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The Fishscale of Academicness - Stand-alone resource

A version of 'The Fishscale of Academicness' concept that includes all the explanatory text, but no tasks, to link to a Virtual Learning Environment.

Alke Groppel-Wegener

on 7 October 2013

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Transcript of The Fishscale of Academicness - Stand-alone resource

The Fishscale of Academicness
Information these days seems to be everywhere. But rather than making research easier, this has made it harder, because when doing research
you don't just have to find
you have to find the

Here's a way how to do just that...
Unfortunately, information doesn't appear as a landscape, where you can see important landmarks because they rise like mountain tops.
The first might be to surf. Websurfing, just as surfing the waves on the ocean, is skimming along on the surface: it allows you to cover a lot of ground, but is not in-depth.

It gets exciting once you get
immersed in the material,
like catching a wavetunnel
and riding it for as long as you can.
But there is also a chance that you could drown
in a tsunami of information.
Rather than going for individual fish,
this 'trawls' the ocean of information based on the keywords you use.
And that means that
if you are typing your keywords
into a search engine,
lots of sources get spewed out.
Look at each source and ask yourself...
If this source was a sea creature, what would it be like
- and why?
Would it be grey and with dangerous teeth,
because it has no illustrations
and uses unfamiliar words?
Would it be fat,
because it gives you a lot of information
on a very specific topic?
Would it be flat,
because it mentions a lot of areas, but none of them in-depth?
Would it be puffed up,
because it seems a bit pompous
and without real point?
Would it be straight,
because the information is presented in a clear way, possibly chronologically?
Would it be curled up,
because the information is
presented in a roundabout way?
Once you have done this you also need to ask yourself:
Is this a good
for example, how do you know it is reliable?
In academic terms we call this establishing a 'provenance' - which context do they come from?
There are different types of sources, just as you can find different types of sea creatures in the ocean, and some of them you should really not use as academic evidence, because they may be biased, too simplistic or plain wrong.
Whenever you are doing a literature review, this should always be in your mind, and if you are assessed on the piece of research you are working on, the quality of the sources will be taken into account.
So rather than just thinking of the sources as sea creatures, also think about
where they live
by visualising an ocean full of sources that are living at different depths...

the more towards the surface they dwell,
the 'shallower' the sources are...

... the further down they are,
the 'deeper' and more theoretical they are.

What you need to do is put these two things together
- the type of source and their 'academicness'.
Can you order sources you have found on a scale from shallow to deep?
Consider what audience they
were written for, their writing style
and look out for clues of academic writing
- referencing, footnotes, indexes,
bibliographies or reference lists.
Here are some examples to get you started
(starting from the surface of the ocean)
Children's books
are friendly, bold,
and roam very much on the surface.
Personal opinion pieces
, such as blog posts, reviews or letters to the editor are usually just that: personal.
That makes them less academic, because they are subjective.
They also are usually short and not linked,
like one in a swarm of little fish.
Or they are like goldfish, little gems of amazement,
but not really that substantial.
Newspaper articles
are a good example of text written for a general audience. If published in a reputable newspaper they are researched well, but they will probably
show some bias.
They make far reaching links and put their subjects into a larger context, but usually stop short of real academic depth as they are aimed at non-experts.
Introductory academic texts
, like Readers, are a good starting point, because they will get you familiar with the key ideas and debates in the field, its jargon and probably also introduce notable authors.
Others give a brief introduction to a lot of issues, but don't go into much detail for each of them. In a way they are cutting through the strata of information and could be imagined as horizontally striped.
Academic overviews can take the form of a quite linear narrative, for example showing a chronological order of events - one happening after the other.
Academic texts that are found in
tend to be grouped around the theme of the journal, or possibly even a special issue. Reading them can be quite daunting.
If a journal is
that is a sign of academic depth, and these texts are often written for the expert rather than the novice.
Some academic texts might seem a bit overcomplicated - curly rather than straight forward and with a shell that is hard to get into.
Overall, academic texts should be challenging.
They have 'teeth', which means that
there should be a bit of a struggle,
but getting to grips with them
will be worth it in the end,
because they contain good evidence.
You might also come across texts that are just too weird. They might have developed at too deep a level to make sense to a non-expert; PhD or post-doctoral work can seem that way when you are starting out in academia.
Don't get frustrated by them:
if you have given it a go, carefully re-reading sections
and looking up words that you don't understand,
and they still frustrate you,
So, how best to deal with reading those unfamiliar sources
living in the deep sea?
Go 'back up' to find some introductory sources, which should help you establish the ideas, debates and perspectives and get you familiar with the jargon, and maybe later in your academic career you can go back down, when tackling a source in the deepest academic abyss will have become easier.
Going straight to the article might have a sting in the tail, rather pay attention to the 'safer' part of the abstract and introduction to figure out whether this text is actually going to be useful for you before you get frustrated tackling it - only to realise that it wasn't useful in the first place.
Academic texts can be quite substantial and they can seem quite a slow read - particularly if you are not used to reading at this level of depth.
Keep in mind
that you don't have to tackle
a whole book in one sitting:
rather you could break it up into
sections and summarise them in your
own words - breaking down a big scary
source into smaller, more easily digestible sea creatures.
When it comes to identifying your information keep in mind that at the beginning of a research project, you probably have to cast your net wide,
You should usually try not to write an essay that is just a list of things one coming after the other. While this might work when you are required to write something based on a chronological structure, it usually ends up being a summary and shows little of your own skills of analysis.
While you of course want to show off all the reading that you have done, don't be tempted to just make your writing about quoting the exotic seeming things that you have read,
When it comes to writing
your own projects

think about how the text
as a sea creature,
and ask yourself whether it looks like something
you had better avoid:
What you should be aiming for is a well-rounded piece of research that has a strong focus.
When looking for secondary sources, sometimes it can feel like there is just you - on a makeshift raft - alone in a seemingly endless ocean of information.
However, those sources are usually ordered by popularity, rather than the criteria you need as an academic researcher. So you have to make your own decision as to whether the source is any good for your context - and for that you have to look at the type of source you have found, so grab a snorkel and start investigating...
Would it be bright and friendly,
because it has lots of pictures in it and is easy to understand?
A paragraph on something interesting you learned

followed by another paragraph
on something interesting you learned

is only interesting to your reader
if you can properly link those paragraphs
in a meaningful way.
They tend to be flat in that they usually cover
only an insight into a field of work.
Some do that by concentrating on one particular issue,
so they could be seen as flat horizontally.
They could also be centred around a main focus, but branching into a few aspects that are discussed in detail.

Imagine that each of the sources you find is a sea creature
and have a closer look!
Because it can seem like a sea, it can be difficult to figure out what exactly goes on below the surface.
text by Alke Groppel-Wegener
illustrations by Josh Filhol
inspired by an idea of Claire Penketh
There are different ways to explore
this endless ocean of information.
A more systematic way of looking for sources than just websurfing is an internet search.
Just like learning to dive,
this is a process that needs to be practiced.
an essay full of quotes, while proving that you have done some research, does not show your skills at highlighting
is important in what you have found out and
that is important in your context.
but once you have come up with your focus, a research question and key words for a literature search, you will be able to cast a line at the academic depth that you want to dive down to.
and establish your focus
by looking at introductory sources,
That way you find specific,
not general, information and evidence.
consider that they maybe do live out of your depth for now.
Take this concept further by visualising all the literature you come across in your research as sea creatures and thinking about the academic depth that they live in.
Ask yourself, have you included enough sea creatures with 'teeth'? Are they living at an appropriate depth for the writing you want to/have to produce?
A visual analogy to help identify academically appropriate secondary sources for students at any level.
to find out more about
The Fishscale of Academicness
Full transcript