Friday, 19 November 2021

The general, the specific, and the outcome

As I tend to often use teaching cases, I explain to students how general evidence connects to case specifics, which then leads to a logical outcome, in three steps:

  1. The general. We must first explore the literature, gathering our evidence from experts. Then we explain, summarise and critique what is said within the evidence, harmonising and synthesising what is said into key themes which we can apply to our specific case. We may discuss and select a theory or a framework to test our case specifics against.
  2. The specific. We must analyse our case carefully, to see what themes from the literature are reflected in the specifics of the case. We need to decide what the key issues are, and what we may need to make a determination on. We discuss the case specifics and compare them with the evidence.
  3. The outcome. This is where we need to consider what this means for the purposes of the work we are doing. This may be deciding the next most logical step, or action, or decision. It may be analysing a gap to show inappropriate action and potential corrections; a failing of law; a new possible future; or a recommendation for policy improvement. 

In trying to improve student academic writing, one of the key issues seems to be that of getting students to slow down enough to 'show their workings', so to speak - to clearly illustrate what general evidence has been gathered. Students often do the last two steps really well: the case specifics and the outcomes, but gloss over the first step, thinking it obvious by the context.

Academic writing requires deliberate outlining of context. Few assumptions should be made; instead, we need to spell out what we mean so others can clearly understand.

Illustrating the general in an early framing statement for some of the general ethics issues at play in a career practice case, which could then be further drilled down into by adding other evidence, and detailing other specifics, and using a structure - such as  Welfel, 2015 - to analyse the specifics and our own actions as outcomes, might be:

Student CDANZ members are bound by the CDANZ Code of Ethics (2016), upholding the "integrity" of our "profession, and the recipients of career development services" through representing our experience genuinely, maintaining client rights by acknowledging contractual limits, prioritising client wellbeing, our own conduct, and full disclosure (CDANZ, 2016). As a CDANZ member, I may not take an impartial standpoint if I think that XXX is in breach of that code of ethics (CDANZ, 2016; Crocket et al., 2011). 

The blue shows where we start talking about the specifics, about XXX, the person at the centre of the case. After continuing to flesh out why that was, we would then go onto a discussion of the outcomes in the same paragraph.

We move from the general, to the specific, to the outcome. In each paragraph, we connect the general, to the specific, then detail the outcome. Paragraph by paragraph, theme by theme, until our argument is made.



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