In brief: top tips for high-impact intellectual responsibility from a professional manuscript writer
- Know your literature battlefield — all of it.
- Be authentically curious about all perspectives.
- Communicate your findings strategically.
- Embrace verbal data, even as a quantitative researcher.
- Don’t underestimate a good table.
Deep dive: everything you need to know
In addition to my own research in public health and epidemiology, I also work as a manuscript writer and writeshop facilitator with many of our most data-focused clients. As we grow as a research community, a poignant reality is setting in: just like in any other field, people have all kinds of motivations for conducting research, not least of them getting published. The publish or perish culture is yet another binary way to present what is really a spectrum of decisions that we, as researchers, can make about how we want to do work. As a manuscript writer, I have seen just about all of them.
A huge amount of intellectual responsibility should go into research practice. One of the most non-intuitive ways I’ve discovered for leveraging intellectual responsibility to take your research impacts to the next level is to embrace the human side of things. Here’s a few ways I practice that in my research.
Know your literature battlefield – all of it
Exploring as much as possible of the literature relevant to your research is a great way to familiarize yourself with your research backyard. A thorough review process is the intellectually responsible thing to do. Further, it helps ensure that your research will serve a real purpose in the field. Finally, on a personal level, it can help ward off difficult feelings that are all too common in the research community: imposter syndrome, self-doubt, and analysis paralysis.
When investigating the literature for gaps and entry points, broaden your search beyond what is known and unknown about the issue of interest, to understand the collection of assumptions that forms the foundation of the research area. In a nutshell, learn the different premises, their rebuttals, and potential alternative theories. This will help avoid reinventing the wheel, and also refine your personal perspective as you embark on the research journey.
Be authentically curious about all perspectives
Curiosity is a common trait that manifests differently in each of us. When collaborating with colleagues, you will notice that the questions they may have about an issue differ from your own, and that is okay. It allows you to cast a wider net on your and your team’s concerns. The best way to cover your bases is rooted in real curiosity and openness to the whole spectrum of opinions.
An equally important concept is to be tuned into what you are personally curious about. Beyond your affiliations, your research is a place where it should be okay for your personal experiences and interests to drive and inspire your inquisitiveness. Your intersectionality is a rich source of information and allows you to see multinationalism where other may not – use it to turn over rocks off-the-beaten-path!
Allowing your professional expertise to support your research is key to your credibility, and allowing your authenticity to shine through your research gives you a chance at pioneering an area in your field. That is how great progress is made in human history, and new schools of thought on how to improve human quality of life are imperative to development at all scales.
Support your findings strategically
The literature review process often thrusts you into the global conversation about your general research topic. It is easy to feel drowned out by all the voices that have had the floor before you, so remain pragmatic when it comes to making your point to the world. That usually means publishing novel findings via a manuscript! This is often the point at which our clients seek out the support of a manuscript writer.
While you might be inclined to cite multiple versions of the same basis for your research, consider selecting only two or three solid literary precedents to display your research entry point. You can and should aggregate all the possible iterations of why you should be doing the research that you chose in your research library. However, when communicating with the public, focus on sharing the messages that changed YOUR vision of why this research topic needed to be studied.
Scientific writing has the tendency to overcite similar findings from various sources. This often comes across as an attempt to prove how much basis one’s research has. A more effective approach may be acknowledging other points of views, demonstrating that you have considered each all of them, and what brought you to the conclusion that your current research was indeed a gap.
We do research and submit to peer review to get a credibility stamp on our professional accomplishments. That said, remember that you are an expert who feels objectively confident and convinced by your own methods. And what better way to establish this confidence than to look other possibilities in the face, and remain rooted in your intuition? A good manuscript writer will help you sort the wheat from the chaff in citing your sources.
Embrace verbal data, even as a quantitative researcher
How many of us remember our first research notebooks? We learn to document, document, document early on: take detailed but concise notes; record measures, outcomes, and errors as they occur; report your thought processes, especially the whys and the hows. The aim is not only to revisit, check, and reproduce our work, but also to account for the wild possibility that someone might win a Nobel Prize based on having the same idea before us (or stealing ours, if you work in a highly competitive space). Then, we’d pull out our notes history and get credit restored where it is due. For a lot of us, this approach led to lots of handwriting, a pile of old notebooks we are unlikely to ever (voluntarily) trash, and the questionable perspective that ideas have an inherent value, financial or otherwise.
So why would that same perspective not apply to the ideas we throw around in conversation? So much value is lost when verbal information remains uncaptured despite the fact that verbal data are, by definition, more well-rounded than their quantitative counterparts. Granted, verbal data is not the most stackable or averageable form of information. However, particularly in fields aimed at affecting human life, they bring an essential human factor into our processes and conclusions. As Cecile J.W. Janssens, – an esteemed, recently departed research thought leader – beautifully taught her students: “A difference, to be a difference, has to make a difference”. By this definition, anything has the potential to be (or not be) a significant finding.
Researchers tend to err on the side of what is objective and measurable, what is neutral and middle-groundish. The truth is, just as there is no middle ground to truly understanding and empowering a single human’s perspective, we should not always seek one in understanding and affecting communities. While it may be easier to use Cartesian schools of thought as an excuse to escape the chaos of the human experience by burying ourselves in research, we in fact stand to advance further as researchers by embracing the human experience. I repeatedly find in writing manuscripts with clients that one of the greatest values I bring is helping them capture verbal data.
Don’t underestimate a good table
Really, don’t. Tables are one of the most efficient and most accessible ways to organize, connect, compare, assess, and appreciate information – all in one fell swoop.
Many researchers rapidly descend the heady rabbit holes of their expertise, and get excited about very dense, complicated visuals and text. Don’t get me wrong, as a data enthusiast myself, I understand all too well the excitement one feels in the face of all the possibilities that a clean and robust dataset promises – the power to shape a literal [data] cloud!
That said, there is another level of realness that we unlock when we can take these complicated relationships and ideas we study and break them down in the most basic moving and connecting parts of a concept. Nature does it on a molecular basis, and it is in our nature to understand things better that way. Plus, the KISS (keep it simple, stupid) method hardly ever fails, and tables are as kissable as [insert your favorite thing to kiss].
In summary: great manuscripts begin and end with the human
The notion of intellectual responsibility is often closely correlated with removing the ‘human’ – the most frequent source of error — from our work. At the same time, our humanness can also be a mechanism for fully realizing our intellectual responsibility: embracing our own human curiosity and intellect, considering the human psychology of our audience in building our case and presenting our findings, and even leveraging the ancient human art of storytelling as a valuable data resource gives us the opportunity to take our work to the next level.
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