Wednesday, May 26, 2010

How Do We Write vs. Read Journal Papers? And What Does This Have To Do With Demos?

[Note: Skip this post if you have never read a scientific, engineering, or other “refereed” journal article…)]

Consider: How do we write journal papers in comparison with how we consume what others write?

Scientists are typically taught a process to draft papers for scientific and other refereed journals. We review the existing research in an arena, focus on a specific problem area and explore the relevant history. After careful thought (hopefully!), we form a hypothesis. We then define an experiment to test our hypothesis, execute the experiment and, if the results are interesting, draft a paper to publish what we’ve learned.

We generally draft the paper following a step-by-step process:

1. Discuss the general problem, the previous work and existing thought.
2. Offer our hypothesis, with some level of support, and introduce our general plan to test our thinking.
3. We outline the experimental plan…
4. We discuss the specifics of the procedure, materials, and conditions.
5. We present the results, often in an initial “rough” set of data followed by “refined” results.
6. We offer a discussion of what we believe we are seeing in the results and…
7. Finally, we offer a conclusion – often followed by recommendations for follow-on experimentation.

Interestingly, the last thing we often draft, forced on us by the journal publishers, is the Abstract.

Now, consider how we read journal papers:

What do we do first? We read the Abstract! Why? To see if the paper is interesting to us. If it is, we often jump directly to the Conclusion section – to find out what was learned. If we are very interested, we then go back and read other parts of the paper…

Sadly, many of us with science or related backgrounds prepare and deliver technical, marketing and sales presentations following the same strategy that we follow to write papers: we develop a long, detailed story that puts the pay-off at the end – forcing the audience to wait 20 minutes, 40 minutes (or longer!) to find out if they are interested.

The key concept of Great Demo! methodology is to “Do the Last Thing First” – and, if the audience is interested, then peel back the layers in accord with the audience’s depth and level of interest. This maps very closely to the way we read (but not write) journal papers!

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