Title: How to write and supervise the article-format master and doctorate (3): Part 1
Gabriel P Louw
Extraordinary Professor, Focus Area Social Transformation, Faculty of Humanities, Potchefstroom Campus, North-West University, South Africa (Author and Researcher: Healthcare, History and Politics).
Prof. Dr GP Louw; MA (UNISA), PhD (PU for CHE), DPhil (PU for CHE), PhD (NWU)
Keywords: Article-format-thesis, doctorate, journal article, masters, proposal, supervise, write.
Ensovoort, volume 42 (2021), number 4: 1
It must be noted that Article One: “How to position the article-format master and doctorate in the Modern-day Research culture and environment of South Africa”, found that there was no single solution or guideline that fits all universities on how the article-thesis and dissertation should be compiled and written. Although this article as well as the next article offers a combined guideline incorporating the guidelines of many prominent universities on the compiling, writing and presentation of the article-format dissertation and thesis, there are still some differences in approaches and rules between universities worldwide. This article’s guidance only serves to offer the aspirant student (as well as the aspirant supervisor and examiner) an understanding of the issues around the article-format dissertation and thesis; and as a starting point for the writing of the article-masters and doctorate within a clearly supportive framework.
For most students, young or old, taking on the research and writing of the article-master or doctorate, it may often appear to be something of a black hole and a world never travelled before. But increasingly this impression has faded in our present internet-environment which is saturated with valuable information, constantly and instantly available. The setup today around the study for the article-master and doctorate is far more student-friendly and supportive than twenty years ago. Modern-day universities offer online easily readable and descriptive guidelines on the rules and prerequisites for enrolment in their article-master and doctorate. It is therefore very important that students should inform themselves about the procedures, regulations and rules regarding the formatting of dissertations/theses of the universities where they intend to enrol. Some universities make use besides their guidelines and other advice, of various other kinds of support to help the aspirant student, such as prescribed templates to present and structure all the data intended to be published as a thesis or dissertation. Some of these templates leave very little space for deviation, while others are only focussed on the capturing of primary data.
There are also many role players from the private sector today assisting, for a professional fee, the inexperienced candidates from day one of their enrolment, until the handing-in of their article-dissertation or thesis. It has become the custom lately that most of the concept theses and dissertations, after having received the “green light” from the supervisors to be presented for the final examination, are first processed/corrected by these private author-service editors and language editors to make dissertations and theses fulfil all the prescriptions of the universities where candidates are enrolled. These modern-day “private-sector” academic and research-editing enterprises undoubtedly are lightening in some way the burden for students to present their theses or dissertations for examination, but it does not fully eliminate the expert knowhow that novice students need to master the writing of the article-thesis and dissertation.
The fact is that the candidates must themselves be the initial data collector, compiler and note taker of the data, transforming it into draft academic/research documents, equal to those for final theses or dissertations. Here, as mentioned in the first article of the series, we are again reminded of the age-old adage applicable to all students, namely: “…to pass successfully a test, to take an oath of allegiance and to pay a fee”, as a prerequisite for the obtention of the licentia docendi and the awarding of the honourable titles of master (magister) or) doctor (docere). Thus, for the awarding of the much sought-after licentia docendi — the end product of the student’s study — the article-dissertation or -thesis must be strictly the student’s own work. There is no way around it.1-6
The above prescribed and required academic and research integrity and knowhow are well-reflected in the rules of the University of Texas at Arlington (UTA)7 that state 7:3: “The author of the thesis/dissertation must be the sole or primary author of the articles included in the document. Co-authored papers may be included (if the thesis/dissertation author is the primary author). However, the contributions of the thesis/dissertation writer and his or her co-authors to the paper must be clearly stated in the thesis or dissertation.”
This mandatory self–authorship of the research and writing of his/her own thesis/dissertation by the candidate which requires beforehand an in-depth understanding of thesis writing, represents one of the main reasons why this article on how to write the article-thesis and -dissertation was compiled and written.8-11 ● It is important to note at this stage in the writing of this article that its title includes two specific references: writing and supervising. Although the contents of the article continuously refer to the aspirant student of the article-masters and -doctorate, this reference is equally applicable to the aspirant supervisor that needs to guide the aspirant student in his writing of the article-thesis or -dissertation. In South Africa there is at this stage a dire shortage of capable supervisors to steer students through their article-theses and -dissertation studies. This unfortunate situation determines that the educational matter and aims of this article are at all times equally applicable and needed by both the student and supervisor. To avoid the unnecessary repetition of the same information in the process of addressing, guiding and training both the aspirant student and the aspirant supervisor on how to write the article-thesis and -dissertation, the reference aspirant student must be seen and read as similar to the reference aspirant supervisor throughout this article. Note: Regarding the required knowhow and abilities of examiners of the article-thesis and -dissertation, is it also clear that few are well-trained and experienced in this field and can in general be described as aspirant examiners or more appropriately in some cases as novice examiners-in-training. This article’s guidance and training are thus equally applicable to the aspirant examiner as a first training lesson before he/she later goes on to the more complicated training program of how to examine the article-masters and -doctorate (see Articles Five and Six of the series of seven articles). In this context it must be noted that the aspirant supervisor should also as a prerequisite training lesson, master the contents of Articles Three, Five and Six of the series to be a capable supervisor in the end.
This article entitled: “How to write and supervise the Article-Masters and -Doctorate: Part 1” and the next article entitled: “How to write and supervise the Article-Masters and -Doctorate: Part 2”, is a continuing process regarding the writing of the research proposal, journal article and the article-thesis and -dissertation that was commenced in Article One. The broad information, as reflected in Article One on the rules, regulations and stipulations on the writing of the research proposal, journal article and article-thesis and -dissertation, will be summarised and used as a guide on how to write the research proposal, journal article and article-thesis and -dissertation.8-11,13,16-25
1.2. Aims of the article
The purpose of this article, as part one of two intertwined articles, is to provide a framework or guideline to assist aspirant students (as well as supervisors and aspirant examiners) in their preparation for the writing of the research proposal and journal article. To realise this aim, the research and writing practices of various universities and other institutions as to the writing of the research proposal and article have in this article been incorporated into two combined guidelines on how to write the research proposal and the research article. 8-11,13,16-50
In the next intertwined article, entitled: “How to write and supervise the Article-Masters and -Doctorate: Part 2”, the aim is to provide a framework or guideline to assist aspirant students (as well as supervisors and aspirant examiners) in their planning, compiling and writing of the article-thesis and -dissertation. To realise this guideline the research and writing practices of more than fourteen universities and other institutions of learning have been incorporated.8-11,13,16-50
1.2.1. Scope of article (Continues in Article 4)
The information applies to students and supervisors of the article-master’s and article-doctorate, presented as a collection of essays or articles.
2. Method (Continues in Article 4)
The research has been done by means of a literature review. This method aims to construct a viewpoint from the available evidence as the research develops. This approach is being used in modern research where there is often not an established body of research, as is the case concerning the writing and publishing of the article-format dissertation and thesis. By this method the focus is on being informative to the various local and global approaches to the delivery of article-format theses or dissertations. The sources include the guidelines of universities and other institutions on the writing of the article-thesis for the period 2017 to 2021.
The research findings are presented in narrative format.
3. Results and discussion (Continues in Article 4)
3.1. The writing of the journal article and the research proposal in perspective
The presentation of the two subsections, the writing of the journal article and the research proposal, is a comprehensive and complicated process (more than 20 A4 pages). The comprehensiveness of the contents in the two subsections justified that both should have to be placed and discussed in a separate article in this project under the heading: “How to write, supervise and examine a research proposal and a journal article.” But, to keep the focus on the writing of the article-thesis and -dissertation and to maintain the unity and succinctness of this article and that of its intertwined Article Four (“How to write and supervise the article-format-masters and -doctorate: Part 2”), as well as that of the seven articles of the series as a whole, it was decided to place subsections 3.3.2: Writing of the research proposal, and 3.3.3: The Writing of the journal article, as an internal part of this article titled: “How to write and supervise the article-format-masters and -doctorate: Part 1”. It undoubtedly, notwithstanding the lengthening of the article’s contents and pages, helped to make the information better readable, focussed and streamlined, in order to provide in the end an in-depth and a better understanding of the process of writing the article-thesis.26-34,41-50
3.2. Open-guide Approach
This division with its manifold prerequisites, rules, discretions and traditions unique to the article-format thesis, as well as the elements and/or concepts associated with it, were comprehensively elaborated in the previous two intertwined articles (Numbers 1 and 2).
3.3. The Closed-guide Approach
When addressing the writing of the article-masters and -doctorate, the presence of two related and pre-established research entities attain prominence, namely a) the writing of the research proposal of the article-thesis and -dissertation; and b) the writing of the journal article. It is essential that these two research outcomes are firstly addressed before the writing of the article-thesis can commence.
The allocation of a primary position to the article-thesis and the boasting around it in the literature on the subject, has led thereto that its basic foundation, namely the journal article and the writing of the journal article as specific research entities, have in the past and even today been relegated to a secondary position. A critical analysis of the literature shows it is mostly ignored in the guidelines on the writing of the article-thesis and -dissertation of most universities. The hard reality that is ignored further here, is that the article-thesis can in no way be realised without the prerequisite research proposal to plan and to guide the aspirant student on the best path to follow to actuate the article-thesis or -dissertation.
Without the research proposal being accepted by the university where the student intends to enrol for the PhD or Masters, there is not and cannot be a second outcome such as the journal article(s) to form the basis of the article-thesis, or the possibility to write the much spoken-of article-thesis itself. These two prerequisites, so as to proceed with the writing of the article-thesis, will firstly be reflected on underneath.8-11,13,16-50
3.3.2. Writing of the research proposal26-34
The entity research proposal is described by Sudheesh, Duggappa and Nethra26 as a detailed plan or a “blueprint” for executing later on the article-thesis and -dissertation. They emphasise that with an excellent research proposal in place the whole research project to realise the article-masters or doctorate will flow smoothly26:1: “A clean, well-thought-out proposal forms the backbone for the research itself and hence becomes the most important step in the process of conduct of research.”
But in this context, it must be mentioned that today the research proposal plays mostly an insignificant role at the start of the article-thesis (even for the traditional thesis): it is either absent from post-graduate schools’ stock of guides, or where it is implemented at post-graduate schools, it is of substandard quality.26-34
A further problem is that, where some form of guideline is available at the Postgraduate Schools of various universities, oftentimes there is not much uniformity in the approach, descriptions and executions of it, leading to conflicting instructions between various universities. This deviation is confirmed by Sudheesh et al26 when they write26:3: “The contents or formats of a research proposal vary depending on the requirements of [the] evaluation committee and are generally provided by the evaluation committee or the institution.”
The awarding of an acceptance of the thesis proposal by the research committees of universities is determined by various factors, as for instance the complexity of the research plan, the experience of the aspirant student and his/her supervisor, permissions needed to execute the research, the costs involved in the study, etc. This process is sometimes rapidly completed, while in other cases it may be a time-consuming process. It is only after the acceptance of the thesis proposal and the appointment of a supervisor or supervisors, that the student is free to start his research.26-34
In my forty years of research experience at universities I have not seen one single written guideline of excellence on how to specifically write the research proposal for the Masters or PhD. My recent enquiries in the performance of this research activity at a specific university faculty, showed that its students were guided exclusively by supervisors’ and staff-members’ so-called “knowhow, experience and verbal talk”, together with the use of old, outdated research proposals that had previously been presented by the faculty’s students. A dynamic guide for the writing of the research proposal for doing a Masters or PhD (also the guides for writing the journal article and article-thesis) is still sadly absent at the specific faculty, despity an urgent need for it that has been felt over many years. Moreover, it seems that there are often planned obstructions in faculties regarding the approval of research proposals in which personal vendettas between staff block the approval of good proposals, while poor proposals, supported by a negative staff group, are often approved. The introduction of Black Academic Research Economic Empowerment (BAREE) – which seems many times nothing else than ANC Black Cadre Academic Research Economic Empowerment (ABCAREE) — at universities and their Postgraduate Schools with the sole intention of the empowerment through race-appointment of less trained and experienced staff as a priority, also placed politics in the centre of blocking the delivery of research proposals (and thus also blocking the start of one’s research for masters and doctorates). A prominent feature of this phenomenon is substandard staff and leadership that take the lead to demolish any positive academic activity and research which they see as “Apartheid-tainted”. This not only leads to a decrease in article output, but a lack of properly trained staff and well-seasoned mentors to train the newcomers to the South African academy. It was thus no surprise that in some cases aspirant students took up to twelve months before they could register their topics and could start their masters and PhDs (while still lacking in some cases able supervisors). It is thus also no surprise that forty percent of the initial applicants interested to enrol with the faculty for the masters or PhD, moved on to other, more dynamic and organised faculties of other universities which are less constrained by BAREE and a poor academic and research culture. Now, with Covid-19 and the comprehensive movement online by residential universities it makes it possible for students to enrol postgraduate at many universities. Surely the negative outflow of 40% of aspirant postgraduate students will increase rapidly from the specific university’s faculty. This chaos may to a great extent be ascribed to the absence of a research proposal of excellence.35-40
The research proposal, to activate a specific research project such as the article-thesis or dissertation, is embedded in, circumscribed and guided by a clearly established framework. This framework — which must be seen by the aspirant student as the guide and outline for the ̴start of his thesis or dissertation research project through the research proposal – gives a roadmap of the planned research project and the total research outcomes that may be expected. How the research or thesis proposal must be compiled and written to fulfil certain prerequisites is mostly characterised by the following common elements34:1:
- A specific issue, problem, or matter in society, science, politics, etc. is identified;
- Other researchers’ work on the topic is collected and evaluated;
- Data necessary to solve the issue, problem, or matter is collected by the student or obtained independently;
- Data are analysed using techniques appropriate to the data set;
- Results of the analysis are reported and are interpreted in light of the initial issue, problem, or matter.
The mastering and mapping of the research project have two clear intentions or aims: Firstly, the positioning of the specific purpose of the research proposal should demonstrate that the thesis topic addresses a significant research issue, problem, or matter; that an organised plan is in place for collecting or obtaining data to help solve the issue, problem, or matter; and that methods of data analysis have been identified that are appropriate to the data set. The second purpose of the research proposal is to train the aspirant student specifically in the art of proposal writing in general (something he/she should already be trained for during the honours degree). This represents an instrument that he/she may use also in his/her future career where proposal writing for funding, research, etc., plays a central role, within or outside the student’s possible future role as an academic, a researcher, a supervisor and examiner of article-theses and dissertations, etc. Thirdly, the basis of the research proposal has many of the elements of the article-thesis included, thus further facilitating journal-article writing as well as the writing of the article-thesis which ultimately becomes a much easier exercise.8-11.13,16-50
It must be made clear at this stage to the aspirant student (as well as his/her supervisor) that the best laid out research plan can go awry because of unforeseen circumstances, ending or erasing some or all the elements of the initial research proposal. This may make necessary a rewriting of the research proposal or even a reformulation of the topic of the planned article-thesis. Most universities’ guidelines on the writing of the article-thesis indeed makes provision for these kinds of adaptations, ensuring still the successful outcome of the planned thesis or dissertation. In this regard, the following sympathy and advice for the aspirant student by seasoned supervisors and examiners of the article-thesis and -dissertation are helpful and very positive34:1:
We are well aware that the best laid out research plans may go awry, and that the best completed theses sometimes bear only little resemblance to the thesis planned during the proposal. Therefore, when evaluating a thesis proposal, we are not trying to assure ourselves that you have clearly described a sure-fire research project with 0% risk of failure. (If there was no risk of failure, it wouldn’t be research).
Instead, what we’re interested in seeing is if you have a clear handle on the process and the structure of research as it’s practised by our discipline. If you can present a clear and reasonable thesis idea, if you can clearly relate it to other relevant literature, if you can justify its significance, if you can describe a method for investigating it, and if you can decompose it into a sequence of steps that lead towards a reasonable conclusion, then the thesis proposal is a success regardless of whether you modify or even scrap the actual idea down the line and start off in a different direction. What a successful thesis proposal demonstrates is that, regardless of the eventual idea you pursue, you know the steps involved in turning it into a thesis.
What are the various primary prerequisites which an aspirant writer of the research proposal (very much equal to those of the journal article and article-thesis) must in his/hers writing approach and efforts fulfil? Sudheesh et al.26 put these prerequisites more as aims and as requests — in line with the elements encountered earlier in the description/contents of the framework that circumscribes the research proposal — to the foreground26:2:
A proposal needs to show how your work fits into what is already known about the topic and what new paradigm will it add to the literature, while specifying the question that the research will answer, establishing its significance, and the implications of the answer.
The proposal must be capable of convincing the evaluation committee about the credibility, achievability, practically and reproducibility (repeatability) of the research design.
Four categories of audience with different expectations may be present in the evaluation committees, namely academic colleagues, policy-makers, practitioners and lay audiences who evaluate the research proposal.
A researcher must be balanced, with a realistic understanding of what can be achieved. Being persuasive implies that the researcher must be able to convince other researchers, research funding agencies, educational institutions and supervisors that the research is worth getting approval.
At the start of the description regarding the writing of the research proposal, it is important to refer back to the earlier framework that circumscribes the article-thesis in which the research proposal assumes a central position: the description of the Contents or the Structure of the proposal is a prerequisite. But to speak here of a single description, is impossible: various descriptions stand out here, varying from broad ones to comprehensive ones. The basic elements required as emphasised by most of the guidelines, are: Cover page, Introduction, Literature Review, Research Design and Reference List, while others in this context reflect the various elements and their descriptions more comprehensively.26-34
For presenting the outline of the elements of the research proposal compiled for this article, a combined research proposal was structured according to the research proposals of various institutions.26-34This comprehensive proposal is reflected underneath under the heading of Research Proposal. It consists of three parts or subheadings, namely 220.127.116.11. Basic Introduction, 18.104.22.168. Contents or Structure and 22.214.171.124. Summary.
An important characteristic of this combined-compiled proposal, as emphasised already, is that its structure is very similar to that of an article-thesis and -dissertation itself – the end product which the proposal is aiming at. This element provides for the possibility that the aspirant student would be able to use a large fraction of the material of the research proposal in his/her article-thesis at the end.8-11,13,16-348-11,13,16-34
As a basic directive it must be emphasised that a substantial proportion of the research proposal should contain a well-developed plan devoted to the elucidation of the research plan, but it should be relatively free of contingencies having to do with such matters such as agency cooperation and the availability of data, while the length of it should normally be no longer than 25 pages (not counting appendices, etc.).26-34
The three parts (126.96.36.199. Basic Introduction, 188.8.131.52. Contents or Structure and 184.108.40.206. Summary) of the Structure of the research proposal included under the description Research Proposal (as based on the guidelines of various universities and other resources), is reflected and described underneath. The resource references26-34 will be applicable to the whole contents of the undermentioned five subsections: 220.127.116.11. Basic Introduction, 18.104.22.168. Contents or Structure, 22.214.171.124. Summary, 126.96.36.199. Retrospective on shortcomings and 188.8.131.52. Tips on the writing of the research proposal.
184.108.40.206. Basic Introduction26-34
- Title page
It should be a short, descriptive title of the proposed thesis project. The title’s inscription should be fairly self-explanatory.
This element reflects a brief summary of the research proposal which should not exceed more than 200 words. It should provide a brief introduction to the issue, problem or matter under investigation, while it also serves as the place to make the key statement of the planned article-thesis. Included in the Abstract must be a short summary of how the student wants to address the issue, problem(s) or matter(s) under investigation, while all work/research already completed on it and how it impacts on the planned research, may be included. [This brief summary may also be offered as part of the contents in the next subdivision (3. Basic Introduction) where a short overview of the planned research can be described].
- Basic Introduction – Optional
This element represents a short overview of the planned research, using keywords to reflect how the research is going to be done: See also subdivision 2. Abstract above. (This short or Basic Introduction must not be confused with the under-mentioned Introduction of the Structure).
220.127.116.11. Contents or Structure 26-34
- Title page or Cover page
1.1. Title of proposal
1.2. Name and affiliation of the researcher (principal investigator) and co-investigators
1.3. Institutional affiliation (degree of the researcher/investigator and name of study institution, supervisor)
1.4. Contact details of researcher such as cell and phone numbers, E-mail IDs and lines for signatures of researchers, date of delivery.
With the Introduction (also sometimes referred to as the Main Introduction), the context for the proposed project is set out with the main intention to capture the interest of readers. The data presentation must be at a level that makes it easy to understand for the reader with a general research/academic background. The background of the study must be explained, starting from a broad picture narrowing in on the research question, while a review is offered of literature on the planned research topic. The Introduction should be designed to create interest from readers concerning the topic and the intention of the proposal. It should address the question why specifically this research and what drives it, and lead to the next question on the significance of the planned study and how it compares and relates with previous studies on the issue. The pertinent here is how will the research add to knowledge, practice and policy in this research area?
- Literature review
This subsection reflects a synthesis/summary of the contemporary state of relevant knowledge, including an explanation of how the study will add to and build on theory. This literature review is not an exhaustive review of the total literature, but must be structured in such a way that the reader of the proposal may grasp the argument of this study and relate it to those of other researchers working in the same domain without losing the focus that the planned research is innovative, original and new. Relevant references to research on the topic must be cited: literature should thus include supportive data, disagreements and controversies. Some of the guidelines recommend that the progression of the review moves from the more general studies to the more focused studies, or that a historical description be used to develop the story around the research without making it exhaustive.
- Aims and objectives
In a couple of sentences, the thesis statement must be offered. This statement can be presented in the form of a hypothesis, research question, or a project or goal statement. The function of the thesis statement is to capture the essence of the planned research project and to delineate the boundaries of the research intentions. The research aim gives a broad indication of what the student wants to achieve with the research: the hypothesis to be tested can be the aim of the study, while the objectives related to parameters or tools used to achieve the aim, are generally categorised as primary and secondary objectives.
- Research design and Methods
The objective of this subsection is to convince readers that the overall research design and methods of analysis chosen will correctly address the research issue or problem, fulfilling the aim of the planned study. In this section the reader has to be convinced that the methodology and sources to evaluate the data are applicable to the specific topic. It means that besides the discussion of the methods and sources intended for conducting the research, must also be contain specific references to sites, databases, key texts or research data that are indispensable to the project. This outcome requires a description of the methodological approaches to gather data, as well as the techniques to analyse this data and to test it for external validity. In this section we find the overall plan of research with attention given to defining major concepts, statement of assumptions, specification of sources and nature of data, methods and techniques to be used, and a suggested plan for analysis and interpretation of data. An overall description of the research approach, materials and procedures used, is offered. In instances where instruments have yet to be developed, a clear plan for instrument development should be presented. The proposal should advance a clear operational plan concerning data management, coding, and analysis. Appendices with instruments, pilot results, codebooks for secondary data or other relevant materials may be submitted. Included hereto one encounters a description of the research methods to be used, how data will be collected and analysed (which may also include calculations, technique, procedure, equipment and calibration graphs, etc., if applicable to the project). Limitations on the research project, as well as assumptions and the range of validity, must be detailed. If citations are offered, it must be limited to data sources, while more complete descriptions of procedures can be presented, but the results and its discussion should not be included in this section. The above-mentioned elements of the Research-design and Methods are enumerated in more detail below:
5.1. Population and sample (Where applicable)
This subsection refers to population as all elements such as individuals, objects and substances that meet the prescribed criteria for inclusion in a given universe, while the sample refers here to the subset of a population which meets the prescribed criteria to be included in the planned research. (The criteria determining included elements as well as those of excluded elements, should be clearly described together with the description of the calculation of sample size).
5.2. Data collection and analysis
This subsection deals with the process of the reduction and reconstruction of data and its analysis, including the reflection of the calculation of the sample size. The steps adopted to effect the coding and sorting of collected data, as well as the various tests used to analyse data for its robustness and significance, must be explained. (It is a prerequisite for some universities that the software and its suitability that is going to be used in the planned data analysis, as well as the name(s) of the statistician(s) who are going to analyse and rework the data (including their specific contribution to the end results of the thesis), are mentioned).
The rigour or soundness of the research must be reflected throughout the proposal as a guarantee of the ongoing strength of the research process with respect to neutrality, consistency and applicability.
The robustness of the research methods must be guaranteed against bias. Specific working measures must be in place to avoid bias, viz. blinding and randomisation, to ensure that the result(s) obtained from the adopted research methods is purely a chance and not the result of other confounding variables.
By adopting standard and universally accepted and recognised research methods and scales, it will ensure that the research findings would be the same if replicated with the same participants in a similar context.
By adopting standard and universally accepted and recognised research methods and scales, it will ensure that the research findings would be the same if applied to different contexts and groups.
- Implications and contribution to knowledge
The proposal must show that the planned research fits into an existing collection of knowledge on the topic and has the potential to add a new paradigm to the literature and existing knowledge on the issue or matter.
This section includes the documents supporting the proposal. Although various approaches are followed in line with institutions’ needs for the type of documents to be included, these documents are mostly informed consent forms, supporting documents on the research intentions and plans, questionnaires, measurement tools, and information on patients included in the research.
- Reference, bibliography and citation lists
The three words “references, bibliography and citations” are, although different in meaning, used in proposals interchangeably and refer to all references cited in the proposal. All ideas, concepts, text, data, graphs, etc., that are not that of the aspirant student, must be cited and all statements made by the student must be backed up by with his/her own data or a reference. All references cited in the text of the proposal must be listed. Most universities allow the student to use his/her own choice of quoting/reference style, but the style chosen must be used consistently throughout the proposal. (Some guidelines recommend the use of only certain styles and descriptions in this context, as for instance on how the citing of the references to single-author, double-authors and more than double-authors, or the citing of newspaper articles, etc., must be done. Ohers suggest that the listing of all references must be cited in alphabetical order, etc. It is recommended that the student first contact the School of Postgraduate Studies where he/she intends to enrol, to obtain their rules and guide on quotations and their preferred reference style before deciding on the compiling of the proposal’s bibliography.)
- Ethical considerations/guidelines
The student’s proposal should clearly reflect that the total research fulfuls and meets the ethical standards prescribed for research in general as well as specifically at all times. Many studies, especially those applicable to medical and human research where special moral and ethical problems are encountered that are not usually experienced by other types of research, need safeguarding to ensure that ethical standards are met at all times throughout the planned research. This ethical guide might refer to the protection of the rights of participants, like self-determination and autonomy, privacy, confidentiality, fair treatment, protection from discomfort and harm, as well as the process of obtaining the informed consent and permission from participants and relevant authorities regarding the institutional review process. This process of ethical approval and consent requires a well-described information policy throughout. It is a requirement that informed consent needs to be obtained from participants before the research commences as well as from the research site and the relevant authorities involved in the planned research.
- Other research ethics
10.1. Conflict of interest
Any form of possible conflict in the planned research project — from financial, political, business, social to personal or any other interests — must be declared. If such interests are present and are not declared, the study may be declared null and void and even criminal and civil actions may follow. If there is honestly no conflict of interest, the following may be inscribed in the proposal: There are no conflicts of interest.
- Research schedule
A detailed description must be presented from the acceptance of the research proposal until the completion and handing-in of the planned thesis. Prominent in this respect would be the listing of the stages of research to complete, with specifically setting deadlines for each stage’s completion. If any research or field work were already completed as required to contribute to the total project being finished, it must be mentioned and described. If problems and limitations were observed and experienced at this stage of the compiling of the proposal, it must be considered and stated how these challenges are going to be addressed and overcome.
- Research budget
Although the preparation of a research budget is mostly not applied to the ordinary research project for the Masters or PhD, financial/funding proposals need a well-planned budget overview of expected costs, possible additional/unexpected costs, etc., and a justified list of all costs involved. It is recommended that also for the research proposal applicable to the ordinary dissertation and thesis similar budgeting as that for the funding proposal, is compiled and included in the proposal.
12.1. Financial support and sponsorship
If financial support and sponsorship is provided by a university bursary, it must be indicated. If no financial aid is received the following must be reflected under the subheading financial support and sponsorship: Nil.
- Revisions and Proofreading
It is important that the proposal’s grammar, spelling and punctuation are of good standard. Students are referred for assistance to a resource such as the Style Manual for Authors, Editors and Printers (Australian-orientated). The student must assure him/herself of the Postgraduate School’s preference for either the American or British spelling and punctuation conversions. At all times it is important that the language of the proposal be excellent, professionally revised and proofread before it is sent to the Postgraduate School’s proposal committee.
This summarised subsection emphasised that the aspirant student/researcher must communicate his/her knowledge of the field and method of his/her planned research project to interested persons. Central to this communication is conveying of the nature of the research design and contents: the communication must start from the contents of subheading 2. Introduction and end at subheading 9. Ethical considerations as described under the heading 18.104.22.168. Contents or Structure.
Results obtained in the compiling of the proposal may be presented and put into discussion as to how it fits into the framework of the planned thesis. The contribution of new knowledge obtained during the compiling of the research proposal — information that is elaborating on existing knowhow and thus can help to understand the issue, problem or matter better, as well as why it is important and what the major implications are of this new data in addressing the research problem — should be elaborated.
22.214.171.124. Retrospective on shortcomings26-34
In retrospect, it must be mentioned that subsections 11. Research schedule and 12. Research budget offered under the heading 126.96.36.199. Contents or Structure, are not always well-addressed in the South African approach to the writing of the research proposal, although they are undoubtedly of great importance. The neglect of the elements Research schedule and the Budget (mostly because a great part of the financing of the thesis and dissertation are done mostly in-house through bursaries by universities after acceptance of the study) is one of the main reasons why some research projects got shipwrecked because the universities’ financial support is insufficient to steer the whole project to the end. Also, the failure many times to comprehensively oversee the language, technical and presentation quality of research proposals, as has been described in Revisions and Proofreading above, is a prominent short-coming that makes many proposals not only substandard, but has often led to their rejection. Notwithstanding this, subsections 9. Ethical considerations/guidelines and 10. Other research-ethics of heading 188.8.131.52. Contents or Structure, are currently well supervised and managed by most of the universities’ ethnical committees, thereby limiting exploitation and ethical wrong-doing.
184.108.40.206. Tips on the writing of the research proposal 26-34
Before the aspirant student starts his/her writing of the research proposal, it is advised that he/she firstly observes the do’s and don’ts do regarding the writing of the proposal. This is possible by reading the many items of advice or tips on the writing of the proposal. In this context it may be mentioned that some of the guidelines on the writing of the research proposal offer valuable tips on how to present the research proposal to make it eye-catching and most of all to make it more understandable, like the use of pictures, figures, flow charts: here modern-day computer technology such as scanners and drafting programs are excellent to use where applicable. Including in these tips is the emphasis that the student in the compiling of his/her proposal must be at all times practical, persuasive and focussed to be able to link a diverse body of research together. The vision of a crystal-clear picture of the intended research must be obtained before there can be any thinking of writing the proposal. Sudheesh et al.26 focus pertinently on the thinking and planning of the aspirant student during the pre-writing of the proposal by forcing his/her attention back to the initial aim that triggered thinking on the intended research, when they write26:2-3: “The aim of the researcher should be clearly stated in simple language that describes the research in a way that non-specialists can comprehend, without use of jargons. The proposal must not only demonstrate that it is based on an intelligent understanding of the existing literature but also show that the writer has thought about the time needed to conduct each stage of the research.”
Another important tip, that is mostly ignored in the presenting of the research proposal (as already show out earlier in 13. Revisions and Proofreading), is the need that its language and grammar must be of top quality. Thankfully a small section of critics on the writing of the research proposal do not hesitate to state that one of the most neglected aspects of the research proposal (mostly because of neglect by Postgraduate Schools) – as opposed to the mostly excellent language presentation of the article-thesis when it is finally presented for examination — is its often the poor language standard. This aspect must be within the context of the research proposal’s secondary position within the writing of the article-thesis as well as the journal article. It is recommended that the aspirant student, notwithstanding his/her own use of modern word processing programs, sends his/her research proposal for language editing to a professional author-language service before being presented to the post-graduate committee of the faculty where he/she intends to enrol for the article-thesis/dissertation. The guidelines of some universities are also very helpful on the correcting aids and services available regarding the language aspect of the research proposal.26-34
One of the guidelines34 used by me in the compiling of this combined research proposal notes well describes the importance of revising and proofreading the research proposal before it is sent to the Postgraduate School’s proposal committee. Because of its clear and focussed message to the often unconcerned student trying to get his/her Masters or PhD, I would like to quote it directly34:4:
- Poor grammar and spelling distract from the content of the proposal. The reader focuses on the grammar and spelling problems and misses keys points made in the text. Modern word processing programs have grammar and spell checkers. Use them.
- Read your proposal loud – then have a friend read it aloud. If your sentences seem too long, make two to three sentences instead of one. Try to write the same way that you speak when you are explaining a concept. Most people speak more clearly than they write.
- You should have read your proposal over at least 5 times before handing it in.
- Simple wording is generally better.
- If you get comments from others that seem completely irrelevant to you, your paper is not written clearly enough. Never use a complex word if a simpler word will do.
The above focus on tips brings us to two important questions:
- What is the very first step to take by an aspirant student when he/she decides on postgraduate study for a Masters or PhD? and
- In light of the comprehensive guideline on the prescribed contents of the research proposal as presented in this article, what is the best order in which to write a research proposal to make it easily and quickly executable for presentation to the proposal committee?
Firstly, it is advised that after the student has decided to study further in his/her field of research, he/she should make as a first step contact with an applicable faculty of the university that is going to handle and manage his/her planned study. Mostly this contact-making by the aspirant student would focus on a specific person at a university whose skills and experience correlate with the planned study as a “temporary” supervisor to start the “basic planning”, while in other cases, after the student’s direct contact with/enquiry at the university, such a person is allocated to the student. After comprehensive talking and discussions under the direct guidance of the “temporary” supervisor(s) on the intended study, it is mostly followed by the activation process to put together a basic, informative summary of how the study is going to be addressed. This outcome, after further discussions, leads mostly to the first stage of the final research proposal. The next step for the aspirant student is to contact the research committee which is managing and steering his/her field of study and present his/her draft proposal to them. With the guidance of this committee the student develops a proposal for review and approval.13,18,26-34
Secondly, good starting advice for the novice student in compiling and writing his/her proposal, is to read the condensed tips underneath, entitled34 “Order in which to write the proposal”, by one of the institutions which advises to proceed in the following order34:4:
- Make an outline of your thesis proposal before you start writing
- Prepare figures and tables
- Figure captions
- Discussion of your data
- Inference from your data
- This order may seem backwards. However, it is difficult to write an abstract until you know your most important results. Sometimes, it is possible to write the introduction first. Most often the introduction should be written next to last.
I fully agree with the above tips which, in the initial compiling and writing of the proposal, place the Introduction and Abstract as secondary in importance and as last outcomes: I have used an adapted version of it very successfully for years in compiling proposals and it has always resulted in excellent outcomes.
In closing this subsection on “how to write the research proposal”, there is no doubt to me that it is a far more complicated process and exercise than most students, academics and researchers realise or are able to handle. It seems that most of the aspirant students, supervisors and examiners of the article-thesis and -dissertation are novices in the writing of the correct research proposal. This research “chaos” necessitates urgent intervention and improvement.
3.3.3. Writing of the journal article 26-34,41-50
Boon in 2017 writes41:1:
If you’ve trained as a scientist, you knew that part of the learning curve involves figuring out how to write a scientific paper. Unfortunately, a few scientists receive explicit instruction in writing papers – researchers by definition are expected to know how to write.
When you’re a grad student, your supervisor is there to guide you through the paper publication process, as it’s in their best interests to have you publish the outcome of your research with them.
Once you become an independent scientist, however – whether that’s in academia, industry, or at an NGO – writing research papers can be a frustrating and lonely experience.
The difficulty as an early career researcher lies in making the time to learn how to write a good paper while also teaching yourself R stats and maybe a bit of Bayesian statistical methods, coming up with new pedagogical approaches to engage your students – or figuring out how to manage a work team, applying for a shrinking pot of grant fuds, starting up a lab or getting familiar with a new job.
The above statement is full of contradictions and nullifications/anomalies. It is clear that the writing of the research article was not in the past and still is not today an essential part of the training of most graduates in South Africa. Neither is it a characteristic of most academics and researchers to oversee and to supervise in-depth and with eagerness the output of the research articles of their students: mostly because thesis supervisors were themselves as students seldom exposed to article writing per se and are still struggling to master article writing. For these academics and researches, as for their students, the writing of research papers today is all but a frustrating and lonely experience. This sad story regarding the poor condition of our research culture and environment has already been sufficiently told in the previous subdivision as to the chaos around the writing of the research proposal. Such chaos ought to be addressed if the article-thesis and -dissertation are to be born formally as effective research tools.13,18,26-34
In light of the importance of the role of the journal article inside the functioning and in the construction of the article-thesis and -dissertation, it was decided to address next the writing of the journal article, before providing guidance on the writing of the article-thesis and -dissertation itself. Again, the various guidelines of universities and other sources were used to offer a combined guideline on how to write the accredited journal article.26-34,41-50 All the data offered underneath in subsection 3.3.3. Writing of the journal article, are based on these specific resources.26-34,41-50
Journal articles are the exclusive foundation bricks of the article-thesis and -dissertation: It is the heart of the article-thesis and undoubtedly needs more enlightening. Indeed, article writing must be the first step in article-thesis’s writing: With an excellent basis of knowhow and experience of article writing, the compiling of the article-thesis should be a natural outcome and comparitively easy. The present-day research culture of jumping from here to there without doing anything constructively — as characterised by a lot of talk but lacking plans and deeds for instance to introduce in a comprehensive and dynamic way the article-thesis and -dissertation into our research environment — confirms the neglect of journal-article writing, and how the article-thesis writing should comprehensively be approached and executed.26-34,41-50
The writing of the article-thesis is primarily based on the collection of new data and the publishing of it in accredited-journal articles. In combination to these outcomes, we also find in the contemporary research setup the aim and intention of the extracting of research-data from the published traditional thesis — to be rewritten in an accredited journal article or accredited journal articles — in the same way as followed for the construction of the journal articles from unspecific data to create the article-thesis. Indeed, for a small number of academics and researchers there is at the moment also the aim and intention not only to compile new research data with a common topic in such a way that it may be published in an accredited journal or journals and at the same time fit into an article-format thesis, but also to channel this data into a book. [This research practice and approach will later on be focussed on in some depth in Article Four of the series].26-34,41-50
Given that this article is focussing on the compiling and writing of the article-format thesis wherein the journal article takes a central place, it is important to provide guidelines telling the aspirant author about the elements unique to a journal article, as well as how a collection of journal articles may be transferred into a dissertation or thesis. Prominent here is the scope and style of the journal article. The construction and profile of a single journal article (as well as the construction and profile of each of the separate journal articles that constitute the article-thesis) are many times equal to that of the article-thesis: this similarity is such that the journal article is often referred to as a kind of a “article-mini-thesis”.26-34,41-50
Various excellent guidelines are available for the writing of the journal article on the internet, while many oversees universities offer their own well-described guidelines to their aspirant students who intend to do the article-thesis and -dissertation.26-34,41-50 My observation of the South African setup regarding the training of postgraduate students to be able to write the journal article with excellence, is unfortunately that it is of the same substandard quality as for training in the writing of the research proposal. Very few South African universities offer thorough in-house training on honours and masters level, giving the opportunity to students to master the challenge on how to write the journal article. As already show pointed out several times in this research project, it seems that a large section of academics and researchers of universities lack knowhow themselves on how to write, supervise and examine the journal articles and thus to publish themselves. At the moment most Postgraduate Schools’ staff have side-stepped their responsibilities and shortcomings in this context by the hiring of consultants to offer article-writing-training through workshops, which are not really having the desired effect, as evidenced by the low output of research articles by many of South Africa’s full-time academics and researchers.26-34,41-50
Three approaches to article-writing exist: The standard or full-length article as reflected in this research under IMRAD, the Short (or brief) Communication/Report (±3,500 words) which makes a considerable contribution to existing literature and the Rapid Communication/Report which represents so-called “hot data” and is used in highly competitive and fast-moving research fields such as medicine. For this research the focus was on the standard journal article. ● [The race to get out fresh research data as fast as possible to crack Covid-19, is a good example of how researchers at the moment are bypassing with the Rapid Communication/Report the peer reviewing of articles and the unnecessary blocking of the publishing of data to get “hot” information out. There is no doubt that these manifold rapid reports will be collected in a year’s time to constitute various comprehensive publications and full-length articles on Covid-19].50
As with the research proposal, a basic structure, consisting of various elements, is also prescribed for the design of the journal article. In this context, we may firstly refer to the elements of its Contents or its Structure.26-34,41-50 Five basic elements are mentioned by most guidelines under the heading of Main Text: Introduction, Literature Review, Research Design and Reference List. Hereto, other guidelines reflect other compositions with more comprehensive descriptions. Some descriptions reflect ten and more elements for the structuring of the journal article. Some differences in the description or reflection of the elements occur, depending on the target audience of articles, such as for medicine, science, humanities, social studies, etc.
The elements and descriptions of the current research in section 3.3.3. Writing of the journal article were obtained and are based on the guidelines on how to write the journal article from ten contributors (universities and other learning institutions).41-50 Supportive data were also incorporated from the guidelines on how to write the research proposal from nine contributors (universities and other learning institutions) in section 3.3.2. Writing of the research proposal.26-34All data discussed in this section are thus mostly based on these nineteen sources and will continuously be reflected underneath in section 220.127.116.11. IMRAD-system and its five subsections: 1 Introduction, 2. Research-design and Methods 3. Results, 4. Summary and 5. Back Matter. Also, the data of the two sections described underneath, namely 18.104.22.168. Basic tips on the writing of a journal article, and 22.214.171.124. Some tips on the writing of articles from published traditional thesis, are based on these nineteen main contributors’ guidelines describing how to write the journal article.26-34,41-50
In this article the construction of its guideline for the writing of a journal article, its presentation of the Main Text presentation was built around the IMRAD-system with its four elements: Introduction, Methods, Results and Discussion. For the writing of this article’s guideline on how to write a journal article, the IMRAD-system’s elements were extended to include five subsections: 1. Introduction, 2. Research design and Methods, 3. Results, 4. Summary and 5. Back Matter.
The main intention here is to capture the interest of readers: the data presentation must be at a level that makes it easy to understand by readers with a general research/academic background. The background of the study must be explained, starting from a broad picture narrowing in on the research question, while a review is offered of literature on the planned research topic. The Introduction should be designed to create interest among readers about the topic and bring forward the question why specifically this article was done and what drives it: it must pose the question on the significance of the article, how it compares and relates to previous studies on the issue and how will the research add to knowledge, practice and policy in this research area. Included in this context we find a short literature review which should reflect the present-day state of relevant knowledge, structured in such a way that the reader can grasp the argument related to this study in relation to that of other researchers working in the same domain without losing the impression that the planned research is innovative, original and new. Relevant references to research on the topic must be cited and literature should thus include supportive data, disagreements and controversies, while the progression of the review must move from the more general studies to the more focussed studies. A further element that should be offered in a couple of sentences is the thesis statement (aims and objectives) in the form of a hypothesis, research question, or a project or goal statement to capture the essence of the planned article and to delineate the boundaries of the article’s intentions; the aim gives a broad indication of what the student wants to achieve with the research; the hypothesis to be tested can be the aim of the study. Hereto the objectives related to parameters or tools used to achieve the aim, are generally categorised as primary and secondary objectives.
- Research design and Methods26-34,41-50
The objective of this section is to convince the readers that the overall research design and methods of analysis were applicable to the specific topic and had correctly addressed the research issue or problem, fulfilling the aim of the article. Attaining prominence here would be a detailed description of the methodological approach and sources used in the article: research design, settings, population studies, inclusion and exclusion criteria for data, time of study, instruments/tools/techniques used, data collection, references to sites, databases, key texts or research data that were indispensable to the article, statistical software and tests used to analyse data and to test it for external validity, the definitions of major concepts, statement of assumptions, specification of sources and nature of data, as well as a clear operational plan concerning data management, coding, and analysis. Where instruments had been developed, a clear plan for this instrument development should be presented. Here the Appendices, that include components such as instruments, pilot results, codebooks for secondary data or other relevant materials, should be submitted. Included further in the Appendices are calculations, technique, procedure, equipment and calibration graphs, etc. (if applicable to article).
Limitations on the planned article, together with its assumptions and range of validity, must be detailed under the subheading Research design and Methods. If citations are offered, it must be limited to data sources, while more complete descriptions of procedures may be presented, but the results and discussion of these should not be included in this section.
Some of the detailed elements of the Research design and Methods refer to the Population and Samples (Population: all elements such as individuals, objects and substances that meet the prescribed criteria for inclusion in a given universe, and Samples: the subset of a population which fulfils the prescribed criteria to be included in the planned research. The criteria guiding inclusion elements as well as the exclusion elements, should clearly be described together in the description of the calculation of sample seize).
The subsection Data collection and Analysis deals with the process of the reduction and reconstruction of data and its analysis, including the calculation of sample size as will be done in the article. The steps adopted to do the coding and sorting of collected data, as well as the various tests used to analyse data for its robustness and significance, must be explained. In this context it must be noted that it is a prerequisite for some universities that the software and its suitability that is going to be used in the planned data analysis, must be described. Also needed are the name(s) of the statistician(s) who are going to analyse and rework data, as well as their specific contribution to the end results of the thesis, which should be described.
The Research design and Methods must reflect the rigour or soundness of the research, showing the article’s ongoing strength regarding the research process with respect to the three components: neutrality, consistency and applicability. The neutrality of the article’s research method(s) must be confirmed, assuring the robustness of its research method against bias and to ensure that the result(s) obtained from the adopted research method is purely by chance and not impacted by other confounding variables. The element of consistency must bear out that the planned article will successfully adopt standard and universally accepted and recognised research methods and scales to ensure that the research findings would be the same if replicated with the same participants in a similar context. Also, the element applicability must ensure that the research findings of the article through its adoption of standard and universally accepted and recognised research methods and scales, would be the same if applied to different contexts and groups.
The results must answer the research question through the presentation firstly of primary results, followed by secondary results. These results are to be demonstrated by the use of text, tables, graphs, etc., to present the research data obtained in a clear, organised way. In this context the element of implications and contribution to knowledge is central as evidence to confirm that the article fits into an already known collection of knowledge on the topic and that it has the potential to add a new paradigm to the literature and existing knowledge on the issue or matter. The data that are backing continuously and comprehensively the results of implications and contribution to knowledge, are accommodated, delivered and evidenced by the four elements Appendices, Reference, Bibliography and Citations.
The element Appendices assures through supporting documents that the results of the article are backed-up and true. In this context various approaches are described and followed in line with institutions’ needs of which types of documents are seen as supportive, depending on the field of study (medicine, humanity, economics, etc.). In practice the documents of the Appendices mostly include informed-consent forms, supporting documents on the research intentions and plans, questionnaires, measurement tools, and information on patients included in the research, etc.
All ideas, concepts, text, data, graphs, and so forth, presented in the discussion under Results that do not belong to the author(s) of the article, must be cited under the element of reference, bibliography or citations. All statements and references made in the text of the article, must also be fully backed up by the author’s own data or a reference that is listed in the reference, bibliography or citation lists. All the references, bibliography indications and citations should be thoroughly and correctly done and where permission is required (like the use of Images, Tables, etc., of other publications), it must be obtained from owners beforehand. It is further suggested that articles should be citation-rich throughout their contents. Regarding the use of a quoting/reference style, most universities allow the student to use his/her own choice of style with the prerequisite that the style chosen must be used consistently throughout the article. Hereto some guidelines recommend the use of only certain styles and describe specifically how the citing of the references to single-author, double-authors and more than double-authors, the citing of newspaper articles, etc., should be done. Other guidelines suggest that the listing of all references must be cited in alphabetical order, etc. As with the writing of the research proposal, it is recommended that the aspirant student first contact the School of Postgraduate Studies where he/she intends to enrol, to obtain their rules and guide on quotations and their preferred reference style before deciding on the compiling of the article’s bibliography.
The element ethical consideration and guide reflects and guarantees that the article in its totality fulfils and meets the ethical standards prescribed at all times. Those students in medical sciences and the humanities, where special and unique moral and ethical problems are encountered that are not usually experienced by the general types of research, need to adhere to ethical standards throughout the execution and writing of articles, making the element ethical consideration and guide a point of focus in the article’s Result at all times. This adherence must be based on a well-described informative policy and must ensure the protection of the rights of participants’ self-determination and autonomy, privacy, confidentiality, fair treatment, as well as protection from discomfort and harm. This policy also includes and reflects the prior obtaining of informed consent and permission from participants and relevant authorities regarding the institutional review process and the use of the research site.
Another research ethic that may negatively influence the results of an article, is the element of conflict of interest, which reflects the presence of possible poor ethics and doubtful researcher integrity. Any form of conflict in the planned article – varying from financial, political, business, social to personal or any other interests — must be declared. If interests of this kind are present and are not declared, the article’s integrity, as well as that of the author and his/her article thesis, may be declared null and void. Criminal and civil actions may follow.
The element research schedule reflects the duration of the article’s research, the compiling and the writing of it, until the date of publication, while the two elements research budget and financial support and sponsorship are mostly not applicable to the ordinary journal article, and even the ordinary research project for the article-format Masters or PhD. If there is such involvement, it is suggested that it should be reflected. It must be noted that the funding of a research project (and the costs to see the research through) is of immense importance: lack of funds many times shipwrecked good research projects.
All the data that were offered and used above in the discussion and evidencing of the Results — as were based (where applicable) on the elements of Appendices, the Reference, Bibliography and Citations, the Ethical Consideration and Guide, the Research ethic, the Conflict of Interest, as well as the elements of the Research Budget and that of Financial Support and Sponsorship — must be described, collected and listed, together with Acknowledgements, in the subsection 5. Back Matter, that follows after subsection 4. Summary.
Two subheadings are covered here under the heading Summary, namely: Discussions and Conclusions.
In the summarised subsection: Discussion, the author of the planned article must communicate his/her knowledge of the field and methods in his/her article. Of central importance here is conveying the nature of the research design and contents, starting from subsection 1. Introduction and ending at subsection 3. Results of section 126.96.36.199. IMRAD-system (reflecting the Main Text).26-34,41-50
Results obtained in the compiling of the article are presented here and discussed as to how they fit into the framework of the planned article. The contribution of new knowledge obtained during the compiling of the research of the article — information that elaborates on existing knowhow and thus can help to understand the issue, problem or matter better, as well as why it is important and what the major implications of these new data are in addressing the research problem – should be illuminated.
In the discussion of the data that were collected during the research, comparisons must be drawn between the existing data collected to see what new outcomes emerged on the topic and what existing information seems to be opposing new findings and possible solutions to the problem. Other outcomes that should be addressed, are explaining certain exceptions to the research problem’s classifications, as well as certain problems that cannot be addressed by means of the article’s research findings. In this context, the author not only needs to show the strength of the research findings, but also point out the limitations encountered by the research and thus how the initial delineation of the problem may undo the research’s possible positive contributions to solving it. On the other hand, alternative approaches, emerging from the research’s clarification, may be used to constructively address the problem and fully solve fully the delineation issue.
The subsection Conclusions represents a very important and very difficult part of article writing: it is by far not just a summary of what outcomes have preceded each other. Its intention is to make the total argument driving the research from day one with an analysis of data and findings, to put forward evidence collected in the research, new views and opinions on the problem as well as new approaches to address the matter. A short but strong conclusion, based primarily on concise positive evidence and findings as offered and pinpointed during the writing of the Summary, thus needs to be formulated and to be argued.
- Back Matter26-34,41-50
Under the section Back Matter six subsections are included. The first subsection Appendices includes the documents supporting the proposal. Although various approaches are followed in line with the institutions, certain types of documents need to be included, for instance informed-consent forms, supporting documents on the research intentions and plans, questionnaires, measurement tools, and information on patients included in the research.
The other five subsections are the following: Reference, bibliography and citation lists, Ethical considerations/guidelines, Other research-ethics (Conflict of interest), Research budget (Financial support and sponsorship) and Acknowledgements which may reflect a brief acknowledgment of any financial, academic or other support provided in the production of the article.
188.8.131.52. Basic tips on the writing of a journal article26-34,41-50
Various sources offer valuable tips on how to write a journal article. As with the writing of the research proposal, I have decided to include here some basic tips offered by various sources on the writing of the journal article. 26-34,41-50
The firsts tips reflected are those of the APA48 and that of Professor Marissa Rollnick of Wits:49
The APA’s tips read48:3:
- Look at articles in the field and relevant journals to see what structure and focus are appropriate for their work and how they are formatted.
- Request and consider the input of advisors, colleagues, or other co-authors who contributed to the research on which the dissertation or thesis is based.
- Review an article submitted to a journal alongside their advisor (with permission from the journal editor) or serve as a reviewer for a student competition to gain first-hand insight into how authors are evaluated when undergoing peer review.
The tips of Professor Marissa Rollnick49identify four steps to be considered by the aspirant author of the journal article, namely49:1-2:
1) Deciding on authorship
You may need to decide whether this includes your supervisor and agree the order of the authors’ names. Different disciplines have different authorship practices, but in the humanities the principal author is mentioned first.
2) Planning the article
A single paper in a journal should contain a central message that you want to get across. This could be a novel aspect of methodology, a new theory, or an interesting modification you have made to theory or a novel set of findings. Decide what this central focus is. Then create a paper outline bearing in mind the need to:
- Isolate a manageable size
- Create a coherent story/argument
- Make the argument self-standing
- Target the journal leadership
- Change the writing conventions from that used in your thesis
3) Selecting a journal
Selecting a journal is a very important step in planning the article. The journal you select should target appropriate readership, be accredited and be acceptable to your peers. Start by asking yourself the following questions:
- Look at your reference list. Which journals have you used?
- Study the editorial policies of the relevant journals: some are more restricted than others (e.g., content, research paradigm, article length).
- Scan past editions. Are there any similar papers?
- Is it a trusted journal? There are several marks of quality and reliability to look out for in a journal, and people may judge your ability to choose appropriate journals to submit to.
- When selecting your journal think about audience, purpose, what to write about and why. Decide the kind of article to write. Is it a report, position paper, critique or review? What makes your argument or research interesting? How might the paper add value to the field?
4) Writing the article
When writing the article consider your choice of “theoretical framework” and “voice”. Be clear what your article is about, and what it is trying to do. Finally ask your supervisor/co-author to go through the article with the following mind:
- Use the criteria the reviewers will use.
- Read and edit acting as a sympathetic friend and mentor.
- Ask another colleague or friend who thinks differently to read it.
- Get someone to edit it for language and spelling. Many authors use professional proof readers [who not only edit the language and spelling, but format the style of the article in terms of the publishing-guidelines of the journal]. This is not a sign of weakness as the editor has some distance from the article. This is particularly important if you come from a country where a different language to that of the journal is used.
An additional point here, is that when quotations from a foreign language (if you are writing in English) is used, to have it translated into English. Regarding further the issue of ensuring the excellent status of the language and grammar of the article, the aspirant author/student is referred back to subsection 184.108.40.206. Tips on the writing of the research proposal.26-34
An important tip is that manuscripts of journal articles must be peer-reviewed for publication if they are to be counted as research or accredited articles that are recognised by the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) and qualify for state subsidy to universities.
Other tips of importance to be noted, is advice on how to start the article specifically with suggestions on how to approach the collection and writing of the research data.26-34,41-50 The guideline is never to see the first draft of the article as the final draft, but that the manuscript must constantly be revised and be rewritten as the creative process develops; this process must be maintained until the correct, final version is reached. It is suggested by some advisors that the traditional sequence of Abstract> Introduction> Methods> Results> Discussion> Conclusion> Acknowledgments, should be changed during the initial research start-up, doing the Abstract and Introduction last, after the editing of the Main Body has been completed. It is further suggested that the development of tables and figures must be put in place before the writing down of data is started. Regarding the writing of the article itself, it is suggested that a start-up plan is positioned firstly by what to write and secondly by how to present the data. This is to be followed by the selection of data in a cohesive, original and well-reported style. As to planning, it is seen further as an essential part of the initial start-up of article writing in order to activate a setting saturated in the free flow of ideas. This planning forms the basis of a mind map or road map of the planned research project: it is seen as a large tree (the central theme), which is encircled by some branches (subthemes) that on their own can reflect new data that must be steered into other separate articles, while the essential data that are focused on the main theme, are recollected and steered back to the trunk of the tree. With a detailed plan in place the start-up as to the writing of the article may begin: in practice the student at this stage has already collected immense data on the topic, identified his/her reading audience, as well as the applicable journal to publish in. This directed outcome means the readers intimately know (as does the author) the research field as well as the terminology, the methodologies and its theoretical positioning. This makes it is possible for the author to jump directly into his/her topic with arguments, facts and other information and thus the dynamic activation of the Introduction without unnecessary time wasted or useless descriptions.26-34,41-50
Regarding the choice of the journal to publish in, it is a first priority for the aspirant author to study various journals’ publishing and writing styles, data-collection approaches, readership, types of tables and figures used, etc. In the choice of a journal the aspirant author must also note aspects such as language, if the journal is indexed in the major electronic databases, how available is it (quarterly, monthly, yearly, broadly, or is an online version and in PDF format), and how the journal’s appearance and design fulfil the author’s needs. The reputation (like accreditation) of the journal is also of great importance, while its impact factor can be considered (although this factor many times seems to be artificially inflated and to be untrustworthy). Information on the journal’s publishing status can further be obtained from colleagues who published in it, the scrutinising of recent articles in it, who are the persons on the editorial board, the duration of reviewing time of articles before publishing (reflected by dates of submission, acceptance and issuing reflections on articles), costs of page fees, etc.26-34,41-50
It is further suggested that the author’s writing style must be formal and that any form of offensive language must be avoided. It is further suggested that the writing contents must throughout be offered well-paragraphed: each paragraph, consisting of at least five sentences, should contain one main subtheme, while the flow of information between and among the various paragraphs should be logical. To make the offering of data more understandable, subheadings may be used to focus on the main theme and to clarify the contents and the aims of the article. Another piece of advice is that students, as they collect data in preparation of writing their articles, must save the data in reference-management systems such as Mendeley, Zotero or Endnote.26-34, 41-50
220.127.116.11. Some tips on the writing of journal articles from a published traditional thesis 26-34,41-50
In the Introduction of this article there was also reference to the writing of articles from an already published traditional thesis. The approach to the writing of this kind of article, together with the elements to be collected and to be compiled for the contents of this type of article, are essentially the same as that for writing a journal article from scratch: in some way it is an easier process, seeing that the data has already been collected and even sorted around a central topic. The information that guides the writing of the research proposal and the research article, is thus fully applicable to this subsection (See the descriptions in respectively Sections 3.2 and 3.3 above).26-34,41-50
An already published (traditional) thesis many often offers enormous data that may easily be adapted into various articles. In this context the American Psychological Association (APA)48 offers a short but informative guideline on how to write or to adapt a journal article from a published thesis or dissertation. The APA’s48 guideline, elaborating on certain of the elements that are of importance in the formatting of the journal article, is offered underneath purely for informative and academic guidance, given that it supports learning in general regarding the writing of the journal article. It reads as follows48:4-6:
- Length: Brevity is an important consideration for a manuscript to be considered for journal publication, particularly in the Introduction and Discussion sections. Making a dissertation or thesis publication-ready often involves reducing a document of over 100 pages to one third of its original length. Shorten the overall paper by eliminating text within sections and/or eliminating entire sections. If the work examined several research questions, you may consider separating distinct research questions into individual papers; narrow the focus to a specific topic for each paper.
2) Abstract: The abstract may need to be condensed to meet the length requirements of the journal. Journal abstract requirements are usually more limited than college or university requirements. For instance, most APA journals limit the abstract length to 250 words.
3) Introduction section: One of the major challenges in reforming a dissertation or thesis is paring down its comprehensive literature review to a more succinct one suitable for the introduction of a journal article. Limit the introductory text to material relating to the immediate context of your research questions and hypotheses. Eliminate extraneous content or sections that do not directly contribute to readers’ knowledge or understanding of the specific research question(s) or topic(s) under investigation. End with a clear description of the questions, aims, or hypotheses that informed your research.
4) Method section: Provide enough information to allow readers to understand how the data were collected and evaluated. Refer readers to previous works that informed the current study’s methods or to supplemental materials instead of providing full details of every step taken or the rationale behind them.
5) Result section: Be selective in choosing analyses for inclusion in the Results section and report only the most relevant ones. Although an unbiased approach is important to avoid omitting study data, reporting every analysis that may have been run for the dissertation or thesis often is not feasible, appropriate, or useful in the limited space of a journal article. Instead, ensure that the results directly contribute to answering your original research questions or hypotheses and exclude more ancillary analyses (or include them as supplemental materials). Be clear in identifying your primary, secondary, and any exploratory analyses.
6) Discussion section: Adjust the discussion according to the analyses and results you report. Check that your interpretation and application of the findings are appropriate and do not extrapolate beyond the data. A strong Discussion section notes area of consensus with and divergence from previous work, taking into account sample size and composition, effect size, limitations of measurement, and other specific considerations of the study.
7) References: Include only the most pertinent references (i.e., theoretically important or recent), especially in the introduction and literature review, rather than providing an exhaustive list. Ensure that the works you cite contribute to readers’ knowledge of the specific topic and to understanding and contextualizing your research. Citation of reviews and meta-analyses can guide interested readers to the broader literature while providing an economical way of referencing prior studies.
8) Tables and figures: Make sure that tables or figures are essential and do not reproduce content provided in the text.
In closing subsection 3.3.3. Writing of the journal article, it is clear that the in-house training of most university faculties lack an established program to train and to skill aspirant authors/students in the writing of the journal article. This failure spreads from the substandard contents of most of the honours programmes that fail to equip the senior student with the necessary research tools to make him/her well-prepared for taking on the article-thesis or -dissertation. This research chaos comes from the fact that many academics and researchers at universities who are responsible for supervising and examining article-thesis studies, are themselves poorly trained and experienced in article-writing themselves. The fact that most of the aspirant students, supervisors and examiners of the article-thesis and -dissertation are novices in the writing of journal articles, necessitates an urgent intervention in this research area.26-34,41-50
- The above presentation of the two subsections, the writing of the journal article and the research proposal, were a comprehensive and complicated process (more than 30 pages). This comprehensiveness of the contents justified that both should have been placed and discussed in a separate article in this project under the heading: “How to write, supervise and examine a research proposal and a journal article”. However, to keep the focus on the writing of the article-thesis and -dissertation and to maintain the unity and succinctness of this article and that of the four articles in the series as a whole, and to make the information more readable, focussed and streamlined, it was decided to place the two subsections: 3.3.2.Writing of the research proposal; and 3.3.3.Writing of the journal article as internal parts of this article, titled: How to write and supervise the article-format masters and –doctorate: Part 1”. It undoubtedly, notwithstanding the immense lengthening of the article’s contents and pages, helps to ultimately provide an in-depth and a better understanding of the process involved in the writing of the article-thesis.26-34,41-50
In the next intertwined article (Number 4), entitled: “How to write and supervise the Article-Format Master and -Doctorate: Part 2”, the section 3.3.4. Writing of the article-thesis and -dissertation will be continued and discussed. 8-11,13,16-25
There is no doubt that the writing of the article-thesis and -dissertation is a far more complicated process and exercise than most students, academics and researchers realised or are able to handle. It seems that most of the aspirant students, supervisors and examiners of the article-thesis and -dissertation are novices in the writing of the research proposal and the writing of the journal article. It is clear that the in-house training of most university faculties lack an established programme to train and to skill aspirant authors/students in the writing of the research proposal and journal article. This failure spreads from the substandard contents of most of the honours programmes that fail to equip the senior student with the necessary research tools to make him/her well-prepared for research and for taking on the article-thesis or -dissertation. Much of this research chaos comes from the fact that many academics and researchers at universities who are responsible for supervising and examining article-thesis studies, are themselves poorly trained and inexperienced in article writing themselves. The fact that most of the aspirant students, supervisors and examiners of the article-thesis and -dissertation are novices in the writing of the research proposal and the writing of the journal article, necessitates an urgent intervention in this research area.
The next article (Number 4), titled:“How to write and supervise the Article-Master and -Doctorate: Part 2”, the aim is to further provide a framework or guideline to assist aspirant students (as well as supervisors and aspirant examiners) in their planning, compiling and writing of the article-thesis and -dissertation.
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