By Teresa Corbett and Milou Fredrix
This year at the EHPS conference, our NUIG health psychologists attended a number of pre-conference workshops. Jenny and Teresa attended a workshop titled ‘To Provide Innovative Strategies for Writing Scientific Papers, Including Creative Use of New Internet Resources, and Responding to Reviews, Including Rejection’, facilitated by Prof. James Coyne (University Medical Center, Groningen, NL). Milou and Eimear Attended the CREATE workshop which targeted ‘Writing Science for Journals, Funders and Other Audiences’ and was facilitated by Dr. Jean Adams (University of Cambridge, UK), Dr. Stephan Dombrowski (University of Stirling, UK) and Prof. Martin White (University of Cambridge, UK). The workshops took place between the 30th of August and the 1st of September in the Grand Resort and Elias hotel in Limassol, Cyprus.
Before starting the workshops, focussing on a PowerPoint presentation while jet-skis and surfers were flying around in the corner of our eyes seemed like a challenge. However the workshops were a fantastic source of knowledge and staying engaged was a piece of cake! For this week’s blog we decided to combine some of the material we covered in these workshops, and provide you with a top 10 of academic writing tips.
Top 10 tips:
1.Write. Every. Day.
Your writing should happen in 2 phases: generating and editing. In your generating phase you are simply writing down your ideas. Worry about your style later! Write a “shitty first draft”- get the ideas on the page. Not all writing needs to be perfect immediately! When you get to the editing phase, the re-writing of your ideas will happen.
2.Writing is about crafting stories: a good paper is a good story.
A good story needs a compelling narrative. Try writing information down in the right order and use subheadings to create a better structure. Especially in the methods section, we often feel we need to report all of the methodological developments. This often obstructs the narrative. Check what information is essential for the reader to understand the story of your results, and leave out the rest. A picture can save you a thousand words!
3.Get to know the literature.
Sign up for Google alerts and follow researchers on Twitter. Find blogs that discuss work you are interested in. Productive procrastination can help you in the long run.
4.Have an eye-catching title!
Draw people in with a good title. Make it specific, adequate and concise! Check out the ‘Colon Strategy for Constructing a Title for a Scientific Paper’. (https://jcoynester.wordpress.com/2013/08/04/cows-in-the-rain-the-colon-strategy-for-constructing-a-title-for-a-scientific-paper/)
5.Craft your abstract
Don’t write your abstract last; use it as a tool to get ideas in order. However, don’t spend too long on your abstract. In the words of Prof. Coyne: “Date your abstract but never marry it- like it, spend time with it… but don’t get attached because you might have to cut it.”
6.PEELL your paragraphs.
Follow the PEELL approach and use the following order in writing your paragraphs:
Point: make one!
Expand on/explain the point you made
Evidence to support your claim
Link to the topic you are discussing
Link to your next paragraph
Make active sentences. Some of us were taught never use the active voice in academic writing. However, academic writing style is changing. Losing the passive voice and using the active one is becoming more popular. It makes sentences lively and easier to read. A great way to spot the passive voice is: Can you insert “by zombies” after the verb? Then you got yourself a passive voice!
“It can be concluded (by zombies) that…” vs. “ We conclude that…”
8.Avoid ZOMBIE nouns!
Take an adjective (implacable) or a verb (calibrate) or even another noun (crony) and add a suffix like ity, tion or ism. You’ve created a new noun: implacability, calibration, cronyism. This looks intelligent and impressive, right? WRONG! These new nouns are called nominalizations and are often known as zombie nouns! We academics love them because we feel they help us explain complex ideas and let’s face it, make us sound important. However, a paragraph filled with nominalizations will make your readers fall asleep. Try and make your sentences lively, verb driven and clearly structured. Get rid of the zombie nouns and make the sentence live!
“The proliferation of nominalizations in a discursive formation may be an indication of a tendency towards pomposity and abstraction.”
“Writers who overload their sentences with nominalizations tend to sound pompous and abstract.”
9.Turn problems/limitations in your paper into selling points.
Limitations are ideas for new research topics.
10.Get rid of Useless words!
Very, really, quite, basically, generally and other filler words are commonly overused. Example: “Basically, very rarely do these generally quite useless words really add anything to a sentence.” is a lot more difficult to read then: “Rarely do these useless words add anything to a sentence.”
Diagnose your own writing style and become aware of the language you use using tools as the ‘Hemmingway app’
And when your paper is written… Write about it!
Disseminating your research creates a knowledge economy which enhances our science. Our research should be available to everyone. Try to compose short summaries or blogs about your research and make sure you grab every opportunity to pitch these.