How to write academic papers successfully. Let us start with a specific example. A chapter on renovating a bathroom for a mobility-disabled resident


How to write academic papers successfully

How to write academic papers successfully is the subject of today’s posting .

Today’s Volume 1, Number 1 inaugurates a series of step-by-step instructions for successfully defending a master’s or doctoral dissertation and having a peer-review publication accept your academic article.

Today, I focus on academic articles and technical reports. When writing a paper or report it is useful to understand the publisher’s editorial, reference, and style criteria. A good resource for the kind of criteria  required is available on the website of the peer-review publication: Journal of Architectural Engineering. 


Post-doctoral and  graduate students at the Department of Architectural Engineering at Penn State are the targeted audience for this series.

The series provides information on:

  • Narrowing down the focus of one’s research to a manageable topic
  • Significance of the following editorial advice from the definitive style manual for engineering publications: “Before preparing a manuscript, you should evaluate the research and judge that it is an important contribution to the field.”
  • Avoid the temptation to make macro-observations if your research cannot support it.
  • Be scrupulous about ensuring every factual statement is supported by a reputable reference.
  • Follow the ASCE Citation Style Guide in formatting references.
  • Helpful tip: Engineering guides are based on the authoritative Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, Sixth Edition.


  • This 435 page manual provides in-depth explanations as well as the rules involved with citation of references as well as style.
  • Following the  Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, Sixth Edition will ensure you have complied with the standards required by the Journal of the Association of Architectural Engineering.
  • As long as you are in compliance with American Psychological Association standards, your editor at ASCE or related publications will be delighted. There may be slight changes required by one or another “official” engineering related manual.
  • However, as long as you follow Psychological Association standards you are on firm footing. Minimal changes may be required, but they will be easy. The changes are so minor the editor may decide to make the changes herself or himself.
  • It you follow the Psychological Association manual, you will save a lot of time because the standards are explained so clearly in the manual.
  • Helpful tip II: Zotero [zoh-TAIR-oh] is a free, easy-to-use tool to help you collect, organize, cite, and share your research sources.


Today, I will be focusing on the draft of a chapter I have produced (see below) on retrofitting the bathroom so it is safe for disabled residents. The report is scheduled for publication on the Pennsylvania Housing Research Center (PHRC) website. It will be published here as a technical document:


The chapter requires revision. This posting explains what revisions I am required to make to comply with PHRC standards for utility, acceptable citation of sources, report appearance.


The Pennsylvania Housing Research Center

“The Pennsylvania Housing Research Center serves the home building industry and the residents of Pennsylvania by improving the quality and affordability of housing.”

The mission statement continues:

“We conduct applied research, foster the development and commercialization of innovative technologies, and transfer appropriate technologies to the housing community.”

This is the staff of the PHRC which will be publishing the report. Featured here is Pressor Ali Mumari, PHRC Director. I will come back and tag the names of all individuals in this photo.
The PHRC STAFF. Professor Ali Memari, PHRC Director with PHRC staff. I will return here to tag the people in this  photo.


Early in the research process for my technical report, I studied technical reports PHRC has published, e.g.:

Thermal Performance Testing Facilities

The BCERL now also features a guarded hot box facility. The purpose of the guarded hot box is to test steady state thermal performance of building components and building systems according to ASTM standards such as ASTM C 1199, C 1363 and E 1424.

The Guarded Hot Box consists of three chambers: a metering chamber, a guard chamber and a climatic chamber. The metering chamber and climatic chamber are both used to contain airflow baffles, electric heating elements, cooling coils, an air circulation system, and sensing equipment.

The metering chamber is used to simulate indoor conditions and the climatic chamber is used to simulate outdoor conditions. The guard chamber encapsulates the metering chamber to ensure that the conditions being monitored in the metering chamber are unaffected by room conditions.

High accuracy thermocouples, RTDs, and thermopiles are used to monitor surface and air temperatures, and additional sensors are used to measure specimen deflection and other air conditions.

The insulated box is capable of testing specimens up to 6 ft. 6 in. by 3 ft. 8 in. with a maximum thickness of 9 in. BCERL facilities can also be configured to conduct thermal performance investigations in accordance with NFRC standard methodologies, e.g., NFRC 100, 101, 102, 200 and 201. Facilities are also available to facilitate thermographic inspections.

Testing Capabilities

  • Thermal insulation efficiency for a number of different types of building insulation
  • Heat conductance, transmittance or resistance of specimens
  • Determination of thermal properties of built-up or composite building panel components

Thermal Performance Testing Facilities


Editorial note

When writing a report, it is very important to examine closely a technical document the PHRC has already published. A published document regardless of subject can be very helpful (as it has been) in determining the tone of the writing.


I begin with a rough draft of a chapter four. The Bathroom. on how to renovate a bathroom so it is wheel-chair accessible.

The paper requires additional work. I will be returning to this posting to describe what work is required to make the chapter worthy of academic publication.

I am working with Colleen Nelson, past President of Wyoming AIA. Colleen recently completed a nursing home in Fairmont County, Wyoming. This is a photograph Colleen sent showing the view from her architectural office window.

Optimized-March2015WyomingColleen J. Nelson, AIA LEED-APNELSON ARCHITECTS, LLC [email protected]

214 North Broadway Riverton, WY 82501


Below is a draft chapter on making the bathroom safe for the disabled.

  • NOTE: My highly-detailed chapter on the bathroom attempts to specify renovations to ensure the client’s bathroom is safe. “For individuals with mobility problems, the bathroom is the most dangerous room in the house.”
  • Draft of bathroom chapter
  • Details on how to produce a chapter academically publishable ; specifically,a technical report  for the PHRC

An Aging-in Place Residence

Early draft chapter four THE BATHROOM from forthcoming Pu


Note: The bathroom and bedroom are clearly the areas in the residence where accommodations are required for safety and other purposes. The cost of retrofitting a bathroom especially can involve major budget considerations. Therefore, the order of the chapters in this report is provided not on a room-by-room basis. Rather, the weighted organization of the chapters is based on the authors’ views of priories. The report chapters also include discussion of issues as well as rooms, hallways, windows, and walls to present concepts useful in understanding the renovation project of the residence in its entirety. One example of an issue worthy of attention (rather than simply an evaluation of an area of the residence) concerns the use of mobility devices which are useful for getting from room to room or whose function may affect the ability to make individual rooms accessible. The issue of a sling which an individual can use without assistance to lift oneself up from wheelchair to toilet seat or from bed to wheelchair has a significant effect on the process of renovation itself.

For individuals with mobility problems, the bathroom is the most dangerous room in the house. It can be wet leading to falls. Clients may be impatient to get in and out quickly thus lending to its danger. There may be inadequate rails. Depending upon when the residence was built, the entrance and exit may be uncomfortably narrow. This might be a good place to consider removing walls and widening the hallway.

Entrance and exit


Figure 4-1. Narrow bathroom entrance

In many older residences, the path leading to the bathroom is a narrow one.

Figure 4-2 shows the client coming from the bedroom [behind] in the direction of the refrigerator [ahead].


Figure 4-2. Hallway leading to the bathroom on the right

The width of the hallway with the bathroom door closed is 41 inches. ADA standards call for a width of 48 inches. The reader may not help but notice that because of a shortage of electrical outlets, the toaster is on the floor.


Figure 4-3. Conventional doors pose real problems

With the bathroom door open the width is only 38 ½ inches. Figure 4-4 shows what happens when a powerful power chair, driven by a client impatient to get to the bathroom, collides with the door. A door in a narrow hallway causes difficulties for an individual riding a mobility device including the problem of being able to close the door.

bathroom5Figure 4-4. Adapting a pocket door like the one shown here could make getting in the bathroom easier

One solution is a pocket-door once fashionable in the late 19th Century which is making a comeback especially for those modifying homes for greater mobility.


Figure 4-5.  A specially designed sink located on a bedroom shelf

  Bathroom sink


Figure 4-6. Bathroom sink photo taken from wheelchair

Clients using the bathroom sink above must go elsewhere, to the kitchen sink for example (or bring along their own mirror) to comb hair, apply makeup, shave, and perform other daily rituals.

A lower sink and mirror set are the most immediate solution. Two grab bars at the base of the sink would make it easier for the individual with a mobility disability to stand or maintain balance. A specially designed sink located elsewhere in the residence could save on remodeling costs. Figure 4-7 shows a sink installed at an appropriate height in a residence bedroom which can be modified for individual requirements.

Insertion of an additional sink (either in the bathroom or elsewhere in the residence) also is useful to minimize bathroom accidents can be cleaned up without becoming a major issue)

Other bathroom considerations include:

  • Where to put one’s cane, crutches, or park one’s mobility device
  • Storage of toiletries so they are accessible



Figure 4-8. Hand rails above and to right of toilet are well positioned

Going to the toilet requires more prudence than adults without disabilities require. A mobility disability, by its nature, means it takes more time to get from one place to another. Individuals used to going to the toilet on a schedule comfortable to them before they became disabled may be surprised at how much extra time they must factor.

If the individual does not allow enough time to position oneself at or on the toilet, accidents can occur just when they seemed most avoidable. Individuals who have not experienced an accident since childhood and who assumed such problems would not occur for decades find themselves discouraged when an accident occurs. For individuals who suddenly experience mobility problem, incontinence may be a temporary consequence and it is useful for the individual to understand that temporary means temporary.

The toilet shown in Figure 4-8 should be reassuring. The two grab bars are sturdy and well-positioned. However, it is always helpful to make sure that the toilet seat itself is securely fashioned and to check each time before using.

For individuals with transference issues, there are transfer boards for going from wheel chair to toilet:


Figure 4-9. Transfer board device for getting from wheel chair to toilet

Figure 4-9 shows a convenient way of transferring from a mobility device to the toilet. Less elaborate transfer boards are available. For those with more serious mobility problems, a sling attached to the ceiling is recommended or one might consider installing tracks on the ceiling so a device the individual can use by oneself can easily be moved from the bedroom where it lifted the individual from bed to wheelchair.


Figure 4-10. This is one of a wide variety of slings that an individual can use to get onto the toilet or into the bath 


NOTE Work-to-be-done:  Within the past five years, two developments have made it practical for individuals with severe mobility disabilities to live independently. The first is the development of a sling an individual can use oneself for transference. The above is not a good photograph and should be replaced with a better one. The second development is the use of the ceiling as a method for locomotion; namely, one puts oneself in a sling attached to the ceiling; tracks along the ceiling make it possible to move across the residence. and one can lower oneself to, for example, a bed or a wheelchair in the kitchen. The following photograph shows ceiling tracks:


Last year, I saw a trailer developed by Blueroof Technologies in McKeesport, PA for the use of veterans whose lower limbs had been amputated. The veteran was able to go by sling and ceiling device from bed to bathroom to kitchen for breakfast and then out into the world on a mobility device. Not all this information is relevant to the bathroom.


Figure 4-11. Absence of a hand rail above toilet roll may cause clients difficultly getting on to toilet, but most especially getting off

Roll-in shower


Figure 4-12. Roll-in shower head
14bathroomFigure 4-13. Roll-in shower with fixed seat
14bathroomFigure 4-14. Roll-in shower with separate chair


Figure 4-15. One of a number of shower seats available on the market.


Conventional bathtubs, such as the one below, provide problems involved with getting in and out. The market place, using slings and transfer boards, does make it possible for individuals with mobility difficulties to take baths. However, a roll-in shower, unless other considerations are involved (e.g. skin disorders, the requirement to soak limbs, and the like), the roll-in shower is probably the most cost effective.

16bathroomFigure 4-16. Bathtub. Notice the absence of rails. How do you get out?

Advanced safety procedures and imaging


Figure 4-17. Off-the shelf safety technology

Off the shelf technology gives residents an added level of protection. Figure 4-17 shows a motion detector in the bathroom. Motion detection makes it possible to alert caregivers (by a voice simulator automatically calling 911 or another number) if someone slips in the shower, for example, and does not get up according to a pre-programmed time schedule. The cost of this technology is relatively modest and has been falling steadily.


Figure 4-18. Virtual reality model helpful for the AEC community in designing accessible bathrooms

Imagine using this imaging technology displayed in Figure 4-19 for design and working out such issues as how to get from scooter to bath chair? One might:

  • Turn the scooter around so water does not fall on the controls
  • Back up to the shower chair
  • Swivel the scooter chair locking it into place.
  • A hand rail would be useful to go from scooter chair to shower chair.


–Joel Solkoff, Adjunct Research Assistant at Penn State’s Department of Architectural Engineering


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