It’s not easy to start writing.  For me, the process is time consuming and often frustrating, but it’s also very satisfying once all your hard work and exciting results are neatly down on paper and ready to share with the world.  It takes practice to get it right (I’m definitely still practicing), but there are certain tips and pointers I’ve picked up along the way which make it a bit easier each time I write something new.  These are my own ideas (or one’s I’ve borrowed from very wise supervisors and colleagues) and may not work for everyone!  But try, experiment, get creative, and you might even enjoy it…

  • Try saying what you want to write out loud

    This is harder than it sounds! It will force you to organise your thoughts and summarise the important points. (I always thought I knew what I was trying to say, until my boss would say ‘Tell me what the point of this paper is’. Then I’d start waffling, repeating myself, saying ‘err… like… well…’ until he’d roll his eyes and I’d squirm. If I couldn’t explain what the point was, how would anyone else understand?) So I started summarising my papers out loud before even trying to write them down – and found it to be a very useful method!

  • Don’t disappear off on a tangent

    Before you start, write exactly what you want to say, in bullet points, in order. Then use each bullet point to form the basis of a paragraph.

  • Keep the order consistent

    …across introduction, methods, results, and discussion. But how do you figure out the order? Try the following:

Visualize what you are writing: Try printing out your writing on single-sided paper. Now get arty and crafty… get the coloured pens out and sort out which bits belong together, and remove any repetition. (You don’t want to discuss apples, then oranges, then go back to apples again. You want all the apples to be together, then you move neatly on to the oranges). Number the ideas to work out a logical order. Next – get the scissors out and cut up the paragraphs and re-order them. Works for me!

Have you tried using a second window in word? Go to: – Window – New Window. This opens a second version of the same document so you can look at two sections of the paper at the same time. It means you can check the order you discuss your points in is consistent without scrolling up and down and up and down and up… and down again.

  • Ask someone else to read your work

    Preferably someone who is not familiar with the topic. They may not understand the detail but they should be able to follow your train of thought (If they can’t, go back to point 1 – try explaining it out loud!) This will help you avoid using overly complicated language and jargon.

  • This is not linear process

    You don’t start at the beginning, keep writing until you get the end, and never look at the first paragraph again.  I think of it as moulding a pot (you know – like in ‘Ghost’). So you have to get all the bits in place before you can shape it and model it and perfect it. That means you don’t want to spend hours tweaking a few sentences because you may want to change them by the time you finish the whole piece of writing. (Now go back to point 2 – get your bullet points down before you really start writing).

  • A note on referencing…

    I hate Endnote! (And I’m sure Endnote hates me too). I did all my referencing for my PhD by hand, which was the most ridiculous waste of time and I ended up with loads of errors. I hope none of you go through that painful experience. Then I discovered ‘Mendeley’ and things became a lot calmer, more efficient, and less incredibly mind-boggling and infuriating. BIG sigh of relief… 🙂

Good luck! And enjoy… 

Comments - No Responses to Writing your first paper: what I’ve learnt from my own mistakes

Leave a Reply