21 July 2009

A Typology of Academic Papers

Writing a dissertation is tough. One needs to read a bunch of different papers regarding a topic. Of course, one doesn't write a dissertation whose topic has never been written about before. The Renaissance is long gone: lots of people have studied pretty much everything there is in this planet to be studied.

Anyway, so I have this bibliography list of things that I have read already, regarding my dissertation topic. It is currently 11 pages long. It contains entries of articles, books, proceedings, and many more. Now, I have observed that there are different articles out there, depending on what their style is and how they present their material. And depending on what type of article I am reading, I have different concentration levels. Now, let me limit my coverage on articles in psycholinguistics, linguistics, and psychology, since these are only the ones that I am touching so far.

First, there is the hypothesis-and-experiment paper. These are fun papers, due to the fact that they have a small hypothesis, and they pit at least two theories against each other, both of them predicting different results for the experiment that they will do. Then, they describe how they do the experiment, and then show the results. Finally, in the end, they interpret their results and then tell the world that their data supports one theory but refutes the other.

This can in fact be a chain of things. Of course, there should be a little literature review in the beginning, and so most people present similar studies, and show how flawed they are. They point out that their methodology and experiment design is better than the previous one, saying that the previous one may have confounding factors which led to results that the current authors disagree with. In fact, this is the pathway of research that I and another collaborator are pursuing with our work on relative clause processing.

Anyway, I digressed. Let's get back to the topic at hand. Another type of article is the survey review article. There are quite a few of these around. My guess is that these articles surface after being a chapter in someone's dissertation: of course, none other than the literature review chapter. They center around a common topic, and review what has been done about the topic so far. These are long papers, and are rather quite boring.

The third type of article, and the one that taxes my cognitive resources the most, are the theory articles. These articles are published at major kick-ass journals, since they are very important due to the fact that they delineate a current theory that the authors are pursuing. Unlike the experimental or the survey articles, these are mostly theoretical in nature, and cite tons of other articles as their support. So they push forward a certain aspect of the theory, and they cite previous research by the same or different people, taking these as evidence for the current theoretical stance that they are taking. These are the most meaty papers that everyone has to read sometime in their career.

So yeah, these are the three major article types. They cover a lot of information, but they aren't your usual bedtime reading material.

(Roosevelt Boulders, from my DC Memorials Series)

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