Other blogs on academic writing

Yes, I hate to admit it, but there do seem to be others out there doing the same thing as me. And possibly doing it better. Here are two blogs I came across today, written by experienced writers




They are written by members of the Royal Literary Fund and certainly worth adding to your blog list if you are working in the academic area.

Happy reading

Story-telling in scientific writing

Since reading Joshua Schimel’s book about getting papers published, I’ve been trying to incorporate the idea of story-telling into my academic writing workshops.

In my most recent workshop, I was asked whether I had an example of how classic scientific writing and the story-telling writing style differed. I didn’t, and so I said I’d work on developing on. Based on the abstract to my 2010 Master thesis, I’ve now written a new abstract – new angle, same content. Take a look at the differences and tell me what you think.

IMRAD story-telling difference

You can also find this file on our resources page.

Clear writing

Ok, so I’ve been a bit lax about posting recently, but it has been the holiday period. I’m now back at my desk and working on ideas for a workshop on writing clearly. I came across this reference guide from the European Commission and found it interesting, so I thought you might too. Let me know what you think.

book write clearly eu

Internet or internet?

Just a quick bit of information here on what I have recently checked. I was faced with proofreading a paper that included information about online training. Of course, the Internet featured heavily in the text. But the authors had written it as internet, although I had almost always seen the word capitalized. So I went on the search. Here is the most useful website that I found on the topic. I then, of course, started to philosophize on how long that search would have taken me in the pre-Internet days – but then, of course, I wouldn’t have had to look up the word Internet.

In my proofreading, I will continue to accept both, that is as long as the author has remained consistent!

Should you capitalize the word Internet?

Structure of Paper, Paragraph, Sentence

It’s been a while since I was last here, sorry about that. But I have been busy in the meantime. A while ago I mentioned a book about story-telling in academic writing and I have been trying to place some of what I learnt from it into my workshop material. I decided to work with Prezi since I couldn’t fit the information into a logical linear structure.

If you are interested in seeing the slides I developed, go to this site – it’s a public site anyway, so I’m not giving away any trade secrets. For those of you who would prefer just to have the pdf print – look here

Complaints about incomprehensible scientific writing

One of my bug-bears is academic writing that some author only seem to want to tell the chosen (by them) few what the text is all about. Incomprehensible texts are rampant in scientific English – to the detriment of science. This issue, however, doesn’t appear to be recent. A book* I have recently been reading quotes part of a letter of complaint by a retired Cambridge don to Newton about his book Principia, which was first published in 1687. The book, although written in English, was incomprehensible to most, and the don wrote “You masters doe not consider ye infirmities of your readers, except you intended to write only to professours or intended to have your books lie, moulding in libraries”.

So, for those of you out there who feel they must follow in Newton’s footsteps – please consider my infirmities. I am not a professor but, nevertheless, I really would like to understand what you are writing about.

*Fara, P. 2002. Newton: The making of genius. London, Picador

An English Person Writing German

I was recently asked to write something in German for a 10-year jubilee publication, luckily only half a page or I probably would have refused. My spoken German is good – a few problems with der/die/das, but otherwise normally right. As I don’t write much in German, I’m not so good at the writing side of things – except for WhatAp messages and the occasional e-mail. Writing for a jubilee publication is, however, something totally different, and it gave me the opportunity to reflect on what I think are some of the major barriers for English native speakers when they need to write (fairly) formal German. Here are my – totally unscientific – thoughts on the matter.

  1. I wrote the text much the same way as I would have said it and then had to go back and spend an hour revising into what I thought was expected – from my reader of course.
  2. I found that many of my sentences started with the subject and moved on straight away to the verb, so that was the first thing I changed. In many sentences, I placed clauses up front and could thus have different sentence structures within the short text.
  3. I had one major theme in the text, based around the word exchange. In true English style, I had written the German word (Austausch) at least 4 times in the text – to get my point/major theme across. Of course, that had to come out. The trouble was, I couldn’t find any synonyms I really found appropriate, so I then had to completely re-write some of the sentences.
  4. There were two things I know are very Anglo-Saxon and that I also considered changing: the little story I had at the beginning of the text (did I really want to waste the little space I had on a story?) and my use of the word “I” (probably way too much for a semi-formal German text). I decided that I wasn’t prepared to do either of those.  I had been asked for my opinion, so I decided my (over-)use of the word “I” was permissible, and the story at the beginning makes up part of what I am as a writer – I didn’t want to change my written personality just for sake of keeping to the rules.

So I guess I learnt some interesting things from the exercise, the most useful of which were it’s the re-writing that really improves the text and keep true to yourself – in your writing too.

I sent the text to a friend for her to look at before I sent it off towards the publication process. I’ll let you know later what comments she had on it!

Planning your paper

I’ve read a couple of good books over the last few months and have promised to pass on some of the information I found most interesting. My post today from the book “Writing Science: How to Write Papers That Get Cited and Proposals That Get Funded” by Joshua Schimel is the first step in writing a paper, the planning part. In this step, Schimel, who concentrates in the book on getting the story into academic writing, explains how to find the key story points for your work. He poses four questions, each of which he says you should answer in a short paragraph – two to three sentences at the most.

1). What is your opening? This should identify the larger problem you are contributing to and let the readers know which direction you are heading in and why the problem is important.

2) What is your specific question or hypothesis? This should identify the challenge you are facing. This is, in fact, what your paper should really be about, the main element of your story.

3) What are the key results of your work? You only need a short list here – two to three points

4) What is your main conclusion? This involves reporting how the results from 3) resolved the challenge in 2) and should address the larger problem in 1):  how your work has helped the world move forward.

Once you have answered those four questions, you are ready to move on to the actual writing.

Writing your PhD

I was recently sent a link to a free e-book on writing a PhD. The book was entitled:”How to Finish Your Dissertation in Six Months, Even If You Don’t Know What To Write”. It’s a short book – it only took me about 30 mins to read it, but for those of you struggling with writing, it may well have some useful hints. Here are the links to the book

If you are in a country that doesn’t have access to the Amazon store, here is a link to a pdf document of the book:
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