REVERSE ENGINEERING

2) Reverse Engineering can help ensure that conclusions are adequately supported by evidence.


Perhaps because we typically read papers from the beginning to the end, many people's inclination is to write papers from beginning to end. However, writing papers from the beginning is not necessarily the simplest approach.


A first step to simplifying the writing process is to first break the paper into discrete pieces by creating a strong outline composed of conclusions to reasoned arguments. A strong outline provides a GOAL for each section and paragraph of the paper. However, even creating an outline can seem to be a daunting task. How can we simplify the process of creating an outline?


One approach to creating an outline is to use a "recursive algorithm," or a set of rules that we can repeatedly apply until we have a satisfactory outline. In fact, we have already encountered parts of an algorithm when creating tree structures. We can apply the power of tree structures again when creating outlines.


Imagine that we have performed an experiment to test the following general hypothesis:


"Our general hypothesis is that recalibration and not strategic adjustments contribute to perceptual adaptation during throwing tasks."


At this point, you might have some questions. What is recalibration? What are strategic adjustments? What is perceptual adaptation? Why is perceptual adaptation important? What tasks would be best to use to test the hypothesis? Why would we expect recalibration to contribute to perceptual adaptation? Why wouldn't we expect strategic adjustments to contribute to perceptual adaptation? Why is throwing a good task to use to test the hypothesis?


All of your questions are good questions! The problem that arises is that when you or I (as the author) have reviewed the literature, designed the experiment, collected the data, analyzed the data, tested your hypotheses and come to conclusions -- you already know the answers to all of the questions in the previous paragraph. However, your reader may NOT know the answer to one or potentially all of the questions in the previous paragraph. Therefore, you must ANSWER the questions before expecting a reader to understand your results or conclusions.


Reverse-engineering from the general hypothesis can help us structure an Introduction section of a paper that sufficiently explains the hypothesis. We could start by re-arranging our questions in pre-outline form:


What is perceptual adaptation?

Why is perceptual adaptation important?


What is recalibration?

Why would we expect recalibration to contribute to perceptual adaptation?


What are strategic adjustments?

Why wouldn't we expect strategic adjustments to contribute to perceptual adaptation?


What tasks would be best to use to test the hypothesis?

Why is throwing a good task to use to test the hypothesis?


GENERAL HYPOTHESIS: "Our general hypothesis is that recalibration and not strategic adjustments contribute to perceptual adaptation during throwing tasks."


By working backward (up, in our case) from the general hypothesis, we have created a series of questions to answer. Our outline could be a little stronger by acknowledging that the WHY questions are more important than the WHAT questions. Actually answering the WHY questions would be an even stronger framework for our Introduction. Answering some of the questions could result in an updated outline:


Perceptual adaptation is important for maintaining high performance despite constant changes to internal and external environments.

DEFINITION: Perceptual adaptation is the ability to recover function after a change to sensory input (Stratton 1897).


Strategic adjustments are simple strategies that could potentially contribute to perceptual adaptation.

DEFINITION: Strategic adjustments are short-term behavioral changes that improve performance (Redding 1996; McNay and Willingham 1998).


Perceptual adaptation frequently involves long-term changes consistent with recalibration.

DEFINITION: Recalibration is brain plasticity that changes the sensory-to-motor transformations associated with movement (Bock et al., 2005).


It is unclear whether strategic adjustments or recalibration both used for diverse motor tasks.

Throwing at a target is a complex motor skill that directly depends on sensory input (Urbin, 2012).


GENERAL HYPOTHESIS: "Our general hypothesis is that recalibration and not strategic adjustments contribute to perceptual adaptation during throwing tasks."

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By "reverse-engineering," or working backward from our hypothesis, we now have the beginnings of an outline that we can use to structure our Introduction. We could use the same algorithm within each section of our outline (i.e. "recursively") to create sub-topics populated by more specific conclusions.

"Reverse Engineering" from conclusions can simplify the process of structuring papers and ensure that readers are provided sufficient information to understand the conclusion.