables, outlines and first drafts can be organized around the variables that are most important to the arguments and conclusions of each the section of the paper.
3) Clearly and deliberately create appropriate frameworks. Deliberately create a framework to structure the particular level of the written document that you are building (e.g. the entire paper, a section of the paper, or a specific paragraph). Most often, the framework connects clearly-identified variables, and embodies the logical steps necessary for each connection. Most aspects of scientific papers will require trees and reasoned frameworks (although lists can be helpful for explaining hierarchies, such as listing the measurable predictions associated with a general hypothesis). Creating conceptual and graphical frameworks can help people meaningfully understand information, and therefore can also contribute to clear communication.
Selecting appropriate frameworks ensures that every element (fact, concept, etc.) is deliberately and clearly connected to one or more other elements to form a recognizable structure.
4) Use background and empirical research to make the framework specific. For papers and sections of papers, specificity involves creating a strong outline. Strong outlines are constructed from statements that are specific conclusions which are linked together with logical transitions. When using a reasoned framework (a majority of the time), the outline clearly identifies the logic of the overall argument of the paper or the section. Using the background and empirical research from step (1) above, you can informally come to tentative conclusions that form the basis for a specific outline.
Making paragraphs specific involves using specific findings from the research (step 1 above) as premises of deductive or inductive arguments that support the conclusion of the paragraph. Repeat the conclusion of each paragraph in the topic sentence and concluding sentence of the paragraph.
5) Revision. Revision is essential for most writing. Even experienced writers must revise text many, many times. Scientific manuscripts can go through hundreds of revisions (literally) before being ready to submit. Therefore, it is important to include revisions into the writing process, and the time for revisions into your writing schedule.
Why is revision so necessary? Because frameworks are thoroughly interconnected, and the process of writing is dynamic. For example, adding specifics to a section of a paper could require changing the conclusion of the section. Changing the conclusion of one section may have implications for other sections of the paper. Discovering new information may even require a fundamental change to the framework that structures a paper. Therefore, the process of creating one specific argument may also require you to critically evaluate other arguments of the paper.
It is often helpful to perform several revisions, each focusing on a specific aspect of the paper. Three questions that could form the basis for separate revisions are:
A) How can the FRAMEWORK be more effective?
B) How can the text be more SPECIFIC?
C) How can the text be more SIMPLE and concise?
Asking the question "How can the FRAMEWORK be more effective?" can sometimes involve searching our feelings. Yes, you read that right! Just because feelings don't have much place in scientific arguments doesn't mean that they aren't important and useful. Sometimes when reading a paper, we have the feeling that things just aren't quite right -- that the paper just doesn't fit together or flow. Often, revising the framework (e.g. re-ordering sections or ideas, etc.) can lead to all the ideas fitting into place.
Although we don't always need to revise our frameworks, it is almost ALWAYS important to have at least one (and perhaps many) revisions where we ask: "How can the text be more SPECIFIC?" It is important to make every aspect of the paper, from the words that make up individual sentences, to the conclusions that unify paragraphs and sections, to the overall conclusions of the paper, as specific and unambiguous as possible.
Once we have strong frameworks and text that is as specific as possible, we can ask "How can the text be more SIMPLE and concise?" As with specificity, achieving simple text often requires many revisions. Finding the simplest ways to express ideas in as few words as possible can involve lots of trial, error, and correction.
6) Focus on the next (more specific) level of the paper, and repeat steps 1 to 5. Once you have selected an overall framework for a section and have constructed a strong outline, you can focus on specifying each element of the outline.
Defending some conclusions may require multiple paragraphs, in which case the conclusion from the outline can become a subheading. Repeating steps 1 to 4 involves creating an outline within the sub-section delimited by the subheading, then focusing on each element of the sub-outline.
Defending some conclusions may require a single paragraph, in which case the conclusion of the outline can become a topic sentence. Supporting the conclusive topic sentence involves using your research (from step 1) as premises, organized into deductive or inductive arguments with logical transitions.
The procedure that the Reasoned Writing framework suggests is hierarchical. Beginning by using steps 1 to 5 to outline the most-inclusive ("top") level of the hierarchy establishes a set of specific goals for each section of the paper. In terms of the analogy of a tree, the top-level outline clarifies the overall shape and branches of the tree. Once you have established a set of overall goals and a structure, then it is possible to focus attention on specific areas of the outline ("branches") without needing to worry about higher-level arguments. The process of outlining can continue until it reaches a point where conclusions can be specific premises: statements of fact based on data (and supported by references). Sound or strong conclusions that are based on empirical data and self-contained (specific) are modular and unlikely to be changed by sections or conclusions of the paper. Therefore, using a repeated framework to hierarchically generate and fill in an outline can simplify the process of writing by limiting the amount of information that must be considered at any one time.