Craftways: Writing & Evaluating Theory, Review & Research Articles

Robert Milardo, Ph.D.
Content Area

Former Editor, Journal of Family Theory & Review
117 Merrill Hall
University of Maine
Orono, ME 04469
[email protected]

Finding your muse: Writing and Publishing

Bem, D. 2003. Writing the empirical journal article. In J. M. Darley et al. (Eds.), The compleat academic, 2nd ed. Washington, DC: Amer. Psychological Assoc.
If you read anything on crafting a research article, this should be first on the list. Although written by a psychologist for psychologists, although dated, this is by far the finest article on constructing the research report. It is filled with clear advice and helpful examples. New professionals and old hats will fine valuable advice here.

Bem, D. 1995. Writing a review article for Psychological Bulletin. Psychological Bulletin, 118, 172-177.
This is sound advice for crafting a review article. Again, the article was written for psychologists publishing in a specific journal, but nonetheless it is great advice. There are more recent articles, but I still think this is about the best.

White, L. 2005. Writes of passage: Writing an empirical journal article. Journal of Marriage and Family, 67, 791-798.
A helpful guide written by an associate editor of the journal and experienced author.

Becker, H. 2007. Chapter 1: Freshman English for graduate students (pp. 1 25) and "Chap. 4: Editing by ear" (pp. 68 89) in Writing for the social sciences.

Richards, P. 2007. Risk. In H. Becker, Writing for the social sciences (pp. 108-120). University of Chicago Press.
These selections are taken from Howard Becker's book. The entire volume is excellent, but if you're pressed for time, I highly recommend these three chapters. They provide general advice on writing and editing your own work. Regardless of how complex our work, there is no excuse for an over abundance of jargon, or for language that distances the reader. This book will improve your writing and success in publishing, without question.

A Style of Our Own

Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (6th edition, 2nd printing). 2010. Washington, DC: APA.
This is an important reference work for all, and the one HDFS students should learn first. Heaps of journals use APA style or something similar, including NCFR journals. The sixth edition provides all the details on essentials like creating headings, citing references in text, preparing tables, reference lists, matters of style, and lots more. There are no recipes alas, but everything else is there. This manual has spawned its own cottage industry of textbooks, cds and web sites. Some are useful. First buy or borrow the full manual. (The second printing has fewer internal errors but an inaccurate page index making it difficult to use. Watch for a third printing.)

American Sociological Association Style Guide (4nd ed.). 2010. Washington, DC: ASA.
The 128-page Style Guide provides complete information on style, format, and other specifications for manuscript submissions. Chapters are included on Matters and Mechanics of Style, Preparing Your Manuscript for Submission, Copyeditor's Notations, Reference Sources, and Reference Formats. Even if you never plan on submitting to an ASA journal, the suggestions regarding matters of style will definitely improve your writing. The Style Guide is $10 for members. Recommended.

Acock, A., van Dulmen, M., Kurdek, L. , Buehler, C., & Goldsheider, F. Constructing tables for JMF.
This is a great site with sample tables that can be downloaded and serve as a template for presenting most forms of analysis. The tables are done in a variation of APA style required by JMF but they can be used in many venues. Very useful and highly recommended.

Qualitative Research

Ambert, A. M., Adler, P. A., Adler, P., & Detzner, D. (1995). Understanding qualitative research. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 57, 879-893.
This article and the next were recommended to me by Alexis Walker, the editor of JMF. Ambert and her colleagues give useful advice on writing up qualitative research and reviewing it. Highly recommended.

Belgrave, L. L., Zablotsky, D., & Guacagno, M. A. 2002. How do we talk to each other? Writing qualitative research for quantitative readers. Qualitative Health Research, 12, 1427-1439.
It's as the title says and a nicely written article with useful tactical suggestions for communicating QR. I wish all reviewers would read it. Highly recommended.

Matthews, S. H. 2005. Crafting qualitative research articles on marriage and families. Journal of Marriage and Family, 67, 799-808.
The intended audience for this paper are authors new to publishing qualitative work and it's stated purpose is to "reduce the number of 'revise and resubmits' if not outright rejections." I wish it were that simple. Most certainly this paper will help in improving the presentation of your work, lower the potential for rejections, but expect revisions of anything you submit. Outright acceptances are rare. Incidentally, my favorite letter of rejection was written by hand on letterhead and read as follows: "Sorry not interested." Just goes to show you brevity is not necessary the soul of wit, sometimes brevity is witless. In any case the paper is highly recommended.


Bengtson, V. L., & MacDermid, S. M. How to review a journal article:
Suggestions for first-time reviewers and reminders for seasoned experts.

Available at /jmf/jmf-reviewers/reviewer-guidelines
A useful essay if you plan to do any reviewing. Becoming a better reviewer comes with experience and makes you a better writer. JMF has a Reviewer-in- Training Program that advanced graduate students and new professionals should consider enrolling in. See the JMF web site for details.


Lunsford, A. A. 2010. The St. Martin's handbook (7th ed.). NY: Bedford/St. Martin's.
It's a small tome, about 1000 pages, and has everything you ever wanted to know about the mechanics of writing. This is the place if you need a review of some obscure grammatical detail, how to feed a gerund, or how to cite a synchronous communication in APA, Chicago, or MLA style. There is a brief run down of APA style in 15 pages, and even some useful suggestions for creating Power Point presentations.

Of the Spoken Word

Issever, C., & Peach, K. (2010). Presenting science: A practical guide to giving a good talk. Oxford University Press.
This is a short and to-the-point guide to oral presentations. Personally I appreciate a well organized talk with useful slides. When a talk is well honed, I am more inclined to expect an important publication and look for such work. The book is written for physical scientists, and it's curiously geeky in spots (check out the cover, for instance), but it is surprising thoughtful in many ways.

Finding Your Muse

King, S. 2000. On writing: A memoir of the craft. NY: Simon & Schuster.
Stephen aims to write 2,000 words per day. I'm happy with 250, and that's a good day, but still there is similarity in our experience, and maybe with yours.

"Writing is a lonely job. Having someone who believes in you makes a lot of difference. They don't have to make speeches. Just believing is usually enough."

"If you write, someone will try to make you feel lousy about it."

"When you write a story, you're telling yourself the story. When you rewrite, your main job is taking out all the things that are not the story."

"Stopping a piece of work just because it's hard, either emotionally or imaginatively, is a bad idea. Sometimes you have to go on when you don't feel like it, and sometimes you're doing good work when it feels like all you're managing is to shovel s*** from a sitting position."

"You must not come lightly to the blank page."