Writing research papers (Part 1)

Part 1: Introduction

In the beginning it was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. (John, 1:1)

The Judeo-Christian tradition which, at different degrees and levels, pervades most philosophical systems in the West, gives language a place of prominence and unparalleled importance. The very act of creation is dependent upon language for things come to be just after God pronounces them so. For the Evangelist, there is no distinction whatsoever between the Creator and Language itself. When humans translated language into symbols that could be registered down in clay tablets, a new process of creation begun since now the correspondence between the divine intangible became visible. Even in pre-Christian cultures the connection between language, symbol and the act of creation was innate: magic words and symbols were nothing but language creating correspondences between the domains of the divine and the human world (Tambiah, 1996: 34). Writing is thus a human attempt to translate an elusive world into discernible, interpretable evidence.

All major religions, both in the West and in the East, have sacred texts that are the symbolic written embodiment of the way they see the world. Philosophical systems come down to us by the writings of their major thinkers. Our world is, and has historically been, a written world. Research, as many human endeavours, comes to be in a process of written creation. All research is depended upon language being translated into writing: recorded interviews must be transcribed, observed behaviour, body language and impressions must be registered in field notes, journals notes must be produced as evidence, reports must be written and, eventually, the whole research process only comes to be when a thesis or article is produced and published.

Given the centrality of writing in research it is surprising that until recently little thought has been given to how this process develops and to the nature of the products it generates (Atkinson, 1990, p.2). In the following posts I will explore some concepts of language and how such views influence the writing of research papers. I will then discuss the  writing of qualitative research reports, focusing on representation, authority and responsibility.


Atkinson, P., 1990. The Ethnographic Imagination. London: Routledge.

Tambiah, S. T., 1996. Relations of analogy and identity. Toward multiple orientations of the world. In Olson, D.R. and N. Torrance (eds) Modes of Thought. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.