Tips for Describing Methodology in a Thesis or Dissertation

Of all the critical sections of a dissertation, the methodology is perhaps the most important one. Whether it be a qualitative analysis or empirical study, the main focus of the thesis or dissertation is obviously the key findings and for that the methodology section assumes importance. You may lay the groundwork for your exercise with a detailed review of the literature and setting a suitable hypothesis in your study, but it is really what you have done that matters. writing a suitable methodology section is therefore very important and needs special attention.

Here are some tips on how to write a proper methodology section.

Method and methodology: First and foremost, you must understand the distinction between method and methodology. The methodology is about the underlying theory and analysis of the exercise you undertake; it is the set of principles behind the design of the research study. Methods on the other hand refer to the techniques and tools you use for the study. For instance, your methodology may include a sample survey, while your method is how you draw those samples. A proper methodology section needs to report both, in a proper structure so as not to confuse between both. Give an overview of the methodology you are following in your thesis and then report the methods adopted to execute it.

Qualify your methodology: At the very onset, you need to clarify the type of methodology you have adopted. Broadly, there are two types of a methodology based on two types of methods; empirical methods like primary surveys or experimentations best used for measuring or quantifying certain variables, and qualitative methods like interviews for contextualizing, or deriving deep insights on certain issues. You can also have mixed methods, combining both forms of inputs. All these methods come under the bigger umbrella of your thesis methodology, where you specify which methods you are using, and how.

Justify your methodology: You have to justify why the methodology you adopted is the best fit. This stems from the review of literature, the gaps you have identified in existing literature, the hypothesis you are exploring, and various other factors. While you contextualize your thesis to substantiate it, you also need to justify the methodology adopted for credibility. This involves a discussion of the strengths and weaknesses of your exercise, the reliability and limitations of your methods, what are the control mechanisms you have used for checking the validity of your results. You also need to clarify the observed results and how you interpret these results to derive qualitative conclusions.

Schematics and figures: It is very important to develop schematics of your methodology for ease of understanding. For instance, simple flowcharts help clarify matters to a great extent. You may also use complex infographics if it helps. Charts, flowcharts, diagrams are some tools you need to explore beforehand as they are often mandatory for certain types of methodology.

A well-developed methodology is an asset for your dissertation and helps raise it appreciation to a great extent.

HOW TO WRITE A ‘GOOD’ RESEARCH PAPER

Writing a good research paper and getting it published depends on many factors. It requires proper planning, preparation, and disciplined hard work to get published. However, by the end of the day, the quality and content of the article are what matters. Unless the article is of good quality, no journal will be willing to publish it.

Here are some basic tips on how to write a good article that is accepted by a journal.

Topic: Your topic is the first calling card for your article. You must choose your topic carefully based on the recent developments in your field. If you want to publish your article in a journal with a high impact factor, you must also understand that the editors will require an article that will be popular enough for its readers to maintain the high impact factor of the journal. The relevance of the topic and expressing it smartly via a suitable title is very crucial.

Core work: Your article may be based on your recent research activities, or maybe a pure review of the literature. In either case, it must be of top quality. For original research, the results you report are obviously the high-point of attraction. However, given there are many academicians working on the same topic, there has to be some differentiating factor in your research that will make it stand out from the rest. This depends not only on the research question or hypothesis you set for your experiments but also on what you’re finally present in your article. The same research can generate multiple publications depending on how you choose to present it before your audience.

Review of literature: Every publication requires a review of the literature section. While hard-core review papers are based solely on this factor, even research papers require a review of the literature section to set the context. Your review of the literature has to be up to date with the latest developments and ideas in your field. While writing a review of literature, the message is not about how extensively you have read up on your subject but really about the insights you derive from them. A review of literature is all about perspectives developed from existing literature and it should be conveyed in your article.

Understand your audience: For a successful publication, especially in a journal with a high impact factor, you have to write the article from a reader’s perspective. Figure out what would interest a reader to read your article. A good way to go about it is to understand what interested you as a reader when you were doing your research. Reading good articles not only helps develop knowledge on the subject matter but also teaches us how to write. Revisit your references to see how they were written, the language, the questions they addressed, and what attracted your attention in the first place.

Discipline: Proper formatting, referencing, indexing of content, labeling of charts and figures are the basic hygiene for any good article. It is best you inculcate these habits from the very start to avoid excessive revisions later.

Transparency, Openness and Peer Review

Peer review of a journal article is a critical aspect of publication. The academic circle only acknowledges peer-reviewed journal publication as quality publication, mainly because it gives an assurance of quality and pedigree of the article and thereby the author.

However, there are numerous stemming issues with the peer review mechanism, that in turn has led to various forms of peer review practices. The issues of transparency and openness in peer review procedures in the underlying factor for each of these different forms.

Single-blind Review: This is a process where the author does not get to know the identity of the reviewer, while the reviewer knows who the author is. This is often followed to prevent authors from influencing peers who are reviewing their articles.

Double-Blind Review: This is e process where neither the author nor the reviewer knows each other’s identity. This is followed to prevent any form of nexus or collusion between author and reviewer. This mechanism promises maximum quality control with minimal transparency in the process.

Open Peer Review: This is the exact opposite where both author and reviewer know each other’s identity. This model is one of the most transparent processes and it seeks to address the issue of influence or collusion via an open and transparent process.

Transparent Peer Review: This new form emerged with the emergence of open access journals. In this model, both the article and the peer reviews are posted on the site. Often, an open-access journal uploads the entire article as received from the author on the site and invites reviewers to post their reviews as comments. The entire process is often based on a subscription-based model, where both authors and reviewers have subscribed to the open-access journal, as are the readers who want to access both articles and reviews. This is one of the most innovative and transparent review mechanisms gaining popularity.

Collaborative Review: in this case, either one or more reviewers work together to share a common review, or authors work in collaboration with reviewers on the final draft. This process is also popular for the transparency and openness of publication.

Post-publication Review: This is an extension of the earlier discussed transparent peer review mechanism, where the author’s article is posted as received, and solicited and unsolicited reviews are posted along with it. This is often like a blog where everyone is free to comment on the original post. This model is often restricted to subscription-based access to prevent trolling.

Transferable peer Review: This is a new offering from several publishers in which they allow authors, whose article they may have rejected, to transfer their manuscript along with the peer reviews received to another publication. This allows greater transparency where the new journal and reviewers have an open idea about why it was rejected earlier or the developments done on the previous comments.

Different forms of peer review have differing forms of transparency and openness. There is a set formula as each has its own merits and demerits. What matters is the choice of the journal and what process the journal follows.

HOW TO REUSE OLD ACADEMIC PAPERS

While pursuing a career or academic research and publication, it is only natural to expect academicians to develop on their previous works or pursue a set line of investigation. More often than not, research or experimental investigation spans over years and researchers may indulge in multiple publications on the matter which builds on their previous works.

However, reusing one’s own previous publication is a taboo that comes under the ambit of self-plagiarism. This is a great dilemma that is strongly challenged by many academicians who argue using one’s own work is not ethically plagiarism. However, there are certain limitations on how one can use one’s previous works, and therefore one has to be careful about how to use them.

What is the Concern?

To best understand why there are limitations to text recycling, one has to understand the reason why it is restricted. Many unscrupulous authors have been scoring multiple publications by simply rehashing the same content over and over again. This was red-flagged in the academic community, as these publications go against the ethics of academic publication. They do not offer new value or insights on the subject; they are not pushing the boundary of knowledge; they are just done for the base intention of having more publication credits or citation.

How to reuse your own content?

However, there is a genuine case of reusing one’s own content for legitimate reasons and that too is well understood. To avoid the vice of multiple publications, there are some checks and balances suggested.

The context: The context of text recycling is the most defining factor. You may have done a certain publication says while reporting your own findings. Tomorrow, you are looking to develop a review article in which you want to posit your own findings with other publications. In this case, you may definitely refer to your previous content, but it needs to be edited to fit the present context. You cannot simply copy-paste from the previous publication as it does very little value added to the news article. Edit, paraphrase, and contextualize the previous content and you can avoid the pitfall of self-plagiarism.

Citation: Even if you are using your own content, you have to ensure proper referencing and citation as you would for any other literature review. Offer the content as something you have already published before and not as something you are offering now. You also need to develop a logical flow that justifies these citations, or else you may be found guilty of just recycling text to cover up for lack of original content for the new article.

Journal selection: Journal selection is critical for articles recycling text. If you are looking to publish a series of articles in a specific journal, then referring to previous publications via recycling text has a certain context. If you are submitting articles to various journals with recycling text, it may be red-flagged under self-plagiarism.

Remembers, reusing own content is not a crime; the crime lies in the dishonesty involved in the process.

Professional help for a Rejected Manuscript

Getting a journal rejection is never easy. Even though rejections from editors or requests for revision from peer review is a very common happening in the publishing world, it is always a challenge for an author to rework their manuscript for re-submission.

This is where a professional editor and proofreader can help immensely. In today’s world of hectic professional schedules, it is often not feasible for academicians to keep reworking on their manuscripts and more and more authors are now engaging professional services for the same. Even though engaging such professionals obviously involves monetary expenses, there are some key factors why they offer real value for money.

Streamlining of revisions: A rejected manuscript with revisions suggested by peer-review can often be a complex document to work on. It requires proper mapping of the changes required and tracking of the progress of revision. This is where a professional editor can be invaluable. Editors are experts in keeping track of changes/edits and streamlining revision processes. A professional editor can list all the issues, demarcate which areas will require your intervention and which all can be handled by the editor or a proofreader, and help streamline the entire revision process.

Language correction: more often than not, journals reject manuscripts for language-related problems. In most cases, the problems are basic grammatical errors or mistakes in spelling and punctuation or something more advanced like awkward or confusing phrases, failure to observe consistency, improper referencing leading to confusion over terminologies used, etc. A more overarching challenge is the inability of the author to clearly communicate their message within the strict limitations of word count, formatting structure, etc. A professional proofreader can help ease much of these pains. They also bring a critical third person’s perspective of a reader and are better able to identify the problem areas than the author, who is often too deeply engrained to notice such issues.

Technicalities: many a time an author gets lost in the complexities of formatting requirements. Journals have very specific instructions about formatting. This ranges from alignment, referencing syntax, how to label or edit images and graphs, referencing and citation formats, etc. All these technicalities often prove to be confusing for an author whose primary focus is obviously the main content. A professional editor or proofreader on the other hand is more attuned to handle such technical details.

Subject specialization: Often peer-reviews ask for certain technical revisions that require subject specialization. This in turn means that authors require help or advice from their peers or subject experts on these matters. Today, professional editing services offer subject experts advice as well. These experts have the added advantage of having worked on manuscript submission with most journals and therefore have a much clearer understanding of what the editors or reviewers require. They also serve as perfect proxies for potential readers of the article and can offer better insights on the manuscript than most.

A professional editor or proofreader services offer end to end services at every stage of a publication process and are a potent tool for an author.

How Much Does It Cost To Publish in Science

Just writing a good research paper for a scientific journal is often enough to get published. Publishing one’s article often involves considerable monetary expenses as well. There are certain misconceptions about publishing that need to be clarified on the matter of author charges; (a) not all well-reputed peer-reviewed journals publish good quality articles for free and (b) any journal asking for an article processing charge is not necessarily a fraud or predatory journal.

Asking authors for certain charges for publication is a common practice that depends on the various business models followed by different journals, which in turn determines how they monetize the entire process. Depending on the business models, there are numerous forms of charges or levies that different journals impose on authors.

Well established traditional journals that have a substantive subscription base or a well-endowed trust to back their activities often do not charge fees from authors. But that too is not a set norm as many of them may charge some or nominal charges nonetheless. Some journals today do not charge money for the digital versions of the articles but request contribution to cover printing charges and distribution. Open access journals, which are often digital-only, may also charge fees to cover for peer-review and other administrative or operational expenses. There are different business models even for open access journals where some maybe subscription-based while others giving free access to anyone. Depending on the mode of access, the article processing charges may vary.

In most cases, good academic institutions are subscribers of good journals or have a membership or other such arrangements, such that any author from these institutions offering a research paper or review article for publication get institutional monetary support. This may be in the form of discount rates or even nominal expense coverage/grants for publication.

Some of the typical forms of charges associated with publishing in a scientific journal are:

Submission fee: many peer-reviewed journals levy a submission fee at the time of the review article submission. While authors may find this practice to be restrictive, some journals levy it only to keep spamming or substandard submissions at bay.

Membership fee: some journals seek to develop long-term relationships with authors and charge a membership fee. This covers charges for a specified number of articles over some specified time. Some also seek authors to do peer-review for other articles in exchange for getting their articles reviewed. The charges may depend on the type of engagement.

Publication fees: this is the most commonly understood charge, also known as author publishing charges or article processing charges (both read as APC), that covers the actual cost of publication.

A peer-reviewed article may charge all or a combination of these charges for a research paper. Thus, you may be charged a subscription fee during submission, and only have to pay a publication fee if your articles qualify for publication after peer review.

The dark side of academics

The world of academics is rife with the stiff competition; for funds and research grants, prestigious appointments, peerage, reputation, and acknowledgment. It is no surprise therefore that even this honorable profession is marred by several forms of unscrupulous practices.

While the unscrupulous or unethical practices of academicians (like plagiarism, duplicate publications) are one side of the problem, the other side of the challenge is several opportunists seeking to dupe unsuspecting academicians for their ulterior motives of profiteering.

Here are two major forms of duping one needs to be aware of in this murky world of academics.

Predatory Publishing: This term was coined by Jeffrey Beal, an academic librarian and researcher at the University of Colorado, Denver, who first brought the matter to attention. It refers to various spurious emails and spams academicians receive daily that suggest easy options of publication. The phenomenon has been greatly spurred by Open Access Journals, itself a development of the proliferation of digital technology. “Open access” is a novel concept that seeks to use digital platforms to bring to facilitate more ‘ópen’interactions between scientific readers and academicians looking to publish scientific knowledge without the hassle of the prolonged publication process. Unfortunately, many used these open-access platforms to develop fake publishing services, that allow anyone to publish for a fee. Many young authors are duped by such offers and fall prey; doling out considerable money to get their articles published only to find these platforms are fake.

This is not to say that the articles are not published online. What differentiates genuine journals from such fakes is that the fakes have no peer review or quality control. Neither do they have any credibility in the academic circles? Such publications are not even known to most scientific readers, are not recognized by reputable Universities or academic institutions. In short, these publications serve no purpose and do not help in one’s research boost or academic career.

Fake conferences: it is amazing to think that these unscrupulous practices are not just limited to publication but even extend up to fake conferences and events. Many unsuspecting academicians sign up for fake conferences, paying travel fares and accommodation charges on their own in the hope of interacting with peers, only to find themselves in the company of other unsuspecting victims. These fake conferences are hosted only for profiteering. More often than not, there are no conference reports or proper publication of the papers presented. Consequently, the time and effort of an academician are lost.

In conclusion: The real objective of a good publication or conference is an acknowledgment of one’s efforts from one’s peers or a research boost in terms of sharing new ideas or collaborations. A publication or paper presentation just for the heck of it serves no purpose and is a wastage of effort. Academicians, both new and experienced, need to be very careful from falling prey to such practices. The most effective means to avoid it being vigilant, checking with peers, and doing a thorough background check of any such suspecting agencies.

Plagiarism in Academic writing: How to Identify and Avoid It

Plagiarism is well-known as a breach of publishing ethics which is despised in the academic circle. However, while in some cases the authors engage in deliberate plagiarism, more often than not authors end up being guilty of plagiarism unknowingly. This is because plagiarism, although a very commonly used term, is a vaguely defined concept.

Plagiarism technically means using someone else’s ideas/ intellectual property as one’s own without giving proper credit to the original creator. While the first part (as one’s own) is well understood as improper appropriation, it is often the second part (giving proper credit) where author’s unintentionally falter. 

Some of the most common forms of plagiarism are:

Patchwork: patchwork refers to direct lifting or verbatim representation of another’s work without using quotations or referencing. This is the most blatant form of plagiarism.

Plagiarised ideas: This is when you pass-off someone else’s ideas as your own, even if in your own words or articulation.

Loose paraphrasing: This is the most common form of unintentional plagiarism. Authors, while discussing literature reviews, often write the content of other authors without proper attribution, which technically makes it plagiarism.

Self-plagiarism: This is the most difficult to understand the form of plagiarism. This refers to recycling of one’s own work in multiple publications. While it is difficult to comprehend how one can ‘steal’ from oneself, reproduction of the same work in multiple journal publications or presenting the same content multiple times to bolster the number of one’s publications is a problem in academics that has led to this publishing ethics.

How to avoid unintentional plagiarism:

Proper referencing: while doing your background research, keep meticulous notes of which ideas/sections are from which article. While writing, maintain side notes for proper referencing later while finalizing the article.

Quotes and paraphrasing: authors often tangle themselves up in this issue! For citing what some other author has said, it is advisable to use quotations to drive home a critical or technical detail. While discussing a concept and how others have addressed it, it is better to paraphrase it in one’s own words.

While paraphrasing, one must be careful not to reproduce the same content by just replacing certain words here and there. A proper paraphrasing would be a complete re-articulation of the source material. Proper paraphrasing is rewriting other’s content from one’s own perspective.

In both cases, proper citation or reference is mandatory.

Follow citation rules: every journal has well-defined citation and referencing norms and one must follow them judiciously. Journals nowadays prefer in-text referencing, especially for paraphrasing and quotations and it is a good habit to develop one’s writing style with in-text referencing.

Rewrite your own words: while referring to your own previous works, we often tend to copy-paste paragraphs as one likes one’s own articulation best. However, in order to avoid self-plagiarism, rewrite the content every time for a new article in the context of the new article, and you will see your language will change.

Portable Peer review: the new efficiency in publishing?

Peer review is perhaps the most critical but difficult step in publishing a research article in any journal. In the academic world, a publication without peer review is generally looked down upon and all major reputed journals follow peer review. Therefore, every author wants to get their research article published in such journals.

However, the entire peer-review process is extremely tedious and time-consuming. It often takes months for reviewers to send their reviews, which is followed by a prolonged process of editing by the author for resubmission; and this cycle continues. In the process, the publication gets delayed, authors may decide to stop pursuing one journal and shift to another journal, only to start the entire process all over again. Many journal editors reject most articles at the initial stage without even sending them for peer review only to avoid the hassle.

To get over this issue, certain journals combined to initiate what was called portable peer review. Portable peer review is a system where an author can resubmit one article manuscript to another publisher while sharing the peer review received from the first journal. Under this mechanism, the second journal acknowledges the review from the first incidence and takes up the process thereon, instead of starting the entire edit and review process from scratch.

There are several businesses that tried to specialize in portable peer review by offering a centralized reviewing service for both authors and publishers. These certified reviews could then be used by authors to apply to different publishers. Publishers too were expected to subscribe to such third-party review services for efficiency.

The initiative that has been active for quite some years has often received mixed responses. Following the initial optimism, the entire process did have very limited off-take. Besides the challenges with revenue models of some of these third-party review services leading to their failure, the biggest challenge for the system was that authors were often not comfortable to share harsh or critical reviews from one journal with another. More often than not, authors shift journals as they are not happy with their reviews; and shift to another journal only for a fresh and more optimistic second chance.

However, following the COVID related challenges, portable peer review seems to be gaining ground. The recently evolved C19 Rapid Review Initiative in medical sciences has received a positive response with nearly 2k reviewers signing up as rapid reviewers from more than 80 countries. The initiative started by Hindawi, the Royal Society, PLOS is now endorsed by SSRN, AfricArxiv, and Research on Research Institute (RoRI).UCL Press, Springer Nature, MIT Press, and Cambridge University Press joined the collaboration with a number of their titles, increasing the original group of nine publishers and organizations to 20 backings the C19 Rapid Review project.

While much of the new drive was necessitated by the need for finding a fast cure for COVID, this drive may change the fortunes of portable peer review in the future.

Misconduct in Research Publication

The academic world is not without its flaws. Given the mad rush to get published and the number of publications being a measure of one’s acumen, it is not surprising that many authors often resort to some of the below-mentioned misconducts. However, it must also be remembered that often younger authors unwittingly fall prey to these same misconducts simply because they are too naïve or fail to take proper precautions.

Here are some of the top misconducts in research publication and tips on how to avoid them.

Plagiarism: Plagiarism is perhaps the most common and well-understood issue with the publication. It is also technically one of the most complicated to ascertain. Plagiarism refers to the inappropriate usage of other’s ideas or any intellectual property without explicit consent or attribution. Thus, if you pass off someone else’s words or works as your’s own, it is plagiarism.

However, what many young scholars miss out on is that even referring to some other study or project without proper attribution is also plagiarism, even if one does not try to pass it as one’s own idea. While citing an article, unless you quote the entire section under parentheses, you may be guilty of plagiarism. Technically, today in the publishing world it is accepted as a norm that if five consecutive words are the same as source material, it is considered plagiarism. Therefore, it is advised to be extremely careful even in the literature review section to avoid allegations of plagiarism.

Falsification: Data manipulation is one of the biggest problems of any research publication. More often than not, researchers resort to such measures to get more amicable results, to ensure their hypothesis is proven right, or simply to present a more robust and powerful finding than their peers. Technically, there can be 2 types of misconducts; fabrication of data in the form of generating fictitious data, or falsification in the form of selective choosing of data to suit one’s research objective. In either case, it is regarded as manipulation of falsification of data and is considered as grave misconduct.

Data duplication: This is misconduct often done unintentionally though there are instances when unscrupulous researchers do it on purpose. Technically, data duplication refers to creating exact copies same data, usually for back-up. However, in many research methodologies, especially those involving sampling or surveying, mishandling of data can lead to unintentional data duplication within the data set. Often this is done to artificially increase the total sample size, or to cover for failed experimentation. Data duplication leads to amplification of the results and in academic research it is considered a grave methodological error if done unintentionally and a form of data manipulation if done intentionally.

Unethical practices: unethical practices may include exposing individuals of groups to risks (say in medical experiments) without their knowledge, breach of individual privacy, non-anonymization of survey data, improper usage or disposal of hazardous materials, etc. Any research that violates any such norm, even unintentionally, is also considered as misconduct.