Most of the references I cite in my research paper are in Chinese. How can I make my work interesting for a broad, international audience? Is there a secret to doing this effectively?
This question was one of the most commonly asked during our recent workshop and presentation tour of university departments and medical schools in Beijing and Shenyang this month. Chinese colleagues often feel that because many of the reference citations they use in their papers are not in English is will be harder for them to make their work ‘interesting’ for a broad international audience. How can you make work that is ‘locally relevant’ interesting and appeal to everyone and more effectively get your research into international journals, preferably with high impact factors?
Remember that broad appeal, developing the ‘key message’ of a research study, is one of the key factors that you need to have in place before you start to write (alongside knowledge of your target audience and the structure for the piece of writing you plan to complete). The key message of your work does not depend on which language your original references were written in. An English speaking international audience will find your work interesting if it has broad appeal. Try to relate your research question to a key question or hot topic that everyone is likely to be interested in: one technique to try when thinking about this is to consider how you would explain your research to someone with no knowledge of your subject area. Your grandmother, for example.
Lots of research papers in international journals include citations to work that was originally published in a language other than English. What’s needed, however, for an international audience is a translation into English that can be included in your citation list. Try this example:
Dyke, G.J. 2019. My recent adventures in China. Cultural Notes 7, 11-15 [in Hungarian].
This is the standard format for presenting a translated reference in English in a citation list.
So, if you translate and present your readers with the original references in your citation list then they are actually likely to find this interesting for its own sake: international authors will greatly appreciate this level of access into the Chinese literature.
One of the most effective tricks you can try when thinking about presenting your research to a broad international audience is have a look at how other people around the world working in your field do this with their papers. We always present this as an answer in any training when colleagues ask us questions like, ‘how can I most effectively write up my research and present it to a broad international audience?’, or ‘what is the best way to effectively structure my paper in English’? Look to see how others have done this in the past.
Not copying the work of others, but have a look to see how other, successful, international researchers in your field present their papers in high profile journals:
- How do they structure their Abstracts, their Introductions, their Discussions?
- What sorts of figures and tables do they use? Everyone has a list of papers that they like to read in their field – you must be the same.
- Which of these do you find are well-written, well-presented and easy to read? In English we say that ‘imitation is the sincerest form of flattery’ and academic paper writing is no different.
It’s important to develop the style and structure of your written work as well as the key message, the one thing you want people to come away with after reading your article.
Here are some examples for you to consider. In the first, I’m thinking about a colleague of mine from my old department in Dublin, Ireland. The person worked for more than 30 years on the animals and plants that lived in sediments within a single Irish lake. Pretty boring you might think? But no: This lake sediment extends over a time period of more than 45,000 years, one of the longest continuous records of climate change in Europe. And it’s this hot topic, climate change, that turns this from a simple study of one Irish lake over time to a hugely relevant international piece of research about a major global phenomenon. Everyone around the world is interested in climate change, but not everyone around the world is interested in Irish lake sediments. Make sure your research addresses global challenges; relate your work to ‘key issues’.
My second example is another that we use in our trainings: biology of tobacco plants. I’ve edited a number of papers recently that deal with the genetics of these important crop plants, and it’s interesting to me the different ways that authors deal with this topic. There are two choices really: write a paper that will be read by just a handful of colleagues that deals with the specifics of tobacco plant genetics or still do this, but expand the paper to talk about issues of public health. Everyone has at least a passing interest in the health effects of tobacco, but not everyone is interested in the specific biological details.
Consider the previous examples. Let me know if they are clear enough.
There are always ways to ensure that your work is broadly interesting to people working outside your specific research area. Think about the kinds of papers that are regularly published in Nature and Science (have a look at some recent issues): these articles are written and edited to be broadly interesting.
There is no secret formula for effective academic writing in any language, but there are a number of techniques you can use to more easily write. At the end of our workshops, we always ask people to try to remember just one thing, if possible: the three things you need to know before you start to write:
- The message of your paper.
- The target audience (which journal will you submit to).
- The structure.
Please consider these key issues before you start to write your next academic paper. It will make a difference on your road to effectively publication.
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