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How to write a conference abstract?

Attending and giving talks to conferences is part and parcel of academic life and of the process of writing academic papers. If you want to take part in a conference, you will have to submit an abstract summarising the essence and the main directions of your talk. The abstract should state the thesis of the paper clearly, and present the proposed structure of the talk, including a short argument in favour of the thesis.

In this post, we provide some dos and don’ts on how to write a conference abstract.

Dos:

  • It is essential to be unambiguous and to use clear terms.
  • Structure and articulation need to be clear; it is advisable to make paragraphs or numeration.
  • The novelty of the conclusion is an important point of the evaluation, thus the clearness of the author’s own contribution is required in the abstract.
  • Making the abstract rich in content and to the point at the same time is of major importance.
  • It is advisable to refer to publications from recent years which either support or are in contrast with the arguments of the thesis.
  • Indicating at least the directions of your answers to possible objections against the thesis might be useful.
  • It is also advisable to introduce the method with which you work, if that is an unusual one.

Don’ts:

  • An abstract which merely summarises the given philosophical work or the related known literature is not acceptable.
  • The abstract does not have to go deep into all the details and it is not recommended to list all your examples either.
  • The abstract should contain only a moderate number of citations.
  • Refrain by all means from exceeding the length limit.

Text: Tamás Paár

Edit: Megyer Gyöngyösi, Nikoletta Hendrik

Translation: Dalma Eged, Laura László

Blank page panic? On writing an argumentative piece

In philosophy, the ability of defending or rejecting positions on the basis of carefully constructed arguments is usually considered crucial. Argumentative essays, where the author presents an argument with the pros and cons of supporting an argumentative issue, are therefore a central component of a philosophical training.

In this post, I highlight a few pieces of advice on how to write an argumentative essay, mainly inspired by the R&P Lab’s guide to writing an argumentative piece. However, the Lab’s suggested selection of materials on the topic also includes Jim Pryor’s “Guidelines on writing a philosophy paper”, Kyle Stanford’s “Seven deadly sins of argumentative writing”, Jimmy Lenman’s “How to write a crap philosophical essay”, and Simon Rippon’s “A brief guide to writing the philosophy paper”. But here are the recommendations:

  • Keep the personal out. Your goal is to convince the reader that an argument is good, not that the belief of the author is important;
  • How to keep it philosophical? Remember that justifications for the position you want to defend are required!
  • How to not get bored due to the overly conventional argumentative style? In the case of a term paper, check with your professor to what extent you can follow your inclination for a more original style. In the case of a paper for publication, check how much the journal breaks the standard rules; also: distinguish writing from writing-for-publishing: creative the former, rule-following the latter;
  • How to select the ‘right’ idea among the many? By forgetting! Once you stop reading (you will have to), your attention will focus to the ideas which survived the ‘forgetting process’;
  • How to avoid putting too much background? Once you have mapped out a debate, you have to make decisions and zoom in into the branch you want to deal with.

Michele Luchetti

Why am I going round in circles? From self-citation to citation cartels

Citations are extensively used as a proxy measure to evaluate a scholar’s work and ‘reputation’. Therefore, increasing the number of citations of one’s own papers is highly desirable, although it may become subject to controversial practices. The easiest way to boost one’s citation count is self-citation, even though journal editors and general ethics of academic publishing generally try to discourage its excessive use.

 Another way of boosting citations is citing each other’s articles. A citation circle is a group of scholars who tend to cite each other’ s work significantly more than they cite other authors in the field. Still, it is very hard to detect it with simple algorithms as it is in the case of self-citations: while defending the use of quantitative citation reports for policy making, Garfield & Welljams-Dorof (1992) name citation circles as a possible limitation to the approach but their conclusion about them is that “they are rarely, if ever, documented and identified.” More recently, however, Greenberg’s (2009) research shows how an “unfounded authority” gets created  through a citation network affected by biases, amplification, and invention.

Citation gaming reaches a completely different scale, though, when it involves editors and journals themselves, in the attempt to raise their impact factors. These are no more just citations circles but citations cartels. Scholarly Kitchen addresses this issue in their 2012 blog post The Emergence of a Citation Cartel, which reviews a number of case studies in which groups of editors and journals supposedly placed self-referential papers in a cooperating journal: “a cheap and effective strategy if the goal is to boost one’s impact factor”.

Murat Gulsacan

Michele Luchetti

What are alternative metrics?

How is the output of scholarly research tracked and its impact measured? Traditional ways of measuring how influential academic publications are include, for example, the h-index of an author and the impact factor of a journal. Traditional metrics, however, are slow and focus solely on the official academic citations of published works. As nowadays discussions of and interest in academic work can be found in various places besides official journals and publications, Altmetrics provide alternative citation impact metrics by taking a variety of factors into account, in addition to citation counts. For instance, they consider article views, downloads, or mentions in social media and news media.

Altmetrics “expand our view of what impact looks like, but also of what’s making the impact” (cited from Altmetrics Manifesto). They are calculated by projects like Impactstory and companies like Altmetric.com and Plum Analytics, which aim at helping researchers explore and share the online impact of their research by collecting the online activity surrounding their scholarly contents. This ‘online activity’ can include: peer reviews on Faculty of 1000, citations on Wikipedia and in public policy documents, discussions on research blogs, mainstream media coverage, bookmarks on reference managers like Mendeley, and mentions on social networks such as Twitter.

Indeed, the use of Altmetrics to estimate scholarly impact is far from being uncontroversial, for various reasons. Altmetrics can be gamed, since likes and mentions on social media channels can be bought, and do not tell much, if anything, about the quality of the paper: papers with high altmetrics score might just be very controversial ones.

Anders Yuk Pui Lam

Michele Luchetti

Follow me: how to best share your work?

The exchange of ideas and the dissemination of knowledge is a goal, and at the same time, the engine of academic life. However, one thing that you might want to consider before sharing your work is the purpose of sharing: why do you want to share your work with others? By whom do you want your work to be seen? In this post we would like to help your choice among the several online sharing platforms available for academics by reviewing three of the most prominent ones: Academia.edu, ResearchGate and, for philosophy, PhilPapers.

Academia.edu is a broad network that targets all academics and aims at providing a platform for them to share their work and accelerating the world’s research. They claim to currently have more than 46,000,000 users, who have shared almost 17,000,000 papers. If you would like to have your work known by academics working in many different fields, Academia.edu could be a good choice. However, you should consider whether the sharing system is too broad to get you audience and discussions focused enough. It should also be noted that non-users cannot download or read your work.

This last feature also characterises ResearchGate, a platform which is similar to Academia.edu, but has ‘only’ around 11,000,000 users, since its target are mainly academics working in the sciences. As a consequence, ResearchGate might get a sharper focus of audience and interactions.

PhilPapers is a philosophy specific research database (see our entry for more on this) which also provides the possibility to create a user profile and upload papers. Due to the narrow target in terms of users, it has just slightly more than 180,000. However, it is unique in that it is a community network of philosophers, but still it is accessible to non-philosophers and non-users.

Anders Yuk Pui Lam

Michele Luchetti

Have you ever built your own Google algorithm?

Google Scholar is certainly one of the simplest and fastest research tools available. When you’ve whacked in your keywords into Google Scholar and hit the magnifying glass search button, you typically end up with thousands if not millions of results. These are ordered by a ranking algorithm which ‘aims to rank documents the way researchers do, weighing the full text of each document, where it was published, who it was written by, as well as how often and how recently it has been cited in other scholarly literature’ (cf. Google Scholar_About). Whatever this means exactly, it seems clear from using Scholar that the mysterious algorithm puts most weight on citation counts and words included in a document’s title.

However, there are alternative and more flexible tools at one’s disposal. For instance, EBSCO Discovery Service (as found on the CEU Library website), has a more structured and transparent relevance ranking process. According to their website, results are ranked according to the number of times your search terms appear in a document or the “cataloguing information” accompanying it. To this end, EBSCO has six ranked fields in which your search terms might be matched – subject heading, title, author-supplied keywords, abstract, authors, full-text. Based on these metadata, you can literally build your own personal research algorithm! And you ever wondered why people deem Google Scholar ‘hard and fast’.

For more on the world of database research, see our blog entry on Web of Science and Scopus, and our entry on PhilPapers and Philosopher’s Index.

Jamie Elliott
Michele Luchetti

Tackling interdisciplinary research? Discover global databases!

Interdisciplinary databases cover a wide range of academic subjects including arts, humanities, natural and social sciences. Two exemplars of those databases are Web of Science and Scopus. Web of Science (previously known as Web of Knowledge) is a collection of databases maintained by Thomson Reuters. Scopus is a large interdisciplinary database from Elsevier, with particular strengths in science and technology.  Each has its highlights, which we briefly summarise in this post.

Web of science contains more than 12,000 high-impact factor research journals in the fields of science, social sciences and humanities. One of its main advantages is its ability to track the citations of the paper you have searched by means of colourful charts, that give you a general idea on the research status about your topic. This feature is most helpful when you have already safely landed in the area related to your research paper. This is important when it comes to the actual search by keywords: you can use Web of science at its best by means of a precise combination of keywords and search operators (AND, OR, NOT, NEAR,…).

The citation analysis can be conducted also in Scopus, which is a great option in terms of general search, since it offers a collective field (Article Title, Abstracts, Keywords) in its research interface. This feature will greatly help you if you are still surfing your field to see what has been published. Scopus has also the advantage of covering more literature, since it claims to contain more than 20,000 research journals and more than 130,000 books, but the coverage varies noticeably depending on the discipline.

Noha Hendi

Michele Luchetti

What’s the difference between Philpapers and Philosopher’s Index?

Are you lost in the literature? Or are you desperately looking for the ‘needle in the haystack’? Even though you might be already familiar with Philpapers and Philosopher’s Index, the philosophy-specific bibliographic databases, in this blog post we highlight some important differences between the two. You can find further comparisons between them on both the Philpapers dedicated webpage and the Philosopher’s Index webpage, whereas Princeton University did an excellent external review in 2014.

Philpapers has arguably become the central online resource for English-speaking philosophy, and its repository includes more than 1.800.000 research books and articles. Browsing and discovery are facilitated by a hierarchical subject taxonomy with more than 5000 categories which, together with the indexing, are implemented by a large community of professional philosophers. In addition to the search engine, Philpapers offers further tools, such as a job portal and the possibility to create a personal profile. It is a relatively new database which has showed a successful development in scope while maintaining a good quality, and it is also likely that its structure will be improved in the near future.

Originally created in 1966, Philosophers Index contains about 600.000 records and is controlled only by a limited number of editors, who submit full texts of papers only after checking their quality and assigning relevant keywords to them. Both simple and advanced searches are supported, allowing users to formulate complicate and precise queries limited to specific field, by language, or document type. Individual indexes can also be browsed directly, and the philosophical taxonomy, featuring a 15000 words thesaurus, exhibits a great variety and interconnectedness.

Caglan Dilek

Michele Luchetti

Drowning in the sea of your papers? Hold on to a citation manager!

Every graduate student knows that moment of existential despair when the papers you’ve been reading and the citations you’ve been accumulating for a particular project begin collapsing into unnavigable chaos. Fortunately enough, a marvellous piece of software known as a citation manager can come to rescue.

One thing to bear in mind, though, is that there are multiple options out there, and not all of them are made equal. In this blog post we compare two of them: Zotero and Mendeley.

Here are some elements of comparison you might consider. Both Zotero and Mendeley:

  • have a desktop version as well as a web-based version,
  • provide extensions (which save items into your library as you go),
  • offer the possibility to upload articles, and
  • generate your list of references in a diversity of styles (in both managers the accuracy of data needs to be checked, though).

Generally, the main difference between Zotero and Mendeley is that the first one is better for long-term projects because it is very stable and reliable, whereas Mendeley, although less stable, offers unmatched functionality with PDF editing, thus we can recommend it for short-term projects.

However, it is strongly advised that you try both of them out and compare on your own, just in order to see what works best for you personally.

If you are looking for more detailed comparisons that also include other reference manager software, you can consult the dedicated Wikipedia page and the overview provided by the University of Toronto.

Olesya Bondarenko

Michele Luchetti

Who’s afraid of book reviewing?

Book reviewing is an important writing skill for academic purposes, and can be a good way to enter the world of academic publishing. However, reviewing a  book in a specialized field is not as easy as it may seem. The reviewer typically requires a certain tact and consideration – especially when he/she does not appreciate all aspects (or even the entirety) of the book under review.

When writing a book review, the reviewer should not lose sight of the following:

  • A review is aimed at people who want to know whether or not the book under review is worth reading. As such, a review must include both a summary and a critical evaluation of the book’s contents. A balance should be found between having a strong critical attitude and focus, and merely giving a general summary or agreeing with everything the author says.
  • If you feel confident enough to appraise it, you should evaluate the book’s novelty. Assessing whether or not the book brings relevant contributions to the field makes for a very valuable review. You might also spend a few words mentioning whether the book also brings novelties in other areas or disciplines that may be interesting for your readership.
  • If you can, you should contextualise the book. However, excessive contextualising should be avoided – readers want to know about the book itself!
  • Writing a book review does not entail embracing sarcasm and harshness. These do not contribute to a good book review. Be measured, be sober, and be fair!

To get a sense of where a bad book review can lead, you can read about a famous scandal in philosophy, one which probably represents the worst case scenario in terms of book reviewing.

For more on how to do a book review: see a very interesting piece by George Sarton and the guide to writing a book review produced by the Research & Publish Lab.

Michele Luchetti