We often hear that the conclusion is where you “tell ’em what you told ’em”. That’s easy advice to follow, but does it really reflect how most essays and articles end? It would be a little odd if that was all there was to it; you can already find a brief summary of what the article says in the abstract, so why would there by another place for doing the exact same thing again? Just for convenience’s sake, so that the reader doesn’t have to flip back to the abstract? I think there’s more that can be done with a conclusion than simply repeating what was in the paper. To be sure, we do need to sum up the paper’s content, but that can be over in a sentence or two. What comes next?
If you’ve taken an introduction to linguistics, you’ll have heard of ambiguity. When I say “a cow attacked a farmer with an axe”, there’s some potential for miscommunication about who’s wielding the axe. The reason is that sentences aren’t just words on a string. Instead, the words come in clumps, and these clumps can link up in different ways even if the word order stays the same. It matters if “with an axe” attaches to “attacked” or “farmer”. This is syntactic ambiguity, but you can also have ambiguity in the words themselves. If I said “I bought a pen”, you would probably imagine that I’d bought something to write with, but my sentence might actually be about an enclosure for some pigs. You never know.
In your academic writing, you probably won’t be communicating facts about pigs in pens or cows with axes, but that doesn’t mean that you don’t need to worry about ambiguity. Here are a few examples that can cause real trouble in essays: Continue reading “Reducing ambiguity”
My previous blog post on time management was about how to make your plans easier to implement. It’s great fun to make plans for yourself. You might be so happy about your admirable new intentions that you want to tell someone else about what you’ve decided to do. After all, if you say out loud that you intend to learn Bayesian statistics, doesn’t that make you more accountable if you get lazy? Why not say something to your friends over dinner to stop yourself from backing out?
You might want to think twice. Gollwitzer et al. 2009 presents four experiments suggesting that when you tell people you intend to engage in “identity-relevant activities”, it becomes less likely that you’ll actually follow through with your plans. If you want to read that long monograph or get comfortable with R, just do it. Continue reading “Why you should never advertise your plans”