Academia in the Time of COVID-19: Towards an Ethics of Care

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Computer Platform Gives Visibility to Catalonia's Small Villages

A research team from the UAB, in collaboration with the Association of Microvillages of Catalonia, has created a Geographic Information System (GIS) for Active and Sustainable Hamlets (GISASH), which gathers information on the state of and services offered by the more than 330 municipalities in Catalonia with fewer than 500 inhabitants.

Environmental justice defenders victims of violence and murder

Grassroots movements halt environmental degradation in up to 27% of environmental conflicts worldwide, according to a study by the ICTA-UAB.

El Locos por la Tierra retoma las sesiones en formato virtual

El programa Locos por la Tierra impartido por el ICTA-UAB ha reanudado sus sesiones formativas en formato virtual.

Technological changes and new low-carbon lifestyles, key to mitigating climate change impacts

In order to mitigate climate change impacts and achieve a more sustainable society, it is necessary to transform the current energy system based on fossil fuels into a model based on renewable energies.

Exploring climate change impacts through popular proverbs

Members of an irrigation community doing maintenance work in an acequia de careo (irrigation canal built at the top of the mountain) to improve the circulation of water for irrigation and human consumption.

Neolithic vessels reveal dairy consumption in Europe 7,000 years ago

Pottery from the site located in Verson (Francia) analysed during the research (Picture by Annabelle Cocollos, Conseil départemental du Calvados ou CD14 publicada en Germain-Vallée et al.

Mapping out the impacts of pollution upon Indigenous Peoples worldwide

Sulphur mine in Ijen, Java, Indonesia. Picture by Joan de la Malla.

Economic growth is incompatible with biodiversity conservation

A study involving more than 20 specialists in conservation ecology and ecological economics highlights the contradiction between economic growth and biodiversity conservation.

Encuesta: El rol del verde residencial durante el confinamiento por el brote de COVID-19 en España

El grupo de investigación BCNUEJ (www.bcnuej.org) del ICTA-UAB (https://ictaweb.uab.cat/) y del IMIM (www.imim.es) está realizando un estudio sobre el papel del verde residencial (vegetación interior, en balcones, en terrazas, cubiertas verdes, jardines particulares, etc.

ICTA-UAB shares protective material with hospitals

ICTA-UAB is since last Monday 16 March 2020, an Institute with Restricted Access. Most of the laboratories are empty, the Scientific and Technical Services are closed, only the basic services are working and most of the people is working and staying at home.

Higher and earlier pollen concentrations expected for this spring

Spring and summer pollination will begin a few days earlier than usual and in important numbers, reaching higher than average levels (from the 1994-2019 period).

Power struggles hinder urban adaptation policies to climate change

Transformative actions implemented by cities to address and mitigate the impacts of climate change may be hindered by political struggles for municipal power.

Analysis of tropical fire soot deposited in the ocean will help predict future global climate changes

The ICTA-UAB begins a scientific expedition in the Atlantic Ocean to collect dust and smoke samples from the fires of tropical Africa deposited in marine sediments.

What elements and characteristics should forests have to influence human health?

Despite the increasing interest of the scientific community and society towards the potential of forests as a source of human health, the existing scientific literature does not allow for a coherent relationship between the type of forest and different health variables.

Red coral effectively recovers in Mediterranean protected areas after decades of overexploitation

Protection measures of the Marine Protected Areas have enable red coral colonies (Corallium rubrum) to recover partially in the Mediterranean Sea, reaching health levels similar to those of the 1980s in Catalonia and of the 1960s in the Ligurian Sea (Northwestern Italy).

Sub-national “climate clubs” could offer key to combating climate change

‘Climate clubs’ offering membership for sub-national states, in addition to just countries, could speed up progress towards a globally-harmonised climate change policy, which in turn offers a way to achieve stronger climate policies in all countries.

Victoria Reyes-García receives an ERC Proof of Concept grant linked to the LICCI project

Victoria Reyes-García ICREA Research Professor at the Institute of Environmental Science and Technology of the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (ICTA-UAB) is one of the 76 top researchers that will receive ERC Proof of Concept grants.

ICTA-UAB demands the UAB to reduce number of flights

Given our current climate emergency, recently acknowledged by the UAB, the Institute of Environmental Science and Technology of the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (ICTA-UAB) has drawn up a proposal urging the University to put into action a new travel policy to tackle one of its most polluting activities: Flying.

New assessment finds EU electricity decarbonization discourse in need of overhaul

It’s well known that the EU is focusing its efforts on decarbonizing its economy.

Mining waste dumped into Portmán Bay continues to release metals into the sea 25 years later

The waters of the Mediterranean Sea continue to receive dissolved metals from the mining waste deposited in Portmán Bay (Murcia) 25 years after the cessation of mining activity.

A new ICTA-UAB project to assess the impacts of micro- and nano-plastics in the tropical and temperate oceans

A new project led by ICTA-UAB researcher Patrizia Ziveri is one of five projects selected for funding by the Joint Programming Initiative Healthy and Productive Seas and Oceans (JPI Oceans).
News
Opinion piece: "How to start a paper - the Introduction section". By Giorgos Kallis

Date: 2019-11-04

How to start a paper - the Introduction section
 

By Giorgos Kallis, ICTA-UAB

The importance of the introduction to a paper cannot be overstated. If your paper were a movie, the introduction would be the opening scene. It is where you capture or lose your audience.

Papers of course are not movies. For one, you are very unlikely to walk the red carpet and get an Oscar for a movie called ‘A methodological exploration of alternative green discourses: the case of the EU water framework directive’.

Another difference is that no one would ever watch the beginning of a movie and then fast forward to the end, claiming ‘I watched it!’ Yet many readers will treat your paper exactly this way. Not because it is bad, but because not everyone reads everything. If you want people to look at the rest of your paper, then have a strong introduction!

The introduction should:
1. provide context and motivate.
2. intrigue.
3. summarise core arguments and give signposts.

You provide context and you motivate, especially in the first two opening paragraphs.

In the opening paragraph you want to remind your reader that what you are dealing with is important - and this importance extends beyond the narrower topic you will be studying.

Say you are studying adaptation practices to climate change in a small village in the coast of South of Spain. You would want to start your introduction with a forceful paragraph on the importance of climate change, and adaptation policies, the vulnerability of - and expected impacts in - small coastal settlements like the one you will be studying, etc. Here is where you should cite the IPCC report, give some remarkable figure (e.g. x number of people living in small coastal settlements exposed to sea level rise) or give a catchy quote from a famous person, newspaper, etc. Here you mark the broader significance of the narrower topic you are studying, answering the question your readers have on their lips: ‘Why should I care?’

Second, you want to motivate your readers to read your paper. You want to convince them that you are doing something new and interesting, something that needed to be done. You might not have yet discovered the vaccine against cancer, but hell, you discovered why Villabuena is vulnerable to droughts, so try to wake up your reader by framing this as an important task (and crucially one that extends beyond Villabuena).

This second paragraph (or the second half of an extended first paragraph) should start sketching the research gap you are addressing. Here you are spelling out the research significance of what you are doing (as compared to the societal significance that marked the opening). What have others before you covered, and what are the important questions still pending? Why are these questions important and why is it urgent that they are addressed?

Researchers before you for example may have studied the politics of adaptation in big cities, but not in small towns that are equally vulnerable, but fall out of the radar. Researchers before you may have claimed that small towns in drylands are particularly vulnerable to droughts, but no one has yet developed an indicator to measure vulnerability.

You don't need to go to the level of detail of a literature review yet. But you do need to justify and motivate the need (and urgency, and novelty) of a study like yours, in terms that everyone can understand – specialist and non-specialist.

Next you have to intrigue. No need to start with a crime and a dead body found next to the dry river in Villabuena – you can leave the writing of ‘Chinatowns’ to others. But try the nerdy research alternative.

After you have identified the research gap, you should pose a series of intriguing ‘how and why’ questions about your case that spark the curiosity of your reader. Why some places do well during droughts and others, like Villabuena, not? Why do we pay more attention to the vulnerability of big cities and leave small ones, like Villabuena, to their fate?

I will devote a future post to the art of coming up with good research questions. For the time being, it suffices to say that it is important to have such questions and to state them clearly up front. Answering these questions is the objective of your paper.
Finally, you have to summarise your findings - that is the answers you give to your questions. I used to think that the introduction was only an opening, and that like a movie you had to keep your results as a surprise for the end.

But a paper does not work like a movie. If you keep it all for the end, then your paper is going to be like one of these movies where the audience leaves and wonders what is it that they watched. It is much better if you spell, in summary form, your core findings and claims from the very beginning.

If there are three reasons why small villages do not adapt the way they should to climate change share them with your reader from the start in the introduction. This way the readers will also get a better feel for your paper and where it is heading. And they will understand the results better when they appear. The more you repeat and hammer your core findings, the better!

The introduction should also give very clear signposts – what is the structure of your paper and how will it develop. What the reader will find where. Think of it as a map you give to your reader to navigate your paper.

The standard way many of us tend to do this is descriptive, something like ‘section 2 will present the methods and the case study, section 3 the results, section 4 will discuss the results, and section 5 will conclude’.

Thank you, genius, but we already knew that and you have already bored us to death and sent us straight to the third coffee of the day and it is only 11 am!

Remember: in a good paper, every word should count, every word should fulfil some role. Your readers are people like you – they know the general structure of a scientific paper ever since their undergrad days.
Use instead the presentation of the structure of your paper to warm up your reader to your core thesis and the claims you will support in the paper. Write for example, in section 2 I argue x, y. This raises the question z. The answer defended in section 3 in turn is that a, b and c.

Don’t say for example that section 2 will present the methods, but make an argument about the methods: ‘In section 2, I will be defending why studying a small village in the southern coast of Spain holds broader lessons for adaptation processes, namely blah blah blah’. ‘Section 3 shows how and why adaptation processes end up reproducing blah blah blah’. ‘Section 4 asks why and how blah blah blah. Surprisingly, and unlike what has been argued in the literature till now, we find that blah blah blah’. (Don’t write blah blah blah, that’s just an example).

Argue, argue, argue! Do not describe! (If you want some help with structuring your paper as a series of arguments, check our older post on writing an arguments-based sentence outline).

O.k., all this is easier said than done – as is the case with pretty much everything that starts with the ambitious words ‘how to’. Perhaps it still all sounds too abstract.

In the workbook I prepared for you this week, I pose some questions to help you start sketching the core components of your paper’s introduction. I give you examples from my own work to illustrate what I mean and how I do it. And I discuss some other questions you might have, such as whether to include a description of your methods and a literature review in the introductory section, or not. You will find the workbook below.

Enjoy!

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