This blog has been on hold for some months due to a period of extreme busyness. In the meantime, I’ve become a regular contributor to the Positive Psychology blog where I cover many of the psychological issues mentioned in this blog in more detail. It’s worth a good look for free practical resources on many topics related to problems with your productivity as a writer. I’ll be linking to them more in future posts.
Anyway, following the intense activity of the last few months, I’m glad to be back with renewed vigour just as spring arrives in the northern hemisphere.
In my last article, I covered how to deal with the inevitable rejections writers face as part and parcel of pursuing the profession. However, the bulk of the coaching work I do is with academic writers who are either writing a graduate thesis or dissertation, or are pursuing the publication of their research in peer-reviewed journals, so that is the focus of this follow-up.
Language and Style
There’s a range of established strategies academic writers can use to get a paper published or pass a graduate research degree. Yet, when I edited for various international academic editing agencies over the years, they perpetuated a lot of myths about academic writing with their clients, which I questioned. Needless to say, this didn’t always make me popular, but I have concrete evidence for my views that are detailed in the video below.
Myths included: academic writing should be impersonal, scientists never write using “I” or “we”, and complex abstract academic terms are preferable to more concrete terms because they seem more ‘objective’. “Not true” I protested. Don’t believe me?
There’s no need to reinvent the wheel. The video resource below offered by research writing expert Dr. Helen Sword of the University of Auckland is worth watching because it busts a lot of myths about academic writing.
I really advise watching it to see how bad some published academic writing is, and the simple steps that can be taken to make communicating research findings more effective. Grab a coffee and take the time to watch this in full.
Tip- if you want the transcript of this video, switch on the subtitles by clicking the ‘cc’ button then click on the three dots under the video on the right-hand side and click again on ‘open transcript’ in the drop-down menu. The transcript will open on the right-hand side, and you can copy and paste this into a document for ongoing reference.
Problems With Structure
Sometimes, the difficulties my coaching clients face are not with language and style at all, but with structuring longer pieces of writing like dissertations and theses. All those notes, all those ideas, just seem to swirl around in a confused psychic soup that keeps them awake at night and impedes any kind of sense-making process. Don’t worry we’ve all been there, I say to them.
OK, they say, somewhat relieved, but how do I get out of it and start writing?
Recently, I suggested a graduate student client take a look at the formula that is often used to organise research writing known as IMRaD. In short: Introduction. Methods, Results, and Discussion. In case you’re wondering, the conclusion is normally deemed part of the discussion.
Adherence to this basic template has helped so many of my previous graduate students put their dissertation or thesis together, section by section, in a logical order. It’s also the preferred template of many academic journals across multiple subject areas, from the humanities to social sciences and life sciences.
It isn’t a one size fits all formula but can act as a useful set of guidelines about what is required to demonstrate your research skills and communicate research findings effectively.
When my academic writing coaching clients are blocked, attempting to navigate their way through a long piece of writing often leads to overwhelm, and a kind of shut down typical of the fight, flight or freeze response. Then, IMRaD can come to the rescue by providing a map for organising research writing content.
Meanwhile using the snack writing technique or the dictate function on your word processor can get you writing and help overcome writer’s block. Forget about perfection altogether, just write. Crafting comes later, editing after that, and proofreading after that.
More tips are coming on the crafting and editing stages of academic writing very soon, free of grammatical terms and full of common sense.
Yeah, I know, sense doesn’t seem that common these days. Nonetheless, we can try. Especially those of us that keep writing.
Stay inspired if you can, and if inspiration leaves, just hammer those keys. See you soon, Jo.