I have recently finished a year of Doctoral School, and am about to start my PhD. During the last taught year I have written two research papers which were reviewed by several people both internal and external to my faculty. The feedback was mostly complimentary, however the common criticism made about my work went along the lines of "You write excellent sections, but there is little link or narrative between sections."

There are a few guides on technical writing fundamentals, so this could serve as a platform for other posts on more nuanced writing practices. I would like to create a better narrative in my writing going forward, so the themes I would like to create a discussion on are as follows:

  • Practices for identifying the narrative present in your own work.
  • How do you build a narrative when writing an academic paper or other piece of technical writing?
  • Guidelines for linking the internal sections within a piece of writing.
  • Guidelines for linking your work to related research by other authors.
  • Have you found a couple of articles that you think do a good job of doing this, to use as models and inspiration? – aparente001 Oct 4 '16 at 14:55
  • I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it is about writing style rather than academia. – RoboKaren Oct 4 '16 at 18:21
  • @aparente001 Not particularly. I seem to have some self-bias because I feel I'm writing in a manner which matches the papers I've been reading. But obviously my mentors are seeing something I'm not. – c_rafter Oct 5 '16 at 9:44
  • @RoboKaren Ok perhaps, but I don't see how my question is manifestly different to these questions Q1, Q2, Q3, Q4, which all relate to other aspects of writing within the context of academia. – c_rafter Oct 5 '16 at 9:54
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    You can ask them to give you a sample paper they think has great transitions, and you can ask them to mark the specific spots in your manuscript where they felt the transitions were weak. – aparente001 Oct 5 '16 at 12:53
up vote 12 down vote accepted

As a non-native English speaker, I found the use of linking words lists very inspiring. I printed this cheatsheet and carry it with me along with the paper draft of my thesis for immediate access.

I also took an afternoon to brush up on my English (which, I believe, was already fine to begin with) and ended up reading most sections on this Guide to Grammar and Writing. In particular, I paid special attention to the page on Transitions, and it might help you too. On this page, they show how you can turn this hard-to-follow paragraph:

The ancient Egyptians were masters of preserving dead people's bodies by making mummies of them. Mummies several thousand years old have been discovered nearly intact. The skin, hair, teeth, fingernails and toenails, and facial features of the mummies were evident. It is possible to diagnose the disease they suffered in life, such as smallpox, arthritis, and nutritional deficiencies. The process was remarkably effective. Sometimes apparent were the fatal afflictions of the dead people: a middle-aged king died from a blow on the head, and polio killed a child king. Mummification consisted of removing the internal organs, applying natural preservatives inside and out, and then wrapping the body in layers of bandages.

into this nicer one

The ancient Egyptians were masters of preserving dead people's bodies by making mummies of them. In short, mummification consisted of removing the internal organs, applying natural preservatives inside and out, and then wrapping the body in layers of bandages. And the process was remarkably effective. Indeed, mummies several thousand years old have been discovered nearly intact. Their skin, hair, teeth, fingernails and toenails, and facial features are still evident. Their diseases in life, such as smallpox, arthritis, and nutritional deficiencies, are still diagnosable. Even their fatal afflictions are still apparent: a middle-aged king died from a blow on the head; a child king died from polio.

There are others resources grouped into "Word & Sentence Level", "Paragraph Level", "Essay & Research Paper Level".

Finally, if you need help writing transition paragraphs between sections, I'm not sure whether resources exist about this. I would suggest thinking about the high-level view of your work and reminding yourself (and the reader) why the previous section exists, why we are going to start the next one, and how they are connected within the big picture. During this paragraph, imagine your reader all of a sudden stops and says: "why the hell am I reading this already?" -- this is your chance to remind them.

  • Thank you, this is exactly the information I was looking for. – c_rafter Oct 5 '16 at 13:59

Academic writing, be it research papers or essays, allows quality of expression to vary, but most writings develop some central claim, idea, or opinion on a topic. Although your essay might incorporate narrative passages to illustrate your supporting points, it shouldn't consist of narration or description only. If you aren't clear about the distinction between a narrative and an argumentative essay, consider the following distinguishable features of the two.

One pilot I had working for me was a constant complainer. He was an excellent pilot but always found something to complain about. He was once on an early morning trip about 240 kilometres out of Whitehorse, and, on his return flight, I saw him fly over town, so I went out to the airport to pick him up. On the way out, I though to myself: "On a beautiful day like this, even Charlie won't be able to find anything to complain about. But I was wrong. When I asked him how his flight had been on such a beautiful, calm and clear summer morning, his only reply was that the darned sun had been in his eyes during the return trip.

This narrative clearly deals with events. That is, it tells a story. It recreates the setting ("early morning trip about 240 kilometres out of Whitehorse"), the characters (the pilot and the speaker), and the experiences (the speaker's expectations and the pilot's assessment of the flight) associated with the event that is being narrated.

Flying has always involved a certain element of risk, though the risks are different today than they were in the early days of flight. Back then, the dangers were the result of unreliable engines, a lack of navigational aids and up-to-date weather forecasts, and a scarcity of well-cared-for airports. Those were the days when a lot of pilots - especially in the Canadian north - had to fly, as they say, by the seat of their pants. The factors that make flying somewhat perilous today are crowded skies over the major airports, hijackers, and the threat that some terrorist will try to sneak a bomb onto the aircraft.

This is argumentative because it states a claim and presents arguments that support the claim. Through the use of some contrasting details, which are examples used to provide a support for this claim, that there still are risks in flying today, though the risks are different than they were in the past.

I hope this helps!

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    I found the two paragraphs about pilots in a book published in 2005. Would you tell us where did you get them? My source books.google.com.tw/… – scaaahu Feb 28 at 3:53

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