Skip to 0 minutes and 7 secondsBRAD AISBETT: So the style of writing you choose for effective and efficient communication depends a little bit on the audience. A good approach for all types of writing, though, is getting to the point quickly, explaining to the reader why it's important that they continue reading. So having an important topic sentence, a key first sentence in an email, or a very persuasive subheading. The next stages for effective writing are all about the links between each sentence or paragraph, not relying on jargon or overly complex sentence structures. Simple sentence structures, simple terms that are accessible to all people that you're trying to write to. And then to critique your own work.
Skip to 0 minutes and 57 secondsWhen we're in the creative phase and we're writing for manuscripts, for ethics committees, even communication to colleagues, we know what we're trying to say. But unless you reread your work and try and reread it with a distance or share it with a colleague, you won't understand whether your intent is actually making it to the page. So simple sentences, sequential ideas, and then give yourself an opportunity to revise and review and evaluate whether you're actually hitting the mark.
Skip to 1 minute and 26 secondsJILLIAN BLACKMORE: I think if you write in ways that are meaningful for you and the reader, I think that's probably what I'd be aiming for. I think the types of techniques I've always called on are things like, first of all, about when you write, know when you write best, when your mind's clearest. I've always told my colleagues when they ask how do I produce so much, I say well, what I do is I get up early in the morning. In those first two hours, I don't have breakfast. I sit at my computer. I do not answer email, do not touch your email for at least four hours, and then you just sit and you write.
Skip to 2 minutes and 0 secondsAnd so that is basically the clear moment when you do your best work, and then once you've done that, the rest of the day just goes downhill.
Skip to 2 minutes and 9 secondsDANIEL MCAVOY: Some basic tips are to make sure that you've got an effective structure that you're writing towards. That you break that structure down and really think about the basic units of what it is that you're writing. So you're writing sentences, writing paragraphs, and making sure that there's one main sentence in every paragraph that tells the most important thing. If you took everything else out of the thing that you're writing and there was just that sentence, that would explain to people what it was you doing.
Skip to 2 minutes and 45 secondsEUAN RITCHIE: Yeah, one of the greatest challenges, I think, that we face at the moment is we're in this information age where there's a huge amount of information out there, and it's almost overwhelming. But one of the other issues we have to, particularly with research, is that a lot of the research is written in a way that is particularly inaccessible to non-specialists. And so I think one of the most important things we can do in terms of writing effectively is make our work accessible.
Skip to 3 minutes and 10 secondsAnd so not just writing scientific articles, but also writing popular articles, I think, is really important for scientists, because it makes their work more accessible and transferable to people who might be directly affected by that work. I also think getting in the habit of writing for a broad range of audiences also develops your writing skills. It can make you more creative in your writing. So you can often get a little bit constrained in scientific writing as opposed to more popular writing, where you can impart a bit more passion and emotion into your writing. So I think writing those different ways is really, really important. And also having a schedule for writing.
Skip to 3 minutes and 46 secondsSo having regular times during your day, during your week that you make time for writing. The big challenge for many scientists and academics is that we're all very busy. We have many things that we have to do. And often writing can be put to the side and inertia creeps in, and all of a sudden, all those papers that you're supposed to be writing don't get written. So having a really logical and dedicated time that you write is really, really important as well.
Skip to 4 minutes and 10 secondsSUSAN HARRIS-RIMMER: What I say to researchers mainly is the question is important, the method is important, and then the research communication is as important. And we often don't give equal weight to those things.
Skip to 4 minutes and 24 secondsJILLIAN BLACKMORE: Every time you write, it should become clearer, and you always listen to people's feedback on it. Feedback is good. It might be painful, but it's good.
Writing your proposal
You could fill a library with books on how to write effectively. How to write a research proposal would take up at least a shelf.
This should be no surprise. Most of us have difficulty writing. Even experienced writers, journalists and novelists have struggled against the blank page.
For some of us, our head is a hive of words that won’t settle, or you need to go for a walk to still your beating mind. For others, you might find yourself staring endlessly at a blank computer screen wishing you could just get started. The difference between those who are overwhelmed and those who overcome comes down to just two things: being persistent and having a strategy.
No strategy works perfectly for everyone, so we asked your lead educators and mentors for their advice.
Professor Nick Barter’s top tips:
Start - even if you can only do 10 minutes a day.
Don’t think you have to use fancy academic words. In fact, simple words are always better.
Where possible, write in the present tense. It’s more active.
As you are writing think about the assumptions you are making and ensure you know how to tackle those assumptions.
Give the finished product to someone to read and expect critique. Remember you are writing for the reader.
Chris Stevenson says:
My top tip is to actually start writing. Don’t wait until you are ready (you never will be) and don’t wait until your ideas are perfect. You can always revise your drafts later. It’s easier to revise even the roughest of rough drafts to make something polished than to start with lots of ideas but a blank page.
Write regularly. If you get into the habit of writing, it becomes easier with practice.
Start writing at the start of your project. Don’t wait until towards the end. I find that the discipline of writing things down helps me to clarify my ideas.
Finally – nothing is perfect. Don’t aim for perfection in your final report. Aim for a report that is good enough to encapsulate and present your work and then stop. You can spend forever trying to make it perfect.
Chris Rawson’s thoughts:
It’s a little too easy to convince ourselves we’re making progress by focussing on the small things that need to be dealt with, without ever getting to the main task.
Make a list of the tasks you need to get done, identify the most difficult (or largest) of them and do that one first. Save the little things for when you need a break.
Angela Victor’s advice:
When it comes to writing, you just need to start. Minimise your distractions and imagine you’re wearing velcro pants. Stick to the chair and don’t worry about getting it ‘perfect’ right away. Just start. No, you do not need to tidy your sock drawer right at this moment and yes, your social media fans will survive you being offline for a while.
My other advice is to plan. In the past, I had an ‘I don’t have time to plan, I just need to get started’ hysterical attitude to writing. Big mistake. Not planning is like setting off into space in a rocket ship without GPS. Planning saves you. It helps you stay on task and reach your destination without exceeding the word count. Enjoy the journey and remember the saying — no one likes writing, they like having written.
Share your best advice and ideas for writing efficiently and productively.
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