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Current PhD student

Thanks for this post! These strategies are super helpful, and I appreciate how specific they are.


I agree with what Marcus says; those are good tips. I just want to point out that there's an alternative approach to the story telling. Instead of telling a story that situates your paper in the literature, you could tell a story that situates your paper within some narrative of compelling ideas: e.g., introduce phenomena or concept X, introduce a profound question about X, explain why it's genuinely interesting or hard, then develop an original answer. Of course, along the way you still need to situate your paper in the literature, but the idea is to not focus on "X theorists" and what they say; don't frame things that way; instead, focus on X and just tell its story.

This approach doesn't work well if you are just trying to make an intervention in a current debate in the literature (nothing wrong with that!), but if you have a topic/question/dilemma that *will* stand on its own, I'd steer away from telling a story about *the literature*, and just tell the story of that topic/question/dilemma.

Mike Titelbaum

Maybe there are two pieces of advice here that we can distinguish: (1) It's always good to spell out explicitly what you take your paper to accomplish, and to be accurate in telling that story; (2) Other things being equal, it's advantageous for your paper to do more than just move the literature incrementally along.

Marcus's complaint above is about when people don't manage to accomplish the desirable thing in (2), but cover it up by being inaccurate in (1). Always be clear and correct about what your paper is doing! This isn't just about honesty; it's also about being well-informed. I'll admit, sometimes when I draft a paper I don't understand exactly what it's accomplishing or where it sits in the literature; I often need reflection, further reading, and help from others to figure that out.

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