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I agree with Natalie, both on the particular question of point of view, and on her general comments about the need for clear writing, and avoiding complex language just for the sake of sounding stylish. We may need to use complex language to convey complex ideas, but we should teach our students to use the simplest and shortest sentences possible to convey that idea.

 

Concerning “ideas”, new or otherwise, we have to differentiate a bit between student exercises and professional writing, and also between the “hard sciences” and other academic writing. The following comments pertain to professional “hard” scientific writing.

 

Most published science papers are in the genre of “research reports”. The research report focuses on scientific “results” – facts which can be reproduced by other scientists following the procedure given by the author. The heart of the paper, the Methodology and Results sections (under various names) report what the author did, and what he or she got or observed. This is essentially a pile of “information”. We may want to call these “scientific ideas”, and the author may have had to be quite scientifically novel to produce them, but I don’t think they equate with the ideas that Natalie discusses. This is followed by a Discussion, which hopefully converts this information into “knowledge”, by explaining and interpreting the results. Here the author’s opinions come into play. The gold standard to which science aspires is to “prove” an explanation, but this is possible in exceedingly rare cases. The greatest challenge in teaching scientific writing is teaching the students to use appropriate language to correctly convey the relative degree of certainty/uncertainty of the ideas that they express in the Discussion. This requires that the student first of all understand the degree of certainty/uncertainty.

 

Two caveats re. “ideas” in the context of research reports:

1.       While almost all research reports will convey information, not all will convey knowledge or “ideas” in Natalie’s terms. Think about a new scientific phenomena or field as big jig-saw puzzle. A single research report might turn up one piece of the puzzle, e.g. a result. Maybe the author can fit it together with other pieces in the Discussion. But even if she can’t, the report may have publishable value. We can leave the task of putting together the pieces to when more pieces are available, i.e. published.

2.       Scientists need to be extremely skeptical of “new ideas”. While a really new idea may be a true scientific breakthrough that causes a revolutionary change in our understanding, and earns their author a Nobel prize, overwhelmingly most are simply errors. Accordingly we need to teach young scientists to be extremely careful in their work. If they get a result that contradicts accepted understanding, they must carefully check their results and repeat them.

 

The writing genre where the question of point of view comes up is the “review paper”. These are a small fraction of the published papers that only  review the past work and progress in some particular specialized field (i.e. the published research reports in the field), but do not report new results. Here the author of the review paper will first of all summarily report the results, and likely the “ideas” (interpretations and explanations) of the various research report authors. But in good review papers, the review paper author will try to make sense of all of these reported results and ideas, i.e. he will be expressing his own ideas. Clearly the review paper author must use appropriate tools (i.e. geographical placement and appropriate language) so that the reader knows which ideas are from the various research report authors, and which are from the review paper author.

 

Regards,

Ray Boxman

 

From the home of

Prof. Emeritus Raymond (Reuven) Boxman

School of Electrical Engineering

Tel Aviv University

Cell:      +972 544 634 217

http://www.eng.tau.ac.il/~boxman/index.html

CEO Clear Wave Ltd.                http://clrwave.com

Scientific Writing Courses:         http://communicating-science.com

 

From: European Association for the Teaching of Academic Writing - discussions <[log in to unmask]> On Behalf Of Natalie Struve
Sent: יום א 06 אוקטובר 2019 20:23
To: [log in to unmask]
Subject: AW: Main idea vs. Author's view

 

I disagree: they can be identical but don’t have to be. The author will have some view on the topic covered – but he or she doesn’t necessarily come up with an idea of his/her own. Of course they should when publishing an academic/a scientific paper, for the purpose of all academic and scientific work is to gain new insight; yet somehow quite often people manage to have papers published that are actually devoid of any original ideas.

 

Part of the problem is the training we provide: students should learn to produce new ideas rather than just repeat old ones; to express these ideas clearly; to read other people’s publications critically – and to dare criticise these publications if they show flaws, even if the author has earned a reputation in their field. Instead far too often we just teach them to do as they see – and that is not the same.

 

I develop and hold workshops on how to use writing to guide one’s thinking and propel one’s research, mainly for doctoral students, post-docs and faculty. To help participants realise that academic writing need not be complicated, one of the tools I use is the David Green grid as referred to in Helen Sword’s excellent "Stylish academic Writing": I ask participants to bring several examples of academic papers that they like as well as of those that they don’t like; then I have them place every paper in a grid of clear language/difficult language, simple ideas/complex ideas. And quite often there will be papers that contain no idea whatsoever… usually hiding the fact in long and winding senctences, complicated wording and an intransparent structure.

 

The more clearly one writes, the more obvious any intellectual flaws will become. These flaws can then be worked on. So striving to write as clearly and as simply as possible actually improves intellectual content. And that is one of the reasons we should encourage students to do just that: not to copy an "academic style" that actually hinders academic discourse – but to write clearly, in plain words. To dare do differently than what they have to read (i. e. suffer) every day. And to dare speak out if they can’t find or understand a publication.

 

If we manage to educate for that, to help build up the curiosity and courage necessary for any real academic work as well as the skills, we will contribute to academic progress. And we will help avoid hoaxes like Boghossian’s, Lindsay’s and Pluckrose’s series of bogus papers in different journals, or Christiane Schulte’s "Der deutsch-deutsche Schäferhund". We will help improve discourse at conferences, and avoid hoax talks by actors (the exception), as well as just horribly bad ones (much more common). We may even help work towards a firm democracy: for that needs citizens who won’t be fooled, as L. Susan Stebbing stated in her book "Thinking to some Purpose", published in 1939 (!).

 

So my advice would be: read thoroughly, think critically – and make up your own mind.

 

Cheers from beautiful Murnau
(historical home to artists, writers, thinkers and even resistance fighters, like Wassily Kandinsky, Gabriele Münter, Ödön von Horváth, James Loeb or Christoph Probst),
Natalie

 

……………………………….

Dr. Natalie Struve
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Von: European Association for the Teaching of Academic Writing - discussions [mailto:[log in to unmask]] Im Auftrag von Dr. Rachel Segev-Miller
Gesendet: Samstag, 5. Oktober 2019 08:50
An: [log in to unmask]
Betreff: Re: Main idea vs. Author's view

 

Dear Larissa,

They are one and the same.

Another related term, which is not the same as the first two, is the writer's purpose.

I hope the short article attached, which I wrote for EFL teachers after a workshop on the topic, may help you.

Here is the reference:

Segev Miller, R. (2013). Teaching all students how to find the main idea in a text. ETAI Forum, XXIII (2), 35-38.

Best,

Rachel

 

Dr. Rachel Segev Miller

The MOFET Institute, 

Tel-Aviv, Israel
tel.  0507225822
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On Fri, Oct 4, 2019 at 11:34 AM larisa ulkina <[log in to unmask]> wrote:

A question:

In writing an analytical summary, what is the difference between main idea and the author's view?

I am not native English speaker, so these seem to me very same.

Thank you 

Sincerely

 

--
Larisa Ulkina

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