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Friday, October 5, 2012

Writing a Journal Article. Part 3. Tables & Figures

Tables and figures attract the eye. Busy readers may get most of the detail they remember from your figures, so spend time thinking about the stories they tell. What you choose to show in your tables and figures is a statement about what you think is most important. And your tables and figures may well turn up in scientific presentations as slides.

The formatting requirements for tables varies among journals -- check what the instructions to authors say, and look at some recent published articles in the journal (preferably studies that are similar to your own) in order to get an idea of how readers and editors expect to see data presented, and what types of data belong in the paper.

Choosing figures is an opportunity for creativity. Think beyond your first choice. What can you include in the figure? What questions will readers have, and how can you make your figure answer those questions quickly and easily?

For example, in a paper I am currently working on, we are doing a case-control study. We are using the control group to generate regression equations to predict the expected score for our cases, and then comparing the expected scores with the observed scores.

So, the question is whether the difference between the observed and expected values is different from zero, and, if so, in which direction.

Our choices for figures include:
  1. Mean &  SD for residual (observed-expected) values. 
  2. Mean &  SD for residual values, by a mediating factor (in this case, sex).
  3. Dot plot versions of each of A and B, showing the spread of the individual points (because our sample is small, we have space to show all of the points). 
  4. Scatter plot of observed values (y) against expected values (x), with the x=y line drawn in, to illustrate the expectation of equality. 
  5. Scatter plot of observed values (y) against expected values (x), with x=y, and individual points coded to show details (for example, to show men and women separately). 
Choosing something like figure E will provide all of the data in A, but adds considerable information about the distribution of data, the difference between men and women, and whether the degree of deviation from expectation is different across the range of the expected values.

Finally, when you are writing your table heading (as always, following the convention of the particular journal you plan to submit to) and choosing the axis labels and legends for your figure, make it easy for your reader to understand you, and hard for them to come to common misunderstandings. Spend some time to wordsmith so that you are concise and clear rather than wordy.

This is Part 3 of a 3 part series of articles. I wrote it because I was about to write all of this to send to a junior colleague as feedback about her article, and realized that it would be of more general interest/use. If you find this useful and wish to share it, please credit me.

(c) 2012 Christine L. Hitchcock, PhD.

Writing a Journal Article. Part 2. Telling the Story

When you write a journal article, you are telling a story. The story starts by explaining what is already known, and what is important about the area. Then it sets the stage for your research by creating a compelling argument that your research addresses an unresolved but important issue in the field, one that meets the academic standards for value within your discipline, and that has broader social benefits (if you can swing that one without roflmao). You need to convince the reader that you have done your library work, and know what has already been published in the area (and you should do that anyway). In some fields, you brand yourself by which authorities you cite. Do that in a way that serves you. And it always helps to cite the important and relevant work that has been authored by likely peer reviewers and/or editors. :)

My thesis advisor, David Sherry, gave me a powerful metaphor for the structure of an academic article. He said that you should think of it as an hourglass. You start with a broad, general idea, and gradually lead the reader to the very specific point you are trying to make. Once you have made your point, you lead the reader back out again to the broader context, making it clear that your work has answered some broader questions, and contribute to both understanding and new questions in the field as a whole.

This metaphor is a useful one, because it speaks to the aesthetic of scientific story telling, the balance between the before-getting-to-the-point and afterwards. It also reminds you that there is something broader, that most people will not be experts or even particularly interested in your very specific expertise, and need to be shown how it fits into what they already know, and how your result can be useful.

Effective story-tellers consider their audience. What do they already know that will help you tell your story? What do they not know, that you need to provide for your story to make sense to them? What do they think they know that you need to correct in order for them to not misunderstand what you have to say? What are their interests, and how does your story speak to those interests? What will you tell them, and why will they remember, cite and use it?

Always check the journal first, to make sure you are following the expected narrative structure. If they say to use a structured abstract, use a structured abstract. Follow the sequence of sections that the journal says you should follow. Use the headings they ask for. If they want SI units and abbreviations, use SI units and abbreviations. Look at the format they want for tables and figures. This should be a no-brainer, but if your article is rejected and you are submitting to a new journal, it can be easy to overlook.

This is Part 2 of a 3 part series of articles. I wrote it because I was about to write all of this to send to a junior colleague as feedback about her article, and realized that it would be of more general interest/use. If you find this useful and wish to share it, please credit me.

(c) 2012 Christine L. Hitchcock, PhD.

Writing a Journal Article. Part 1. Consider Your Audience

When you are writing a scientific article, it helps to think about your audience. Scientific publication is, in addition to a scholarly endeavour, a social act, and the social context in which you plan to publish is important.


Think about which journal you might publish in. Yes, look at things like impact factors, etc, because they will contribute to the value of the paper for your CV. But also consider whether your particular study will fit. Does this journal like to publish things such as you are wanting to publish? Who reads the journal, and what kind of things can you expect that they already know?

Next, carefully read the instructions to authors. Read the description of what the journal would like to publish. Does your study fit? If so, make sure that that is obvious in the way that it is written, and in the covering letter you write to the editors. As in most things, there is a very rapid decision-making process (yes/no) that will happen as the incoming article is scanned. You want to clearly get into the Yes category, so at least you get a review.

Why are you publishing this study? Who do you want to influence? Who do you want to read it? Make sure that you consider that when you are writing. For example, if you want this to affect clinical care, think about what a clinician would like to know, and make sure that that information is clearly in the abstract, the first paragraph of the discussion/conclusion, and in the final conclusion.

If you want this to affect policy, find out how policy changes are made, and make sure that you have measured the appropriate things. Read up or chat with people who affect policy, and find out what they can use to effect change. Make sure you use their language. And, again, make sure it is crystal clear through language and clear statements, again, in the abstract, introduction, discussion and final conclusion. Remember that policy makers and decision makers are busy folks and will skim your article (or will only see it if a screener lets it pass) - make it easy to recognize that this article is relevant to them, and important enough to be considered.

On the other hand, this may be ordinary science, another brick in the academic wall, as it were. Still, you want to make sure that other brick-layers recognize how your findings might be used. What language do other practitioners use? What are their favourite references? Some people access the literature by scanning new journal issues - make sure your title will help them to find you. Many will use keyword searches. Make sure the keywords they might use appear somewhere in the title, abstract or keyword list. If you are a medical researcher, make sure that the standard MeSH terms will hit your article. Finally, some people will search the literature by using a scientific citation indexing process -- make sure you have cited major review articles or foundational papers, so that you are found through that route as well.

This is Part 1 of a 3 part series of articles. I wrote it because I was about to write all of this to send to a junior colleague as feedback about her article, and realized that it would be of more general interest/use. If you find this useful and wish to share it, please credit me.

(c) 2012 Christine L. Hitchcock, PhD.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Gratitude: Day 1

A friend has been having daily gratitude posts for more than 200 days. I'm inspired. So here it is: Day 1: I am grateful for the abundance I am discovering within myself and within my new community here in Oakville. It feels like this has been the right choice, and an opening.

Monday, September 10, 2012

The first nip of fall

It's the 25th day since we arrived in Oakville, Monday morning. Caroline left on the bus for school this morning, Dave is off to work, and I have the week ahead of me. Last night Caroline slept in her own room for the first time, which is a landmark. What's more, she stayed in her own bed all night ;)

We've been lucky to find second hand furniture, and even luckier to have help moving it. Yesterday the last items arrived, and it feels like we can settle in. We also bought some more art for the house in the form of handmade rugs from India and Tibet. Extravagance, but extravagance we will enjoy for a while, and pass on to our daughter.

The sky is blue, the sun is shining, but there was a fall nip in the air this morning, and the seasons are starting to turn. The tips of the maple are pulling in their chlorophyll, russetting. I'm told it is a scarlet maple, so I look forward to crimson as the seasons continue.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Settling in in Oakville

What an amazing summer this has been. My daughter and I spent 22 days driving from the west coast of Canada to southern Ontario, stopping along the way to visit with friends and sight see. Packing the car was a combination of Tetris and pick-up-sticks by the end of the journey, and we still have yet to clean off the dust from the nooks and crannies of the van. So many stories and memories. What a great transition from one life to the next.

 We have been in Oakville, our new city, for 16 days. Our home, remarkably, is even nicer than the pictures suggested. Caroline had a week of gymnastics camp, giving me a bit of time to get settled. This past week we mostly went out, visiting with friends for two days, first at the Ontario Science Centre and then at Centreville, a great amusement park for younger children on Toronto's Centre Island. Wednesday we puttered, and on Thursday we took a road trip to the shore of Lake Erie to visit a friend and frolic in the sandy waves of the great lake. Finally, yesterday was the day to visit the new school, find out where the washrooms are, and get information about the classroom and the school bus. So now it is Labour Day weekend, the last free days of summer. Time to find out exactly how much Caroline has grown, get some new clothes, and get ready for the rhythms of the new year.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Summer Picnic - Burnaby Parents Gay/Straight Alliance + Friends

I am moving to Ontario on July 23, which is coming quickly. I'm holding a picnic for the Burnaby Parents Gay/Straight Alliance group, and for any others in the Lower Mainland who would like to join us. We will be meeting at Burnaby Central Park (closest intersection is Boundary Road and Kingsway), at the picnic area across the parking lot from Swanguard Stadium. There is also a large playground nearby, for kids (of all ages) to run around if they get the wiggles.

Burnaby Parents Gay/Straight Alliance Poster
is in the public domain, a kind gift of the artist

BPGSA Summer Picnic
Burnaby Central Park picnic area (NW corner)

July 15 (Sunday) from 2pm to 7pm

Bring your own dishes, cutlery, etc. Some informal potlucking is likely to happen, but bring food for yourselves.

The closest Skytrain Station is at Patterson, which is on the east edge of Central Park; Swanguard Stadium is at the North-West corner of the park. There is free parking right next to the picnic area, with entrance off of Kingsway.

All are welcome; feel free to forward this widely.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Vagina, vagina, vagina (in honour of the Michigan Legislature)

Today is the day that Facebook went all vaginain response to recent events in Michigan. Here's the story as it appears on Michigan State representative Lisa Brown's official website. There has been widespread and international coverage, for example in TimeCBS News and the CBC. Here's a rough summary:
While debating a bill that would restrict access to abortion, Lisa Brown, an elected representative, remarked that "I’m flattered that you’re all so interested in my vagina, but ‘no’ means ‘no.’"
Given all the possible names representative Brown might have chosen to use, it's truly remarkable that state representative Mike Callton found her language "so offensive, I don't even want to say it in front of women."
Representative Brown's use of such explicit language so shocked the non-vagina'ed members of the Michigan legislature that Majority Floor Leader Jim Stamas banned her indefinitely from speaking in future house debates. Apparently this is the first time that a lawmaker has been barred from participating in house debates, in other words, from doing the job that her constituents elected her to do. Remarkably, calling a vagina a vagina is the most shocking language that the Michigan legislature has ever been subjected to. All I can say is that Michigan must elect a tamer crowd than the rowdy Canadian politicians I see during Question Period.
These events have galvanized feminists and pundits alike, in venues as diverse as Forbes, the Huffington Post, and Britain's Guardian newspaper

As the Guardian noted, vaginas aren't dirty, even in MichiganHaving said that, most of us don't know where to go to learn more. In honour of Vagina Day, I offer these links as a fertile entry into the wonders and mystery of vaginas.
  • You can freely view the documentary, The Perfect Vagina, and be surprised, as I was, at the growing demand for cosmetic surgery to correct perfectly normal labia and vulvas (often misnamed vaginas).
  • And, if taming your body with cosmetic surgery isn't enough, you can also buy a product to deal with your inadequate vaginal skin colour.
On the other hand, how do we know what a normal vagina looks like, anyway? If you are a woman, and not a gynecologist, bisexual or a lesbian, chances are you haven't seen very many up close. And, face it, things do have a tendency to all hang out as we age. Is it normal? Shouldn't I look like I did when I was a little girl? And what do other ones look like, anyway? 
  • It's questions like this that inspired my friend Alexandra Jacoby to start her amazing project, Vagina Verite. She even published a book this year. Great project, and a great site.
  • Another artist has taken a more sculptural approach, creating the Great Wall of Vagina.
For information about what goes on around, about and through the vagina, you should check out the Centre for Menstrual Cycle and Ovulation Research (CeMCOR), a fabulous resource for women who would like to know more about menstrual cycles, ovulation and perimenopause from a medically informed, woman-centred perspective. For the last 15 years I've been working with Dr. Jerilynn Prior, a pioneer scientist, clinical endocrinology and feminist advocate who founded and is the scientific director of CeMCOR, which resides within the Division of Endocrinology in the Department of Medicine at the University of British Columbia.

Also, check out the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research, a multidisciplinary group of feminist researchers and activists with an interest in the menstrual cycle. Our blog, Re:Cycling, is worth following.

I was surprised to see how much vagina-positive material I could find on the internet. And gobsmacked to find that my google search turned up nary a porn site in the top 2 pages. Go figure.

I'd like to think that we are living in a world of more gender equality than when I was a child, but it turns out that having a vagina can still attract some nasty attention.
After all of this, I still don't really understand why saying the word vagina was deemed inappropriate in a debate about, well, legislating what a gal can do with hers. Maybe it is a modern echo of the old fears about the Vagina Dentata. And, if the predictions of this futurist-artist is correct, men should be afraid, because it may only get worse.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Black-and-white issues make better sound bytes

There is a developmental trajectory of political awakening that starts with awareness of large, simple, black-and-white caricatures in which only the other is culpable, and morphs into a more nuanced awareness of shades of grey and the sometimes painful recognition that we ourselves are also implicated.

Sound bytes come readily from the black-and-white newbies. Maybe blogs allow enough space to explore the nuances. But I suspect we will always hear more from people at the comfortable stage of newly discovering how bad everyone else is. Which is not to say they are necessarily in the majority.

I think especially of feminism and gender politics in this regard, but I'm sure it is true more broadly.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Goodbye to our house

It's been a lot of work, but the house has finally sold. I hope the new owners enjoy it as much as we have.

The next step is to plan how we and all our stuff will get from here to Oakville, and to figure out where we are going to live. I'm feeling both excited to start our new life and sad about leaving our friends.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Massive Moving Sale - Sat Feb 11, 2012

Moving Sale

Saturday, February 11, 2012
8am to 2pm

4250 Royal Oak Ave, Burnaby

Hand-knitting yarn
$1/ball, $5 a bag

Cone yarn for machine knitting or weaving
cotton, acrylic, wool

Fabric - $1/piece

10" Craftsman bandsaw
Delta scrollsaw
Portable metal bandsaw

IKEA IVAR shelving - $2 each shelves or uprights

Girl's clothing, shoes (toddler sizes), stuffies, toys, games

jigsaw puzzles

Magazines (woodworking, sewing, knitting, machine knitting)

Passap E-6000   $300
Singer DL-1000 linker  $350

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

(Sold) Machine Knitting books for sale - NorBon series

All SOLD. Thank you.

More destashing of machine knitting books.

Armholes Plus, Methods and Measures - $2

$3 each

Curves, curves, curves - $3

Chart-Rite - Knitting methods to match - $3

Knit better - problems and how to fix them - $3

That Final Touch (finishing tips) - $3

Buyer to pay actual shipping costs from the Vancouver area (Canada).

Contact me at chris dot hitchcock at shaw dot ca if you would like them, or if there are other books you are seeking.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Destashing - Machine Knitting books & equipment

Happy New Year!

As I look around the house, I realize that I have a lot of things that I am ready to pass along to others who can use them. I've got extra copies of Mary Weaver's books, some duplicates of Mary Anne Oger's Knitwords magazine, and really many many more Japanese machine knitting magazines than I can possibly use. If you know you need something, let me know. Otherwise, I'm going to start sorting, photographing, and posting.

Books by Mary Weaver (asking $10 each CND plus actual shipping)
Mary Weaver self-published a series of typed books that were 200+ pages each and full of lots of detailed information and patterns.
  1. Machine Knitting Technology & Patterns (fair condition - some writing in pencil)
  2. Machine Knitted Skirts (good condition, no marks)
  3. The Ribbing Attachment, Part I (fair condition - some writing in pencil) sale pending
  4. The Ribbing Attachment, Part II (good condition - name on front, otherwise clean pages)
  5. The Ribbing Attachment, Part II (good condition - no marks, also no plastic cover) sale pending
SK700 standard gauge knitting machine - punch card with built-in knitradar - $200 obo SOLD

White S9 (Big Phil) 9.0 bulky knitting machine - manual yarn feed, sturdy plastic bed - $75 obo SOLD
Also, I have far too much cone yarn, mostly decent coned acrylic.