Monday, October 14, 2013

The Gap Official Style Creates

I chose to examine the prose of a quantitative research article titled “Breaking Up Is Hard to Do: The Impact of Unmarried Relationship Dissolution on Mental Health and Life Satisfaction.” This research was published in the Journal of Family Psychology, which “offers cutting edge, ground breaking, state-of-the-art and innovative empirical research in the field of psychology.” The Journal of Family Psychology devotes study to stress coping and quality of life within families and couples. In regards to the context, this particular research article would need to use the official style. They are presenting difficult, time consuming, and confusing research data. Quantitative research often uses certain jargon to express procedures and results. The Journal of Family Psychology’s goal is to present research to couples coping with stress in their relationship want to help couples. But what if those individuals do not understand some of the words and concepts? They are losing the audience they say they are attempting to help.
The context can confuse the goal audience for this piece of work. Traditionally, I would consider this piece of work to be read only by academic scholar’s who are interested in this topic. Much of the time, academic journals are written for scholars to explain and predict behaviors. Scholars are surrounded by the official style. Therefore, most research is written in the official style to accommodate scholars reading skills. However, after discovering more about the context, this research was published in the Journal of Family Psychology. As I stated earlier, the goal of this Journal is to present research for families and couples who would like explanations to their questions about family dynamics. As we can see, there is a contradiction between these two contexts. For the “non-academic” audience, words and explanations many not be understood. For example, much of the research is presented in numerical statistics also known as quantitative research. Non-academic families and couples may not understand what the research is even presenting.
The article’s abstract, shown below, scored a 30.7 on Flesch-Kincaid Reading Ease, an SMOG index of 12, average grade level of 14.2, and 18.8 words per sentence. These scores are fairly high but seem to be in the “normal” range for scholarly published research. With these high scores, the Journal of Family Psychology’s audience may not understand the research presented.
“The Wizard of Oz wisely understood the hazards of having a heart—a heart can be broken. But, what causes a heart to break more or less? It is well known that individuals who have recently ended a romantic relationship report
lower levels of well-being than those who are in relationships (e.g., Sbarra & Emery, 2005; Simon & Barrett, 2010) but little research has examined changes in well-being from pre- to post dissolution of an unmarried adult relationship. This study prospectively examined how unmarried relationship break-up is related to mental health and life satisfaction in a longitudinal, national sample. Based in part on the investment model (Rusbult, 1980), we also examined characteristics of the relationship (such as duration and living together) that may exacerbate the negative impacts of breaking up. Further, based on the stressful-event-as-stress-relief model (Wheaton, 1990), we considered factors that may buffer against negative effects of a break-up (such as dating someone new).”
The beginning sentence is actually more non-official sounding than the rest of the text. This may draw readers in. Those reading this research could be unmarried individuals who have experienced a break-up, those who have never had a break-up, or those who are experiencing the distress from a break-up. They may have a difficult time reading the first paragraph since not everyone is a scholarly researcher on break-ups. Actually, throughout the entire article, “break-ups” are referred to as “dissolutions of an adult relationship.” The writers are attempting to make a break up sound more than a “tragic” event that happened to you when you were in 7th grade. This is real research about real relationships. Therefore, the research needs to sound as professional as possible for the results to be scholarly. However, while the researchers were writing the article, they did not consider the audience of non-academics.
“Children and other investments such as shared residences or overlapping social networks can also make contact with an ex-partner unavoidable. Maintaining a relationship after dissolution is often stressful and difficult, especially as relationship boundaries are renegotiated and the terms of the dissolution are decided (e.g., Emery & Dillon, 1994). For unmarried couples, especially those with children or shared property, the lack of legal guidelines for the dissolution (e.g., Bowman, 2004) could make continuing contact after the break-up even more con´Čéictual or stressful. A daily diary study of college students who had recently broken-up supports the idea that more contact with the ex-partner would be associated with greater distress, as individuals felt more sadness on the days when contact with the ex-partner occurred (Sbarra & Emery, 2005).”
This passage shows the use of official style with word choice. The writers are using “shared residences” rather than “living together”, “overlapping social networks” rather than “same friends.” This is an easy way to switch from plain style to official style. Although non-academics will still understand this language, it complicates the entire message of the research. This leaves the non-academic audience puzzled and not taking anything away from the research article. Which contradicts the Journal’s goal of helping families with this particular research.
“Continued contact. After the break-up, we measured the frequency with which ex-partners were still talking with the item, “How often do you talk to this person now that the relationship has ended?” Participants responded on a 1 (Never) to 5 (Every day) scale. The anchors in between these two end points were “Every few months” (2), Every few weeks” (3), and “Every few days” (4; M  2.92, SD  1.46).”
Notice how the researchers asked participants questions in plain language. What does this say? A communication difference between academics and non-academics is present. They did not ask about dissolution of a relationship, they asked when the relationship ended. This example shows the need for different styles of language. Many people may not understand the complexities of this research but they are the one’s providing the data. Therefore, researchers need to form the questions into plain language. However, the actual research needs to be provided in official style because it is an official, complex research project. Using different language could create disagreements about what the researcher is actually presenting. Contrasting views of this research could create different meanings for whoever is reading. Most families and couples reading this research are not academics to this degree. Therefore, a problem of understanding occurs between the two activity systems.
“Another way to think about the magnitude of these changes is that following a break-up, 30.7% of the cases reported an increase in psychological distress that was greater than .5 standard deviations (SD; a medium effect size [Kirk, 1996]) and 19.6% of the cases reported a decrease in psychological distress that was greater than .5 SDs.”
This passage explains why we continue to use official style. Sometimes there is just no other way to explain something; it has to be told in complex jargon. Those who know statistics would only know standard deviations. There is no alternate way to explain the data in plain style. Different groups of readers could have varying levels of education, which will determine their understanding of the research. This is where the contradiction lies and problems occur. Since there is no “plain” way to communicate this research, the non-academic audience is ultimately lost.

This contradiction happens in any research presented to non-academic audiences—which is a lot! The goal of research is to explain and predict. If only academics can understand the explanations and predictions, they are not helping their target audience of families and couples. These contradictions are what are wrong with the official style. It creates a gap between academic research writing and those who would benefit from the research. How we close this gap between the two writing styles to create common ground for all audiences could be helpful for both contexts.
M. Whitish

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