Research Hacks, Vol. II
One Sunday morning a friend of mine, who happens to be in policing AND an apparent glutton for punishment, messaged me on Twitter to complain about an academic article I had retweeted. In a nutshell, he expressed a sentiment with which I am particularly sympathetic: 'what the hell does this say?' Yes, a lot of academic writing is full of technical jargon. Yes, some academic writing is also full of numbers and weird signs. And, doubly yes, a lot of academic writing is painfully boring and hard to read. I know. I have to read it. I also don't know what a lot of those words mean either. A lot of practitioners have expressed the view that academics should just stop writing like that. However, it's worth keeping in mind that: a. a best guesstimate suggests that about 90% of academics don't write for you and don't care what you think. Sad, but true.
b. those self-same academics are writing to other academics in a language they typically both understand (not unlike policing which is full of terms, acronyms and specialized language that also helps practitioners communicate with each other. Trust me, no one outside of policing - aside from policing wannabes - uses the term "roger" in email or text. Just saying. And if you don't like what I'm saying, you can always FIDO.
c. the entire reward structure of academia has historically rewarded academics for writing to each other in journals. The shift towards communicating across diverse platforms to different audiences is happening, but it's slow. Slow like the adoption of problem-oriented policing slow. So, let me give you some advice on how to get the gist of an academic article without creating eye and head strain. This is basically what I do. 1. read the abstract 2. read the conclusions 3. skip over terms and jargon I can't be bothered with
It's true: academics are the worst readers; we skim! If I read every word I'd never get anything else done. To illustrate, I'm going to use one of Aili Malm's papers, because I know she'll be a good sport about this. Here's the paper title: Magnetic Facilities: Identifying the Convergence Settings of Juvenile Delinquents Sounds interesting. Not sure exactly what magnetic facilities are or convergence settings, but I can kind of guess. Here's the abstract: Facilities that draw youth from different communities are prone to become offender convergence settings and intercity crime generators. Applying network analysis to self-nominated hangouts of 5,082 delinquent youth residing in Southern California revealed specific facilities acting as regional convergence settings. A small number of magnetic locations (measured by popularity and breadth of appeal) enable the congregation and interaction of youth that would otherwise not be exposed to each other. As predicted, the sociocirculatory structure of place networks remains relatively constant over time. In-degree and betweenness centrality statistics offer a viable analytic strategy to identify facilities operating as stable regional convergence locations. Crime prevention programs invoking effective place management through ordinances may offer a way to publicly govern these private facilities. Once I skimmed over all the terminology, this what I got out of it:
Facilities that draw youth from different communities are prone to become crime generators. Applying analysis to hangouts of 5,082 delinquent youth residing in Southern California revealed specific facilities acting as magnetic locations [that] enable the congregation and interaction of youth that would otherwise not be exposed to each other. Crime prevention programs invoking effective place management through ordinances may offer a way to publicly govern these private facilities.
Interesting! Now here's some stuff from the paper I also skipped over:
Boring! (no offense, Aili). Here's the key takeaway from the conclusion:
Voila! Identify where juveniles hang out, then use place-based problem-solving (like ordinances) to deter criminal activity and prevent displacement to other likely "hang outs".
Now this isn't to say that I never read every element of a paper. It really depends on what I'm reading it for. If I'm reading it simply to get a sense of what was found, then the hack above works perfectly. In future efforts, we'll look at upping our research reading game. For now, this is a good start.